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World War I Aftermath: Racism, the Rise of Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust
World War I took over 15 million lives and resulted in almost the same number of non-fatal casualties from July 1914 until November 1918. The end of the war was supposed to mean the end of the violence and casualties between the Allies and Central Powers. However, the Nazi Party utilized the peace in the next couple of decades in strengthening its numbers and influence in Germany. The Nazi Party rose to power years after World War I by taking advantage of Germany’s economic and political instability.
Germany Right After the War
World War I ended after country leaders signed the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919. The United States, France, England, and Italy authored the treaty and discussed war reparations. Countries, such as France, wanted to prevent Germany from challenging them which could lead to another great war (The Aftermath of the First World War, n.d.). The treaty resulted in the “War Guilt Clause”, forcing Germany to take responsibility for the war and leading the country to incur massive debt. Despite the country’s reluctance to accept the decision, they had to accept it to ensure peace. The clause, plus the war’s economic damage to Germany, significantly limited the country’s economic power. This made the years after World War I challenging for Germany since they needed to pay reparations while rebuilding the nation.
Germany became under the Weimar Republic, a new democratic government, after World War I. The Weimar Republic established a democratic system, replacing Germany’s constitutional monarchy. However, many Germans disliked the new system leading to more support for the opposition (The Aftermath of the First World War, n.d.). There was also the country’s outrage after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles which further weakened the relationship between the German government and its people. In January 1919, a few months after the war and before the signing of the treaty, Anton Dexler founded the German Workers’ Party which would later become the Nazi Party.
As mentioned earlier, war damages and the Treaty of Versailles placed Germany in an economic decline. Germany lost 13% of its territory during the war, making up a significant portion of the country’s iron and coal production (The Aftermath of the First World War, n.d.). The loss of these resources meant that the country’s revenue significantly declined. Germany’s economic struggle lasted until the 1920s. However, the country experienced its “Golden Years” after Chancellor Gustav Stresemann built international relations allowing Germany to address economic concerns (The Aftermath of the First World War, n.d.). The “Golden Years” lasted from 1924 to 1929.
As the German economy began to stabilize and flourish, the Wall Street Crash happened in 1929. The crash led to a global depression, leading countries to suffer economic decline. Since Germany was relying on international investments and loans, the global depression meant the loss of these economic supports. Unemployment rates increased, wages declined, and thousands of businesses closed each year (The Aftermath of the First World War, n.d.). Without investments and loans from international partners, Germany experienced another economic crisis.
Before this, there was also hyperinflation and an economic crisis in 1923. During this time, the German government printed more money to produce a budget for its expenses, including the war reparations (The Aftermath of the First World War, n.d.). However, this decision led to hyperinflation which reduced the Mark currency's value to one trillion Marks per dollar. Germany requested a temporary suspension for the war reparation payments but the Allies refused. The coalition governments also failed to agree on a strategy to address the situation, further worsening the economic situation. As mentioned earlier, Chancellor Stresemann established a way to address the economic crisis which led to economic stability.
The economic crises occurred under the Weimar Republic which associated the government with the crises. The Nazi Party utilized this association and the growing public distrust to weaken support for the Weimer Republic. For instance, fear of Communism arose during the 1923 economic crisis since parts of Germany were in a state of emergency. The people went on strikes and looked for support from the right wing, including the Nazi Party (Moorehouse, n.d.). The economic crises made the public question government decisions and support for right-wing parties, especially for the Nazi Party, increased.
After World War I and the establishment of the Weimar Republic, the old German government still influenced the country. Kaiser supporters continued to revolt in late 1918 and early 1919. Communist parties threatened the country and the Weimar Republic had to address the revolutions by mobilizing forces. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles worsened the situation as the right wing opposed the decision. In 1923, the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 occurred when the Nazi Party started a coup to overthrow the German government and established the Greater German Reich (Beer Hall Putsch, n.d.). However, the coup failed and Hitler went to prison for nine months for treason. While the forceful attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic failed, it made Hitler realize that he could not take Germany by force.
Political instability also resulted because of the Weimar Republic’s new systems. Since Germany has experienced economic crises, the government decided to create a coalition of left and right-wing parties in 1928. The government believed that the coalition could establish plans and strategies to help rebuild Germany. However, the difference between the parties prevented them from working together. Since the coalition was an integral part of the government, the continuous disagreement prevented them from addressing the major concerns of the nation (The Aftermath of the First World War, n.d.). This political instability further contributed to the struggles of the country and made it difficult for Germany to rebuild itself.
Hitler and the Conservative Elite
Germany’s economic and political instability meant that the country must elect a strong and effective leader to stabilize Germany. Initially, the Bruening government wanted to establish a parliamentary majority that excluded the Nazis, Communists, and Social Democrats (The Nazis Rise to Power, n.d.). However, Hitler and the Nazi Party had gained the public’s support which resulted in elections that made the Nazi Party the largest political party in Germany. There was also the fact that the conservative elite, Germany’s ruling and business class, wanted to use Hitler to defeat the left (The Aftermath of the First World War, n.d.). They were aware of Hitler and the Nazi Party’s ideologies and planned to replace Hitler as chancellor after the defeat of the left. However, Hitler remained as Germany’s chancellor, established the Third Reich, and started the Holocaust.
The Nazi Party rose to power because of the economic and political instability in Germany after World War I. The war left Germany with international debt that it cannot pay and as a divided nation. Germany experienced economic crises as it struggled to pay war reparations, as well as the effects of a global market crash. The economic instability and divided nation also led to political instability that prevented the government from establishing effective solutions. The distrust of Germany’s government eventually shifted support towards the Nazi Party, making them the largest political party in the country. With the nation’s support, as well as influential elites’, Hitler secured the position of chancellor and placed the Nazi Party into power.
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Moorhouse, D. (n.d.). Did the Economic Crisis of 1923 Help the Nazi Party?. Schoolshistory.org.uk. Available at https://schoolshistory.org.uk/topics/european-history/weimar-nazi-germany/economic-crisis-1923-help-nazi-party/. Accessed: September 15, 2022.
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The Aftermath of the First World War. (n.d.). The Wiener Holocaust Library. Available at https://www.theholocaustexplained.org/the-nazi-rise-to-power/the-effects-of-the-first-world-war-on-germany/. Accessed: September 15, 2022.
The Great War Ends. (n.d.). Delaware.gov. Available at https://history.delaware.gov/world-war-i/conclusion-ww1/#:~:text=The%20Treaty%20of%20Versailles%2C%20which,to%20participate%20in%20the%20negotiations.. Accessed: September 15, 2022.
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