Essay for Lesson 4: The Decline of the Weimar Republic and the Rise of the Nazi Party
Germany experienced a drastic fall after the First World War with the establishment of the Weimar Republic. What was left of German national pride prevalent throughout the duration of the Second Reich fell into shambles when the Treaty of Versailles came into effect – an agreement that sought to magnify the accountability of Germany for the damages caused by the First World War. German territorial domains shrunk to dismaying proportions due to the Treaty of Versailles, while the Weimar Republic failed to represent the consensus of German nationalists, who argued that Germany was not responsible for the First World War. From the onset, the Weimar Republic was largely unpopular among Germans, with the entire 14 years of its duration further attesting to its infamy due to its failure to maintain political and economic stability in Germany. In assessing the low esteem held against the Weimar Republic, the “stab-in-the-back” legend of General Erich Ludendorff is an important aspect to consider, given the unfounded belief towards it has urged the rise of German nationalists against the shameful effects of the Treaty of Versailles on Germany (Fulbrook 155-187).
General Ludendorff, being aware that the Treaty of Versailles is touting the German military as the one solely responsible for the First World War, fabricated the “stab-in-the-back” legend as an attempt to justify the stand of German nationalists against the agreement. Given that the Treaty of Versailles did not include Germany as a party but adversely affected the nation through territorial contraction and issuances of reparations for First World War-related damages, the Weimar Republic came under fire from German nationalists and members of the German military for accepting the agreement – a shameful act, as they have deemed. To strengthen the image of the German military in the eyes of German nationalists and to fortify their views against the accountability of Germany for the First World War, General Ludendorff made up the “stab-in-the-back” legend. The “stab-in-the-back” legend alleged that the German military did not fall into defeat under the hands of its enemies – the Allied forces, but instead surrendered under the routing of German revolutionary forces. It is noteworthy to point out, however, that when the German military fell into defeat, none of its forces stationed themselves within Germany, as there were in either Belgium or France. Therefore, the “stab-in-the-back” legend stands as just a myth invented by General Ludendorff made to increase nationalist sentiments among Germans. Despite the lack of factual basis, the “stab-in-the-back” legend became successful in absolving the liability of the German military for the First World War in the eyes of German nationalists, in turn enabling them to antagonize the Weimar Republic for the shame it has caused for signing the Treaty of Versailles (Fulbrook 155-187; Peukert 4; Spielvogel 32-69).
The Weimar Republic Vis-à-vis the “Stab-In-The-Back” Legend
The Weimar Republic, in its entirety and duration, stood as a government held by many Germans, particularly the nationalists, with great disapproval. Apart from the fact that the Allied forces rendered little reconstructive support to Germany due to the disparaging effects the Treaty of Versailles has on the nation, the Weimar Republic struggled to keep Germans together. Some of the key causes behind the instability of the Weimar Republic include the fact that Germany lacks exposure to democratic traditions, the economically detrimental effects of First World War-related reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles and political turmoil rooted in the flawed setup of the Weimar Constitution. The “stab-in-the-back” legend by General Ludendorff merely stands as an attempt to fuel frustrations against the apparent failure of the Weimar Republic to defend the national interests of Germany. Emphasizing the shame associated with how the Weimar Republic stood as a mere lackey to the Treaty of Versailles, the “stab-in-the-back” legend, regardless of being a poorly supported fabrication, highlighted the strength of German nationalists at a time when Germany heavily fell from glory. German nationalists were strong in their convictions against the Treaty of Versailles - so much to the point that they took the fictional account of General Ludendorff as their motivational force against the perceivably weak Weimar Republic. At the same time, the “stab-in-the-back” legend served as a catalyst for the rise of anti-Weimar Republic movements in Germany, most notably the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler (Fulbrook 155-187; Spielvogel 32-69).
Conclusion: Was the “Stab-In-The-Back” Legend Really Necessary?
Much debate revolves around the essence of the “stab-in-the-back” legend in the transformation of Germany in terms of its economic and political fortunes. On one hand, one could consider the “stab-in-the-back” legend as a catalyst for the rise of political groups opposed to the weak Weimar Republic, hence saving Germany from prolonged national frailty. On the other hand, the “stab-in-the-back” legend stands as a highly unnecessary one, given its connection as somewhat an enabling factor to the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler, which in turn resulted to more damaging effects characterized by events during the Second World War. Despite of the foregoing disagreements, one could not simply deny that the “stab-in-the-back” legend has proven the existence of a German kind of national identity – in stark contrast to the pre-Second Reich era. The fact that the “stab-in-the-back” legend, despite its fictional nature, has caused German nationalists to take actions against the Weimar Republic proves its potency for attesting to German nationalism.
Fulbrook, Mary. A Concise History of Germany. 2nd ed. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.
Peukert, Detlev. The Weimar Republic. United Kingdom: The Penguin Press, 1987. Print.
Spielvogel, Jackson. Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History. 6th ed. United Kingdom: Pearson, 2009. Print.