The Weimar Republic - Germany’s first democracy

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Reich Ministers

The turnover of ministers during the Weimar Republic was even greater than that of its chancellors. Given the overwhelming challenges of the time, they were more likely than not to fail. As they were often faced with a lack of personnel specialized in their ministries’ respective portfolios, they had no choice but to fall back on the Kaiserreich’s civil servants. Accordingly, even the Council of People’s Representatives was already allowing specialists to stay at their posts, as the workers’ movement did not have the required experience; the transformation of the Reich into a country at peace was too challenging. The high turnover of ministers strengthened the subordinated administration and increased the civil servants’ distance from the political system.

Matthias Erzberger

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1989-072-16)

1875-1921

  • Head of the armistice committee
  • Finance Minister
  • Murdered in 1921

At the start of World War I, Matthias Erzberger was still pushing for victorious peace, but later on he called for peace without annexations. His peace resolution met with majority approval in the Reichstag in 1917. In October 1918, he joined Max von Baden’s cabinet and became chairman of the armistice committee. In this role, he signed the armistice on 11 November. In Scheidemann’s cabinet, he was a minister without a specified portfolio and spoke out for the acceptance of the Treaty of Versailles. Embittered opponents rose up against him because of this stance. Erzberger become Reichskanzler Gustav Bauer’s Finance Minister in June 1919. His reforms laid the foundations for today’s tax system in Germany. Yet right-wing forces directed their propaganda against him because of his reforms’ increase of the tax burden on assets. His legal action against these attacks failed. In 1920, he left his post as minister and one year later, he was murdered.

Wikipedia entry

Wilhelm Groener

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-01049)

1867-1939

  • Became Generalquartiermeister (Quartermaster general) of the OHL in 1918
  • Joined forces with Friedrich Ebert
  • Served as minister in several governments up to 1932

During World War I, Groener organized the transportation of the German army’s troops. After Erich Ludendorff was dismissed in October 1918, he became Quartermaster general, which made him the head of the OHL for all intents and purposes. In this role, he organized the withdrawal of the millions of German troops in the field. At the same time, he tried to promote the military’s interests by influencing political developments. On 10 November 1918, he offered Friedrich Ebert his support. He subsequently managed to defend the officer corps’ standing. In contrast to other military officers, he promoted the view that the Reichswehr’s (Imperial Army’s) proper role was to protect the republic. After resigning from the army, he was appointed cabinet member several times. When he took strong measures against the Nazi Party in 1932, Kurt von Schleicher dismissed him.

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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

Eugen Schiffer

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R72916)

1860-1954

  • State Secretary and Vice Chancellor from 1918 to 1919
  • Minister of Justice from 1919 to 1921
  • Implemented comprehensive reforms of the judiciary

Eugen Schiffer left the National-Liberal Party of the Kaiserreich in November 1918 to join the German Democratic Party. The jurist was a member of the Reichstag and a high-level civil servant in the judiciary; from October 1918, he served as leading state secretary in the Treasury Office. He stayed in this post after the November Revolution. After serving as the Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister in Scheidemann’s cabinet, he was Bauer’s Minister of Justice (1919) as well as Wirth’s (1921). He took the initiative to reform the judiciary, aiming to streamline and speed up legal proceedings. Schiffer was considered one of the key players involved in putting down the Kapp Putsch. In 1924, he left the DDP and picked back up his career as a lawyer. After 1945, he helped establish the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) in the Soviet occupation zone. Yet in the end, he fled to the Federal Republic in 1950.

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Gustav Stresemann

(© Archiv des Liberalismus)

1878-1929

  • Co-founder of the German People’s Party
  • Reichskanzler in crisis-ridden 1923
  • Foreign Minister and Noble Peace Prize laureate

Gustav Stresemann helped found the right-wing liberal German People’s Party. Initially an opponent of the republic, he became one of its most ardent supporters. As Reichskanzler during the crisis-ridden year of 1923, he saved it from demise. And as Foreign Minister, he achieved the reconciliation with France, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926. His early death in 1929 was a major loss for the democracy.

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Bernhard Dernburg

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12088-1)

1865-1937

  • Experienced banker and economist
  • Became State Secretary in the Imperial Colonial Office in 1907
  • Served as Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor in 1919

Bernhard Dernburg worked for Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Treuhandgesellschaft, and Darmstädter Bank für Gewerbe und Industrie. His reputation was based on his work in rationalizing business operations. He organized restructuring programs in various sectors, using his close contacts in the US. In 1906, he was granted the mandate to represent Prussia on the Bundesrat (Union Council). He became State Secretary in the Imperial Colonial Office one year later. He redirected Germany’s colonial policies, making greater use of colonies to promote economic growth. After World War I, he was one of the DDP’s founders. In Scheidemann’s cabinet, he served as Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor. He was a Member of the Reichstag from 1920 to 1930.

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Hermann Dietrich

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 146III-074-1)

1879-1954

  • Baden’s Minister of External Affairs from 1918 to 1920
  • Minister of Food and Agriculture and Reich Finance Minister
  • Elected chairman of the German State Party in 1930

The jurist Hermann Dietrich started out in the National-Liberal Party. But in 1918, he helped found the DDP, becoming its uncontested leader in the state of Baden. He was a Member of the National Assembly and - from 1920 to 1933 - of the Reichstag. Between 1928 and 1932, he served in several cabinets, first as Minister of Food and Agriculture and then as Finance Minister under Brüning. In that role, he was responsible for the policy of deflation; this led many within his party to criticize him. In 1930, after the DDP merged with the Young German Order, he was elected Chairman of the German State Party. After his initial opposition to the Enabling Act, he voted for it in 1933 in order to protect his party colleagues working as civil servants. He helped set up the FDP in Baden-Württemberg after 1945.

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Gustav Noske

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-14240-1)

1868-1946

  • Member of the Council of People’s Representatives
  • Minister of Defense from 1919 to 1920
  • Oberpräsident (Governor) in Hannover from 1920 to 1933

Gustav Noske was arguably the Weimar Republic’s most controversial Social Democrat. He joined the party in 1884 and served in the Reichstag from 1906, where he made his mark in military affairs. This work already put him at odds with the party’s left wing. In October 1918, he was sent to Kiel, where he pacified the sailors’ uprising. After the USPD left the Council of People’s Representatives, Gustav Noske was promoted, taking on the Army and Navy portfolios. With his statement “Someone has to be the bloodhound”, he deployed the Freikorps units to put down the left’s attempted revolution, granting the Freikorps sweeping authority. This allowed an unleashed band of soldiers to murder defenseless people in many parts of Germany. Noske was Minister of Defense until the Kapp Putsch, but he had to resign in 1920. He then took on the post of Oberpräsident in Hannover, staying in office there until 1933. During the Third Reich, he was in the resistance and imprisoned in Ravensbrück concentration camp.

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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”.

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Rudolf Hilferding

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-00144)

1877-1941

  • Member of the Reichstag from 1924 to 1933
  • Finance Minister in 1923 and from 1928 to 1929

Born in Austria, Hilferding joined the USPD in 1919 and became editor-in-chief of its core publication “Freiheit” (Freedom) in the same year. He pushed strongly for the party to rejoin the SPD. This was realized in 1922. After the merger, Hilferding served as an SPD Member of the Reichstag from 1924. In 1923, he was Finance Minister for a few weeks. Hilferding took this post on again from 1928 to 1929. Due to the stock market crash and a falling out with Reichsbank President Schacht, he resigned. After the Nazis seized power, Hilferding went into exile. He was arrested by the Gestapo in Paris in 1941 and died a few days later in the Gestapo’s prison.

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Hans von Raumer

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2010-0225-502)

1870-1965

  • Member of the Reichstag
  • Minister of the Treasury from 1920 to 1921
  • Minister of Economic Affairs from 1923

Raumer joined the Reichstag in 1920 to represent the DVP, which he left in 1930. Reichskanzler Fehrenbach named him Minister of the Treasury in the same year in which he took office as a Member of the Reichstag. He played a major role in the Treaty of Rapallo negotiations. In 1923, he took on the post of Minister of Economic Affairs in Stresemann’s government. While in office, he focused his efforts first and foremost on promoting economic cooperation with France and the Soviet Union.

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Oskar Hergt

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2009-0316-500)

1869-1967

  • Co-founder of the DNVP (German National People’s Party)
  • DNVP Chairman
  • Member of the Reichstag
  • Vice Chancellor and Minister of Justice from 1927 to 1928

Oskar Hergt, while not affiliated with any party during the Kaiserreich, helped found the DNVP in November 1918. In December, he was elected the party’s first chairman. Hergt was considered a monarchist and opponent of the republic. At the same time, as a moderate conservative, he was critical of attempts to overthrow it. He allowed DNVP Reichstag members to vote on the Dawes Plan as they wished and a large part of the party voted for the plan. He then had to step down under pressure from the party’s right wing. He served as Justice Minister and Vice Chancellor in Marx’s cabinet from 1927 to 1928. Hergt stayed in the party even after he lost to Hugenberg in the fight to chair it in 1928. He withdrew from the political arena in 1933.

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Julius Curtius

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12369)

1877-1948

  • Member of the Reichstag
  • Minister of Economic Affairs from 1926
  • Foreign Minister from 1929 to 1931

Curtius was elected to the Reichstag as a member of the DVP in 1920 and kept his seat until 1932. He was appointed Luther’s Minister of Economic Affairs in 1926 and direct his efforts first and foremost towards strengthening the country’s exports and its trading ties with the Soviet Union. Following Stresemann’s death, Curtius took on the post of Foreign Minister; initially in addition to his existing duties and subsequently as his sole function. He successfully pushed through Germany’s acceptance of the Young Plan. Curtius had to step down from his post as Foreign Minister in 1931 because attempts to create a German-Austrian customs union failed.

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Karl Jarres

(© Bundesarchiv Bild 102-01175)

1874-1951

  • Member of the Reichstag
  • Vice Chancellor and Minister of the Interior from 1923 to 1924
  • Candidate in the 1925 presidential elections

Karl Jarres, a Doctor of Law, was a member of the National Liberal Party during the Kaiserreich. In 1914, he was elected Mayor of Duisburg, an office he was to hold until 1933.  When the Kaiserreich collapsed at the end of World War I, he joined the newly founded DVP. During the French and Belgian occupation of the Ruhr Valley, he resisted his forced expulsion, which brought him a two-month prison sentence. His passive resistance against the occupying forces made him very popular with the people. In November 1923, he joined Stresemann’s government as Vice Chancellor and Minister of the Interior. He stayed in these offices in the following cabinets, Marx I and Marx II. In the 1925 presidential elections, he garnered a plurality of the votes during the first round, yet withdrew from the race so as to improve Paul von Hindenburg’s chances of winning. After the Nazis seized power, he withdrew from politics, turning to business activities.

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Adam Stegerwald

(© Bundesarchiv N 1780 Bild-001-03)

1874-1945

  • General secretary of the federation of Christian trade unions of Germany from 1903 to 1929
  • Chairman of the Christian German trade union confederation from 1919 to 1929
  • Member of the National Assembly and the Reichstag
  • Prussian Minister-President from March to November 1921
  • Became Reich Minister of Transport from 1929 to 1930
  • Reich Minister of Labor from 1930 to 1932

Stegerwald joined the Center Party in 1896 and started his career in politics as a functionary in Christian unions. In 1903, he became the general secretary of the federation of Christian trade unions of Germany and stayed in office until 1929. As a Christian unionist, he promoted anti-Bolshevist policies and tried to counter the influence of the Free Unions. Alongside his work as a unionist, he took on various offices in the Prussian government, including a short stint as Prussian Minister-President in 1921. In 1929, he became Transport Minister in Reichskanzler Müller’s Grand Coalition. In Brüning’s cabinet, he served as Labor Minister. As a fervent catholic, he opposed the Nazi regime during the Third Reich. At the same time, he called for tempered opposition, so as to avoid retaliation from the Nazis.

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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)