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Weimar Germany - doomed from the start? Or Conquered by Hitler?

Ultimately, the economic and political atmosphere with which the Weimar Republic was formed was a major factor in the Republic’s overall downfall. The unfavourable conditions of the Treaty of Versailles coupled with the economic collapse during the Great Depression spelled disaster for the Republic’s leaders who were ill-equipped to effect real and lasting stability.[1] However, it was also the political climate and policies of the Weimar Constitution that allowed Hitler to rise to power and solidify his authority in Parliament, which subsequently resulted in the Nazi Party takeover and the dissolution of the Weimar Republic in 1933.[2]


The economic atmosphere that preceded the institutionalisation of the Weimar Republic in 1919 created a myriad of conditions that not only exacerbated the already struggling economy but resulted in widespread social discontent which greatly influenced the downfall of Weimar Germany and the rise of Hitler.[3] The end of the Great War spelled disaster for Germany who had believed they had entered a phase of negotiations which would bring about a lasting peace.[4] The reality was Germany’s forced signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28th, 1919 which included a lengthy list of demands of the German people.[5] Included in the Treaty were conditions which forced Germany to pay $33 billion in reparations to the Capitalist powers, secede 13% of its territory and all overseas colonies, reduce the German army to 100 000, and to accept the ‘War Guilt Clause’ which, according to Article 231, forced Germany to accept all blame for WWI.[6] The conditions were intended to cripple Germany’s economy and place her in an inferior position to the Capitalist West in the hopes that she would never again attack or reach a point of military and political strength with the Entente powers.[7] Due to the reparations, Germany’s economic situation deteriorated rapidly as “the nation was unable to pay their debts and hyperinflation occurred”, combatted by printing more money.[8] Due to the severity of the hyperinflation however, the cost of living simply increased and the people quickly fell into poverty.[9] The economic situation was further aggravated by French and Belgium occupation of the Ruhr, Germany’s industry sector, as they intended to reveal Germany’s exaggeration of their economic hardship.[10] In a move of retaliation, German workers went on strike to passively resist the Western occupation which subsequently shut down the coal mines and iron factories and removed workers from their jobs.[11]


As a result, the Dawes Plan was introduced in 1924 which allowed Germany to pay their reparations in increments and which helped to stabilise rising inflation and allow the economy to gradually strengthen.[12] Alongside the Dawes Plan, the German Mark was replaced with the Retenmark, in order to vitalise the economy with a new American-supported currency.[13] This resulted in a ‘golden age of prosperity’ for Weimar Germany as the economy was temporarily stabilised and Germany was afforded a ‘breathing space from the reparations.’[14] However, Weimar Germany’s improvements relied heavily upon cash flow from the United States which, on October 29th, 1929, was about to experience the worst stock market crash in history which would plunge the world into the Great Depression.[15] This had a severe impact upon Germany’s economy as a second economic crisis loomed causing businesses to fail, unemployment to rise and Germany’s inability to fulfil their financial responsibilities.[16] This resulted in great social discontent and grievances among the German people, particularly the workers, who lost faith in their government and turned to alternative parties to satisfy their grievances.[17]


Additionally, the political climate during the Weimar Republic’s governance coupled with the dissatisfaction of the German people greatly influenced the rise of Adolf Hitler and led to the solidification of his power and the demise of the Weimar Republic.[18] The Weimar Coalition was formed on February 6th, 1919 following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9th, 1918 and the constitution was signed by President Ebert on August 11th, 1919.[19] The articles within the constitution covered laws regarding the structure of the German State and the overall rights of the German people.[20] The constitution further outlined the laws regarding party representation in government, which stated that “proportional representation for every public opinion be insured in the Reichstag,” which made making decisive action on important issues during times of crisis much more difficult to gain a common consensus.[21] This was an issue for Heinrich Bruning, Chancellor of Weimar Germany from 1930 to 1932, as he was insufficiently equipped with the power to respond to the economic situation that was crippling Germany during the Great Depression.[22] As a result, the severity of the economic crisis under the Bruning government was increasing discontent among the German people who were facing rapidly increasing unemployment rates and taxes, designed to pay for unemployment benefits.[23] Due to the decrease in the workforce however, tax income fell, and unemployment benefits grew increasingly unpopular as an idea to the left-wingers who believed that said benefits were not in accordance with Germany’s fundamental doctrine of equality.[24] The Bruning government subsequently lost support and the people turned to a stronger leadership which would bring about an era of stability and solve Germany’s economic crisis.[25]


Subsequently, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party became the largest political party in Parliament in 1932 due to their promise to adequately address the economic crisis in Germany and due to their appeal to many demographics and groups in Germany.[26] In addition to this, the Treaty of Versailles which had humiliated and angered the Germans, was capitalised on by Hitler to increase already growing nationalist sentiment and gain popular support.[27] In 1932, the Nazi Party attracted 37.3% of the national vote, primarily gained by the middle and lower-middle classes who were most impacted by the economic crisis and disillusioned with the current government who were not actioning directives and policies to end their misery.[28] Fortunately for Hitler, written into the Weimar constitution was a law that allowed the President to appoint anyone Chancellor in absence of a “parliamentary majority,” and would grant said Chancellor “complete dictatorial powers in times of emergency.”[29] While this law was intended to combat the growing threat of Communism and prevent the Communist Party from gaining authority within the Republic, it allowed Hitler to solidify his power after he was appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg on January 30th, 1933.[30] Once firmly in power, Hitler declared a state of emergency and dissolved the Weimar Republic, transferring the state into a dictatorial regime under the rule of the Nazi Party.[31] In order to completely restructure the constitution however, Hitler needed the majority in parliament.[32] Thus, through underhanded and tactful means by stripping competing parties of their legitimacy, he lowered the required number of votes needed in the election to afford him the majority in Parliament.[33] He subsequently passed the Enabling Act which allowed him to disband the opposing Communists and Social Democrats and afforded him total authority over the German state, free of parliamentary control.[34]


Ultimately, while the Weimar Republic was insufficiently equipped to address the growing economic distress, it was not inherently doomed. The economic strain due to the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles coupled with the impact of external forces such as the Great Depression, resulted in a less than optimum economic atmosphere that led to growing discontent and rapidly decreasing support from the people.[35] Additionally, the rising leadership of Hitler and the political climate which allowed the Nazi Party to solidify their authority within Parliament greatly influenced the overall destruction of the Weimar Republic and the transformation of Germany from a Republic to a dictatorial regime.[36]


Written by Megan Adler.

BA/BCMS (DS), MTeach (Sec)

[1] Bruce F. Pauley, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini: Totalitarianism in the Twentieth Century (London: John Wiley & Sons, 2014), p 34. [2] Catherine Epstein, Nazi Germany: Confronting the Myths (London: John Wiley & Sons, 2015), p. 46. [3] Pauley, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, p. 35. [4][4] ibid, p. 34. [5] ibid. [6] Epstein, Nazi Germany, p. 13. [7] ibid. [8] Lisa Pine, ‘Creating the National Community,’ in Hitler’s ‘National Community’ (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017), p. 23. [9] ibid. [10] Epstein, Confronting the Myths, p. 11. [11] ibid. [12] Pauley, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, p. 36. [13] Epstein, Confronting the Myths, p. 15. [14] ibid. [15] Frank Dikotter, How to be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century (London: Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2019), p. 23. [16] Pauley, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, p. 34. [17] ibid. [18] Dikotter, How to Be a Dictator, p. 25. [19] Epstein, Confronting the Myths, p. 12. [20] Pauley, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, p. 39. [21] ibid, p. 38. [22] Pine, ‘Creating the National Community’, pp. 23-24. [23] ibid, p. 25. [24] ibid. [25] Pauley, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, p. 35. [26] Epstein, Confronting the Myths, p. 45. [27] ibid, p. 4. [28] Pine, ‘Creating the National Community’, p.27. [29] Pauley, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, p. 38. [30] Epstein, Confronting the Myths, pp. 38-39. [31] ibid, p. 49. [32] ibid. [33] Pauley, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, p. 40. [34] Epstein, Confronting the Myths, p. 48. [35] Pauley, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, p. 34. [36] ibid.


References

· Dikotter, Frank. How to be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century. London: Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2019.

· Epstein, Catherine. Nazi Germany: Confronting the Myths. London: John Wiley & Sons, 2015.

· Pauley, Bruce F. Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini: Totalitarianism in the Twentieth Century. London: John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

· Pine, Lisa. ‘Creating the National Community,’ in Hitler’s ‘National Community’. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.

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