USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Nazism: Introduction

Nazism’s Weimar Context     
Nazism, or the Nazi Party (The National Socialist German Workers’ Party or NSDAP) emerged in the tumultuous years after the fall of the German Empire at the conclusion of WWI and the difficult beginnings of the democratic government of Germany, the Weimar Republic. The period from 1919—the signing of the Paris Peace Treaties—and 1933 (when the Weimar Republic fell to the Nazis) was a dynamic one. While we have discussed the Weimar Republic in a previous chapter, some repetition in in order here to set the stage for the rise of the Nazism in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

The Weimar Republic, Germany’s democratic government, faced at least five major challenges from its inception.
1) The harshness of the Versailles Treaty, especially concerning territorial losses and steep reparation payments (money German owed to France and others on account of “being guilty” for starting WWI. Versailles was deeply hated within German society and the fact that it was the new democratic leadership of Weimar who signed it—not the old regime—got the republic off on difficult footing.

2) The reparations, unpayable for the Germans in the context of the immediate post-war years, necessitated a printing of money, which led to inflation and then to hyper-inflation. By 1922, the Reichsmark, the German currency, was a worthless scrap of paper. Savings vanished. The middle class lost faith in the power of the republic to look out for its best interest. Loyalty to the republic—the type that people in the United States have, for example, for the wisdom of the U.S. Constitution, simply did not exist in Weimar. In general, there was little political loyalty beyond the fringes.

3) Foreign governments, most notably France, continued to apply pressure on Germany. The acute manifestation of this was when the France, on grounds that Germany was failing to provide its reparations payments, occupied the industrial rich Ruhr Valley between 1923 and 1925. This occupation and the republic’s inability to do anything about it further weakened its appeal to ordinary Germans.

4) Challenge from the left: immediately upon taking power, the Weimar Republic was challenged from the left – especially in Berlin and Munich when it seemed like the fledgling republic would undergo immediate communist revolution. This challenge forced the republic into an early alliance with the conservative establishment—the military, police, and the imperial state bureaucracy. This alliance further alienated parts of the left and center-left of the political spectrum, which might otherwise have been brought into the republican fold. Until 1933, for example, the German communists continued to call for an abolition of the republic.

5) Challenge from the right: lying beneath the surface of all of these challenges was the biggest one, the power of the German conservative establishment. The conservative establishment controlled the police and military, the courts, and increasingly it came to dominate the republican institutions itself. By 1933, the conservative establishment was in control of the German government. Without its strong position, it is doubtful that there would have been political space for the radical right to develop. The traditional conservative rightwing establishment masked the emergence of the radical right until the point that the radical right outflanked the establishment and took power in 1933.

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