Versailles hit Germany harder than defeat. In particular War Guilt.
All Germans were shocked by defeat etc; thus: New parliamentarians and politicians had
power thrust upon them.
They were bewildered and ill prepared.
Others saw the new government as being traitors who had engineered the ‘Stab in the
back’ and defeat, rather than bewildered and inexperienced parliamentarians who did
their duty when others (generals, old administrators etc.) walked away from their
3. The new democratic government had no option but to sign the Versailles Treaty due to
Defeat in 1918
The disintegration of the army
The Allied blockade
Ebert became President (SPD) being both head of state and head of government initially;
after the publication of Weimar Constitution, the Chancellor was responsible for
day-to-day running of government.
5. The Proportional Representation system led to coalition and minority governments
often short-lived, which the anti-democratic prejudices of many Germans who saw
democracy as weak, associated with defeat and being un-German.
Noske was Ebert’s first Minister of Defence; he used Freikorps to put down the Spartacists
due to the lack of sufficient dependable troops.
Note the differing treatment of left wing ‘putschist’ (i.e. Spartacists – Luxemburg &
Liebernicht & Levine of the Munich Soviet) and right wingers (Kapp 1920; Hitler/Ludendorf
Hyperinflation 1923 due to:
· Huge internal war debts followed by defeat.
· Loss of important economic territory due to Versailles.
· The inability to pay reparations in 1922/3; but also:
· The unwillingness to pay reparations.
· The general sense of lack of confidence and security in Germany led to currency
· Government mismanagement and their deliberate encouragement of the Ruhr Strike
following French occupation.
Note the equivocal nature of the Army, Judges, Senior Civil Servants and the educational
establishment towards the Weimar regime: the regime needed their services; they were
provided with jobs etc. but they wouldn’t lift a finger to the save the regime ( Kapp Putsch
& Hitler’s light sentence.)
Stresemann (1924-29) only chancellor for a few months but remained the dominant
figure of these years:
He reformed the currency and restored economic confidence.
He abandoned confrontation with the allies, replacing it by a policy of fulfilment, leading
to Locarno and entry into the League of Nations.
He still wished to dismantle Versailles.
He helped negotiate the Dawes Plan.
He was fortunate in having a better cooperation from the elites as they knew him to be a
German patriot and the new President (Hindenburg) had the support of the elites.
Nazism stood for
An undoing of Versailles
A restoration of national pride
Strong leadership (Führer Principal) rather than un-German democracy. (Discipline)
Anti Communist & Anti-Socialist (but also a dislike of fat-cat capitalism)
All these were shared with other German rightwing groups and Fascists in general (Italy)
HOWEVER, the Nazis went further in:
Taking Volkischness to its ultimate – race superiority/inferiority
Extolling violence/war as man’s highest characteristic (Social Darwinism)
Hitler had been a drifter and a social misfit, happiest in the German Army of WW1
(despite Austro-Hungarian parentage).
He believed in the absolute superiority of the Germanic/Teutonic/Nordic/Aryan races –
The race myth.
‘Blood and Soil’ (the sacred soil of Germany preserved by the peasant warrior)
The international Jewish – conspiracy
Worked tactically, being prepared to play down a policy/belief to achieve or sustain
Lazy, a dreamer & indolent.
Had charisma and was a brilliant orator.
Left day-to-day development and detail to others.
Had a love-hate relationship with the Army.
Admired much in the English race and character but despised their political leadership.
Germans made the mistake of seeing him as a strongman who would turn back the clock
to the great pre 1918 days; they did not appreciate that Hitler’s regime would be new,
ruthless and radical; only being constrained by Hitler’s inability to do without the old
Following the failure of the Munich putsch, Hitler abandoned revolutionary violence (but
not limited street violence) in favour of legitimate politics – being sustained by his sense
of destiny and mission.
The party depended much on local initiatives – i.e. the exploitation of peasant grievances
at a time of falling agricultural prices, when government was in the hands of
urban-orientated parties, or the propaganda work of Josef Goebbels and Hitler’s speech
making, or the SA to create fear, tension etc. to be blamed on the Reds and to create
patriotic, militaristic emotional support.
The Nazi’s breakthrough was due to the Depression coinciding with the death of
Stresemann (1929) – it was partially due to above (15), but also to the mistakes of other
parties (who undervalued democracy) or in the case of the SPD abdicating from
government in March 1930 for party ideological reasons. Also the fact that Brüning’s (the
‘hunger chancellor’) policies (Centre) though necessary and fairly effective were not
popular. Moreover, both he and Von Papan fought elections believing they could
strengthen their position. Brüning and Von Papan both in turn undermined Von Schleicher
who contrived to undermine their positions with Hindenburg. Also Von Papan unbanned
the SA (appeasement) and abolished the Prussian (SPD) government, one of the main
restraints on the Nazis.
Hindenburg won the 1932 presidential election (19 million votes), but Hitler’s 13 million
established his credibility and raised his profile. Hindenburg was running out of
democratic options following the July 1932 election. Hitler would only take the
chancellorship and refused to cooperate with anyone.
Schleicher believed he could split the Nazis and that he had army backing.
Papan and Hindenburg believed they could ‘tame’ Hitler by making him a minority in his
own cabinet. Also, the public and the establishments’ fear of Communism was greater
than their distaste for Nazis. Hitler promised a fresh start and freedom from fear of the
Depression and Communism.
Parties: KPD (Communist) 3rd party in size after NSDAP and SPD
SPD (Socialist Democratic Party) Largest for most of the Weimar period and the bedrock
of all coalitions until 3/30; they remain large but loose (unemployed?) votes to KPD in the
crisis years and a very few to the Nazis.
DNVP Nationalist or conservative who were never large and loose heavily to the Nazis
who they believe they can tame.
DDP & DVP Liberal parties with weak party organisations whose supporters desert to the
Centre Catholic. Retain their votes but loose their nerve.
New voters increase Nazi totals!
Therefore the Nazis benefit from – political instability and their appeal to many social
To extreme patriots, to Volkisch groups
To the unemployed (NB or else the split in working class votes from SPD to KPD)
To the middleclass who were promised economic security, a restoration of pride, a new
certainty. (Perhaps already unemployed, certainly fearful of the economic future)
The young (i.e. patriotic idealism and the promise of prospects)
NB – No hyperinflation 1929-33 but people feared a return to the 1923 experience.
At their first cabinet meeting Hitler and Papan planned a new election (for March), which
would have been the last one i.e. Von Papan – anti democratic, he believed he could still
control Hitler and preserve Germany from the left.
Reichstag Fire (27th Feb. 1933) leads to use of Article 48 therefore Nazis are able to use
police powers and censorship to muzzle opponents in particular the KPD.
Late March – Enabling Act – the Reichstag (except SPD, no KPD) vote away their law
making rights. Laws can now be made by the cabinet. Parties go into liquidation.
Trade Unions abolished (May 1933); Nazis conclude deal with the Vatican (July), thus
silencing RC protests and gain important international recognition. State governments
abolished (Jan. 1934) and Party and State as one (Dec.)
Hitler was conscious (despite 21, 22 and 23 above) that he had to work with the old elites
who could remove him and he was also fearful of foreign opinion/intervention. Hence
‘revolution from above’ was dampened down and he resented SA’s ‘revolution from
below. Hence official anti-Semitism was dampened down.
He feared Röhm and the SA (who were unpopular with the public) – as they might
attempt a putsch.) He also feared the Army’s hatred of the SA (Deutschland Meeting April
1934) so the army’s loyalty had to be secured before Hindenburg died.
Night of the Long Knives (30/6-1/7/34). SS supported by army arrest and kill Röhm,
many of the SA leadership and other rivals both inside and outside the NSDAP.
It removes threats and rivals.
It binds the army in crime to Hitler
It secures Hindenburg’s approval (congratulatory telegram).
Six weeks later Hindenburg is dead and the army and all servants of the state take a
PERSONAL OATH TO ADOLF HITLER, Führer of Germany. This is followed by a
Anti Semitism: Official party policy damps down anti-Semitics in 1933-35 (see 24 above);
local spontaneous initiatives more thuggish and intimidatory than lethal or systematic.
Nevertheless, Jewish public servants loose their jobs – 1935 Nuremberg Laws and Nov.
1938 – Crystal Night (unofficially sponsored by the state and party leadership). Also 1938
expropriation of Jewish businesses and 1938/9 emigration was encouraged. German
Jewish ‘Problem’ effectively ‘solved’ by outbreak of war, but the Anschluss and the
takeover of Czechoslovakia gave Germany more Jews. The invasion of Poland (1939)
and Russia (19410 created a large Jewish ‘Problem’ that had to be ‘solved’.
1st stage – Large scale shootings and collecting into Ghettos from where the inmates
would be worked as slave labour
2nd stage – The ‘Final Solution’ following the “Wannsee” Conference of Jan. 1941 – the
systematic shootings to be followed by systematic gassings.
Jews were also moved by train from Western and SE Europe to be worked and/or killed.
Note inefficient nature of Nazism:
Hitler a lazy dreamer.
His ability to inspire and initiate but not to follow through.
The competing ‘empires’ of his lieutenants (Darwinism) which overlapped and
contradicted each other.
The existence of the efficient state bureaucracy which is never replaced.
The economic limitations of the times.
War priorities; but the diversion of resources for the ‘Final Solution’.
Limited role of women (part of Nazi ideology).
Public willingness to accept and conform but not necessarily believe
Calibre (or lack) of the various perverts and oddities who served Hitler.
Note women’s role as child producers and supporters of their men folk.
Note propaganda methods (inc. Olympics) but note public willingness to accept and
conform but not necessarily believe.
Note opposition – the Churches; the army (20/7/44); the young – Edelweiss pirates
(working class teenagers) – Swing (middle class teenagers); SPD underground agents.
Note SS; Gestapo; Education (i.e. History, German, Biology); HJ & BDM