The Weimar Republic: 1919-1933

The history of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) illuminates one of the most creative and crucial periods in the twentieth century and serves as a significant case study of the critical issues of our own time. Many of the questions asked about the Weimar Republic are relevant to problems that individuals and societies face in the twenty-first century.

1914-06-28 00:00:00

Start of World War I

The assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by Serb nationalists in June 1914 was the immediate spark that led to the First World War. The foundations for a full-scale European war included a dangerous system of alliances, an armaments race, and a risk-taking foreign policy by Germany, Austria and Russia designed to reduce domestic discontent and create national unity.

1914-09-01 00:00:00

US and German Trade

By 1914, Germany and the United Sates were overtaking England economically and were the world's fastest growing economies. Germany’s economic success was undermined by the war and US-German trade was reduced to less than 1% of its 1914 value by England’s successful naval blockade. American ships going to England became potential targets for German U-boats.

1915-04-28 00:00:00

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Bertha Pappenheim urged members of the League of Jewish Women (JFB), which she had founded, to join the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) which was a pacifist group founded in 1915 and led by Jane Addams. The League was not a popular movement in Germany but Papenheim admired its commitment to peace and its condemnation of antisemitism as an “enemy of world peace."

1917-02-01 00:00:00

The Russian Revolution

In 1917, Russia was unable to supply its soldiers in the field or feed its people at home. A strong desire for an end to Czarist misrule, for bread, and peace led to riots which in turn led to revolution. A moderate revolution in March of 1917 was followed by a more radical revolution in November of 1917. That radical revolution brought Lenin and the Bolsheviks to power in Russia. Lenin and his second in command, Trotsky, took Russia out of the war by accepting a harsh peace treaty from the Germans and created the Red Army, which defeated the Bolsheviks’ internal enemies and began more than 70 years of communist rule in Russia.

1918-11-10 00:00:00

Abdication of the Kaiser

On November 10th 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II boarded the imperial train for Holland. He signed the official act of abdication as King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany on November 28th with German troops still on foreign soil and the Weimar republic not yet a reality. His abdication was designed to put Germany in a better negotiating position with the victorious democracies. The final pressure for his abdication came from General von Hindenburg.

1918-11-11 00:00:00

The End of World War One / November Criminals

Germany's failed final offensive was followed by the mutiny of its High Seas Fleet. Forced to seek peace by naval rebellion, increasing desertions, shortages of ammunition and food, and the prospect of ever increasing American troops and supplies, the General Staff agreed to an armistice and the fighting ended on November 11, 1918. The negotiators of the armistice who were leaders of the Social Democratic, Democratic and Catholic Center parties were labeled as the criminals by Germans on the political right who felt that these men betrayed their country and stopped a war that Germany could still win. Men like Phillip Scheidemann, Walter Rathenau and Matthias Erzberger who negotiated did so because the German Generals pleaded with them to gain an armistice as they feared that the German army was running out of munitions and food and was in danger of falling apart. These men, who helped create and lead the Weimar Republic in its early years, would always be considered "November Criminals" by the enemies of the Weimar Republic. The reluctant negotiators who had felt it was their patriotic duty to follow the Generals request were marked for murder by their enemies and would be repudiated by the Generals who had pressured them to carry out the negotiations. Since reporting of the actual progress of the war was highly censored, and virtually all combat took place outside of Germany, Germans were almost totally unprepared for their defeat and surrender.

1919-01-05 00:00:00

Sparticist Revolution

Disappointed by the Social Democrats (SPD) support for the War in 1914, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht founded the Spartacists, a revolutionary anti-war faction within the moderate Social Democratic Party. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were imprisoned in 1915 for their anti-war activities. In 1919, at the end of the war, the Spartacists led a group of radical workers on the streets of Berlin who wanted to create a German Bolshevik state. The moderate Socialists used troops to put down these radical workers, as they feared the radicals threatened the chances for republican government in Germany. Undisciplined Freikorps troops who followed regular Army troops into Berlin murdered Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. The actions of moderate socialists against more radical socialists during the Spartacist revolution created a split in the left, which lasted throughout the Weimar years and strengthened the position of those on the right.

1919-06-28 00:00:00

Germany Signs the Treaty of Versailles

In June of 1919, the German government leaders reluctantly signed the Treaty of Versailles. Virtually all Germans considered this Treaty--imposed by the victorious English, French and Americans--to be unfair and humiliating. Germans were particularly disappointed in the American President Woodrow Wilson who they thought would gain them more moderate terms. The Treaty stripped Germany of territory, people, and resources and imposed monetary reparations payments. Those socialist, liberal, and Catholic political leaders who argued for the Treaty’s acceptance did so only after the Generals had made it clear to them that Germany could no longer militarily resist and faced occupation if it tried. Nonetheless, German nationalists considered the Treaty’s signers as traitors who stabbed Germany in the back.

1919-08-11 00:00:00

Weimar Republic Established

The Weimar Republic was first proclaimed on November 9,1918, by the Social Democratic leadership. The city of Weimar, a traditional center of German culture removed from the crisis of Berlin, was chosen as a safe place to draft a new Constitution, which was signed on August 11, 1919.

1920-01-01 00:00:00

Paul Whiteman Band Brings American Jazz to Germany

Jazz music became a symbol of American culture to Germans and was both admired and reviled by members of the German public and intellectuals. To those who admired it, Jazz signified the liberation of youth and of women. To those who detested it, Jazz was a symbol of decadence and immorality, which embodied the “Negro” who created it and the “Jew” who promoted it.

1920-02-24 00:00:00

Founding of the Nazi Party

Adolf Hitler joined the German Workers' party as a spy for the army and later became its leader. In 1920, the party became the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei-NSDAP or Nazi) with a platform that called for a union of all German speaking people, the repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles, and the expulsion of Jews from German life.

1920-02-24 00:00:00

Otto Braun, Prussian Prime Minister

As Prussian Prime Minister, Otto Braun led a Social Democratic (SPD) - Center Party coalition from 1920 to 1932. Braun was one of a few Weimar politicians who offered an alternative to far right groups like the Nazis, and he was also the most popular pro-Weimar politician. Prussia achieved the greatest stability during Braun's years in office, making Prussia the bulwark of the Weimar Republic.

1920-03-13 00:00:00

Berlin Kapp Putsch

On March 13, 1920, the Erhardt Brigade, a rebellious military unit, marched into Berlin as part of the first serious rightist attempt to destroy the Republic and seize power. This brigade, a Freikorps unit that had fought in the Baltic under Captain Hermann Erhardt, had refused orders to demobilize. It was greeted in Berlin by the civil servant Wolfang Kapp and General Walther Lüttwitz who proclaimed a new government of national unity. The Social Democratic leadership proved unable to get regular military units to engage the Erhardt Brigade. Although General Walther Reinhardt, the Prussian Minister of Defense, was willing to use troops against the rebels, most troops took their cue from General von Seeckt, the Army chief of Staff, who told the Social Democratic leaders that troops would not fire on other troops. President Friedrich Ebert and his cabinet fled to Dresden and then to Stuttgart where they called on their supporters to stage a general strike. Prussian trade unionists responded to the strike call in large numbers, while civil servants struck a neutral pose waiting to see if the coup succeeded. The strike was extremely effective in bringing transportation and commerce to a standstill. Within four days, convinced they could not govern, Kapp and Lüttwitz fled Berlin. Ebert and his cabinet then returned to Berlin and the Weimar Republican government was back in place. Germany’s fragile democracy had survived but the failure of anti-Republican judges to impose harsh punishments on the plotters, and the lack of support from military leaders, indicated major problems for the new government.

1921-03-19 00:00:00

“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”

“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was directed by Robert Wiene in 1919 and released worldwide in 1921. Using Expressionistic sets and lighting the film tells the story of a sideshow exhibitor who controls a sleepwalker for evil purposes. The film’s themes of control and obedience, sanity and insanity provide perspective on the political & psychological atmosphere of early Weimar.

1922-01-01 00:00:00

Leo Baeck Elected President of Rabbi Association

In 1922, Leo Baeck was elected president of the Allgemeiner Rabbinerverbandes in Deutschland, the Association of both Liberal and Orthodox Rabbis. Leo Baeck was born in Eastern Germany where he studied and began his career as a Rabbi . He distinguished himself as a scholar and congregational Rabbi and was called to Berlin immediately before World War I to preach and teach. He spent the war years as a Jewish chaplain, enduring the hardships of the front and earning the respect of soldiers of all faiths as well as his fellow Catholic and Protestant chaplains. During the Weimar years he became the leading rabbi in Berlin, the city in which one third of German Jews lived. He worked to have Jews accepted as the loyal Germans they were while retaining their faith and identities as Jews. He wrote of the differences between Judaism and Christianity in the spirit of mutual respect and acceptance and with a keen awareness of their common heritage. He refused to leave his community during the Nazi years although he had numerous opportunities to leave Germany. Baeck survived imprisonment in the Terezin concentration camp.

1922-03-08 00:00:00

Founding of Hitler Youth

The first Nazi youth organization (the Jugendbund der NSDAP) was founded in March, 1922. It was disbanded with Hitler‘s arrest following the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. In 1926, the party’s growing group of younger members was officially named the Hitler Youth (Jugend).

1922-06-24 00:00:00

Walter Rathenau Assassinated

Walther Rathenau was a businessman, scholar, and--during World War I--in charge of the allocation of resources for the war effort. During the course of the War, Rathenau moved from being a monarchist, militarist and aggressive nationalist, to being a republican and an internationalist. He participated in the negotiations for the armistice that ended the war and those that led to the Versailles Treaty. Rathenau was Weimar’s foreign minister in 1922 when he was assassinated by right-wing nationalists, who hated him as a Jew and a democrat. Massive demonstrations of tribute to Rathenau and support for the Republic followed his death.

1923-01-01 00:00:00

Kurt Tucholsky Attacks Judges Verdicts in Terrorism Cases

In 1923, Kurt Tucholsky wrote a series of articles and satirical poems attacking the Weimar judges for their verdicts in terrorism cases. Many of these judges treated the young men who had attacked prominent Republican politicians and other cultural figures, as patriots while often treating the victims, particularly Jews and socialists, as “Enemies of the German people." Tucholsky regarded the Maximilian Harden case as a most extreme example of these prejudices on the part of the judges. He also attacked the judges for their arrogance, snobbery and hostility toward poor workers. In his poem “German Judges of 1940,” written in 1923, he predicted a continuing aggressive and unfeeling role for German judges and in his poem “The Prison School,” he attacks the treatment of female offenders in the Weimar prison system.

1923-11-05 00:00:00

Berlin Riots on Hyperinflation

On November 5th and 6th, 1923, a mob of 30,000 people rioted in Berlin to protest the misery brought on by the hyperinflation. Many of these Germans blamed their plight on Jews who they mistakenly believed controlled the German economy and were involved in an international conspiracy to dominate the world economy. Two major Jewish organizations protested against the rioting and the antisemitism which made 1000 Jewish-owned businesses a prime target of the riots. One of these protesting organizations was the Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland (ZVFD - Zionist federation of Germany), which believed that Jews had no future in Europe and should prepare to resettle in the Holy Land of Palestine. Relatively few Germans were Zionists and the Zionist movement was much stronger in Eastern Europe. The other protesting organization was Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (CV - Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith). This organization was pledged to defend the rights of Jews based upon the principle of civil self-help as well as to help German Jews cultivate their German-mindedness. The CV represented far more German Jews than the Zionist organization. It generally spoke softly and always chose to stress the Germaneness and de-emphasize the separateness of Germany’s Jews. German Jews, such as Gershom Scholem, claimed that none of the Jewish organizations sufficiently recognized the danger to Jews represented by antisemitism and the rising Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler. He also claimed that German Jews’ faith in reasoned argument and appeals to facts and reason were naïve and had no hope of success. American Jews and the leaders of American Jewish Organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress watched the deteriorating atmosphere for Jews in the last years of Weimar Germany with interest. These American Jewish leaders tended to play down the seriousness of the situation and did not wish to call attention to their own separateness within American society by making appeals on behalf of their German Jewish brethren.

1923-11-08 00:00:00

Munich Beer Hall Putsch

On November 8th, 1923, the Bavarian government held a meeting in a Munich beer hall. Adolf Hitler arrived with armed stormtroopers, jumped onto a table, fired two shots in the air and told the audience that the National Revolution had begun. The next day he and 3,000 armed Nazi supporters clashed with Police. When shots were fired Hitler fled. Arrested two days later, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Although Hitler was still an Austrian citizen, the Bavarian officials decided not to deport him. A sympathetic judge allowed Hitler to use the trial as a political podium to present his radical views. His minimal sentence was to be served in a comfortable prison fortress.

1923-11-16 00:00:00

Hyper-Inflation at its Highest

Money had by the fall of 1923 lost almost all its value. Workers demanded to be paid twice a day and given an hour off after each pay so they could use the money before its value further deteriorated. At the inflation’s height in November trillions of marks were needed to make purchases of basic goods.

1924-01-01 00:00:00

Bauhaus School is Moved to Dessau

The Bauhaus design school was founded In 1919 by architect Walter Gropius. Suspicion of its radical design approach and "cosmopolitanism" forced the school to move from the city of Weimar to Socialist ruled Dessau in 1924. The Bauhaus had a profound influence on 20th century architecture and design. Many associated with the school fled to the U.S. when the Nazi's forced the school to close in 1933.

1924-08-01 00:00:00

Dawes Plan

The Dawes Plan negotiated international (mainly U.S.) loans to Germany, which introduced stability and a period of prosperity, and contributed to the end of hyper-inflation.

1925-02-28 00:00:00

Friedrich Ebert Dies Before Re-election

Friedrich Ebert, a Social Democrat and founder of the Republic, had been President since its creation in 1919. Ebert was loved by few, but respected by most Germans. He was so likely to win the 1925 election that his opponents were not planning to wage a serious campaign against him. His unexpected death before the election dramatically changed the course of Weimar history.

1925-02-28 00:00:00

Hindenburg Becomes President

General Paul von Hindenburg became a hero during World War I when he and his second-in-command, General Erich Ludendorff, won dramatic victories on the Eastern Front. In the last two years of the war, Hindenburg and Ludendorff were the chief decision-makers in conducting the war. They bore great responsibility for Germany’s defeat. Although posing as a man of no ambition and great integrity, Hindenburg had an overweening ambition and little integrity. He consistently denied any responsibility for Germany’s defeat and for the abdication of the Kaiser. By promoting a stab-in-the-back theory blaming Germany’s defeat on internal enemies, and affecting a non-political conservative nationalist stance, he managed to remain a hero in the eyes of many Germans. After the death of President Ebert before the 1925 election, Hindenburg “allowed” himself to be drafted as a presidential candidate and became the second president of the Weimar Republic.

1926-01-01 00:00:00

"Black Reichswehr" Investigation

Critics of the military such as Kurt Tucholsky and Carl von Ossietsky had consistently accused the army of funding and arming paramilitary groups, the so-called Black Reichswehr. These groups had been involved in attacks on socialists and liberals in the early years of the Republic’s existence. Army leaders closed ranks to deny the accusations, but this well-publicized trial of a group of middle rank officers made it clear that funds and arms had gone to these anti-Republican groups from army sources. What was not made clear was how far up the chain of command these practices extended, but it appears that even some of the generals were involved.

1926-01-01 07:58:25

Germany Joins the League of Nations

The League of Nations was created by the Paris Peace Conference in April, 1919. In 1926, Germany joined the League demonstrating its move out of economic depression and toward normal diplomatic status. Gustav Stresemann made the first speech by a German representative as Germany became a member of the League. Germany’s admission was a victory for Stresemann and the Republic, and a step on the road to overcoming defeat in World War I, and becoming once again a respected member of the world community.

1926-12-01 00:00:00

"Metropolis" Opens in Germany

"Metropolis" was directed by Austrian Fritz Lang and released in 1926. It was based on the novel of the same name by Lang's wife, Thea von Harbou. The story of class conflict and mechanization was set in the city of the future. Notable for its fantastic imagery & sets the film reflected similar class tensions in Weimar and a widespread fascination with the modern & futuristic.

1927-01-01 00:00:00

Founding of Kaiser Wilhelm Institute

In 1927, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics, and Eugenics (Kaiser Wilhelm Institut fuer Anthoropologie, menschliche Erblehre und Eugenik ) was founded by Prof. Eugen Fisher in Berlin. The Institute paved the way for eugenic laws and practices during the later Nazi era, and participated in and sponsored medical experiments by SS doctors.

1928-08-27 00:00:00

Kellogg-Briand-Stresemann Pact

The Kellogg-Briand-Stresemann Pact was negotiated in Paris by Frank Kellogg, the American Secretary of State, August Briand, the French Foreign Minister, and Gustav Stresemann, the German Foreign Minister. The treaty declared that all the nations signing this pact committed themselves to renounce aggressive war and to settle their differences by peaceful means. All the leading world powers signed this agreement.

1929-01-01 00:00:00

"Berlin Stories" by Christopher Isherwood

Christopher Isherwood wrote the notes for his Berlin Stories in the 1920s but he didn’t publish them until 1940. The stories were based on his experiences living in Weimar Germany and they became the bases for the movie “I am a Camera” and the musical “Cabaret”. Isherwood describes the cultural and artistic freedom and creativity of Weimar amidst economic crises and the rise of violent political groups, particularly the Nazis.

1929-01-01 00:00:00

George Grosz On Trial For Blasphemy

George Grosz was tried for blasphemy for a drawing he had published of a crucified Christ in a gas mask. The inscription on the drawing said, ”Shut Up and Obey.” Judge Siegert, a conservative jurist, decided that the drawing was a critique of militarism and not of religion and found in Grosz’s favor. The Nazis would later dismiss Judge Siegert for having made this decision.

1929-01-01 00:00:00

Ruth Fisher Loses Leadership Position in German Communist Party

Ruth Fischer lost her struggle to keep the German Communist Party from becoming totally subservient to Joseph Stalin. The Communists went on to aid Hitler and the Nazis in their efforts to destroy the Weimar Republic. The Communist Party leadership believed that Hitler could not possibly be successful in ruling Germany and that they would be the beneficiaries of his failure. Their slogan became “Nach Hitler Uns” (After Hitler Us).

1929-04-01 00:00:00

Joachim Hossenfelder Joins the Nazi Party

Joachim Hossenfelder was born in 1899. In 1917, he volunteered for military service and fought at the battles of the Somme and Verdun. As a student of theology after the war, Hossenfelder was active in right wing Freikorps activities. He claimed in 1922 that the experiences at the front were the greatest and most powerful he ever had and that "To become warriors for God and fatherland was the task the war had set for us." In 1929 as a Protestant country pastor in Silesia, he joined the Nazi Party. After joining he declared, the greatest event of our time was that "God had brought [the German] Volk into being and he had done so through Hitler, Volk was race and God wants race." In 1933, Pastor Hossenfelder became head of the German Christian Movement in Berlin which attempted to combine Christianity and Nazism.

1929-10-28 00:00:00

Wall Street Crash

The United States helped support the Weimar Republic with loans from the Dawes Plan in 1924 and the Young Plan in 1929. After the Wall Street Crash, the U.S. gave Germany 90 days to start to re-payment. Eventually, the impact of the crash forced many German companies into bankruptcy and cost millions of workers their jobs.

1929-12-01 00:00:00

Nazis Protest Opening of "All's Quiet on the Western Front"

Eric Marie Remarque’s anti-war book, “All’s Quiet On The Western Front," sold more copies than any other book--with the exception of the Bible--in the 1920s. In 1929, a film version of the book was released in Germany. The Nazis actively and violently protested the opening and showings of the film.

1930-01-01 00:00:00

The Young Plan

The Young Plan was an agreement between the Germans and the Americans, British, and French. The Young Plan expanded the loan program of the Dawes Plan, and also lowered Germany’s reparations payments under the Treaty of Versailles. Germans who did not want to make any reparations payments at all opposed the Young Plan, and they put it on a ballot question. An alliance known as the Hartzburg Front was formed in an effort to defeat the Young Plan. The alliance was composed of the Nazis, the conservative Nationalist party, and the Stahlhelm, a right-wing veterans group. Although the Young Plan was approved by a national plebiscite, Hitler had gained valuable allies for the Nazis.

1930-12-06 00:00:00

Max Schmelling Wins Heavyweight Title

The German Boxer Max Schmelling defeated Jack Sharkey in Yankee Stadium to take the title. In 1936, Schmelling would go on to defeat the African American Joe Louis to win the heavyweight title. Although German racists and Adolf Hitler in particular tried repeatedly to use Schmelling as a symbol of German racial superiority, Schmelling was not sympathetic or cooperative. In a rematch, Joe Louis latter regained the title by defeating Schmelling. Max Schmelling always admired Joe Louis and considered him a friend. In their latter years, Schmelling offered Louis help when Louis was in financial difficulty.

1931-10-10 00:00:00

Father Lichtenberg assigned to Berlin Cathedral

Active in the Center party, Father Bernard Lichtenberg was assigned to St. Hedwig's Cathedral in Berlin as the Nazis began their rise to power in the 1930's. He became one of the most outspoken critics of the Nazi's persecution of Jews, and a major enemy of the Nazi leader in Berlin, and future Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels. He died on route to Dachau concentration camp in 1943.

1932-01-01 00:00:00

Martin Albertz Attacks the German Christian Movement

Martin Albertz was born in 1883. He was the son of a Protestant minister who was a member of the German Calvinist minority within the majority protestant faith. A brilliant student, Albertz became a minister himself and a superintendent in charge of teaching and examining young ministers. He was one of the few clergymen to constantly preach against nationalist völkisch attitudes and antisemitism. He claimed that the German Christian Movement placed "the German person" rather than the "word of God" at the center of their beliefs. For his outspoken views during the Nazi era he was frequently suspended from his office and ended the war in prison as an enemy of the state.

1932-07-31 00:00:00

Elections

Hitler and the Nazis received 38% of the votes making them the most popular party in the history of Weimar.

1932-10-31 00:00:00

Five million unemployed

After 1929, Germany faced massive unemployment. During the winter of 1929-30, more than three million Germans (14 percent of the population) were jobless. By the autumn of 1932, five million Germans were out of work, eroding support for the Weimar Republic.

1933-01-30 00:00:00

Hitler named the last Weimar Chancellor

On January 30th, 1933, Adolf Hitler was named Weimar Chancellor. He acted quickly to destroy democratic institutions and to take away the rights of the individual.

1933-03-23 00:00:00

Weimar Republic Destroyed

The last Weimar elections were held in March, 1933. Using violence to intimidate their opponents, the Nazis still only received 44 percent of the vote. With the support of nationalists and regional parties that agreed with most of the Nazis’ major ideas, however, Hitler commanded a secure legislative majority. The regime quickly pushed through the four year Enabling Act - permitting the government to decree laws without parliament. The only opposition came from the Social Democrats. Communist party members had already been arrested - both parties were subsequently banned.

The Weimar Republic: 1919-1933

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