These case studies are based on actual German voters.
Eric von Ronheim
Eric von Ronheim, the head of a Frankfurt textile factory, is very concerned about the depression. Sales are down and so are profits. If only Germany had not been treated so ruthlessly at Versailles, he argues, the nation would be far better off. Instead the government has had to impose heavy taxes to pay reparations to its former enemies. As a result, Germans are overtaxed with little money to spend on textiles and other consumer goods. The worldwide depression has made matters worse by eliminating possible foreign markets for German products. Even if the depression were over, Ronheim does not think taxes would come down because of reparation payments.
Ronheim considers the Communists a serious threat to Germany. He fears that if they set up a government like the one in the Soviet Union, capitalists like him would receive no mercy from the workers. He also thinks that Germany would become subservient to its old enemy, the Soviet Union.
Hermann Struts, a major in the German army, fought bravely during the war. He comes from a long line of army officers and is himself a graduate of the German military academy. Struts has always taken pride in the army’s able defense of the nation and its strong leadership.
Yet Struts is bitter about the fact that he has not had a promotion in over ten years. Few soldiers have, mainly because the German army was so drastically reduced by the Treaty of Versailles. In the old army, Struts would have been at least a captain by now and possibly a major. The treaty, he argues, has done irreparable harm not only to Germany’s honor but also to his own honor as a soldier. He feels that if the civilian government had refused to sign the treaty and allowed the army to fight, both he and Germany would be better off.
Wilhelm Schultz works with his father on the family farm in eastern Brandenburg near the Polish border. The Versailles treaty has had a profound effect on Schultz and his family. The treaty turned part of Pomerania, Poznan, and West Prussia over to Poland. Even though his uncle lives just a few miles away, his home is now in Poland rather than Germany. Schultz’s grandfather lives in Danzig, now an independent city under the mandate of the League of Nations. Schultz can only visit his grandfather by traveling through Poland; he now needs a passport and other official documents. This does not seem right to Schultz. As a child, he was taught to admire Germany’s heroes, some of whom fought the Poles. So, he is dismayed that his government signed the treaty of Versailles that has subjected many Germans, including his uncle, to Polish rule.
Otto Hauptmann works in a factory in Berlin. Although his trade union has actively worked for better conditions and higher wages, it has recently been losing ground in the Depression. Hauptmann blames their lack of success on the 1923 inflation and the current depression. He believes that the union would be more successful if the economy were more stable. Still, it is the union that has kept him employed. At a time when many of his friends have been laid off, his union persuaded the owners of his factory to keep men with seniority. In factories with weaker unions, managers kept only the young, claiming they would be more productive. As long as the Depression deepens, however, the chances that he will keep his job diminish.
Hauptmann worries about some of the ideas his fellow workers have expressed recently. They argue that when the owners are forced to cut back production, they take it out on the workers. So, the only way to end the depression is to let the workers control the factories and the government. Hauptmann disagrees. He thinks that the workers do get fair treatment as long as they have a strong union. Moreover, he believes that managing the factories and government should be left to those who understand these complicated jobs.
Gerda Munchen is the owner of a small Munich grocery store started by her parents. For years, her parents had saved to send her to the university. But Munchen chose not to go and the money stayed in the bank. In 1923, she had planned to use the money to pay for her children’s education. But that year hyper-inflation hit Germany because the government had printed so much money, as she was told, to pay reparations invoked by the Versailles treaty. Just before her older daughter was to leave for the university, the bank informed the family that its savings were worthless. This was a blow to Munchen, but even more of a blow to her daughter, whose future hung in the balance.
Munchen does not think she will ever regain her savings. With so many people out of work, sales are down sharply. In addition, Munchen’s small grocery is having a tough time competing with the large chain stores, which can offer far lower prices. She and her children question a system that has made life so difficult for hardworking people.
Elisabeth von Kohler
Elisabeth von Kohler, a prominent attorney who attended the University of Bonn, has a strong sense of the German cultural, literary, and historical traditions. She believes that her people’s contributions to Western civilization have been ignored. Kohler would like to see the republic lead a democratic Europe. She disapproves of the methods the Weimar Republic often uses to repress extremist parties.
Her sense of justice is even more outraged by the way the Allies, particularly France, view Germany. She, and others like her, who believe in Germany and its traditions, would like to prove to these countries that the Germans are a great race. She is proud to be an attorney and a German woman in the Weimar Republic.
Karl Schmidt is an unemployed worker who lives in the rich steel-producing Ruhr Valley. Like so many men in the Ruhr, he lost his job because of the Depression. Many steel mills have been forced to shut down until there is a market for their goods. On the day that Karl’s mill closed, the owners announced that shrinking profits made it impossible to keep the workers on their jobs.
Such might be the case, Karl states, yet he notes that the owners of the steel mills still live in big houses and drive expensive cars. Why are they protected from the Depression while their former employees suffer? Although the government did provide unemployment compensation, the money was barely enough to support Schmidt, his wife, and their two children. The government claims that it could not afford to continue even these payments any longer.
Schmidt feels that the government would be in a stronger position to help people if it cut off all reparation payments. But he also knows that if the government did so, the French might occupy the Ruhr Valley just as they did in 1923. What is needed is a government that is responsive to the workers—perhaps even one that is run by the workers, as some of his friends maintain. And he is convinced that Germany needs a government strong enough to stop reparation payments.