=====Was the Weimar Republic doomed from the start? =====

By the autumn of 1918 Germany was on its knees.

§  The people were starving after four years of war and Allied blockade.

§  The Ludendorff offensive in the spring of 1918 had failed and the army was now facing defeat.

§  In August and September the German army collapsed.

§  There were mutinies of sailors in the fleet at Kiel. These spread to the army and to the workers in the cities.

But some people believed that the war could be continued.

Hitler, who was gassed in October, spent the last weeks of the war in hospital. Like many he did not understand why the government had surrendered and came to believe in a Jewish conspiracy to save property in Germany. He accused the November Criminals, the politicians who had signed the Armistice, of betraying Germany.

§  On 9th November the Kaiser fled to Holland, leaving Germany in the hands of the Social Democrats. Their leader, Ebert, was horrified when he heard from the generals how bad the situation was and called for a cease-fire on November 11th, 1918.

=====The problems of the Weimar Republic =====

§  Ludendorff claimed that a new offensive could be undertaken in the spring of 1919, if only enough recruits could be found.

§  Some units of the German army had seen little action and did not understand why the Armistice was signed.

§  The German people had been told that the war was defensive and so did not understand why the government surrendered when Germany had not been invaded.

§  In January 1919 there was an attempted revolution by the Spartacists, who were communist. This was only put down by the Frei Korps, gangs of ex-soldiers, who roamed the streets of Berlin in uniform.

The leaders of the Spartacists, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg were both shot. This encouraged the Frei Korps to believe that the Weimar government was weak and that they could seize power.

The Spartacist Rising (original footage)-003:52

The Spartacist Rising (original footage)-0

The nature of the Weimar Constitution

The Weimar Constitution was based upon proportional representation. This meant that it was very difficult for one party to gain an overall majority in the Reichstag, the lower house of the German parliament. The Allies hoped that this would prevent a strong government coming to power. In fact it meant that all German governments were weak and were unable to take decisions.

Because Berlin was in chaos, the new democratic government met in the small town of Weimar.

The constitution said:

§  Everyone over 20, male and female, had the vote.

§  Freedom of speech, religion and association were guaranteed.

§  There was an elected parliament, called the Reichstag. The Chancellor, (as the Prime Minister was called), had to have the voting support of the Reichstag.

§  There was a President, elected every 7 years. It was expected that the President would just be a  figurehead, but there were plans for the President to rule without democratic support in the

Reichstag in a crisis.

§  Elections were held on the basis of Proportional Representation.  This gave numbers of

delegates in the Reichstag in proportion to the numbers of votes cast for their party in


Who supported or opposed the Weimar constitution?01:07

Who supported or opposed the Weimar constitution?

===Why did the Constitution of the Weimar Republic create problems? ===

§  Germany had no tradition of democracy and of making democratic systems work. The Kaiser

and all his friends had despised democracy. Although he had fled, his generals, diplomats and

civil servants remained.

The Weimar constitution was one of the most democratic in the world, but it created difficulties.  Proportional representation meant that it was worthwhile setting up new parties and the result

was that no one party ever had a majority in the Reichstag. All governments had to be coalitions

and these were frequently changing.

§  The Weimar politicians who signed the treaty took all the anger of German nationalists. They were called the ‘November Criminals’. They were accused of ‘Stabbing the army in the back’ (because they believed – quite wrongly – that the army had not been defeated).

§  The proportional representation meant that it was impossible for any one party to gain a majority in the Reichstag and for a strong government to emerge. The most important party in the 1920s was the Socialists (SPD), but they always needed the support of at least two other parties in order to form a government. The Chancellor was replaced about once a year.


=====What was the impact of the Treaty of Versailles on the Republic? =====

§  The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June, five years to the day after the assassination of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo.

§  The German delegates had not been allowed to attend any of the meetings at Versailles, but had been shown the terms of the treaty in May. When they saw the terms, they were horrified. They had expected that the Treaty would be based upon Wilson's 'Fourteen Points', which recommended 'Self-Determination'.

§  In fact the Treaty was heavily influenced by Clemenceau's desire to 'make Germany pay'. The German delegates considered restarting the war, but this was impossible.

The Treaty of Versailles Revision Notes06:28

The Treaty of Versailles Revision Notes

=The main terms of the Treaty were as follows


§  Land - Germany lost about 10% of her land, Alsace-Lorraine was given back to France, the Polish Corridor was created to give the new country of Poland a way out to the Baltic. This cut Germany into two. Germany also lost land to Belgium, Denmark and Czechoslovakia.

§  Colonies - all German colonies were taken away and were handed to Britain and France to look after under League of Nations mandates until they were ready for independence.

§  Armed forces - the German army was reduced to 100,000 men and conscription was banned, the navy was reduced to six ships and submarines were banned, the airforce was to be completely destroyed.

§  The Rhineland - this was to be demilitarised, no soldiers or military equipment were to be kept within thirty miles of the east bank of the river. The Allies would occupy it for fifteen years.

§  The Saar - this was to be occupied for fifteen years and France would be able to mine coal in it for those years.

§  Reparations -In 1919 the Germans were required to pay for all of the civilian damage caused during the First World War. The final bill was presented on 1 May 1921 and was fixed at £6,600,000,000. To be paid over thirty years.

1.      Germany was to hand over all merchant ships of over 1600 tonnes, half of those between 800 and 1600 tonnes and one quarter of her fishing fleet. She was also to build 200,000 tonnes of shipping for the Allies in each of the next five years.

2.      Large quantities of coal were to be handed over to France, Belgium and Italy for the next ten years.

3.      Germany was to pay for the cost of the armies of occupation and had to agree to the sale of German property in the Allied countries.

§  War Guilt - Germany was to accept the blame for the war, alone.

=====Why was the Treaty of Versailles very unpopular in Germany? =====


§  The Germans had expected that they would be treated much more leniently because they had opened peace negotiations on the basis of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which had explicitly denied that it would be a vengeful peace.

§  The German people had not been told much about the war, they thought they were fighting a defensive war against aggressive neighbours; they did not know about the scale of Germany’s defeat in autumn, 1918. The terms therefore came as a huge surprise to many of the German people.

§  The Reparations were regarded as very severe as they punished the 

German people for years to come, not the Kaiser who had fled to Holland.

§  The German government had not been allowed to take part in the negotiations; it was presented with the final version and told to sign it or else the war would continue.

§  The War Guilt Clause was regarded as very unfair. The war had been sparked off by the murder of an Austrian by a Serb. Germany had only been one of the countries which became involved. Many Germans believed that they were being used as scapegoats for all of the other countries.

Some of this was justified – the negotiations had been opened on the basis of the 14 Points and Reparations had more to do with revenge and with French war-debts than with fairness. 

==However, the losses of territory and resources were not that great. The German economy revived rapidly and successfully in the later 1920s. ==

==Also, Germany had rejected the 14 Points while they stood a chance of winning the war and their own treatment of Russia at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 was very punitive. ==

Current historians tend to think that at least a large proportion of the blame for the war lay with Germany.

§  Germany had suffered worse than any of the other major countries, except possibly for Russia. Two million German soldiers had been killed and the German economy had been ruined by the blockade set up by the Allies. Conditions in Germany in the winter of 1918/19 were very bad.

§  The politicians who had signed the Armistice were called the November Criminals by Hitler, who joined a small extreme party in Bavaria in 1919.The government became very unpopular and from 1919 onwards there was increasing violence and large numbers of murders.

§  Many soldiers did not believe that the army had actually been defeated, as

Germany had surrendered before it had been invaded. Some wanted to fight on, but the odds against Germany had been very long indeed, with Britain, France and the USA all on the other side. When they returned home they were treated like heroes.

§  In 1920, Ebert, the German president tried to disband the Frei Korps, but this only led to an attempted coup by the Frei Korps in March 1920, the Kapp Putsch. Once again the government was helpless and the revolt was only defeated by the trade unions, which organised a general strike and refused to deal with the Frei Korps. In the next two years there were more revolts, by both left and right.

§  There were 400 political murders between 1919 and 1923. The most famous were the murders of Paul Erzberger in 1921, he was one of the ministers who had signed the Treaty of Versailles, and Walter Rathenau in 1922.

§  Erzberger was killed by members of the Freikorps, Rathenau by a Nationalist who believed that he had sold out to Communist Russia because he had just negotiated the Treaty of Rapallo with Russia. In fact Rathenau had reached an agreement so that the German armed forces could train in secret inside Russia and so break the Treaty of Versailles.

The Impact of the Treaty on Germany08:08

The Impact of the Treaty on Germany

=====The consequences of these outbreaks of disorder were =====

§  Increased street violence, often organised by the Frei Korps

§  A growing lack of respect for the Weimar government, which was seen to be collaborating with the Allies. This led to rising inflation and unemployment.

§  The growth of extremist parties, particularly in the south of Germany. Although they were insignificant at first, the most important of these parties was to be the German Workers Party, which was set up in 1919 by Anton Drexler.

=====Hitler and the German Workers Party ===



§  Hitler was demobilised in January 1919 and eventually got a job as a spy for the German army. In September1919, he was ordered to join the German Workers' Party.

§  Hitler joined the Party Committee and was appointed to be in charge of propaganda. In  1921 he became the leader. Hitler changed the name of the Party to the 'National Socialist German Workers' Party'. He wanted to attract as many supporters as possible, National was intended to entice attract right-wing nationalists, and Socialist to attract workingmen.

§  The party soon became nick-named the Nazis by their opponents. But this was a term never used by Hitler. He always referred to his followers as National Socialists. 

§  The Nazis were just one of a number of extremist fringe parties in Bavaria in the early 1920s. They had a few thousand supporters, but were unknown in the other parts of Germany. Their main appeal was through the speeches of Hitler, who soon gained a reputation as a powerful orator, despite his Austrian accent.

§  Hitler set up his own private army, the Sturm Abteilung, led by a violent ex-soldier Ernst Roehm, and used it to attack his opponents in the streets. He tried to pose as a strong man who could solve Germany’ problems.

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