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.

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Homeless Women's Shelter (date unknown)

The original caption for this photograph, taken during the Great Depression in Weimar Germany, reads: "A refuge for homeless women. After the women have put on their long gowns, which are the refuge's uniform, they are given soup and bread for supper." (date unknown)

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Children with Stacks of Inflated German Currency

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

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