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The Road to World War 2

Germany before 1918

The Road to World War II starts with the German Empire, which before World War I (WWI) included parts of nowadays Poland, France, Denmark, Belgium, Russia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

The War after the War, the German Revolution

Germany had lost the war when the armistice was signed on 11 November 1918. Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate and fled 2 days earlier to the Netherlands to live out his life in exile, the monarchy was no more. A democratic republic followed, eventually named the Weimar Republic once the new constitution was signed into law on 11 August 1919.

An interim government was formed under the leadership of Friedrich Eder, who was part of the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) – the largest political party at the time. But not everybody was in favor of this new German republic. Socialist Karl Liebknecht announced the birth of the Free Socialist Republic of Germany. While Eder was concluding the armistice, Liebknecht was preparing for revolt.

On Christmas Eve the revolt igniting when Spartacists took control over a government building. Despite a charge from the German army they managed to hold the building. A few days later, on 30 December, Liebknecht together with Rosa Luxemburg and a few others formed the communist party KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands).[1]
During the war both Luxemburg and Liebknecht had organized various anti-war demonstrations throughout Germany, like on 1 May 1916 at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, where both were arrested and spend some two years in prison.[2]

In early January 1919 the Spartacist Revolt sought to seize Berlin. The revolt started on 5 January with a number of protests, demonstrations and street fights in Berlin, and lasted until 12 January when government soldiers together with Freikorps units took control again. The revolt was fought with rifles, machines guns, hand grenades and artillery and cost the lives of some hundred Spartacists.

Both Liebknecht and Luxemburg went into hiding but were discovered on 15 January by a Freikorps unit. They were taken to the Eden Hotel where Luxemburg was beaten into insensibility and then shot and thrown in the Landwehr canal. Liebknecht was beaten badly, brought to the Tiergarten and shot multiple times. [3][4]

On 19 January the first elections for the German Reichstag after the war took place. This resulted in a win for the SPD with a 38% majority, almost twice as much as the next parties. The SPD would also provide the first President with Friedrich Ebert and Philipp Scheidemann as chancellor.

On 21 February Bavarian chancellor Kurt Eisner decided to resign. Eisner was a member of the USPD (Unabhängige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands), which split from the SPD back in 1916. Eisner had led the revolution in Bavaria to kick out the Bavarian monarchy and declared the People's State of Bavaria and he became the first chancellor of Bavaria. However as premier he did not have the support of the people. During the elections his party only got 2.5% of the total votes. And so, as he felt he had no real power, he decided to resign. On his way to parliament he was assassinated by Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley.

Directly following the assassination of Eisner, the Spartacists proclaimed the Bavarian Soviet State. Johannes Hoffmann, SPD, replaced Eisner as chancellor.
On 7 April the Bavarian Soviet Republic was declared by Max Levien, a member of the KPD with Ernst Toller as Chief of State. After a few days Eugen Leviné took control of the new government, with the blessings of Lenin. The leaders of the SPD meanwhile had fled to Bamburg and started gathering troops to counter the communists. On 18 April it came to a clash near Dachau with the communists celebrating a victory. While the unrest was continuing, German chancellor Ebert arranged for some 30,000 Freikorps troops to restore order. They entered Munich on 1 May, and defeated the communists within a couple of days. The communist leaders were arrested, and a few of them were shot. Most of them were killed without questioning or trial by the Freikorps. Eugen Leviné was also arrested, found guilty in court and shot dead on 5 July.[5]

Another enemy

Besides the revolutions, political unrest and food shortages there was one more enemy in the world in 1918 and 1919, namely the Spanish Influenza. This pandemic is one of the deadliest in our history, and killed between 20 and 50 million people worldwide. In comparison, the death toll of World War I is about 8.5 million. The flu rages around the world for nearly a year, in between August 1918 and July 1919. Below table shows the number estimated deaths in a few European countries:

Next Story: The Treaty of Versailles

[1] https://alphahistory.com/weimarrepublic/german-revolution/
[2] https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/liebknecht_karl_paul_august_friedrich
[3] https://www.historytoday.com/archive/spartacist-uprising-berlin
[4] https://spartacus-educational.com/RUSluxemburg.htm
[5] https://spartacus-educational.com/GERbavarian.htm
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4634693/