The Weimar Republic: Through the Lens of the Press
by Torsten Palmer and Hendrik Neubauer
My parents were born in Germany (b. 1924 and b. 1932) during the time of the Weimar Republic, and so I am curious of the history that affected their early years. For my dad, it meant being drafted into the Germany army the day he was due to travel, barefoot, from his dad's rural farm to university on full scholarship; for my mom, the deprivation of living her early teen years in the heavily bombed city of Hamburg.
(Weimar Republic is named after the town of Weimar, where in 1919 Germany's post-war constitution was written.)
How did Germany come to elect a fascist government keen on expanding its territory to most of Europe by war? This heavy book illustrates the progress from the end of the First World War to the start of the Second -- or rather, lack of progress, that descent from impotent democracy into hardcore fascism.
Palmer and Neubauer access photographs from the newspapers and magazines of the time to richly illustrate the difficulties in forming a stable democratic government following WWI. You read this book by reading the detailed captions -- of the good times and bad, primarily in Berlin and primarily in the 1920s and 30s.
After the end of WWI, German soldiers felt humiliated that (1) the government admitted defeat in a war the soldiers thought they could still win; (2) the armies had their weapons reduced to a minimum, with tanks destroyed and ships sunk; and that (3) they were now essentially unemployed. Their revolt against the government fermented the start of German instability. Add to that, the victors imposed heavy financial penalties on Germany, making it impossible to pay soldiers, and difficult to rebuild the country's own infrastructure and societal supports. The byproduct was huge inflation, making money ever worthless.
Through all this, the democratic governments were weak. They failed to obtain majorities in elections, and so the German people went to the polls every few months as opportunist opposition parties made their attempts at power, or the German president Hindenburg decided change was necessary.
Two groups became particularly powerful, primarily through their use of gangster tactics: the Communists and the National Socialists. If the population wouldn't vote for them, then they intimidated the people by beating them up. As centrist parties failed to get the country on even keel, the parties at extreme ends of the political spectrum appeared to be the best of a bad lot. By 1933, Adolf Hitler (whose party initially lost several elections) was made head of a political coalition; once he had power, he could rewrite the country's laws and then have them passed by vote and by intimidation. If the legislative buildings happened to burn down, well that was because tough new laws hadn't been passed.
Of the two, the National Socialists were considered the lesser of two evils, because Germans could see the horrors that the Communists were already imposing on Russia. They did not know, however, the horrors that the Nazis would soon impose the German people themselves, whether they be Jews, Gypsies, or homosexuals. In the case of young German civilians, like my mom, they suffered from the countereffects of Nazi warmongering, as the Allies targeted Hamburg and Dresden for aerial firebombing with Napalm, and then the war's aftermath of near starvation. (This book does not document the Nazi's extermination programs and concentration camps, as those came later.)
This was an utterly fascinating book to me. In particular, the wealth of expressive pictures by professional news photographers gives insight into the lives of a people that ordinary text cannot project.
Published in 2000 by Koenemann
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