Establishing the new Republic

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The Weimar Republic

Establishing the new Republic

stab-in-the-back-myth (Dolchstoßlegende)

  • belief of right-wing circles in Germany after 1919:

  • German army didn`t lose World War I but was betrayed by civilians at the home front

  • government and republicans were blamed for the failure (army could have gone to win if they hadn`t called for an armistice)

  • Nazis used the stab-in-the-back-myth to increase power and hereby weaken the Weimar Republic

November Revolution

  • October 1918: High Seas Fleet was instructed to sail into a channel but the sailors in Wilhelmshaven refused to carry out the order, because they thought it was a pointless suicide mission in a war already lost

  • 29th of October: they mutinied in Kiel and took control of the city

  • these actions were imitated elsewhere and met little resistance

  • key demands: end to the war; abdication of the Kaiser

  • 9th of November: the revolutionary movement spread to Berlin

  • Kaiser stepped down; Ebert was appointed Chancellor

  • two proclamations of a Socialist Republic (by Scheidemann and Liebknecht)

Parliamentary democracy

  • a system in which the legislative and executive branch are intertwined

  • a representative democracy where the government is appointed by representatives as opposed to a 'presidential rule'

  • the President is both: head of state and the head of government and is elected by the voters

  • established in Germany in 1918/1919 (from monarchy to democracy)

Weimar Constitution

  • worked out by the National Assembly

  • all men and women over 20 could vote

  • head of state: elected president  > appoints /dismisses Chancellor and Ministers

> controls the army
> could dissolve the Reichstag but only once for the same
reason (Art. 25!!!)

>could rule without the RT in emergency cases (Art.


  • Reichstag: > elected by all men and women

> could overrule the Reichsrat by 2/3 majority

> Chancellor and ministers were responsible to the Reichstag

  • Reichsrat: replaced by the Bundesrat; represented German federal states

  • Civil liberties: Basic and Social Rights (could be amended)

Emergency decree

  • Article 48 allowed the president to take emergency measures without the consent of the Reichstag/to promulgate emergency decreespresident could rule without the RT

  • weakness of the constitution as the president had full power

proportional representation

  • number of seats won by a party proportionate to the number of votes received in a election

  • led to a large number of political parties

  • no single party gets more seats in parliament than all other parties together

  •  hard to pass laws as all other parties could vote against it

Basic Rights

  • Constitution guaranteed individual rights (freedom of speech, assembly,…)

  • mentioned at the end of the constitution

  • could be changed or removed by the Reichspresident

Political Parties


  • revolutionary workers` party

  • communist party formed by the Spartacus League

  • opposed the Weimar Republic


  • Social Democratic Party

  • Weimar Republic`s strongest supporter

  • supported by workers and lower middle class

  • radical members formed USPD

Centre Party:

  • protected Catholic interests

  • supported by workers and middle class

  • defended the Weimar Republic until 1938

  • branch: BVP (Bavarian People’s Party)  anti-democratic, wanted to exclude the SPD


  • German Democratic Party

  • left-wing liberal party

  • supported Weimar but lost support of intellectuals and businessmen after 1919


  • German Peoples` Party

  • right-wing liberal party

  • supported by the upper middle class and employers

  • opposed Weimar but took part in governments


  • German National Peoples` Party

  • protected the interests of the land-owning class

  • rejected the Weimar Republic, the Treaty of Versailles and democracy


  • German Workers` Party

  • extremely nationalist and racist

  • opposed the Weimar Republic

  • used also violent methods for winning power

  • appealed to all sectors of society after 1929

  • How strong were the roots of democracy in 19th century Germany?

  • There was no democratic experience, as democracy wasn`t rooted in the German culture. Moreover, bad associations due to the failure of 1918 and the Versailles Diktat contributed to a rejection of democracy.

  • The “revolution from above”: Why was a democratic regime born out of Germany`s defeat?

  • revolution from above: social and political changes are imposed by an elite

  • When the Army High Command foresaw the inevitable defeat of September 1918 it demanded the appointment of a parliamentary government which the Allies (especially Wilson) would find more acceptable to negotiate with. So they hoped the adoption of a parliamentary democracy would make the Allies grant a lenient peace.

  • The “revolution from below”: Did the 1918 German Revolution provide a strong basis for democracy?

  • revolution from below: the November Revolution

  • Democracy was a consequence of defeat and revolution and not the deliberate choice of many Germans.

  • When the terms of the Treaty of Versailles became public in May 1919 many again turned against democracy.

  • Democracy suffered from a lack of mass support and this led to the development of the stab-in-the-back-myth

  • What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Weimar Constitution?

  • Strengths: President elected regularly

Basic Rights in the Constitution

universal manhood suffrage

Chancellor is responsible to the Reichstag

Welfare provisions

  • Weaknesses: Art.25 the president can dissolve the RT

Art. 48emergency decrees

President is the unchecked commander in chief

proportional representation without 5% hurdle

1918-1923: Crises


  • agreement between Friedrich Ebert (Chancellor) and Wilhelm Groener (First General of the German Army) two days before the end of WWI

  • army was given a free pass in dealing with the communists – army promised to support Ebert

  • from this agreement the “free corps” were born

Free corps

  • German volunteer military unit

  • key Weimar paramilitary group existing of soldiers returned from defeat after WWI

  • were used to crush the German Revolution and the Spartacist Uprising

Spartacist Uprising

  • members of the Spartacus League (left-wing) remained frustrated after the Revolution in 1918-1919

  • 5th of January 1919: revolutionaries staged an uprising in Berlin, led by USPD, Spartacus League

  • occupied offices and proclaimed the end of the Ebert-Scheidemann government

  • Spartacists fought until they were brutally crushed by free corps

  • Luxemburg and Liebknecht (founders of the Spartacus League) lost their lives

Kapp Putsch

  • Free corps were disbanded in 1920

  • March 1920: Ehrhardt Brigade (a unit which had refused to disband) marched into Berlin under the leadership of Wolfgang Kapp to overthrow the government

  • Weimar government and president Ebert were forced to flee do Dresden and a new government headed by Kapp was proclaimed

  • the new government failed to get widespread support and the Left organised a general strike in protest at the putsch = standstill

  • four days later: the Kapp government fled and Ebert returned to Berlin

  • Aftermath: all army officers were not harshly punished

The Treaty of Rapallo

  • April 1922: Germany signed a treaty with Russia (both isolated in Europe) at the World Economic Conference

  • Russia offered Germany a new export market—Russia benefitted from German investments

  • sheer size of Russia offered Germany the chance to develop weapons

  • abandonment of reparations for either side (WWI)

  • prevent Poland from becoming too powerful with French support (secret military cooperation)

  • France was horrified by Rapallo

Political assassinations

  • assassinations carried out by nationalists punctuated the years of crises

  • nationalist terrorist groups murdered 356 politicians

  • for example: Matthias Erzberger (Germany`s representative at the Reparations Commission; had signed the armistice) and Walther Rathenau (Germany`s foreign minister) were shot

  •  caused many to lose faith in the new democratic system

Erfüllungspolitik (Fulfilment Policy)

  • foreign policy of Weimar from 1921-1923

  • strategy: fulfill Allies` demands to make obvious how unrealizable they are

  • to show the disruption of Germany`s economy by paying all reparations

  •  didn`t work out

Year of Crises 1923: Ruhr occupation, hyperinflation, Munich Beer Hall Putsch

Ruhr occupation:

  • at the end of 1921: Germany was no longer able to pay the reparations

  • France was looking for an excuse10000 French and Belgian troops were sent into the Ruhr in January 1923 to collect coal

  • German workforce backed the policy of passive resistance (=German workers refused to work for the French)

  • led to frequent outbreaks of violence and hostility and catastrophic consequences on German economy

  • more money was printed: hyperinflation

  • rise in prices and dramatic fall in the value of the mark

  • groups that suffered most: people living of a fixed income

  •  people voted for more extreme parties; crisis mostly blamed on Jewish finance, the
    Versailles Treaty, Weimar democracy and Socialists

Munich Beer Hall Putsch:

  • Nazis tried to win the support of the Bavarian authorities

  • Hitler and armed storm-troopers crushed a meeting of 2,000 right-wing supporters in Munich beer- hall

  • Hitler forced Kahr and Lossow to state their support for a march on Berlin and offered them posts in his new government

  • Ludendorff agreed to become head of the German Army in Hitler's government

  • national government in Berlin soon heard about Hitler's putsch and gave orders for it to be crushed

  • the next day: 2,000 armed supporters of the Nazi Party marched through Munich

  • stopped by the police:

  • 14 people were killed and another hundred were wounded; Adolf Hitler was arrested and put on trial

  • Nazi sympathizers in the Bavarian government made sure that Hitler was not punished severely received the minimum sentence of five years

  • other members of the Nazi Party also received light sentences; e.g. Erich Ludendorff

  • How great a burden for the Weimar Republic was the Treaty of Versailles?

The Treaty of Versailles was a great burden for the Weimar Republic:

  • economic collapse in Germany, but still a recovery in the mid-1920s

  • more important: psychological impact humiliation of the War-Guilt Clause; people felt betrayed; no strong basis for democracy

  • Which impact did the challenge from the Left have and how strong was the challenge from the Right?

Challenges from the Left:

  • 1919: Spartacist Rising  1200 workers killed

  • 1920: Red army (paramilitary group) rebelled in the Ruhr

Challenges from the Right:

  • both attempted to exploit the government`s difficulties and seize power

  • dissatisfaction with the government`s handling of these problems: many lost faith in the democratic system

  • In how far did hyperinflation and other crises of 1923 contribute to undermining Weimar democracy?

  • They contributed to undermining the Weimar democracy to a great extent: Democracy wasn`t rooted in the culture. Now, when these problems arose, they were associated with the establishment of democracy. Consequently, a majority of the German population (especially the Mittelstand) lost faith in the democratic system and wanted either to return to monarchy or supported extremely nationalist parties.

  • Why did the Weimar Republic survive the crises of 1919-1923?

  • The economy recovered, political threats to the Republic quietened down and better foreign relations were restored. How life got better will be explained in the following paragraphs.

1923-1929: Recovery
Gustav Stresemann: policy of détente

  • Stresemann = chancellor of Germany in 1923, foreign minister 1923-1929

  • Ended the crisis of 1923

  • Key policy: improve Germany’s international position

  • Key to success: strong economy and political stability

  • Germany under Stresemann joined the League of Nations in 1926

  • Improved the relations with the USSR and relieved the tensions between Germany and France, ended Germany’s diplomatic isolation

Dawes Plan

  • Established in 1924 to strengthen the German economy

  • Reduced the reparations Germany had to pay due to the Treaty of Versailles by 100 billion marks

  • French and Belgian troops withdrew from the Ruhr area

  • Germany received loans from the USA to pay off the reparations -> stabilised the currency but made the economy dependent on foreign markets

Treaty of Locarno

  • Established October 1925

  • Series of treaties with Great Britain, Belgium, Italy

  • Creation of European security system to secure the post-war territorial settlement

  • Western borders were fixed, eastern borders left open for revision

  • First time Germany was part of “superpowers” after World War I

League of Nations

  • Germany joined League of Nations in 1926

  • League of Nations: first permanent international organisation which meant to keep world peace and founded after WWI

  • Germany was given a power status in the League Council with veto power, could act on German interest due to the newly won position

  • Stresemann turned Germany from an outcast to a pre-eminent member of European community

Young Plan

  • 1929: Wall Street Crash; USA stopped paying loans to Germany

  • Germany only paid 1/8 of the initial amount

“Golden Years”

  • 1924-1929: most successful years of the liberal, constitutional democracy

  • Economic and political stability returned (-> G. Stresemann)

  • “cultural flowering”: Weimar Republic was grounds for modern arts and sciences

  • Was Stresemann a good European or a good German?

Good European

Good German

  • Key policy: to improve Germany’s international position, especially to improve the relations with the other European powers

  • Stresemann improved Germany’s position/situation vastly

  • did not try to reverse the Treaty of Versailles

  • ended the crisis of 1923

  • took part in the Treaty of Locarno, agreed to the territorial settlement -> Germany did not regain its lost territories

  • strengthened the German economy and brought political stability -> “Golden Years”

  • ended the allied occupation of the Ruhr area

  • relieved Germany from the burden of paying the reparations -> living situation improved

  • Stresemann was a good German as he made it possible for Germany to recover from WWI and tried to improve the living situation of the German people

  • Is the term “recovery” appropriate to describe the years of 1923 to 1929?



  • Germany’s situation both internationally and nationally improved

  • Recovery only on the surface

  • After the 1923 crisis (hyperinflation, etc.) the currency stabilised and the economy grew

  • Germany’s economic success and prosperity completely depended on the American economy and if America could pay the loans -> if the American economy crashed so would Germany’s -> Wall Street Crash 1929

  • In general the living situation improved

  • Politically the Grand Coalition was not at all stable -> could not agree on important matters concerning the Weimar Republic, e.g. the growing deficit in the Reich budget -> collapsed in 1930 leaving the Weimar Republic in a political deadlock

  • Internationally Germany managed to regain their position as superpower -> were allowed to become a member of the League of Nations

  • The situation in the German society was still very unstable, the government had to fear both right and left extremists, who sought an opportunity to attack the Weimar government

  • With Stresemann Germany had a strong political leader who managed to maintain the democracy

  • Even though the situation in Germany had improved, the majority of the people did not believe or trust in the democracy

  • The years were a recovery in comparison to before as the country was much better off and no longer shattered from the impacts of the war

  • 6 years were not enough to rebuild a complete country

  • No real recovery/ recovery only on the surface. Too many factors which made a complete recovery impossible and which kept the Weimar Republic unstable, e.g. the dependence on the American market

1929-1933: Collapse
Wall Street Crash/ “Black Friday”

  • October 29, 1929

  • Devastating stock market crash starting in the USA caused by speculative boom

  • Signalled the beginning of the 10-years Great Depression

  • had great effect on the western industrialized countries, whose markets also crashed

The Great Depression/ slump

  • severe worldwide economic depression

  • started in 1929 and lasted until the 1930s/ 1940s

  • effects: decrease in industrial production, wholesale prices and foreign trade -> economy collapsed, high rise of unemployment by about 200% in Germany

Harzburg Front

  • short-lived political alliance of the right-wing parties formed in 1931

  • attempt to present a unified opposition to the government under Brüning, Chancellor at that time

  • coalition of the DNVP, NSDAP, Pan-German League, Agricultural League

SA= storm troopers, brownshirts

  • military organisation of the NSDAP

  • played an important role during the rise of Hitler and National socialists

  • function: to hinder/ disturb the assemblies of the opposition and enemies of the regime if needed also through violence

  • After Hitler had “seized power” function of a “Hilfspolizei” under Hermann Göring

  • Loss of importance, power and influence after the Night of the Long Knives

SS= Defence Unit (Schutzstaffel)

  • founded on 4th of April 1925 as bodyguards for Hitler

  • became an independent governmental organisation in 1934 with a similar function as the police

  • during the Third Reich the most important body of terror and oppression

  • also responsible for the Holocaust and other war crimes

SD= Security service (Sicherheitsdienst)

  • installed by Himmler in 1931 and led by Heydrich

  • intelligence service of the SS

  • function: to observe and report any behaviour and information on the opposite parties and organisation, opposition in the NSDAP itself, e.g. Ernst Röhm, leader of the SA

Grand Coalition

  • political alliance/ coalition of the SPD, Z, DDP and DVP

  • formed the government of the Weimar Republic twice but collapsed in 1930

Presidential Cabinets

  • followed the break-up of the Grand Coalition

  • Formed the government of the Reich without a parliamentary majority and governed with the help of the President of the Reich, who constantly enacted Article 48 to dissolve the Reichstag over and over again.

“Cabinet of Barons”

  • Aristocratic cabinet under Franz van Papen, Chancellor in 1932

  • None of the members were members of the Reichstag and did not have any ties to a political party

  • Marked the fall of democracy as Papen continued the policy of ruling by decree

Machtergreifung, Machtübernahme, Machtübertragung, Machterschleichung

  • four terms to describe how Hitler came into power on January 30, 1933

  • “Seizure of power”, “takeover of power”, “handing-over of power” and “sneaking into power”

“special path” (Sonderweg)

  • Controversial theory that Germany followed a unique course from aristocracy to dictatorship and democracy

  • Tries to explain and excuse why Germany resulted in Nazi Germany, Germany’s foreign policies and ideologies, which differed so much from the other European countries

  • Why and how did the Wall Street Crash in the USA affect Weimar economically?

The USA had given loans to Germany to help them pay back the reparations and build up the economy after WWI. After the Wall Street Crash the USA demanded their money back this left Germany in a financial crisis. (cf. vicious circle: American loans to Germany – reparations to GB/F => war debts to US => etc.)


  • rise in unemployment (by 1933 1/3 German)

  • economic slump and decrease of exports

  • Increase in support for radical parties due to the Grand Coalition’s indecisiveness

  • Was the Grand Coalition the beginning of the end of Weimar?



  • The Grand Coalition could not decide on any important matters –> very likely that it would break apart

  • With the Grand Coalition Stresemann had tried to create strength at the centre -> coalition of the moderate democratic parties to resist smaller extremists parties and to keep the majority

  • Its indecisiveness led to a political deadlock which gave right-wing parties the opportunity to gain power and to overthrow democracy

  • Demonstrated that democracy in Germany was not able to work or doomed to fail -> people lost the trust in the government and turned to other parties

  • Only a key event which contributed to the end of Weimar -> Weimar was anyway very unstable politically and economically and lacked the support of the population from the beginning on

  • Difficult to answer. The Grand Coalition was definitely a big step towards the end of Weimar.

  • In how far did Hitler’s experience with the Beer Hall Putsch lead him to change his tactics in gaining power?

The Beer Hall Putsch failed because Hitler tried to gain power through violence and gun force. -> Failure showed him that another tactic was necessary. Hitler changed his tactics to gaining power through politics and propagating his party. New organisation made his ideas more convincing for the German people.

  • Why was the Nazi Party so successful from 1930 to 1932?

  • Won all important elections, which were called for by Hindenburg and Brüning through Art. 48, and managed to increase their support in the population -> ineffective constitution

  • Hitler’s policy concentrated more on winning the middle class and working class than on his former anti-socialist/anti-Semitic policies -> propaganda and a new programme

  • Nazi Party particular attractive to those who had lost faith in the Weimar Republic due to the collapse of the Grand Coalition and longed for a strong leadership -> feared communism -> long-term bitterness

  • Did Hitler become chancellor “trough the back door”?

  • By 1932 the NSDAP was with the biggest party but never held the overall majority

  • Hitler wanted to force von Papen to appoint him as chancellor but von Papen opposed the NSDAP and tried to keep them out of the government

  • Schleicher persuaded Hindenburg to appoint him as chancellor instead of Papen and succeeded -> NSDAP pressured the government as they were the strongest party

  • Hindenburg was persuaded to appoint Hitler as chancellor to be able to govern the Reichstag with a majority (by von Papen => Vice-Chancellor)

  • Through the back door as Hitler only managed to become chancellor through persuasion and pressuring and not because he was wanted or very popular (BUT: cf. election results!)

  • January 30, 1933: “seizure of power”, “takeover of power”, “handing-over of power” or “sneaking into power”?

Sneaking into power as Hitler took advantage of Hindenburg’s weak state and made Papen persuade Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor. Hindenburg had no choice but to listen to Papen and give in. Pressured by the NSDAP Hindenburg gave in to be able to rule the country again. Hitler’s main way to power was through manipulation and pressure. (and the other terms?)

  • Is there a German “special path”?

No, because it is just an excuse to explain why Germany turned to National Socialism. Turns Germany into something special and takes away their responsibility for what happened during the Third Reich -> theory that Germany could not help but to turn into a dictatorship. Germany was not different too other European countries as e.g. Italy also went through a similar development. (cf. e.g. 1848/9 Revolutions / Fundamental Rights!)

  • Was the Weimar Republic doomed to fail from its very beginning?



  • Impacts/debts of WWI

  • The Weimar Republic still managed to exist for twenty years, all challenges were met

  • Year of crisis 1923

  • Strong political leader, e.g. Stresemann

  • Threats from the Left and the Right

  • Managed to fight back threats from Left/Right

  • New constitution -> Basic Rights, welfare provisions

  • World economy crisis 1929

  • American loans and support

  • No public support -> “democracy from above”

  • Very democratic provisions

  • Weakness: Article 25, 48; president “as “Ersatzkaiser”

  • “Golden Years” and recovery 1923-1929

  • “ignominious” peace due to the Treaty of Versailles

  • International reputation had improved under Stresemann, Germany was invited back into the European community –> member of the League of Nations

  • No change of the old elites

  • Difficult to answer. Weimar had all the possibilities to continue existing but especially the lack of public support and the threats from the Left/Right made it very difficult for Weimar to survive. (BUT: doomed to fail = judging with hindsight / being wise after the event; excuse for National Socialism)

  • Which political and ideological prerequisites of National Socialism / which conditions in the Weimar Republic favoured the rise of the Nazi (long-term / medium-term causes)

Long-term causes

Medium-short-term causes

  • Anti-Semitism throughout Germany

  • Wall Street Crash

  • Pan-Germanism

  • The Great Depression

  • Harsh treatment through the Treaty of Versailles -> growing anger in the population

  • Year of crisis 1923

  • No public support for the democracy from the beginning on

  • Weak Weimar constitution

  • Former monarchy under Kaiser Wilhelm II. -> no democracy before

  • No stable government -> Grand Coalition, unstable

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