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The decline of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazi Party, 1929-1933
The third and final part of the Weimar Republic, 1929-1933, is critical in understanding how Nazi Germany began in 1933. Having been through socio-economic collapse between 1918-1923 and stability between 1924-1929, 1929 was the beginning of another societal crisis and the beginning of Nazi dominance in Germany.
Beginning of the collapse, 1929
2 major events in 1929 were the catalysts for the economic crisis that struck Germany up until 1933 when the Nazis gained control; the Young Plan and the Wall Street Crash. A third minor event was the death of Gustav Stresemann, who had been instrumental in ending the hyperinflation of 1923.
The Young Plan was in essence the same as the Dawes Plan. It gave massive American loans to Germany and reduced the amount of reparations to be paid in each installment. Now whilst the Young Plan should have been beneficial for the economy, it came at an inopportune time, as the Wall Street Crash came soon after.
The Wall Street Crash in November 1929, simply put, was when share prices on the stock market abruptly fell, starting a 10 year economic depression that ended around the beginning of World War 2. The crash was particularly bad for Germany, as its economy was largely dependent on American loans due to the Dawes and Young plans, meaning they had more loans to pay back with the inability to do so, and America stopped lending Germany money. The main effect the crash had on the country was vast unemployment, peaking at around 6 million people unemployed. It also caused severe underemployment, with 75% of those in work being underemployed.
It is important to remember the distinction between the 2 economic crises of the Weimar Republic; the first was massive hyperinflation, the second was huge unemployment.
German government, 1930-1933
The period was also marred by political instability brought on by the crisis. In 1930, a man named Heinrich Bruning was made chancellor. Bruning was head of the German Centre Party (Deutsche Zentrumspartei, or just Zentrum), which was a minority party in the Reichstag. The Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) had the majority in the last election, and had been the governing party since the republic's beginning, but President Paul von Hindenburg, who ultimately can choose who is chancellor regardless of election results, put Bruning in charge instead. He did this because Bruning had a plan to cease reparation payments, which was to run down the German economy even further until it became physically incapable to pay reparations, and as such the allies would stop asking for them. Whilst the plan was successful, it only served to cause more economic problems in a time of economic hardship.
Bruning's chancellorship was dotted with infighting between the other political parties and with difficulty in getting anything done. In the Reichstag the political parties were all contemptuous of one another and never agreed on anything, and as Bruning's Centre Party were a minority, they couldn't get anything passed in government. Because of this, Bruning was forced to run things mainly through the use of Article 48. Article 48 of the constitution of the Weimar Republic gave the chancellor the power to make governmental decisions during times of emergency without the permission of the Reichstag. It had to be sanctioned by Hindenburg, which it generally was, and essentially gave the chancellor dictatorial powers for a time.
Bruning's time in office was ended in 1932 after being forced to resign by Hindenburg. Bruning wanted to introduced a policy which would allow government to take land away from the rich elite and give it to the poor. The policy was unpopular with the elites, such as Hindenburg, and as such he was forced to leave office.
1932 is known as the 'year of the three chancellors'. Following Bruning's resignation Hindenburg appointed a civil servant called Franz von Papen as chancellor. Papen was not a member of any political party, and like Bruning had to use emergency decrees in order to pass legislation and get anything done. As such, his chancellorship was short lived, ending in later 1932. After Papen left office, he was replaced by an Army general called Kurt von Schleicher, who's time in office was even shorter, ending in January 1933, also due to the inability to run the country.
Rise of the Nazi Party
Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany on January 30th 1933. To understand how he came to power, one must look at how the climate in Germany after 1929 helped the party grow to be the dominant political force in the country.
The Wall Street Crash was the second economic collapse under the Weimar Republic, and as such the public were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the government. As is the way with times of hardship, many people began to turn to and support the extreme parties, such as the Nazi Party. The Wall Street Crash is widely seen as the beginning of Hitler's ascension to power.
Hitler had been critical of the Young Plan, and often stated it would only cause problems for Germany. When the crash occurred and the Young Plan helped create further issues, some began to see Hitler as some sort of visionary, which helped him gain support. His criticism of the plan also helped him get the attention of Alfred Hugenberg. Hugenberg was a press magnate and leader of the German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP), and was also critical of the plan. This mutual hatred brought them togethor, and they benefited from each other. Hugenberg benefited Hitler by giving him press coverage outside of Munich, which is where the Nazis were based and restricted to, and also gave him funding and access to wealthy businessmen. Hitler benefited Hugenberg due to his oratory skills, as Hugenberg saw him as a puppet he could control to spread his nationalist message.
The support the Nazis gained in this period can be seen in their election results. In September 1930, they gained 107 seats in the Reichstag, and in 1932 they gained 230 seats, making them the majority party. Later in 1932 they dropped to 196 seats. This was still a majority, but it was because Von Papen had tried to make a deal with Hitler, offering to give him the vice-chancellorship under himself as chancellor. Hitler refused the offer, stating he wanted the chancellorship and nothing less. This refusal of the position was viewed by some supporters as a rather idiotic move, and so support dropped a little. However, after Hitler's appointment in 1933, the Nazis gained 288 seats in the March 5th election.
The Nazi Party was the majority party during both Papen's and Schleicher's chancellorships, and as such Hitler should have been given the position. However, he wasn't made chancellor because Hindenburg disliked and distrusted Hitler and the Nazis, and so he constantly avoided having to give him the job. After Schleicher's resignation in 1933, Papen, Hindenburg's son, and a few other elites went to Hindenburg and convinced him to give Hitler the chancellorship, assuring him that Hitler could be controlled and used to their advantage. As a result, Hitler was appointed chancellor, beginning the period known as the Third Reich.
To sum up, the Nazis rise to power was down to economic and political instability that created an environment the Nazis thrived in, as well as the role of the elites. Another thing that assisted in the rise of the Nazis was the role of the SA (Sturmabteilung), which was 2-3 million strong by 1932-1933. Due to their violent, thuggish nature, they were widely disliked by most Germans, and rather ironically, people began to support Hitler as they saw him as the only one who could control them.
- Previous hub, The 'Golden Era' of stability in Germany, 1924-1929
1924-1929 was a period of economic and social recovery in Germany, and is important in understanding how the country was affected in 1929 by the Wall Street Crash.