30 April 2024

Austrian-German Banking Crisis, 1931

From The Weimar Years: Rise and Fall 1918–1933, by Frank McDonough (Bloomsbury, 2023), Kindle pp. 575-576:

The bungled fiasco of the German–Austrian Customs Union led directly to the Austrian banking crisis. On 13 May, the Creditanstalt, the largest and most respected Austrian bank, suddenly declared bankruptcy, sending shock-waves through world financial markets. Jittery creditors everywhere withdrew funds. The bank’s initial losses amounted to 828 million Austrian schillings. During May, Austria’s foreign-currency reserves fell by 850 million schillings. Otto Ender, the Austrian Chancellor, was forced to put together a government-backed financial rescue plan by buying up 100 million schillings’ worth of Creditanstalt stock. Support in this rescue package was given by the powerful Rothschild banking family of Austria, and on 16 June the Bank of England provided a sizeable loan to the Austrian government to assist with the plan.

The Austrian banking crisis had a domino effect, with the panic-selling of the stock of German banks soon following. In early June, the Reichsbank announced it had suffered the withdrawal of 1 billion Reichsmarks since the Creditanstalt collapse, with foreign deposits falling by 25 per cent. The German government was now having great difficulty in raising foreign loans to service its huge public-spending deficit, and the Reichsmark was falling on currency markets. On 5 June, Brüning issued the Second Emergency Decree for the Protection of the Economy and Finances, which brought in reductions in welfare benefits, wage cuts for all public-sector employees, plus a ‘crisis’ tax, levied on better-paid white-collar workers, and increases in sales taxes on sugar and imported oil. The one concession to organised labour was a promise of 200 million Reichsmarks for the funding of public works. This new decree was accompanied by a blunt declaration from Brüning that ‘the limit of privations which we can impose on the German people had been reached’, and he further warned that Germany could not make the reparations payments due in 1931 under the Young Plan.

On 7 June, Heinrich Brüning, accompanied by Julius Curtius, the German Foreign Minister, met with Ramsay MacDonald, at Chequers, the British Prime Minister’s picturesque country retreat. The purpose of the visit was for a ‘mutual exchange of views’. Also present was Montagu Norman, the Governor of the Bank of England, who expressed dissatisfaction with Brüning’s announcement of his intention to suspend reparations payments. In response, Brüning explained his declaration was really a warning of what would happen if the issue of Germany’s payments for 1931 was not urgently addressed. The friendly meeting only yielded the release of a joint statement, which laid stress on ‘the difficulties of the existing position in Germany and the need for alleviation’.

The US President, Herbert Hoover, was following European economic affairs closely, and he fully appreciated the impact the financial collapse of German banks would have on American creditors. The magnanimous proposal by Hoover of a payments moratorium was initially opposed by the French government, Germany’s principal reparations creditor, but was finally accepted, on 6 July, with the condition that the German government spent the one-year saving on reparations for domestic rather than military purposes. The Hoover Moratorium really marked the beginning of the end of German reparations payments, which were never resumed.

28 April 2024

Weimar Elections of 1930

 From The Weimar Years: Rise and Fall 1918–1933, by Frank McDonough (Bloomsbury, 2023), Kindle pp. 552-554:

Given the horrors that followed, it now seems impossible to understand why German people of their own free will could vote in such large numbers for a party pledged to destroy democracy. In Dresden, Victor Klemperer, an academic at Dresden University, wrote in his diary: ‘107 National Socialists. What a humiliation! How close are we to civil war!’ In contrast, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency there was no reason for despair over Hitler’s strong showing in the national elections because ‘it was only a symptom, not necessarily of anti-Jewish hatred, but was caused by unemployment and economic misery within the ranks of misguided youth’.

It seems 24 per cent of NSDAP voters were voting in an election for the first time, many of them young people and pensioners, 22 per cent of new NSDAP voters had previously voted for the DNVP, with 18 per cent moving from the middle-class liberal parties, and 14 per cent from the Social Democrats. In sum, the biggest movement of voters to the NSDAP came from the middle-class conservative and liberal parties, and the party received the least swing votes from the KPD and Zentrum. There was also a strong reluctance to vote NSDAP in the big cities with large working-class industrial workers.

The most impressive gains for the NSDAP were in Protestant rural areas, especially those of northern and eastern Germany stretching from Schleswig-Holstein to East Prussia. The party performed very well in large northern states such as Pomerania, Mecklenburg, Hanover, Brunswick and Oldenburg, and achieved comparable results in predominantly Protestant Franconia and Hesse-Nassau. Voting support in these areas came primarily from elements of the lower middle class: small shopkeepers, farmers, self-employed tradespeople such as builders, plumbers, electricians and joiners, but there was also an upswing of support from middle-class white-collar workers, lower civil servants, teachers and university students. It was these who would represent the party’s core voters during its rise to power, but the NSDAP was not simply a ‘middle-class protest party,’ as was once thought. It is now clear Hitler’s party was able to gain support from all sections of society in a way the other political parties could not.

It was not, as is often supposed, primarily economic misery that drove voters to the NSDAP. Hitler’s campaign had focused on the failure of the Weimar political system to solve Germany’s problems, and this issue seems to have struck a far stronger chord with voters than the state of the economy. There was a growing loss of confidence in the Weimar political system, which made the decision to vote for a party that was not tainted by involvement in that system much easier. An editorial in the Frankfurter Zeitung spoke of an ‘election of embitterment’ in which voters expressed deep disaffection with ‘the methods of governing or rather non-governing’ of parliamentary government.

Hitler’s dramatic election breakthrough had a devastating impact abroad. There was a large withdrawal of gold and foreign currency from the Reichsbank, and a sharp fall in German stocks on international markets. Even larger German banks were shaken by the wave of panic selling. Julius Curtius, the Foreign Minister, who was in Geneva while the League of Nations was in session, reported when he heard the results: ‘the mood was one of the greatest alarm’. The world now started taking much greater interest in Adolf Hitler.

25 April 2024

Catching an Interned Spy

From The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp, by Simon Parkin (Scribner, 2022), Kindle pp. 257-258, 281-282:

WARSCHAUER HAD FIRST COME TO MI5’s attention in early 1940, after the chief constable of the Special Branch, Scotland Yard, received a letter from the former head of the German Jewish Aid Committee, the thirty-seven-year-old Hubert Pollack, who claimed to have helped [Ludwig] Warschauer obtain the immigration permits for Echen and her family. Pollack explained in his letter that, while he had known Warschauer to be an acquaintance of high-ranking Nazis, he had had no reason to suspect his loyalties at the time. In recent weeks, however, he had learned of Warschauer’s involvement with a sting operation in Berlin.

The ruse, Pollack claimed, went like this: Warschauer would invite a Jewish acquaintance whom the Gestapo wanted to arrest to lunch in a public restaurant. At some point an Aryan woman would join them at the table. Warschauer would excuse himself, and the moment he left the table, Gestapo personnel would enter and arrest the man for fraternizing outside of his race. Pollack felt compelled to alert the British to this information, adding that while Warschauer owed him money, this was not his motive for writing.

Sir Vernon Kell, then director of MI5, read the letter with keen interest. This was precisely the kind of suspicious activity—with “a Gestapo flavor”—that Kell had been looking for among refugees in Britain. MI5 duly opened a file that, thanks to the informants in Hutchinson [Internment Camp], had now grown to a weighty document.

Information had come from various sources. A private serving in the Pioneer Corps claimed that Warschauer had masterminded a profitable blackmail operation in Berlin. The soldier claimed that the engineer had an arrangement with a pretty barmaid. Warschauer would go out drinking with a target; then, once they were blind drunk, deliver the individual to a room at his accomplice’s bar. In the morning the man would awake to find the barmaid next to him in bed. Warschauer would then extort the target for money in exchange for discretion. Men now in Hutchinson may have been victims of the scheme.


The author and translator Claud W. Sykes, a senior figure at MI5 who concluded that “[Warschauer] would have been a Nazi but for his Jewish blood,” wrote a letter recommending that Warschauer be immediately transferred from Hutchinson camp, to separate him both from his cronies and the indulgent commandant.

“It seems to me too dangerous to leave him in a position where he is [Major] Daniel’s blue-eyed boy,” wrote Sykes.

In March 1942, five months after Peter left the camp and when only about 350 men remained in Hutchinson, Warschauer was transferred from the island to the London Oratory School on Stewart’s Grove, in the salubrious London Borough of Chelsea, also known as Internment Camp 001, which was used to house high-security internees.

BY EARLY 1942, THE INVESTIGATOR James Craufurd’s suspicion that Warschauer had been sent to England as a Gestapo agent had grown “nearly to a certainty.” The evidence collected during MI5’s raid on Warschauer’s office—in the home he shared with Echen—had provided a mountain of jigsaw pieces. Among the haul there were letters from Dr. Hans Sauer, the man who had ensured Warschauer’s smooth exit from Germany, as well as canisters of photographic film rigged to produce a blotted-out image unless developed in a specific way. MI5 spent weeks studying the letter Sauer had sent Warschauer for clues and code words, even employing an expert to analyze Sauer’s handwriting (“There is in the writing unusual intelligence, knowledge and mental ability, but a bad man,” the expert concluded banally).

23 April 2024

Rushen Women's Internment Camp

From The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp, by Simon Parkin (Scribner, 2022), Kindle pp. 199-201:

The Rushen women’s internment camp had opened on the [Isle of Man’s] southern peninsula on May 29, incorporating two small seaside resorts: Port Erin and Port St. Mary. Despite the considerable number of women held there—close to four thousand, three hundred of whom were pregnant—security was laxer than at the men’s camps. A single barbed-wire perimeter encircled both resorts and, while the women had to apply for a permit before they could visit each other’s houses, they were free to walk between the two sites without hindrance.

At first the Hutchinson men whose wives were interned on the island had to send letters via the usual route to the backlogged censor’s office in Liverpool, where delays often meant their messages were long out-of-date by the time they arrived. From the moment the first internees arrived on the island, Bertha Bracey had pressured the government to establish a separate camp for married couples. Convincing the relevant departments to make such an expenditure was proving difficult.

In lieu of a married camp, Hutchinson’s intelligence officer, Captain Jurgensen, announced in late autumn the first monthly meeting between husbands and wives interned on the island. The rendezvous, he explained, would take place at the Port Erin branch of Collinson’s Café.

On the morning of the first meeting, a group of around fifty men, wearing their finest clothes and, in some cases, carrying bunches of flowers, gathered in readiness to leave the camp and be reunited, for a fleeting moment, with their imprisoned wives. A few hours later the men returned to Hutchinson. Many looked dejected. Werner Klein, one of Hinrichsen’s neighbors who had gone to meet his wife, explained to his friend that the psychological conditions in the women’s camp were even more strained than at Hutchinson. His wife had told him that Rushen was riddled with Nazi sympathizers, who had been whipped into a state of obstinate zeal by their self-appointed leader, Wanda Wehrhan, wife of a Lutheran pastor based in London and an energetic fascist. There had been no consideration of race or political allegiance when allocating women to Rushen’s houses. In some cases, Jewish women had been forced to share beds with fervent anti-Semites.

The Nazi women, like many of the male internees, believed that invasion was imminent. In some houses, Jewish women were banned by their Nazi housemates from the common room and forced to remain in their bedrooms. When one refugee entered the local Methodist church, one of the Nazis said, loudly: “Oh there is a bad smell, a Jewish smell, in this church.”

The women were permitted to leave the camp to shop twice a week. One of the landladies whose house had been requisitioned recalled overhearing a group of Nazi-supporting women discussing which of the local houses they would take for themselves when Germany won the war.

Rushen camp’s commandant, Dame Joanna Cruickshank, was seemingly ill-equipped to deal with these sensitivities and conflicts. Cruickshank, a former matron in chief of both Princess Mary’s RAF Nursing Service and the British Red Cross, had enjoyed a distinguished career in military nursing appointments. She had formidable powers of organization, but no understanding—or apparent willingness to understand—the situation of the women in her charge. She hired Nazi women to work on the camp staff, granted them access to camp records and, intent on preserving impartiality, ordered Jews and Nazis to collaborate on the production of the camp’s newspaper, of which only a single issue was produced.

Unaccustomed to being questioned by intelligent women from civilian life, Cruickshank became entrenched when challenged on her decision-making. When Klein’s wife, a non-Jew, had proposed to her camp commandant the separation of Jews and Nazis, Cruickshank said: “You are all enemy aliens, and that is the end of it.”

19 April 2024

Effects of the Arandora Star Sinking

From The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp, by Simon Parkin (Scribner, 2022), Kindle pp. 178-179:

THROUGHOUT THE WARM WEEKS OF July [1940], as Hutchinson’s internees appointed their leaders and cooks, drew up the schedule of lectures and entertainments, and learned to paint, a pile of suitcases sat in a corner of another internment camp in Devon, a few hundred miles away. Rescued from the wreck of the Arandora Star, these unclaimed effects were the somber luggage of the recently deceased. It was a smaller pile of belongings than those left at the doors to the Holocaust’s shower rooms, but still emblematic of injustice. As the swollen bodies of the dead began to wash onto Irish and Hebridean beaches, so fresh details about the tragedy continued to emerge, casting further doubt on the official version of events.

On July 30, in the House of Commons, the secretary of state for war, Anthony Eden was asked whether the government had known for sure that, as previously claimed, everyone aboard the Arandora Star had been a Nazi sympathizer. By now, Eden knew for certain that this had not been the case.

“Fifty-three [Germans and Austrians aboard] were or claimed to be refugees, but had nevertheless been placed in category A,” he conceded.

In Whitehall, the impersonal statistics were now clothed with the intimacies of story. Politicians learned that, among the dead, there was a German sailor who came to Britain as an anti-fascist, only to be interned with a “mélange” of Nazi sympathizers; there was a metalworker who, after spending four years imprisoned in Nazi camps, escaped to Britain, was interned, then killed in the sinking; there was the blind pensioner who had been separated from his wife for the first time in his life.

The admission that refugees of Nazi oppression had been aboard the ship caused widespread outrage and called into question the wider policy of mass internment, which had begun to seem less like a rational security measure and more like victim-blaming on an industrial scale. The Jewish Chronicle, which just a few months earlier had defended a wartime government’s “right to interfere drastically with the freedom of the individual,” now likened the “disgraceful hounding of refugees” to “Gestapo methods.” Readers agreed. “It seems strange that in order to defeat the Gestapo abroad, it should be considered necessary to introduce their methods at home,” wrote Moya Woodside in a typical letter published in the Northern Whig. The public’s attitude had changed. Policy would duly follow.

While still far from secure, Britain’s general position in the war had shifted enough that, as Churchill put it to his cabinet, it was now possible to “take a somewhat less rigid attitude in regard to the internment of aliens.” Arrests, which had continued at a rate of around 150 per day throughout July, were suspended. If a so-called enemy alien had thus far managed to avoid being apprehended, they would most likely remain free for the remainder of the war. Mass internment was finished.

“That tragedy may… have served a useful if terrible purpose,” said Lord Faringdon of the Arandora Star in a speech to the House of Lords later that week. “For it may have opened the eyes of those responsible, and of members of the public, and of His Majesty’s Government.” It would take months and years to unpick the tangled mess of internment. Politicians’ efforts to justify and distance themselves from the episode were, by contrast, immediate.

18 April 2024

Hutchinson Internment Camp in U.K.

From The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp, by Simon Parkin (Scribner, 2022), Kindle pp. 164-166:

Hutchinson was six weeks old; Peter had entered a maturing universe. The internees had developed their daily routines—the favored mug, the preferred toilet cubicle, the ideal route to take when crossing the lawn—habits of minor, vital comfort. The camp’s daily, immovable routine provided the semblance of a reassuring structure, too. For those who couldn’t manage to rouse themselves for the optional dawn exercises held on the lawn square at 7:00, there was mandatory roll call at 7:30. Breakfast: 8:15. Lunch: 12:30. Supper: 7:00. Then, a final counting of heads at 9:30 in the evening.

Thanks to Ahrends and Hinrichsen’s formidable powers of organization, the camp’s schedule of intellectual diversions had grown and diversified, too. On the week of Peter’s arrival, Hutchinson’s timetable of cultural events listed no fewer than forty lectures. The subjects covered philosophy, bookkeeping, medieval history, and the nutritional benefits of fruit (Title: “Q. ‘Why should we eat oranges?’ A. ‘Vitamins’ ”), as well as performances of Brahms and Schubert by a young graduate of the Royal College of Music, Hans Fürth, accompanied on violin by the impressionist painter Fritz Salomonski.

For internees who wished to practice their French, there was a weekly “Cercle Française” run by Dr. Arthur Bratu, a teacher who fled Germany for Belgium before escaping to Britain on a fishing boat. Anyone interested in photography could join weekly classes offered by Paul Henning, a member of the Artists Café. There were soccer games, chess tournaments, boxing matches, and local hikes—albeit under armed guard—through the island countryside, with its bowed reeds and ragwort. In the afternoons Peter could watch a kind of proto-aerobics session on the lawn: exercise set to music, led by Kurt Böhm, the school gymnastics teacher. For a young orphan from Berlin it was overwhelming.

“Artists? Painting? Concerts? For free? Every day? It was unheard of,” Peter later recalled.

There was, in Hutchinson camp, no shortage for a man in search of diversion. There was opportunity for paid work, too. The Camp Bank consisted of one manager and a few clerks; the Post and Parcel Office employed a postmaster and four staff. Sixteen men made up the Fire Brigade and the Air Raid Precaution Services and had regular drills to practice using the portable reciprocating water pumps known as stirrup pumps. They were supplemented by one doctor and twelve stretcher bearers.

In the six weeks since its opening, the camp office had expanded its range of community services, too. It now housed two shoemakers, a laundry, a tailor, a pressing and ironing service, a shirt repairer, two hairdressers, and four watch repairers; services that had enabled some internees to return to the vocations they had been forced to leave behind in their homelands. At the suggestion of Bertha Bracey’s man-in-situ, William Hughes, the members of this last group fixed watches owned by residents outside the camp at the trade union pay rate, on the proviso that the watchmakers did not train any fellow internees—presumably so as not to further threaten the livelihoods of British workers. Those who preferred outdoor employment could apply to chop wood or work as farm laborers. One group of young men from Hutchinson helped to build the island’s airport, digging ditches and laying cables.

Anyone could buy items from the camp canteen, managed by Hans Guttmann, the director of Hammond book publishing. Guttmann, supported by four shop assistants, would even allow any internee to purchase items on credit, provided they could prove they owned a bank account on the outside. In time, every prisoner of war and internment camp, including Hutchinson, received bespoke currency: generic notes stamped with the “camp of issue.”

The camp had emerging opportunities for men who wished to exercise existing talents or seek out new ones. Few may have recognized Otto Haas-Heye, a distinguished clothes designer who, via his Berlin salon Alfred-Marie, helped shape fashion during the 1920s. After a dozen or so men joined his weaving school and began to produce exquisite rugs under his tutelage and direction, however, everyone recognized his work. A carpentry school taught woodwork, while another group made artificial flowers and stuffed animals. Some items were of a particularly high quality. Michael Corvin wrote of Leon Kuhmerker’s talent for artificial flower making: “The [flowers] consist mainly of fine coloured leather and their appearance is amazingly vivid… no flower leaves the little shop which is not perfect in form and unique in making.”

A shop was opened in Douglas to sell items made by the internees, including rugs from the weaving school and model boats made by the carpenters. In her role as chair of the Central Department for Interned Refugees, Bertha Bracey organized materials for most of the workshops and schools.

16 April 2024

U.S. vs. U.K. on Mass Internment

From The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp, by Simon Parkin (Scribner, 2022), Kindle pp. 65-67:

ON SEPTEMBER 1, 1939, TWO days before Britain declared war on Germany, police forces around the country received the order to unseal the envelopes sent by MI5 and arrest those individuals named within. In London, officers escorted the internees to the Olympia exhibition hall on Hammersmith, which had been set aside as a clearing center, even forcing the men to pay for the taxi ride. By the end of the week, 350 individuals had been arrested across the country and delivered to Internment Camp No. 4, an out-of-season seaside resort at Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, just fifteen miles away from the Kindertransport camp at Harwich.

Despite months of investigation and planning, this first wave of arrests—intended to capture only the most dangerous Nazi sympathizers and fervent communists—was characterized by mistakes and misunderstandings. Eugen Spier, Alex Nathan, and Dr. Bernhard Weiss, all Jews and staunch anti-fascists, were among the first men arrested and taken to Olympia, where they were herded alongside bona fide Nazis such as Hitler’s friend Ernst Hanfstaengl. Weiss was the former Berlin police chief and had become famous in Germany after he sued Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, more than forty times for libel and won every time. It was difficult to imagine a less likely suspect for a Nazi spy.

With those MI5 had deemed highest risk interned, the question of what was to be done with the thousands of other “enemy aliens” living in Britain immediately arose. In the House of Commons on September 4, the MP Arthur Greenwood put the following question to the home secretary, Sir John Anderson, who had been on the job only a day: “What steps [do you] intend to take to deal with aliens in time of war?”

For the first time in public, Anderson began to explain the government’s plans.

“A number of aliens whose suspicious activities have been under observation are already under detention,” explained Anderson. Others, he said, would now have to report to the police and obtain permits for change of residence, travel, and the possession of items such as cameras and motorcars.

“A large proportion of the Germans and Austrians at present in this country are refugees, and there will, I am sure, be a general desire to avoid treating as enemies those who are friendly to the country which has offered them asylum,” Anderson continued. “At the same time, care must be taken to sift out any persons who, though claiming to be refugees, may not, in fact, be friendly to this country.”

Here was the essence of the problem facing the British government. In a letter to the foreign secretary, Sir John Anderson explained that “It was felt… it would be wrong to treat as enemies [those] refugees who are hostile to the Nazi regime, unlikely to do anything to assist the enemy and often anxious to assist the country which has given them asylum.” And yet, there was a risk that there could be enemies posing as refugees, spies who had already entered Britain under the cloak of asylum.

On September 29, Cordell Hull, the US secretary of state, sent a telegram to the American embassy in London warning of the moral dangers inherent in a policy of mass internment. Hull referenced the lessons of the First World War, when “the rigorous… internment of enemy aliens” caused “widespread and seemingly unnecessary suffering to thousands of innocent persons.” Copies of the message were also sent to the American embassies in Berlin and Paris, a pointed sign of US neutrality at this stage of the war.

For now, however, the threat of mass internment seemed both remote and mitigated by the plan for the tribunals that, between October 1939 and March 1940, would deliberate no fewer than 73,353 cases, including that of Peter Fleischmann. Most were refugees, and the others long-established residents or people who, by chance, were in Britain at the outbreak of war. Nevertheless, the reliability and loyalty of everyone would be examined by a panel. If suspicions remained, they were to be interned.

Not everyone condoned such a magnanimous approach. Guy Liddell, MI5’s head of counterintelligence, summed up his view of the decision to forgo mass internment with a single word: “Farce.”

14 April 2024

Death of Stresemann, 1929

From The Weimar Years: Rise and Fall 1918–1933, by Frank McDonough (Bloomsbury, 2023), Kindle pp. 506-508:

As news spread of Stresemann’s death, there was a flood of tributes. The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (German General Newspaper) wrote, ‘It seemed necessary for this man to die for his real greatness to be appreciated by his compatriots.’ There were glowing tributes from leading world leaders, including Ramsay MacDonald, the British Prime Minister, who commented: ‘His memory is secure, and I cannot believe the great service he has given to pacification with such patience and faith can now be undone.’ Aristide Briand, the French Prime Minister, sent a telegram to Stresemann’s widow Käte, which read: ‘I will always retain the deepest respect for his memory. In pursuit of our common ideal, Dr Stresemann caused me to appreciate his lofty outlook and fine loyalty.’

Stresemann lay in state in the German parliament. Thousands of people filed past the open coffin to pay their respects before his state funeral on 6 October. Hermann Müller, the Reich Chancellor, bowed to the coffin in the Plenary Hall of the Reichstag, where the memorial service was held, before delivering a moving eulogy, describing Stresemann as a towering figure in world politics. There was then a solemn funeral procession through Berlin, pausing for several minutes outside the Foreign Ministry, before proceeding to burial in the Luisenstädtischer Friedhof in Kreuzberg, Berlin. It was estimated that a crowd of 200,000 had lined the route. Film newsreels of the event appeared in cinemas around the world.

Gustav Stresemann’s record entitles him to be seen not only as the Weimar Republic’s most successful Foreign Minister, but undoubtedly its most dominant political figure. It is impossible to see German history in the 1920s taking the same course without him. Some politicians make an enormous difference, and he was one of those who did. He was a member of every German cabinet from 1923 to 1929, and the Social Democrats were his most consistent supporters. Stresemann raised Germany from a humiliated and disgruntled foe in 1923 into a diplomatic equal and Great Power again at the time of his death. His achievements as Foreign Minister ended the Ruhr occupation of 1923, contributed to the stabilisation of the Republic, finalised the Locarno and Rapallo Treaties and the Kellogg–Briand Pact, took Germany into the League of Nations, eased Germany’s reparations burdens through the Dawes and Young Plans, and brought the foreign occupation of Germany to an end. Never has the Nobel Peace Prize had a more justified recipient.

Stresemann’s death left a huge void in German political life. He had been a force of stability within a deeply unstable political system, and had gained admiration around the world. There was no speech at the League of Nations in the months following his death that did not begin with a homage to his memory. There was simply no one in Germany or outside it capable of stepping into his shoes.

It is difficult to calculate the exact part his tragic death played in the destruction of German democracy, and the souring of international relations, but he was probably the one Weimar politician who, through the sheer force of his personality, might have saved it, though Stresemann himself thought everything in politics was determined by the state of the economy. Critics of Stresemann have depicted him as an opportunistic and deceitful power-politician with a hidden militaristic agenda, with some even trying to depict him as Hitler in a morning suit. Between the extremes of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Stresemann was predominantly Dr Jekyll, whereas Hitler was always Mr Hyde. But there is truly little evidence in his private papers or his diaries of Stresemann desiring a war of revenge or territorial expansion beyond restoring the territory lost by Germany under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, and putting an end to reparations.

13 April 2024

Quaker Roles in Kindertransport

From The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp, by Simon Parkin (Scribner, 2022), Kindle pp. 40-44:

Shortly after Kristallnacht, Wilfrid Israel, a Jewish businessman and owner of Israel’s Department Store, one of the largest in Berlin, wrote to Bertha Bracey. Israel, a descendant of the first chief rabbi of Britain, Hermann Adler, was well connected—his friend Albert Einstein later said of Israel: “Never in my life have I come in contact with a being so noble, so strong and as selfless… a living work of art.”

Israel had already begun work to secure the release of Jews who had been arrested during the pogrom. He invited the commandant of Sachsenhausen, the concentration camp where Jewish men were being forced to accept the blame for Rath’s murder, to do his Christmas shopping at the store for free in exchange for the release of captives.

Now Israel wanted to organize the rescue of Jewish children up to the age of seventeen and find a way to send them to Britain. Israel knew that he needed the assistance of regional committees to quickly establish the machinery to realize such a plan, but British Jews were forbidden to visit Berlin. He had remained in contact with Bertha ever since they met in Nuremberg. Bertha was at her Euston office when she received the invitation from her old friend to visit him in Berlin.

The Quakers, a group that numbered just twenty-three thousand in Britain at the time, were permitted to travel freely to and from Nazi Germany. This generous attitude was the result of the group’s humanitarian work after the First World War, the so-called Quakerspeisung—Quaker feeding—a program that provided five million German children with food in the aftermath of the war and recession.

Many children who benefited from this philanthropic work grew up to become senior Nazi officers; the memory of the group’s benevolence remained clear across the nation and political divides. In 1936 a Nazi dictionary for children provided just three entries for church denominations: Protestanten, Katholische, and Quäker. The definition for Quäker identified the group as having “sacrificially cared for destitute children in Germany after the Great War.” As a result, the Nazi regime allowed the Quakers to continue their philanthropic work relatively unimpeded.

In the days after Kristallnacht, Bertha traveled to Berlin with a delegation of five colleagues to confer with Wilfrid Israel as to how they might, with the utmost urgency, evacuate children to Britain. When she arrived, Bertha attempted to keep her presence in the city secret, fearing that German Quakers living in the city might experience reprisals were the group’s plans exposed. These plans, first suggested by the German Jewish social worker and refugee activist Solomon Adler-Rudel and devised in collaboration with the Jewish Refugees Committee, were a masterpiece of collaboration and international organization.

Vulnerable German children up to the age of seventeen would take a train from Germany to the Netherlands, which, the day after Kristallnacht, had agreed to allow temporary residence to an unlimited number of German and Austrian children. From Holland, they would take the ferry to Britain, to be accepted into the home of a willing family. There would be unimaginable pain as children were parted from their parents, not knowing when or if they would again meet, but the plan seemed preferable to any alternative. As she returned to Britain, Bertha knew that without the backing of the British government—which would need to issue the immigration permits—it would come to naught.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was torn on how his government should respond to current events. As news from Germany spread, the prevailing tide of public opinion had shifted; national anxieties about asylum seekers were, it seemed, matched and even surpassed by the urge to demonstrate compassion on the international stage. Outrage had finally grown to the monstrous proportions necessary for action.

Chamberlain told the House of Commons that his government would consider “any possible way by which we can help these people.” An “open doors” policy was out of the question, however, not least because of fears that refugees might compete for jobs at a time of high unemployment. Even prominent Jewish representatives appeared to oppose the large-scale admission of Jews, seemingly afraid of agitating anti-Semitism in Britain.

Four days after the attacks, a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Foreign Policy discussed possible responses. The home secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, who was from a Quaker family, suggested that part of the British annual quota of sixty thousand immigrants—of which only about a quarter had currently been used—might be earmarked for German Jews suffering from Nazi oppression. The previous September, Winston Churchill had written an open letter in the Evening Standard imploring Hitler to cease his persecution of Jews; now he suggested settling refugees in a colony such as British Guiana. The discussion ended without resolution.

On the morning of November 21, eleven days after the violence of Kristallnacht, Bertha Bracey met the home secretary, accompanied by five other humanitarian representatives. Among them was Ben Greene, who had returned from a trip to Germany only that morning. The members of this interfaith group, called the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany, outlined a plan that, Hoare soon realized, might represent precisely the kind of grand gesture that the British public required.

At first, Hoare expressed some doubt that any parents would willingly send their child alone to a foreign country, to live with strangers. Greene explained that, while he was in Berlin, he had put the same question to Jewish families in person.

“They were,” Greene told the politician, “almost unanimously in favor of parting with their children.” Better to assume the risks of their children going to a foreign country, most parents had told him, than keep them to face the capricious dangers at home.

Moved by Bertha’s tragic descriptions of Berlin, challenged by her display of Quaker faith in action, and no doubt inspired by what seemed like a public relations coup, Hoare at last committed to a course of action. Provided they had a guarantor to offer food, shelter, and the cost of a ticket home, “transmigrant” children, as they were to be known, would be welcome in Britain. Visas and alien cards would be waived in place of a new permit bearing the child’s name and those of his or her parents.

That evening Hoare made good on his promise. In a debate in the House of Commons he pledged that, while the refugee issue was “an international problem” that “no single country can hope to solve,” Britain was “prepared to play [its] full part. “I believe that we could find homes in this country for a very large number [of children] without any harm to our own population,” he continued. We shall, Hoare promised, “put no obstacle in the way of children coming here.”

There was much to be done. In addition to the logistical challenges involved in bringing unaccompanied minors across Europe, there was the issue of locating and vetting British families who could provide safe lodging. Ideally these individuals would be equipped to ease the children’s psychological turmoil at having been separated from their parents. Regional committees needed to be set up to enlist foster parents and organize accommodations.

Then there was the question of how—considering that the need vastly outstripped the provision—places would be allocated. Priority would be given to middle-class candidates, perceived to be likely to adapt most quickly to a new country, and—in a grim paralleling of the Nazi preference for Aryan-looking children—blond girls were favored, as potential British foster parents and guarantors were more inclined to choose them from photographs.

Dennis Cohen, chair of the Jewish Refugees Committee’s emigration department, and his wife left for Berlin on November 28, 1938, to finalize arrangements with the German government and consult with the welfare organizations responsible for making selections—the Reichsvertretung in Germany, and the Kultusgemeinde in Austria—from more than six hundred applications that had already arrived.

The children were to be brought out of Germany by various means, mainly train, but also by plane in some cases. The proposal was dubbed by the German Railway Authority as simply Kindertransport—the Children’s Transport.

The Nazis cooperated with the plan: so long as no money or valuables were removed from Germany, and the emigration was handled discreetly and with no cost to the state, the party voiced no objection to sending Jewish children to Britain. The SS organized extra carriages for the refugees to be attached to regular trains. The refugees would be accompanied by a minimum number of adult supervisors, around one adult per twenty-five children in the first instance. The British act of benevolence was also conditional: all young people accepted into the country were expected to have left Britain for a new country of asylum within two years, preferably one.

09 April 2024

Kellogg-Briand Delusions, 1927

From The Weimar Years: Rise and Fall 1918–1933, by Frank McDonough (Bloomsbury, 2023), Kindle pp. 468-470:

At the same time as Hitler was planning a future world war, the world’s major powers were gathering in the Clock Room (Salon de l’Horloge) inside the French Foreign Office on the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, on 27 August, for an elaborate ceremony to sign the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy. The pact had evolved from negotiations begun in 1927 by Frank Kellogg, the US Secretary of State, and Aristide Briand, the French Foreign Minister. On 6 April 1927, Briand announced his country’s intention to enter into a bilateral agreement with the USA, stipulating that neither country would resort to war with each other, and that any dispute between them would be settled by peaceful means. Two months later, Briand submitted to the American government a draft of the proposed treaty. The American reply came in December 1927. Kellogg suggested the proposed Franco-American agreement should be expanded into a multilateral treaty to be signed by other countries, to which Briand readily agreed. In recognition of their joint diplomatic efforts, the agreement became known as the Kellogg–Briand Pact, and was greatly welcomed by the public.

At the signature ceremony in Paris, Briand gave an inspiring speech, saying at one point: ‘Can the world present a nobler lesson than the spectacle of this assemblage, where Germany appears for the signature of a pact against war, of its own free will, and without reserve, among the other signatories, its former enemies?’ Briand also spoke in glowing terms of Stresemann: ‘One can believe me particularly happy, to render homage to the highness of mind and to the courage of this eminent politician who, during more than three years, has not hesitated to assume full responsibility in the work of European co-operation for the maintenance of peace.’

The main text of the Kellogg–Briand Pact consisted of two brief articles. Under Article 1, the signatories condemned the ‘recourse to war for the solution of international controversies’, and further promised to ‘renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relationship with one another’. Article 2 required the contracting parties to solve all disputes or conflicts by peaceful means. The original 15 signatories were the United Kingdom, Germany, USA, France, Italy, Japan, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, and South Africa. Eventually, a further 47 nations followed suit. Elements of the pact were later incorporated into the League of Nations charter.

The Kellogg–Briand agreement, which was seen at the time as a milestone in international relations, gave the public around the world the false illusion that perpetual peace had arrived, but did not limit in any way the right of a nation to self-defence against the attack of any other nation, or alter the military obligations arising from the Covenant of the League of Nations or already agreed binding treaties. The pact contained no legal mechanism for enforcement and was, for some, a ‘worthless piece of paper’, which proved completely ineffective as a means of preventing war. It did provide, however, a legal basis for the concept of a ‘crime against peace’, the crime for which the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Tokyo Tribunal tried and executed the senior leaders judged responsible for starting the Second World War.

08 April 2024

Russo-German Rearmament, 1926

From The Weimar Years: Rise and Fall 1918–1933, by Frank McDonough (Bloomsbury, 2023), Kindle pp. 417-419:

The year ended dramatically with another domestic political crisis, revolving once again around the activities of the Reichswehr. It began on 3 December, when the Manchester Guardian published an article by its Berlin correspondent, Frederick Voigt, on the clandestine connection between the Reichswehr and the Soviet government, headlined ‘Cargoes of Munitions from Russia to Germany’. The article gave details of an agreement between the Junkers Company and the Soviet government to build factories for the manufacture of military aircraft. Details of this plan fell into the hands of Voigt, who also discovered plans for the building of chemical plants in the Soviet Union that would manufacture poison gas for both countries. Voigt further revealed that a Soviet cargo ship loaded with ammunition and weapons had sunk in the Baltic, en-route to Germany. A second article by Voigt, published on 6 December, with the headline ‘Berlin Military Transactions’, gave details about the building of a Junkers plant in Moscow, which was intended to manufacture 100 aeroplanes for German use. It was clear Seeckt had sanctioned these plans, and officers of the Reichswehr had travelled to Russia on false passports to disguise their identities.

On 9 December, the Social Democratic newspaper Vorwärts printed these startling revelations, under the headline: ‘Soviet Grenades for German Guns’. The Social Democrats were given further damaging information about German secret rearmament: in the harbour of Stettin, local stevedores had observed freighters bringing in artillery shells from Russia for delivery to the Reichswehr. These workers admitted they were given extra money in return for a promise of secrecy. On 16 December, Philipp Scheidemann, a prominent Social Democratic member of the Reichstag, used parliamentary exemption from prosecution to deliver a devastating speech outlining details of the Russo-German secret rearmament, during which he called for the resignation of Otto Gessler, the Defence Minister. Right-wing nationalists called Scheidemann ‘a traitor’ and walked out of the debating chamber. Of course, the allegations made by Scheidemann were not new, but the effect of revealing them in a Reichstag debate raised the political temperature to boiling point.

The Social Democrats called on the Chancellor, Wilhelm Marx, to immediately remove Gessler as the Defence Minister and reform the Reichswehr. Failure to act would compel them to withdraw their support from the government. On 17 December, the day after Scheidemann’s incendiary speech, the Social Democrats tabled a vote of no confidence against the Marx government, which was carried by a vote of 249 to 171, with the DNVP surprisingly voting for the motion because they were determined to join the next government.

The third Marx cabinet resigned on 18 December, but agreed to Hindenburg’s request to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new government was formed. For the third year running, Germans celebrated Christmas with another government crisis. Once again, it would not be resolved until the New Year.

07 April 2024

Reactions to the 1926 Treaty of Berlin

From The Weimar Years: Rise and Fall 1918–1933, by Frank McDonough (Bloomsbury, 2023), Kindle pp. 397-400, 416:

Meanwhile, German foreign policy once again took centre stage. Stresemann had reacted to the delay in Germany’s admission to the League of Nations by taking a crucial step in improving relations with the Soviet Union. He wanted to keep friendship with the Soviet Union as a form of insurance policy, which might be used later to alter Germany’s eastern borders at the expense of Poland.

The pivot of German foreign policy towards the western Allies at Locarno had filled the Soviet government with feelings of deep anxiety. The delay in Germany joining the League offered the Soviets an ideal opportunity to make a dramatic diplomatic intervention. The Soviet Foreign Minister, Georgy Chicherin, told Stresemann that if the Locarno powers could not push through the entry of Germany to the League, then what could Germany expect of them when more serious matters were discussed? He felt a new Russo-German agreement would weaken the idea of the western Allies developing a common front against the Soviet Union. In response, Stresemann explained that he had always wanted to sign a new agreement with the Soviet Union, and had only delayed this due to a wish not to antagonise the members of the League of Nations during Germany’s application process.

On 24 April, the Treaty of Berlin (otherwise known as the German–Soviet Neutrality and Nonaggression Pact), was duly signed in Berlin by Gustav Stresemann for Germany and Nicolai Krestinski, the Soviet Ambassador, for the Soviet Union. It greatly strengthened the relationship between the two powers. The treaty consisted of just four brief articles: (1) The 1922 Treaty of Rapallo remained the basis of Russo-German relations, to which was added a promise by the two governments to maintain friendly relations with each other, and to promote a solution to all outstanding political and economic questions that concerned them both. (2) Germany and the Soviet Union pledged neutrality in the event of an attack on the other by a third party. (3) Neither party would join in any coalition for the purpose of an economic boycott on the other. (4) The duration of the treaty was set at five years. In 1931, it was renewed for three more years. To this, Stresemann added the additional assurance that if the League ever contemplated anti-Soviet sanctions or a military attack then he would do everything in his power to oppose it. The agreement was endorsed by a vote in the Reichstag on 10 June, with only three dissenting votes. On 29 June, the agreement was officially ratified by the German government. On 3 August, it was officially registered in the League of Nations.

In Germany, the Russo-German Treaty was received with universal acclaim. There was much greater public and political unanimity than there had ever been over the Dawes Plan, the Locarno Treaties and Germany’s proposed entry into the League of Nations. On 27 April, the Reichstag Committee on Foreign Affairs, usually the scene of bitter party disputes, gave the treaty its unanimous approval. The Nationalist DNVP believed the new agreement with the Soviet government would bring closer the return of Upper Silesia, Danzig and the Polish Corridor, for it was clear that a revision of Germany’s eastern frontiers required Soviet support, or at the least benevolent neutrality. Stresemann felt the agreement would quieten Soviet apprehension about the Locarno Treaties, maintain Germany’s good relations with Russia and appease the pro-Russian element on the Nationalist Right.

In the rest of Europe, the Treaty of Berlin caused a high degree of anxiety. The reaction in France, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania was wholly critical. The French press claimed the Treaty placed Germany’s entry into the League in jeopardy, and accused Stresemann of provocatively signing the German–Soviet Treaty to undermine the Geneva negotiations over Germany’s entry into the League of Nations. To the French government the treaty represented another Russo-German threat to Eastern Europe, and the French responded in June 1926 by signing an agreement with Romania, to add to its existing security agreements with Poland and Czechoslovakia. Aleksander Skrzyński, the Polish Foreign Minister, urged the Allies to examine what effect the new German–Soviet treaty would have on the obligations Germany would have to assume if it joined the League of Nations. In Britain, The Times adopted a surprisingly conciliatory tone, suggesting the agreement was not in conflict with the agreements made at Locarno, but the Daily Mail was much less charitable, arguing the Treaty of Berlin had raised suspicions about Germany’s true motives in moving closer to the Soviet Union at a time when it was supposedly aiming to become a loyal member of the League of Nations.


On 10 December, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Peace Prize for 1926 jointly to the Foreign Ministers of Germany and France, Gustav Stresemann and Aristide Briand, for their ‘critical roles in bringing about the Locarno Treaty and Franco-German reconciliation’, while at the same time awarding the Peace Prize for 1925, retrospectively and jointly, to Austen Chamberlain, the British Foreign Secretary, for his role in the signing of the Locarno Treaties and to the American financier Charles Dawes, for the central part he had played in brokering the financial restricting of Germany’s reparations under the Dawes Plan.

06 April 2024

Turning Point at Locarno, 1925

From The Weimar Years: Rise and Fall 1918–1933, by Frank McDonough (Bloomsbury, 2023), Kindle pp. 377-379:

When the question of Germany’s entry to the League of Nations cropped up, Stresemann defended his government’s unwillingness to be bound by Article 16 of the Covenant. Germany, he said, could not pledge itself to support Poland in a war involving the Soviet Union. Briand tried to reassure him by saying that as Germany would be given a permanent seat on the League Council it could veto any proposal it disagreed with. A formula was finally worked out whereby each member of the League was obligated to cooperate against military aggression ‘to an extent which is compatible with its military situation, and which takes its geographical situation into account’. In return, Stresemann promised Germany would seek entry into the League of Nations as soon as possible.

Mussolini, the Italian Prime Minister, was initially lukewarm on the proposed Locarno agreements. He wanted a guarantee of the Brenner frontier between Italy and Austria to be added to the treaties, but Stresemann said this would only be possible if Germany was allowed to unite with Austria, something the Allies were not willing to accept. However, once it became clear the agreements would be signed, Mussolini turned up, on 14 October, wanting to share in the glory of joining Britain in guaranteeing the peace of Europe.

The ‘big day’ of the Conference took place in the town hall in Locarno on 16 October 1925. It witnessed the signing of the Treaty of Mutual Guarantee between Germany, France, Belgium, Great Britain, and Italy (the Locarno Pact). Under its terms, Germany recognised its western borders as fixed by the Treaty of Versailles, and the continuance of the Rhineland demilitarised zone in perpetuity. Stresemann emphasised the voluntary affirmation of Germany’s western borders was much more acceptable than the dictated terms of the Versailles Treaty. Germany, France and Belgium all agreed not to attack each other ever again, and Britain and Italy agreed to function as the joint guarantors of the agreement. All the parties agreed to settle disputes by peaceful means in future. The Locarno Treaties would only come into force when Germany was finally admitted to the League of Nations. The signatories further agreed to meet in London on 1 December for a formal signing ceremony.

Annexed to the main treaties were the German–Polish, German–Czechoslovak, German–Belgian, and French–German arbitration treaties, which promised all disputes which could not be settled amicably through normal diplomatic channels would be submitted to an Arbitration Panel or to the Permanent Court of International Justice. To add further insurance in Eastern Europe, France signed binding treaties with Poland and Czechoslovakia, pledging mutual assistance, in the event of conflict with Germany. Polish and Czech leaders signed these agreements in fear rather than hope. The agreements reaffirmed existing treaties of alliance concluded by France with Poland on 19 February 1921, and with Czechoslovakia on 25 January 1924. The British government refused to be a party to the arbitration treaties.

The Locarno Treaties were a key turning-point in the international relations of the 1920s. They were the effective diplomatic end of the Great War, and reconciled Germany and France in a way that had previously seemed impossible. Locarno was a much bigger triumph for the appeasement of Germany than Neville Chamberlain ever achieved, and how ironic that his half-brother Austen was one of its chief architects.

05 April 2024

Death of Weimar President Ebert, 1925

From The Weimar Years: Rise and Fall 1918–1933, by Frank McDonough (Bloomsbury, 2023), Kindle pp. 355-357:

The Barmat-Kutisker Scandal did little to improve the failing health of President Ebert, who had been suffering from undiagnosed severe stomach pain for weeks. He became even more ill in mid-February, and was confined to bed with what was initially diagnosed as a severe bout of influenza. His condition then deteriorated further, and his doctors next thought he was suffering from a recurrence of a severe gall-bladder infection known as cholecystitis. Finally, on 23 February, he was admitted to a hospital in Charlottenburg with appendicitis and peritonitis. Ebert underwent an emergency appendectomy, performed by August Bier, one of Germany’s most eminent surgeons. At first, he seemed to be recovering, but then his condition suddenly worsened. On 28 February at 10.15 a.m., Ebert died in his sleep, aged just 54, of post-operative septic shock, with his wife and family at the bedside.

Friedrich Ebert was a Social Democrat of humble origins, and a firm supporter of democracy, who had led democratic Germany through six difficult years from the ashes of defeat in 1918 to the threshold of international reconciliation. He considered himself a patriot and a social reformer, not a rabble-rouser. Despite all the hostility he faced from the extreme Left and Right, he remained the Republic’s anchor of stability, always showing a willingness to find a consensus among different viewpoints. His departure from the political scene was undoubtedly a bitter blow and a key turning point in the history of the Weimar Republic.

The state funeral of Friedrich Ebert was a huge public event, attended by vast crowds in Berlin and Heidelberg. Ebert’s coffin was draped in the flag of the Reich President in which the black-red-gold colours of the Republic were prominent. The black eagle on a yellow background was also displayed. The main ceremony was held in the presidential palace, followed by a sombre funeral procession including representatives of the police, the Reichswehr, the Reichstag and the German states, which wound a slow passage through Berlin’s streets to the Brandenburg Gate, and to the nearby Reichstag building, then proceeded to Potsdam railway station where the coffin remained for a while so that ordinary Germans could pay their respects.


The funeral train journeyed to Ebert’s home town of Heidelberg for the service and burial in the Bergfriedhof Cemetery. The memorial service began with the funeral march from Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, played by the orchestra of the German State Opera. A moving eulogy was then read by Hans Luther, the German Chancellor, and the ceremony ended movingly with the music of Mozart. A short newsreel film of the funeral, showing scenes from the Berlin and Heidelberg ceremonies, appeared in cinemas throughout Germany.

02 April 2024

New Reichsmarks and Elections, 1924

 From The Weimar Years: Rise and Fall 1918–1933, by Frank McDonough (Bloomsbury, 2023), Kindle pp. 341-343:

Whilst the Allied Control inspection was in progress in the autumn of 1924, there was a huge shake-up in German currency. On 11 October, the Reichsmark (RM) was introduced, as part of the Dawes Plan [to pay war reparations under the Versailles Treaty], as a permanent replacement for the interim currency, the Rentenmark, which had restored economic stability, and the old Papiermark, which had collapsed under the weight of hyperinflation. The denominations of Reichsmarks came in lower-value coins and banknotes of 5M, 10RM, 20RM, 50RM, 100RM and 1,000RM. Each Reichsmark was divided into 100 Reichspfennigs. Germany finally had a stable currency once again, guaranteed by the independent Reichsbank. The Reichsmark remained the German currency until it was replaced by the Deutsche Mark on 23 June 1948, which itself was succeeded by the Euro in 2002.


The German national election took place on 7 December 1924. Voter turnout was 78.8 per cent. The parties who had supported the Dawes Plan did well. The party gaining the most seats was the SPD, which won 131 seats, a gain of 31 from May 1924, with a popular vote of 26 per cent (7.88 million), up 5.5 per cent. The middle-class parties made smaller gains. The DVP, led by Gustav Stresemann, won 51 seats, up from 45, and polled 3.05 million votes, or 10.1 per cent of the electorate, an increase of 0.99 per cent since May. Zentrum won 69 seats, up from 65, polling 13.6 per cent overall (4.11 million), only up by a narrow 0.22 per cent since May. The DDP improved its position slightly, winning 32 seats, up from 28, taking 6.3 per cent of the popular vote (1.91 million), an increase of 0.6 per cent. The big electoral surprise was the performance of the nationalist DNVP, which improved its position, winning 103 seats, an increase of eight from May, taking 20.5 per cent of the popular vote (6.20 million), an increase of just 1 per cent.

The two other parties who had opposed the Dawes Plan, the Communists and the National Socialists, performed poorly. The KPD won 45 seats, a loss of 17 seats since May, polling 8.9 per cent of votes (2.7 million), down 3.7 per cent. The National Socialist Freedom Party (NSFP), led by Ludendorff, won 14 seats, down 18 on May, polling a total vote of 3 per cent (907, 242), down by 3.55 per cent. The mediocre performance of these extreme parties was proof of the change that had come over the economy since the May election. The gradual consolidation of economic affairs was clearly impacting on voting behaviour. Inflation was now under control and unemployment was falling. This meant the working classes and the lower middle class were much better off than they had been six months earlier. In these circumstances, the parties of the extreme Right and Left seemed much less attractive.