The Repercussions of World War I
The “Great War” had ended and the world was ready for peace, but the economic strain that the armistice would put on Germany ended up propagating some intense resentments.
Germany requested an armistice in 1918 after enduring an Allied blockade for months. The armistice stipulated that the German Army could remain intact and wouldn’t have to admit defeat. Although U.S. General John J. Pershing was skeptical of this clause, the French and British were certain that the Germans would cease to pose any threat.
While it may seem arbitrary to have the German Army “admit defeat,” its impact was exponentially more serious than anyone could have foreseen. This is because the Germans then were convinced that their military could have proceeded onwards, but chose to fold and sign an armistice due to pressures from within their own government. This was the seed of the infamous “Stab in the Back” myth that became so popular in the newborn Weimar Republic,
German delegates ratify the Treaty of Versailles; From Left: Professor Walther Schücking, Reichspostminister Johannes Giesberts, Justice Minister Otto Landsberg, Foreign Minister Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau, Prussian State President Robert Leinert, and financial advisor Carl Melchior.
The Stab in the Back Myth
The “Stab in the Back” was the term used to support the narrative that the German army had been able to fight onwards, except that Communists; Socialists; and Jews had secretly betrayed them and signed the armistice. It was a powerful rumor: especially in the post WWI years when inflation skyrocketed and Germany was consumed by poverty. It had a very detrimental impact on the Jewish people of Germany because it exploited existing latent anti-Semitism. There was a survey done during the war in order to see how many Jews were fighting (the Judenzählung.) This survey revealed that Jews were actually represnted in the army at a higher percentage than their share of the population. Despite this fact there was a huge associaiton of Jews with Communism and they were inevitably taken down on that ship.
Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg published a work on Zionism (“Der Staatsfeindliche Zionismus” — “Zionism, the Enemy of the State”) in 1922. Rosenberg accused German Zionists of working against Germany and supporting Britain for the implementation of the Balfour Declaration. Jews, Socialists, and Communists were all viewed with extreme suspicion in the coming years. The association of Jews with communism was further exacerbated by the Bavarian Soviet Republic – a two week coup in the Bavarian region that was mainly run by Jews. All of these factors were later used as anti-Semitic propaganda.
In addendum to all of these social problems there was massive economic turmoil and hyperinflation. Middle class savings disappeared as the German currency became worthless. Some even found it more prudent to use it as fire fuel to keep warm. The economy re-stabilized for a few years after 1923, but again tanked when the depression of 1929 rolled through. German unemployment rose to 22%. Political parties started to become more extreme and protests often turned violent on the streets. The German people were jobless and humiliated by territory loss. The Soviet Union was undergoing a communist revolution and fear of the new political ideology spreading was perfect fodder for right-wing thought.
A scene of protest in front of the Reichstag. People gather to show their disapproval of the Treaty of Versailles.