Weimar Germany

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The end of world war one

Germany unconditionally surrendered on the 11th November 1918. Kaiser Willhelm fled to Holland.

A new democratic government was declared in February 1919 in Weimar ( a small town), because Berlin was too dangerous due to a recent revolt by the scartacists.

The treaty of versailles was signed on the 28th of june 1919:

  • Germany lost territory- Alsace-Lorraine was lost to france, the saar and Danzig to the league of nations and the 'polish corridor' to Poland. They also lost all of their colonies and were put under the control of the league of nations.
  • Germany lost its rights- The German armed forces were limited to 100,000 men, with no tanks, the army was limited to 6 battleships and no submarines, the air force was disbanded.
  • Reperations and guilt- Germany had to accept guilt for starting the war, because of this they had to pay £6,600 billion in reperations to the allies for the damage caused.
  • The league of nations- set up to settle disputes and to enforce the treaty but Germany was not allowed to join at first.
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The Weimar republic

Features of the weimar republic:

  • A bill of rights- every German citizen was guaranteed freedom of speech and religion and equality under law.
  • Every man and women over the age of 20 was given the vote.
  • There was an elected president and an elected Reichstag (parlaiment).
  • The Reichstag made the laws and appointed the government, which had to follow the Reichstags requests.

There were 2 flaws of the weimar republic:

  • Proportional representation- People voted for a party, not an mp.The parties were given seats in proportion to the number of votes.This resulted in lots of tiny parties so no party could get a majority. Therefore no government could get laws passed
  • Article 48- In an emergancy, the president did not need the reichstags agreement, so could issue decrees. It did not specify what the emergancy had to be, so Hitler used it to take power legally.
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Weimar problems 1919-23

Many felt Germany had been treated harshly in the treaty of versailles and resented the government for signing it, calling them the 'November criminals'.

The weimar republic faced violent uprisings:

January and March 1919- spartacist uprising in berlin; more than 1,200 killed by the army under general Groener. A soviet republic was declared in Bavaria.

March 1920- Wolfgang Kapp led the nationalist freikorps in their bid for power of Berlin. They were defeated by a General strike. The communists formed the ruhr army (50,000 workers) to resist the army and the freikorps. Ebert (the president) granted concessions and then used the army. Over 1,000 workers and 250 police were killed by 1923.

June 1922- Foreign minister Walther Rathenau was assassinated by right wing terrorists. They disliked his Jewish origins and had attempted to improve the treaty of versailles.

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The Weimar crisis

In 1923 the Weimar republic nearly collapsed:

1. January 1923- Germany missed a reparations payment.

2. French and Belgian troops entered the ruhr, to extract what they were owed by force.

3. German miners went on strike because they did not want to work for the French.

4. Fewer goods were produced and the government printed off paper money, resulting in more money chasing fewer goods.

5. There was hyperinflation- prices ran out of control, e.g. a loaf of bread cost 250 marks in january 1923, the price had risen to 200,000 million marks in November 1923. The currency became worthless.

6. The hardships resulted in uprisings- The nazis attempted a putsch in Munich. Communists took over the governments of Saxony and Thuringia, they declared the Rhineland independant.

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People who lost:

  • Pensioners on fixed incomes.
  • People with savings e.g. rich people and middle class.
  • People paid monthly, their money would be worth very little by the end of the month.

People who gained:

  • People in debt e.g. great industrialists
  • People on wages were safe because the degotiated their wages everyday.
  • War loans were paid of easily in worthless marks.
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Gustav stresemann

August 1923, Gustav Stresemann, leader of the German peoples party became chancellor, He:

  • Put down communist governments in Saxony and Thuringia.
  • Ended the hyperinflationary crisis by issuing the Rentenmark (November 1923).
  • Defeated Hitlers Munich Putsch.

Although his government fell, Stresemann was able to remain influential as a foreign minister:

  • April 1924- He reorganised reparations in Germanys favout in the Dawes plan.
  • 1925- He made peace with France in he Locarno treaty, guaranteeing that every country was safe from invasion by the other and finally sending home French troops from the Ruhr.
  • 1926- He took Germany into the league of nations.
  • June 1929- He renegotiated the forein loans in the Young Plan.
  • Prosperity began to look secure.
  • October 1929- Stresemann died.
  • 29th October 1929- Wall street crash, which plunged Germany and the world into depression.
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Gustav stresemann

August 1923, Gustav Stresemann, leader of the German peoples party became chancellor. He:

  • Put down communist governments in Saxony and Thuringia.
  • Ended the hyperinflationary crisis by issuing the Rentenmark (November 1923).
  • Defeated Hitlers Munich Putsch.

Although his government fell, Stresemann was able to remain influential as a foreign minister:

  • April 1924- He reorganised reparations in Germanys favour in the Dawes plan.
  • 1925- He made peace with France in he Locarno treaty, guaranteeing that every country was safe from invasion by the other and finally sending home French troops from the Ruhr.
  • 1926- He took Germany into the league of nations.
  • June 1929- He renegotiated the forein loans in the Young Plan.
  • Prosperity began to look secure.
  • October 1929- Stresemann died.
  • 29th October 1929- Wall street crash, which plunged Germany and the world into depression.
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The Dawes plan

1924- 1929

The Dawes plan:

  • Did not reduce the reparations bill set in 1921.
  • Reduced the initial payments to allow Germany industry to re-equip itself.
  • Allowed reparations schedules to be met by loans.
  • Helped stabilise the new Retchenmark.
  • Said after 5 years a second negotiation would be decided on the repayment of loans and reparations.

The Dawes plan bump started the German economy, at the expense of the country, raising even larger loans. During this period more was lent to Germany than was repaid.

Germany seemed better off in the short term.

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The Young Plan


The young plan:

  • Reduced the reparations from 132,000 to 37,000 million marks.
  • Reduced annual payments further, spreading them over 58 years.
  • Ended allied control over of the railways, reichsbank and customs duties.
  • Withdrew allied troops from Germany.


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The weakness of the weimar period

The Weimar period lasted until Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933, but the last years from 1929 to 1933 were a period of increasing economic and political crisis:

  • The early years of democracy had shown Weimar was weak.
  • The Dawes plan stabilised the regime to some degree, but at the cost of mortgaging the future.
  • Prosperity was uneven. There was an employment crisi in 1926; the rate of industrial growth was low and Weimar had proclaimed an abtitious welfare state, for which it was unable to pay in the long term. 


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Adolf Hitler

  • Austrian Catholic born in 1889
  • Left school early in 1905
  • Went to Vienna where he failed to gain entry into the Vienna academy of fine arts, and then to Munich in 1913.
  • During the first world war he a battalion messenger. He won the iron cross twice. He only rose to corporal because he was thought to lack leadership qualities.
  • He was wounded in 1916, gassed in 1918 and was in hospital when he heard of Germanys defeat.
  • Hitler was an 'education officer' in the Bavarian armys political section. He joined Anton Drexlers German workers party (DAP) and he drew up the 25 point programme with Drexler in Ferbruary 1920 and changed the parties name to the nazi party.

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25 point programme

The twenty five point programme showed that the nazi party believed in:

  • Anti-semitism
  • Survival of the fittest (social Darwinism)
  • German nationalism
  • Authoritarian leadership


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The beer hall putsch

By 1923 the Nazi party had 55,000 members in Bavaria with its own paramilitary force, the SA. Hitler was disgusted that Stresemann negotiated the payment of reperations, apparently agreeing to the treaty of Versailles. He tried to take power in Bavaria.

1. 8th November 1923

  • Hitler and the SA burst into a meeting held by General Von Lossow (army commander in Bavaria) and Gustav Von Kahr (head of state) in a beer hall in Munich.
  • He demanded their support for the seizure of power and his replacement of Von Lossow with General Ludendorff as army commander.
  • Thousands of SA arrested other members of the Bavarian government, but failed to gain control of army barracks.
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The beer hall putsch

2. 9th November 1923

  • Ebert declared a national state of emergency.
  • Ludendorff persuaded Hitler to march into Munich as the first step to Berlin.
  • About 2,000 SA marched towards the military base in Munich where armed police and soldiers met them; 14 nazis were killed.
  • Hitler fled: Ludendorff was arrested.

3. 11th November 1923- Hitler was arrested, nazis were banned.

In 1924 Hitler was tried for treason. He used it as a platform to attack the Weimar Government. The trial being just before the elections allowed the nazis to become the 3rd largest group in Bavaria.

Hitler was sentenced to the minimum of 5 years in prison for treason. He was released after just 9months.

He used his time in prison to write 'Mein kampf ', which was published in 1925. Between 1933 and 1945 it remained the best selling German novel. Hitler became wealthy from the profits.

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The Nazi party

The Nazi party made little headway during the 1920s, when the Weimar Republic was strong:

  • After 1923 the Weimar Republic was more stable, with no attempted coups or assassinations between 1924 and 1929.
  • After 1924, voters switched back to voting for the moderate parties, which supported the Weimar constitution.
  • The government was strengthened when the Nationalist party (DNVP), representing the most influential and propertied part of the population and the army, threw its weight behind the constitution.
  • Hindenburg, the new president, did not really believe in the Republic, but was now under oath to protect it.


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Weakness of the Nazis

The Nazi party was weak during the 1920s:

  • While Hitler was in prison, the Nazi party fell apart.
  • On his release, Hitler was banned from public speaking until 1927.
  • The Nazis were only well-known in Bavaria and had no organisation in the rest of Germany.
  • British historian Ian Kershaw called the Nazi party a 'fringe irritant'.
  • The Reich Ministry of the interior in 1927 said they were: 'a numerically insignificant...radical-revolutionary splinter group incapable of exerting any noticeabe influence on the great mass of the population and the course of political events'


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On his release from prison in December 1924, Hitler changed Nazi party tactics away from revolution and towards gaining democratic control:

  • He took power over the party, asserted the leadership principle, and reorganised the parties structure, strategy and symbols (He designed the Swastika flag).
  • He used Weimar democracy to gain control, rather than attempting another putsch.
  • He used propaganda to target specific grievances, using local speakers.
  • He used the Nazi parties newspaper to spread its ideas.
  • He extended party organisation throughout Germany, and so changed the emphasis of the party from being a Southern German and specifically Bavarian party, to a national party.


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Hitler developed a powerful message, he:

  1. Stressed the national community of all Germans.
  2. Promised to solve economic problems and provide bread.
  3. Paid special attention to the needs of the small trader and the peasant, who would be saved from 'the clutch of the jewish money lenders'.
  4. Promised to smash the Weimar constitution and provide strong leadership.
  5. Preached nationalism and promised to destroy the versailles treaty.

These strategies eventually brought sucess, but not until the Weimar Republic was destroyed by the depression.


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The wall street crash

By 1929 Hitler and the Nazi party were well placed to benefit from any disaster suffered by the ruling coalition. Between 1929 and 1932 the depression hit Germany particularly hard. This was because it was so dependant on foreign loans and the government was so indecisive.

Unemployment                 Wages:        Government income:      

1929: 1.4 million          1929: 169        1929: 9 billion

1932: 5.6 million          1932: 113        1932: 1.6 billion

No one could afford to buy goods. Unemployment rose but unemployment pay was cut. This caused major disagreements and the fall of the government. By 1933 Germany appeared bankrupt.


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Weaknesses of the government

Between March 1930 and January 1933, none of the three governments of Bruning, Papen and Schleicher was able to rule with a majority in the reichstag. President Hindenburg had to use his powers under the Weimar constitution to rule by decree. This was because parties could not agree over whether to tax workers or employers in order to pay the unemployed. Others thought that unemployment benefits should be cut.

In 1930, chancellor Bruning called an election, allowing gains for the extremist Nazi and communist parties, and making the Reichstag even more unmanageable.

Although president Hindenburg acted constitutionally, it is quite clear that he preffered by decree rather than allow communist or Nazi parties into power. He refused Hitlers demand to be made chancellor.

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Hitlers tactics

Hitler gained support from industrialists such as Alfred Hugenburg and Fritz Thyssen because of their reaction against the Young plan. This provided money and media coverage, however most financial support came from ordinary peoples contributions at meetings.

The Sturm-Abteilung (SA) founded in 1920, gave invaluable support. They provided over 100 'matyrs' to the cause and focused attention against the communists. Their disciplined militarism attracted the German people.

Hitler himself was important to Nazi success. He used his oratoricl power to sway large crowds. He refused to co-operate with other parties unless he was given the chancellorship and power to rule without the Reichstag. Support of the Nazis rose at every election.

He used the latest technology; loudspeakers, slide shows, films and the first aerial political campaign, 'fuhrer over Germany' in the 1932 presidential election.

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Hitlers rise to power

April 1932:

  • Hindenburg had been re-elected president. He dismissed Brunings government. The new government under Papen, had support from less than 10% of the electorate. In an election in July the extemist communist and Nazi parties won over half the Reichstag seats between them.
  • Hitler demanded to be made chancellor. He also demanded an enabling act to allow him to rule by decree. Hindenburg refused.
  • Papen could not control the new Reichstag, which was suspended after a day.
  • Papen wanted to rule without the Reichstag, but Schleicher, leader of the nationalists wanted to create a 'diagonal front' uniting some of the trade unions and the Nazis. Schleicher persuaded Hindenburg to dismiss Papen and to appoint him chancellor, but his attempts to unite left and right failed. Hindenburg rejected Schleichers request to be allowed to rule by decree. 
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Hitlers rise to power

November 1932:

  • There was another election. The Nazi vote fell to 33%.
  • The new Reichstag was just as impossible to control as the old.
  • Papen constructed a government around Hitler. Hitler would be chancellor, Papen vice chancellor, and general Von Blomber Defence Minister.
  • Hindenburg had no other option but to appoint Hitler chancellor, but neither he nor Papen appreciated that they would become puppets.


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30th January 1933- Hitler appointed chancellor, only 3 Nazis in government.

27th February 1933- Reichstag fire, probably started by dutch communist Van der lubbe acting alone, but Hitler blamed it on the Communist party.

28th February 1933- Decree of the Reich president for the protection of people and state. Hindenburg suspended all civil rights, people could be held indefinitely in protective custody, used to repress the communist party.

5th March 1933- Elections, Nazi opponents intimidated, Nazis won 44% of the vote, their allies the Nationalists won 8%.

24th March 1933- Enabling act, The Reichstag met in the opera house. Members were intimidated by SA and SS. Gave emergancy powers to the government to issue decrees and rule without the Reichstag for 4 years.

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7th April 1933- Law for the restoration of the professional civil service. The first anti Jewish measure; jews and other 'aliens' were purged from administration, courts, schools and universities.

1st May 1933- May-day holiday, International labour day made a public holiday, the day after trade union offices were abolished.

14th July 1933- Law against the formation of new parties, Germany became a one party state.

12th November 1933- New elections, Nazi party won 92% of the votes.

January 1934- Law for the reconstruction of the state, state governments overthrown and replaced by Nazi governors.

30th June 1934- Night of the long knives- SS shot Von Roehm and many other leaders e.g. Schleicher who were seen as a threat.

2nd August 1934- Death of president Hindenburg, Hitler became Fuhrer (chancellor and president, leader).

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