Now we have come to the last chapter in the history of our region, it covers the period from the First World War to the “Bonn years” of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Nos historical events do not stick to dates, and historical essays often speak of the “short 20th century”. This is obvious, because the world before the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 and the epochal year 1917 was a different one.
Revolution and Rhineland Occupation
The Great War led to total mobilization all around the world, some 17 million people lost their lives. The Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian Empires ceased to exist, with numerous new states created from their remains. In Germany, the November Revolution did away with the Kaiser and the Hohernzollern monarchy. The Allies occupied the Rhineland.
The first German republic had to struggle from its start. While the members of the National Assembly in Weimar discussed a constitution, the victors of the Great War laid down hard peace terms in Versailles. The young republic faced numerous problems: Ruhr occupation and passive resistance, hyperinflation, separatists in the Rhineland, political extremism and putsches from the extreme left and right. Resentment in Germany towards the Treaty of Versailles was strong especially on the political right where there was great anger towards those who had signed and submitted to the treaty. Two republics, Erzberger and Rathenau, were murdered.
Thanks to the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan, Germany got somewhat back on her feet economically. But the great depression caused high unemployment in industrial countries, bank failure and collapse of credit. In Germany, the depression led to economic collapse, mass unemployment and pauperization. The acting grand coalition broke apart in March 1930, and the parliamentarian democracy ceased to exist.
From 1930 onwards, Reichspräsident von Hindenburg used his emergency powers to back chancellors that he appointed: Brüning, von Papen and von Schleicher. But many people turned to extremist parties such as Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party and the Communists. In 1932, the Nazis became the largest faction in the Reichstag.
In 1933, Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor with the Nazi Party being part of a coalition government. Vice Chancellor von Papen was sure that he could keep Hitler under control.
But within the first months of 1933, the Nazis seized power in an outwardly legal way. The Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act brought about a state of emergency, wiping out constitutional governance and civil liberties.
The totalitarian dictatorship began, Germany quickly and thoroughly became Nazi Germany. Jews and minorities were disenfranchised, the secret state police Gestapo and concentration camp guards terrorized the people. In 1939 the Second World War broke out.
The last chapter deals with the democratic new beginning after the Second World War, the “Bonn Republic” and the state guests on the Petersberg.
At the end of the 20th century, in 1989, there is again a tremendous upheaval. Yes, the actual 20th century was short.