Lesson
Duration:
2 class periods

Choices in Weimar Republic Elections

Essential Questions

  • How do individuals in a democracy decide who to support in an election? 
  • How did the Nazi Party, a small and unpopular political group in 1920, become the most powerful political party in Germany by 1933?

Overview

This lesson complements the resources from Chapter 4 of Holocaust and Human Behavior to help students investigate some of the choices available to Germans in elections in the early 1930s and understand the variety of reasons many Germans supported the Nazi Party. After analyzing the platforms of three Weimar political parties—the Social Democrats, the Communists, and the Nazis—students will read short biographies of several German citizens. Using details from the biographies, the party platforms, and any information they have learned before this lesson about the Weimar Republic, students will then determine which political party they believe each citizen would have supported. 

The citizen biographies are fictional and were created for this lesson, in part to provoke discussion and reasoned argument; determining which party each individual would have supported is not always easy, and there is no correct answer. By analyzing each biography and hypothesizing about which party each individual would support, students will not only learn more about the variety of ways the Nazis and other political parties could attract support; they will also wrestle with the difficult and nuanced choices that citizens in a democracy must often make at the polls. This lesson will prompt especially meaningful discussion among students if it is implemented after they have had the opportunity to explore and analyze a variety of other resources from Chapter 4 of Holocaust and Human Behavior that deal with the government, culture, and economics of the Weimar Republic.

Learning Goals

  • Students will recognize that political parties can appeal to voters in a variety of ways and on the basis of a range of issues.
  • Students will understand that different citizens prioritize the issues they care about in an election differently. When voters choose to support a candidate or political party, they often focus on particular issues they care about and overlook other issues. 
  • Students will know that the Nazi Party attracted support from Germans across a broad range of issues.

Materials

Teaching Strategies

Activities

  1. Assign Weimar Biographies
    • Divide the class into small groups (two to four students per group). Distribute the handout Which Political Party?, and assign each group one of the biographies on the handout.
    • Explain to students that Germany held an election for the Reichstag in July of 1932. (A presidential election in which Hitler lost to Hindenburg occurred earlier that year.) Remind students that in the Reichstag elections, Germans voted for political parties, not individual candidates. After the election, the parties would assign a number of individuals to represent them as delegates in proportion to the percentage of the vote the party won.
    • Ask each group to create an identity chart for the person described in the biography they have been assigned. Then have them list two to four issues that they think would be most important to that person in the 1932 Reichstag elections.
  2. Analyze Voting Choices for Assigned Weimar Citizen
    • Apply the Read Aloud teaching strategy to the reading Hard Times Return. Focus the class’s attention especially on the three party platforms (of the Social Democrats, Communists, and Nazis) included in the reading. Answer questions about and clarify the language in the platforms as necessary.
    • After reading, have students return to their groups and discuss which party they believe the German citizen they were assigned would be most likely to support. Tell them to note any difficulties they have in coming to agreement about which party that German citizen would support, but require students to choose one party, and tell them to be prepared to make an argument to justify the choice.
  3. Share and Discuss Analysis
    • As the class follows along with the handout Which Political Party?, have each group share the following information:
      • The name of the German citizen they were assigned and the two to four issues they decided would be most important to that person in the 1932 Reichstag elections
      • The political party they thought their citizen would support, and the reasons for that conclusion
      • Optionally, any information about the citizen or one of the political parties that led to disagreement or uncertainty within the group about which party the citizen would support
    • Finally, lead the class in a discussion that touches on the following questions:
      • Was it easy or hard to reach a conclusion about the way Weimar citizen would have voted? Why?
      • If all Germans lived through the same economic, political, and cultural events, why didn’t all Germans vote the same way? Why do you think more than half of German citizens did not vote for the Nazi Party? What, then, can explain why many Germans voted for the Nazi Party in 1932?

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