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THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC ERic C. KoLLMAN WITH the military defeat of the Hitler regime in Germany in 1945} th"e chapter of German history between the end of the Second and the beginning of the Third Reich takes on a new significance for the historian . In the first place, unhampered research in the field of German history from 1918 to 1933 becomes once more possible, though some very valuable sources of documents have been destroyed by the Hitler regime.1 Secondly, the period of the "Republican Experiment" becomes to the observer in 1947 at once more historical (now not the last but the second to the last chapter of German history) and more timely, because of possible attempts to go on from where the Republic left off and because of the temptation for the historical observer to compare 1918 and after w1th · 1945 and after. I am convinced that German history between the collapse of 1918 and Hitler's assumption of power in 1933 is significant out of all proportion to the short time it covers, not just as a chronology of fail~1re nor as an experiment which miscarried, but as a social laboratory of the first magnitude, as a school of politics teaching us lessons which neither the historian nor the social scientist can afford to ignore. It must be admitted that they are predominantly lessons in what does not work in the political, social, economic, and spiritual life of a nation, and in a twentieth-century industrial society in general; but the lessons are valuable nevertheless. Those fourteen years from November, 1918, to January, 1933, must be analysed by considering at least two major aspects. First, they must be seen in the larger context of European and world history between the First and the Second World War, a period in which from the beginning to the end Germany held, negatively or positively, a key position. And, secondly, those years must be viewed as a highly critical and significant period in.the development of Germany. This latter aspect calls for a few remarks on the special character of German history and some crucial factors which shaped it. I The rise of Hitler in Germany and the Second World War have brough't forth a veritable avalanche of books, pamphlets, and articles on the German national character and the reasons why Germany has been the permanent problem child-to put it mildly-in the family of nations. I cannot discuss here the merits and demerits of the more important pubEcations on the subject, the one-sidedness of some interpretations, and the 1See Alma Luckau, "Unconditional Acceptance of the Treaty of Versailles by the German Government, June 22-28; 1919" (Journal of Modern History, Sept., 1945, 215). 217 213 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY fallacy inherent 'in certain approaches.2 It will be sufficient to point out certain factors and developments without which, an adequate ":lnderstanding of German history is hardly possible. Needless to say,. the following remarks can neither teJl the whole story nor do justice to the complexity of German historical development. A word then, first, on the geographical basis of German history. The division of central and southern Germany into small regions by mountains has at least intensified disunity and the all-important particularism in that part of the country, if it did not help to .create them. The absence of a natural geographical centre had the same or similar results. Germany had no permanent capital throughout· most of her history, as England had in London or France in Paris, to say nothing of the earlier role of. Rome or Constantinople. Poor and uncertain boundaries or, as in the east, nonexistent ones have hampered German historical development. The role of the frontier in the history ~f Germany is not less important than in that of the United States though of course with quite different results: the two most powerful political units on German soil, Prussia and Austria, grew out of the frontier position. The importance of Germany's central location between France and Russia during the last centuries needs no special emphasis. The implications of this position in political, economic, and military affairs...


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