Weimar Germany and the Rise of the Nazis

My revision notes made using Layton's "From Kaiser to Fuhrer" coursebook. This is for the Weimar Republic until the Nazi get into power. If there are any errors please let me know


The Weimar Constitution

The President:

  • Elected every 7 years
  • Could dissolve the Reichstag
  • Appointed the Chancellor (usually from largest Reichstag party)
  • In charge of Army
  • Article 48 - emergency powers

The Reichstag:

  • Elections every 4 years with universal suffrage (aged 20 or over)
  • Voted for by proportional representation (only 60,000 votes for a seat)
  • Debated issues and voted on proposed legislation

The Reichsrat:

  • Said yes or no to legislation proposed by Reichstag but Reichstag could overrule them
  • Regional governments proposed members - second house of parliament with reps from all 17 states
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The Weimar Constitution


  • Worked really well if the President and Chancellor got on
  • Bill of Rights - citizens entitled to freedom of speech etc, no censorship
  • Universal suffrage
  • The Reichstag (the elected government) had power 


  • Proportional representation - encouraged many small (and often extreme) splinter parties which made it impossible for a party to get a majority - this led to many weak coalitions and difficulty getting decisions through the Reichstag
  • Article 48 could be abused by the President
  • Traditional institutions were allowed to continue - eg. the army and judiciary were right-wing, conservative and more likely to condemn the extreme left
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The Treaty of Versailles

Negotiations were between the big three (not Germany). They had very different aims:

  • Woodrow Wilson (USA) - 14 points, disarmament, self-determination, League of Nations for international peace
  • George Clemenceau (France) - annex the Rhineland (buffer state), disarmament for Germany, heavy reparations to weaken Germany, money to rebuild France
  • David Lloyd George (UK) - guarantee military security and naval supremacy, stop communism (Russia), not excessively weaken Germany as this would weaken Europe 
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The Treaty of Versailles

The terms of the treaty were:

  • Territorial arrangements - Germany handed over Eupen-Malmedy, Alsace-Lorraine, North Schleswig, West Prussia, Posen, Upper Silesia, Danzig and Memel to other powers. Anschluss with Austria was forbidden, Germany's colonies became mandates of the League of Nations
  • War guilt - Article 231, accpeted blame for war and all losses and damages
  • Reparations - In 1921 the sum was fixed at £6600 million (£6.6 billion), payments could be made with materials like coal, The Saar was under LoN control until 1935 following plebiscite - until then all coal production there to be given to France
  • Disarmament - Conscription abolished, army of 100,000, no tanks or big guns, Rhineland demilitarised but remained part of Germany, no military aircraft, 6 battleships, 6 cruisers, 12 destroyers, 12 torpedo boats, no submarines
  • Had to accept the League of Nations but was initially not allowed to join.

The treaty was seen as a Diktat (dictated peace) and the Germans were upset and angry as it did not follow Wilson's 14 points.

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The Threat from the Extreme Left

The Threat of the Extreme Left:

  • In 1920 the USPD disbanded so left-wing supporters joined either the KPD or the SPD
  • The KPD wanted a soviet state, similar to Russia and was completely opposed to the Weimar Republic
  • The KPD has reasonable sway it the political scene of the Weimar Republic, enjoying 10-15% of the vote. There were frequent strikes and protests which gave the impression that Germany was facing a real "red threat" - this was exaggerated by right wing propaganda. 
  • The Left were badly organised, had poor leadership and were systematically repressed by the authorities
  • Major communist uprisings include a Spartacist uprising in Jan 1919 (crushed by Freikorps), creation of a soviet republic in Bavaria in March 1919 (crushed by Freikorps), 50,000 workers formed Ruhr Army to oppose the Kapp Putsch in March 1920 (crushed by army and Freikorps), German October strikes in Saxony and the creation of an SPD/KPD state (crushed by army)
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The Threat from the Extreme Right

In theory they were anti-democracy, anti-Marxist, authoritarian, nationalist (believed in the stab in the back myth and November Criminals)

The organisations of the Extreme Right:

  • DNVP - coalition of nationalist-minded imperial conservative parties including the Fatherland Party and the Pan-German League, contained extremist and racist views, largest extreme right party in the Reichstag and polled 15% in the 1920 election.
  • Racist Nationalism - by the early 1920s there were 70-ish right-wing splinter groups which were anti-semitic and racist, especially in Bavaria (preferred to keep to traditional views)
  • Freikorps - by 1919 there were almost 200 paramilitary units (unofficial squads) in Germany as a result of demilitarisation. The Freikorps were employed by the government to put down threats from the left, but they didn't respect the Weimar government
  • Consul Organisation - 1919-1922 there were 376 political assassinations (22 by the left, 354 by the right), most notorious terrorist gang was the Consul Organisation who killed people like the finance minister, the foreign minister, and the leader of the USPD. 
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Extreme Right Uprisings

The Kapp Putsch (March 1920) - 

  • Wolfgang Kapp encouraged 12,000 troops to march on Berlin and seize main buildings to set up their own government
  • The German Army didn't help anyone - the legit government were forced out of Berlin to Stuttgart, but only for a few days
  • The SPD called for a general strike in Berlin to paralyse the capital and make sure Kapp had no power - he and his followers eventually fled the city
  • Only one of those prosecuted was sentenced (only 5 years in prison)

The Munich Beer Hall Putsch (November 1923) - 

  • Hitler originally got the support of Kahr and Lossow to declare a national revolution
  • They then backed out but Hitler decided to carry on
  • The next day (9 November), Hitler tried to take Munich but had insufficient support
  • 14 nazis were killed and Hitler was arrested (but only imprisoned for 9 months)
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The Great Inflation - Causes

Causes of the Great Inflation:

  • Long term - Germany had no provisions for a long First World War and hadn't increased taxes, by 1918, 84% of the money used in the war was borrowed
  • Medium term - The Weimar government had to control the country's debts by reducing spending and increasing taxation but they decided not to do this as they were unattractive, instead they used deficit financing and printed more money (which didn't work)
  • Short term - in July 1922, the German government requested another holiday from paying reparations, Germany was declared to be defaulting, French troops occupied the Ruhr in January 1923, the Germans passively resisted (paid strike), government had to pay to import coal and the value of the mark plummeted (cost more to print a note than what it was worth)
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The Great Inflation - Consequences

The Consequences of the Great Inflation:

  • Peasants - in the countryside they coped relatively well as food was still in demand, they depended less on money and were more self-sufficient
  • Mittelstand - shopkeepers did well if they exploited the demands of the market
  • Industrial workers - wages couldn't keep up with inflation so there was a decline BUT they had less savings than others so they lost less. Unemployment went up to 4.1% in 1923 but this was still a relatively low level
  • Civil servants - difficult to analyse - income fell from 1914-20 but rose 1921-22, suffered in hyperinflation as they relied on fixed salaries which fell in value before the end of the month
  • Retired - suffered badly as they depended on fixed pensions and savings which had fallen in value
  • Businessmen - did well as they bought property with worthless money and paid off their mortgages, benefitted in sales with other countries as the exchange rate was favourable
  • Decline in law and morality (more crime and things like prostitution), more suicides, more tendency to find scapegoats (ie Jews)
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The Great Inflation - Stresemann's 100 Days

Stresemann's achievements as Chancellor (August - November 1923):

  • Called off passive resistance in the Ruhr in September and promised to start reparation repayments again in order to evoke sympathy for Germany and appease the French
  • Cut government spending sharply to reduce the deficit - over 700,000 public employees were sacked
  • Introduced the "Rentenmark" to replace the unstable old marks
  • Evoked sympathy from the Allies and got the Dawes Committee, and therefore the Dawes Plan, through - controlled Germany's reparation repayments
  • Left and Right Extremists were defeated

How did Weimar survive?

  • Anger was directed towards the French, not the Weimar government
  • Mass unemployment not as bad as the Great Depression
  • Some businessmen did well out of the inflation so became more tolerant of the republic
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The Golden Years of the Weimar Republic (1924-29)

Strengths of the German economy:

  • Heavy industry recovered reasonably quickly and by 1928 production levels were equal to those in 1913
  • Had many firms such as IG Farben, the chemicals giant, which were world leaders (also in coal-mining and steel)
  • Between 1925 and 1929, exports rose by 40% and hourly wages rose every year from 1924-30
  • Improvements to social welfare - better pensions and sickness benefits, unemployment insurance

Weaknesses of the German economy:

  • Uneven economic growth - 1926 decline in production
  • Still high unemployment (always above 1.3 million)
  • Agriculture still less than before the war
  • Germany had less land and therefore less space to produce things
  • Economy was based on American loans
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The Golden Years of the Weimar Republic (1924-29)

Political stability:

  • Extremist parties (both left and right) lost votes in elections (Nazis 12 seats/2.6% in 1928)
  • SPD votes increased (1924 - 100 seats/20.5%, 1928 153 seats/29.8%) - led to grand coalition in 1928 - SPD, DDP DVP and ZP under Muller (SPD leader) - over 60% of Reichstag in this coalition - some stability and democracy for Germany.
  • BUT coalitions always weak - parties put their own interests before the government - traditional interests (religion/class) put first. This meant there were few opportunities to make any real gains.
  • SPD and DNVP would never work together - SPD believed in democracy, DNVP rejected it
  • KPD remained isolated
  • ZP, DVP, DNVP - centre right coalition - agreed on domestic but not foreign policy
  • SPD, DDP, DVP, ZP agreed on foreign but not domestic policy
  • The only reasons coalitions lasted was because their opposition was so weak
  • President Hindenburg (1925-34) - showed Germany wanted an Ersatzkaiser (substitute Kaiser) - BUT he didn't really believe in the Weimar republic as he was conservative, right wing and involved with army
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The Golden Years of the Weimar Republic (1924-29)

Stresemann's aims:

  • Franco-German friendship to keep Germany on the right side of France
  • Sympathy of the USA to invite American investment to Germany to help their economy
  • Friendship with Russia but not an alliance
  • Encourage cooperation and peace

The Dawes Plan (1924):

  • Called of passive resistance and restarted reparation payments
  • Reorganisation of currency accepted and a loan of 800 million marks from USA
  • Reparation payments reorganised to be over a longer period

The Locarno Pact (1925):

  • Guaranteed Germany's borders and the demilitarisation of the Rhineland
  • No use of force, except for self-defence

The Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928) outlawed war

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The Golden Years of the Weimar Republic (1924-29)

Weimar culture:

  • Neue Sachlichkeit - new practicality/functionalism - desire to show objectivity and realism
  • Art - often showed ordinary people in everday situations - Otto Dix
  • Architecture - Bauhaus school opened in 1919 - motto "Art and Technology - a new unity" - Walter Gropius
  • Literature - expressionists and other movements- All Quiet on the Western Front, Berlin Alexanderplatz - criticised war and examined daily life
  • Theatre - plays often displayed extreme left wing sympathies - Brecht and Piscator
  • Film - German film industry was the most advanced in Europe - notable films included Metropolis, Fridericus Rex and Blue Angel
  • Radio - by 1932 (despite the depression) 1 in 4 Germans owned a radio
  • Cabaret - comedy, jazz, women dancers were all very popular
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The Early Years of the Nazis (1919-29)

The Creation of the Nazi Party:

  • Hitler was a spy for the Bavarian-German Army - he got told to spy on a DAP party - he agreed with the views shared there so he joined and became a committee member
  • Hitler and Drexler drew up the 15 point programme in 1920 and also renamed the party the NSDAP. The 25 points included racist, nationalist and anti-semitic ideals
  • Hitlers speeches and charisma helped to get the NSDAP 3300 members by 1921
  • Propaganda techniques such as the salute, swastika and uniform were developed and gave the party a recognisable identity
  • In 1921, Hitler became leader of the Nazis
  • SA set up in 1921 - organised violence and thuggery
  • 1921 - Volkischer Beobachter newspaper started
  • Hitler won the support of Streicher (the leader of a rival right-wing group) and Goring (very posh and had many contacts)
  • By 1923, the Nazis had 20,000 members BUT it was definitely still only a Bavarian fringe party
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The Early Years of the Nazis (1919-29)

Nazi Ideas:

  • Racism -
    • Social Darwinism - one race (Aryan) was stronger than all others
    • Believed it was vital to maintain racial purity - so the blood of the weak wouldn't undermine the blood of the strong
  • Anti-democracy - 
    • Believed there was no viable alternative to a strong dictatorship - democracy was weak and could lead to communism - a greater evil
    • Hitler supported the Fuhrerprinzip - this rejected representative government and liberalism
  • Nationalism - 
    • Hitler wanted a Reich that contained all the German Volk
    • He wanted a Greater German empire to rival Britain or America - for this he needed Lebensraum in the East
  • Socialist - 
    • Profit-sharing in large companies, old-age insurance, nationalisation of businesses
    • Volksgemeinschaft - Harmonious, united and racially pure Germany
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The Early Years of the Nazis (1919-29)

Nazi fortunes in the 1920s:

  • Hitler realised he needed absolute control of the Nazis and that he needed to get into power by democratic means (ballot not bullet)
  • However not everyone agreed with the new legal policy and there were regional disputes, particularly between Bavaria and the North
  • Reorganisation of party structure - Gauleiter (Goebbels for Berlin), Nazi associations such as the Hitler Youth, Nazi Teachers' Association, Union of Nazi Lawyers, Order of German Women, the ** (black shirts) was firstly just Hitler's bodyguard but then developed more
  • Party membership increased dramatically - (1925 - 27,000, 1928 - 108,000)
  • The Reichstag Election May 1928 - only 2.6% and 12 seats - disappointing considering that Hitler had completely reorganised the Nazis and they had more members and organised and authoritative leadership
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The Decline of Weimar & Rise of Nazism (1929-32)

The Impact of the Wall Street Crash:

  • Germany was dependent on American loans but these were quickly recalled and repayments were asked to be made
  • Decline in the price of raw materials and food
  • Decline in exports - German economic slump - lower wages, more bankruptcies


  • Before the WSC, Germany was already in debt
  • Already 1.9 million unemployed in 1929
  • Farmers already facing debt since 1927
  • government finances in deficit from 1925
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The Decline of Weimar & Rise of Nazism (1929-32)

The Impact of the Great Depression:

  • Winter 1929-30 - unemployment at 2 million, January 1932 - 6.1 million
  • Limited social security benefits made it near impossible for the unemployed to feed themselves and their families and keep their homes warm
  • The middle classes also suffered as there was little demand for their goods or services
  • The agricultural depression got worse and some tenant farmers were evicted from homes that had been in their families for generations
  • People lost faith in the Weimar Republic and started seeing solutions in political exremists
  • In Germany, 1 in 3 was unemployed in 1933 and industrial production from 1929-32 fell 42%
  • Lack of faith in the Weimar Republic weakened their position in a time of crisis - as the system was so new, people had come to associate it with economic failure
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The Decline of Weimar & Rise of Nazism (1929-32)

The Breakdown of Parliamentary Government:

  • The Dawes Plan was only a temporary measure until Germany was economically stable 
  • The Young Plan, created by the IARC and Owen Young, in 1929 (approved 1930) cut the amount Germany would have to pay in reparations to 1/4 of the original figure but said they would have to pay until 1988. Stresemann said yes to this but the right wing conservatives saw this as a betrayal and acceptance of war guilt
  • National Opposition formed to fight the Young Plan - led by Hugenberg - they drafted the "Law against the Enslavement of the German People". This gained enough support to warrant a referendum in 1929 but they only won a quarter of the votes they needed
  • Nazi membership rose to 130,000 in 1929
  • Muller's grand coalition broke down becasue of internal financial divisions - the four parties couldn't agree how to tackle unemployment
  • Bruning became Chancellor because of a few conservative-nationalists who didn't believe in democracy and wanted Hindenburg to use Article 48 more. Bruning's budget was rejected, he tried to force it through with Article 48, this was rejected so he dissolved the Reichstag
  • The Election of 1930 - Nazis 2nd biggest in Reichstag - 6.4 million votes and 107 seats
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The Decline of Weimar & Rise of Nazism (1929-32)

Bruning - Presidential government:

  • Bruning used more and more emergency decrees (5 in 1930, 66 in 1932) so was a semi-dictator
  • His aims were to balance the budget, prevent inflation and stop reparations so he cut spending drastically and rose taxes - this made the situation worse as there was less demand and more unemployed BUT he didn't have much choice in his economic policy as Germany had started the depression already weak so failure was unavoidable
  • Bruning got Hindenburg re-elected as President with Hitler in second. Hindenburg wasn't that thankful and in May 1932, Bruning was forced to resign as Hindenburg refused to sign any more emergency decrees.
  • Did Bruning do well as Chancellor?
    • He ended reparation payments
    • He helped reduce the democratic powers of the Reichstag
    • Wasn't clever enough to deal with the economic crisis
    • Didn't realise how insecure his position was
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The Decline of Weimar and the Rise of Nazism

From Bruning to Papen:

  • Schleicher recommended von Papen to be the next Chancellor - he was inexperienced so Schleicher hoped to control him
  • The new cabinet contained many non-Reichstag member and lots of wealthy aristocratic landowners. However they needed the support of the Nazis. Hitler agreed not to oppose the new government if they held a new Reichstag election and ended the ban on the ** and SA
  • The new election was held on 31 July 1932 - there was much violence in the run-up to the election - 86 people died in July in political fights 
  • Hitler had 37.3%/230 seats and was by far the largest party in the Reichstag and had every right to form a government
  • The German people voted to reject democracy
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