Primary Sources: Weimar Society

Rigid class separation and considerable friction among the classes characterized pre-World War I German society. Aristocratic landowners looked down on middle and working class Germans and only grudgingly associated with wealthy businessmen and industrialists. Members of the middle class guarded their status and considered themselves to be superior to factory workers. The cooperation between middle and working class citizens, which had broken the aristocracy’s monopoly of power in England, had not developed in Germany. In Weimar Germany, class distinctions, while somewhat modified, were still important. In particular, the middle class battled to preserve their higher social status and monetary advantages over the working class.

Gender issues were also controversial as some women’s groups and the left-wing political parties attempted to create more equality between the sexes. Other women’s groups, conservative and radical right-wing political parties, and many members of the clergy resisted these changes. The constitution mandated considerable gender equality, but tradition and the civil and criminal codes were still strongly patriarchal and contributed to perpetuating inequality. Marriage and divorce laws and questions of morality and sexuality were all areas of ferment and debate.

In this section, you will find primary sources by topic: Antisemitism, Gender, Homophobia, Racism, and Religion.

Antisemitism

While no overt violence against Jews took place in Germany in the pre-World War I years (violent campaigns against Jews called pogroms did take place in Russia and Romania), strong currents of Antisemitism existed. German society was dominated by a strong sense of insiders and outsiders and Jews were most often held up as the prime example of "the other." As Jews--who had been equal before the law since 1871--became more successful during the Weimar years in the arts, the press, law, and medicine, hostility toward them rose. While many Jews were also successful in business, they by no means dominated the German economy as their enemies charged, and Jews were generally a middle class population.

Barred from most University positions by social prejudices, many of the most talented Jews conducted their research and published their results through private research institutes. Strong antisemitism was in evidence among many judges, army officers, conservative and radical right–wing politicians, Protestant and Catholic clergy and teachers.

Connection Questions for the Classroom:

Statistics reveal that less than 1 percent of Germany’s population was of Jewish descent. In other parts of Europe the percentage ranged from 10-11 percent in Poland to less than l/2 percent in such countries as Sweden, Denmark, Italy, and Yugoslavia. Although a few were rich, most barely eked out a living. Yet throughout Europe, people saw Jews as a powerful and dangerous people. Why the discrepancy between the actual statistics and the misperceptions about Jews? Why might minorities be vulnerable during times of stress?

Use the following documents to explore the topic of antisemitism in the Weimar Republic.

Reading
Antisemitism & Religious Intolerance

Bertha Pappenheim, Letter on Antisemitism (1923)

Bertha Pappenheim recounts the antisemitic abuse that she witnessed in Germany in 1923.

Reading
Antisemitism & Religious Intolerance

Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1927)

Learn about the impact that this fabricated book had on Hitler and the Nazi Party.

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Antisemitism & Religious Intolerance

"Jewish Culture," Der Stürmer Antisemitic Cartoon

Title: "Jewish Culture"
Caption: "The natural and the unnatural."

Explanation: A German couple enjoy the outdoors, while a Jew with his Gentile girlfriend are watching a pornographic movie. (August 1929)

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Antisemitism & Religious Intolerance

"Nothing the November Republic Promised...," Der Stürmer Antisemitic Cartoon

Title: "The Way Out"
Caption: "Nothing the November Republic promised them has been fulfilled." Der Stürmer was published by the Nuremberg Nazi leader Julius Streicher. It was the most vicious antisemitic newspapers among all those the Nazis published and combined racist stereotypes with pornographic material to accuse the Jews of race defilement.

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Antisemitism & Religious Intolerance

"When the Vermin are Dead...," Der Stürmer Antisemitic Cartoon

Title: "When the Vermin are Dead..." Caption: "When the vermin are dead, the German oak will again flourish." Der Stürmer was published by the Nuremberg Nazi leader Julius Streicher. It was the most vicious antisemitic newspapers among all those the Nazis published and combined racist stereotypes with pornographic material to accuse the Jews of race defilement.

Gender

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

Exhibition on the Role of German Women (1933)

A poster advertising an exhibition on the role of women in German society that was being held as the Nazis put an end to Weimar democracy in the spring of 1933. Translation: Woman, An Exhibition of Women's Life and influence on family, home and work Berlin, 1933, 18 March - 23 April at The Funkturm (Berlin's "Eiffel Tower" built in 1924)

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Democracy & Civic Engagement

German Women Voting (1919)

German Christian women voting in 1919. German Christian women were newly enfranchised.

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Holocaust

Jewish Women Asked for ID Cards (Berlin, 1920)

Eastern European Jewish women are asked for ID cards in Berlin's "Barn Quarter" in 1920.

Homophobia

Use the following document to further explore homophobia during the Weimar Republic.

Reading
Justice & Human Rights

Paragraph 175

Learn about Paragraph 175 of the German Constitution, a law that prohibited homosexuality in Nazi Germany.

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Justice & Human Rights

Cartoon of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld

Cartoon of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld campaigning for repeal of Paragraph 175, the German law against homosexuality.

Racism

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Holocaust
Transforming Germany in the 1930s

Skull Measuring Device (1933)

Window display with skull measuring device meant to show the difference between Aryan and non-Aryan skulls circa 1933.

Religion

Weimar Germany had a population that was about 65% Protestant, 34% Catholic, and 1% Jewish. After German unification in 1871, the government had strongly favored the two major Protestant Churches, Lutheran and Reformed, which thought of themselves as state-sponsored churches. At the same time, the government had harassed and restricted the Catholic Church. Although German Catholics had only seen restrictions slowly lifted in the pre-World War I period, they nevertheless demonstrated their patriotism in World War I. German Jews, who had faced centuries of persecution and restriction, finally achieved legal equality in 1871. However, legal equality did not translate into social equality, and the Jews remained the “other” in Germany.

Catholics and Jews both benefited from the founding of the Weimar Republic. Catholics entered the government in leadership positions, and Jews participated actively in Weimar cultural life. Many Protestant clergymen resented the loss of their privileged status. While many slowly accepted the new Republic, others were never reconciled to it. Both Protestant and Catholic clergy were suspicious of the Socialists who were a part of the ruling group in Weimar and who often voiced Marxist hostility toward religion. Conflicts over religion and education and religion and gender policies were often intense during the Weimar years. The growth of the Communist Party in Germany alarmed Protestant and Catholic clergy, and the strong support the Catholic Center Political Party had given to the Republic weakened in the last years of the Republic. While Jews had unprecedented opportunities during the Weimar period, their accomplishments and increased visibility added resentment to long-standing prejudices and hatreds and fueled a growing antisemitism.

Use the following document to explore the topic of religion in the Weimar Republic.

Reading
Holocaust

Rabbi Leo Baeck's Essay on Judaism, 1922

Rabbi Leo Baeck asserts that how a culture treats Jews is reflective of how just that society is.

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Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.