The Weimar Republic 1930 - 1933
President Hindenburg greets the new Chancellor Adolf Hitler on the 30th January 1933
The Origins of the Nazi Party •The small German Workers Party (DAP) was founded in Munich in 1919 by Anton Drexler, a Berlin locksmith and war veteran. •Hitler encountered the Party as a ‘political education officer’ in the German army investigating ‘undesirable’ leftwing groups.
•Although the Party had leftwing anti-capitalist tendencies, it also embraced right-wing anti-Semitic and nationalistic thinking.
Origins of the Nazi Party •Hitler joined the Party and together with Drexler, they drew up a 25 Point Programme outlining their aims. These included revocation of the treaties of Versailles and St. Germain, the union of all Germans in a Greater Germany and the prohibition of profiteering by big business. •The Party was also renamed the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) and membership increased to 3300. •Hitler himself took over as leader in 1921. •Even before becoming leader, Hitler had already developed much of the propaganda that would characterise the Nazi Party e.g. the salute, use of the swastika and formation of uniformed armed squads.
1921 – 1923 Strengthening the Party •The armed squads were developed into organised paramilitary units led by Ernest Rohm and known as the SA (stormtroopers). •A Party newspaper, Volkischer Beobachter (the People’s Observer), was published from 1921. •Hitler won the backing of Julius Streicher who gave the NSDAP publicity in his own anti-Semitic newspaper Der Sturmer.
1921-1923 Strengthening the Party •Hermann Goering, the son of a Bavarian landowner and husband of a Swedish aristocrat dropped out of university and joined the SA as a commander in 1922.
•Many useful social contacts with powerful people were made as a result and this gave Hitler and Nazism respectability.
1923 The Munich Beer Hall Putsch •By 1923, Nazi Party membership stood at 20 000 and the economic crisis of 1923 had made the Weimar government deeply unpopular with many in Germany.
•Inspired by Mussolini’s ‘March on Rome’ the previous year, Hitler decided to overthrown the federal government of Bavaria and then takeover the national government in Berlin.
•On the 8th November 1923 when the Bavarian leader von Kahr was addressing a large meeting in a Munich beer hall, Hitler and the Nazis seized control. •Hitler declared a ‘national revolution’, which he claimed was supported by the army and the police. Von Kahr and other Bavarian leaders were forced at gunpoint to support it. •The next day Hitler and the war hero General Ludendorff marched into the city of Munich with 2000 SA to meet up with Rohm who had occupied some government buildings but the uprising was easily crushed by police.
•14 Nazis were killed and Hitler was arrested on a charge of treason.
Nazis barricade the War Ministry buildings in Munich 9th November 1923
February 1924 Hitler on Trial
The main leaders of the Putsch before their trial
Outcome of the Trial •Hitler was found guilty of treason, jailed and the NSDAP were banned. However… •The trial brought Hitler weeks of valuable front-page publicity and was a great propaganda success.
•A sympathetic judiciary meant that he was allowed to interrupt and question witnesses and made speeches lasting for hours. •Although jailed, Hitler was only sentenced to the minimum sentence (5 years ‘fortress detention’) and actually walked free before the end of the year. •While in jail, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf which outlined his world view and was to become the ‘bible’ of National Socialism.
December 1924 Release from Landsberg
1924 A Change in Direction •Ten months in Landsberg allowed Hitler to consider the future of the Party.By the time of his release the future looked bleak. The Party was in disarray, membership was in decline and the atmosphere of economic crisis had subsided.
•Hitler therefore decided that Putschist (violent) tactics would have to be abandoned and instead the Nazis would try to win electoral support.
“.. we shall have to hold our noses and enter the Reichstag against the Catholic and Marxist deputies. If out-voting them takes longer than our shooting them, at least the result will be guaranteed by their own Constitution.” Hitler, Landsberg 1924
1924 A Change in Direction •Strict organisation of the Party was also deemed to be necessary. Up to 1923 Party supporters were largely from Bavaria but this geographical spread would have to be increased. A larger membership would also distinguish the Nazis from other nationalist groups. •The Fuhrer’s will would need to dominate completely (Fuhrerprinzip) to enable the Nazis to appear united. Hitler planned only to intervene in party disputes when they had reached crisis stage and his decision would be final.
Belief in a hierarchy of races (Aryans superior, Slavs and Jews inferior)
All ethnic Germans should be part of Greater Germany
Hitler’s ‘World View’ Versailles must be overturned Opposition to Communism as a left wing ideology and part of the ‘Jewish conspiracy’
Opposition to democracy and the Weimar Republic
Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe would allow Germany to expand successfully
Hitler’s World View •Hitler believed in social Darwinism which maintained life was no more than the ‘survival of the fittest’.He felt it was natural that ‘inferior’ Jews and Slavs were dominated by the pure Herrenvolk (the ‘Aryan’ master race of northern Europe) •The purity of the ‘Aryan’ line had to be preserved at all costs. In Nazi Germany this led to the development of the pseudo-science of ‘racial hygiene’.
•Abolition of the Treaty of Versailles and the return of lost territories would lead to the creation of a new empire (Reich). •However, this Reich was to be bigger than the Germany of 1914. Austrian Germans as well as those in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia and the German communities along the Baltic coast were to be included.
“… The German people must be assured the territorial area which is necessary for it to exist on earth…People of the same blood should be in the same Reich.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
‘Europe’s Victory is your prosperity’ -poster from 1941 which saw the culmination of Hitler’s ambition in the East when he launched an invasion of the Soviet Union.
•Conquest of Poland and the Soviet Union would allow Germany to obtain raw materials, cheap labour and food. This policy of Lebensraum would allow Greater Germany to compete as an equal alongside Britain and the USA on the world stage.
•This ‘New Order’ would not only bring about the subjugation of inferior Slavs, it would also ensure the destruction of the USSR, the centre of world communism after 1917. •For Hitler, the communist beliefs of Jews like Karl Marx and Trotsky was further proof that there was a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.
•Hitler also believed there was no realistic alternative to strong dictatorial government. Parliamentary democracy was weak and ineffective and at odds with Germany’s military traditions. •The ‘November Criminals’ of the Weimar Republic had betrayed Germany by accepting the armistice and establishing democracy. Since then, Germany had lurched from one crisis to the next. •Instead, a one-party state which rejected representative government and liberal values would control the masses for the common good. An individual leader (Fuhrer) should be chosen to take necessary decisions. •The resulting Volksgemeinschaft (‘people’s community’) would override divisions of class, religion and politics and encourage people to work together under a new collective national identity.
How new were Hitler’s ideas? “Nazism lacked coherence and was intellectually superficial and simplistic…It was merely a collection of ideas not very cleverly pieced together.” (Layton 2005) •Every aspect of Hitler’s thinking can be found to have been voiced in nineteenth century Germany. •His nationalism can be seen as an outgrowth of the fervour that led to unification in 1871.
•Demands for a ‘Greater Germany’ had already been made after 1871 by those who felt unification had not gone far enough. •Racist ideas and in particular anti-Semitism had been developing and the imperialist idea of Lebensraum had already been raised by those who saw the German race as superior.
Was the rise of Hitler in Germany inevitable? •Germany also had a strong socialist tradition during the nineteenth century. •A number of other countries, notably Britain and France, also witnessed the voicing of similar nationalist and racist ideas at the same time. •Anti-Semitism in Europe was centuries old. For example, in 1290 Jewish people in Britain had been expelled, only being formally readmitted in the seventeenth century. Scapegoating Jewish people for a country’s problems was still easily accepted by many in the mid-twentieth century.
1925-1929 •On the 27th February 1925 the NSDAP was officially refounded in Munich and the following year Hitler formally established his leadership of the Party. •The party was reorganised into regions (Gaue) and a vertical structure was set up that did not detract from Hitler’s position of authority. Regional leaders (Gauleiters) were responsible for creating district (Kreis) and local branches (Ort). •Associated Nazi organisations were set up to appeal directly to specific interest groups e.g. Hitler Youth, Nazi Teachers Association, Union of Nazi Lawyers.
Hitler at the Nuremberg rally of 1927
1925-1929 •The SS were set up in 1925 under Himmler as an elite bodyguard sworn to absolute obedience to Hitler. •By 1928 Party membership stood at 108 000, a four fold increase from 1925. •However, the Party failed to make inroads in the cities and in May 1928, it did poorly in the Reichstag elections, winning only 2.6% of the total vote and a mere 12 seats. •The seats that were gained were in mainly rural areas where the fall in agricultural prices was leading to increasing discontent and bankruptcies. The Nazis tried to capitalise on this by calling for expropriation of Jewish agricultural property.
The Depression and the Rise of the Nazis •Only a year after the Wall Street Crash unemployment in Germany had reached 3 million and by January 1932 it stood at 6.1 million. •An estimated 20 million people were relying on 6 marks a week in family welfare payments and 1 million had no support at all. •Many manual industrial workers faced the prospect of longterm unemployment. •The middle classes were also dragged down as there was little demand for the goods and services of small shopkeepers, lawyers and doctors. •As world demand fell further, the agricultural depression deepened and some tenant farmers faced the humiliation of being evicted from homes which had been in their families for generations.
Nazi Breakthrough – September 1930 •Chancellor Muller had been replaced in March 1930 by Bruning following disagreements in Muller’s coalition over levels of welfare payments.
•Bruning however, was soon relying on presidential decree to get legislation passed. •Reichstag elections in September 1930 saw the Nazis make dramatic gains. With 107 seats and 18.3% of the total vote, they were now the second largest party in the Reichstag.
•These gains had come at the expense of centre right parties who lost rural and middle class votes to the Nazis. •Turnout had also improved from 75.6% to 82% and there had been 1.8 million new young voters.
1930 Nazi election poster reads ‘Freedom and Bread’
•The Nazis appeared as a youthful, dynamic and vigorous alternative to most Weimar parties who appeared to consist of dull middle-aged men who were constantly embroiled in self-serving coalition squabbles.
•Facing potential opposition from at least 64% of the Reichstag, Bruning was re-appointed Chancellor. •However, Hindenburg was prepared to use presidential decrees to support him and the SPD tolerated him through fear of the increasing influence of the extreme parties. •Parliament did indeed appear to be dying. The number of Presidential decrees passed increased from 5 in 1930 to 66 in 1932 while the amount of Reichstag laws passed by votes decreased from 98 in 1930 to 5 in 1932. •Although a self-confessed opponent of the democratic Republic and keen to see a return to more authoritarian government, Bruning was wary of the Nazi Party and banned the SA in April 1932.
Presidential Elections Spring 1932 •Hindenburg was reelected with 53% of the vote and supported by the moderate left and centre.
Hindenburg’s election poster says ‘vote for a man not a party’ while Hitler’s shows a strongman breaking free of his chains
•Hitler meanwhile had polled 36.8% of the vote and had projected a very powerful personal image during the campaign.
•Hindenburg by now was extremely elderly and it has been claimed that he was suffering from advancing senility and “mental blackouts”. •A scheming and ambitious army officer Kurt von Schleicher, who held the ear of Hindenburg, wanted Bruning out of office. Schleicher felt that Bruning’s opposition to the Nazis was wrong in the face of recent popular support and that they should be included in government.
•From Spring 1932, Hindenburg refused to sign any more decrees for Bruning whose position now became untenable. Bruning resigned at the end of May.
‘Backstairs Intrigue’ Hindenburg, von Schleicher and Franz von Papen photographed in 1932
‘Backstairs Intrigue’ •In place of Bruning, Schleicher recommended Franz von Papen an aristocrat and a member of the Centre Party with strong nationalist sympathies. Hindenburg was convinced and appointed him. •However, von Papen did not even have a seat in the Reichstag and his ‘Cabinet of Barons’ included some leading industrialists and aristocrats who did not have seats either. •To ensure support from the Reichstag and in particular the suddenly popular Nazi party, the ban on the SA and the SS were lifted. Von Papen also agreed to hold new elections for the Reichstag in July 1932 as Hitler demanded and hoped that with support from the Nazis, this form of presidential government could work.
Reichstag Elections July 1932 •Germany witnessed a brutal campaign with 86 people killed in political street fighting during the month of July alone.
•The election was a fantastic success for the Nazis with 37.3% of the total vote and 230 seats. The NSDAP was now the largest party in the Reichstag. •The nationalists (DNVP), middle class democratic parties (DDP, DVP) and the moderate left wing (SPD) all lost votes, although turnout had again increased. •The Nazis were not the only success story. The KPD also increase their share of the vote to 14.3%. This meant that only 39.5% of the German people had voted for pro-democratic parties whereas over half (51.6%) had voted for the extreme left and right.
How important was the economy for the Nazis? •Childers (1983) claims it was the fear of unemployment rather than unemployment itself that made people look to the Nazi party during the early 1930s (‘the politics of anxiety’). •The NSDAP vote was concentrated among the agrarian and small-town middle classes in the Protestant north and east. In other words it was those who still had something to lose and who feared loss of social status who voted NSDAP. •He maintains that Catholics tended to remain loyal to the Centre party and that the workers who were laid off first and were therefore actually unemployed at the time, would have still voted for the traditional working class parties (SPD and KPD).
Voting Patterns in Germany 1920 - 1933
Hitler was not offered the Chancellorship in the summer of 1932 and he rejected Hindenburg’s offer of ViceChancellor, greeting it with derision.
September 1932 Von Papen received a vote of no confidence from the Reichstag. Hindenburg dissolved the Reichstag the next day.
November 1932 Reichstag elections were held. The Nazis lost ground and their share of the vote fell to 33%, though they were still the largest party. However, this decline in fortune perhaps encouraged the idea that Hitler could be tamed and used by those who wished to harness his mass following for their own purposes.
December 1932 Schleicher persuaded Hindenburg to dismiss Papen and appoint himself as Chancellor. However, he failed to gain the support of trade unionists and managed to antagonise the industrialists and landowners.
January 1933 Papen now got his revenge on Schleicher. The Nazi party appeared weak with a lack of funds and falling membership. Papen met with Hitler and offered him the Chancellorship with himself as Vice-Chancellor. Two other Nazis could join him in the cabinet.
Hindenburg was encouraged to accept this proposal though he personally disliked Hitler. It was assumed that Hitler would be a ‘Chancellor in chains’ and that he could be used in the interest of the conservative establishment.
January 30th 1933 Chancellor Hitler greeting the Nazi torchlight parade passing the window of his new office. President Hindenburg also gazes out the window at the sight.
The Establishment of the Nazi Dictatorship January – March 1933 Control at the Centre “In two months we’ll have pushed Hitler into a corner so hard that he’ll be squeaking.” Von Papen January 1933 Hitler’s position appeared to be weak in January 1933 •Only 3 out of 12 Cabinet ministers were Nazis. •Hitler’s coalition government did have a majority in the Reichstag, making dramatic legislation difficult to introduce. •Hindenburg could dismiss Hitler at any point. •The army could arrange a military coup if antagonised. •Trade unions could organise a general strike as they did against the Kapp putsch.
Reichstag Elections March 1933 •Within 24 hours of his new appointment, Hitler had called another election both to increase the Nazi vote and to enhance his own status. •Campaigning would be more successful now the Nazis had access to the resources of the state. Goebbels capitalised on the increased access to the press and radio. Goering was responsible for the police in Prussia and used this to blatantly harass opponents while ignoring Nazi crimes. •Hitler also secured financial backing for the Nazi election campaign from 20 leading industrialists to the tune of 3 million marks.
The Reichstag Fire 27th February 1933
A young Dutch communist , Marinus van der Lubbe, was arrested following a blaze in the Reichstag. Opinions vary as to whether he was actually responsible but the Nazis were quick to exploit the incident to their own advantage
Aftermath of the Reichstag Fire •Claiming the fire was evidence of a communist plot to takeover Germany, the Law for the Protection of People and State was drawn up and presented to Hindenburg who promptly signed it. •In a few short clauses most civil and political liberties were suspended, including freedoms of assembly and expression. •Crucially, central government now had the right to arrest and detain individuals without trial for unlimited amounts of time. •The Nazis used these measures to restrict the campaigning of their political opponents for the March election. •Unsurprisingly, the Nazis increased their share of the vote to 43.9%.
The Enabling Act 23rd March 1933 •Hitler decided to propose a bill that would allow him to govern without parliament for the next 4 years. However, any changes to the existing Weimar constitution required a two-thirds majority. •Bargaining with parties such as the DNVP increased the Nazi majority and Hitler falsely promised the Centre party that he would respect the rights of the Catholic church if given these powers.
•Intimidation and the physical barring of communist members of the Reichstag did the rest. The Enabling Act was passed by 444 votes to 94. The Weimar Republic had voted itself out of existence.
“The National Socialist movement will seek to reach its goals through legal means…We will seek to gain a decisive majority in the lawmaking bodies, and at the moment in which we succeed we will give the state a form corresponding to our ideas” Adolf Hitler 25th September 1930 How Hitler says ‘legal’
When and why did Weimar die? Layton (2005) has identified three major weaknesses facing the Weimar Republic. •The hostility of Germany’s vested interests Key powerful figures in German society and business rejected the idea of a democratic republic. They hoped instead for a return to the pre-war situation and worked against the interests of Weimar. •Ongoing economic problems Almost continuous economic problems affected all levels of society. The costs of the war plus the burden of reconstruction, reparations and the expense of the new welfare payments were difficult challenges for Weimar. Even after the 1923 crisis, key problems remained unresolved and this would have dramatic consequences in the global economic crisis from 1929.
When and why did Weimar die? •Limited base of popular support There was never total acceptance of, and confidence in, Weimar’s system and values. From the start it’s narrow base of popular support was threatened by extremes of left and right. It was also associated with defeat, Versailles and reparations and it’s reputation was further damaged by the crisis of 1922-3. Liberal parties (DDP, DVP) lost support from 1924 onwards, and the Centre party and DNVP moved further to the right. Even the SPD failed to join coalitions in the mid 1920s and would not cooperate with it’s leftwing partner the KPD.
When and why did Weimar die? Crucial to any consideration of why Weimar died however, is when Weimar collapsed. •Was it a “gamble with no chance of success” right from it’s birth in 1918? •Did the crisis of 1923 leave key supporters disillusioned and unwilling to defend it? •Did the Wall Street Crash herald the end or was Weimar over when the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag in July 1932? •Did the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor signal the end of democracy there and then or did it limp on until the Enabling Act was passed in 1934?
The death of Weimar democracy: accident, suicide or murder? Fulbrook (2004) claims there is an element of each in the ‘death’ of Weimar. •‘Accident’ because had the Wall Street Crash not occurred there would have been some chance for continued stabilisation over time. •‘Suicide’ because key elites had no will to uphold democracy and took the wrong decisions, most tragically at the very end. •‘Murder’ because Hitler made no secret of his intention to destroy democracy, having abused the democratic system to attain power legally.
Banff Academy 2005