The immediate predecessor of Hitler’s ‘1000-year Reich’ lasted from 1919 to 1933. It was formed in Germany after the end of the First World War, but still had to face the revenge of France and even the United States (who only joined the Allies in 1917) embodied in the Versailles Peace Settlement. The Weimar Republic was proclaimed on 9 November. Its first boss was a socialist (not always the best bet) called Friedrich Ebert.
A National Assembly was elected and first foregathered in 1919 in, appropriately enough, the city of Weimar. Ebert lasted until replacement by von Hindenburg, who presided from 1925 until 1934. The fledgling republic’s first massive problem was Versailles, which involved the loss of continental territory, the overseas colonies, and the French-impelled decision that Germany must pay all the reparation bills for the First World War. Some historians think this was correct, as (they say) it was Germany that started the war. This is arguable, though the ambitions of Kaiser Wilhelm II were obvious enough, and German politicians (led by Bismarck) were happy enough to provide him with adequate military toys to play with.
Be that as it may, the terms of the Versailles Settlement were so unpopular they caused an instant right-wing revolt, known as the Kapp Putsch. Germany was unable to pay the reparations bill, because she had no money (all lost in the war to end all wars).
As a result the mark collapsed and Aunties France and Belgium behaved naturally and in character by occupying the Rhur in 1923. Meanwhile, in Bavaria, right-wing extremists (including a youngish Adolf Hitler) tried to restore the monarchy. Kaiser Wilhelm II had been forced to abdicate in 1918 and was living in Paris. He had first suggested England but his cousin George V wasn’t having any.
Gustav Streseman then persuaded the Americans to loosen up a little over the reparations bills, and suggest to the French that their occupation of the valley of the Rhur might be provocative. The French were sullen, but agreed, and the Belgians followed suit. The loosening up on the reparations helped but little.
While all this was happening the German nation was in a sorry state. The German National Party joined forces with Hitler’s National Socialist Party to provide a battering opposition in parliament. Poverty and unemployment increased to impossible levels. Inflation was out of control. No other country could help because there was a world-wide depression, which had started in the USA.
In the Republic’s 1932 elections Adolf Hitler won around 13 million votes by exploiting first, anti-communist fears and second, anti-Semitic prejudices. It was enough. The German people saw in the Bavarian corporal a Wagnerian, almost mythical leader. Certainly he was capable of seducing enormous crowds with his hypnotic rhetoric. But it was old General Hindenburg who was re-elected. Hitler persuaded the new President of the Republic to make him Chancellor. He then arranged the incident of the Reichstag fire, blaming Jewish dissidents. Hitler declared a state of emergency (28 February 1933), and on Hindenburg’s timely death in 1934 he made himself President – and declared the Third Reich. Within five years the Planet Earth was at war again, only twenty-one years after the end of the First World War.
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