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
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
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.