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Weimar Republic – Introduction

Between the end of World War I in 1918 and the Nazi rise to power in 1933, Germany was a democratic republic. This attempt at democracy, however, endured for only 14 years, ultimately failing due to tremendous political, social and economic strains.

 
In gatherings of the National Assembly, held at the National Theater in the city of Weimar at the beginning of 1919, delegates formulated a modern democratic constitution, which provided the foundation for German society after hundreds of years under monarchic rule. This constitution is considered progressive to this day, although a significant discrepancy remained between the good intentions of most of the delegates and their implementation during the short life of the republic, a gap that ultimately led to the failure of the first democracy on German soil.
 
Although political power was seized from the elite following the revolution that took place at the end of 1918, most of the state functionaries remained in office even after the political change, and in most cases, these individuals did not support the democratic government.
Despite all of the difficulties faced by young democratic Germany, its parliamentary method was quite well-developed. Many parties competed for votes and for the first time in German history, women were granted suffrage in 1919.
 
The range of parties was quite wide, including streams and ideologies from the left (the Communist Party) to the center (Social-Democrats, Liberals, Christians) and the far right (the German Nationalist Party, and later, the National Socialist Party). The electoral threshold remained very low, which increased the number of parties in the national parliament and made coalition agreements very difficult throughout the Weimar Republic’s 14 years.
 
The beginning of this political entity was also complex. Difficulties abounded. Defeat in the world war resulted in subsequent debts and enormous reparation payments to the Allied powers, a high number of casualties, a high rate of unemployment, a general sense of disorientation, and hyper-inflation so out of control that in December 1923 a loaf of bread cost billions of marks. Beginning in 1924, the overall situation began to improve, and the period until 1929 became known as the Golden Age. With the global financial crisis that began in 1929, and its particularly detrimental effect on Germany, the ranks of the unemployed rose to unprecedented rates (in 1932, there were some five and a half million unemployed Germans!).  As a result, the political system became unstable. This state of affairs made it possible for the Nazi party to garner strength and quickly gain hold of public support.
 
At the same time, the period of the Weimar Republic is considered one of the most dynamic in the history of Germany with technological and scientific advances including the research of Albert Einstein, Max Planck and Gustav Herz in Berlin, radio broadcasts reaching a broad audience, German zeppelins crossing the Atlantic Ocean, sound films conquering the cinemas, and many other notable achievements.
 
Fourteen German scientists won Nobel prizes between 1919 and 1933. In design and art, innovations appeared in the famous Bauhaus school, while modern German literature reached many readers and popular music was influenced by America, as can be seen, for example, in the success of the Comedian Harmonists ensemble (comprised of three Jews and three Christians), which conquered the concert halls of Germany and Europe at that time.
 
Countless German Jews were leaders in a variety of fields, including Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches, two of the founders of the German Communist Party, as well as Walther Rathenau, the Director of the Board of AEG and German Foreign Minister of 1922 (all three of whom were murdered by right-wing extremists); conductor and composer Otto Klemperer; actors Alexander Granach and Kurt Gerron; authors Else Lasker-Schüler, Lion Feuchtwanger and Jakob Wasserman; director Max Reinhardt; scientists Albert Einstein, James Franck and Gustav Hertz; philosophers Ernst Cassirer, Leo Strauss and Ernst Bloch; architect Erich Mendelsohn; and many others.