The Weimar Republic - Germany’s first democracy

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The Economy

The Weimar Republic’s economy was shaken by crises again and again. At the same time, it witnessed an acceleration of the structural trend towards consolidation into ever larger companies that had already taken on visible contours during the Kaiserreich. This meant that a great deal of power wound up in the hands of just a few men who knew how to wield it for their political purposes; for example, Gustav Krupp, Alfred Hugenberg, Walter Rathenau, Hugo Stinnes, and Albert Vögler.

Gustav Krupp

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12331)

1870-1950

  • Diplomat and entrepreneur

Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was the son of a Prussian diplomat. Like his father, Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach took to diplomacy. During his career, he was stationed in German embassies in Washington D.C., Beijing, and elsewhere. Kaiser Wilhelm II arranged for a marriage between Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach and Bertha Krupp, who had inherited a business, in 1906. This liaison, along with a Prussian royal decree, allowed him to add his new spouse’s last name to his own. In 1908, he joined the business’s leadership, shaping its policies from then on. He stayed at the helm of Friedrich Krupp Corporation during World War I, the Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich up to 1942. During the 1920s, his company had to face several crises, particularly in connection with the aftermath of the war and the global economic crisis. Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach’s political views were conservative, in keeping with his background as a Prussian nobleman. However, he was loyal to the republic. Yet after the Nazis seized power, he started working closely with Hitler’s regime, which accorded his company major economic advantages. Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach participated in the armament policy, exploiting a large number of forced workers at his sites. Due to his bad health, he was declared unable to stand trial in Nuremberg. This allowed him to escape prosecution.

Wikipedia entry

Alfred Hugenberg

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2005-0621-500)

1865-1951

  • Head of the media firm Hugenberg
  • Became Chairman of the DNVP in 1928
  • Appointed minister in Hitler’s cabinet in 1933

Alfred Hugenberg worked for several major coal and steel companies, holding - for example - the post of chief financial officer at Krupp. He was also a co-founder of the nationalistic Pan-German League. In 1916, he acquired the publishing company Scherl-Verlag, which he built up over the years, making it a major media group. He was politically active in the right wing of the DNVP from 1918. When he became the party’s chairman in 1928, he terminated the phase of willingness to cooperate with the left wing and made a pact with the Nazi party, which was still insignificant at the time. With the help of his media empire, the party became respectable and well-known. Overestimating his own power, he thought he could use Hitler as a tool. As it turned out, just the opposite occurred. Although appointed Superminister for Economic and Agricultural Affairs in January 1933, he was pushed out of office just a few months later. He had to sell his company. Still, he kept his post as a Member of the Reichstag up to 1945, as a “guest of the Nazi party”.

Wikipedia entry

Wilhelm Cuno

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2002-0625-505)

1876-1933

  • Head of the shipping company HAPAG
  • Reichskanzler from 1922 to 1923
  • Not able to stop hyperinflation

Wilhelm Cuno’s first career was in administration. During World War I, he worked in the Reichsgetreidestelle (imperial cereals office) and with the German merchant fleet. In 1918, the ship-owner magnate Albert Ballin hired him to work for HAPAG. After Ballin’s suicide, Cuno succeeded him as General Director. His contacts in America helped him restructure HAPAG, making him sought after within the political arena. After Cuno had rejected several offers for ministerial posts, Friedrich Ebert appointed him Reichskanzler in 1922. The government was conservative and pursued economically liberal policies. Although it saw itself as non-partisan, it rested on the support of a majority in the Reichstag. When French troops occupied the Ruhr Valley in 1923, Cuno called for passive resistance, which nearly resulted in the state going bankrupt. In the end, Germany’s sky-rocketing inflation and domestic unrest forced him to step down. He subsequently withdrew from politics, tending to his business activities.

Wikipedia entry

Hjalmar Schacht

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12733)

1877-1970

  • Banker
  • Co-founder of the DDP
  • President of the Reichsbank from 1923 to 1930 and from 1933 to 1939

Schacht was the son of a salesman and studied economics. He already made it to the top of Dresdner Bank during the Kaiserreich. He then transferred to the private National Bank for Germany, also serving as CEO there. He helped found the left-wing, liberal DDP in November 1918. In 1922, he became the director of Danat Bank, the result of a merger. During the hyperinflation of 1923, the Stresemann administration first appointed him Currency Commissioner and then President of the Reichsbank. In these roles, he succeeded in stopping the inflation. He took part in the Dawes Plan negotiations in 1924 as Germany’s delegate. From the mid-1920s on, Schacht’s political views shifted further and further to the right; in 1926, he left the DDP. In 1929, he again took part in reparations negotiations. After these talks, he took a public stance against the Young Plan’s conditions and against accepting it. When the Treaty was ratified by the Reichstag in the end, Schacht left his post as President of the Reichsbank in 1930. Towards the end of the Weimar Republic, he joined the right-wing radicals of the Harzburg Front, supported Hitler’s ambitions to take power, and facilitated contact among industrial players, the Nazi party, and Hindenburg. Under Hitler, Schacht was reappointed President of the Reichsbank in 1933. He was named Minister of Economic Affairs in 1934.

Wikipedia entry

Walther Rathenau

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L40010)

1867-1922

  • Chairman of the Board of AEG (General Electricity Company)
  • Foreign Minister in Wirth’s cabinet
  • Murdered by right-wing extremists in 1922

Walther Rathenau grew up in a Jewish family of entrepreneurs. His father founded AEG. He followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming one of Germany’s leading businessmen, with membership on about 50 supervisory boards. He shared his expertise with Germany’s government during World War I in areas such as raw materials procurement. His views moved more and more towards the pursuit of an expansionary war and in 1918, he opposed an armistice. He had a very hard time adapting to the post-war era. After having joined the DDP (German Democratic Party), he became Minister for Reconstruction in 1921. At the start of 1922, he became Foreign Minister because he was held in high regard internationally and known for his excellent negotiation skills. Although he did not manage to successfully solve the reparations issue, he did conclude the Treaty of Rapallo with Soviet Russia, which helped Germany out of its isolation. Despite this, he was attacked by ferocious enemies as a Jew and an advocate of Erfüllungspolitik. In the end, he was murdered in broad daylight in June 1922.

Wikipedia entry

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Glossar

Abkürzungs- und Siglenverzeichnis der verwendeten Literatur:

ADGBFederation of German General Trade Unions
AEGGeneral Electricity Company
AfA-BundGeneral Free Federation of Employees
AGCorporation
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
LKWtrucks
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
RMReichsmark
SASturmabteilung; Brownshirts
SPDSocial Democratic Party of Germany
SSSchutzstaffel
StGBPenal Code
UfAUniversum Film Aktiengesellschaft
USPDIndependent Social Democratic Party of Germany
VKPDUnited Communist Party of Germany
ZentrumCenter Party
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(zusammengestellt von Dr. Jens Riederer und Christine Rost, bearbeitet von Stephan Zänker)