Why all the fights

Weimar Republic

Reinhard Sturm

To person

born 1950, studied history, political science and English from 1971 to 1978 at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. In 1973/74 he worked for a year as a German Assistant at a school in England. After his preparatory service in Salzgitter from 1978 to 1980, he worked as a high school teacher in Göttingen until 1990, and since then in Hildesheim. Since 1990 he has been training future history teachers as the director of studies and subject manager for history at the Hildesheim study seminar for teaching at grammar schools. He has published academic and didactic articles on the history of the labor movement, the Weimar Republic, National Socialism and German post-war history as well as history didactics.

Contact: »[email protected]«

Parliamentary democracy and the Weimar Constitution do not bring post-war society to rest for good. The harsh conditions of the Versailles peace treaty in particular lead to uprisings by right and left forces. The high points of the crisis are the occupation of the Ruhr, which is met with passive resistance, and the currency breakdown, which is followed by a currency reform.

Private photo from May 15, 1919 with a handwritten note: Demonstrations against the Versailles Freidens Treaty take place in front of the Reichstag building. Upon express request, the German delegation signed the contract on June 28, 1919. (& copy Public Domain, Image Archive Prussian Cultural Heritage)


Before the constitution was passed, the National Assembly had to deal with the peace treaty. On May 7, 1919, the German delegation headed by the non-party Foreign Minister Ulrich Graf Brockdorff-Rantzau received the draft that had been drawn up by the Conference of the Victory Powers, which had been meeting in Paris since January 18 - without the participation of the vanquished. It was ultimately the work of the "Big Three": US President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister Lloyd George and French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau.

The Versailles Peace Treaty

The planned losses of territory, restrictions on sovereignty, reparations and, above all, the allocation of sole guilt for the war triggered a storm of indignation throughout Germany, across all political camps and social classes. Almost all German requests for change (except for a vote in Upper Silesia on national or state affiliation) were rejected by the Allies. Thereupon the Scheidemann cabinet resigned on June 20; the DDP left the coalition for the time being (until October 3, 1919). Gustav Bauer (MSPD) became the new Chancellor.

Territorial demands arising from the Versailles Peace Treaty.
On June 23, Reich President Ebert called the OHL in Kolberg to inquire about the chances of military resistance. Hindenburg left it to Groener to inform Ebert: "The resumption of the fight is [...] pointless. The peace must therefore be concluded under the conditions set by the enemy." Since there was no responsible alternative, the National Assembly decided on the afternoon of June 23, 1919 with a large majority to accept the peace treaty, against the votes of the DNVP, DVP, the majority of the DDP parliamentary group and some members of the Center. The signing took place on June 28, 1919 in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles - the place that the German princes had chosen in 1871 to proclaim Wilhelm I emperor and at the same time to humiliate France. The Treaty of Versailles came into force on January 10, 1920 after ratification by the signatory states.

Part of the treaty was the statutes of the League of Nations, which was founded primarily at Wilson's instigation on April 29, 1919 in Versailles, to which Germany was temporarily not allowed to belong. However, the US Congress refused to give its approval in November 1919 because it wanted to avoid future US involvement in European conflicts. This weakened the League of Nations from the start. A German-American peace agreement took place on August 25, 1921.

The German delegation at the negotiations for the Versailles Peace Treaty. License: cc by-sa / 3.0 / de (Federal Archives, Image 183-R11112, Photo: o.A.)
The Treaty of Versailles not only took away all of Germany's colonies, but also 13 percent of its territory and ten percent of its population, which included 50 percent of the iron ore supply, 25 percent of the coal mining, 17 percent of the potato and 13 percent of the wheat harvest. The majority of these areas fell to the re-established state of Poland after 123 years of division, which the Allies also regarded as a bulwark against Russian Bolshevism. The new demarcation in the east inevitably led to new minority problems because of the mixed-national type of settlement there. Where previously Poles lived under Prussian-German rule and had to endure nationalist discrimination, these conditions have now been reversed. In March 1918, in the "dictated peace" of Brest-Litovsk, Germany had withdrawn almost a quarter of its European territory - which was, of course, inhabited by peoples striving for independence - and thus a quarter of its agricultural area and three quarters of its heavy industry and coal production. Now it was treated just as harshly even at Versailles. Nevertheless, its nation-state structure was largely preserved; a return to the ranks of the great powers was by no means ruled out.

Source text

Provisions of the Versailles Treaty

Assignments of territory

Alsace-Lorraine to France (without vote)
Saar area under League of Nations control for 15 years, coal mines to France, German right of repurchase (1935 vote)
Eupen and Malmedy to Belgium (after a controversial vote)
North Schleswig to Denmark (after a controversial vote)
Poznan and West Prussia ("Corridor") to Poland (without a vote)
Southern parts of East Prussia to Poland (this did not happen because in the vote over 90 percent wanted to remain with Germany)
Danzig with the mouth of the Vistula "Free City" under the control of the League of Nations, with special rights for the Polish minority
Memel area 1923 to Lithuania (without vote)
East Upper Silesia to Poland (despite the vote in Upper Silesia, where 60 percent wanted to remain with Germany)
Hultschiner Ländchen to Czechoslovakia (without vote)
German colonies as mandate areas to various allied states

Sovereignty Constraints
Extradition of the emperor as a war criminal (rejected by the Netherlands)
Prohibition of association with German Austria
Limited air sovereignty
Internationalization of the rivers Rhine, Danube, Elbe, Oder and Memel
Prohibition of general conscription, restriction of the army to 100,000 men and the navy to 15,000 men
Prohibition of all heavy weapons (cannons, tanks, fighter planes, submarines, capital ships)
Control by an allied commission
Occupation of the left bank of the Rhine and bridgeheads on the right bank of the Rhine for 15 years, 50 km wide demilitarized zone to the right of the Rhine

Article 231 ("War Guilt Paragraph") serves as the basis for all claims under international law:
"The Allied and Associated Governments declare and Germany recognizes that Germany and its allies are responsible as the originators for all losses and damages suffered by the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals as a result of the war imposed on them by the attack by Germany and its allies have suffered. "

The following are required:
extensive deliveries in kind
Delivery of all merchant ships over 1600 tons
Payments in gold marks (GM) in the amount to be calculated

The Versailles Treaty (demolition)



Nevertheless, the German public did not get beyond passionate condemnation when dealing with the Treaty of Versailles. The disappointment was too great that the peoples' right to self-determination proclaimed by Wilson was applied to other nations, but hardly to Germany.

Financial Policy and Economic Development

In the summer of 1919, the changeover from the war economy to the peacetime economy and the reintegration of those involved in the war had not yet been completed; in addition, there were refugees and deportees from the separated eastern areas. Internal economic relations with these territories were cut. The state was in debt with 153 billion marks, its financial resources extremely scarce. The reparations - up to May 1, 1921, payments to the value of 20 billion gold marks (an inflation-proof accounting unit; 1 GM corresponded to the value of around 0.36 grams of fine gold) - meant a heavy burden. Since the German Empire financed the war from 1914 to 1918 not only with loans, but also - with a declining supply of goods - also by quadrupling the amount of cash in circulation and bank money (book money for cashless payments), there was considerable post-war inflation. The republic needed enormous financial resources to solve these problems and to build the new state and its social policy. Reich Finance Minister Erzberger therefore reformed the financial administration and the tax system in 1919/20. 39 percent of the total tax revenue received in future the Reich, 23 percent the federal states, 38 percent the municipalities. The newly introduced inheritance tax and several one-off levies for the wealthy should ensure more social justice. Despite the difficult initial situation, the economic development up to 1922 took a relatively favorable course. There was an upswing in peace production with almost full employment. Due to the - for the time being controllable - inflation and low wages, the industry was able to produce inexpensively and gain competitive advantages on the international market. While industrial production fell by 15 percent worldwide in 1920/21, which was considered a severe slump at the time, it rose by 20 percent in Germany. Admittedly, it only reached 66 percent of the pre-war level in 1921. Unemployment fell below two percent by 1922, while abroad it was consistently in the double-digit range.

Stab in the back lie

On November 18, 1919 - in retirement since June - Hindenburg read a statement about the "causes of the German collapse in 1918" before the National Assembly Committee on the Guilty Issues of the World War, which caused a tremendous public sensation. Despite the superiority of the enemy, he claimed, the war would have been won if "army and home" had stood together. Instead, a "secret, planned dismantling of the fleet and army" began. "So our operations had to fail, the collapse had to come; the revolution was only the keystone. An English general rightly said:" The German army was stabbed from behind. "With that, Hindenburg made himself - falsely referring to an unnamed English man General - to the most prominent representative of the so-called stab-in-the-back legend, more aptly: stab-in-the-back lie, because nobody knew better than the imperial generals that under their leadership the war had already been militarily lost before the phenomena of disintegration on the western front began; that this was due to the permanent overstrain of the soldiers ; that the OHL itself had demanded an immediate and therefore surrender-like ceasefire request; and that the revolution had broken out only after the years of propaganda for "peace in victory" had turned out to be a mere illusion. The republican parties underestimated the political explosiveness ft the stab in the back lie. They failed to constantly inform the German public that the German Empire was largely responsible for the World War and that the Wilhelm II regime was solely responsible for the defeat of the war and the peace conditions. This failure had fatal consequences: Against the background of the Versailles Treaty, which was perceived as harsh and humiliating, and while official government propaganda denied any war guilt for reasons of state, the stab-in-the-back lie was tirelessly spread by prominent imperial military and politicians, with the support of conservative and right-wing radical newspapers . It met with approval from broad, nationally conscious sections of the population who could not come to terms with the futility of their privations and sacrifices in war. This in turn made it look like a stab in the back of the republic.