Key Figures

Key Figures from Kaiser to Fuhrer: Germany 1900-1945

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Kaiser Wilhelm I and II

Kaiser Wilhelm I:

  • Ruled Germany following its unification in 1871 
  • Worked well with his Chancellor, Otto von Bismark
  • King of Prussia who brought Prussian militarism to the rest of Germany

Kaiser Wilhelm II: 

  • Succeeded his father in 1888
  • Disabled from birth, tough childhood, repressed homosexuality
  • Believed in Kaiser's divine right to rule, 'personal rule'
  • Poor decision-maker with a short attention span
  • Militaristic background, identified with military figures the most, strongly supported Weltpolitik
  • Did not work well with Otto von Bismark
  • Abdicated on 9th November 1918
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Otto von Bismark, Leo von Caprivi

Otto von Bismark: 

  • Spearheaded the unification of Germany, giving himself, as Chancellor of Prussia, the Chancellorship of Germany as well from 1871-1890
  • Created the constitution of the Kaiserreich, tailor-made for himself and his good working relationship with Wilhelm I
  • Clever and powerful politician, very conservative, great dislike of democracy
  • Did not work well with Kaiser Wilhelm II

Leo von Caprivi: 

  • Well-intentioned and friendly politician
  • Chancellor 1890-1894
  • Faced conservative opposition and resigned when called upon to introduce ant-socialist measures
  • An example of a Chancellor being unable to work with Kaiser Wilhelm II
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Bernhard von Bulow, Field Marshall von Moltke

Bernhard von Bulow: 

  • Chancellor 1900-1909
  • Aimed to build an alliance of conservative groups against socialism
  • Implemented Weltpolitik and Flottenpolitik
  • Flattered Kaiser
  • Herero Uprising and Hottentot election - Bulow Bloc against red-blacks
  • Daily Telegraph Affair, Kaiser blamed Bulow - led to his resignation

Field Marshall von Moltke:

  • Changed Schlieffen Plan, in part responsible for its failure
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Paul von Hindenburg, General Erich Ludendorff

Paul von Hindenburg: 

  • Supreme Army Command 1916-1919
  • President 1925-1934, in-charge of appointing Chancellors
  • Helped to run Germany during WWI, 'silent dictators'
  • Conservative, anti-democratic/socialist, very popular
  • Responsible for overuse of Article 48
  • Persuaded by Von Papen to appoint Hitler Chancellor 1933

General Erich Ludendorff:

  • Helped to run Germany during WWI, 'silent dictators'
  • Masterminded final German offensive of WWI
  • Took part in Kapp Putsch 1920
  • Collaborated with Hitler and was in Munich Putsch 1923
  • Shared Nazi racist views, conservative, very popular


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Friedrich Ebert, General Wilhlem Groener

Friedrich Ebert:

  • Leader of SDP
  • Chancellor of left-wing coalition government in embryonic republic 1918
  • Ebert-Groener pact 1918, much criticised by left 
  • Elected first President from 1919 until he died in 1925

General Wilhelm Groener:

  • 2nd in command of the army 1918-1919
  • Ebert-Groener pact - promised Ebert the army's support of the Weimar regime if their old prestige and position were maintained
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Ernst Rohm

Ernst Rohm: 

  • Nazi supporter, very close friends with Hitler from very early on
  • Committed to the socialist aspect of the Nazi party
  • Involved with the Munich Beer Hall Putsch 1923
  • Leader of the SA
  • Supported workers' strikes
  • Homosexual
  • Called for a 'second revolution,' a 'National Socialist Revolution' in 1933-1934
  • Hated the army and their position in Nazi Germany - Hitler was caught between the army and Rohm's SA
  • Invited to join the cabinet in 1933, to try to ease the tension
  • Hitler chose the army rather than Rohm and so he was arrested and murdered on the Night of the Long Knives on 30th June 1934
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Kurt Eisner and 'Red' Bavaria

Kurt Eisner: 

  • Bavarian politician and journalist
  • Jewish
  • Republican and social democrat, USPD leader in Bavaria
  • Organised the overthrowing of the monarchy in Bavaria and the creation of a republic in 1918
  • Assassinated on 21st February 1919 by a German nationalist
  • His death led to the creation of 'Red' Bavaria or the Bavarian Soviet Republic which was declared 6th April 1919
  • It was led by communist Eugene Levine
  • Right-wing supporters were rounded up and executed
  • In May 1919 30,000 army and Friekorps went into Bavaria and crushed the Soviet state
  • Friekorps executed Levine as one of 800 communists
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Rosa Luxembourg, Karl Liebknecht

Rosa Luxembourg (Red Rosa):

  • Communist revolutionary Had a humane and optimistic view of communism which contrasted with Bolshevik Russia
  • Founded Spartacist League in 1905, supported KPD creation 1919
  • Imprisoned during WWI for anti-war views
  • Involved in Spartacist Uprising January 1919, but did not think that Germany was ready for a communist revolution
  • Murdered in police custody in Berlin 
  • Far left could never forgive Weimar for the deaths of Luxembourg and Liebknecht

Karl Liebknecht:

  • Barrister, politician for SDP in the Reichstag but expelled for anti-war views
  • Participated in Spartacist Uprising, was captured and murdered
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Anton Drexler, Dr Wolfgang Kapp

Anton Drexler:

  • Founder and chairman of German Workers' Party (later Nazi party)
  • Drew up, with Hitler, the party's 25 points programme
  • Disliked Hitler's popularity and influence by mid 1921
  • Hitler offered to resign but gained support, meaning that Drexler resigned in shame
  • His resignation led Hitler to become chairman of NSDAP

Dr Wolfgang Kapp:

  • Right-wing politician, helped to found German Fatherland Party 1917
  • Monarchist
  • Leader of the Kapp Putsch March 1920
  • Died while awaiting trial 1922 
  • Kapp Putsch an example of Weimar surviving a real threat
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Matthias Erzberger, Walter Rathenau

Matthias Erzberger: 

  • Politician, famously anti-war
  • Responsible for Reichstag 'Peace Resolution' 19th July 1917
  • Kiel mutiny soldiers called for 'Erzberger,' his name being synonymous with peace
  • Signed armistice that ended WWI, endorsed ToV
  • Despised for his role in armistice and ToV by right-wing nationalists
  • Assassinated in 1921

Walter Rathenau:

  • Jewish, German nationalist, anti-socialist
  • Modernised war economy and improved efficiency
  • Foreign Minister of Germany in Weimar Republic
  • Despised by far-right (primarily for being Jewish)
  • Assassinated in 1922 
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Horst Wessel, General Otto von Lossow, Gustav von

Horst Wessel:

  • Young Nazi activist with links to Goebbles
  • Killed in 1930, Nazis blamed communists but might not be the case
  • Used as a martyr for the Nazi cause - Goebbles did propaganda speeches from his graveside

General Otto von Lossow:

  • Army general with partial control of Bavaria
  • Involved in Beer Hall Putsch 1923, planned to betray Hitler and take power, changed sides when it became obvious the Putsch was a failure

Gustav von Kahr:

  • Conservative politician with partial control of Bavaria
  • Worked with Lossow in Beer Hall Putsch 1923
  • Murdered in Night of the Long Knives
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Hans von Seeckt, Heinrich Bruning

Hans von Seeckt:

  • Leader of the army after WWI
  • Refused to prevent Kapp Putsch, 'army don't fire on army'
  • Supported 'state within a state'
  • Forced to resign 1926

Heinrich Bruning:

  • Chancellor 1930-1932, Catholic Centre Party, last Chancellor of Weimar/of democracy
  • Struggled to deal with effects of Wall Street Crash and political polarisation
  • Unpopular with von Hindenburg, even when he helped him get re-elected
  • Didn't want to work with Nazis
  • Spoke out against Enabling Act 1933
  • Fled after discovering plans for his murder on Night of the Long Knives 30th June 1934
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Hermann Muller, Alfred Hugenberg

Hermann Muller: 

  • SPD politician
  • Signed Treaty of Versailles 
  • Chancellor 1920, 1928-1930
  • Led the 'Grand Coalition' until it collapsed due to party disagreements over how to deal with unemployment

Alfred Hugenberg:

  • Chairman of DNVP (German National People's Party) 1928-1933
  • Media tycoon and wealthy businessman
  • Joined with Hitler against the Young plan
  • Used Hitler to get into mainstream politics by giving him use of his media empire
  • Eventually lost all power and much of his wealth
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Gregor and Otto Strasser, Gustav Stresemann

Gregor and Otto Strasser:

  • Involved with the socialist aspect of the Nazi party from very early on
  • Gregor seen as a rival to Hitler, he is expelled from the party and murdered on Night of the Long Knives
  • Otto attempts to split the Nazi party but fails and leaves the party

Gustav Stresemann: 

  • Nationalist, formed and became the leader of DVP 1919-1929
  • Chancellor 1923, just for 100 days - helped to solve hyperinflation through Retenmark
  • Foreign Minister 1923-1929 - responsible for Dawes & Young plans, Locarno & Kellogg-Briand pacts and Germany's entry to the LoN
  • Awarded Nobel Peace Prize 1926
  • Died in 1929
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Kurt von Schleicher, Franz von Papen

Kurt von Schleicher:

  • Chancellor 1932-1933
  • Preferred to have power behind the scenes
  • Worked with Papen as his quasi-puppet but then betrayed him to become Chancellor - Papen retaliated by getting Hitler into power
  • Example, with Papen, of corrupt politics, corrupt democracy - with democracy in this state Hitler was something that must be tolerated
  • Assassinated on the Night of the Long Knives

Franz von Papen:

  • Chancellor 1932, ousted by Schleicher
  • Failed to get Nazi support, persuaded Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor and him as Vice-Chancellor
  • Spoke out against Nazis, imprisoned on Night of the Long Knives
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Julius Streicher, Paul Joseph Goebbles, Hermann Go

Julius Streicher:

  • Anti-semitic Nazi propagandist
  • Close friend of Hitler, fell from grace for going to far, even in Nazi terms

Paul Joseph Goebbles:

  • Nazi Minister of Propaganda 1933-1945, very popular
  • Initially socialist, from Berlin and with the Strasser brothers
  • Closest to Hitler at the end, became Chancellor for a view hours after Hitler's suicide until his own suicide

Hermann Goring:

  • Very close to Hitler, deputy leader of party for years, gave Nazi party a veneer of respectability from his middle-class/military background
  • Reich Minister for Aviation, in charge of Four Year Plan, poor leader
  • Fell from grace for laziness, stealing art, sex scandals
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Claus von Stauffenburg, Heinrich Himmler, Marinus

Claus von Stauffenburg:

  • Army colonel, thought the war was lost from D-day
  • Plotted to assassinate Hitler in 'July Plot,' left before plot failed, executed

Heinrich Himmler: 

  • Chief of police 1936-1945, leader of SS - his loyalty to Hitler was so important for the progression of nazism 
  • Controlled concentration camps, supported eugenics and Aryan race purity, seen as an architect for 'Final Solution'
  • Tried to negotiate peace without Hitler's permission, stripped of all titles

Marinus van der Lubbe:

  • Communist, blamed for starting the Reichstag fire
  • Event played a key role in Hitler's rise to power
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Leni Riefenstahl, Joseph Mengele, Joachim von Ribb

Leni Riefenstahl:

  • Nazi propagandist film-maker - made 'Triumph of the Will'
  • Rumoured to have had an affair with Hitler

Joseph Mengele (Angel of death):

  • Doctor at Auschwitz and Chief Medical Officer at Birkenau - decided which inmates would work and which would be killed
  • Famously conducted human experiments

Joachim von Ribbentrop:

  • Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs 1938-1945 - visited England and came back with a hatred of the English upper-classes
  • Flattered Hitler, always presented himself as radical and aggressive
  • Influence waned throughout WWI
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Hjalmar Schacht, Martin Bormann, Rudolf Hess

Hjalmar Schacht:

  • Reich Minister for Economics 1934-1937, economist - seen as architect of German recovery post Wall Street Crash
  • Became close to the Nazis but was in contact with the resistance
  • Arrested after 'July Plot' an imprisoned although he was innocent

Martin Bormann:

  • Hitler's Chief of Staff - very important for those wanting to get close to Hitler
  • Huge bureaucratic power, became close to Hitler throughout WW2
  • Advocated harsh anti-semitic measures

Rudolf Hess:

  • Deputy Fuhrer 1933-1941, early member of Nazi party, lost influence
  • Flew to Scotland in 1941 to negotiate peace, imprisoned ever since
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Reinhard Heydrich, Fritz Todt, Albert Speer

Reinhard Heydrich:

  • Head of the Gestapo, crucial in Night of Long Knives and Kristallnacht
  • Chaired the Wannsee Conference - instrumental in Final Solution
  • Died from wounds caused by an assassination attempt

Fritz Todt:

  • Reich Minister for Armaments and Ammunition 1940-1942
  • Tried unsuccessfully to make the war economy more efficient - but mobilisation was very poor

Albert Speer:

  • Todt's successor and did a far better job with the war economy and mobilisation
  • Accepted war was lost pre-1945 and tried to limit Hitler's 'scorched earth' policy
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