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Inflated Weimar Currency (1923)

In the period following the end of World War I, Germany experienced a disastrous period of inflation. The German government's method of financing the war by borrowing heavily and printing large quantities of unbacked currency began the inflationary spiral. It was compounded by the loss of resources and reparations, which resulted from the Treaty of Versailles. And these difficulties were in turn compounded by political violence. The unwillingness of industrialists and labor leaders to put aside their narrow interests and work for the common good was yet another factor which aggravated the situation. Many Germans, particularly those on fixed incomes and pensions, endured great hardships and lived in sharply reduced circumstances. By November of 1923, hyper-inflation paralyzed Germany and only foreign loans and the issuing of a entirely new currency restored confidence and ended the crisis.

Date Marks U.S. Dollars
1919 4.2 1
1921 75 1
1922 400 1
Jan. 1923 7,000 1
Jul. 1923 160,000 1
Aug. 1923 1,000,000 1
Nov. 1, 1923 1,300,000,000 1
Nov. 15, 1923 1,300,000,000,000 1
Nov. 16, 1923 4,200,000,000,000 1

German children build a pyramid with stacks of inflated currency, virtually worthless in 1923.

Connection Questions

  1. Numbers can tell a story. What story do the numbers provided in this chart tell? Do they lead you to any conclusions? Numbers do not tell the whole story. What do images of the time suggest about how inflation affected the way people saw themselves? Who was hurt most by this kind of inflation?
  2. In times of trouble, people often look for easy answers. Their fears and suspicions of those they regard as “the other” also increase. In the United States, during periods of high unemployment, there is often a corresponding rise in anti-immigrant legislation, hate crimes, and discrimination. The same has been true of nations in Europe both long ago and today. How do you account for such attitudes? How do they threaten minorities? Democracy itself?
  3. It has been said that “any system can stand in fair weather; it is tested when the wind blows.” How do economic crises test democracy? How do such crises encourage people to place their faith in leaders who offer simple solutions to complex problems?

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