Showing posts with label Weimar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Weimar. Show all posts

Revision Notes and Sample Essays for Weimar Germany

Weimar Germany was the name given to the period of German history from 1919 until 1933. It got its name from the fact that the constitution for the post war republic was drawn up at the town of Weimar in South Eastern Germany. The town was chosen for the constituent assembly because it was peaceful compared to revolution torn Berlin and as a signal to the Allied peacemakers in Paris. The hope was that the Allies would treat more leniently a new peaceful German Republic rather than the militaristic empire that had led Germany into war. 

The History of the Republic can be divided into three main areas: 
1. The Years of Turmoil, 1919-1923 
2. The Stresemann Era, 1924-1929 
3. The Collapse of Weimar, 1930-1933 

1. The Years of Turmoil, 1919-1923 

The Republic 
As the First World War drew to a close, morale in the army and at home collapsed. A series of defeats led to strikes throughout Germany. The Sailors at the Kiel naval base mutinied rather than sail to for a final showdown with the British fleet. Soldiers, sailors and workers formed councils or soviets with echoes of events in Communist Russia. The Kaiser, William II abdicated and went into exile in Holland. A republic was proclaimed with the SPD leader Frederich Ebert as Chancellor (Prime Minster). The first act of the new government was to sign the armistice with the Allies. Many including Adolf Hitler saw this as an act of treason and the men who agreed to surrender became known as the “November Criminals.” 
The new republic faced a host of problems. These included: 
Over two and half million Germans had died in the war and four million were wounded. 
The army and many other Nationalist groups in German society were unhappy that the Kaiser had been forced to abdicate and were openly hostile to the government. 
Germany faced the prospect of a harsh treaty that was being negotiated in Paris. 

The Spartacus Revolt 
Even before the constitution had been drawn up the left wing Spartacus movement led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg began a revolt in Berlin in January 1919 seizing buildings throughout the city. The government fled the city. Many feared the “red plague” and the defence minister Gustav Noske used the army and the Freikorps to crush the revolt. The Freikorps was a volunteer militia made up of ex army men set up to defend the borders of Germany. It was strongly anti-communist and took brutal steps to restore order with summary executions becoming common-place. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were shot and the revolt was crushed. Here in Bavaria another Communist revolt was defeated with Freikorps help in May. Political violence had marred the foundation of the new state. 

The New Constitution 
Despite the Spartacus revolt, most Germans voted for parties in January 1919 that favoured the new democratic republic- the SPD, the liberal DDP and the Catholic Centre party. The constituent assembly met at Weimar in February 1919 and Ebert was chosen as president. The new constitution was very democratic. REMEMBER SHIRER’S QUOTE. Germany was to be a Federal state with the states or Lander retaining considerable control over their own affairs. The parliament (Reichstag) was to be elected every four years with a system of proportional representation that meant it was impossible for one party to get an overall majority. 
All people over the age of twenty could vote. The Reichstag dealt with issues such as tax, trade, defence and foreign affairs. As there were a large number of political parties, there were many coalition governments. During the fourteen years of the Weimar Republic, there were twenty separate coalitions. The longest government lasted two years. This political chaos caused many to lose faith in the new democratic system (Richard J Evans argues this). 
The head of state was the president who was elected every seven years. He was the commander of the armed forces and was designed to a largely figurehead position. He did have the power to dissolve the Reichstag and to nominate the Chancellor who was to enjoy the support of the Reichstag. Crucially under Article 48, the president could declare a state of emergency and rule by decree. He could also veto laws passed by the Reichstag that he did not like. 

 The Main Political Parties 

The parties of the Republic 
The SPD (Social Democrats) were a moderate socialist party and the largest of the parties committed to the Republic. It was strongly anti-communist. 
 The Centre Party (Zentrum) was set up to defend Catholic interests in 1870. It drew support from all classes. It was present in every Weimar coalition government until 1933. The BVP was its Bavarian ally. 
The DDP (German Democratic Party) was a middle class Liberal party. It lost support rapidly after 1920. In 1919 it received 19% of the vote. By 1932 this was down to 1%. 
The DVP (German People’s Party) didn't trust the new Republic and at heart they were Monarchists. They were supported by the middle-classes. The outstanding political figure of the Weimar Republic, Gustav Stresemann, was the leader of this party. Its highest point of support was in 1920 when it received 14% of the vote. By 1932 this was down to 2%. 

The opposition of the left 
The USPD (Independent Socialist Party) had broken from the SPD in 1917 because they did not support Germany’s continued participation in WWI. It declined rapidly after 1920 with the rise of the Communist party. 
The KPD (Communist Party) was formed from the Spartacus Union that had led a revolt against the Weimar government in January 1919. It was very closely allied to Moscow and it refused to co-operate, in any way, with the parties that supported Weimar. They were especially hostile to the SPD. This refusal to support Democratic parties went as far as allying with the Nazis (their sworn enemies) in Reichstag votes. This was in order to further destabilise the Republic 

The opposition of the right 
The DNVP (German National People’s Party) set up in 1918 and composed of supporters of the old Monarchy. Had strong rural support especially in Protestant areas. They were Hitler’s coalition partners when he came to power in 1933. 
The NSDAP (National Socialist German Worker’s Party) founded in Munich in 1919. At first favoured the violent overthrow of the Weimar Republic. But after the failed Putsch of 1923 it adopted a legal approach to achieving power. 

The Treaty of Versailles
 Came as a complete shock to the new government and to the German people. Virtually all sections of German opinion denounced the treaty. It was known as the Diktat as Germany had been forced to sign the treaty. On the day it was signed, Germany’s Protestant churches declared a day of national mourning. 

The Kapp Putsch 
Right wing dissatisfaction with the new government was worsened when the government moved to disband Freikorps units. A nationalist politician, Wolfgang Kapp led a revolt in Berlin backed by the Freikorps and the military commander of Berlin. The regular army refused to crush the revolt and the government fled to Stuttgart. Its call for a general strike was carried out by the trade unions in the city and the putsch collapsed. At the same time a communist revolt was crushed in the Ruhr, the industrial heartland of Germany, with over a thousand dead. Right wing assassinations were to plague the early years of the new republic with leading politicians such as Matthias Erzberger and Walther Rathenau assassinated. Many of the murderers were treated with great leniency by the courts but the murders did have the effect of strengthening support for the institutions of the republic. 

The French occupation of the Ruhr 
In 1921 the Allied Reparations Commission presented the government with a bill for reparations of £6.6 Billion. The Germans could not pay the amount owed and over the Christmas and New Year, 1922-3, they defaulted on their payments. Seventy thousand French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr intending to use the produce of Germany’s industrial heartland as payment in kind for reparations. The government began a policy of passive resistance and called a general strike. Some began a low level terrorist campaign. The French reacted brutally with aggressive house searches, hostage taking and shooting over a hundred Germans. 
The economic effects of the occupation were catastrophic. The loss of production in the Ruhr caused a fall in production elsewhere and unemployment rose from 2% to 23%. Prices rose out of control as tax revenues collapsed and the government financed its activities through the printing of money. By November prices were a billion times their pre-war levels. 
The hyper inflation of this period can be seen from the following table: 
The rise in prices hit the middle classes and those on fixed income very hard. Many who had saved money found that their savings were worthless. 

2. The Stresemann Era 
Click here for free essays relating specifically to Stresemann

During the dark days of 1923, Gustav Stresemann was appointed chancellor and his policies would help to transform the fortunes of Weimar. He had been a strong supporter of Germany’s involvement in World War I and advocated unrestricted submarine warfare as the only means to defeat Britain. 
At first, Stresemann felt no loyalty to the new Weimar Republic and he opposed the Treaty of Versailles. He set up his own party the German People’s Party (DVP). However his views developed and he advocated a great coalition from the SPD to the DVP to consolidate democracy against the extremes of left and right. 
He became Chancellor in August 1923. His government lasted a hundred days until November 1923 but he remained as foreign minister in successive coalitions until his death in October 1929. As Chancellor he took the crucial step of ceasing financial support to the general strike in the Ruhr. He introduced a new and stable currency (the Rentenmark) that ended the hyper-inflation. He also crushed a communist revolt in Saxony and faced down the threat from Hitler in Bavaria. 

The Period of Prosperity 
Over the next six years, as foreign minister he sought to improve Germany’s international position, cooperate with France and Britain in order to secure a revision of some of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. This policy became known as fulfilment. He achieved a large measure of success. Under Anglo-American pressure France withdrew from the Ruhr. Stresemann accepted the recommendations of the Dawes committee for a settlement of the reparations issue. A moderate scale of payments was fixed rising from £50 million to £125 million after 5 years and a 2-year moratorium (suspension) on reparation payments was set. A loan of $800 million was raised for Germany, mainly in America. For the next 5 years American loans poured into Germany which greatly improved the economic position. 

The Locarno Pact 
In 1925 he took the initiative that led to the Locarno Pact we looked at in a past Paper 1. In it Germany recognised her Western frontiers as final and agreed to use peaceful means to ensure revision of her frontiers in the east. Stresemann was a German nationalist and was not prepared to give up what he saw as legitimate demands for the return of Danzig and the northern half of the Polish Corridor. In September 1926 Germany joined the League of Nations with a permanent seat on the Council in recognition of her status as a great power. As part of this policy of co-operation, the first of the three Rhineland zones which had been placed under Allied military occupation by the Treaty of Versailles were evacuated in 1926. In 1927 the Inter-Allied Control Commission to supervise German disarmament was withdrawn. The Young Plan agreed in 1929 greatly reduced German reparations to a figure of £2 billion and Repayments were to be made over a period of 59 years. Stresemann also won complete allied evacuation of the Rhineland by June 1930 (five years ahead of schedule). It is hardly surprising that when he died of a stroke in October 1929 at the early age of fifty-one Stresemann’s reputation stood very high. He had also become a focus for hopes of European peace. Hitler is reported to have remarked that in Stresemann’s position “he could not have achieved more”. 

3. The Collapse of Weimar, 1930-1933 

The Great Depression and Germany 
Stresemann’s death could not have come at a worse time for the young republic. The onset of the Great Depression was to have dramatic effects on Germany The German economy’s recovery after the inflation of 1923 had been financed by loans from the United States. Many of these short term loans had been used to finance capital projects such as road building. State governments financed their activities with the help of these loans. German interest rates were high, and capital flowed in. Large firms borrowed money and depended heavily on American loans. German banks took out American loans to invest in German businesses. The German economic recovery was based on shaky foundations. 

The Wall Street Crash 
The German economy was in decline prior to the Wall Street Crash. There was no growth in German industrial production in 1928-9 and unemployment rose to two and a half million. On the 24th October, “Black Thursday”, there was panic selling on the New York Stock Exchange reacting to a business crisis in America. Early the following week, “Black Tuesday”, 29th of October, panic selling set in again. 16.4 million shares were sold, a record not surpassed for forty years. Share prices went into freefall. Ten billion dollars was wiped off the value of share prices in one day. 

Effects on Germany 
As a result American demand for imports collapsed. American banks saw their losses mount and they started calling in their short term loans with which so much of German economy had been financing itself for the past five years. Firms began to cut back drastically. Industrial production fell quickly and by 1932 it was 40% of its 1929 level. To make matters worse in 1931 a number of Austrian and German banks went out of business. . Unemployment rose from 1.6 million in October 1929 to 6.12 million in February 1932. 33% percent of the workforce were now unemployed. 
 By 1932 roughly one worker in three was registered as unemployed with rates even higher in industrial areas of Germany. Matters were made worse by the fact that the drastic fall in people’s income caused a collapse in tax revenues. Many soon were not in receipt of unemployment benefits as state governments could not afford to pay it. 
 It was in this economic chaos that the Nazis and Communists thrived. Crime and suicide rates rose sharply and many lost hope. People deserted the democratic parties in droves and turned to either the Communists or the Nazis. In the election of 1930, the Nazis made their electoral breakthrough winning 107 deputies while the Communists won 77. Both parties were opposed to the democratic system and used violence against their political opponents. Hitler’s Brownshirts clashed frequently on the streets with their Communist enemies. 

Bruning (1930-2)  
The new chancellor, the Centre politician Heinrich Bruning, followed a policy of economic austerity where government spending was cut in order to keep inflation under control and keep German exports competitive. He increased taxes, reduced salaries and reduced unemployment assistance. While it was sound economic thinking at the time, it only worsened the situation. The banking collapse in 1931 made matters even worse. Bruning was so unpopular that when he travelled by train he had to keep the blinds down as when people caught sight of him, they threw rocks! He was nicknamed the “hunger chancellor”. 

The end of Parliamentary democracy 
Given the unpopularity of Bruning’s policies, he found it very difficult to get a majority in the Reichstag. He relied on Article 48 and the emergency powers of the president to get laws passed. By 1932, parliament was being largely ignored. 
Some of the advisors to the President including General Kurt von Schleicher wanted to include the Nazis in government which Bruning opposed. They wanted to bypass the Reichstag completely and bring in a right wing authoritarian government. 
Hindenburg lost confidence in Bruning and they quarrelled about land reform. Bruning was replaced as chancellor by the equally unpopular von Papen. His cabinet of barons had absolutely no support and this was shown in the election of July 1932. 
The result was a disaster for democracy in Weimar Germany. The Nazis received 37% of the vote and 230 seats while their communist enemies got 89 seats. A majority of Germans had voted for non-democratic parties. Political violence intensified with twelve people killed on the day of the polls. 
The election of November 1932 saw a decline in Nazi but they still remained the largest party in the Reichstag. Communist support continued to rise and this worried many industrialists. Von Papen was replaced as chancellor by von Schleicher. 
Von Papen immediately began to plot against von Schleicher and met Hitler. They agreed that Hitler would become the chancellor of a government made up mainly of von Papen’s supporters. Hindenburg who disliked Hitler, was persuaded to appoint him chancellor on the 30th of January. The Weimar Republic was dead! 

Main Weaknesses of the Weimar Republic 

The was electoral system too democratic. It was too easy for splinter parties to get elected and very difficult to form stable governments. Parties could contest elections that did not accept the democratic system. After 1930 many of the deputies in the Reichstag were ether communist or Nazi and this made parliamentary government became almost impossible. 
There were twenty separate coalition governments in the period and this gave the impression of instability. Many believed that democracy was too weak to defend Germany against the communist threat. 
It was a republic born out of defeat. Many Germans refused to accept its legitimacy especially monarchists. They blamed it for accepting the hated treaty of Versailles. Many within important groups in society such as the army, big business, the civil service and the judiciary wished to see a more authoritarian form of government. 
They admired pre-war Germany and there was little respect for democratic institutions. 
The severe economic problems that were faced reduced support especially the hyper-inflation of 1923 and the Great Depression of the 1930s. 


“Full democracy undermined the state.” To what extent do you agree with this statement with reference to Germany (1919–1933)?

Historians Quotes for Germany
ALY, GÖTZ (b. 1947) One of the most innovative and provocative of German historians, Aly stirred up controversy in the 1980s and 1990s by arguing that there were rational, economic motives driving the murder of the Jews in the Holocaust. In the eyes of his critics, attributing rational, utilitarian motives to Nazi perpetrators risked diluting the “absolute evil” of Nazism. Aly’s revelations of the complicity of mid-level academic and bureaucratic officials in the planning of the Final Solution, however, were based on thorough research and have gained general acceptance among historians. His 1991 book, co-authored with Susanne Heim, Architects of Annihilation: Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction  dealt with the Schreibtischtäter (desk-bound perpetrators) who drew up plans for population transfers in Eastern Europe in the early 1940s to combat the perceived problem of agrarian “over-population” and create space for German colonisation. Although Aly and Heim may have exaggerated the influence of population planners on Nazi decision-making, their research revealed the close linkage between German settlement policies in the east and the Holocaust. Their interpretation – epitomized in their provocative phrase, “the economy of the final solution” – was controversial because in emphasising bureaucratic plans aimed at economic modernization and rationalization in the causation of the Holocaust, Aly and Heim seemed to downplay the significance of irrational racial ideology. 
ARENDT, HANNAH (1906–1975) One of the leading political thinkers of the twentieth century, Arendt sought refuge from the Nazis in Paris in 1933, eventually coming to the US with her husband Heinrich Blücher in 1941. Arendt traced the origins of totalitarianism to nineteenth-century racism and imperialism. Her work helped to popularise the notion of totalitarianism as a novel form of twentieth-century dictatorship by pointing to parallels in the tyrannies of Hitler and Stalin, despite their ideological differences. By mobilising the atomized masses around their respective ideologies both regimes adopted a form of rule that made unprecedented mass murder possible, thus marking a radical break in European history and Western civilisation. Yet in Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt struck a different note, emphasizing “the banality of evil” and the potentially pernicious effects of bureaucratic careerism. Her portrait of Eichmann as a colourless but ambitious bureaucrat scrupulously following orders, rather than as a demonic sadist or virulent anti-Semite, aroused controversy by seeming to diminish his wickedness; her purpose, though, was not to trivialise the evil of the Holocaust but rather to warn that the failure to understand the “normality” of many perpetrators was to ignore the dangers of similar horrors occurring in other states under different historical conditions. Her critics accused her of slighting anti- Semitism as a driving factor in the Holocaust so as to emphasise the genocidal potential residing in modern states. Her criticism of the role of some members of the Jewish Councils in collaborating with the Nazis aroused controversy as well, but it also stimulated further research that has borne out some of her contentions. 
BARTOV, OMER (b. 1954) In his books on the German military, (available on the right) Bartov described the barbarous nature of the Nazi war against the Soviet Union and the role of the Wehrmacht as an integral part and willing tool of the Nazi regime. Bartov challenged the post-war myth of the Wehrmacht as an unpolitical professional force and demonstrated the army’s complicity and close involvement in the genocidal programme of the regime. Bartov maintained that German soldiers fought out of conviction, believing themselves to be part of a redemptive project to create a better world. Bartov has been critical both of Goldhagen’s monocausal explanation of the Holocaust as the product of a collective German “eliminationist antisemitism” and of German functionalist or structuralist historians, such as Mommsen or Aly, who seem to downplay the importance of anti- Semitic ideology and the role of moral choice in the causation of the Holocaust. Bartov has also explored and revealed the connections between the mass industrialised killing of the First World War and the readiness to commit genocide in the Second World War. The destruction of war came to be widely viewed in Germany as sweeping away the weak and degenerate, and seemed to confirm the adage that life was war and war was life. German military history cannot be separated from the history of the Holocaust, according to Bartov, nor can the Holocaust be adequately represented or explained without integrating the perspectives of victims with those of the perpetrators.
BAUER, YEHUDA (b. 1926) Has argued forcefully for the uniqueness of the Holocaust in the history of genocide, but has also criticised mythical representations that treated the Holocaust as outside the realm of history and beyond human understanding. Although Bauer has been critical of structuralist or functionalist explanations that minimised Hitler’s personal role in the origins of the Holocaust or the role of racist ideology, he has himself modified his earlier interpretation of the Holocaust as primarily the result of the Nazi leadership’s long-standing intention to destroy the Jews physically. According to Bauer, the basic motives for the killings were not bureaucratic or pragmatic, but ideological.
BESSEL, RICHARD (b. 1948) Bessel, many of whose books are in my classroom) has contributed numerous publications to the study of political violence, paramilitary formations, and the police in twentieth-century Germany. Bessel has been critical of Wehler’s Sonderweg interpretation, which traces the origins of Nazism to an inherited set of social structures peculiar to Germany. He has also been critical of Marxist interpretations and of both totalitarianism theory and modernization theory. In his view Nazism did indeed mark the culmination of a long tradition of European racism, but not one confined to Germany. What was unique to Germany was the fact that the specific conditions resulting from the First World War and German defeat allowed a band of political thugs imbued with racist ideology to capture power in a highly developed industrial nation. The memory of the humiliating end of the First World War and a determination not to permit a repetition remained powerful influences on Nazi policies right up to 1945. Bessel has also made a sharp distinction between the “revolutionary” Nazis and the inept “counter-revolutionary” elite that helped them to gain power and shared many of their goals. 
BOCK, GISELA (b. 1942) Leading German feminist historian and author of Zwangssterilisierung im Nationalsozialismus which linked Nazi racial policy to Nazi policy toward women in general. Bock argued that “compulsory sterilisation affected women more than men . . . because women’s identities were more closely connected to their sexual fertility.” While Bock’s argument that women were more adversely affected than men by the Nazis’ eugenic practices has been generally accepted, her conceptual equation of anti-feminism with anti- Semitism as two sides of the same deadly racial policy remains controversial. Bock acknowledged that some women had contributed to Nazi crimes in their functions outside the home, but she continued to deny any “specifically female guilt” in the traditionally separate private sphere.
BROSZAT, MARTIN (1926–1989) Argued the failure of Weimar was Hindenburg’s fault. He introduced the novel concept of Resistenz to describe a passive kind of nonconformity that was far more widespread in the Bavarian population than active resistance (Widerstand) to Nazi rule. Broszat called for the “historicisation” of National Socialism, a plea to integrate the Third Reich within the continuity of German history rather than treating it as an episode outside of history and thus inaccessible to historical understanding. Broszat warned that routine and ritualistic moral condemnation of Nazism for didactic reasons stood in the way of full understanding, which he believed could only be achieved by applying the same rigorous and objective scholarly methodology as historians applied to other periods of history. He denied that use of normal historical methodology would inevitably lead to a more favourable evaluation of Nazism. Broszat introduced the notion of “polycracy” to describe the often chaotic Nazi administrative system characterized by personal rivalries, jurisdictional disputes, power struggles, overlapping competencies, and bureaucratic confusion.
BROWNING, CHRISTOPHER (b. 1944) A leading American historian of the Holocaust, Browning published what has come to be recognised as the most authoritative work of synthesis on the early stages of the Holocaust. He did not believe that the Nazis pursued a master plan aimed at the physical extermination of the Jews from the very start; but Browning was also critical of historical interpretations that portrayed the Holocaust as motivated predominantly by rational or economic goals, such as modernizing agriculture in eastern Europe by reducing the “surplus population” or combating food shortages by destroying “useless eaters”. According to Browning the Holocaust can only be explained as a consequence of the Nazis’ ideological obsessions and extreme anti-Semitism; the decision-making that led to the “final solution” should be understood as the product of the interaction between local and central authorities in which, however, the central authorities played the predominant role. Browning contended that the decision for the “final solution” must have been reached by October 1941, for in that month plans for the deportation of Jews from the German Reich were developed, all Jewish emigration from areas controlled by Germany was prohibited, and construction of the Belzec extermination camp was under way. More controversially, Browning argued that it was the euphoria of battlefield success in the Soviet Union, not the prospects of impending defeat or the entry of the United States into the war (as argued by Gerlach), that led Nazi leaders to take the decisive step to the physical annihilation of all European Jews.
BULLOCK, ALAN Lord (1914–2004) A focus in class, British historian whose scholarly interests extended well beyond German history and the Nazi era. His importance as a historian of Nazi Germany rests on his influential Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1952), the first comprehensive biography of the Nazi leader. However, his portrait of Hitler as an opportunist without principles or convictions motivated primarily by the desire to wield power is no longer widely shared. Bullock himself revised his earlier interpretation in his book, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1991), in which he stressed the importance of ideology and Hitler’s commitment to the basic ideas he expressed in Mein Kampf. 
Quotes: Hitler was jobbed into power by the old guard.”   Hitler was a “Mountebank
BURLEIGH, MICHAEL (b. 1955) Trained as a medievalist, Burleigh developed an interest in Nazi Germany as a result of work on his first book, a history of the Teutonic Order in the fifteenth century, published in 1984. His opus magnum, The Third Reich, was written in a tone of moral outrage which described the unique criminality of the Third Reich in grim detail. Its interpretation of Nazism, however, fell well within the conventional parameters of totalitarianism theory and shared the weaknesses of that paradigm, highlighting the similarities between Nazism and communism, while neglecting their significant differences. Burleigh invoked the excessively vague concept of “political religion” as his main explanatory trope, attributing the force of Nazism (like communism) to its utopian urge to create a new kind of man and a heaven on earth based on the triumph of the master race (rather than, as in communism, the triumph of the underclass). In contrast to structural interpretations of Nazi Germany, especially ones that implicate Western rationalism or bourgeois capitalist society in Nazism or in the Holocaust, Burleigh stressed the uniquely irrational, racist, and anti-modern aspects of the Nazi regime and the personal responsibility of Hitler and his leading henchmen for Nazi atrocities.
DAHRENDORF, RALF (b. 1929) Dahrendorf, a German sociologist who became a British citizen, berated his fellow Germans for their lack of social consciousness and sought to educate them in the principles of liberal democracy. His importance for the historiography of Nazism is his structural analysis of the long-range anti-democratic trends in German society that made the Nazi seizure of power possible: First, the persistence of inequalities in class status, educational opportunities, and social advancement. Second, repression of social conflict in the name of national harmony rather than resolution of conflicts through compromise and open debate. Third, the self-preservation and durability of Germany’s social elite, which retained its unity through inherited authoritarian patterns of behaviour and a “cartel of fear” even in the critical years after the First World War. And fourth, a preference for private virtues rather than public political participation, leading to escapism and timidity. According to Dahrendorf, Imperial Germany missed the road to modernity and consolidated itself as an industrial feudal society and an authoritarian welfare state. The failure of Germans to develop the liberal civic consciousness necessary for the responsibilities of citizenship explained the demise of democracy in 1933. The Nazis, gained their legitimacy in the eyes of the German public by carrying out the modernising social revolution that Germany’s illiberal social structures had previously prevented. The Nazi revolution took such a catastrophic form precisely because German social realities made peaceful social reform impossible even in the democratic Weimar Republic.
EVANS, RICHARD Sir (b. 1947) Originally a specialist in nineteenth-century German social history, British historian Richard Evans has become one of the leading authorities on Nazi Germany with his three-volume history of the Third Reich, all of which are in my classroom. Evans adopted a less Hitler-centred or moralistic approach than earlier comprehensive histories of Nazism in English (such as those by Kershaw, Burleigh, or Shirer), and he also challenged the Sonderweg notion that Germany was by tradition or history uniquely susceptible to Hitler’s racist message or totalitarian rule. Evans’s narrative is especially effective in portraying the complexities and ambiguities of the Nazis’ seizure of power, Nazi rule, and popular reactions to the Nazis. His book, Lying about Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial (available right), resulted from his testimony in American historian Deborah Lipstadt’s successful defence in a libel suit brought by British historian David Irving, whom Lipstadt accused of denying the Holocaust.
Chief quote: "To say someone is morally good or bad is either unnecessary or simplistic. The principal task of history is to explain and interpret, not to issue moral judgements."
FEST, JOACHIM (1926–2006) Conservative journalist and historian best known for the first major biography of Hitler by a German historian, stressing his misguided idealism and nationalism. Taking issue with Bullock’s contention that Hitler was driven only by the desire for power, Fest emphasised the importance of Hitler’s strong ideological convictions. “The problem was not one of criminal impulses but of a perverted moral energy.” Fest answered in the affirmative his own question as to whether Hitler would have been considered “one of the greatest German statesmen” if he had died in 1938. For Fest the “negative greatness” of Hitler’s personality explained Nazism better than did social or economic developments. Fest’s account of the last days of the Third Reich, Inside Hitler’s Bunker, provided the basis for the film Der Untergang (The Downfall) in 2004.
FISCHER, FRITZ(1908–1999) Influential German historian whose landmark book Germany’s Aims in the First World War (first published under the title Griff nach der Weltmacht [Grasp for World Power] in 1961) precipitated a controversy in Germany and led to a new awareness of German responsibility for the outbreak of war in 1914. An older generation of German historians, chief among them Gerhard Ritter, rejected Fischer’s assertion that the German leadership had taken advantage of the assassination of the Austrian crown prince by Serbian nationalists in June 1914 to pursue policies that they knew were likely to result in war. Fischer repudiated the prevailing consensus among Germans that war had been forced on their nation and that Germany bore no greater responsibility for the conflict than the other European powers. Fischer’s thesis that the German leadership consciously risked war because of their confidence in the superiority of German arms in a continental war has been widely accepted and was corroborated by historian Mark Hewitson in his book on the origins of the First World War in 2004. The “Fischer thesis” did not change the historical consensus on Germany’s guilt for the Second World War, which was never in doubt in any case. Its main effect on the historiography of Nazism was to have revealed continuities linking the expansionist goals of the Wilhelmian Empire to those of the Nazis.

FRIEDLANDER, HENRY (b. 1930) A survivor of the Nazi camps, Friedlander  described the continuity between the Aktion T-4 euthanasia program, launched in 1939, and the “final solution,” the killing of the Jews. Friedlander advocated expanding the definition of the Holocaust to embrace not only Jewish victims but all victim groups defined in biological terms, which would include the gypsies and the mentally and physically disabled. Friedlander argues the Holocaust resulted from the conjunction of two main strands of Nazi ideology – anti-Semitism and eugenic selection – under the favourable conditions for systematic murder created by total war.
FRIEDLÄNDER, SAUL (b. 1932) Friedländer introduced the concept of “redemptive” anti-Semitism, a radical form of Jew- hatred resulting from the convergence of racial anti-Semitism and a pseudo-religious ideology of redemption (or perdition). “Redemptive” anti-Semitism was based on a vision of an apocalyptic struggle to the death between the Jews and “Aryan humanity” and served an integrating and mobilising function in the Nazi system. While Friedländer differed with “intentionalists,” who argued that extermination of the Jews had always been Hitler’s goal, he did insist that the “redemptive” anti- Semitism of Hitler and the core of the Nazi Party was the key to the origins of the Holocaust. Friedländer recognised the role of technocratic rationality in the extermination programme, but insisted on the centrality of Hitler and his ideological goals.
GELLATELY, ROBERT (b. 1943) Referred to regularly in HL classes, Canadian-American historian whose most important contributions to the historiography of Nazism to date have been his studies of popular cooperation in the totalitarian Nazi regime which marked a shift in emphasis from public dissent and non- cooperation in earlier literature on Nazi Germany to an emphasis on the participation, compliance, and accommodation of ordinary German citizens. Gellately concluded that the efficient functioning of the understaffed secret police was dependent on the continuing cooperation of ordinary Germans in denouncing their fellow citizens. Gellately argued, however, that loyalty to the regime, ideological fanaticism, or fear of Gestapo reprisal were less important as motives for denunciation than opportunism, conformism, professional rivalries, personal grudges, and conflicts between neighbours. Not only was it far smaller than had previously been assumed, but its personnel were drawn mainly from the professional police force that pre-dated the Nazi regime. Gellately debunked what remained of the popular conception of the Nazi regime as a police state imposed by force on an unsuspecting population, which then found it too late to resist What makes Gellately’s findings on Nazi Germany particularly relevant to contemporary concerns is the implication that a totalitarian system can function effectively even without the use of large- scale coercion. Totalitarianism thus constitutes an insidious potential threat even in societies that perceive themselves as democratic.
GERLACH, CHRISTIAN (b. 1963) Young German historian whose discovery of Heinrich Himmler’s appointment calendar in a newly opened Soviet archive in 1997 led to a reappraisal of the long-disputed question about whether and when Hitler made the decision to launch the “final solution.” Based on several of Himmler’s entries, as well as newly discovered pages of Goebbels’ diary, Gerlach concluded that Hitler announced his decision to exterminate all European Jews to a meeting of Reichsleiter and Gauleiter in Berlin on 12 December 1941, one day after the German declaration of war on the United States. The Wannsee Conference, originally intended to decide the fate of the German Jews, was now assigned the function of coordinating the implementation of the Final Solution and deciding whether German Mischlings and Jews married to Germans should be included in the extermination program. Gerlach’s dating of Hitler’s decision to early December ran counter to Christopher Browning’s contention that Hitler’s decision to extend the killing program to include all European Jews had already been made by October 1941. Gerlach also disputed Browning’s hypothesis that Hitler’s decision was the result of the euphoria that accompanied German battlefield successes in the east in late summer 1941, arguing instead that the US entry into the war was the crucial catalyst of Hitler’s decision.
GOLDHAGEN, DANIEL J. (b. 1959) His best-selling book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (a couple of copies in my classroom), became the subject of a fierce controversy among historians about the causes of the Holocaust, the participation of ordinary people in atrocities, and the motivation of the perpetrators. Goldhagen contended that the Holocaust was a German “national project” perpetrated with the full knowledge and approval of the German public. He identified an “eliminationist” anti-Semitism so deeply rooted in German history and culture as to have become part of the common sense of the average German. In collapsing the distinction between Nazis and Germans, Goldhagen violated a taboo that had been useful in reintegrating the post-war Federal Republic in the Western cold war alliance. Goldhagen was roundly criticised for overstating German exceptionalism, offering an overly simplistic, monocausal explanatory model for the origin of the Holocaust, neglecting the political context in which Nazism arose, insisting that anti-Semitism was more pervasive in Germany than in other countries without providing any comparative data, and for exaggerating the novelty of his thesis that anti-Semitism was the root cause of the Holocaust. 
As the deliberate use of the phrase “ordinary Germans” in his title made clear, Goldhagen directly challenged Christopher Browning who had concluded that ordinary men became brutal killers, not because they were ideological fanatics or bloodthirsty sadists but because of situational factors such as peer pressure, conformism, careerism, deference to higher authority, the brutalisation of war, and the routinisation of killing. Goldhagen argued instead that German killers were decisively motivated by passionate hatred of Jews, a hostility shared by virtually all Germans as a result of their socialisation in a specifically German culture of “eliminationist” anti- Semitism.
HILLGRUBER, ANDREAS (1925–1989)  Prominent West German diplomatic and military historian of the generation just old enough to have been drafted into the German army in the closing stages of the Second World War. Argued a strongly “intentionalist” view in which the course of the Third Reich and the Second World War were almost exclusively attributed to Hitler’s personal and ideological goals. Hillgruber retracted his earlier contention that the German invasion of the Soviet Union had been a “preventive war” (a contention successfully refuted by the American historian Gerhard Weinberg in 1954). Hillgruber now attributed the attack on Russia to Hitler’s fanatical racist beliefs and desire for Lebensraum. Whilst Hillgruber agreed with Fischer that the German leadership brought about the First World War by its high- risk diplomatic strategy, he discounted the role of domestic factors in the German government’s decisions. Hillgruber’s pronounced Hitler-centrism also left him open to the charge of indirectly exculpating the German elites by making Hitler solely responsible for the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. 
IRVING, DAVID His controversial 1977 book Hitler’s War suggests that Hitler was very much a creature of his time, rather than a power-crazed madman. Irving’s Hitler is a brilliant politician who seized government not to exploit the situation, but because the situation – and the people of Germany – demanded a dictator.
JÄCKEL, EBERHARD (b. 1929) Jäckel is a leading representative of the “intentionalist” school of thought- Jäckel believed that Hitler’s world-view was formed in the aftermath of the First World War and aimed for the physical destruction of the Jews as early as 1924. According to Jäckel, extermination of the Jews was an essential German war aim from the start of the Second World War. The essential political decisions were taken by Hitler alone as the logical consequence of his ideological obsessions, justifying in Jäckel’s judgement his labelling of the Nazi regime as Alleinherrschaft. Jäckel believed that Hitler’s ultimate aim was continental, not global domination.
KERSHAW, IAN Sir (b. 1943) Leading British historian of Nazi Germany, whose two- volume biography of Hitler, Hitler: Hubris (1998) and Hitler: Nemesis (2002), both in the school library, has been widely recognised as the most reliable account of Hitler’s life and rule to date. It is not so much a personal biography as it is a study of how Hitler interacted with German society and exploited and mirrored the fears and resentments of the German population after the First World War. Kershaw introduced the innovative concept of “working towards the Führer” to explain why so many Nazi policies originated on the local or regional levels and how an apparently dysfunctional Nazi administrative system of competing authorities, personal rivalries, and overlapping competencies was nonetheless able to carry out the murder of the Jews efficiently and obsessively. Hitler, who showed little interest in the day-to-day business of government or in administrative detail, needed only to establish the broad parameters of policy. Subordinate leaders and their underlings were encouraged to exercise their own initiative in fulfilling Hitler’s perceived objectives.
KOONZ, CLAUDIA (b. 1940) Leading American feminist historian of Nazism, Koonz described women as active participants in the Nazi system despite their restriction to the private sphere. Whilst men were responsible for public policy, women provided the emotional support in domestic life that helped to stabilise the regime. Koonz emphasised the role of German women as willing accomplices and contributors to Nazi power.
LONGERICH, PETER (b. 1955) A leading member of a younger generation of German historians who have used the opening of East European archives after the collapse of the Soviet Union to make important contributions to the historiography of the Holocaust. Longerich concluded that Hitler played a central, hands-on role in the origins and implementation of the Holocaust, even though there probably was no written order or even a single basic decision (Grundsatzentscheidung). Longerich traced the extermination policy through several stages, beginning with the resettlement of Jews into ghettos after the defeat of Poland in October 1939. Although the ethnic cleansing of Soviet Jews began with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Longerich believed that it was not until May 1942 that the “final solution” was extended to all European Jews under German control. Unlike Christopher Browning, Longerich did not consider the construction of killing centres, the deportation of Jews from the Reich, or the prohibition of Jewish emigration in October 1941 as compelling evidence that a basic decision to include all European Jews in the extermination program had already been made in 1941. “The history of the Holocaust,” Longerich argued, “is not the history of an extermination program that progressed without deviation as a result of a single order, but is rather the history of a process, in the course of which various interests were weighed, priorities established, and decisions made – a process that was, in short, the result of a policy, but shaped by politics.” In “Davon haben wir nichts gewusst!” Longerich addressed the paradox that Nazi leaders spoke openly about the destruction of the Jews in public speeches but treated the details of the death camps as a state secret. By announcing the extermination program without revealing its full scale and barbarity, the Nazis ensured the complicity of the German public while avoiding the potentially demoralising effects of that knowledge. The purpose of this double strategy of treating the Holocaust as an “open secret” was to convince the German people that there was no alternative to fighting the war to the bitter end.
MARRUS, MICHAEL R. (b. 1941) Marrus argues that anti-Semitism was not forced on the Vichy regime by the Nazis but originated from domestic sources and was marked by unusual brutality. Marrus was critical of Pius XII’s reluctance to assist non-Catholic Jews and his failure to publicise reports of the Holocaust or of the plight of the Polish Church. 
MASON, TIMOTHY (1940–1990) Mason is perhaps best known as the historian who introduced the distinction between intentionalism and functionalism (or structuralism) in 1981. At issue was the question whether the peculiar destructiveness and self-destructiveness of the Third Reich could best be understood through an analysis of systemic social and economic structures and processes (the structuralist method), or whether the purposes and decisions of the Nazi leadership, particularly Hitler himself, were ultimately the crucial factor in explaining the criminality of Nazism. At stake was nothing less than the moral responsibility of historians, as both sides accused each other of misrepresenting and understating the evil of Nazism. Mason was particularly critical of the intentionalist interpretative model, which in his view gave far too much explanatory weight to Hitler’s own program and rhetoric, but he also criticized functionalist approaches that failed to attach sufficient importance to economic factors or class analysis.  Richard Overy disputed Mason’s conclusion that war in 1939 was (in part) a response to an insoluble domestic crisis brought about by rearmament. Overy’s conclusion that Germany did not face an economic crisis in 1939 was corroborated by Adam Tooze.
MOMMSEN, HANS (b. 1930) Member of a famous family of historians, Mommsen is the leading representative of the left-liberal “functionalist” interpretation of Nazism that emerged to prominence in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. Mommsen stressed the culpability of Germany’s conservative economic and military elites both in Hitler’s rise to power and in his system of rule. He has been critical of potentially apologetic interpretations that overemphasise Hitler’s personal role in the Nazi system, thus neglecting the complicity of collaborating elites as well as the conditions and structures that allowed Hitler to gain such indisputable overall control. According to Mommsen, anti-Semitic ideology and Hitler’s intentions are not enough to account for the “final solution,” which was conceived as a sequence of emergency measures to solve the self-created “Jewish problem” rather than as the realization of a master plan for extermination. Mommsen certainly did not slight ideological factors in his interpretation of Nazism, however. Ideology provided the indispensable motor of “cumulative radicalisation.” Mommsen attributed Germany’s fanatical resistance at the end of the war to the Nazis’ ideological mobilisation and their belief that a resolute will could make up for lack of material resources. In his account of Nazi policies in the Second World War, Mommsen gave great weight to Nazi leaders’ determination to avoid the perceived mistakes of German leaders in the First World War, who had failed to secure the unity of the home front. Mommsen was critical of totalitarianism theory, which located Nazism closer to revolutionary movements of the left than to counter-revolutionary movements of the right. Mommsen also rejected interpretations that depicted Nazism as a modernising movement. Mommsen played a leading role in the Historikerstreit.
MOSSE, GEORGE L. (1918–1999) Grandson of the founder of Berlin’s most prestigious press empire before 1933, Mosse turned to a more post-modern interpretation that traced the sources of Nazi criminality not just to a uniquely German anti-Semitism but to the European-wide hatred, intolerance, and exclusion resulting from the marriage of bourgeois nationalism and morality. He came to see Nazism not as a revolt against middle-class values but rather as a corruption and radicalisation of those very values. Nazism represented the most destructive expression of the “bourgeois” drive to dominate and cleanse the world in the name of morality and respectability.
NOLTE, ERNST (b. 1923) The leading representative of right-wing historical revisionism in Germany seeking to “normalise” the history of Nazism, Nolte achieved public notoriety in the Historikerstreit with his assertion that Nazism must be understood as an at least partially justified response to the greater evil and destructiveness of Soviet Communism. He denied the unique criminality of the Holocaust, portraying it instead as a radical defensive reaction to the perceived genocidal threat posed by “Asiatic Bolshevism” and the Russian Revolution. According to him, Nazi plans to destroy an entire race, the Jews, were modelled on the precedent established by the Bolsheviks in their efforts to destroy an entire class, the bourgeoisie. Nolte attributed ultimate responsibility for the atrocities of the twentieth century to the communist revolutionaries, without whose provocation there would have been no Nazi counter-revolution. Nolte’s right-wing bias and apologetic purposes became increasingly apparent, linking Hitler’s cause with the Western cause in the cold war. Nolte thus provided an interpretation that allows Nazism to be at least partially rehabilitated without denying its radical nature or genocidal crimes.
OVERY, RICHARD (b. 1947) British military and economic historian and one of the foremost authorities on the Second World War. He disputed Mason’s claim that Hitler had been forced to go to war in 1939 to prevent an economic crisis. Overy contended that Hitler had only miscalculated the likelihood of Britain and France intervening in the war against Poland. Overy rejected the notion that the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was a preventive war. In The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia (2004) Overy concluded that the similarities between the two regimes outweighed the differences. Both systems were based on utopian visions that were similar in form though divergent in purpose, and both regimes understood that their true enemy was the liberal West. Critics of Overy’s revived totalitarianism model, however, questioned his failure to differentiate between the very different popular bases on which these two regimes rested.
PEUKERT, DETLEV J. K. (1950–1990) Short-lived but highly influential German historian and part of the movement of Alltagsgeschichte in the 1980s to which he contributed a history of the experiences of ordinary Germans during the Third Reich. Peukert stressed the ambivalence of popular interactions with the regime, ranging from active collaboration to passive resistance, and revealed the ambiguous but unavoidable complicity even of Germans who did not share the Nazi ideology. Peukert’s most significant contribution to the historiography of Nazism, however, was his critique of modernisation theory (the notion that Nazism can best be understood as a product of inadequate modernisation). Peukert took issue with the conventional notion that Nazism resulted from Germany’s failure to modernise and argued instead that Nazism represented the dark side of Germany’s extraordinary modernity. In Peukert’s view Nazi racial policy, including compulsory sterilization, eugenic abortion, euthanasia (the killing of the mentally and physically disabled), and the “final solution of the Jewish question,” exemplified a central feature of modernity, Machbarkeitswahn (the illusion that anything is doable), the belief that society could be renovated and social problems resolved through the application of biological principles and practices. In Peukert’s interpretation Nazism typified the murderous potential of modern social engineering projects. Peukert rejected the comforting notion that Nazi barbarism marked a relapse into the primitive past, warning that it might instead offer a preview of a potentially genocidal future. 
RAUSCHNING, HERMANN (1887–1982) A prominent German conservative, veteran of the First World War, and member of the Nazi party in 1931, Rauschning argued Hitler’s movement was solely opportunistic, without consistent ideology, program, or principle. By describing the Nazis as only interested in exercising power, Rauschning in effect extricated his own anti-democratic and anti-communist values and goals from complicity in the Nazi project without denying them. In some respects Rauschning anticipated totalitarianism theory by situating the Nazi movement on the left rather than the right of the political spectrum. Many of the direct quotations in his 1939 book, Hitler Speaks, purportedly based on conversations with Hitler, were fabricated, and this book is no longer considered a reliable historical source.
RITTER, GERHARD (1888–1967) Like most German nationalists he rejected the Versailles Treaty and the Weimar parliamentary system, embraced the “stab-in-the-back” legend, and denied German guilt for the outbreak of the First World War. While rejecting the Nazis’ extremism in the 1930s, particularly their violent persecution of the Jews, Ritter admired and celebrated Hitler’s foreign policy successes and supported German expansionism. These nationalist attitudes coloured his historical works as well. According to Ritter, Nazism was the product of mass politics and the revolutionary movements emanating from the French Revolution. He rejected attempts to trace the origins of Nazism to German history, attributing it instead to such European- wide aspects of modernity as industrialisation, materialism, rationalism, Marxism, secularisation, Darwinian science, and technology. However, the consensus today is that Ritter was simply wrong in identifying Nazism as a direct consequence of the rise of socialism rather than as a reaction to it.
SHIRER, WILLIAM L. (1904–1993) Journalist turned historian, William Shirer is today primarily known for his massive best-seller, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), a well-documented, richly detailed, non-academic narrative account written from a strongly anti-Nazi perspective. Shirer was thoroughly familiar with Germany and with the Nazi hierarchy, having served as a CBS radio reporter in Berlin at the start of the war before being forced to leave in December 1940. His Berlin Diary, published in early 1941, accurately predicted the German invasion of Russia and the outbreak of war with the United States. It also contained eyewitness accounts of the Nuremberg party rallies, the French capitulation on June 22, 1940, and numerous other events.

TAYLOR, A. J. P. (1906–1990) Popular but controversial British historian, whose major work was The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848–1918 (1954). His importance for the historiography of Nazism is based on two works, The Course of German History: A Survey of the Development of Germany since 1815 (1946) and The Origins of the Second World War (1961). The former, written during the war and inevitably reflecting the hostile passions of that conflict, was a classic indictment of Germany’s anti-democratic and militarist tradition. In his later book on the events leading up to the Second World War Taylor seemed to reverse course, blaming the out- break of the war on Britain’s disastrous policy of appeasement, thus seemingly taking some of the onus of guilt from Germany’s leadership. By characterizing Hitler’s foreign policy as not significantly different from earlier German policies, Taylor did not intend to absolve Hitler of culpability, however. Instead, his assertion that Hitler’s policies were consistent with those of mainstream German nationalists was intended as a rebuke to British leaders, whose miscalculations and policy of appeasement made war in September 1939 unavoidable. Taylor was particularly critical of the failure of the British government to follow up Soviet overtures for an anti- fascist military alliance in the 1930s. Only by resurrecting the grand alliance of the First World War, which in fact came about after the German invasion of the USSR and the Japanese attack on the US in 1941, might war have been prevented in 1939. 
Main quote:  "The Depression put the wind in Hitler’s sails"
TOLAND, JOHN Strove for dispassionate objectivity about Hitler. Ignoring the presumption that Hitler was ‘evil’, Toland sought to identify his positive attributes and qualities, to understand why so many supported and even worshipped him.
TOOZE, ADAM Young British economic historian whose impressive tome, The Wages of Destruction, interprets the Second World War as Hitler’s desperate response (in the context of his conviction that Germany was locked in a mortal racial struggle with the Jews) to the challenge posed by the allegedly Jewish-dominated United States, both as a rival to Germany for global power and as a seductive model of a way of life that threatened traditional European institutions by its affluence and gratification of material and sensual desires. The book describes in unprecedented detail the extraordinary mobilisation of German resources during the war to overcome the material advantages of Germany’s foes. Tooze places the genocide of the Jews within a framework that gives weight both to overarching ideological tenets and mundane pragmatic considerations. Whilst in no way denying the Nazis’ predatory practices, Tooze showed that the Nazis would not have been able to finance the war solely by conquest and spoliation. Moreover, the sacrifices imposed on the German population were borne unequally by Germany’s subordinate classes.
WAITE, ROBERT G. L. (1919–1999) Canadian-American historian whose book, Vanguard of Nazism (1952), pioneered the study of the Free Corps as the forerunners of Nazism in the period following the First World War. Waite also authored a biography of Hitler, The Psychopathic God (1977), perhaps the most notable example of the genre of “psycho-history,” which utilised psychoanalytical categories to explain Hitler’s policies and practices and which left a deep impression on me growing up.
WEHLER, HANS-ULRICH (b. 1931) Wehler set forth the so-called Sonderweg theory to help explain the rise and triumph of Nazism in Germany. According to this interpretation, a key factor in Germany’s susceptibility to fascism was the lack of a liberal bourgeois revolution in Germany (due to the failure of the revolution of 1848). The consequence of the weakness of liberalism was that the landed aristocracy continued to wield disproportionate power in German politics. According to Wehler, pre-democratic values and institutions predominated in Bismarckian and Wilhelminian Germany. Whilst the German economy was rapidly modernized, Germany’s political system failed to keep pace with democratic reforms enacted in Western Europe. The resulting social tensions in Germany and differences from the Western European model of liberal democracy helped to account for the aggressive nature of German foreign policy in the twentieth century.
WEINBERG, GERHARD L. (b. 1928) Leading American historian of Nazi foreign policy and the Second World War. His massive A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II is available for download on the right. In contrast to A.J.P. Taylor’s portrait of Hitler pursuing a traditional foreign policy of continental dominance, Weinberg argued that Hitler was driven by global ambitions. Weinberg also effectively refuted David Hoggan’s contention in 1961 that war had been forced on Hitler by the hostile actions of the West. It was Weinberg who first discovered Hitler’s Second Book in the archives, a translation of which he published in 2003.
WELCH, DAVID (b. 1950) Author of The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda (also available for download on the right), Welch has concentrated his research on Nazi propaganda both in practice and in theory. Welch has investigated not only the specific rhetorical or psychological techniques of persuasion that Hitler, Goebbels and other Nazis used to achieve their desired effects (particularly in the new medium of film), but also the social and political context that enhanced or limited the power of propaganda. One key to the Nazis’ propagandistic success was their skill in merging Nazi ideology with traditional themes of patriotism and religion. Rather than changing people’s minds, they reinforced existing prejudices.
WINKLER, HEINRICH AUGUST Winkler’s main field of expertise is the Weimar Republic, arguing that the SPD’s failure to enact thoroughgoing social reform in the aftermath of the First World War impaired the long-term viability of the Weimar Republic by strengthening the right and alienating the left, but he defended the SPD for pursuing the only course that could possibly have led to the establishment of a functioning parliamentary democracy under extremely adverse conditions.
ZITELMANN, RAINER Conservative publicist whose major claim to inclusion in a survey of the historiography of Nazism was his startling revival of the thesis that Hitler was a man of the left, not the right. Zitelmann set forth this dubious interpretation in his book Hitler as Social Revolutionary in which he claimed that Nazi social programs like Strength through Joy were not intended merely to maintain social peace but rather genuinely to improve the conditions of the working class. For Zitelmann Hitler and the Nazis were modernisers who constructively sought to enhance social equality and mobility in Germany. His critics pointed out that wages remained disproportionately low in Germany and that the social benefits that Zitelmann touted were only available to racially pure “Aryans.”

Bullock and Nicholls- Hitler was important in failure of the Weimar Republic
Gordon Craig- Weimar Republic's "normal state was crisis."
John Maynard Keynes: The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Nazis used government money to put people in jobs- later used in USA Walther Frank- Nazi historian, anti-Semite
David Hoggan- Der Erzwungene Krieg- about Anglo-Polish conspiracy to wage aggression against Germany, The Myth of the Six Million- denying Holocaust
Hugh Trevor-Roper: A. J. P. Taylor, Hitler and the War.

Goebbels: If we are attacked we can only defend ourselves with guns not with butter.”
One German woman told the American reporter Nora Wall: “He is my mother and my father. He keeps me safe from all harm.”
Fritz Lang's Metropolis remixed with Vangelis's soundtrack to Blade Runner.

What were the problems in Weimar Republic from 1919-1923?

The problems that occurred in Weimar Germany were unavoidable, considering the drastic different changes of the government before and after 1919. Before 1919, the government of Germany was almost a military autocracy under Kaiser Wilhelm II; after 1919, it was a parliamentary democracy. The drastic change from one pole to the other in such a short period did not allow people to adapt the changes and thus create a ground for conflicts. The problems occurred could be classified into different categories.
Militarily, army leaders created the "stab in the back" myth and did not support the new government. After the defeat of Germany, the right blamed all Germany's problems on the new democratic Weimar government. The army leaders in order to protect their reputation devised a myth called Dolchstosslegende , the "stab in the back" myth. They blamed the revolutionary socialists and the Jews for destroying Germany. This not only undermined the social stability between different groups of people, but also undermined the position of Weimar Germany. Weimar Republic was seen to be the result of the defeat of Germany and it was led by a socialist, Ebert. The action from the military created the foundation of problems to occur in Germany. The bigger problem the military posed to the government was the lack of support. The best example was 1920's Wolfgang Putsch, during which when the Defence Minister Gustav Noske called General Seeckt, one of the Reichswehr's senior commanders, to suppress the putsch, he refused and stated that, "Reichswehr does not shoot on Reichswehr" Although the putsch was collapsed by the general strike, it showed the tension between the army and the newly formed government, and how the government was at a great risk by not being backed up by the army. However on the other hand, the collapse of the putsch also showed that not everyone was against the government. Furthermore, the fact that some of the senior commanders of the Freikorps refused to join the putsch also revealed the potential strength the government might have. The support for Mr. Bush nowadays is only 50% maximum, which means there are 50% of the people against him, and this does not create a serious problem for him. Therefore, for Weimar Republic, the lack of support for the government could create problems but it would not be a huge issue if it were the only reason.
Politically, the different ideologies collided and created conflicts, which induced the social instability. Before 1919, Germany was using a hereditary monarchy system, where Kaiser Wilhelm II controlled everything, from controlling the army to appointing the government, to calling and dismissing of the Reichstag. Basically, he had the absolute power. However, after 1919, the government became a parliamentary democracy, where everything was elected. Many were indignant with this drastic change, and they thought that Weimar Germany was not as good as it could be. The coup d'etats from both sides, left and right, only made the situation worse. In 1919, the Spartacists led by Marxists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in the wish of turning Germany into a soviet-based republic like Russia was crushed mercilessly by the regular troops and Freikorps. A suppression over the Bavarian Soviet Republic was carried out and it held a bitter grudge against the new SPD government. On the other hand, the Right also started a coupdetat, best shown in 1920's Dr. Wolfgang's Putsch. The attempts to overthrow the government from both sides undoubtedly weakened the government. In addition, the Treaty of Versailles also undermined the support of
Furthermore, the Weimar Constitution did not create a strong government. From the Article 48 to the proportional voting, they were all undermining the power of the weak Weimar Germany. Article 48 stated that the President could have sole power during the "time of emergency" , which the President often took. It allowed the President to bypass the government or Reichstag if he wished. It was very much like the Fundamental Law of Tsar Nicholas II in 1906 as a supplement to the October Manifesto created in 1905 as a response to the revolution. This Article 48 could easily aid the ruler to turn the parliament democracy into another autocracy, and therefore the power of the government was weak. Moreover, the system of proportional voting led to a state with 28 parties and it was impossible to establish a majority in the Reichstag. This led to a frequent change in the government and thus made many to lose faith in it. Thus, the Weimar Constitution under these circumstances was weak.
In addition, the Treaty of Versailles also undermined the position of Weimar Democracy. In 1919, the Allies were discussing the post-war settlements and they imposed their decision on Germany without even negotiating with it. They presented Germany two choices: whether accept the terms or go back to war. Germany had no choice but to accept the harsh terms. The people who signed the Treaty of Versailles were labeled as the "November Criminals". The Germans were angry at this and further create social instability from this political factor.
Economically, the hyperinflations totally ruined the economies of Germany and worsen the lives of the Germans. Germany had agreed to pay 6.6 billion pounds for reparation according the Treaty of Versailles, and when it failed to make its payment on 1923, France and Belgium invaded the Ruhr to make Germany pay. The government ordered the workers in Ruhr to go on paid strike. Ruhr being the most economically and industrially developed area in Germany hurt the economies of Germany greatly by stopping all of its production; plus, the government had to print more money in order to pay the workers, the price of goods went up as the money meant less and less. This led to a hyperinflation . At the situation worst period, the Germans would rather burn the money to sustain their warmth than buying coal or woods because burning money was much cheaper. The bad situation only led the civilians to be angry and bore grudge against the government, and therefore created problems for the new government.
The problems mentioned above from economic, military and political standpoints are only the primary problems that occurred in Weimar Germany. Although there were more problems, they could best represent the threats Germany was facing at that time.

How Did Hindenburg Undermine German Democracy in 1925-33?

"...Instead of working to achieve power by an armed coup we shall have to hold our noses and enter the Reichstag against the Catholic and Marxist deputies. If outvoting them takes longer than outshooting them, at least the results will be guaranteed by their own Constitution! Any lawful process is slow. But sooner or later we shall have a majority - and after that Germany."Adolf Hitler stated the above while he was serving his sentence for the Munich Beer Hall Putsch in Landsberg Prison. This statement signified his dramatic changes in his policies for his attempts to become the leader of Germany. Before the sentencing, he wished to use a coup to take control of the German government, but the Nazi’s failure of the Beer Hall Putsch imparted him a great lesson- that the only approach for the Nazis and himself to capture Germany was by the democratic process, elections. Approximately 4 years later in the German election of 1928, the Nazis only gained 2.6% of the popular vote and a total of 12 representations seats in the Reichstag, which was actually a decrease from 14 seats in December of 1924. Hitler’s support jumped from 6000 members to 55,000 members in 1923, and yet their support did not similarly ascend exponentially between 1924 and 1929. Hitler didn’t have support of the mass population between 1924-1929 because of the improvement of the German economy between 1924 and1929, the social stability between this period, and the political limitations and reorganization of the Nazi Party during this period of time.
The first reason why Hitler did not have support between 1924 and 1929 was because of the dramatic recovery of the German economy from the hyper-inflations and the unemployment after World War One. The German floating debt was about 191 trillion marks in 1923 and the unemployment was standing at 9.6% . Hitler used the instability of the economy as examples of failures of Weimar Germany, and one of his goals centralized around the takeover of the Weimar government. The economy condition completely changed in 1924. Gustav Stresemann, the German Foreign Minister, controlled the hyper-inflation by replacing the mark with Rentenmark in November of 1923. An American banker named Charles G. Dawes presented the Dawes Plan to the Reparations Commissions of the Allied Nations in 1924, and it was later accepted by the Allies and Germany. The plan planned the evacuation of Allied troops from the Ruhr. It gave Germany more breathing space by allowing the German reparations to start at $1 billion mark on the first year and gradually increase in the following years. Stresemann also achieved in the negotiation of borrowing 25,000 million gold marks. The money was primarily used to build basic infrastructures like roads, as well as 3 million new houses and many modern factories. Before 1924, the German economy was collapsing and Hitler used the economic failures to show the incompetence of Weimar Republic and gain support for himself. 33% of Nazi members were skilled workers while 18% were lower professionals. Many of these workers were working in horrible conditions and Hitler exploited this problem by saying that he was capable of solving all the problems if he was elected. However, when the economic turnaround began to take place, many Germans would simply ignore Hitler Hitler’s speeches before 1924 stated that if he was supported, the horrible conditions would be eliminated. Since the economic problems disappeared, reasons for citizens to support Hitler drastically decreased. These economic reforms had brought Germany’s unemployment and inflation under control while stabilizing the currency. The German industries were re-equipped and foreign investments in the economy increased. Many German citizens became satisfied with their lives, and they no longer focused their attention on a crazy guy who wanted to overthrow the government. Hitler didn’t have support between 1924 and 1929 because the members of society were satisfied with the society.
The second reason why Hitler did not gain support between 1924 and 1929 was because of the social stability in the Weimar Republic. Before 1924, the Weimar Republic was in chaos and Hitler utilized the chaos to gain public attention and verbally attack the incompetence of the Weimar Republic. He proclaimed that by eradicating the Jews, the Communists, and any non-Aryan foreigner, he was capable of making all the social problems go away. There were 376 politically motivated murders between 1918 and 1922 while revolutions, invasions, and revolts like the Spartacist Revolt, the French and Belgian Invasion, and the Kapp Putsch consumed the republic. Between 1924 and 1929, the chaos dramatically diminished as the Locarno Treaty was signed and Germany entered the League of Nations. Under the Locarno Treaty, Germany recognized the western frontiers to be permanent, and the nations of Germany, France, and Belgium promised not to attack as each others while Britain and Italy were the guarantors. The Locarno Treaties eased the tensions between Germany and the other European powers and it allowed Germany to enter the League of Nations and become a superpower once again. In 1925, Paul von Hindenburg was elected to be the president. Many conservative parties and “middle of the road” parties supported him and promised to stop from any radical party to take over the government. At the same time, the German army conciliated with the government, and the Army-supported paramilitary organizations protected democracy for the period of time between 1924 and 1929. Not only did Germany’s economic improvement prevent Hitler from gaining support between 1924 and 1929, Germany’s social order contributed to the fact that Hitler did not have support during this period of time. As invasions and revolts faded in the memories of the citizens, many citizens would turn their heads away from Nazi propaganda and accidentally view Hitler as the popular Charlie Chaplin. The citizens could enjoy their lives through entertainment and sports so they would try their best to prolong the social stability that Weimar Republic provided, rather than to listen to same lunatic who wanted to overthrow the government. Germany became a superpower once again and the citizens became contented with their balanced lives. Hitler was disregarded because many citizens lost their hatred and dislike for the Weimar Republic, the Treaty of Versailles, and the League of Nations. The Nazis no longer attracted the citizens as much as they did when Weimar Republic was in social disorder and this directly resulted in the fact that Hitler did not have support between 1924 and 1929.
The third reason why Hitler did not have support between 1924 and 1929 was because of the political limitations on Hitler and the reorganization inside the Nazi Party. Hitler was sentenced to 9 months in Landsberg prison after the Munich Beer Hall Putsch and he came out on December 20th 1924 as a free man who, however, could not make public speeches for the next five years. Although Joseph Goebbels was a talented publicist, the meetings he organized, the newspapers he published, and the posters he posted were still not as influential as Hitler’s speech. Due to continuing violence, the Nazi Party was outlawed in Berlin and Nazi speeches were completely banned in the entire German state of Prussia for a period of time. Even when the government of Bavaria and Saxony allowed Hitler to publicly speak in 1927 and he did for 56 times in the last 10 months, Hitler’s support was still concentrated in north-west Germany and it did not disperse to other German regions. At the same time, Hitler focused a lot of attention at restructuring the Nazi Party between 1924 and 1929. Although he easily took control of the Party after he came out of jail since Alfred Rosenberg, the man who was in charge of the party while Hitler was in prison, had no administrative ability, the Party almost dissolved because moderate parties inside the nation attracted more citizens since the nation’s economy was improving. In order to expand the Nazi Party, Hitler reorganized the SA, set up the SS, merged with other right-wing parties, and started to receive essential financial support. Though Hitler had spoken numerous times after the ban was lifted, the time which Hitler was not allowed to publicize had considerably taken Hitler out of the sight of the public. This delay directly affected the fact that Hitler did not gain mass support of the entire nation. Also, Hitler’s reorganization of the Nazi Party was proven to be effective after 1929, but it did not immediately gain Hitler lots of support. The reorganization took an extremely long process, and it took years for all the new organizations to be integrated into the Main Party and adjust to the new atmosphere. Hitler’s limitation of publicity and the restructuring of the party directly resulted in the party receiving only 12 Reichstag seats in 1928 and 2.6% of popular vote in the national election.
“Support for the Nazi Party had grown due to the country's problems of hyperinflation and the French invasion of the Ruhr. By 1928 Nazism appeared to be a dying cause. Now that Germany's outlook was suddenly bright, the Nazi Party was rapidly withering away. One scarcely heard of Hitler or the Nazis except as a joke.”William Shirer, an American journalist, said this in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to describe the declining status of the Nazis and Hitler in 1928. Indeed, Hitler didn’t have mass support between 1924 and 1929 because of the dramatic economic improvement of the Weimar Republic, the social stability in the nation, and the political limitations on Hitler and the reorganization inside the Nazi Party. Although the economic and social stability would instantly disappear after the Great Depression and the Nazis would ultimately take control of Germany, Hitler’s support between 1924 and 1929 only earned him a popular vote of 2.6% in Germany’s national election in 1928. This statistic extensively displays the fact that Hitler did not have support between 1924 and 1929.


During the spring of 1930, President Hindenburg, at the urging of Reich chancellor Brüning, overruled the Reichstag through the usage of article 48. Soon after, on July 18th, the Reichstag voted as a majority to repeal this, nullifying the presidential decree and forcing Brüning to dissolve the parliament, calling for re-elections that allowed politically extreme parties such as the communists and, most notably, the national socialists huge gains of influence. This breakdown in the democratic system marked the beginning of the end for the Weimar republic, as three years of political deadlocks between extremists would result in the eventual rise of one Adolf Hitler and the establishment of a totalitarian state. The end of the Weimar democracy, however, as is argued by Eric Weitz in his book “Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy”, took place three years earlier, when, following the above incident, President Hindenburg established what Weitz describes as a “Presidential Dictatorship” and indeed, it was this “Coterie of the Elite”, as Weitz describes it, that led to Hitler taking power, as opposed to the democratic system voting him in. The real question is why was this the case? How did a system that was experiencing huge economic and cultural success as late as the beginning of 1929 collapse only a year later? To answer this, historians have examined the weaknesses of the Weimar Republic and, when regarding the literature, three major areas seem to be repeatedly identified as weak: the constitution, the economic crises and the political extremism within the system.

            The Weimar constitution, upon its conception in 1919, was met with mixed reactions, ranging from outright rebellion as seen by the Kapp Putsch, to simple indifference, however it governed the way that Germany was run up until, technically, 1945. The document itself was described by William Shirer as “on paper, the most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had ever seen ... full of ingenious and admirable devices which seemed to guarantee the working of an almost flawless democracy…", however in practice this document yielded some weaknesses that, as is argued by some historians, constitute some of the key causes of the collapse of the Weimar democracy. The most obvious weakness of the Weimar constitution was the infamous Article 48, that granted the President the right to use military strength and overrule the Reichstag in times of emergency. In itself, the philosophy of this clause is a weakness, as by providing the circumstances where a leadership figure may assume dictatorial rights, one undermines, ideologically, the concept of a free democracy. Then again, this evidence is shaky, as the parliamentary sovereignty of the United Kingdom allows the legislature to achieve similar powers to overrule fundamental freedoms, however the United Kingdom has been able to maintain its basic governmental structure for centuries, where Germany was unable to do so for two decades. Thus, it seems unlikely that the pure ideology of the Article would be a cause for the collapse of the Republic. Richard J. Evans considers not the concept of Article 48 to be a weakness, but instead the implementation of it. He argues that as there was no clear method for the return to legislative powers in place, allowing President Ebert to repeatedly use the Article a total of 136 times in a mere five years, even in non-emergency situations, thus causing the potential for application of this clause to widen beyond what would be democratically sustainable, thus posing a potential threat to the democracy. However, while this does perhaps explain why Brüning was able to so easily use Article 48 and in the process destroy democracy, the question remains why in 1930? Surely, if Article 48 was such a great threat, the Republic would’ve imploded much sooner. This implies that while Article 48 may have facilitated the collapse of the Weimar democracy, other factors most likely caused it. The other weakness of the constitution that Historians argue may have caused the collapse of democracy is that it implemented a proportional representation system, where the percentage of votes a party gets directly corresponded to the number of seats in the Reichstag the party receives, with no minimum percentage of votes required  to gain access. This allowed even small parties, with potentially extremist views, access to the Reichstag, as demonstrated by the fact that the relatively unknown Bavarian Peasants’ League gained access to the Reichstag despite only garnering 0.7% of the vote in 1924. Additionally, proportional representation meant that a huge number of parties gained access to the Reichstag, as seen by the 28 parties, according to Shirer, who were voted into the Reichstag in 1930, resulting in there never being a one party majority, slowing down decision making processes and creating a Parliament fractured by far too many different opinions. This plethora of multiple opinions, as argued by Erich Eyck, resulted in an inherent instability, which caused the policies put out by this system to be at best compromises, at worst contradictions. Proportional representation may thus have caused the collapse of the Weimar democracy through the creation of an inherent instability within the system that constantly threatened it. Nevertheless, the Weimar Republic was able to survive with this system for over a decade and even, during the late 1920s, flourish. This indicates that, like Article 48, while proportional representation may have provided the conditions for failure, the actual root cause for the collapse of democracy must be found elsewhere.

            When regarding the collapse of the Weimar Republic, one tends to often immediately regard the influence of the politically extreme parties on the system. During its early years, the Weimar Republic was plagued by constant attempts at revolution and change from democracy. The Spartacist uprising of 1919, the Kapp Putsch of 1920, the short-lived Räterepubliks in Munich and Bremen as well as the uprisings in the Rhineland, Thuringia, Saxony and Munich in 1923 all are examples of situations where a number of the population attempt to overthrow the democratic regime of the Weimar Republic. Although these all failed, often due to police brutality, as Paul Bookbinder argues, this indicates that the atmosphere within Germany was on the side of the political extremes and thus not receptive to democracy.  Additionally, during this early period, 356 of the young and promising politicians who supported the Republic, foremost amongst the Walther Rathenau, were assassinated by politically extreme groups, resulting in a situation where those who seek to support the Republic are often scared away, leaving those who are too fanatical or stupid to care in power. As Yeats put it: “The best lacked all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity,” accurately describing the weakness in leadership that the Weimar faced due to early political extremism, a weakness that might in part be seen as responsible for allowing the collapse to happen. At the same time however, following this argument, one would expect that during the time leading up to the collapse of democracy, one would see multiple leaders elected and discarded, as the weakness of these leaders would be rejected by a populace unwilling to accept them and their democracy. Instead, we observe that up until 1929, Germany had one chancellor, Streseman, under whom it has been observed by many, including Eric Weitz, that politics of the people became more moderate as living standards and economic stability increased. Furthermore, noting that the most dangerous of the early attempts to overthrow the Weimar democracy, the right wing Kapp Putsch, was not overthrown through military force, but by a general strike of the workers, one gets the impression that this rejection of democracy was not the opinion of the majority, as one might initially believe, but instead merely the belief of a radical minority. Indeed, as Weitz remarks, even at the height of their popularity in 1933, the radical national socialist party was only able to garner 37% of the votes, further cementing the idea that these political extremists always were fringe parties. Considering that the democracy was supported by the silent majority and that it was the democratically elected successors to a strong leader in Streseman that initiated the collapse (Hindenburg primarily), during a time period where National Socialist influence was still based on the 1928 elections at a mere 2.8% of the Reichstag, one must consider the political extremists as, although a cause for disturbance, more a symptom of the collapse rather than the cause of it.

            A final reason that historians, perhaps most famously AJP Taylor, attribute to the collapse of democracy is the economic crisis of 1929, which, as stated by Taylor, “put the wind into Hitler’s sails”. This implies that it was the economic crisis of 1929 that allowed Hitler to gain enough public support to push towards power, as seen by the giant leap in votes between the 1928 elections, where the Nazis got a mere 2.7% and the 1930 elections, where Hitler’s party got 18.3% of the votes. This leap in support closely correlates with the leap in unemployment figures, with Germany’s unemployment level doubling to 3 million between 1928 and 1930. Richard J Evans points out how the suffering of the German people went beyond the statistics, with many millions of those who could retain their jobs being underpaid or working only part time. As a result, it is hardly surprising that the majority, now suffering due to the 1929 economic collapse, would view the Democratic Experiment, as Michael Brooks describes it, as a failure, thus leading a movement towards alternative ideologies (i.e. the political extremes). Nevertheless, it has already been noted that, even by 1933, none of the extremist parties were able to take advantage of this polarisation of politics to the extent, where they could take power through democratic means. Indeed, in 1932, the old stalwart president Hindenburg was re-elected, beating his extreme reformist competitor Hitler, implying that this polarisation of politics may not have lost the Weimar so much support so as to initiate its collapse. What then caused this implosion of democracy in 1930? Perhaps, it is due to the fact that, following Weitz’s argument, the Weimar system was unable to quickly, nor effectively provide a solution with the speed needed to satisfy the people. As a result, Brüning and Hindenburg were forced to resort to alternative methods of passing laws, invoking article 48 and thus destroying democracy in the process. This seems to explain why democracy imploded prior to the influence of a polarisation in politics as well as despite the majority still siding with the “old guard”. What this fails to explain however is why the 1929 economic disaster was so politically devastating to the republic, while other economic disasters weren’t. In 1923, Germany experienced, due to an inability and refusal to repay the Treaty of Versailles’ war reparations, a period of hyperinflation and mass poverty. In 1923, the working class were just as poor as in 1923, perhaps even more so, the economy was in worse shape and, unlike in 1929, Germany’s borders had been violated and its industry raided, further heightening the level of strife. There was a polarisation of politics in 1923 and multiple uprisings, however the democracy survived, unlike in 1929. So why was 1929 so much more devastating? What differentiated it from 1923 to cause a collapse in democracy? As historians such as Ian Kershaw argue, there are a number of differences that made 1929 so much more damaging. First, 1929 was a second economic crisis. Prior to 1923, the situation in Germany was hardly better, so the economic crisis was as much blamed on the Treaty of Versailles and on the Dolchstoßlegende as it was on the regime. In 1929, however, the Treaty was long since past, the Republic had been experiencing a now illusory success and as a result the blame for ills Germany was experiencing was attributed, unlike in 1923, primarily onto the democratic system itself, thus causing it to implode. Furthermore, the 1929 economic crisis was a global economic crisis, meaning that, unlike in 1923, there was no rich foreign investor such as the US to haul Germany out of its misery. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the 1929 crisis, unlike 1923, effected the banks in that it caused many of them to fold. As a result, unlike in 1923, where primarily the working class suffered, in 1929 the Middle Class began to suffer, as their savings were lost and there jobs destroyed. This caused the politics of the middle class to polarise, as their demands for action from the government were not met by any tangible response. The government, alarmed by this dissatisfaction from the far more influential bourgeoisie, were rushed into action through this panicked use of Article 48, thus initiating the collapse of the Weimar democracy.

            In conclusion, when considering why the Weimar democracy collapsed, we regard the ideas of a weak constitution, influence of political extremists and the effects of multiple economic crises. Upon careful analysis, it appears that it was the economic crises that seemed the most likely cause of initiating this collapse, as although the constitution provided the conditions that made this collapse possible, there’s little evidence to suggest that it was the constitution that initiated the failure, while the presence of political extremists seemed much more a symptom of this collapse than a cause. As a result, one can conclude that it was most likely the 1929 economic collapse, with specific regard for the effect it had on the Mittelstand that resulted in the disintegration of the Weimar democracy and Adolf Hitler’s eventual rise to power.


Many factors were significant in the downfall of the Weimar Republic, however it was the economic crisis stemming from the Wall Street Crash that, according to AJP Taylor, gave in to the collapse of the Weimar democracy. AJP Taylor states that, “Only the Great Depression put the wind into Hitler’s sails”. The Wall Street Crash was a disaster for all of Europe, but it was Germany who suffered the most after the Treaty of Versailles, and it was America who had helped them survive. After the Wall Street Crash however, all the loans that were given to Germany to help them survive were withdrawn, which meant that the Weimar Republic was unable to cope anymore, leading to its collapse in 1930.

The Hyperinflation in 1923 led to a great deal of suffering for Germany, and it wasn’t until America got involved that their burden became lightened. After realising that Germany would be unable to pay the reparations cost from Article 232 of the Treaty of Versailles and stabilise their economy, America decided to lend them money. This meant that Germany had to become reliant on America; therefore, when the Wall Street Crash occurred in 1929 and America withdrew their loans, the Weimar Republic was unable to continue. Richard J. Evans supports this theory in The Coming of the Third Reich, “the economic difficulties that the Republic experienced almost from the outset placed a burden on its welfare system that it was simply unable to sustain”. The Great Depression was a substantial hit to unemployment, where it increased from 1.6 million unemployed in 1929, to 6.12 million unemployed in 1932. The Weimar democracy was already under a lot of pressure and was disliked by many Germans, the Depression was the last blow and led to extreme parties such as the NSDAP coming into power. As AJP Taylor mentions, the Great Depression was the most significant factor that led to the collapse of the Weimar Republic.

Another feature that contributed to the fall of the Weimar Republic was its weak constitution. When the Weimar democracy had been sent up in 1919, it was set up to try and recover what was left of the powerful country that had been present before the First World War. Many Germans, due to them not being in favour of democracy, disliked the Weimar Republic. The main two drawbacks of the Weimar constitution were Article 48 and proportional representation. Article 48 stated that, under a state of emergency, the President could rule by decree without needing consent from the Reichstag. In principle, this was a good idea, however, during the Weimar’s existence, the first Weimar President, Friedrich Ebert, abused this power on 136 occasions. Richard J. Evans mentions, in reference to President Ebert, “Ebert’s excessive use, and occasional misuse, of the Article widened its application to a point where it became a potential threat to democratic institutions”. President Hindenburg and then later on Hitler were also known for misusing this Article. Article 48 basically gave the President of the Weimar Republic dictatorial powers. This showed the Weimar Republic’s weakness, as it showed that it was a failing democracy and could be taken advantage of. Proportional representation was also significant in the Weimar Republic’s downfall, as it led to many disagreements among the parties, which dramatically delayed any chance at making decisions. Proportional representation was where the percentage of votes a party won in the Reichstag corresponded directly to the amount of seats they would receive. The system seemed efficient and fair in theory, as it directly represented the nation’s support for each party. However, when put into practice, many problems were seen to arise, including the difficulty for the parties to reach a conclusion in regards to a dilemma. This inability to quickly make decisions on courses of action meant that a lot of time was wasted and coalitions always had to be formed in order to reach a conclusion. Due to the abuse of Article 48 and the extensive problems encountered through proportional representation, the Weimar constitution was seen as weak and ineffective by many members of the public, and showed the Germans’ lack of belief in their new democracy.  

As well as having to deal with its crumbling democracy, the Weimar Republic also had to face repetitive political extremism, which was pivotal in its downfall. The German people witnessed constant opposition against the Weimar Republic, which, after the various economic crises, showed them that the Weimar democracy was weak, and that it would only be through extreme parties that they could witness change. This mind-set led to the rise in support of Hitler after the exponential rise in unemployment between 1929 and 1932. The first such example of political extremism was manifested in the form of the Spartacist uprising. On 5th January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, founders of the Spartacus League, staged an uprising in Berlin led by the USPD. This was in response to the recently appointed Weimar Republic. The aim of the Spartacist uprising was to overthrow the provisional government and create a Soviet republic. The Freikorps was called in to intervene and both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered. Leonard V. Kaplan mentions in his book The Weimar Moment that “the Spartacist uprising in Berlin betrayed the instability of the new democracy”. More than a year later, in March 1920, another uprising occurred. Known as the Kapp Putsch, 12000 troops were encouraged to march on Berlin and overthrow the government. This uprising was staged by Wolfgang Kapp leading the Ehrhardt Brigade, which was a unit of the Freikorps that had refused to disband, and its main aim was to install a new government in place of the failing Weimar Republic. To stop this, the trade unions went on strike, and the Kapp Putsch ended up being called off. With the continuous revolts against the government, the Germans began to doubt the efficacy of this new type of government, and soon after the Wall Street Crash began to believe in political extremism.

The constitution and political extremism were very influential in the downfall of the Weimar democracy, however it was the economic crisis manifested through the Wall Street Crash that led to the collapse of Weimar. The German people were not forthcoming in their belief in this new type of democracy in 1919, and the rise in unemployment, due to the Wall Street Crash, combined with the many staged uprisings against the Weimar Republic led to a complete loss of faith on behalf of many Germans in the democracy. Although the Weimar Republic did have a few successful years under Stresemann’s rule, it all collapsed after the Wall Street Crash, where the Germans began to vote for extremist parties in order to see whether the parties could solve the massive unemployment rate.