The Weimar Republic - Germany’s first democracy



The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) was not founded until 1920, so it did not have any representation in the National Assembly. Yet the aggressively anti-Semitic, völkisch, and nationalistic party quickly became a magnet attracting all of the radical opponents of the republic. Its chairman Adolf Hitler led it as a dictatorial Führer. Its initial strategy to seize power via a coup d’état similar to the one in Italy failed miserably in 1923. After that, Hitler adapted his approach, staying within the legal system. His efforts were facilitated by the laws and decrees that weakened the democratic framework of the republican political system more and more at the start of the 1930s. Upon his nomination to Reichskanzler in 1933, he transformed Germany at lightning speed into a ruthless, inhuman dictatorship that triggered World War II and committed the unprecedented genocide against the Jews.

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Adolf Hitler

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-18375)


  • Dictatorial Führer of the NSDAP
  • Became Reichskanzler in 1933
  • Bore the main responsibility for genocide and war

From the very start, Adolf Hitler was a staunch opponent of the Weimar Republic. From the beginning of the 1920s, he was heavily involved in völkisch, anti-Semitic groups, in which he gained more and more followers and founded the NSDAP. He then planned a march on Berlin, modelled on the march in Italy. However, his march failed miserably on 9 November 1923. He was let off easily, leaving prison after a short time. He then forced his party to stick to a strategy operating within the republic’s legal framework. Still, he worked tirelessly to dismantle the democracy completely. He managed to do so in the end thanks to his alliance with right-wing conservative groups who helped him become Reichskanzler in 1932. This plunged Germany in the darkest chapter of its history, with an unprecedented reign of terror striking anyone diverging from the Nazi norms. The party imposed Gleichschaltung, a Nazification process permeating all aspects of society. Unbridled racial fanaticism broke loose, with an unparalleled genocide committed against the Jews. In the end, the war ravaged the world, killing 50 million people. With his Reich collapsing, Hitler escaped responsibility by committing suicide in 1945.

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Joseph Goebbels

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1968-101-20A)


  • Became the NSDAP’s head of propaganda in 1930
  • Became minister of propaganda in 1933
  • One of Adolf Hitler’s closest confidants

Joseph Goebbels originally held socialist views. This did not change until after the November Revolution. The confusing array of ideas circulating during the revolution triggered a process within the unstable young man that eventually led him to national socialism. He admired Hitler and subjected himself to his rule. The latter, in turn, recognized his talents and appointed him Gauleiter in Berlin and, in the end, the NSDAP’s head of propaganda. Using the most modern methods of the time, he managed to fill large parts of the population with enthusiasm for national socialism. After the Nazis seized power in 1933, he became Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. In this capacity, he seized complete control of the press and ensured the Gleichschaltung of the country’s cultural landscape in its entirety. In his speeches, he rallied the people to support Hitler and the war, and his 1943 “total war” speech became notorious. Goebbels committed suicide in April 1945.

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Gregor Strasser

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 119-1721)


  • Participated in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch 
  • Struggled for power within the NSDAP in 1932
  • Murdered upon Hitler’s instructions in 1934

After having served in the war, Gregor Strasser joined the Epp Freikorps, which was involved in putting down the Munich councils’ republic movement. In 1921, he joined the NSDAP and helped with the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. He represented leftist, anti-capitalist views within the national socialist movement. After the NSDAP was re-founded in 1925, he quickly climbed its career ladder, all the way to becoming leader of its national organization. This made him a dangerous rival for Hitler. Yet in 1932, Gregor Strasser stepped down. But this did not keep him from being murdered on 30 June 1934 during the Night of the Long Knives purge.

Wikipedia entry

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Abkürzungs- und Siglenverzeichnis der verwendeten Literatur:

ADGBFederation of German General Trade Unions
AEGGeneral Electricity Company
AfA-BundGeneral Free Federation of Employees
AVUSAutomobile Traffic and Training Road
BMWBavarian Motor Works
BRTgross register tons
BVPBavarian People’s Party
CenterCenter Party
DAPGerman Workers’ Party
DDPGerman Democratic Party
DNTGerman National Theater
DNVPGerman National People’s Party
DVPGerman People’s Party
GmbHLimited (form of company)
KominternCommunist International
KPDCommunist Party of Germany
KVPConservative People’s Party
MSPDMajority Social Democratic Party of Germany; the Majority Socialists
NSnational socialism (Nazi)
NSDAPNational Socialist German Workers’ Party; Nazi party
NVNational Assembly
O.C.Organization Consul
OHLArmy High Command
SASturmabteilung; Brownshirts
SPDSocial Democratic Party of Germany
StGBPenal Code
UfAUniversum Film Aktiengesellschaft
USPDIndependent Social Democratic Party of Germany
VKPDUnited Communist Party of Germany
ZentrumCenter Party
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[ThHB]Thüringen-Handbuch. Territorium, Verfassung, Parlament, Regierung und Verwaltung in Thüringen 1920 bis 1995, hrsg. von Bernhard Post und Volker Wahl, Redaktion Dieter Marek (Veröffentlichungen aus Thüringischen Staatsarchiven, Bd. 1), Weimar 1999.
[TofahrnTofahrn, Klaus W., Chronologie des Dritten Reiches. Ereignisse, Personen, Begriffe, Darmstadt 2003.
[UB]Ursula Büttner: Weimar. Die überforderte Republik 1918-1933. Leistungen und Versagen in Staat, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft und Kultur, Stuttgart 2008.
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(zusammengestellt von Dr. Jens Riederer und Christine Rost, bearbeitet von Stephan Zänker)