- Following the defeat in World War I and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in November 1918, a new German Federal Republic, the Weimar Republic was established. The war officially ended with the signing of the Versailles Treaty in June 1919. However, because the treaty provided for the establishment of a League of Nations, it was rejected by the U.S. Congress. Formal hostilities between Germany and the United States were ended by a twonation agreement in 1921. The Versailles Treaty also imposed huge reparation payments on Germany that, combined with the economic disruption brought about by the war, caused considerable instability in the German economy. Economic collapse in 1922 and 1923 led to a renegotiation of reparations under the Dawes Plan (1924) and again in 1929 under the Young Plan. Having survived the economic crises and an attempted putsch led by Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1923, the Weimar Republic appeared to have achieved some stability until it was hit by the effects of the Great Depression. By 1931, 6 million workers—30 percent of the labor force—were unemployed, and the country was plunged into economic and political chaos. Hitler and the Nazi (National Socialist) Party capitalized on this crisis and made major gains in the elections of September 1930. In the July 1932 elections, the Nazis emerged as the largest single party and were able to capture power by forming a coalition with conservative groups. On 30 January 1933, Hitler became chancellor and was granted virtually unlimited power in March. Following the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in 1934, Hitler became the Reich’s führer.Under Hitler’s leadership, Germany embarked on a program to restore the economy through a program of public works and rearmament and to restore national pride by overturning the Versailles Treaty and regaining lost territory. At the same time, the anti-Semitic and anticommunist policies of the Nazis were implemented, and Jews and political opponents were placed in labor and concentration camps or executed. The attacks on Jews came to a climax in November 1938 when in “Kristallnacht” (Night of Broken Glass), homes, shops, and businesses were attacked and looted. Many Jews sought to flee the persecution, and some 60,000 found refuge in the United States between 1933 and 1938. However, members of the Evian Conference failed to agree on a response to the deepening refugee crisis among other nations, and many were unable to escape.In 1936, German troops reoccupied the Rhineland, and the search for lebensraum in the east led to the Anschluss with Austria in 1938 and the annexation of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in 1938 and of Czechoslovakia itself in March 1939. Finally, on 1 September 1939 German armies invaded Poland. As Great Britain and France had guaranteed Polish sovereignty, this attack led to the outbreak of World War II. The attack on Poland was preceded by the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact with the Soviet Union on 28 August 1939 that guaranteed the neutrality of either party in the event of war. It also included agreed spheres of influence that led to the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland as well as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Germany had also concluded agreements with fascist Italy and Japan in 1936, and these were further strengthened in the Tripartite Agreement of September 1940.After their speedy occupation of Poland, in April 1940 the German armies turned to Western Europe, quickly overrunning Denmark and Norway and then invading Belgium and the Netherlands in May. French and British forces were defeated, and the remnants of the British armies were forced to withdraw at Dunkirk. France surrendered on 22 June 1940. The German air force launched bombing raids on Britain but was halted in the “Battle of Britain.” German U-boats began to attack U.S. ships, providing Lend-Lease supplies to the British, but Hitler did not declare war on the United States until after the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. However, the British and Americans were not able to launch their invasion of Europe until D-Day 1944, and it was in the east that Germany first faced defeat. Ignoring the nonaggression pact, on 22 June 1941 Hitler launched an invasion of Soviet Russia to garner oil and food supplies, overthrow communism, and gain more living space. Initially successful, German armies became bogged down in the Russian winter and were halted at Moscow in 1942 and Stalingrad in 1943. They were forced to retreat, and faced with the combined Allied forces on two fronts, were forced to surrender on 8 May 1945.As agreed at the Potsdam Conference, following its defeat, Germany was divided into four occupation zones, with the Soviet Union in the East and Britain, France, and the United States in the West. Berlin was also divided between the four victorious powers. Mounting disagreement between the former Allies led the United States, Britain, and France to agree to the creation of a West German state on 31 May 1948, complete with a new currency. The USSR responded by imposing a blockade on Berlin. On 21 September 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany came into being, with its capital in Bonn. On 7 October 1949 the German Democratic Republic was established in the east under Soviet control, with its capital in East Berlin. The state of war with Germany was ended by the Western Allies in 1951, and complete sovereignty was granted to West Germany in May 1955. German membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization enabled British and U.S. troops to remain present in the country. Economic assistance through the Marshall Plan contributed to the “German economic miracle,” which saw West Germany become an increasingly powerful economy in the 1950s. Germany continued to be a source of tension between the East and West until the end of the Cold War and the reunification of the country in 1990.See also Berlin, Berlin Airlift.
Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . Neil A. Wynn . 2015.
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