How common were foreigners in the Weimar republic?

How common were foreigners in the Weimar republic?

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Was it common to find foreigners in Germany during Weimar Republic and the beginning of the Nazi regimes?

Because they do not seem particularly attractive historical periods but I found many statistics reporting separated figures for foreigners but no direct data of the presence of foreign people on German soil (censuses or other).

Do you have any insight by yourselves or are you aware of sources I can use to find more data about that?

The number of foreigners, broken down by nationality, was recorded in the 1925 and 1933 censuses. Technically, the 1933 census falls just after the fall of the Weimar Republic, being taken in December 1933, but still comes within your timeframe.

A further census was taken in 1939, although that also included the territories of Austria, Sudetenland and Memelland.

The totals for the 1925 census are included as tables and in graphical format in this article on German Migration as figure 2.

A fairly complete dataset of foreigners in Germany, covering the whole period from 1834 to 2010, is available to download as an Excel worksheet from the site's associated data (03_Migration.xls).

The Weimar Republic: Gone But Not Forgotten

The Weimar Republic is famous for failing, but considering its turmoil and crisis, it’s surprising how long it actually lasted.

The Weimar Republic has been on people’s minds with the results of the U.S. presidential election and rise of the radical right in Europe. Is there a lesson to be learned from the Weimar experience? Any answer to that question has to be grounded in the chaotic history of the republic that barely held Germany together from 1919 to 1933.

Weimar is notorious for its ending. In 1933, leaders of the last of Weimar’s always shaky coalition governments offered the Chancellorship to Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s National Socialist German Worker’s Party had won 51 percent of the electorate in March the right-wing members of the Weimar coalition thought they could use and control the upstart Hitler and his street-brawlers. Before the end of the year, however, the Nazis were firmly in control of the state. The resulting catastrophe has reduced the Weimar Republic to the status of symbol, warning, even parable, of the fragility of democracy.

Weimar’s birth pangs were not greeted with joy. “Never was the idea of a republican government less welcome,” writes British historian John Wheeler-Bennett of the circumstances of 1919. In a whirlwind, Germans lost the First World War, their Kaiser abdicated, and a left-wing revolt was brutally put down. A parliamentary democracy, its constitution hashed out in the city of Weimar, nevertheless managed to arise out of the chaos and violence.

Wheeler-Bennett argues that the new state’s greatest liability was bearing the burden of accepting the crushing peace imposed by the victorious Allies. France, in particular, had demanded a hard vengeance, territory, and the absolute crippling of Germany’s industrial power, and the Weimar authorities had no choice but to bow to that.

“Unwanted and unacclaimed, despised and denigrated, the target of armed attack from the extreme Left and the extreme Right,” Weimar had few defenders in the defeated, impoverished, and resentful German people, notes Wheeler-Bennett. Yet the republic still managed to hold on. Indeed, it almost thrived by the late 1920s, until the world economic collapse of the Great Depression. Wheeler-Bennett’s synopsis of Weimar’s reeling series of crises, and the political in-fighting (sometimes carried out on the streets) benefits from his personal witness and his long friendship with Heinrich Brüning, one of the last Weimar Chancellors.

Professor Kathleen Canning looks at the vexing intertwining of the politics of culture and the culture of politics in Weimar. “Contests over the term politics, over the boundaries that distinguished politics from non-politics, were one of the distinguishing features” of Weimar, she writes. Communists, socialists, liberals, Catholics, nationalists, and, eventually, the Nazis, all had their own politicized “cultural milieus,” from mobilizing political parties and newspapers to beerhalls and sports clubs. The more extreme also had militias. Add a demobilized army that essentially became an army of the unemployed, runaway inflation, and harsh demands from the victorious powers, and it is a wonder Weimar’s disparate pieces held together for a minute, much less 14 years.

The political and cultural fragmentation even led to disagreement over the state’s very name. Most Germans called their country the Deutsches Reich, the old pre-war name. But the far right hated the association of reich and parliamentary democracy. The Catholic Centrist Party favored German People’s State the moderate left the German Republic. Nobody called it the Republik von Weimar until Hitler did so, contemptuously, in 1929. He aimed to extinguish all record and memory of it. But the Weimar Republic’s vibrant modernist culture, represented in art, literature, and film, was exiled to the world and survived even as the fragile parliamentary democracy of the country did not.

Stresemann’s Achievements Abroad

Gustav Stresemann was the foreign secretary from 1923 to 1929 and also had several major achievements abroad which helped boost Germany’s economic recovery. In this next section, we will examine The Locarno Pact, The League of Nations, The Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Impact on domestic policies.

The Locarno Pact

Stresemann was determined to improve Germany’s relationship with France and Britain as he saw this as a means of regaining Germany’s prestige in the international community, but also because he saw this as a route to reducing the worst features of the Treaty of Versailles.

To achieve changes in the Treaty, he realised France needed to feel secure in order for them to cooperate and so in 1925, Germany signed the Locarno Pact with Britain, France Belgium and Italy.

In this agreement, the countries signed to keep existing borders between Germany, France and Belgium. The Locarno Pact signalled Germany’s return to the international scene in Europe and began a period of cooperation between Germany, France and Britain. This is sometimes referred to as the “Locarno Honeymoon”.

A picture of Gustav Stresemann, Austen Chamberlain and Aristide Briand during the Locarno Pact negotiations.

Temple of Zagan

The below is not written by me, but rather a series of posts by an Anon on 4chan that goes into an abridged history of the Weimar Republic, which existed in Germany between the first and second World War. Despite the significance of Weimar, it was never taught in any of my history classes back in school. More importantly, the history and trends of Weimar show a disturbing amount of similarity to the US and the west in general. Without further ado, here are the posts below:

In America, the public is given zero information on the “Weimar Republic,” the period in Germany post-WWI that led to the rise of the National Socialists in 1933.

This is deliberate. The period holds too many secrets to the modern world.

This thread will expose those secrets.

First, a tweet on what Germany was pre-Weimar:

As the Holy Roman Empire ended, Germans united throughout the 18th & 19th centuries under strong leadership, loyal monarchs, and good governance.

Germany was a bustling European center of industry, military, culture & Christianity.

Then World War I happened.

Largely orchestrated by corrupt Global interests, it was a disaster for Germany.

Germany had a string of victories, and sought a peaceful truce.

But Global financiers behind the war would lose money & their agenda, so they brought in America in 1917.

How the war ended is crucial to setting the stage for Weimar.

The German war effort collapsed in 1918 when Communists led strikes in munitions factories and launched a violent Revolution in Germany.

The monarchy fell, the war ended with no truce, & Liberal Elites create Weimar.

Before I get into who comprised this new “Liberal Elite” in Germany, first, a look at who was behind the Revolution:

Rosa Luxemburg
Kurt Eisner
Paul Levi
Leo Jogiches
Ernst Toller
Erich Muhsam
Gustav Landauer
Eugen Levine
Karl Radek

Guess what they all have in common…

At the Treaty of Versailles, a crippled Germany was carved up by the Global Elite, with no opposition from the new Weimar leaders.

Who were the key representatives letting this happen?

Paul Hirsch (Prime Minister of Prussia)
Otto Landsberg (Versailles Delegate)

The term “Weimar” comes from the city of Weimar where this new, liberal democratic government was first assembled.

In this unnatural, fragmented Germany, a new constitution was foisted on the people.

For nearly a decade, this government was overwhelmingly run by Left, Liberal, non-German influences.

Walther Rathenau (Foreign Minister)
Rudolf Hilferding (Finance Minister)
Bernhard Isidor Weiss (Police Chief)
Eduard Bernstein (main member of Social Democrats)

For the 70-80 years leading up to Weimar, Left-Liberal socialists had been wreaking havoc across Germany, preventing the people from knowing real peace.

Who were the earliest leaders?

Ferdinand Lassalle and Leopold Sonnemann.

The early years of Weimar were filled with turmoil and suffering.

The people weren’t organized.
The extreme Left launched frequent rebellions.
There were food shortages & poverty.
France invaded Germany in 1923-1925 to collect WWI reparations.

The ineffectual government was often embroiled in scandal, with one group at the center.

Barmat Scandal
Sklarek Scandal
Kutisker Case
Katzenellenbogen Case

All involved Jewish crime rings scamming Germany with political corruption, bribery, fraud, war-profiteering, etc.

Accompanying Weimar’s broken political world was an equally sick and degenerate culture and society.

Berlin became the sin capital of the world.

Many poor, desperate Germans sold themselves like cheap goods.

No sexual perversion was off the table.

At the center of this sexual “revolution” was Magnus Hirschfeld.

He created the “Institute of Sexual Research,” located in Berlin, celebrating all kinds of sexual fetishes, conducting trans-surgery, research, etc.

It’s all happened before, in Weimar Germany.

The “German” Film Industry was also filled with degenerate themes.

Some of main producers, directors, & actors in Weimar:

Paul Davidson
Joseph “Joe May” Mandel
Jules Greenbaum
Max Reinhardt
Josef Von Sternberg
Fritz Kohn
Otto Wallburg
Peter “Lorre” Lowenstein

The Pornography business also became extremely popular and lucrative during Weimar, often taking advantage of German women looking for work.

People like Kurt Tucholsky made sure everyone got their fix.

Art in Weimar experienced a similar descent into meaningless, perverse works that inspired nothing but sadness and discord.

Rethinking the Weimar Republic: Authority and Authoritarianism, 1916-1936

For a long time the historiography of Germany’s Weimar Republic has been stuck in a simple dichotomy of cultural experimentation and political and economic crisis. For generations of students and scholars the first German republic was seen as an ill-fated experiment in parliamentary democracy, an inherently flawed polity unloved by its citizens, fatally undermined from the outset by the circumstances in which it had come into being and beset by almost perpetual political and economic crises. This political unrest was off-set to some extent by extraordinary cultural ferment that took place during the 15 short years of democracy between the Kaiserreich and the Third Reich. The republic is often seen to have displayed an unusual tolerance for avant-garde art and architecture, literature and music, which was mirrored by liberal and enlightened attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Yet as Weimar studies have taken a more ‘cultural turn’ in the past 30 years or so, historians have increasingly questioned the old deterministic view of the history of the first German democracy that all too often reduced it to a mere prelude to the Nazi regime. Instead more and more studies have given their attention to an increasingly wide range of different aspects of German society and culture in the 1920s, leading to an interdisciplinary reshaping of the debate on the history of the republic in which the lines that once delineated political, cultural and social history have been broken or at least blurred. These studies have revealed the complex and fragmented nature of German politics, culture and society in this period, and in doing so made ‘the traditional dichotomous image of cultural boom and political chaos’, once seen as so important to understanding the period, unsustainable.(1) But while much of this scholarship has been generated as a critical response to the thesis presented in Detlev Peukert’s seminal work Die Weimarer Republik: Krisenjahre der Klassischen Moderne (1987) there have been few, if any, attempts to replace Peukert’s assessment of Weimar’s story as a struggle to manage the problems inherent in ‘classical modernity’ with an new overarching grand narrative to replace it. This fragmentation of Weimar historiography has led to calls to ‘rethink and rewrite the actual development of this crucial period in twentieth-century European history’ (2), and such an ambitious undertaking is precisely what is promised by the title of Anthony McElligott’s wide-ranging and scholarly new examination of Germany’s first democratic republic.

As Eric Weitz has pointed out, ‘to grasp Weimar’s history in a broader fashion requires going beyond the cultural perspective’ to look at ‘formal politics and economics … and the lived experiences of a variety of social groups’ (3), and this is precisely what the present volume sets out to do. The central thesis is that the defining problem of the period was the question of authority and the search for a ‘total solution’ to the inherent contradictions of ‘classical modernity’ as outlined by Peukert (p. 4). As the author puts it, ‘the question of authority underwrote the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic, whether in the spheres of economy, foreign policy, culture and law where it was frequently challenged.’ (p. 181) Yet the focus is not merely on high politics, high finance or high art. The author skilfully blends a discussion of developments at a national (or international) level with a consideration of local politics and what the familiar crises and contentions of the Weimar period meant for ordinary people to present a rounded picture of the first German democratic state in which the narrative of the republic ‘as a passive construct with little agency’ (p. 6) is challenged. Along the way the reader is treated to a plethora of fascinating insights drawn from the primary sources, making this more than the standard general study of the republic. What we are presented with is somewhere between a textbook and a monograph that provides a general overview of the period from a novel perspective and opens up new avenues for future researchers to explore.

As well as providing a new prism through which to view the development of the Weimar state, the focus on the issue of authority informs Professor McElligott’s decision to break with the more orthodox periodization of 1918–33 and instead to adopt an alternative chronology covering the 20 years between 1916 and 1936. This is very much in the vein of other contemporary scholarship on Weimar social and cultural historians have long pointed out that many of the developments often seen as being characteristic of the republic actually began before the First World War and/or extended at least until the end of the Second World War. Other recent studies have taken a similar decision to look for different start and end points from the traditional political mile-stones of 1918 and 1933 and here it makes perfect sense. The question of who ruled in Germany and from where their authority originated became increasingly unclear as the First World War exposed the tensions within Wilhelmine society and politics, a question that was to be a running sore for successive republican governments after 1918 which was by no means decisively solved on Hitler’s assumption of the chancellorship on 30 January 1933.

The book is organised into nine chapters dealing with the nature of authority in the context of a different aspect of life under the republic. Each chapter has its own introduction and conclusion, making them readable as individual essays as well as parts of the wider whole, a boon for time-pressed students and scholars interested in pursuing only a single aspect of the republic. A brief introductory chapter sets out the central theme of the book and the parameters for the discussion to follow, while chapter two deals with the ways in which political authority was transformed by the experience of conflict – first through the attempt to create a military ‘dictatorship’ in 1916 and later through revolution from both above and below in the last months of 1918. McElligott shows how the appointment of Paul von Hindenburg as chief of the supreme army command (Oberste Heeresleitung, OHL) on 29 August 1916 in an effort to boost morale and restore public confidence in the military led to a ‘significant transformation’ in ‘the relationship between state and society in Germany’ (p. 15) as Hindenburg’s Quartermaster-General Erich Ludendorff sought to extend military control over every aspect of life through the Auxiliary Service Law which came into effect in December 1916. This was ‘a modernizing piece of legislation with an explicitly technocratic character’, some of whose provisions were later adopted by the Weimar Republic under Article 165 of the Constitution, but its primary aim was ‘to re-impose the authority of state after the erosion suffered over the previous two years by substituting military for political authority.’ (p. 16) Nevertheless, it failed to either solve Germany’s supply and production problems or to quell political dissent, and despite the military breakthrough on the eastern front in 1917 the ‘Silent Dictatorship’ of Hindenburg and Ludendorff faced increasing opposition from civilian authority in the form of the Reichstag and from the people themselves in the form of strikes and protests. With the obvious failure of the spring/summer offensives in 1918 and the consequent collapse of morale, the military lost any legitimacy they had. Hindenburg and Ludendorff were left with no option but to cede power to a civilian ministry, leaving the Kaiser exposed as the only target for political dissent. Nevertheless, there were few, even amongst the supposedly Marxist Social Democrats, who seriously wanted an end to the monarchy. What tipped the balance against the Hohenzollerns was the outbreak of the naval mutiny at Kiel. McElligott persuasively demonstrates how this was more a result of the erosion of trust between officers and men (and with it the authority of the officer class) that had taken place during the war than a desire to set the pace of political reform and that the mutiny only became a revolution because of the incompetence of officers at Kiel who alienated both their men and sympathetic locals by ordering troops to fire on protesters (p. 25)

The revolution and the announcement of the abdication of the Kaiser and Crown Prince on 9 November 1918 effectively brought an end to the German Empire, but the question of where authority now lay was not so clear-cut. Prince Max von Baden had handed over the Chancellorship and with it command of the organs of the Wilhelmine state to the Majority Socialist leader Friedrich Ebert. Yet after 9 November it was debatable how much power and authority he could exert. The new Council of People’s Representatives theoretically held power until a Constituent Assembly could be elected, but they had to compete with other sources of authority such as the radical Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils. McElligott rightly rejects the criticisms of the Majority Socialists by historians such as Eberhard Kolb and Reinhard Rürip who condemned the SDP leadership for being too cautious as based on unrealistic expectations (pp. 29–30). Ebert and the moderate left were left with little choice but to make a compromising alliance with the army and elements of the old Imperial state in order to impose their authority on the country in the face of opposition from the radical left.

Chapter three begins with a recap of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the outrage it elicited in Germany, underlining the four ‘interrelated areas of the Treaty that were in contention from 1919 to the mid-1930s by all Germans, irrespective of where they stood on the political spectrum’ (p. 37): reparations and ‘war guilt’, military security and equality of armaments, the international system and the League of Nations, and national sovereignty in the occupied areas and those lost through plebiscite. It is the contention of this chapter that ‘The handling of each of these issues tested the authority of the government at home, since each alone and collectively related to the international authority of Germany as a sovereign state’ while the fact that ‘for much of the early period Germany was not master of its destiny because it was locked into a reactive policy as a consequence of the Versailles Treaty … posed a serious challenge to legitimating republican authority at home’ (p. 37). McElligott is also keen to underline the continuities in German foreign policy and argues that that the focus on Stresemann and the question of ‘revisionism’ or ‘fulfilment’ has meant that much of the historiography of Weimar foreign policy has ignored ‘the broader and long-term context of German foreign policy, namely its ambition to be a power at the heart of the continent (mitteleuropäische Staatsmacht)’ (p. 38). In particular he suggests that with the USA taken out of the equation after the 1929 Wall Street Crash and Britain and France distracted by their own economic difficulties, Germany was presented with an opportunity to revive traditional ideas of a German continental strategy that chimed with a rising tide of popular nationalism. The result was the establishment of a network of bi-lateral trade deals with the Balkan states which laid the foundations for later Nazi trade/foreign policy. This is not exactly a new argument, but this chapter nevertheless contains some interesting and original insights: for example, that the notion of a ‘culture of defeat’ in Germany has been overstated. For most Germans, the terms of the Treaty were less important than the everyday struggles of ordinary life. We should therefore not ‘overstate the psychological impact of the Treaty on the everyday lives of Germans’ (p. 43). This is presented as a small point, but it is an important one as the prevailing wisdom is still that bitterness over defeat and the ‘diktat of Versailles’ undermined popular faith in the republic and fuelled support for Hitler.

‘The authority of the republic hinged to a large degree on its ability to ensure … material security’ (p. 69) not least because from the very beginning the Weimar Republic set itself up as a ‘social state’ that explicitly promised the establishment of a welfare state, recognition of unions and the right to ‘economic liberty’. Chapter four therefore looks into the issue of ‘the authority of money’, both in the sense of the interplay of politics and economics in relation to the stability and support for the republican state and the control (authority) that money had (and has) over the lives of ordinary people. In sections dealing with hyperinflation, the brief period of relative stability in the mid-1920s and the Great Depression, it is argued that the failure of the republic to ensure the material well-being of its citizens caused ‘the natural authority of republican democracy’ to founder ‘on blighted expectations’ (p. 70). Indeed, McElligott argues that in the shifting of the burden of providing unemployment insurance from central government to local authorities from 1931 can be read ‘the reneging by the Reich of the social contract of 1918’ (p. 92). This completed a process of alienation amongst the German middle classes that had begun in the inflationary era and led to a general radicalisation of a destitute and desperate population. This seems like the familiar argument that it was economic crisis that ushered in the collapse of the republic, but McElligott also points out that the traditional simplistic formula of ‘winners and losers’ does not properly reflect the true complexity of the material and psychological effects of economic crisis: as he notes, ‘much depended on the ability to negotiate salary levels, but also on geographical location and the regional cost of living index’ (p. 74). Similarly, it is important to remember that in some respects the tide of angry protests against the government that often found expression in a heightened sense of nationalism from 1929 were not necessarily not ‘anti-Weimar’ or driven by ideology: ‘they were desperate actions by desperate people in defence of what little they had left to them’ (p. 97).

Another area in which the issue of the authority of republican state was both debated in the abstract and felt in the lives of ordinary people was that of law and order. The Weimar judiciary has traditionally been seen as ‘an authoritarian “third force” working against the republic’ (p. 100) and ever since the publication of Emil Gumbel’s Vier Jahre politischer Mord (4) the emphasis has been on political trials and the light sentences handed down to right-wing opponents of the republic. But as McElligott points out, political prosecutions brought under the Law for the Protection of the Republic (1923) amounted to only around 9,000 trials. When compared to the 450,000 criminal trials in Prussia alone this suggests that there has been a disproportionate focus on political cases. Indeed, the question of the authority of the Weimar judiciary is better seen within the context of wider moral panic over the (perceived) growing levels of crime and delinquency. Judges saw themselves as defenders of ‘German values’ whose loyalty was to the eternal Reich rather than the republican state or the German people but whose key role as bulwarks against chaos and social disorder was not only unappreciated but actively undermined by the legal and constitutional framework of the republic. This was condemned as ‘a Magna Carter for the criminal’ (p. 100) and judges saw the republic as being ‘unable to assert the authority of law in the face of organized crime’ and that ‘the democratization of law after 1918’ had rendered it ‘impotent in the face of crime’ (p. 117). Yet for all their authoritarian leanings Weimar’s judges should not be seen as proto-Nazis: during the republic’s middle period crime rates decreased and in terms of sentencing there was a move away ‘from penal incarceration towards prison, custody (Festungshaft) and fines’ (p. 120). But as political violence grew after 1929 new measures such as special courts and stream-lined court procedures (where in some cases pre-trial investigations and defence lawyers were done away with) were introduced and authoritarian justice reasserted itself. The development of Weimar jurisprudence can therefore be seen as both corresponding to ‘the ebb and flow of Weimar politics’ (p. 101) and as part of an ongoing debate on authoritarian law that began before the foundation of the republic in 1918 and continued after Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in 1933.

Chapter six deals with the ‘The quest for cultural authority’, but those seeking another discussion of metropolitan modernism will be disappointed. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the development and contested nature of Weimar’s avant-garde culture have been explored in depth elsewhere. Instead, McElligott refreshingly focuses on ‘the republic’s own efforts to shape cultural authority, to give the republican state its own distinctive form’ (p. 131). Building on the work of historians such as Nadine Rossol and Manuela Achilles (5), McElligott examines the ways in which the republican state sought to establish its cultural credentials and create its own cultural identity through the work of Reichskunstwart (Reich Guardian of Culture) art historian Edwin Redslob. Redslob defined his mission as ‘raising the profile of the republic by “making it visible” … through cultural and symbolic forms that … connected with a deeper sensibility of the people thus awakening and demonstrating their “resolve for the state”’ (p. 146). Redslob pursued this project in a variety of ways including the creation of new republican symbols and insignia, the appropriation of historical figures (Goethe, Stein, even Hindenburg who at the 1928 Constitution Day celebrations was hailed as ‘first citizen’ of the republic) and events (the 1848 revolutions) to show that Weimar was not an aberration but rather in the mainstream of German history. To this end he created the annual Constitution Day celebrations as a focal point for republican identity and often included speeches that were ‘homilies on how to be good citizens’ (p. 151). Yet even here the authority of the republic did not go uncontested: the republican authorities were frustrated in their attempts to have Constitution Day adopted as a national holiday and the ongoing struggle over the national flag illustrates the divisive nature of such symbols. In the end, ‘“Cultural authority” could only find purchase among the population by reflecting the broader sentiments sweeping through society’ and could not be imposed from above (p. 156).

In chapter seven McElligott turns his attention to the provincial administration and the role of the Prussian Landrat, providing an absorbing discussion of an area which has been somewhat underexplored in the English-language historiography on Weimar. The slightly dry subject matter (it is probably no accident that the number of great novels and dramas set in the world of local government can be counted on the fingers of one hand) is nonetheless vitally important to understanding how the republic operated and how citizens interacted with the republican state. For many ordinary people practical authority was exercised not so much in the Reichstag or the presidency as by provincial ‘field administrators’, the ‘county managers’ (Landräte), who ‘ensured the provision of welfare and relief among the needy and unemployed the operation of public utilities the upkeep of roads and communications the integrity of local savings banks and credit institutions and ensured favourable conditions for local enterprise to flourish’ (p. 158). McElligott asks the very pertinent question of how, if these figures were as reactionary as they have usually been painted, did they come to terms with the republic that they served and how did this impact on local politics and society? He demonstrates that although the office of Landrat had historically been the preserve of the aristocracy (54 per cent of Landräte were noblemen in 1916), and that the paternalism this engendered lasted into the republic, the new authorities did introduce legislation in 1919 to create a mechanism for ‘unreliable’ officials to be removed and replaced by those more amenable to the republic. A concerted effort was made in the 1920s to ensure that the provincial civil service was loyal to the republic and by the mid-1920s aristocrats made up only a third of Landräte (down from over half in 1918), and there were only 14 still in post by 1931. Surveys show that most were members of the parties of the Weimar coalition – in 1929 only 17 out of 408 belonged to the DNVP (p. 163). This is surely evidence of a more assertive republican state than is usually presented and should lead us to question sweeping assertions that the civil service was made up of Vernunftrepublikaner at best and at worst outright ‘reactionaries’ – rather it seems that most were middle-class men ‘who stood closer to the republic than has been hitherto assumed’ (p. 164). Nevertheless, there was still a high number of those whose commitment to the republic was at best a case of what Conan Fischer has called ‘functional loyalty’ (6), as the case-study of Herbert von Bismarck (great-nephew to the Iron Chancellor), Landrat for the county of Regenwalde in Pomerania from October 1918 until his dismissal in 1931, shows (pp. 169–79).

The political authority of the republic, albeit at a national rather than a local level is also the subject of chapter eight. Opening with a discussion of ‘three interrelated yet competing visions of political authority under the republic: … democratic authority, authoritarian democracy and dictatorship’ (p. 181). Commencing with an overview of the at the development of the differing notions of political authority elucidated in the works of Hugo Preuß, Max Weber and Carl Schmitt, McElligott shows that the different visions of the state and where it should draw its legitimacy from that emerged during the First World War fed directly into the debates in the National Assembly and constitutional committee in 1919. In the latter the divide was between those who favoured a strong plebiscitary executive and those who believed in the popular sovereignty of parliament. The result was, as numerous historians have noted in the past, a compromise in which ‘the various positions on singular authority and parliamentary pluralism converged in the Constitution of 1919’ (p. 185). This has frequently been seen as one of the key fault-lines within Weimar politics, a fateful accommodation between authoritarian and democratic strands of German political thought that paved the way for Hitler’s dictatorship, but as McElligott points out, no-one found this arrangement contradictory at the time. Emergency powers were used extensively by various chancellors during the crises of 1922–4, including the suspension of elected state governments in Saxony and Thuringia and the passage of at least one Enabling Act. These powers were used within the framework of the Constitution ‘as a buttress to weak cabinets, thus fulfilling the original intention’ (p. 188) and were not seen as being particularly dangerous to democracy. McElligott skilfully and persuasively argues that even as the political balance tipped in favour of a presidential dictatorship in the early 1930s, there was no serious desire to break completely with the political framework of the republic. Dictatorship was proposed, yes, but dictatorship ‘within the parameters of the Constitution’. Papen went much further than Brüning in his use of Article 48, but for all his talk of a ‘national government’ and ‘true democracy’ Papen, like his successor Schleicher, was unable to rally popular support behind him – he was not the charismatic ‘sovereign dictator’ envisaged by Schmitt and Weber. In the end both men fell from power because they couldn’t rally a parliamentary majority behind them and end the necessity of ruling by decree. Hitler’s appointment was seen as a way to return to normal democratic politics – with the authoritarian flavour favoured by Hindenburg and many Germans – because he could command a majority in the Reichstag.

The book is rounded off with a ‘brief’ (13-page) postscript that fulfils the author’s aim of taking the chronology all the way up to 1936 by examining the development of Hitler’s ‘unbounded authority after 1933’ (p. 210). Here all the usual elements of Nazi Gleichschaltung are briefly covered, but McElligott stresses that National Socialist attempts at national ‘co-ordination’ were part of a broader struggle over authority and legitimacy that had been going on since at least the First Wold War. Thus, many of those non-Nazis who voted for the Enabling Act did so ‘based on a false premise that the Reichstag would have a (albeit diminished) role to play in government (similar to its role under the Enabling Acts of the early 1920s)’ and that ‘their vote for the Enabling Act represented less an approval for a Hitler dictatorship than an affirmation of government by constitutional dictatorship as framed by more than ten years of Weimar state theory discourse’ (p. 216). Similarly, the plebiscite on Germany’s withdrawal from the League of Nations in the autumn of 1933 and the vote on the amalgamation of the offices of Chancellor and President in August 1934 legitimised Hitler’s authority and saw him assume the mantle of the charismatic ‘sovereign dictator’ who draws his authority from popular acclamation but rules in an authoritarian manner as theorised by Schmitt.

This is an excellent and insightful book that challenges the reader to look anew at a familiar subject. McElligott demonstrates a masterful command of a huge range of material (there are over 100 pages of endnotes) and manages to combine an overview of the ebb and flow of the historiography on a variety of different aspects of life under the Weimar Republic with genuinely new insights drawn from the primary sources. But does the book deliver on the promise of its title? Certainly it avoids ‘the inertia of the textbook genre’ (7) and is bolder than many general studies (my own included) in jettisoning the standard chronology based around political milestones such as 1918 and 1933. But then this is not really a textbook – it is too densely detailed and learned to be easily accessible to students or general readers coming to the study of Weimar for the first time. Instead it will be most useful to those who have some prior knowledge of the period but want to broaden and deepen their understanding of key aspects of the republic. While perhaps not presenting us with a complete ‘rethinking’ of the Weimar Republic it does present us with a fresh model for conceptualising the development of the republican state and the society that it governed. Using authority as the prism through which to view different aspects of Weimar yields some interesting insights and helps to challenge the received wisdom, particularly on the ‘agency’ of the republican state. It also opens up new avenues for research for those keen to pursue this line of thinking. In particular, two key areas left largely undealt with in this volume – changing gender roles and family dynamics and the still largely neglected or overlooked topic of religion – would provide opportunities to explore the meaning of authority under the republic in a wider sense while still linking into the discussion of the legitimacy and agency of the Weimar state. The book is thus perhaps best viewed not so much as the final word on the issue of the authority and authoritarianism of the Weimar state and society as a jumping-off point and a spur to further inquiry. In any case, it certainly gives the student of the Weimar Republic much food for thought.

Britain and the Weimar Republic: The History of a Cultural Relationship

In March 2011, BBC Two broadcast a 90-minute adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s Christopher and His Kind (1976).(1) Leaving aside its possible merits and/or shortcomings, the airing of this TV-dramatisation was indicative of an on-going fascination with Isherwood’s portrayal of the decadent, Nazi-ridden Berlin of the Weimar Republic, captured most famously in his Berlin Novels and in Bob Fosse’s 1972 film Cabaret. Undoubtedly, popular perceptions of the first German Republic in the Anglophone world have been and continue to be shaped primarily by accounts given by Isherwood and his friends W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender. Not only has popular imagination been dominated by Isherwood & co., but also, to a great extent, previous academic research on contemporary British interaction with the Republic. Colin Storer’s well-researched, clearly organised and very readable Britain and the Weimar Republic seeks to remedy this unrepresentative picture of British intellectual attitudes towards Weimar Germany that has hitherto been presented.

As Storer outlines in his introduction, focus on the Isherwood-circle has obscured the ‘sheer number of British intellectuals who visited Germany in this period, and the diversity [. ] of these visitors’ (p. 5), who have previously been discussed rather briefly, or unjustly forgotten altogether. While one might quibble slightly with the subtitle of the book – The History of a Cultural Relationship might lead one to expect discussion of mutual perceptions or two-way cultural relations – this can be overlooked as Storer clearly sets out his purpose in his introduction: ‘to provide the first broad comparative study of the attitudes of British intellectuals towards Weimar Germany, examining the diversity of these attitudes, at the same time looking for areas of commonality in the discourse on the Weimar Republic’ (p. 10). Storer also seeks to trace degrees of change and continuity in British attitudes to Germany between the pre- and post-First World War eras, and to assess ‘what made a country that had recently been an enemy in the most destructive conflict Europe had ever known so attractive and fascinating to British intellectuals in the 1920s’ (p. 2). Having stated his aims succinctly at the start, Storer keeps to them clearly and consistently throughout his work, thereby succeeding not only in broadening the range of British commentators associated with the Weimar Republic beyond the Isherwood-Auden group, but also in challenging the dominant perception that the British fascination with Weimar Germany was almost exclusively based on two overriding aspects: its vibrant homosexual nightlife, on the one hand, and the apparently unstoppable rise of Nazism and inevitable collapse of democracy, on the other. In fact, Storer traces a wide range of ideas, issues and themes that attracted British intellectuals to the Weimar Republic – especially, but by no means only to Berlin – such as its association with crisis, instability and victimhood, as well as modernity, decadence, youth and rebelliousness.

One key aim of Storer’s study, then, and one of its greatest strengths, is to bring to light previously neglected British accounts of Germany after 1918. While Isherwood and friends are not completely disregarded, since they were certainly important if overemphasised British observers of Weimar Germany, Storer draws together an impressive number of lesser-known figures who travelled to Germany between 1918 and 1933, and who recorded their experiences and impressions either in published or unpublished forms (e.g. correspondence, diaries, articles, books). The scope of the study is established in its broad understanding of ‘intellectuals’ (2), focussing especially on ‘professional writers of one sort or another’ (p. 3). In order to the aid the reader who, quite understandably, might not be familiar with some of Storer’s chosen intellectuals, an appendix of biographical notes is included to provide orientation for the main text. 22 individuals are listed in this appendix which gives a good indication of the breadth of Storer’s investigation.(3) Reference is also made to memoirists, civil servants, military personnel and public figures, further enhancing and contextualising the wide-reaching perspectives examined. The range of examples that Storer has unearthed and analyses in his book, especially previously marginalised female accounts, therefore makes his claim to give a broader, more representative picture of British attitudes to the Weimar Republic wholly convincing and successful.

The book is organised into seven thematic chapters, each of which serves well as a stand-alone section while also fitting nicely into the bigger picture. Moreover, this thematic approach emphasises that diversity and those commonalities Storer has set out to highlight. Chapter one examines ‘British travel and tourism in Weimar Germany’ and expounds various motivations for visiting the Republic. Storer notes that at that time, Germany, and in particular Berlin, was a crossroads for European travel on both an East-West and a North-South axis. The war had temporarily interrupted British travel to Germany – which had been developing since the 18th century – but was quickly resumed after hostilities ended, albeit in considerably altered circumstances. Having distinguished between various groups of visitors to Germany, ranging from military personnel and diplomats to holiday-makers touring the western and southern regions, Storer outlines the diverse nature of British ‘intellectual travel’ to the Republic, setting the scene for the rest of the book. An unprecedented number of British intellectuals visited Germany after the war some purely for pleasure, some in search of career opportunities or in professional capacities as correspondents or in order to research for books and articles, others wanted to observe the exciting and turbulent situation in the new Germany for themselves, seeing their trips as educational and, in some cases, acts of self-discovery and rebelliousness. The number of intellectual visitors peaked in periods of crisis – 1921–4 and 1929–33 – suggesting that it was precisely the Republic’s instability, and the general feeling that history was being made in Germany, which attracted them to it. One could add other reasons for visiting Germany to those described here, for example, intellectuals who were invited by German political, social or cultural institutions or who travelled with the specific task of fostering intellectual understanding and co-operation, but since it is not Storer’s intention to give a comprehensive account – he points out that this would be impossible in one volume (p. 6) – such examples would be welcome enhancements rather than necessary additions.

Chapter two presents a skilful analysis of the manifold ways in which the First World War and the peace settlement which followed it affected British views of Germany. Storer outlines the bitter ‘war of words and images’ (pp. 34–5) waged by both sides during the war, which contrasted with a greater degree of ‘professional comradeship’ (p. 37) between opposing troops on the battlefront, and which ‘rumbled on’ (p. 35) long after the armistice was called, shaping and reflecting post-war attitudes. While some British intellectuals adopted uncompromisingly anti-German stances, others adhered to a longer standing theory of ‘Two Germanies’ which discerned between a ‘bad’ authoritarian, military, (Prussian) Germany and a ‘good’, liberal, cultural Germany.(4) This view remained influential after the war, especially with those who sympathised with an ‘untainted’ non-militarist Germany (p. 47). Strong pacifist desires to prevent future conflict after the horrors of 1914-18 led many, such as the writer and artist Wyndham Lewis, to promote understanding between Britain and Germany, almost unconditionally, whether they considered themselves to be basically ‘pro-German’ or not. Not only the experience of war but also a lack thereof affected the outlook of intellectuals who had not seen military service, while floods of war literature after 1918, including the popular reception of German war writings, fictional and non-fictional, reflected British post-war attitudes towards the former enemy. Storer demonstrates how the subsequent peace settlement aroused great curiosity amongst Britons towards the Weimar Republic. Although the atmosphere was still tense, sympathetic attitudes were widespread and diverse, and not necessarily a sign of ‘pro-Germanism’ (p. 52). This was largely due to the feeling that the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh and would be dangerous for Europe’s future. The peace and its consequences therefore generated British perceptions of German victimhood and instability, accompanied by dismay at unfair and ‘un-British’ (p. 56) treatment of Germany, so that Treaty revisionism was not only an expression of resentment in defeated Germany, but also found much support in Britain. Critics included intellectuals who had been present in Paris but felt let down by the conduct and outcome of the conference, such as Harold Nicholson, W. H. Dawson and J. M. Keynes, all of whom feature prominently in this highly instructive chapter.

Chapter three expands on this interest in the long-term effects of the war and peace settlement by examining the ‘differing and often contradictory accounts’ of British visitors to the occupied Rhineland. This chapter is particularly interesting as it provides ‘a valuable alternative perspective’ (p. 63) on British views of the Weimar Republic’ beyond more familiar accounts of Weimar Berlin. Storer explains that the Rhineland was a ‘vantage point’ from which British commentators observed developments in Germany (p. 62), not least because it was a ‘safe’ location, which was also the ‘focal point’ (p. 63) for matters arising from the peace settlement. Many early accounts were attempts to make sense of the post-war world, while others sought to raise awareness of conditions in Germany, highlighting disease and food-shortages under the Allied blockade – particularly amongst women and children – and economic turmoil. Fears of revolution and accounts of long-lasting physical and psychological burdens of the blockade and Treaty, which conveyed a sense of foreboding for the future, brought about shifts in British opinions towards Germany throughout the 1920s. Reports on the extent and nature of contact between Britons and occupied Germans varied in some cases there was little contact, others saw the Rhineland as a ‘haven for international co-operation and reconciliation’ (pp. 69–70), others still experienced hostility from their German hosts, especially after the Ruhr crisis. Additionally, some accounts compared the British occupation with the French occupation, often highlighting French deployment of colonial troops and playing on racial prejudices to reflect more positively on the British occupiers, while other accounts ignored the French aspect. Overall, the diversity of British experiences and perceptions of the situation in the Rhineland stands out in this chapter which greatly deepens our understanding of British intellectual attitudes to post-war Germany.

Storer’s analysis of British attitudes to Berlin in the Weimar period in chapter four gives a much-needed nuanced account of British views and experiences of the German capital city, which have often been oversimplified in previous research. Usually associated with the homosexual encounters of Isherwood and friends, Storer agrees that Berlin did attract many ‘sex tourists’ (p. 103), but shows that even Berlin’s nightlife was multifaceted: on the one hand, it boasted modern dance, jazz and cabaret acts, a centre of ‘sexual tolerance, […] freedom and hedonism’ (p. 88), on the other hand, prostitution, drug-dealing and gambling were the ‘unsavoury professions’ (p. 90) of Berlin’s ‘criminal underworld’ (p. 91) which many Berliners turned to in order to deal with the financial hardships of the post-war period. While many British visitors were attracted by Berlin’s decadence, others were disappointed and some even appalled by it. Yet in other accounts, Berlin’s notorious nightlife did not even feature. It was above all Berlin’s modernity that drew in its visitors and the excitement and fervour it exuded in politics, the arts and lifestyle more generally. Berlin offered experimentation, innovation and was a centre for avant-garde culture: Storer includes particularly fascinating passages on Alfred Hitchcock’s formative experiences in Berlin in 1924, German influences on his films, and Weimar cinema’s inspiration for the London Film Society. Alongside its promise for the future, Berlin’s connotations as the capital of the former enemy, a place of revolution, progress and rebellion made it a ‘daring place’ (p. 104) to visit for many British intellectuals, but was also sometimes considered – especially in retrospective accounts – quite depressing, a ‘freak show’ (p. 93) and rather fragile. Given the popularity of Berlin as a destination for British intellectuals, there was a tendency to see it as ‘emblematic’ not only of the ‘zeitgeist of the 1920s’ (p. 105) but also of the entire country, which points at once to the need to treat generalisations made about the Republic based on experiences in Berlin with caution, as well as to the central importance of these views of Berlin to our understanding of attitudes to post-war Germany as a whole.

Chapter five focuses on ‘Female intellectuals and the Weimar Republic’ thereby remedying the previous male-bias in understandings of British attitudes to Germany in this period. Storer’s chosen female visitors range from more conventional, though feminist figures like Vera Brittain to the rebellious Jean Ross, and many in between, and were often drawn by similar issues as their male counterparts, such as crisis and victimhood, youth, modernity, artistic creativity and the opportunity for ‘alternative lifestyle[s]’ (p. 107). But there were also notable differences between male and female perspectives, the latter being concerned just as much with the Treaty and occupation, for example, as other so-called ‘women’s questions’ (p. 108) such as childcare, education, reproductive issues and the position and role of women in society and politics. While often engaging with topical issues like the (in)famous figure of the ‘new woman’ (p. 113) and the illegality of abortion, most British women were uninterested or unimpressed with Berlin’s nightlife, which serves as an important qualification to the previously held idea that Berlin’s decadence dominated British views of the Republic. In uncovering a range of women’s accounts, Storer shows how these ‘doubly highlight the diversity in British attitudes towards the Weimar Republic’ as they differed from one another as well as the ‘majority discourse provided by their male compatriots’ (p. 122).

Chapter six questions how far fictional accounts of the Republic went towards creating a lasting ‘Weimar stereotype’. Storer problematises the issue that Isherwood’s novels have not only dominated Anglo-American visions of the Weimar Republic, but have also often been seen ‘as works of contemporary reportage, or even history, rather than fiction’ (p. 123). Examining a wider set of fictional works set in Weimar Germany by authors such as John Buchan, Robert McAlmon and Winifried Holtby, Storer sees these representations as a ‘prism’ through which to view contemporary attitudes towards Germany and its citizens. Continuity and change is important here: pre-war representations tended to divide Germans into ‘good’, soulful intellectuals versus ‘bad’, threatening ‘Hunnish’ militarists (pp. 144–5), with the latter then dominating wartime propagandistic images of the enemy. Post-war depictions portrayed Weimar Germany as quite different to its imperial predecessor, creating a ‘complicated and multifaceted’ stereotype (p. 145) which incorporated many of the themes we have already encountered such as the Treaty and occupation, Germans as dignified victims in the face of defeat and upheaval, Berlin’s colourful social scene, and a near obsession with youth and vitality in the Republic, all of which were seen with varying degrees of sympathy and criticism. Interestingly, however, Storer notes some ‘echoes’ (p. 146) of pre-war images, with many works still containing notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Germans, and sometimes suggesting an underlying possibility that the modern dynamism, youthfulness and economic potential of the new Germany could outstrip Britain, which can be seen as ‘strikingly close’ (p. 147) to pre-war anxieties.

The final chapter examines British attitudes to Nazism in the 1920s, in order to test the validity of the common perception that the Weimar Republic was a ‘doomed democratic experiment […] whose eventual replacement by the National Socialist dictatorship was inevitable’ (p. 148). Storer demonstrates that this was not a contemporary perspective, and that opinions on Nazism ranged from out-and-out opposition, to ambivalence, to outright admiration and apology, all for varied reasons. In the early 1920s, British comment on Nazism was rare and saw the so-called ‘Fascisti’ (p. 149) as a marginal Bavarian phenomenon rather than a national political party. Interest in National Socialism increased throughout the period and often reflected the political fortunes of the Party. Storer detects a good deal of confusion in British accounts of Nazism, especially about where to place it in the political landscape, which can be largely explained by the movement’s own contradictory nature and ideology. While some saw the Nazis as ‘agents’ of renewal and traditional values, a solution to Weimar’s ills and weaknesses, others recognised that their ideas were new and ‘just as alien to the old Germany as the Republic’ (p. 163). Sympathy came from Britons who saw in Nazism a vital ‘bulwark against Bolshevism’ (p. 164) and hoped for Treaty revision, while reservation was expressed by those who found their violent tactics unsavoury. No matter what their stance on the Nazi movement itself, however, and despite a widespread perception of crisis and instability, none of Storer’s selected intellectual visitors thought that the Republic was doomed to collapse, or that a Nazi seizure of power was imminent. Moreover, whenever there was talk of a prospective Nazi government, it was expected to be within the constitutional system and moderated by coalition partners. This chapter successfully provides a differentiated picture of British views of Nazism, while also reflecting on attitudes to the Republic as a whole. Storer’s discussion of British perspectives of Weimar politics and prognoses for its democratic system might have been enriched further by considering opinions on other parties and movements where possible, although this would have entailed either the reconceptualisation of this particular chapter, or the addition of an extra one. Indeed, any questions raised about aspects or angles not covered in Storer’s study are entirely a reflection of its strength and the reader’s desire for more of the same.

Storer provides a great deal of fascinating detail which is not only useful but makes the book a compelling read. Inevitably, there are a number of unfortunate minor typographical errors, while the header of chapter one – ‘Germany wants to see you’ – is also intriguingly used to head the introduction, and there are one or two factual ambiguities: the term ‘Weimar Republic’ might not have been in English usage before 1933, but it is not strictly a ‘construct of historians’ (p. 4), as it certainly appeared, if rarely, in German discourse in the late 1920s (5), and the aggressive German wartime manifesto signed by 93 academics and intellectuals was published in October 1914, not 1917.(6) However, these slight criticisms, while worth mentioning, by no means detract from the quality of the work as a whole.

Storer successfully fulfils his stated objective to correct and broaden our understanding of British attitudes towards the Weimar Republic beyond the previous preoccupation with the Isherwood-Auden circle. Yet the fruits of this investigation can also be seen in a wider research context. Despite much general work on Anglo-German relations after 1918, cultural relations remain remarkably under-explored, which makes any contribution such as Storer’s most welcome. While this is not a work on mutual Anglo-German perceptions, it is of great interest to students of Anglo-German intellectual relations after the First World War since it offers valuable insights into the British side of this cultural relationship, while also telling us much about the Weimar Republic itself. Scholars of Weimar will appreciate Storer’s situating the Republic in an international context, something not often considered beyond formal foreign policy. Finally, Storer’s work also contributes to a recent academic trend of presenting differentiated analyses of diverse aspects of Weimar, in order to advance our understandings of the Republic beyond its longstanding dichotomous association with ‘Glitter and Doom’.(7)

A German Klan in the Weimar Republic

The little-known story of how the vicious American hate group spawned a counterpart in 1920s Germany.

In 1925, a secret radical organization came to the attention of authorities in Germany. The democratic Weimar Republic government had settled into a relatively stable period after the civil strife of the early 1920s. Political murders continued, but many right-wing groups dedicated to nationalism, anti-Semitism, and the violent overthrow of democracy were somewhat demoralized by the mid-1920s. The Order of the Knights of the Fiery Cross brought something new to this fascist scene. Founded by three Americans and modeled on the Klu Klux Klan, the Knights came complete with robes, crosses, and secret oaths.

Scholar Richard E. Frankel explores this little-known group and illuminates some of the transnational connections among fascists: “We can see striking similarities between the German and the American world of the radical Right—similarities that, on first glance, would often be dismissed, but upon closer examination reveal a great deal about the commonly assumed exceptionalism of both countries.”

The Knights were founded in February 1925 by a German-born American pastor his son, a naturalized American originally from Germany and a native-born American. There were soon several hundred members in branch lodges named Germania, Siegfried, and Wiking. (Ahistorical Nordic-Teutonic-Viking vocabulary and symbolism, mixing specious myth and occultism, remain a strong component of neo-Nazi identity to this day.)

According to a membership list confiscated by police, 179 members were classified as “workers and salaried employees” 110 were “craftsmen and manufactures” 35 were “official/clerks” and 21 were “students and academic occupations.” More than half were 31 years of age or older. The organization appealed to men who were also members of the right-wing German Social Party. Some were also members of Frontbann, an offshoot of the SA: Nazi paramilitaries, also known as the brownshirts, bankrolled by elites to fight leftists and liberals in the street.

The three Americans were expelled from the Knights in June 1925. The pastor, Otto Strohschein, seems to have been a con artist and was charged by the membership with stealing from the group’s funds. Plus, völkish (ethno-nationalist) Germans didn’t want foreigners leading them.

The group lived on with native German bosses. Police stopped investigating them in 1926, after President Paul von Hindenburg began a process of granting amnesty to members of radical groups, including such Nazi figures as Hermann Goring, Martin Bormann, and Rudolf Hess Hitler was released after serving only nine months of a five-year sentence for treason for his part in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923.

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Back in the U.S., the Klan numbered some 5 million American members and had real political power in several states. While it had a great ideological connection with German far-right groups—they shared “intense racism, antisemitism, nationalism, hostility to organized labor, and a glorification of violence in pursuit of a cause”—the paraphernalia of the Klan’s bedsheets and burning crosses didn’t become big in Germany. German nationalists had their own traditions, and, in the brownshirt, their own uniforms.

So while the Knights never seemed to amount to more than a few hundred members, Frankel notes, they functioned as a kind of way station, a temporary home, during a period of instability on the Right: “such small groupings could provide a continued opportunity to commune with like-minded men, to maintain or even reinvigorate their radicalism, until something more promising came along. The Nazis proved very successful in taking advantage of this kind of thing.”

A look back at the Weimar Republic‐ The Cry Was, ‘Down With was System’

TO understand their own troubled times, to find comfort and guid ance, men and women always look to the past. The American Revo lutionists turned to 17th‐century Eng land, the militants of 1793 drew in spiration from revolutionary episodes in Roman history, the 19th‐century decadents were fascinated by the de cline of the Roman Empire. Such immersion in the past is only partly motivated by a thirst for knowledge at least equally strong is the desire to find proofs and arguments to support political beliefs already held. As Ana tole France said about one of his heroes: He looks in the history books only for the sottises which he al ready knows. But the invocation of the spirit of the past is no less inter esting for the myth‐making involved.

Seen in this context, the growing attention paid in America in recent years to the culture and politics of Germany between her defeat in World War I and Hitler's accession to power is not surprising. It was fascinating period in almost every re spect, but. this is not why it figures so prominently in recent discussion. Some writers have detected striking parallels with present‐day America, but even those who deny this feel sufficiently troubled to devote much time and effort to disprove these analogies.

The debate itself is a manifestation of deep malaise, common apparently to both ages, and reflected in the disintegration of established author ity, the contempt shown for the “sys tem,” the cult of violence, unreason and intolerance, the belief that al most any political and social order would be preferable to the present, and the alienation of large numbers of the young generation.

This is not to say that the political situation in America today resembles that of Germany after 1918. Germany had been defeated in war, the Kaiser had been expelled, a harsh peace treaty had deprived the country of substantial parts of its territory and had imposed reparations which it was clearly unable to pay.

Power was at first in the hands of the Social Democrats, but at no time did they have an absolute majority. Nationalist passions were running high, millions of Germans were con vinced that their armies, victorious. in the field of battle, had been stabbed in the back by the enemy within. The confidence gained in the years of normality after the political and economic breakdown of 1922‐23 was destroyed by the impact of the world economic crisis (1929‐32), and support for the radical parties of the left and the right became over whelming. Their mounting strength effectively paralyzed the democratic process.

Both left and right referred with contempt to an outmoded liberalism which did not express the popular will, to the rottenness of parliament, the sickness of society. “In the liberal man German youth sees the enemy par excellence,” wrote Moeller van den Bruck, who coined the phrase “das dritte Reich” (the third Reich). Most students favored a socialism of sorts and demanded the overthrow of das System many of their elders were proud of their fighting spirit and their revolutionary ardor.

There were some dissenting voices in a speech in October, 1930, Thomas Mann warned against the new wave of barbarism, fanaticism and ecstasy, the monotonous repetition of slogans “until everyone was foaming at the mouth.” Mann with all his skepticism had grown up in the humanist school of the 19th century with its optimis tic view of human nature and of progress to him and others of his generation the retreat from‐reason seemed not only utterly abhorrent but totally inexplicable.

THE political history of the Weimar Republic is a tale of almost unmiti gated woe culturally, with all its tensions and despair, it was a fertile period, a “new Periclean age” as a contemporary called it. These were the years of the revolutionary the ater and the avant‐garde cinema, of psychoanalysis and steel furniture, of modern sociology and sexual permis siveness. It was a time of exciting new ideas and cultural experimenta tion, of the youth movement and youth culture. German literature and the arts, the humanities and science, were generally considered the most advanced and most authoritative in Europe. Christopher Isherwood's Berlin was the most exciting city in the world.

Weimar culture had an impact that outlasted the Third Reich and can easily be discerned in America today. The rediscovery of Brecht and Hesse, of George Grosz, the Bauhaus, and “Dr. Caligari,” of psychoanalysis and modern Marxism (to mention only some of the more fashionable im ports) are obvious cases in point. Certain cultural parallels are almost uncanny: the chic radicalism of New York clearly evokes memories of the drawing‐room Communism of Berlin West. The phenomenal revival of astrology and various quasi‐religious cults, the great acclaim given to prophets of doom, the success of highly marketable Weltschmerz in literature and philosophy, the spread of pornography and the use of drugs, the appearance of charlatans of every possible description and the enthusiastic audiences welcoming them—all these are common to both periods.

Yet at this point the resemblance ends, for with all its perversities Weimar culture had a creativeness and a depth without equal in present day American radical culture (and counterculture), which is largely eclectic and secondhand. The differ ence in the general cultural level, to put it bluntly, can be measured by the distance between “Portnoy's Complaint” and “The Magic Moun tain.” This is all the more remark able since what is now commonly defined as “Weimar culture” was produced (and consumed) by a small group of people: some tens of thou sands, rather than the millions who today constitute the American intel ligentsia.

Political comparisons between the Weimar Republic and contemporary America are not, as I have said, very helpful. The United States was not defeated in a world war aggressive nationalism and revanchism are not the main issues at stake today democracy in America is not a for eign importation of recent date, as it was in Germany after 1918, where it failed to strike root. The extreme right in America is not a great dy namic force and racialism is on the retreat. The American crisis, such as it is, is not the result of a major economic crisis on the contrary, it is the outcome of a long period of un precedented prosperity.

And yet, with all the differences, Germany serves as a useful object lesson in one vital respect: to show what happens., in a country where reason abdicates, where democratic authority disintegrates, and political freedom is sacrificed as those who should know better are afflicted by a failure of nerve.

The German radical intelligentsia of the left showed little wisdom in face of the Nazi onslaught. Following the Communist lead, they regarded the Socialists, not the Nazis, as their main enemy. They claimed (as some of their American successors do now) that there was no basic difference be tween Fascism and liberal democracy. In 1931, when Germany was a parlia mentary democracy, they asserted that Fascism was already in power, so that as far as they were con cerned Hitler's take‐over came as an anticlimax. The German left‐wing intelligentsia (unlike the French) jettisoned in its politics not only patriotism—which by itself would have been suicidal—but too often common sense as well.

The main weakness of the moderate Socialists and the German liberals was that they lacked not just inspired leadership, but the courage of their convictions. They were incapable of decisive action when the advent of Fascism could still have been averted. Unlike the Nazis and the. Com munists, they had no ideas, no faith or promise to offer to the young generation, only the sober, reasonable, unemotion al, and tired explanation that democracy was probably the least oppressive of all political systems. This was not very satisfactory for a young gene ration in search of the Holy Grail. The German democrats, of whom in any case there were not too many, suffered from a paralysis of the will to

INDIVIDUAL Jews took a prominent part in the radical movement of the left. Some were in key positions in the mass media and suffered fiom the delusion that their calling was to act as the conscience of the nation—as they under stood it. They never realized how much out of tune they were with the mood of the nation. Having lost their own moorings in history, dissociat ing themselves from the Jew ish community but not fully accepted by the Germans either, it was easy for them to deride national symbols—always, of course, on behalf of a great messianic idea.

The majority of their co religionists had nothing to do with them, but in the eyes of the public they represented the urge to negation and de struction and their tactless be havior increased the latent anti‐Semitism. Lacking politi cal instinct, they did not real ize that they were harming the very cause they wanted so much. to promote. In the end even the extreme left de serted them.

The right‐wing intelligentsia behaved disgracefully at its time of trial. Communist workers and monarchist land owners occasionally put up courageous resistance, but only a handful of intellectuals opposed Hitler. There were still many simple, uneducated people in Nazi Germany whose scale of moral values had not been perverted and who felt in‐their bones that Nazism was evil and that there would be a day of reck oning.

The young intellectuals, on the other hand, trained to pro vide an ideological apologia for every abomination, were in the vanguard of the Nazi movement. Hitler's party won a majority in most universities well before it gained strength in the country at large. The clamor for a political univer sity teaching only one polit ical doctrine met no resistance from weak ‐kneed professors and administrators. The old humanist traditions and the idea of the inalienable rights of men were rejected as ir relevant. The conformism which overtook the academic world was frightening the great majority plunged into the wave of the future, some out of cowardice and op portunism, others from sincere conviction.

HAVING said all this, one must point to certain extenu ating circumstances which ex plain, though they do not excuse, this weakness and con fusion. Germany was facing a crisis of unprecedented mag nitude. Since 1914 it had ex perienced only five years of relative stability and pros perity (1924‐29). In 1932 in dustrial production was only 60 per cent of what it had been three years previously, and more than one‐third of the labor force was out of work.

The Government seemed ut terly unable to deal with the crisis, and the conviction rap idly gained ground that only a strong leader could save the country from chaos. The Ger than intelligentsia was nu merically small and politically uninfluential Hitler would have come to power what ever its behavior.

After 1945 those who had voted for Hitler disclaimed re sponsibility. They had meant to support a movement of na tional and social revival, not a terrorist regime and a re lapse into barbarism. How could they possibly have known what Nazism would be like? Equally those who sup ported Communism in 1930 could claim that the Soviet experiment, still in its early stages, was much more prom ising than the movements for piecemeal reform. The reali zation of Lenin's dream of a revolution that aimed not merely to seize political power but to share it among the peo ple, of a far more progres sive and democratic system, seemed just around the cor ner.

Four decades and a dozen revolutions later, history has shown that the outcome of any attempt to establish a so cialist regime which bypasses democracy, is bound to be a dictatorship, oppressive, fun damentally reactionary in character, and not unrelated to Fascism.

THE last years of the Wei mar Republic were a period of almost unmitigated gloom. But there is, I believe, one basic difference between 1932 in Central Europe and pres ent‐day America. Whereas the German disease was immanent and in all probability incur able, the confusion and loss of balance in America are to a large extent self‐inflicted.

There are, to be sure, seri ous problems: Vietnam, the race question, the growing realization that traditional liberalism may no longer have the answers to the prob lems besetting the country. But serious problems are not usually solved by apocalyptic predictions about Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations. (The lan guage of American radical literature, let it be noted in passing, seems to owe more to the Revelation of St. John the Divine than to the Com munist Manifesto.)

The retreat from reason is gathering strength a distin guished Princeton professor recently wrote in an equally distinguished journal that the moderate majority on campus sees the world in much the same way as it was seen by the New Left in April. It has absorbed many of the New Left's ideas but has‐impati ently pushed the S.D.S. lead ers to one side, rejecting their tired rhetoric

Which takes us right back into the world of the German cinema of the early nineteen twenties, of “Dr. Caligari” and “Dr. Mabuse,” of lunatic asy lums where the psychiatrists take on the role of the psy chotics, determined to show what learned madmen are capable of doing provided they jettison restraint and good sense.

PERIODS of grave mental confusion are less infrequent in history than is commonly thought, and they have to be studied with detachment and sympathy rather than with anger and moral indignation. Intellectuals are not neces sarily the most reliable guides in such unhappy periods. By long tradition they are second to none in their sensitivity to the inequities of the world. At the same time many of them lead a sheltered life.

Even the students of society and politics among the aca demics all too often have little contact with real life ques tions about next year's cur riculum are the most impor tant issues they have to decide. In their seclusion there is a constant temptation to devise political constructions firmly rooted in mid‐air, in which everything seems pos sible, in which governments and political authority in gen eral are replaced by corn munes of free and equal indi viduals, in which society exists without repression, and domestic policies require no sanctions, diplomats always tell the truth and nothing but the truth, and a foreign policy is pursued in which the wolf lies down with the lamb, and the leopard with the kid, un der the supervision of Prof. Noam Chomsky.

Such utopianism may be needed as a corrective to the cynicism of the professional politicians and to unthinking conservatism. But once the divorce from reality becomes too pronounced, the results are ludicrous or dangerous or both.

Nowhere is this danger greater than in America, which has never accepted Max Weber's dictum that he who seeks the salvation of the soul, his own and others', should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for who ever engages in politics lays himself open to the diabolical forces lurking in all violence.

The present wave of cul tural discontent and protest has appeared in all democratic countries, but some societies are more vulnerable than oth ers. Certain causes are soci ological: the expansion of the universities with a heavy pre ponderance on subjects which no longer prepare their stu dents for any specific job in society the emergence of the intelligentsia as a class with its own unfulfilled. ambitions in the struggle for political power.

Some, aspects of the present unrest are familiar to stu dents of youth movements (of which Fascism, incidentally, was also one) others confirm the findings of those who. have investigated the pattern of aggression found among young adolescents in society, both primitive and modern.

“Weimar culture had an impact that outlasted the Third Reich and can easily be discerned in America today.”

(This can be seen in the communal riots in Ireland and India or the Charrot factions of Byzantium. A student of war wrote the other day in The Times of London: “It in volves confrontation with taunts, grimaces, ‘pointing’ and war cries, while the ad versary is called animal names, usually monosyllabic: long hair and aggression often go together, e.g. in Vikings, Sikhs, and Chindits. The war urge comes first and the cases belli after, instead of the other way round. If one cause of grievance is re moved or shown to be non existent another is quickly found. The act of removal is merely a further irritant and may even of itself be danger ous.”)

BEYOND these general fea tures there are some specific ones which make America especially vulnerable. Meas ured by absolute standards, America is no doubt full of repression compared with other periods and countries it is one of the freest societies that have ever existed. It faces enormous problems yet compared with those con fronting other countries they are, to the outside observer, not exactly overwhelming. How then to explain that for so many young Americans and for some of their elders, their country has become the epitome of repression, a coun try unfit to live in, a society doomed to perish?

To the outside observer this is perhaps the greatest rid dle. It may be connected with the traditional exaggeration in American speech which Dick ens derided more than a hun dred years ago, and which in recent years has reached new heights of absurdity. The use of terms such as genocide, Gestapo, Auschwitz, is dis turbing, for it betrays a lack of historical perspective, a provincialism and narrow mindedness so monumental as to make rational discourse impossible. It may be partly rooted in the traditional American hypochondria (also reflected in the enormous num ber of pharmacies and surgi cal operations), the state of mind in which any physical or social affliction, real or imaginary, immediately. turns into a fatal illness.

Perhaps it has to do with the traditional American na iveté and the surfeit of ideal ism — engaging qualities in themselves but. potentially. dangerous. For they reflect a predisposition to be taken in by demagogues and their slo gans. How else to explain the enthusiastic support given by so many well‐meaning young Americans to causes and movements which, below a thin veneer of “progressive,” anticapitalist, anti‐imperialist verbiage, are unmistakably proto‐fascist in character and which, if given power, would establish a rule of terror and oppression such as America has never known?

Which demagogue in his tory has not demanded “Power to the people,” has not promised freedom and so cial justice? Yet such are the confusion and the blindness that no one wants to hear about history and the experi ence of other countries. It is this unthinking acceptance of slogans which constitutes per haps the closest and most frightening parallel to the lost generation of the nineteen thirties in Europe.

COMMENTING in his French exile on the suicidal policy of the governments of the day, Trotsky once wrote that he felt like an old physi cian with a lifetime of experi ence behind him who was not consulted at a time when someone dear to him was mortally ill. Europeans who lived through the nineteen thirties and who have not been infected by the disease will react in a similar way.

Whether they have any cure to offer is less certain, and anyway it will hardly be ac cepted. The historical memory of a new generation does not reach back very far and the lessons of historical experi ence cannot be bequeathed by will or testament. Each gener ation has to commit its own mistakes and will have to pay for them.

Unlike Europe, America has never experienced a ruthless dictatorship or foreign inva sion civil liberties of a pre cious kind are taken for granted by the middle‐class radicals there is a great deal of loose talk about creeping dictatorship, but few of them have the faintest idea what it would really mean. It will be (if it should come to that) a rude awakening and it may be—as a generation of Euro peans realized at the time to its detriment — too late for second thoughts.

For this much seems cer tain: society does not suffer anar‐hy for very long. It is impossible to predict whether authority will be reimposed by the right or the left if the crisis should deepen further, Or by a populist mixture of both, but in any case democ racy as we know it may not survive the process.

In contrast to widespread popular belief, history does not repeat itself luckily therefore a repetition of the German catastrophe is not a foregone conclusion. But in one essential respect serious damage has already been done. World neare, the inde pendence of Western Europe, security in the Middle East and other parts of the world depend at present on the bal ance of military power be tween the United States and the Soviet Union.

It is a highly unsatisfac tory situation it would be vastly preferable if it de pended instead on the wishes and hopes of men of good will all over the globe. Re grettably this is not the case. No particular gifts of proph ecy are needed to predict the future course of world poli tics if this balance is radically upset by a paralysis of Ameri can foreign policy, an inevit able by‐product of the trend toward neo‐isolationism.

This trend may be only the beginning of a disastrous proc ess which could eventually af fect other parts of the world. Such a prospect may not give rise to alarm among those in America who would welcome a defeat of their country, because, as they see it, it would mean the victory of “revolution.”

But those not living in the fantasy world of the New Left know that the only revo lution likely to prevail is that which now rules in Czecho slovakia and the thought does not fill their hearts with joy. If America's position in the world were that of Sweden, the present crisis could be re garded with greater equanim ity. Sooner or later it will no doubt run its course, and, for all one knows, the country may emerge stronger from it. But America, for better or worse, is not Sweden, and it is not the future of America alone which is at stake.

It is unfortunate that the role of leadership should have been thrust at the end of the Second World War on a na tion unprepared for the role. It is largely Europe's fault unable to make a concerted effort, it has not asserted its role in the world and taken on itself part of the burden which has become too heavy for the United States. It is the foreign political aspect of the American crisis which now looms most prominently in the eyes of outside observers, for it is this which makes it po tentially more dangerous than the European crisis of the nineteen‐thirties.

These concerns and fears. will not be shared by those deeply immersed in their de bates on repressive desublima tion and the merits of vaginal orgasm, not to mention other subjects of topical and cosmic relevance.

Kurt Tucholsky, the great writer who in many ways was the epitome of the radical in telligentsia of the Weimar Re public, wrote in 1935 from his exile in Sweden that “we have to engage in self‐criticism, in comparison with which sul phuric acid is like soapy water.” A few days later he committed suicide.

Weimar Culture

Across 1920s Europe, cultural tradition was challenged and social values were relaxed.

Despite the economic pressures of the early 1920s, public funding at a local level was widely invested in culture and the arts.

The music hall and the theatre became less popular as the cinema exploded onto the screen. By the end of the 1920s more than 5000 cinemas operated in Germany, and in 1928, approximately 353 million cinema tickets were sold, in comparison to approximately twelve million theatre tickets in 1926-27.

Music also became more experimental, with the controversial rise of Jazz music and clubs.

Whilst welcomed by many, the new age of Weimar culture also had critics. The cultural experimentation was seen as a dramatic break with the tradition of Germany, influenced by Western culture. This feeling resonated with many conservatives outside of Berlin, who found the new experimental culture alienating .

Some groups, on the far right of the political spectrum, felt so alienated from this new culture that they called for a ‘Third Reich’ that would reassert the traditional gender structure, art and music of Germany.

German Communist Party & Weimar

On December 30, 1918, the Spartacist League created, along with a few other smaller groups, the Communist Party of Germany.

Some of the most famous members of the group were: Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Eugen Levine, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi, Katie Duncker (de), Herman Gorter, Karl Korsch, Ruth Fischer, Arkady Maslow, Paul Frolich, Franz Mehring, Franz Eberlein, Franz Pfemfert, Heinrich Brandler , August Thalheimer, Wilhelm Pieck . The repression during the revolts of January and March 1919 led to the assassination of many activists and the main leaders of the party: Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on January 15, 1919 Leo Jogiches March 10, 1919 (Paul Levi then became the leader of the KPD) Eugen Levine on July 5, 1919.

People belonging to the German Communist Party played a great role in XX century Germany. For instance, at the beginning of World War I in 1914, Rosa Luxembourg incited German soldiers to mutiny and made accusations of brutality against German officers. In a speech addressed to the soldiers, she claimed “If they expect us to murder our French or other foreign brothers, then let us tell them, ‘No, under no circumstances’’ (Cliff 2003), and in court she ‘turned from defendant into prosecutor’ (this speech is published as Militarism, War, and the Working Class’ (Cliff 2003). For this reason, she was imprisoned at Breslau. Having sentenced one year, Rosa was nonetheless held in protective custody until the end of the war. Once released, she helped Karl Liebknecht organise the communist Spartacus League and edit the paper Rote Fahne (that signifies ‘Red Flag’) which during the revolution that followed the German military collapse, united the German proletariat to revolution, and the seizure of power.

On the other hand, Euguen Levine tried to promote several reforms, such as the distribution of the most luxurious apartments to the homeless, giving workers the ownership and management of their own factories, the reformation of the educational system, and the abolition of paper money. However, he was unable to accomplish only the last two objectives. Under Levine’s orders, the Red Guards began to arrest people considered hostile to the new regime. When German President Friedrich Ebert ordered the invasion of the Soviet Republic and the reestablishment of Johannes Hoffmann’s Bavarian government, the Red Guards killed eight hostages on April 29th.

In essence, the adherents to the German Communist Party demonstrated to be ready to sacrifice their lives in the name of their political ideology.

Weimar Republic

During the debates concerning the future of the German Communist Party, conflicting ideologies were emerging, especially in regards to the parliament and social democracy.

Some founding members, including Luxembourg, pleaded for the name ‘Socialist Party of Germany’ and for its participation in the upcoming elections to the Weimar National Assembly. This proposal was largely rejected.

In the elections to the National Assembly on January 19, 1919, the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) became the strongest party. In fact, by refusing to participate in the parliamentary elections, the KPD was further sidelined and reduced by the persecution and arrest of its members. It had been banned in the spring of 1919 and was only able to carry out its subsequent party congresses illegally. Members of the communist party started to be persecuted and murdered. For instance, one of the victims was Leo Jogiches, who was killed in the Berlin-Moabit detention centre in March.

Military and security police used firearms against the Communists. On January 13, 1920, the result was a bloodbath at the Reichstag building. As a consequence, the social-democratic Reich government imposed once again the state of emergency, which was only lifted in December 1919, and banned the newspapers Freiheit und der Rote Fahne. On January 19, twelve party officials of the USPD and the KPD, including the chairmen Ernst Däumig and Paul Levi, were detained for some time.

The Rise of Adolf Hitler

When Adolf Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor by Reich President Hindenburg on January 30, 1933, the KPD called for a nationwide general strike. However, this appeal barely met with public interest. Only in the small Swabian industrial town of Mössingen on January 31, 1933, communist workers tried to implement the general strike. However, the strike action in the three local textile companies was quickly suppressed. Eighty participants were sentenced to imprisonment for two and a half years. On February 15, 1933, KPD members severed the main connecting cable of a radio tower near Stuttgart and thus prevented the transmission of one of Hitler’s speeches in some parts of Württemberg.

After the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933, on February 28, 1933, under the pretext of having to banish an acute Communist upheaval, the Reich President for the Protection of the People and the State banned the publishing of the KPD and SPD’s press. During the night of February 28, several KPD officials and members of the Reichstag were placed in protective custody and the party offices were closed. By March 1933, 7500 communists had been arrested. In the Reichstag election on March 5, 1933, the KPD obtained 12.3% of the votes, but the seats in the Reichstag remained vacant and were canceled on 8 March. Thus, with Hitler’s Enabling Act of March 23, 1933, the KPD was no longer involved in the vote. After the exclusion of the KPD, only the SPD members voted against this law.

On May 26, 1933, the assets of the KPD were confiscated. Many of their supporters and their splinter groups were arrested and locked in 1933 in the Dachau concentration camp or the camps in Emsland. During the Third Reich, Communists were systematically persecuted for their political ideologies. They were locked up in concentration camps and murdered. The KPD witnessed large losses in the fight against the fascist dictatorship from 1933 to 1945.

The KPD continued its anti-fascist struggle by holding underground meetings. A relatively significant resistance movement of non-exiled KPD members was born and was called the Saefkow-Jacob-Bästlein organisation. Other Communists groups worked with the Soviet Union during the Second World War and tried, among other things, to attain secret information.

With the Prague Manifesto of 1934, the Central Committee of the Communist Party headed by Wilhelm Pieck and Walter Ulbricht developed a program to save the German nation. In Moscow, the KPD founded the National Committee for a Free Germany (NKFD) and fought against the fascist ideology. Similar organisations were set up in France, the Netherlands and even Mexico. Members of the KPD worked in the Lutetia district (Paris) and in the Council for a Democratic Germany (New York).

During their exile in Moscow, many communists who had emigrated to the Soviet Union became the victims of Stalin’s purges during the period of Great Terror. More than 242 KPD officials were murdered and buried in execution sites and in mass graves such as Butow. Over 4000 comrades were deported to Germany after the Hitler-Stalin Pact, where they were arrested by the Gestapo and sent to concentration camps.

Overall, the KPD’s losses due to repression and active resistance proved to be tremendously high. In the last twelve months of the war many KPD officials and members were deliberately murdered (including the party leader Thälmann, and other members such as Theodor Neubauer, Ernst Schneller, Mathias Thesen, Rudolf Hennig, Gustl Sandtner and Georg Schumann). In January 1945, the Gestapo was instructed to destroy German Communists.


[1.] Broue, P. (2006) The German Revolution: 1917–1923, Chicago: Haymarket Books, pg.635

[2.] Cliff, T. (2003). Rosa Luxemburg: biographical sketch. [online] Marxist Internet Archives. Available from:

[3.] Epstein, C. (2003). The Last Revolutionaries: German Communists and Their Century. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

[4.] Fischer, R. (1948). Stalin and German Communism. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

[5.] Priestand, D. (2009). Red Flag: A History of Communism,” New York: Grove Press.

[6.] Weitz, D. E. (1997). Creating German Communism, 1890–1990: From Popular Protests to Socialist State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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