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In August 1914, Germany and her allies plunged into World War 1 with patriotism and bravery, yet they were somewhat uncertain. This uncertainty was justified as they were entering one of the bloodiest wars in history and the fighting was not going to stop until November 1918, when they “withdrew” from the battlefield. With little help form their allies, and their army being split in two on both Eastern and Western fronts, this was a difficult war to fight and was really the first ‘Total War’ as those of the 19th Century were short and not very costly.
The Treaty of Versailles was a big blow for the Germans as it left them a vulnerable nation owing their country to their former enemies. In 1919, when communist uprisings began to threaten the Government in Berlin, it moved to Weimar and thus became the beginning of the new Weimar Republic. Germany’s public was not satisfied with the way the war was drawn to an end.
There was a great deal of ill feeling going around as Woodrow Wilson had promised Germany the 14 points. Wilson’s policies were certainly a lot leaner on the German’s than the Treaty of Versailles and they felt that they had been cheated out of a good deal.
Germans knew that the Americans were less hostile towards them than the French and British and that if Wilson went along with his 14 points this would enable Germany to come out of the war favourably. However, France and Britain thought that the Americans did not go far enough, they wanted more.
Most Germans claimed that they preferred the idea of going back to war rather than signing the almost ‘disgraceful’ Peace Treaty. Some Germans felt that they hadn’t actually lost the war as they had withdrawn themselves from the fighting knowing that a victory was impossible.
This was mostly because Left Wing revolts were going on back home and they weren’t getting much moral support from the communists. The Germans had lost between two and three million soldiers in the war, however when they drew an end to it their army was still in relatively good condition. The Right wing conservative Germans felt that they had been “Stabbed in the back” by the November criminals and they were certainly not overjoyed about it. Shortly after the end of the first war, Germany became a Republic instead of a Monarchy with the surrender the German King.
The Germans felt insecure without a strong leader and blamed their many weaknesses on this change. To replace Kaiser Wilhelm, a socialist president was put into power: President Ebert. The President was elected every seven years and the vote was National. Germany’s public was suffering a great deal of malnutrition. The average German citizen was surviving on a diet of approximately 1000 calories daily, half the necessary amount. There were power cuts regularly due to lack of coal. Large buildings, cinemas etc… ere shut down and lights were put out early to preserve energy.
There was worse to come, Europe was to be affected by a deadly epidemic: the Spanish Influenza. The disease killed approximately six hundred thousand Germans, 1700 in one day alone in Berlin. In general, Germany was left a shattered nation after the war, both in the physical and mental sense. There was no order, the nation was practically split into two clashing parties: the Nationalists and Socialists. The Communist Spartacists were trying to seize power by force, through riots and strikes in Berlin.
Between 1920 and 1923, Putsches and Murders were committed against the Government in attempts to seize it by force. The parties concerned were extremists, mostly Right wing, and they weren’t getting the majority of the vote. There were so many parties that it was impossible for any of them to obtain the majority without putting a coalition into place. The Government was highly unstable and the putsches and murders were done in acts of taking advantage of this. In 1920, Wolfgang Kapp led a Nationalist revolt against the government in an attempt to make the German army stronger and break down the Treaty of Versailles.
Kapp hated the Treaty with a loathing and despised the Government for ever signing it. His goals were to give Germans back their ‘well-deserved’ pride and to get Germany’s land back from Poland. Kapp had a lot of support from the German police, some of the army and the Freikorps. However, none of the German workers were on his side and they all went on strike in order to support their real leader, Ebert. Kapp thus achieved nothing and within 100 hours of his attempts to overrun the German Government, he fled to Sweden.
Ebert continued to rule the country as if nothing had ever happened. There were some complications involved, including the fact that the communist workers remained on strike after the Kapp Putsch. They formed a Red Army of fifty thousand and, in the Ruhr, Germany’s richest industrial area, government troops fought hard against the Spartacists and the Freikorps shot over 2000 workers before the end of it. This incident not to mention the strike in general frightened the German people and influenced the Government to put into place new harsher methods of dealing with communist rebels.
Killing went on, murders were committed, between 1919 and 1922, 356 political assassinations took place in Germany mostly by Right Wing extremists. The most infamous of them all was the killing of Walther Rathenau, the Jewish German foreign minister. Some curious results came out of the cases that went to court, in the sense that the punishments towards the Right wing criminals were a lot more lenient than those given to the Left wing murderers. All in all, the atmosphere in Germany following the First World War was one of chaos, disorder and destruction and the Weimar Republic did not do much in helping the situation.
The Treaty of Versailles had a terribly drastic impact on Germany in the sense that her industry was shattered. However, there was really no other way out, it was near impossibility for the Germans to fight their way out of signing the Treaty, and they were in the end forced to go along with the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. In complying with the Treaty, Germany was not only losing all her pride, but also 16. 5 percent of their territory, their army and navy etc… Along with land went people, factories, farms, mines…
Germany was not allowed an army stronger than 100 000 thousand men and no more than six battleships, just in order to maintain order in the country. Germany’s enemies intended to make sure that she only had a defensive army and that they would no longer have any possible way of attacking their neighbours. The Germans were of course outraged by this control over their nation but there was nothing that they could do to get out of the unfortunate situation that they were in. The Treaty was imposed upon them, it was “diktat” and not signing the Treaty meant invasion.
The aspect of the Treaty that completely destroyed the German economy was the blank cheque that the Germans had to pay in compensation for the damages they had caused to their enemies in the war. The total sum was not calculated until 1921 when it came to 6.6 billion. In 1922, the Germans tried to convince their enemies that they simply could not pay the second instalment of the reparations. France and Belgium refused to believe their inability to pay the reparations and proceeded to invade the Ruhr valley, Germany’s most industrial area.
As the German army had been reduced to 100 000 soldiers and they really had no other form of defence, there was no other choice but to surrender their largest source of income to their enemies. The reaction of the workers in the area was to go on strike, however the French and Belgians just sent in their own men. German production fell yet their workers still had to be supported, which led to useless money being printed by the Government. Prices rose, hyperinflation grew in dramatic leaps. Workers and citizens relying on fixed incomes and pensions suffered the most.
Adolf Hitler chose this time to decide that the Nazi party was strong enough to overthrow the German Government in a revolt. His main aims were to break down the Treaty of Versailles and place self-determination into his advantage. He wanted to reunite all German speakers once again and went about this by marching into Bavaria in order to set up a separate Republic in Southern Germany. He was hoping that the rest of the country would follow and that the German police would be on his side in the revolt.
However, things did not go along as planned and the police force ended up arresting several Nazi’s instead. Elements of the army supported Hitler, but the revolt failed just the same and Hitler, along with Luddendorf (German General who supported the revolt) were accused guilty of high treason. Hitler was sentenced to three years in prison but somehow got away with serving only nine months mainly due to good behaviour. Versailles made the Germans have to admit to war guilt, which caused a lot of resent towards their opponents.
The Treaty generally handicapped the German Republic and certainly didn’t help the shattered Government get off to a good start. Germany lost a lot of political support from within the conservative classes due to the fact that the Government had signed away parts of their country in an act of humiliation. The era between 1924 and 29 was a much more prosperous one, mostly due to Gustav Stresemann who introduced the new Rentemark to replace the worthless paper mark that was being overprinted by the Government.
In 1924 he became German’s foreign minister and decided to call off the passive resistance of the communists and to start paying reparations again. The Dawes plan was put into place allowing the Germans to pay the amount of reparations that they could afford every year. However, Germany was still so reliant on the American economy that this was referred to by Stresemann as ‘dancing on the edge of a volcano. ‘ If the American economy were to suffer, the German nation would once again deteriorate as they were completely reliant on them.
Probably Stresemann’s greatest achievement while in power was befriending former enemies such as France and Belgium. This took place at the Locarno Treaties in 1925 promising to never attack or change the borders separating each other’s lands. In 1926, as a result to the treaties, Germany was also allowed to join the League of Nations, she was ‘growing up. ‘ Germany’s economy was improving by the minute, her steel production was now twice as prosperous as that of Great Britain. She was becoming more vibrant in the cultural sense, there was more Literature, Cinema Architecture etc…
Germany had become a so called happier nation than she had probably been in ten years, the public felt encouraged by the better atmosphere of it’s country and this era could generally be described as a prosperous one. During the Weimar period, a higher morale was achieved in Germany, thus encouraging the populace to support the Government. A presidential system was set up in the country for the first time, thus leaving Germany no longer reliant on her army, which was positive as they sometimes switched sides due to the division of the German people’s views on their own opinions.
A democracy was established, people could express themselves freely without having to fear about putting their lives at risk. German’s economy improved at an alarming rate, her steel production in particular, and the culture of Germany went from practically non-existent to absolutely vibrant. However, their self-confidence was maybe placed on slightly ‘shifting sands’ and this might have been one of the aspects leading to the actual outcome of the Weimar Republic. In conclusion, the Weimar Republic was founded on defeat and finished in disaster.
However, it is not completely fair to say that the Republic was doomed from the start, although the leaders did encounter some complications in overcoming difficulties conflicting with their views. The Government was quite weak in reaction to the many outbursts of the extremist parties, however they ended up dealing with them as well as possible under circumstances. Germany was put into situations with no other acceptable outcomes than the ones chosen. Their actions led to losing half their nations support which couldn’t have been very encouraging for the concerned politicians.
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