1934 autobahn opening

UCSB Hist 133c, L06:
Weimar & Nazi Germany
lecture on Jan. 23, 2006 (L05; L07)

by Professor Harold Marcuse (homepage)
contact: marcuse@history.ucsb.edu
page created Jan. 27, 2006, updated 1/28/06

Weimar: Important Events
Fear and Trauma
in the 1920s
The "good"
The "bad"

Introduction (back to top)

  • Thesis: Experiences during the first half of the 20th century decisively shaped politics in Germany after 1945
  • The politicians who formed the two Germanies after 1945 had been conditioned by their personal paths through German history of the Weimar (1919-1933) and Nazi (1933-1945) years.
  • This is a kind of long-term conditioning. Next lecture we will look at the particular events at the end of the war and see how they added a new layer of "conditioning" of the populace on top of the underlying goals and lessons derived from the prior years.
  • In the lecture after that we will see how the victorious Allied powers tried to deal with those same legacies, also conditioned by the events of the war and its end. German politicians had to work within the limitations set for them by the Allied powers, especially the US and Soviet Union.

Weimar: Important Events (back to top)

  • Why is Weimar Germany's history important for understanding the post-1945 period?
    • 1920s experience sat deep in 1950s elites
    • Used as basis for post-1945 planning:
      • Versailles Treaty in 1919 seen as "mistaken" way of dealing with the vanquished Germany after WWI
      • weakness of gov't system should not be repeated
    • Let's learn from the mistakes and do it right this time
      So what were those mistakes?
  • Textbook (Fulbrook 1992, p. 17):
    "… Born in 1918 of military defeat and domestic revolution, the Weimar Republic was riddled with compromises and burdened with difficulties. After turbulent beginnings, from 1924 to 1928 there was a period of at least apparent stabilization…"
    • Nov. 1918-Jan. 1919: defeat & revolution
      • Ebert-Groener pact
      • Stinnes-Legien (textb. pp. 26f)
    • Jan. 1919: Luxemburg & Liebknecht murdered
      • SPD -> MSPD; USPD -> Sparticists, SPD, KPD
    • June 1919: Versailles Treaty
      • blame for war, imposed economic restitution
    • August 1919: Weimar constitution
      • ultra-democratic--too democratic without democratically thinking electorate
    • 1920-22: Putsch (coup d'etat) attempts & assassinations (Kapp, Erzberger, Rathenau)
    • 1923: hyperinflation; occupation by France & Belgium
      Hitler's failed coup attempt, Dawes Plan
    • 1926: Germany joins League of Nations
      • Stresemann gets the Nobel Prize
    • 1930-32: worst years of the depression
      • made preceding good years pale in memory
  • profound fear of economic insecurity for 13-26 age group

Fear and Trauma in the 1920s (back to top)
1920 Free Corps Poster 1923 Ruhr tractors on train to France anti-Young Plan Poster, 1930
1920 Free Corps poster: "Protect the Homeland"
The reactionary Freikorps preyed upon German fears of invasion after World War I.
1923: German tractors on a train to France
When the French and Belgians occupied the Ruhr, they ensured that German factory production went straight to France.
The occupation was ended with the acceptance of the Young Plan in 1930.
"For 3 Generations you'll have to slave away". The Young Plan scheduled the repayment of 59Billion RM dept in 2 billion RM/year installments. It was VERY unpopular. The DNVP, NSDAP and Stahlhelm got 10% of vote for a referendum to criminalize the German signatories. In 1932 it was abandoned, and Germany was only required to repay 3 billion RM total

Nazi Years: The "good" 1930s (back to top)

  • Duality:
    • 1930s as good years (except for non-Aryans)
    • 1940s as bad years
  • Images of the good 1930s
    The Autobahns:
    still seen as Hitler's crowning achievement, although he just implemented plans drawn up by his predecessors
    new autobahn near Frankfurt
    Hitler digging Autobahn
    Berlin Olympics torch entry
  • 1936 Berlin Olympics: Germany won the medal competition
  • 1938 Anschluss (annexation) of Austria referendum: The reversal of what was bad about the 1920s
    1938 Austria referendum poster

    Step by Step
              Adolf Hitler
    ripped up
                          the dictated Treaty of Versailles!

    1933 Germany leaves the League of Nations created by Versailles
    1934 Reconstruction of the Wehrmacht, the navy and the Luftwaffe begun!
    1935 Saarland brought back home! Armed power of the Reich regained!
    1936 Rheinland completely liberated!
    1937 The myth of war guilt ceremoniously extinguished!
    1938 Germany and Austria united in the Reich! Greater Germany achieved!

    Therefore the whole of Germany will acknowledge their liberator on 10th April.
    Adolf Hitler All say: YES!

4. Nazi Years: The "bad" 1940s (back to top)

  • 1939: invasion of Poland--but it went well
  • 1941: invasion of the Soviet Union--a big gamble that went well at first
  • 1943: Battle of Stalingrad, the obvious turning point of the war
    • huge German losses, beginning of "total war"
  • 1945: Liberation of concentration camps
    • trauma of facing the conquering armies
    • guilt or no guilt?

Conclusion (back to top)

  • The "good" middle period of Weimar Germany (roughly 1924-29) was far overshadowed by the chaotic transition years 1919-22, ruinous hyperinflation 1923, and disasterous depression and unemployment 1930-32. Many people associated the democratic system with hardships and prefered stability under authoritarian leadership, even if they had fewer personal freedoms.
  • Images and achievements during the "good" years under Hitler (roughly 1934-37), however, left a lasting impression in the hearts and minds of many Germans. It was not even completely driven out by the horrific experiences of the following "bad" years (1938-45): Hitler's disasterous war of conquest (the aerial bombardment of Germany), nor of the images of his internal repression and genocide (the concentration and extermination "death" camps).

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse, Jan. 27, 2006, updated: see header
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