Weimar Republic

Germany in the years 1918/1919–1933
(Redirected from Weimar Germany)

The Weimar Republic, officially known as the German Reich, was a historical period of Germany from 9 November 1918 to 23 March 1933, during which it was a constitutional federal republic for the first time in history; hence it is also referred to, and unofficially proclaimed itself, as the German Republic. The period's informal name is derived from the city of Weimar, which hosted the constituent assembly that established its government. In English, the republic was usually simply called "Germany", with "Weimar Republic" (a term introduced by Adolf Hitler in 1929) not commonly used until the 1930s.

Depiction of the Interregnum in Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum (c. 1450), showing three men standing at the tomb of an emperor with the caption "Thus the Roman Empire for a time had no emperor" (Also das Römische rich eine Wile one keiser stunt).


  • You will understand and know the German Republic better when it elects Hindenburg president.
    • Jacques Bainville, remark (25 November 1918), quoted in William R. Keylor, Jacques Bainville and the Renaissance of Royalist History in Twentieth-Century France (1979), p. 133
  • The French drew no comfort from the existence of the Weimar Republic, with its beautiful constitution and its top-hatted presidents. They noted, rather, the continuing force of nationalism and militarism, the private armies that marched and fought in German streets, the assassination of democratic politicians; they noted that German industry lay still firmly in the hands of the great industrialists who had backed Germany's pre-war policies of expansion; that Junkers still dominated the army. The French were certain from reports by their intelligence sources that from the very moment the peace treaty was signed, its provisions for disarming Germany and forbidding her to design and manufacture tanks, heavy guns and military aircraft had been deliberately and systematically evaded; an evasion which was continued throughout the 1920s.
    In Britain, however, the Weimar Republic was widely taken at its face value as a splendidly successful new achievement of liberalism. With a characteristically naïve optimism the British believed that Germans had renounced their history, and that as a consequence the new Germany merited the trust of Europe.
  • Paul von Hindenburg was a popular Prussian field marshal, statesman, and politician during World War I. In 1919, Hindenburg, who was a proud, self-assured general officer, was subpoenaed to appear before the Reichstag commission, which can be thought of as Germany’s Congress. He cautiously avoided answering any questions about who was responsible for Germany’s defeat in the “World War of 1918.” Instead of a direct answer, he read a prepared statement that had been carefully scrutinized in advance by his attorney. Hindenburg, ever mindful of his legacy, testified that the German Army had been on the verge of winning the war in the autumn of 1918, and that the enormous defeat had been caused by a Dolchstoß, a traitorous blow. By saying this he deflected any personal fault for the war, by insinuating that treacherous individuals and unpatriotic left- leaning socialist politicians were to blame for the demoralizing and embarrassing defeat. Despite being threatened with a contempt citation by the Commission for refusing to respond to questions, Hindenburg, after reading his statement, simply walked out of the hearings. He successfully relied on his status as a nationalist and conservative war hero to provide him with protection from additional hearings or prosecution.
    It turned out that Hindenburg was actually right in his assessment, and he was never indicted for walking out on the Reichstag. In 1925, Hindenburg then became the second Weimar President.”
    • Captain Hank Bracker, Suppressed I Rise
  • The victors imposed upon the Germans all the long-sought ideals of the liberal nations of the West. They were relieved from the burden of compulsory military service and from the need of keeping up heavy armaments. The enormous American loans were presently pressed upon them, though they had no credit. A democratic constitution, in accordance with all the latest improvements, was established at Weimar. Emperors having been driven out, nonentities were elected. Beneath this flimsy fabric raged the passions of the mighty, defeated, but substantially uninjured German nation. The prejudice of the Americans against monarchy, which Mr. Lloyd George made no attempt to counteract, had made it clear to the beaten Empire that it would have better treatment from the Allies as a republic than as a monarchy. Wise policy would have crowned and fortified the Weimar Republic with a constitutional sovereign in the person of an infant grandson of the Kaiser, under a council of regency. Instead, a gaping void was opened in the national life of the German people. All the strong elements, military and feudal, which might have rallied to a constitutional monarchy and for its sake respected and sustained the new democratic and parliamentary processes, were for the time being unhinged. The Weimar Republic, with all its liberal trappings and blessings, was regarded as an imposition of the enemy. It could not hold the loyalties or the imagination of the German people. For a spell they sought to cling as in desperation to the aged Marshal Hindenburg. Thereafter mighty forces were adrift; the void was open, and into that void after a pause there strode a maniac of ferocious genius, the repository and expression of the most virulent hatreds that have ever corroded the human breast – Corporal Hitler.
  • The most important political consequence of the New Deal was significantly to strengthen the federal government relative to the individual states; democracy as such was not weakened. Indeed, Congress rejected Roosevelt's Judiciary Reorganization Bill. By contrast, the Weimar Constitution had already begun to decompose two or three years before the 1933 general election, with the increasing reliance of Hitler's predecessors on emergency presidential decrees. By the end of 1934 it had been reduced to a more or less empty shell. While Roosevelt was always in some measure constrained by the legislature, the courts, the federal states and the electorate, Hitler's will became absolute, untrammelled even by the need for consistency or written expression. What Hitler decided was done, even if the decision was communicated verbally; when he made no decision, officials were supposed to work towards whatever they thought his will might be. Roosevelt had to fight - and fight hard - three more presidential elections. Democracy in Germany, by contrast, became a sham, with orchestrated plebiscites in place of meaningful elections and a Reichstag stuffed with Nazi lackeys. The basic political freedoms of speech, of assembly, of the press and even of belief and thought were done away with. So, too, was the rule of law. Whole sections of German society, above all the Jews, lost their civil as well as political rights. Property rights were also selectively violated. To be sure, the United States was no Utopia in the 1930s, particularly for African-Americans. It was the Southern states whose legal prohibitions on interracial sex and marriage provided the Nazis with templates when they sought to ban relationships between 'Aryans' and Jews. Yet, to take the most egregious indicator, the number of lynchings of blacks during the 1930s (119 in all) was just 42 per cent of the number in the 1920s and 21 per cent of the number in the 1910s. Whatever else the Depression did, it did not destroy American democracy, nor worsen American racism. The contrast between the American and German responses to the Depression illuminates the central difficulty facing the historian who writes about the 1930s. These were the two industrial economies most severely affected by the economic crisis. Both entered the Depression as democracies; indeed, their constitutions had much in common - both republics, both federations, both with a directly elected presidency, both with universal suffrage, both with a bicameral legislature, both with a supreme court. Yet one navigated the treacherous interwar waters without significant change to its political institutions and its citizens' freedoms; the other produced the most abominable regime ever to emerge from a modern democracy. To attempt to explain why is to address perhaps the hardest question of twentieth-century history.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), pp. 224-225
  • The destruction of representative government and private capitalism of the old school was complete when Hitler came to power. He had contributed mightily to the final result by his ceaseless labors to create chaos. But when he stepped into the chancellery all the ingredients of national socialist dictatorship were there ready to his hand…
    The aim in which Bismarck had failed was accomplished almost at a stroke in the Weimar Constitution – the subordination of the individual states to the federal state. The old imperial state had to depend on the constituent states to provide it with a part of its funds. Now this was altered, and the central government of the republic became the great imposer and collector of taxes, paying to the states each a share. Slowly the central government absorbed the powers of the states. The problems of business groups and social groups were all brought to Berlin. The republican Reichstag, unlike its imperial predecessor, was now charged with the vast duty of managing almost every energy of the social and economic life of the republic. German states were always filled with bureaus, so that long before World War I travelers referred to the ‘bureaucratic tyrannies’ of the empire. But now the bureaus became great centralized organisms of the federal government dealing with the multitude of problems which the Reichstag as completely incapable of handling. Quickly, the actual function of governing leaked out of the parliament into the hands of the bureaucrats. The German republic became a paradise of bureaucracy on a scale which the old imperial government never knew. The state, with its powers enhanced by the acquisition of immense economic powers and those powers brought to the center of government and lodged in the executive, was slowly becoming, notwithstanding its republican appearance, a totalitarian state that was almost unlimited in its powers.
    • John T. Flynn, As We Go Marching: A Biting Indictment of the Coming of Domestic Fascism in America
  • There you have a country against which the Allies must take well-defined precautions. It is possible that its republican form of government will profoundly modify the German mentality. I devoutly hope so, but we cannot be sure. A well-organized, militarized Republic, however, might be as great a menace to its neighbours as the old Empire—although as yet we have no proof that the Republic can establish itself firmly in Germany.
    • Ferdinand Foch, Marshal Foch: His Own Words on Many Subjects (1929), p. 147
  • Germany is as good an example of the practical blessings and drawbacks of democracy as any country can give. The Weimar Constitution of 1919 has been described by that distinguished historian, Dr. G. P. Gooch, as ‘a consistent democracy’ and he adds that ‘the commentators who describe it as the most democratic constitution in the world are not exaggerating its character.’ Germany now has universal suffrage for men and women over twenty; in fact, over half the population possesses the vote, and there are neither legal nor practical impediments in the way of the vote being used. Such democratic quackeries as proportional representation, the referendum, and the initiative have all been adopted. I t would take more than one generation to enable any people to settle down with so democratic a constitution, and yet it is less than sixty years since the Germans became a united people, and up to 1919 they lived under a constitution that lacked every essential of democracy. There is no tradition of democracy, and without that an ultrademocratic constitution is a rash experiment.
    It is too early yet to answer the question whether the Germans can make a success of democracy. The country is not politically happy and yearns for a leader, as was amply illustrated by the pathetic election of the elderly Hindenburg as President. The type of statesman thrown up by Germany’s ultrademocratic system is not one that satisfies the German people, always prone to follow a big man. Up to the present, those who would be Napoleons have been kept quiet for fear of those who would be Lenins, and between the two democracy has had a fairly even course. But, as one who knows Germany and the Germans fairly well, I believe that Germany will have to pay for her sudden dash to democracy in 1919. The craving of the people for leadership will not indefinitely be suppressed, and the mediocrities which the democratic system exalts will not long be tolerated when the control of Germany’s late enemies finally ceases. The election of Hindenburg was a portent not to be ignored. One can only hope that a compromise will be possible, but I feel sure that in that compromise, if it comes, there will be many departures from the pure democracy of 1919.
  • Thus we can say with some confidence that the breakthrough of the NSDAP in 1930 was less a result of the movement's inherent qualities, which until then seemed to have been a tough sell, but an expression of protest against the minority governments of late Weimar, which ruled, without the endorsement of parliamentary majorities, by presidential emergency decrees and responded to the economic crisis with ill-advised austerity measures that did little to alleviate economic progress but were guaranteed to raise ill will.
    • John Vincent Palatine, The Little Drummer Boy
  • Of course it was not only the law that interfered with our management of the paper. The politicians, too, soon took a hand. The Oberpräsident of Schleswig-Holstein, a man named Kürbis (which is German for pumpkin) forbad its publication; it appeared the next day, entitled Die Westküste [The West Coat]. This too was banned, and for a short time my brother's wish was fulfilled and we edited Die Grüne Front. I, too, had the gratification of seeing my original suggestion realised whn it became, in due course, Die Sturmglocke. Finally, the Oberpräsident forbad us from publishing any paper at all which was not purely concerned with technical agricultural matters. So we rechristened it Der Kürbis, aand the leading article consisted of variations on the subject of pumpking as given in the encyclopaedia; we expatiated on how pumkins flourish best in plenty of dung and on the disagreeable nature of their blossom's scwent. Thenceforth the paper resumed its original name of Das Landvolk and that was that.
  • Something, which the police called a bomb, had exploded in his shed. Investigations were begun, and the efforts of the authorities were soon to be categorized by the appropriate officals as "feverish", for bombs began to go off all over the place. The police collected fragments of the exploded bombs, and the press, anxious to help the police in their work, published impressive pictures of the fragments as well as a drawing of a reconstructed bomb together with a very detailed description of how it had been made.The police had done a really first-rate job. Even my brother and myself, both of us extremely untalented men in technical matters, could easily grasp how the bomb makers had gone to work. A large quantity of ordinary black gunpowder, such as is the be found in the cartridges sold for shoutguns, was encased in plasticine; in it was embedded an explosive cap, of the type used in hand grenades during the war, at the end of a thin wire; the other end of the wire was joined to the battery of a pocket flashlight -- obtainable at any village store -- and thence to the alarm mechanism of an ordinary alarm clock. The whole contratation was packed into a soapbox. Of course my brother did his duty as a journalist. He published the police report, together with the illustrations, on page one. It was not my brother's doing that this issue of the paper had a most spectacular success and that for weeks men were still buying it; no. the credit for that must go to the police; they had done their bit to ensure that the peasantry of Schleswig-Holstein would have a healthy occupation during the long winter evenings. Instead of just sitting and indulging in stupid thoughts, or doing crossword puzzles, or assembling to hear inflamatory speeches, the peasantery was henceforth quetly and busily engaged in procuring soapboxes and alarm clock and flashlight batteries. And then the bombs really began to go of.... Nobody ever asked me what I was actually doing in Schleswig=Holstein, save perhaps Dr. Hirschfeldt, a high official in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, who had recently taken to frequenting Salinger's salon. Occasionally, and casually, he would glance at ne with his green eyes an honour me with a question, such as: "And what are the peasants up to in the north?" To which I would usually only reply: "Thank you for your interest. According to the statistics, the standard of living is going up -- in particular, there has been in increased demand for alarm clocks.
  • If the monarchy should return, and we hope it will, then it must be called by the will of the people.
    • Gustav Stresemann, speech to a party convention in Nuernberg (late 1920), quoted in Walter H. Kaufmann, Monarchism in the Weimar Republic (1953), p. 68
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