The Weimar Republic has become a byword for a failed, tragic, political experiment. The official period of its existence, 1919-1933, marked the interwar years in Germany and their related uncertainty, chaos, and the state’s ultimate collapse. Historians have found the roots of Nazism embedded in the Weimar years and that in the final analysis, Weimar politicians voluntarily handed over power to the man who wrought destruction on an epic scale, Adolf Hitler.
Yet, the Weimar era encapsulated a number of trends and fissures within German society, as well as the international community. The Weimar Republic was a prisoner of events and, in the long run, had little power to shape them. Historians are fond of interpreting the past as a tension between human agency, that is to say decision-making, and structural developments that evade individual choices. Both these interpretations are crucial when examining the tumultuous years of Germany’s Weimar Republic.
The early 1930s were a tumultuous period for German politics, even in comparison to the ongoing transition to the modern era that caused various forms of chaos throughout the rest of the world. In the United States, reliance on the outdated gold standard and an absurdly parsimonious monetary policy helped bring about the Great Depression. Meanwhile, the Empire of Japan began its ultimately fatal adventurism with the invasion of Manchuria, alienating the rest of the world with the atrocities it committed. Around the same time, Gandhi began his drive for the peaceful independence of India through nonviolent protests against the British.
It was in Germany, however, that the strongest seeds of future tragedy were sown. The struggling Weimar Republic had become a breeding ground for extremist politics, including two opposed and powerful authoritarian entities: the right-wing National Socialists and the left-wing KPD Communist Party. As the 1930s dawned, these two totalitarian groups held one another in a temporary stalemate, enabling the fragile ghost of democracy to continue a largely illusory survival for a few more years.
That stalemate was broken in dramatic fashion on a bitterly cold night in late February 1933, and it was the Nazis who emerged decisively as the victors. A single act of arson against the famous Reichstag building proved to be the catalyst that propelled Adolf Hitler to victory in the elections of March 1933, which set the German nation irrevocably on the path towards World War II. That war would plunge much of the planet into an existential battle that ultimately cost an estimated 60 million lives.
The Weimar Republic: The History of Germany After World War I Before the Rise of the Nazi Party chronicles the pivotal events in the years between World War I and Hitler’s ascension to power. You will learn about the Weimar Republic like never before.
©2017 Charles River Editors (P)2018 Charles River Editors