The Weimar Republic was devastated by the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. The Crash had a devastating impact on the American economy but because America had propped up the Weimar Republic with huge loans in 1924 (the Dawes Plan) and in 1929 (the Young Plan), what happened to the American economy had to impact the Weimar Republic’s economy.
After the Wall Street Crash, America gave Germany 90 days to start to re-pay money loaned to her. No other world power had the money to give Germany cash injections. Britain and France were still recovering from the First World War and the Wall Street Crash was to have an impact on industrial Britain. Stalin’s Russiawas still in a desperate state and embarking on the 5 year plans. Therefore, an impoverished Weimar Germany could only call on America for help and she was effectively bankrupt by the end of 1929 and quite incapable of lending money.
Companies throughout Germany – though primarily in the industrial zones such as the Ruhr – went bankrupt and workers were laid off in their millions. Unemployment affected nearly every German family just 6 years after the last major economic disaster – hyperinflation – had hit Weimar.
|September 1928||650,000 unemployed|
|September 1929||1,320,000 unemployed|
|September 1930||3,000,000 unemployed|
|September 1931||4,350,000 unemployed|
|September 1932||5,102,000 unemployed|
|January 1933||6,100,000 unemployed|
Most, though not all, of the unemployed were male. These men were almost certainly family men who could see no way ahead with regards to providing for their families. Money was required for food, heating a home, clothes etc. With no obvious end to their plight under the Weimar regime, it is not surprising that those who saw no end to their troubles turned to the more extreme political parties in Germany – the Nazi and Communist Parties.
In 1928, the Nazi Party had nearly gone bankrupt as a result of the spending on street parades etc. which had cost the party a great deal. Bankruptcy would have automatically excluded them from politics – they were saved by a right wing businessman called Hugenburg who owned a media firm in Germany. He financially bailed them out.
In the July 1932 Reichstag election, the Nazis gained 230 seats making them the largest party in the Reichstag.
In the November 1932 Reichstag election, the Nazi Party dipped somewhat to 196 seats but this still put them way ahead of their nearest rivals, the Social Democrats on 121 seats.
The Communist Party continued its steady climb from 77 seats the 1928 election, to 89 in the July 1932 election to 100 in the November one.
After the results of the November election were announced, Hitler again demanded to be made chancellor. Again, Hindenburg refused. However, this time the army via General Kurt von Schleicher, informed Hindenburg that any continuation of von Papen’s leadership could lead to civil war. It was made clear to the elderly President that the army did not support von Papen. As a result of this, Hindenburg appointed von Schleicher chancellor – a man whose only experience was in the military as opposed to politics.
Why did Hindenburg do this?
By 1933, he could been suffering from some form of dementia but it is also likely he had an instinctive alliance with the army, so he felt that he could work with a general rather than a politician. Why did Schleicher accept a position he was hopelessly prepared for ? It is probable that he simply responded to an order by a superior officer or that he wanted to use the opportunity of chaos in Germany to advance the power of the army in the country. Regardless of this, he only last 57 days as chancellor. He had no support from the Reichstag and Hindenburg had to dismiss him.
The only person with any form of credibility left was Hitler. He had the support of the Reichstag and his party was the most popular in Germany. On January 30th 1933, Hitler was summoned to Hindenburg’s chambers and sworn in as chancellor. Hindenburg expected the vice-chancellor- von Papen – to control Hitler as one had the experience of leading the nation while the other did not. Within one month, Hitler would be on the way to dictatorial power.