Weimar Republic

The Weimar Republic, often referred to as the first “real” democracy on German soil (in the Kaiserreich, the parliament decided over the budget but the chief of government was appointed by the Kaiser – who, apart from that, did not have any executive power), was ill-fated: its “conception” on November 9, 1918, when the socialist leader Philipp Scheidemann highhandedly proclaimed the Republic, and its birth, when the constitution was voted on August 11, 1919,  where both the result of a series of betrayals and of violent external pressure.

Philipp Scheidemann

Philipp Scheidemann

The German Empire had been ahead of the other European nations not only with regard to education, research, technical innovation, and productivity but also concerning its welfare system (the first social insurance worldwide had been introduced under Bismarck). Thus, its citizens were enjoying a high standard of living (which does not exclude the fact that, judged from our contemporary point of view, many things could have been improved). However, due to the hardships of war and the violent opposition to the Reich by the socialists and the mass media (freedom of speech was higher than today in the Federal Republic of Germany, where it is impossible to express fundamental critique of the government system and its historical genesis in the mass media), discontent among the population was growing. Yet, the abrupt end of the Reich and the proclamation of the Republic where not making the nation’s situation better; they led to a series of new internal and external conflicts which were fundamental for the raise of the National Socialist Workers’ Party and the outbreak of the Second World War.

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Germany after WWII

  • On Mai 7 (General Major Jodl/the Western Allies) and 8 (General Field Marshall Keitel/the Soviets), 1945, the German army accepts unconditional surrender. Until today, a peace treaty between Germany and her enemies in the Second World War has not been signed. Thus, the legal status of the Federal Republic of Germany is dubious. Especially because of privileges which the three western main enemies of Germany still enjoy and because occupation forces actually still remain on German soil, some people hold the opinion that Germany still is an occupied/non autonomous country. The legal details are not known to the wast majority of Germans; they are not taught in school and never discussed publicly.
  • After surrender of the army, the German government under Karl von Dönitz was imprisoned (violating international law) and the country was occupied in the following way: Eastern Germany was assigned to Polish, Lithuanian, Czech and Soviet administration. Central Germany (Thuringia, Saxony, parts of Silesia, Western Brandenburg, Western Pomerania and Mecklenburg)  was occupied by the Soviet Union. The USA, England and France divided Western Germany in three zones of occupation. Austria was separated from Germany. Berlin was divided into four zones (Soviet, US, English, French).

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Moral bombing – The destruction of Dresden

At the Conference in Casablanca (1943), the Allies had agreed on ‘unconditional surrender’ as the final goal of the war. They decided to ‘prepare’ the Germans for accepting their conditions by the strategy of ‘moral bombing’ (which had been applied ‘successfully’ by England since the beginning of the war). The destruction of German cities (every city with more than 60 000 inhabitants) and the number of killed civilians (several millions) has no equal in human history. One of the most devastating attacks was carried out against the city of Dresden on February 13th, 1945 – when the war was almost over. This city did not have any relevant industry or military facilities but it was giving shelter to hundreds of thousands of refugees. The goal of the attack was obviously to kill as many people as possible. Thus, shortly after a first devastating strike, when people were leaving the cellars and air raid shelters, a second strike followed. People who managed to escape the flames and to get to the river were attacked by machine gun fire; the city burned for weeks. While the city’s authorities and international observers estimated 250 000 – 350 000 victims in 1945, an ‘independent commission’ in 2011 claimed the number to be 25 000.

Dresden after the attack

The city was full of corpses

The historic center in ruins

The Allies themselves documented the effects of ‘moral bombing’:

When ‘neo-nazis’ gather to commemorate this war crime each year, they are outnumbered by ‘anti-facists’ who claim that the allies ‘liberated’ Germany. Some of them display a degree of self-hate that probably is unique in the history of man: “Bomber Harris, do it again!”

The socialist leaders Müntefering and Thierse in 2009 on the side of the ‘anti-facists’

Anti-German Propaganda in WWII

An extract from Germany must perish! by Theodore N. Kaufman (get the whole book here):

Today’s war is not a war against Adolf Hitler.

Nor is it a war against the Nazis.

It is a war of peoples against peoples; of civilized peoples envisioning Light, against uncivilized barbarians who cherish Darkness.

Of the peoples of those nations who would surge forward hopefully into a new and better phase of life, pitted against the peoples of a nation who would travel backward enthusiastically into the dark ages. It is a struggle between the German nation and humanity. Hitler is no more to be blamed for this German war than was the Kaiser for the last one. Nor Bismarck before the Kaiser. These men did not originate or wage Germany’s wars against the world. They were merely the mirrors reflecting centuries-old inbred lust of the German nation for conquest and mass murder. This war is being waged by the German People. It is they who are responsible. It is they who must be made to pay for the war.  Otherwise, there will always be a German war against the world. And with such a sword forever hanging overhead the civilized nations of the world, no matter how great their hopes, how strenuous their efforts, will never succeed in creating that firm and solid foun- dation of permanent peace which they must first establish if ever they intend to start the building of a better world. For not only must their be no more German wars in fact; there must not even remain the slightest possibility of one ever again occurring. A final halt to German aggression, not a temporary cessation, must be the goal of the present struggle. This does not mean an armed mastery over Germany, or a peace with political or territorial adjustments, or a hope based on a defeated and repentant nation. Such settlements are not sufficiently conclusive guarantees of no more German aggressions.

This time Germany has forced a TOTAL WAR upon the world. As a result, she must be prepared to pay a TOTAL PENALTY. And there is one, and only one, such Total Penalty: Germany must perish forever! In fact — not in fancy!

***

You might also want to read:

What do to with Germany by Louis Nizer (1944)

Germany is our problem by Henry Morgenthau (1945)

Anti German propaganda in WWI

The following text is an extract from this website:

On April 13, 1917, Wilson created the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to promote the war domestically while publicizing American war aims abroad. […] “So great are the psychological resistances to war in modern nations,” wrote Lasswell “that every war must appear to be a war of defense against a menacing, murderous aggressor. There must be no ambiguity about who the public is to hate.” American propaganda was not the only source of anti-German feeling, but most historians agree that the CPI pamphlets went too far in portraying Germans as depraved, brutal aggressors. For example, in one CPI publication, Professor Vernon Kellogg asked “will it be any wonder if, after the war, the people of the world, when they recognize any human being as a German, will shrink aside so that they may not touch him as he passes, or stoop for stones to drive him from their path?”

A particularly effective strategy for demonizing Germans was the use of atrocity stories. “A handy rule for arousing hate,” said Lasswell “is, if at first they do not enrage, use an atrocity. It has been employed with unvarying success in every conflict known to man.” Unlike the pacifist, who argues that all wars are brutal, the atrocity story implies that war is only brutal when practiced by the enemy. Certain members of the CPI were relatively cautious about repeating unsubstantiated allegations, but the committee’s publications often relied on dubious material.

After the war, Edward Bernays, who directed CPI propaganda efforts in Latin America, openly admitted that his colleagues used alleged atrocities to provoke a public outcry against Germany. Some of the atrocity stories which were circulated during the war, such as the one about a tub full of eyeballs or the story of the seven-year old boy who confronted German soldiers with a wooden gun, were actually recycled from previous conflicts. In his seminal work on wartime propaganda, Lasswell speculated that atrocity stories will always be popular because the audience is able to feel self-righteous indignation toward the enemy, and, at some level, identify with the perpetrators of the crimes. “A young woman, ravished by the enemy,” he wrote “yields secret satisfaction to a host of vicarious ravishers on the other side of the border.”

“Honest, unbiased news simply disappeared out of the American papers along about the middle of August, 1914.” C. Hartley Grattan
Incredible tales of German barbarism in Belgium and France gave rise to a myth of unique German savagery that continues to color the thinking of many persons to this day. German soldiers, the world was gravely informed, amused themselves by cutting off the hands of Belgian babies. Another oft-repeated tale related how German soldiers amputated the breasts of Belgian women out of sheer viciousness.”

First World War and Treaty of Versailles

Wilhelm II at the time of his exile in the Netherlands

According to the constitution of the German Empire, the Emperor only had a representative function. The Chancellor was responsible for political decisions, and the Parliament had to decide about the budget. Nonetheless, the Allies claimed Wilhelm II to be the main responsible for the war and wanted to take him to court, they themselves exercising the functions of public prosecutor and judge at the same time. Due to external and internal pressure (one of the USA’s conditions for peace was the Emperor’s abdication and some German politicians like the Chancellor Max von Baden thought it would made things easier), Wilhelm went into exile to the Netherlands after his abdication had been declared without his knowledge and after the socialist leader Philipp Scheidemann highhandedly had proclaimed a Republic. The new socialist government was forced to accept the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, i.e. also the main responsibility for the whole war. In 1922, Wilhelm published his memoirs in order to respond to the accusations (click on this link for the English translation; the German original is here: Ereignisse und Gestalten 1878-1918). They include some very interesting facts which are withheld normally. Among others:

  • In 1897, England, France and the USA had made a secret agreement, directed against Spain and Germany. It only was made public in 1918 by US-insider Prof. Roland Usher. The direct consequence of this agreement was the war against Spain in 1898 (the USA intruded with the ironclad USS Maine into the Spanish port La Habana; Spain was blamed for the explosion of the ship and lost her colonies in the following war). Wilhelm mentions a series of examples for the hostile politics towards Germany until the outbreak of the war in 1914, e.g. attempts to prevent Germany from pursuing free trade.
  • Often, the enlargement of the German navy is mentioned as the reason for the tensions with England. Actually, the German navy never was stronger than 20 % of the English navy, and it was smaller than the navy of many other countries. Thus, it is absurd to pretend that this enlargement was a threat to England. Nonetheless, this was an argument of English war propaganda and after the war.
  • Germany and Austria’s armies always were inferior to their opponents. Also, the position in central Europe with big powers (England, France, Russia) on both sides was considered precarious. According to Wilhelm, Germany had had nothing to win by a war and thus, since the foundation of the Empire in 1871, always had had the intention to keep peace. He writes that, besides, 1914 was a very bad year to start a war for Germany. If Germany had been interested in war, it would have started it in 1900 when England was at war with the Boers (Sout Africa) or in 1905 when Russia was at war with Japan.
  • Wilhelm enlists a series of proofs of early war preparations on the side of Russia, France and England. England, for example, had already stored winter coats for soldiers and bilingual strategic maps in Northern France and Belgium (officially a neutral country) in 1911. The depots were found by the German army in the first weeks of the war (summer 1914, when nobody needed winter coats; the maps had dates on them).

Consequences of the Treaty of Versailles for Germany (source: Dr. Albert Ströhle: Der Vertrag von Versailles und seine Wirkungen für unser deutsches Vaterland. Berlin: Zentral-Verlag, 1926.)

1) Territory and Population

  • Germany lost 13 % of her territory and 10 % of her population.
  • With the argument of giving autonomy to 3 Million non-Germans, 3.5 Million Germans lost their nation and had to live as a minority in other countries. Instead of promoting the “right of self-determination” for the different ethnic and cultural groups in Europe, new sources of conflicts were created.

2) Economic consequences

a) Germany lost

  • 15.5 % of her cattle,
  • 14.6 % of her acreage for wheat,
  • 17.7 % for rye,
  • 16.4 % for barley,
  • 17.2 % for potatoes,
  • 26 % of her coal mines,
  • 68 % of her tin mines,
  • 75 % of her iron mines.

b) Payments in money and in kind:

Germany had to pay/hand out

  • 132 Billion Goldmark, which corresponds to 552 Billion € (in 2010), taking into account that in 1925 Germany’s economic performance was only 5 % of what it is today.
  • The complete German foreign assets – public and private – were confiscated.
  • 90 % of the merchant fleet (530 million gross registered tons),
  • 25 % of the fishing fleet,
  • 20 % of the inland navigation fleet,
  • 700 breeding stallions,
  • 40 000 mares,
  • 4 000 bulls,
  • 140 000 cows,
  • 40 000 heifers,
  • 1 200 rams,
  • 120 000 sheep,
  • 10 000 goats,
  • 15 000 pigs,
  • 43 million tons of coal products.

3) Special conditions (among others):

  • The German Reichsbahn (German railways) had to be converted into a stock corporation. 9 of the 18 members of the supervisory board had to be foreigners.
  • The Government was not allowed to have control over the Reichsbank (German National Bank). At least 7 of the supervisory board’s 14 members had to be foreigners.
  • Germany lost control over her national waterways.

The German economy collapsed; more than one million civilians died of hunger; and, of course, Germany was not able to deliver the payments. A hyper-inflation followed. The number of unemployed workers raised from 250 000 in 1922 to more than 2 000 000 in 1926. Due to the many refugees from the annexed territories, there was a lack of housing. Still in 1930, 80 000 people had no home. Germany, once one of the leading economies in the world, had been converted in sort of an exploited colony.

War invalid, 1923.
“You shall toil for the next three generations.”
They carry the letters of the company – but who bears its spirit? Drawing by Thomas Theodore Heine for the satirical journal Simplicissimus

Some important events

  • Charles the Great (or Charlemagne or Carolus Magnus) (742-814) expands the Frankish Kingdom. It incorporates much of Western and Central Europe.
  • 800: Charlemagne is crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III and thus holds the title of the ancient Roman Emperors (the Western Roman Empire had stopped to exist in 476).
  • The Franks were a West Germanic tribal confederation. Later wards, by historical evolution, they split up into different nations/identities. Charlemagne is considered the founding father of both the German and French monarchies.
  • 843: The Carolingian Empire is divided into three kingdoms by Charlemagne’s grandsons (Treaty of Verdun): Lothair receives the central provinces, Charles the Bald the western part and Louis the German the eastern part.
  • 962: The German King Otto is crowned Roman Emperor by the Pope. This is the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire (Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation).
  • arround 1450: Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press starts to be widely used.
  • 1517: Martin Luther (1483-1546)publishes his 95 Thesis.
  • 1522: Publication of Luther’s bible translation.
  • 1618-1648: Thirty Year’s War. With the Treaty of Westphalia, the German Empire is divided into a puzzle of mostly tiny states.
  • 1683: While the Turks besiege Vienna, Louis XIV (le roi soleil) not only refuses to join the ‘Holy Alliance’ but also annexes Alsace, Lorraine, and Straßburg, taking advantage of the absence of German defense forces in the south-western part of the Empire.
  • 1688-1697: During the Palatine Succession War, by orders of the French war minister Louvois (brûlez le Palatinat!), general Ezéchiel de Mélac pillages and devastates cities and regions in South Western Germany. His name becomes an antonomasia for exceptional brutality.
  • 1806: After defeating Prussia, Napoleon incorporates parts of Germany in his Empire. 16 German states are organized in the Confederation of the Rhine as client states of the French Empire.
  • 1813 to 1815: Wars of Liberation from.
  • 1840: French prime minister Adolphe Thiers’ claim that the Rhine should be France’s eastern border causes heavy tensions between Germany and France.
  • 1870: France declares war on Prussia. The context is a conflict about the succession on the Spanish throne (cf. the Ems Despatch).
  • 1871: Foundation of the German Empire (Deutsches Reich). The Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV becomes Emperor Wilhelm I.
  • 1914-1918: First World War.
  • 1939-1945: Second World War.
  • 1949: Foundation of the GFR (under supervision of the western Allies) and the GDR (under supervision of the USSR)
  • 1989: Collapse of the GDR (one year later also of the USSR) and reunification.