The Weimar Republic
After World War I, the German ruler, Kaiser William I, abdicated and fled to Holland. The democracy that governed Germany in his absence met at the town of Weimar. It became known as the Weimar Republic. The Republic was weak from the beginning.
Treaty of Versailles
The Weimar republic was associated with failure in WWI since it had signed the Treaty of Versailles that had ended the war. Many nationalists believed the republic had sold Germany out to its enemies by ending the war too early. The treaty took territory from Germany and left the country facing crippling compensation claims. The limitations it placed on Germany's armed forces, and especially the War Guilt Clause that blamed Germany and her allies for starting the war, left many Germans feeling humiliated. For these reasons it was deeply unpopular.
- The Republic failed to pay full reparations to France so the French invaded the Ruhr region of Germany and took control of key industries and natural resources. This worsened the economic crisis in Germany.
- The inflation rate rose so dramatically that the German currency lost virtually all value. Paper money was as good as worthless. This caused many people, especially in the middle classes to fall into poverty. Many never trusted the Republic again.
- In 1924 the crisis was brought to an end by the Dawes Plan, which restored the value of the currency. One result of this was go make the German economy dependent on loans from America. When the American Stock Exchange (Wall Street) crashed in 1929, this left the struggling German economy in chaos. Industries failed and unemployment rose to 6 million. Social unrest followed, as people starved.
- There was no tradition of parliamentary democracy so there was no general support for the new republic.
- The ruling Social Democrats were linked to Versailles and nicknamed the 'November criminals' (the armistice to end the war was signed in November 1918). As such they were not trusted by the general public.
- Parliament was elected through a system of proportional representation. This meant there was no overall majority and the country was run by coalitions. The result was unstable governments and public suspicion of deals between parties.
- From 1919 to 1922, the republic came under attack from both left and right wing factions who demanded radical reforms. This spilled over into violence and unrest between the two rival camps. The government could not control the situation.