Racism in the Weimar Republic

At the end of 1918, Europe was very different to the way it was in 1914. Ravaged by World War One, three of its great superpowers had collapsed, while the allies, led by Britain and France, stood victorious. Germany was one of the losing superpowers. Germany’s king, Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated, leaving the country in charge of a new democratic political system. The new era was known as the Weimar Republic, named after the Weimar district in which democracy was declared. The new society was based on democratic principles in which the old class system was eliminated. Germans were free, equality was declared for all races, all German citizens over the age of 21 were entitled to vote and all citizens enjoyed freedom of speech. However there were small sections of the republic that wanted nothing more than to destroy it. These people included members of political parties such as the Nazi Party, which basically represented everything that was wrong with the Weimar Republic.

 

Weimar was based on a system of democratic principles and this could be seen in the new republic’s constitution. Article 109 of the constitution stated, “All Germans are equal in front of the law. In principle, men and women have the same rights and obligations. Legal privileges or disadvantages based on birth or social standing are to be abolished”. While article 113 stated, “Reich communities speaking a foreign language may not be deprived by legislation of their national identity, especially in the use of their mother language in education, in local administration and jurisdiction”. In other words all Germans regardless of race or social status were entitled to the same rights. The German government wanted a true democratic society and they believed their citizens were entitled to it.

 

Weimar society had a complete overhaul during the early years of the Weimar Republic and this was especially noticeable in Berlin. The city had a number of jazz clubs, which were filled with African-American soldiers. The soldiers had stayed behind after the war because, as historian Eric D Weitz pointed out, they found Berlin far more racially tolerant than anywhere in the United States. Berlin was also a famous area for fashion. This was especially popular in the Hausvogteiplatz region in which there were also many large Jewish fashion shops that vigorously competed. Berlin had embraced democracy and democracy helped Berlin to quickly become a modern city that was envied by other large cities throughout Germany and Europe. Racism was not a major problem in Weimar Berlin. However this was not necessarily the case elsewhere in Germany.

 

Unfortunately not all of Germany had embraced democracy and democratic principles. There were still sections of Germany that were racist towards minorities such as the Jews and the French. The Jews were used as scapegoats for all of Germany’s problems, while the French were seen as the reason for Germany going through hyperinflation during the early 1920s. William W. Hagen stated in his book “Before the Final Solution”, that in the Agrarian provinces, boycotts and other actions forced Jews from small and medium country towns into the big cities. During another event in February 1922 there was an upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks on businesses, which had its most ugly moment on 20 July 1923 where mob violence occurred against Jewish shops in Breslau.

 

There was however, no other organisation that was more focused on spreading anti-Semitic propaganda than the Nazi Party. The Nazi party was found in 1919, and in 1921 Adolf Hitler became its leader. The Nazi Party, from the start of Hitler’s leadership, wanted nothing more than to eliminate the Jewish populations from the German lands. The Nazi Party however was never popular during the early republic. Most of Weimar’s citizens were not racists. The only reason the Nazi party was able to gain control was because of the hyperinflation crisis that occurred during the early 1920s and also the great depression of 1929. The Nazi Party became the bright light at the end of the tunnel for much of the middle-class desperate for work. Despite this, the Nazi Party only ever achieved 37.3 percent of the vote and only came to power because of some clever deals with some other political parties. Based on this, it would be hard to understand why anybody would have voted for the Nazi Party had it not been for the economic collapse during the Weimar Republic.

 

The Weimar Republic officially collapsed in January 1933. It had been a free democratic society, in which classes were eliminated especially in the big cities such as Berlin. Minority races such as African-Americans moved to Berlin because it was far more tolerant to them than anywhere in the United States. This era was also seen as kind to the Jewish populations in which many were able to thrive despite some instances of anti-Semitism. Unfortunately there were elements of the German political system that either did not want to move forward from the old class system while other parties such as the Nazis wanted a complete overhaul of the Weimar government. Unfortunately for Germany and the world, the Nazi Party did come to power, and Germany was not to see a united free democratic society again for almost seventy years.

 

 

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4 comments on “Racism in the Weimar Republic

  1. kastley41469526 says:

    Your blog was highly enjoyable as a reader as it was not only highly informative, but the way you used language took me on a journey that was interesting and educational. Throughout my education of history I have never really focused on the Weimar Republic, only the Nazis so it was great to learn something new. I liked your primary sources of article 109 and 113 as it revealed to me that democracy existed in Germany, particularly in Berlin, even if it was for a short time. Your blog was also easy to read and understand as it was balanced as you included specific information without allowing it to overload your blog and what you wanted to say.

  2. christinecramer says:

    Hi Peter,

    I enjoyed your post which provides a clear explanation of the emergence of the Weimar Republic in Germany after WW1 and the goals of this new government, which were based on democratic principles and aimed to eliminate racism and the class system. It always surprises me how a random event, in this case a hyperinflation crisis in the early 1920s, can change history. As I understand your story, without this crisis, it is unlkely that that the racist Nazi Party would have gained control. I would have liked to know more about how the Nazi Party promoted itself to gain the support to the unemployed and the deals it made with other political parties, but I know that with the word limit you can only provide an outline. If only the Weimar Republic had survived! I liked your strong conclusion, with its note of regret for what might have been.

    Christine

  3. Connell Nisbet says:

    This is very interesting post – you managed to convey the context, the issues and the implications of key events within a very short space. Very impressed. It shows good use of primary resources and goes beyond the well-trodden path of the rise of the Nazi Party. I’d be curious to know if, from your research, you feel that democracy could have worked if not for hyperinflation, or was Germany culturally not conducive to the basic tenets of democracy at the time. Well done.

    • Peter McDermott says:

      The hyperinflation crisis was one of two major events that helped the Nazi Party win support. To get out of the hyperinflation crisis they had assistance from America, however with the great deppression starting in 1929, America had their own crisis and Germany was left to fend for itself. I really believe without the great depression, the Nazi Party would have really struggled to win popular support.

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