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From Democracy to Dictatorship

כרזת המפלגה הגרמנית-לאומית (DNVP), בערך 1925

From Democracy to Dictatorship: 80 Years Since the Fall of the Weimar Republic and the Nazi Rise to Power
Propaganda and press from the collections of the National Library

Curator: Dr. Stefan Litt, Archives Department


Für die deutsche Textversion

Germany’s first national experiment in democracy lasted exactly 14 years. From January 1919 to January 1933, Germany was a democratic, parliamentary republic with all the national institutions characteristic of a modern state: a constitution, parties, a parliament, elections, coalitions, oppositions and governments. The establishment of this democracy was a huge step for German society which had been a monarchy for hundreds of years. Many citizens welcomed the new liberty but others opposed the winds of change and nationalist and royalist parties and organizations emerged. Many government officials had been in their positions since the days of the Kaisers; not only did they not support democratic progress, but they actively tried to sabotage it.

The 1920s were an extremely dynamic time, not just politically. On the one hand were the depression and disappointment following Germany’s defeat in World War I, and a serious economic crisis with hyperinflation that lasted until 1924; on the other hand, was a blossoming of literature the arts and sciences. Schools such as Expressionism and Dadaism explored new directions and set new standards in literature, and their influence is in evidence to this day. Max Reinhardt pursued his revolution in the theater and Fritz Lang cultivated new, colorful styles in cinema (both of these individuals continued to create after immigrating to the US during the 1930s). In the city of Dessau, a group of avant-garde artists develop a modern style of architecture and design, Bauhaus, which eventually became known as the International Style (and which graces many Tel Aviv streets). New scientific discoveries changed the foundations of human knowledge. During the 14 years in question, German authors and scholars garnered 17 Nobel Prizes in various fields. The winners included Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein, Otto Warburg and Gustav Hertz.  Zeppelins made the first air journeys between Europe and America and giant steamships manufactured in Germany vied for the title of fastest trans-Atlantic vessel. Jazz and swing swept the dance halls of Berlin and Hamburg. The 1920s seemed a golden age.  

Alongside all these manifestations of progress, strong nationalist and anti-Semitic sentiments developed, becoming widespread phenomena. A small party headed by a former corporal in the Austrian army was established. It made its first impression on November 9, 1923 when dozens of "National Socialists" marched through Munich in a bid to take over the rule of Germany. At the time the "coup" was lightly dismissed. Nobody imagined that just ten years later the individuals involved would indeed take control of the government – by democratic means following elections held in November 1932.

Until 1933, there had been various parties on the political stage, representing a spectrum of political opinion: from the left to the right, from the Communists to the nationalists and the Nazis. A low electoral qualification cutoff meant that different parties were elected to the Reichstag, the national parliament in Berlin on different occasions. The multiplicity of parties made it difficult to form stable coalitions and terms of office were hence often cut short by the dissolution of coalitions, particularly in the last five years of the Weimar Republic.  During each election campaign, the parties produced printed propaganda, which was distributed to the public by hand in the form of leaflets, or posters pasted on walls and billboards. Politically affiliated newspapers issued special editions in advance of the elections. All of the above materials were printed in tens of thousands of copies, but their lifespan was short. They were discarded after being read and, as a result, only a few copies survive, in party archives or private collections.
One such collection belonged to Arthur Czellitzer, a Jewish ophthalmologist in Berlin. Czellitzer spent his leisure time exploring family genealogy, a field in which he was considered an expert of note. Czellitzer appears to have had an acute historical consciousness, which prompted him to collect propaganda issued by moderate parties between 1919 and 1928. Sometimes Czellitzer would add a date to the posters he collected and collate them in binders. In 1936, three years after the Nazis rose to power, Czellitzer deposited his collection (which consisted of some 800 items) in the National Library in Jerusalem. On the eve of World War II he fled to Holland, but after the German occupation was arrested and murdered at Sobibor. The Czellitzer collection (V 662) is rich in items of both political and graphic significance. These items, along with others from smaller collections   (V 541 , V 904) document the tragic deterioration of the first German democracy into dictatorship and, ultimately, into the abyss.
  • 1. Poster, Elections for the German National Assembly, 1919
  • 2. Poster, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), 1920
  • 3. Poster, the German Democratic Party (DDP), 1920
  • 4. Poster, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), 1920
  • 5. Poster, the German-National Party (DNVP), 1920
  • 6. Poster, the German Democratic Party (DDP), 1924
  • 7. Poster, the Zentrum (Catholic) Party, 1924
  • 8. Poster, the German Communist Party (KPD), 1924
  • 9. Poster, the German-National Party (DNVP), 1925
  • 10. Special edition of the newspaper Vorwärts marking the death of President Friedrich Ebert, 1925
  • 11. German-Nationalist Party (DNVP) propaganda, circa 1925
  • 12. Poster, the German-National Party (DNVP), circa 1925
  • 13. Poster, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), 1930
  • 14. Poster, the German Peoples Party (DVP), 1930
  • 15. Poster, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), 1930
  • 16. Poster of the German Communist Party (KPD), presidential elections of 1930
  • 17. Back page of propaganda newspaper, presidential elections 1932
  • 18. Front page of Nazi propaganda newspaper, (NSDAP), 1932
  • 19. Poster, the Social-Democratic Party, 1932
  • 20. Front page of a Berlin newspaper, 31/3/1933