Primary Sources: Weimar Economics

Germany emerged from World War I with huge debts incurred to finance a costly war for almost five years. The treasury was empty, the currency was losing value, and Germany needed to pay its war debts and the huge reparations bill imposed on it by the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the war. The treaty also deprived Germany of territory, natural resources, and even ships, trains, and factory equipment. Her population was undernourished and contained many impoverished widows, orphans, and disabled veterans. The new German government struggled to deal with these crises, which had produced a serious hyperinflation.

By 1924, after years of crisis management and attempts at tax and finance reform, the economy was stabilized with the help of foreign, particularly American, loans. A period of relative prosperity prevailed from 1924 to 1929. This relative “golden age” was reflected in the strong support for moderate pro-Weimar political parties in the 1928 elections. However, economic disaster struck with the onset of the world depression in 1929. The American stock market crash and bank failures led to a recall of American loans to Germany. This development added to Germany’s economic hardship. Mass unemployment and suffering followed. Many Germans became increasingly disillusioned with the Weimar Republic and began to turn toward radical anti-democratic parties whose representatives promised to relieve their economic hardships.

Images

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

School Meal in Weimar Germany (1921)

Hungry boys eating a school lunch in Weimar-era Germany during its years of hyper-inflation and malnutrition (1921).

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Women Waiting in Line to Buy Sub-standard Meat (1923)

Women and children wait in line in Berlin, in hopes of buying sub-standard meat during a period of hyper-inflation in Weimar Germany (1923).

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Homeless Men's Shelter (date unknown)

The original caption for this photo, taken in Weimar Germany during the Great Depression, reads: "When night comes! Picture taken in the municipal refuge for the homeless. View of one of the dormitories which can house up to 100 people."

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Documents

Reading
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Personal Accounts of the Inflation Years (1919-1924)

Read a selection of firsthand accounts describing the catastrophic period of inflation the Weimar Germany experienced after World War I.

Reading
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Inflated Weimar Currency (1923)

Learn about the period of disastrous inflation inWeimar Germany after World War I and consider the effects of this era on German citizens.

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