Weimar Republic – Depression and decline

Berlin, army feeding the poor

Foreign loans had helped Germany to recover economically and get back on her feet again. But then the “Black Thursday” in New York changed everything. The stock market into widened into a global crisis, sent the USA into the Great Depressing. The Weimar Republic faced another devastating crisis.

World Economic Crisis

On October 24, 1929, a stock exchange crash in New York widened into a world economic crises and global depression that 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 under Chancellor Hermann Müller (SPD) broke apart in March 1930. It was the last parliamentarian democratic administration of the Weimar Republic.

On March 29, 1930, Reichspräsident Hindenburg appointed the finance expert Heinrich Brüning (Center Party) Chancellor. For Brüning, the only way that Germany could survive financially was to drastically cut state expenditures, including cuts in the social sector that would affect people greatly. But he had no majority in the Reichstag, and his plan was turned down. To push it through nonetheless, he submitted it to Reichspräsident Hindenburg who passed it as emergency decree according to article 48 of the Weimar Constitution. Throughout his chancellorship, Brüning ruled by emergency decrees, which meant that the Chancellor depended on the Reichspräsident’s trust him, not the Reichstag’s, so de facto the parliamentarian democracy had ended. Brüning’s chancellorship is referred to as a “presidential cabinet”.

Overwhelming victory for the Nazi-Party

The extremists become stronger and stronger, among them Adolf Hitler and National Socialist movement. Hitler’s party, the NSDAP, had promised to reduce unemployment and do something against the Treaty of Versailles with was perceived as shameful. The movement was anti-Semitic, and anti-Communist, and planned to do away with democracy. The Reichstag general elections of September 1930 resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Nazi Party. Now the democratic parties tolerated Brüning’s policy, to avoid new elections that would probably bring even more votes for the extremists.

In July 1931, one of the biggest German banks collapsed, and in early 1932 the number of unemployed rose to more than 6,000,000. Brüning struggled to alleviate the burden of reparation payments, and indeed in 1931 the American President Hoover passed a memorandum postponing reparation payments for one year.

In March and April 1932, Hindenburg was re-elected Reichspräsident for a second term. In the second round, it was between him and Hitler, and since only Hindenburg could defeat Hitler, the Center Party, the Social Democrats and other democratic parties had supported him.

Brüning had made mighty enemies, especially among the landowners in the East, many of them having a lot of influence on Hindenburg. On May 30, 1932, he was dismissed – “hundred meters before the finish”, as he said himself, because in 1932 the reparations where reduced to a final payment and afterwards let off. Franz von Papen, a staunch Conservative, was appointed Chancellor.

After his dismissal, Brüning spent many years in the United Kingdom and in the USA. He taught political sciences at the Harvard University, and died in 1970 in Norwich, Vermont. Still today, Brüning is a controversial figure.

“Preußenschlag” (Prussian Coup)

Throughout the years of the Weimar Republic, the Free State of Prussia had been a pillar of democracy. Minister President Otto Braun, Minister of Interior Carl Severing and their administrations had fought for democracy until the last moment. In Prussia, The Nazi SA and SS, the right-wing Stahlhelm and other paramilitary extremist groups were banned, and extremists could not get into civil service. However, the Prussian Government had mighty enemies. Under the pretext that it had lost control of public order in Prussia, Chancellor von Papen issued an emergency decree: On July 20, 1932, he unseated the Prussian Government, appointed himself Reich Commissioner for Prussia. Prussia as a state was abolished de facto by the Nazis in 1934 and de jure by the Allies of Word War II in 1947.

Hitler’s chancellorship

Von Papen could not win Hitler over and most parties opposed him, so he had the Reichstag dissolved and called for new elections. In the Reichstag general elections of July 1932, the Nazi Party became the largest party, also the Communists had major gains. Together, the anti-democratic parties of the right and left were now able to hold the majority of seats in Parliament. Hitler demanded the chancellorship for himself, but was rejected by Hindenburg in August 1932. Since there still was no majority in the Reichstag for any government, it was dissolved again. The Reichstag general elections of November 1932 resulted in a victory for the Communist Party who became the strongest faction in the Reichstag, whereas the Nazi Party lost votes. Franz von Papen stepped down and was succeeded by General Kurt von Schleicher in December, but Schleicher had no majority either.

On January 30, 1933, pressured by former Chancellor Franz von Papen and other conservatives, President Hindenburg finally appointed Hitler Chancellor.

Deutsches Reich, Berlin, Einmarsch der SA durch das Brandenburger Tor am 30.1.33 [Datum falsch]

20th century
The short 20th century | The Great War | German Revolution 1918/19 | Occupation of the Rhineland | Weimar Republic – Years of Crisis | Weimar Republic – Golden Era | Weimar Republic – Depression and Decline | Nazi Germany | World War II | Federal Republic of Germany

The following images are from the German Wikipedia. They were provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv) as part of a cooperation project.

Demolierte Schaufensterscheiben bei Wertheim, Berlin und Berlin, SA-Aufmarsch am Brandenburger Tor
Diese Dateien sind unter der Creative-Commons-Lizenz „Namensnennung – Weitergabe unter gleichen Bedingungen 3.0 Deutschland“ lizenziert.
Namensnennung: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10561 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Namensnennung: Bundesarchiv, Bild 137-048390 /CC-BY-SA 3.0

Armenspeisung Berlin
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Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-T0706-501 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

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