War Ends with German Defeat

Faced with an effective British blockade, fierce resistance from the British and French armies, the entrance of the United States Army, political unrest and starvation at home, an economy in ruins, mutiny in the navy, and mounting defeats on the battlefield, German generals requested armistice negotiations with the Allies in November 1918.

Under the terms of the Armistice, the German Army was allowed to remain intact and was not forced to admit defeat by surrendering. U.S. General John J. Pershing had misgivings about this, saying it would be better to have the German generals admit defeat so there could be no doubt. The French and British were convinced however that Germany would not be a threat again.

The failure to force the German General Staff to admit defeat would have a huge impact on the future of Germany. Although the Army was later reduced in size, its impact would be felt after the war as a political force dedicated to German nationalism, not democracy.


The German General Staff also would support the false idea that their Army had not been defeated on the battlefield, but could have fought on to victory, except for being betrayed at home, the infamous 'Stab in the Back' theory.

This 'Stab in the Back' theory would become hugely popular among many Germans who found it impossible to swallow defeat. During the war, Adolf Hitler became obsessed with this idea, especially laying blame on Jews and Marxists in Germany for undermining the war effort. To Hitler, and so many others, the German politicians who signed the Armistice on November 11th, 1918, would become known as the "November Criminals."

After the Armistice, the remnants of the German Army straggled home from the Front to face tremendous uncertainty.

Germany was now a republic, a form of government (democracy) the Germans historically had little experience or interest in. With the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm and the collapse of the Hohenzollern Monarchy, the German Empire founded by Bismarck in 1871 (the Second Reich) had come to an end.

The new German Republic would eventually have a constitution that made it, on paper, one of the most liberal democracies in history. Its ideals included: equality for all; that political power would be only in the hands of the people; political minority representation in the new Reichstag; a cabinet and chancellor elected by majority vote in the Reichstag; and a president elected by the people.

But Germany was also a nation in political and social chaos. In Berlin and Munich, left-wing Marxist groups proclaimed Russian-like revolutions, only to meet violent opposition from right-wing nationalist Freikorps (small armies of ex-soldiers for hire) along with regular Army troops.

Communists, Socialists and even innocent bystanders were rounded up and murdered in January 1919, in Berlin, and in May in Munich.

The leaders of the new German democracy had made a deal with the German General Staff which allowed the generals to maintain rank and privilege in return for the Army's support of the young republic and a pledge to put down Marxism and help restore order.

Socialists stage a propaganda ride through the streets of Berlin in 1919. Below: Counter-revolutionary troops under the command of Army Colonel Wilhelm Reinhard march in formation along the Unter den Linden Avenue in Berlin.

Amid this political turmoil, on June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed by the victorious Allies and was then dutifully ratified by the German democratic government. Under the terms of the treaty, Germany alone was forced to accept responsibility for causing the war and had to pay huge war reparations for all the damage. Germany also had to give up land to France and Poland. The German Army was limited to 100,000 men and was forbidden to have submarines or military aircraft.

The treaty had the effect of humiliating the German nation before the world. This would lead to a passionate desire in many Germans, including Adolf Hitler, to see their nation throw off the "shackles" of the treaty and once again take its place in the world – the "rebirth" of Germany through a strong nationalist government. In years to come, Hitler would speak out endlessly against the treaty and gain much support. In addition, he would rail against the 'November Criminals' and 'Jewish Marxists.'

In the summer of 1919, Adolf Hitler was still in the Army and was stationed in Munich where he had become an informer. Corporal Hitler had named soldiers in his barracks that supported the Marxist uprisings in Munich, resulting in their arrest and executions.

Hitler then became one of many undercover agents in the German Army weeding out Marxist influence within the ranks and investigating subversive political organizations.

The Army sent him to a political indoctrination course held at the University of Munich where he quickly came to the attention of his superiors. He describes it in Mein Kampf:

"One day I asked for the floor. One of the participants felt obliged to break a lance for the Jews and began to defend them in lengthy arguments. This aroused me to an answer. The overwhelming majority of the students present took my standpoint. The result was that a few days later I was sent into a Munich regiment as a so-called educational officer."

Hitler's anti-Semitic outbursts impressed his superiors including his mentor, Captain Karl Mayr (who later died in Buchenwald). In August 1919, Hitler was given the job of lecturing returning German prisoners of war on the dangers of Communism and pacifism, as well as democracy and disobedience. He also delivered tirades against the Jews that were well received by the weary soldiers who were looking for someone to blame for all their misfortunes.

An Army report on Hitler referred to him as "a born orator."

Hitler had discovered much to his delight that he could speak well in front of a strange audience, hold their attention, and sway them to his point of view.

For his next assignment, he was ordered in September of 1919 to investigate a small group in Munich known as the German Workers' Party.

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