The first section includes documents on the end of World War I and the German Revolution. They range from retrospective accounts by major and minor participants to the revolutionary demands raised by sailors and workers and the pronouncements of artists who aligned themselves with the Left. Included are important documents, such as the little-known Mudros Armistice, which ended hostilities between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire; the key provisions and articles of the Versailles Treaty and the Weimar Constitution; and the testimony of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg before the Parliamentary Investigatory Committee in 1919, in which he propounds the “stab-in-the-back” legend.
The “Politics” section contains excerpts from major political party programs, as well as commentary by Arnold Brecht, a high-ranking state official during the Weimar years.
“Economics and Society” covers the major economic trends of the period. Among the more interesting documents are the reflections of George Mosse and Felix Gilbert, both esteemed historians who spent their youth in Weimar Germany but ended up in the United States after fleeing the Third Reich. Betty Scholem, the mother of the great German-Jewish scholar, Gershom Scholem, was also an astute observer of German society.
“Foreign Policy and International Relations” includes excerpts from major international agreements, many of them dealing with reparations. A number of documents offer contemporary commentary on international affairs.
“The Problem of Civilization,” provides insight into the confrontation with modernity. The pieces are authored by prominent writers, political figures, intellectuals, and journalists from the Right and the Left. Few sing the unalloyed praises of the modern world, and all of them are concerned about American influences on German mores and morals.
In the 1920s Germany experienced an architectural renaissance. Modernist architects deployed new materials like steel I-beams, reinforced concrete, and plate glass to create lighter, airier buildings. These unabashed affirmations of modernity were not universally admired. More traditionally-minded observers rejected them as “un-German” and “Jewish.” “Architecture and Urban Life” presents a range of opinions on the new architecture of the Weimar period.
“Sound and Image” explores the new media of the 1920s – film, radio, photography, and phonograph recordings. The cacophony and chaos of sounds and images struck some artists and observers as liberating, others as debasing.
The image of the “new woman,” propagated in films and magazines, discussed from the pulpit and even in parliament, presented the hopeful prospect of liberation to some, and the frightening decline of morals and the family to others. “Bodies and Sex” presents a range of contemporary views on the matter, as well as retrospective accounts by Mosse and Gilbert.
As the documents in “High and Low Culture” illustrate, jazz, new dances, and illustrated magazines were signs of mass culture and American influence that were welcomed by some and despised by others. Despite the new fads and the political and economic turmoil of the Weimar years, Germany retained its stature as a center of scientific research and higher learning in general. Physicists, historians, philosophers, and others flocked to German universities. “Education and Research” documents these developments.
Jewish life flourished in Weimar Germany even as anti-Semitism increased. Although Gershom Scholem emigrated to Palestine in 1923, his mother remained in Germany and ran the family business. Like many Jews, she vastly underestimated the Nazis, as did George Mosse’s father, Rudolf Mosse, who headed the Ullstein publishing empire. Their voices, and many others, convey both the vibrancy and the dilemma of Jewish life.
The final sections document the rise of the Nazis and the destruction of the Weimar Republic. They illustrate how the Nazis attracted mass support and forged an alliance with the established Right. The volume ends on January 30, 1933, the day Adolf Hitler assumed his chancellorship.
Eric D. Weitz