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By November 1918 Germany was facing certain defeat, there were strikes, riots and food shortages in German cities and the allies were pushing the army back. On November 8 the Kaiser fled to Holland and a new Provisional Government took over. They had no choice but to seek peace. An armistice was agreed and the Germans were promised fair treatment.

Many Germans thought that the new government had betrayed them and that all the sacrifices of the war had been for nothing. Extreme nationalists claimed that the German army could have fought on. (The “Stab in the Back myth “) By agreeing to the armistice and by signing the Treaty of Versailles the new government was associated with defeat and humiliation.

  • The Kaiser fled in November 1918. He was responsible for the war but the new government had to make peace. They were blamed for Versailles.

  • The allies did not invade Germany. This made it easier to spread the lie that the army and the country had been betrayed - rather than defeated.

  • The Allied blockade was still causing shortages, riots and strikes. Communists were setting up councils of soldiers and workers. All over Germany there was chaos.

  • At the time of the armistice Germany was promised that the peace treaty would be based on Wilson’s 14 Points. This promise was not kept.

  • The Germans were not allowed to take part in the discussions about the treaty - they were told they had to sign or face invasion by the allies.

  • The German army was reduced to 100,000 men. No tanks, no air forces and no submarines. This left Germany almost totally defenceless against other states.

  • Germany had to accept all blame for the war and pay REPARATIONS of £6.6 billion to compensate the allies for war damage.

  • Germans were very bitter about the treaty. Only Germany was disarmed. Germans were denied national self-determination. They felt shamed by the war guilt clause.

  • Extreme nationalists used the widespread feeling against Versailles to undermine democracy in Germany.


When the Kaiser fled a new Provisional Government was formed led by Ebert, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Riots in Berlin forced the new government to meet in the small town of Weimar to draw up a constitution. Ebert believed the Allies would treat Germany better if they had a democratic government. The new constitution gave Germans many new rights.

There were extremist groups in Germany who wanted to seize power by force. On the extreme right there were those who claimed the new government had betrayed Germany. On the left communists thought the time was right for revolution in Germany. Democracy had a difficult start in Germany and although it survived it did not fully recover from the early setbacks.

  • In January 1919 communists in Berlin calling themselves Spartacists tried to overthrow the government. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg led them.

  • Spartacist took over the main streets and public buildings in Berlin. Ebert was taken prisoner but was released when he promised to meet their demands.

  • Ebert called on the army to put down the rebellion but they refused. Many officers were opposed to the new government.

  • Ebert was forced to ask the leaders of the Freikorps for help. These were bands of ex-soldiers who held on to their weapons and continued to follow their officers.

  • From Jan 6-13 bloody street battles raged in Berlin. The well-armed Freikorps units killed thousands of communists and executed their leaders. The revolt was over.

  • In 1923 when the French had invaded the Ruhr and inflation was at its worst Adolf Hitler made his first bid for power. He led an armed uprising in Bavaria.

  • Hitler intended to overthrow the Bavarian government and then organise a March on Berlin. He was convinced that the army and the people would support him.

  • At a meeting in Munich’s largest Beerhall Hitler and a group of armed Nazis took members of the Bavarian government as hostages.

  • The next day Hitler and his supporters marched through Munich on their way to army barracks. Police and troops stopped them. Eleven people were killed.

  • Hitler was put on trial and sentenced to 5 years. He only served 9 months. He decided from then on to use legal methods to gain power.


In 1919 the German economy was in ruins. The war had cost millions of marks and the allies demanded that Germany pay Reparations of 6.6 billion pounds. Germany had also lost important industrial areas at Versailles. There was a trade depression after the war, many businesses in Germany were forced to close and there was high unemployment.

The German government was unable to raise enough money to pay its bills and decided to print more. This got out of hand and resulted in hyperinflation.

1914 $1 = 4 marks 1922 $1 = 256 marks 1923 $1 = 4,200,000,000,000,000 marks.

German money was worthless and this ruined the lives of many people in Germany.

  • German industry came to a halt and unemployment soared. When the Germans were unable to pay Reparations the French army invaded the Ruhr to force them to pay.

  • People lost their life savings and were forced to sell their valuables to buy food. Workers wives had to take suitcases to work to collect their wages twice a day.

  • Middle class people on monthly salaries suffered because pay could not keep up with price rises. Any investments they had became worthless.

  • Old age pensioners, disabled people and the unemployed who were on fixed incomes faced starvation because they did not have enough to buy food.

  • Not everyone lost out. People who had borrowed money found it easy to repay in worthless marks. Some businessmen made fortunes in this way.

  • Trade with other countries became impossible and Germany was unable to pay for imports of food and other necessary products.

  • The hyperinflation finally came to an end when the Americans agreed to lend money to Germany (The Dawes Plan). In 1924 the French pulled out of the Ruhr.

  • A new German currency was issued and it was to be controlled by an independent central bank. This, together with large American loans, brought back stability.

  • Between 1924 and 1929 Germany was led by Gustav Stresseman who restored Germany’s international reputation. This led to economic recovery 1924-29.

  • Middle class people and workers lost faith in the Weimar Republic and voted for parties such as the Nazis or communists. This weakened democracy in Germany.



In 1929 the Wall Street Crash in America caused a worldwide depression. Unemployment in Germany rose from under 2 million to over 6 million between 1930 and 1932. Many Germans turned to extreme political parties such as the Communists and the Nazis who claimed they could solve Germany’s problems. Both parties wanted to end democracy.

The German people were deeply divided and the government seemed unable to do anything about Germany’s economic problems. These conditions gave Hitler his chance to gain power. By a combination of legal methods, violence and propaganda which often played on people’s fears. He became Chancellor in 1933, but he did not gain a majority of votes in free elections.

  • In 1928 the Nazis had 28 seats in the Reichstag. BY 1932 they had 230 seats. The communists increased from 54 to 100 seats. Extremist parties were gaining ground.

  • People supported Hitler because they feared communism. They believed his promises that he would be a strong leader who would make Germany great again.

  • The government and the democratic parties could not agree on how to deal with Germany’s problems. There were four elections between 1930 and 1932.

  • Many people lost faith in democracy - politicians seemed only interested in squabbling amongst themselves rather than tackling the economic crisis.

  • Nazi propaganda was very effective. It blamed the communists and Jews for Germany’s problems and presented Hitler as the strong leader Germany needed.

  • Nazi stormtroopers were used to attack the meetings of opposition parties during election campaigns. Violence and the murder of opponents were deliberate tactics.

  • The Nazis had control of the police in Prussia, Germany’s largest state. Opponents were arrested on false charges and the police ignored the violence of the SA.

  • Hitler had the support of big business; they thought he would prevent Germany becoming communist. They provided the money Hitler needed to fight elections.

  • Hitler was a popular and charismatic public speaker. He attracted a lot of support from the middle class, women and young people. He would tell any lie to gain votes.

  • No party could govern Germany without Nazi support. Hitler’s price was that he should be made Chancellor. In January 1933 the President agreed to his demands.

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