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German Economy of the 1920s and 1930s Essay

A: Plan of the investigation This investigation aims to assess the role that the post-World War 1 German economy played in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power as the Chancellor of Germany in 1933. In order to achieve this the investigation explores the way that the German economy affected the attitude of the public towards the government and politicians as well as the manner in which Hitler successfully used this attitude to establish Jews, intellectuals, and artists as scapegoats at which public anger and resentment should be directed. Historical reference books and a seminar by British historian Malcolm Murfett are the main sources from which statistics and factual information are derived. Two sources, the books The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by Wiliiam L. Shirer and Weimar and the Rise of Hitler, are evaluated for their origins, purposes, values, and limitations.

B: Summary of evidence By the end of 1923, over four thousand printing presses were at work to print new German banknotes to pay off debts that Germany owed to the Allies as a result of World War 1 and only 29.3% of the total labor force was employed (Murfett). Money lost all value; 1 US dollar was equal in value to about 4,200,000,000,000 German Reich marks (Schoolhistory.org.uk). The Weimar Republic, the system of government that was ruling at the time, was despised by the German public for bringing their country to ruin; they were blamed for signing the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War 1, which resulted in a loss of German territories, military power and most importantly, German pride in their nation (Shirer 115).

Also, the Weimar Republic borrowed huge amounts of money, mainly from American investors (Murfett). Between 1924 and 1930, the amount of money borrowed totaled to some 7 billion dollars (Shirer 117). The Republic borrowed for a variety of reasons; to pay reparations, improve social services, and build new infrastructure for example. Despite this, employment rates continued to fall (Murfett). By 1928, a mere 650,000 of Germany’s population was employed (Wolfson 82). German agriculture in particular was badly hit by the depression; many farmers suffered from huge debts or bankruptcy, and had been forced to sell their land to survive (Nicholls 56). In 1930 Wall Street crashed and the Great Depression came into full swing; this only encouraged German animosity towards the system of government that had ruined the country twice in 6 years (Murfett).

Nearly 5 million Germans were unemployed (Meier 22). In 1932, Hitler became a German citizen. He contested in a presidential election against then-president Paul von Hindenburg, winning 30% in the first round and 37% in the second (Murfett). The economy continued to deteriorate in the months leading up to the Reichstag Elections of July 1932, leaving 6 million Germans unemployed (The Financial). Political instability increased, and massive violence broke out; 103 politically motivated murders took place in the 6 weeks before the election. Although the Nazi party did relatively well in this round of elections, winning 37.4% of the votes, the German public was growing tired of political wrangling, and the Nazi party lost 2 million votes in reduced turnouts (Murfett).

C: Evaluation of sources The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany is an intensive and comprehensive study of Hitler’s rise and fall from power. Having garnered much acclaim and several literary awards, including the National Book Award and Carey-Thomas Award for Outstanding Publishing Achievement, William L. Shirer’s monolithic work has come to be known as a reliable, scholarly and objective source of information pertaining to Hitler’s Third Reich. The book was written with the purpose of conducting a thorough investigation of the Nazi Party and Hitler’s regime in an objective manner, relying heavily on primary sources such as captured Nazi documents and records.

The book’s value lies in this objective approach and use of primary sources. However, this is also a limitation in that the emotions and attitude of the German public in response to the declining economy could not be accurately and empathetically communicated by objective facts and primary sources. In addition, from his tone in the Afterword in the book Shirer, who lived in Germany during Hitler’s regime, is evidently anti-Nazi; although the book is admirably objective as a whole, it is not improbable that Shirer’s bias influenced his writing to a small extent at least. Therefore, Shirer’s book cannot be fully relied upon to present accurately the German attitude towards Hitler as their savior from years of political instability and destitution.

While The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany provides a comprehensive overview of the entire duration of the Nazi regime, A.J. Nicholls’ Weimar and the Rise of Hitler focuses exclusively on the period between 1918 and 1933, a time of extreme political turmoil in Germany. The book is part of a series titled The Making of the 20th Century, and has the purpose of providing both sufficient narrative for newcomers to the topic as well as more advanced lists of sources and references for advanced readers to facilitate understanding of the economic, political, and social aspects of the issue. It is a valuable source in the context of this investigation because it is shorter and easier to read than many other books on the same topic, given that the series as a whole is targeted at students of contemporary history and international relations. The text is easy to understand and contains references to a variety of sources both primary and secondary. However the source is limited in that it focuses more on the shortcomings of the Weimar Republic and the reasons for it’s failure, as opposed to the economic and social aspects of Hitler’s rise to power.

D: Analysis Since the 1940s, the name of Adolf Hitler has become synonymous with the horrific events of World War Two; the methodical extermination of the Jews, the horrific concentration camps that prisoners of war were tortured in, and the general despair that engulfed the world during this period of strife and horror. How did this man, who was not even born in Germany, rise to the top of its political hierarchy? How did a minor ranking civil servant become the Chancellor of Germany? Many factors played a role in Hitler’s election in 1933, and one of the most important of these was the German economy of the time. In the aftermath of World War 1, the draconian terms of the Treaty of Versailles decimated the German economy.

Hyperinflation destroyed the economic fabric of the state, a situation that was further exacerbated by the Great Depression of the 1930’s (Nicholls 58). Frustrated at the rates of unemployment and the unavailability of basic supplies such as food, the German public rapidly lost faith in the newly established Weimar Republic. Economic instability in turn provoked political instability; there were fifteen governments between 1919 and 1928, although Hitler and the Nazi party remained fringe figures during this time (Shirer). They had little influence, money and opportunities. Only 810,000 Germans voted for them in the Reichstag elections of 1928, a mere 2.6% of the total population (Murfett).

Despite this, the public resentment of the ineffective Weimar Republic allowed Hitler to begin developing a reputation as a prominent national figure; his instinctive political genius, charisma and fanatical devotion to his cause propelled him to the forefront of German politics. His personal dominance over the Nazi party grew. In order to appeal to the disenchanted masses, Hitler projected an image of idealism. He extolled the creation of a new society composed of loyal Germans, devoid of ‘shirkers and parasites’ (Meier 26) as he called the intellectuals and artists of his country. He encouraged anti-Semitism as well as the hatred of foreigners and Communists, establishing these groups as scapegoats upon which blame for the ruin of Germany could be heaped.

Concentrating his efforts on those hit hardest by the economic crises, such as farmers and people living in rural areas, Hitler campaigned dramatically, extolling the vices of the Weimar Republic and appealing to the emotions of his audience. Hitler campaigned to ‘sweep away the rot of the Weimar Republic’, and to restore the hope and pride of the nation of Germany. The result was a watershed election in September 1930, with the Nazi party gaining 6 million votes, 18.3% of the total population (Murfett). The Nazi party had grown from the smallest party to the second largest, holding 107 seats in parliament (Wolfson 103).

E: Conclusion The economy was not the only reason that Hitler was eventually elected Chancellor of Germany. It goes without saying that he possessed very strong leadership abilities; historian Gordon Craig described him as ‘impossible to compare with any other German leader,’ due to his political achievements and the ‘moral emptiness’ of his character (Nicholls 60). This ‘moral emptiness’ provided Hitler with a willingness to exploit the impact of war, revolution and fear on the people of Germany. Hitler implemented rigid principles in his politics, and made no concessions to his opponents.

He was also shrewd and perceptive, and possessed a strong sense of nationalism that allowed him to accurately assess the needs of the people of Germany, and adapt his campaigns to suit those needs. However, it is important to note that the political climate of any country or system of government is tied to its people, who are in turn deeply affected by the economy. The desperation of the German people due to their economic crisis gave Hitler an invaluable platform with which to campaign and advocate for change. It also allowed him to portray the Weimar Republic in such a way that its leaders became scapegoats in their own country, due to decisions made by them that were unpopular with the people. Therefore, the German economy played an important role in Hitler’s rise to power.


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