Essay on Did Hitler Destroy the Weimar Republic or Was It Doomed by the Circumstances of Its Birth in November 1918?

Published: 2021/11/09
Number of words: 3017

The Weimar Republic began with the collapse of the German empire in November 1918. A culmination of the lose of the First World War, and a revolution which began with a naval unit in Kiel (but spread through out Germany) caused Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate on the 9th of November 1918. The former Kaiser then fled to Holland[1].

After Germany was made a republic, elections took place on the 19th of January, ending the revolutions[2]. On the 6th of February this newly elected assembly meet in the Weimar Germany (an area about 150 miles south west of Berlin) to draw up a constitution[3]. This government is what historians refer to as the Weimar Republic.

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The Weimar Republic went through years of crisis (1919-23) then a golden era (1923-1929) until it was “replaced by the 3rd Reich”[4]. Essentially once Hitler made Germany a one party state on the 14th July 1933, the Weimar Republic, and the democracy it stood for was no more[5]. During the course of this essay I will be answering whether Hitler destroyed the Weimar Republic or it was simply doomed by the circumstances of its birth. I will be exploring each theory individually, starting with the Weimar Republics chaotic creation, being the reason for its inevitable failure.

The Weimar Republic was “born from <the> defeat” of ww1[6]. This defeat caused many problems for the newly formed Republic, which invariably led to the failure of the Weimar Government. Henig believes the Weimar Republic inherited the economic problems which are created from a war, and this prevented Germany growing as a powerful government. He goes on to say that the economic debts Germany faced were the worse possible time for the inauguration of a new democratic Republic[7].

One of the first jobs for the newly formed Weimar Republic was the negotiation of peace treaties with the Allies[8]. This lead to the Treaty of Versailles, signed on the 28th of June 1919[9]. The Treaty ordered Germany to pay reparations for the damage they had caused during the war. In 1921 this figure was set at £6,000 million[10]. These reparations caused further economic problems for Germany. The Weimar Republic began to survive on an increasing number of paper marks which began to be circulated[11]. This caused hyperinflation within Germany, millions of middle class men lost their savings during the inflation, which they subsequently blamed on the WR[12]. Meaning the reparations caused them to lose public support.

On the 9th of January 1923 the reparations commission declared Germany had failed to fulfil their payments. This caused the French to invade the Ruhr. This became a crisis within the Weimar government and as a result the German currency completely collapsed[13]. The Weimar Republic called for a course of passive resistance to be taken against the French. This did not help matters and eventually in the autumn of 1923 they decided to call off the resistance. However by then people had already totally lost faith in the Republic[14]. The economic hardship felt by the majority of the German populous caused them to loose faith in the Republic, making its failure inevitable. If Germany had not lost the war these reparations payments would not have been forced into these payments. Proving the circumstances of the Weimar Republics birth made it doomed to failure.

The Treaty of Versailles didn’t just put economic strains on the Republic. The Treaty included a war guilt clause which essentially meant Germany had to take full blame for starting the war. This angered Germans who generally believed they had been fighting a war of defence[15], meaning the Republic again lost public support. McKenzie argues the failure of the Weimar Republic to obtain a decent Peace treaty inevitably lead to their overall failure[16]. The Treaty also drastically reduced the number of men allowed in the military (only 100,000) [17]. This left numerous soldiers out of work and, in many cases, fighting on the streets. failure to deal with this street violence further undermined the Governments power[18].

The war guilt clause and the demobilisation of the army only served to alienate the military from the Weimar Republic. This is particularly evident during the Kapp Putsch, where historians state the loyalty of the army was tested and failed[19]. The Kaap Putsch was an attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic and replace it with a military dictatorship, the army refused to fire on the aggressors, claiming soldiers do not fire on soldiers[20]. It was an expectation that the army would protect the Weimar Republic[21]; this was certainly not the case. The army were often neutral to right wing threats to the Government[22].

Even if the army were in favour of the Republic, Groener admitted the army were severely weakened by the Great War and were in no position to effectively protect the Weimar Republic[23]. The Treaty of Versailles was the first challenge the Weimar Republic had to face. In essence, it totally undermined the newly formed Republic, leaving them with little support, and a crippled economy. If the WR hadn’t been created with the burden of defeat, and a crippling Treaty, it may not have failed. Proving the circumstances of its birth proved to be the downfall of the Weimar Republic.

A.J Nicholls also tells that the Weimar Republic was also founded on a discredited revolution[24]. He goes on further to say that the revolution was the main catalyst which provided Germany with a Republic[25]. The fact the Weimar Republic was created from a revolution, caused issues for the Government, which invariably helped lead to its demise. Officials who had been shocked and appalled by the violence of the revolution, now found themselves working for political parties who they regarded as disloyal under the empire[26]. In many cases members of the government were still openly monarchists[27]. The fact the revolution had forced the nation into a Republic, angered many and meant they would not give their full support to the new regime, and without support it was destined to fail.

Civil servants also showed a lack of respect for the Weimar Republic. Many were openly anti Republican[28] despite working for the government. They showed a disrespectful attitude to their employers in numerous ways. For example, many civil servants took annual leave on the anniversary of the Republics creation[29]. They also would not fly the Republican flag on their office buildings. The army followed this example and avoided flying the flag where ever possible[30]. Many felt the violent revolutions of November 1918 had forced Germany into a Republic. This invariably meant they would not support the new Republic and its government. If the people running the Weimar Republic were not in support of it, then surely it was doomed from the start.

However many historians believe that Hitler was the one who destroyed the Weimar Republic. Hitler’s intent to destroy the Weimar Republic is evident through out his political career. Hitler campaigned to cleanse the administration of the Republic, which he considered to be corrupt[31]. During the trial for his part in the Munich Putsch, Hitler took the opportunity to rant to the judges for his hatred for, among other things for the WR[32].

Hitler and the Nazis took any opportunity they could to undermine the Weimar Republic. Hitler told the Nazis to brawl with communists on the streets of Germany[33]. He knew this would show the weakness of the government as they were unable to effectively handle it. In November 1932 Hitler also promoted a transport strike in Berlin, fully aware that this would weaken the government[34]. Hitler would also campaign against legislation directly enacted by the Weimar Republic. The Young Plan, written in 1929 and adopted in 1930 was a programme for settling Germany’s reparation payments. Hitler openly campaigned against the plan, associating himself with Hindenburg’s anti-Young campaign[35]. By undermining the government at every possible occasion and going against the Weimar Republics decisions, Hitler weakened the regime, making it easy for him to destroy. Even Hitler’s choice of Nazi propaganda song, “Germany Awake” was a call for “An end to the System (i.e. the Weimar Republic)” [36]

Hitler also took supporters away from the WR, weakening the little support base it had. This drop in support meant Hitler became the viable option to take power, essentially destroying the WR. For example, by 1932, Hitler had secured a large percentage of the German female vote, with his policies on traditional views upon home life[37]. This meant they now supported an anti-Republican party, despite the Weimar Republic being the reason they had they were now part of the franchise.

They also obtained the support of other factions who were against the Republic. For example, the army supported Hitler, seeing the Nazis as a foreword thinking organisation[38]. They also secured the votes and support of professionals, doctors, teachers, graduates etc who had suffered under the Weimar Republic, particularly due to hyper-inflation[39]. He also attacked certain supporters of the Weimar Republic, to further weaken the Government.

For example, Jews saw many positives from the Weimar Republic, finally finding themselves involved in the political process, or at least with access to it[40]. Hitler attacked the Weimar Republic for allowing Jews into the political system and used anti Semitism as a vital tool for defining the enemy of Germany[41]. Hitler totally weakened the WR support bases, by taking existing supporters, giving them a viable option, and attacking those who did support them. With no support the Weimar Republic was unable to function, showing it was Hitler who destroyed the Weimar Republic by undermining the government and destroying its support bases.

If you take the question did Hitler destroy the Weimar Republic, in a literal way, then the answer is certainly yes. Hitler dissolved every other political party, leaving Germany a one party state, essentially destroying the Weimar Republic. On the 2nd of August 1934, only an hour after Hindenburg had died, Hitler combined the role of Chancellor and President to turn his boyhood dream into a reality and become the leader of the German people[42].

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He managed to do this through what could be considered political genius. He was appointed Chancellor on the 29th of January, on the premise he would be little more than a figurehead used by Papen[43]. However, after the Reichstag fires, Hitler was able to force through the Enabling act, giving the government power to enact any legislation for 4 years[44]. This was the tool he used to dissolve every other party and destroy the WR. The circumstances of the WR were not the important factor in its demise. Hitler, using politically shrewd tactics managed to legally enact legislation which gave him the power to destroy the Weimar Republic.

To conclude, I am in agreement with Henig, when he states it was “comparatively easy” for Hitler to destroy the fragile Weimar Republic[45]. However, I do feel that the Weimar Republic made Hitlers job simple. For example, the Weimar constitution did not include a clause banning non-democratic parties. This allowed groups from both the left and right to run riot in Germany, as well as openly opposing the Republic[46]. This undermined the Republic as they were mostly unable to effectively quash the threat, causing people to re-evaluate the Republics effectiveness, culminating in the loss of support. A ban on extreme parties would have also meant Hitler would never have been able to legally take office and dissolve the government. Bookbinder does make a good observation, when he notes that, with a more tranquil birth the Weimar Republic would have had a better chance of survival[47]. They would not be associated with the demoralizing defeat of Germany, which may have meant, more people would have openly supported the Republic. But, this was not the case, which meant Hitler was able to topple an already weakend regime. This unfortunately meant that the Weimar Republic was depressingly only a “democratic interlude between the authoritarian Empire and the dictatorial Third Reich” [48]


Paul Bookbinder, Weimar Germany, the Republic of the reasonable (Manchester University Press 1996)

Eberhand Kolb, The Weimar Republic (Unwin Hyman, 1988)

Eyck, A history of the Weimar Republic (Harvard University Press 1967)

Grunberger, Germany 1918-1945 (Jarrold and Sons 1964)

Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic 1919-1933 (Routledge 1998)

McKenzie, Weimar Republic (Blandford Press 1971)

A.J. Nicholls, Weimar and the rise of Hitler (Macmillan 1991)

[1] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar and the rise of Hitler (Macmillan 1991) p.11

[2] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic 1919-1933 (Routledge 1998) p.12

[3] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar, p.26

[4] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic, p.76

[5] Mckenzie, Weimar Republic (Blandford Press 1971) p.251

[6] Paul Bookbinder, Weimar Germany, the Republic of the reasonable (Manchester University Press 1996) p.1

[7] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic, p.15

[8] Mckenzie, Weimar Republic, p.45

[9] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic , p.20

[10] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic ,p.21

[11] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic ,p.32

[12] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic, p.83

[13] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic ,p.35

[14] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic ,p.36

[15] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic ,p.19

[16] Mckenzie, Weimar Republic,p.70

[17] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic,p.18

[18] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic,p.30

[19] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic,.p36

[20] Mckenzie, Weimar Republic, p.88

[21] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar p.15

[22] Mckenzie, Weimar Republic,p.45

[23] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar, p.16

[24] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar, p.42

[25] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar, p.20

[26] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar p.38

[27] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar, p.24

[28] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic, p.95

[29] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar, p.40

[30] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar,p.40

[31] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar,p.39

[32] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar,120

[33] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar,131

[34] Grunberger, Germany 1918-1945 (Jarrold and Sons 1964) p.38

[35] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar, p.124

[36] Grunberger, Germany 1918, p.39

[37] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar,p.146

[38] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar,p.136

[39] A.J. Nicholls, Weimar,p.123

[40] Paul Bookbinder, Weimar Germany, p.228

[41] Paul Bookbinder, Weimar Germany, p.241

[42] Mckenzie, Weimar Republic,p.252

[43] Mckenzie, Weimar Republic,p.246

[44] Mckenzie, Weimar Republic,p.251

[45] Ruth Henig, The Weimar Republic,.p84

[46] Mckenzie, Weimar Republic,p.284

[47] Paul Bookbinder, Weimar Germany, p.27

[48] Mckenzie, Weimar Republic,p.258

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