Why did democracy fail and Nazism triumph in Germany?
Fifth edition. July 2009.

This unit challenges students to ponder one of the twentieth century’s most troubling political legacies. Students explore why democracy failed to take root, and consider how the carefully crafted parliamentary system of the Weimar Republic led to the triumph of Nazism in Germany. Primary source documents, readings, excerpts from literature, and political art immerse students in the spirit of the Weimar Republic. The materials prepare students to simulate the debate that surrounded the Reichstag elections of 1932


Three readings familiarize students with the zeitgeist of the Weimar era and prepare them to consider the choices facing the German electorate in July 1932. Part I reviews Germany’s emergence as a major power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and recounts the country’s defeat in World War I. Part II examines the forces that contributed to the polarization of German politics in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Part III has students explore the highly politicized art and culture of the Weimar period.


The Birth of the Weimar Republic

Students explore maps, sections of the Versailles Treaty, and other documents to analyze the events and decisions that led to the creation of the Weimar Republic.

Hyperinflation, Prosperity, and Depression

Students use charts, graphs, poetry, and graphics to define hyperinflation and evaluate the impact of the Great Depression on Germany.

Culture, Values, and Politics

Students explore the relationship between art and politics using visual art and songs of the Weimar period.

Children's Literature in Weimar Germany

Students read selections from three stories that were written to shape the political and social values of young readers during the Weimar period.

Role-Playing Platform Presentations

Working in groups, students advocate for political parties at the 1932 Reichstag elections or play undecided voters in order to understand the values of Weimar's political parties.

Lessons from the Weimar Experience

Students evaluate the factors that led to the Nazi party's electoral success and the implications for democracy today.

Conscience and the Patriot

Using a case study of two Germans, students consider what a patriot can do when government policies conflict with personally held values.
  • Maps of the European powers on August 4, 1914, Germany's territorial losses in Europe, and Germany's territorial losses overseas in 1919. Two of these maps are from the Day One lesson "The Birth of the Weimar Republic."

  • Includes charts of economic data from World War I and the postwar period in Germany. These charts are to be used with the Day Two lesson"Hyperinflation, Prosperity, and Depression."

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support in teaching the teaching the curriculum.


Abraham, David. The Collapse of the Weimar Republic: Political Economy and Crisis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981). 366 pages.

Berghahn, Volker R. Modern Germany: Society, Economy and Politics in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). 314 pages.

Broszat, Martin. Hitler and the Collapse of Weimar Germany (New York: Berg, 1987). 157 pages

De Jonge, Alex. The Weimar Chronicle: Prelude to Hitler (New York: New American Library, 1979). 256 pages.

Eyck, Erich. A History of the Weimar Republic. 2 vols. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1962). 710 pages.

Hiden, John W. The Weimar Republic (London: Longman, 1974). 114 pages.

Nicholls, Anthony J. Weimar and the Rise of Hitler (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991). 195 pages.

A PBS website on economy. Timeline of German history and explanation of inflation during the Weimar Republic.
An educational organization focusing on the Holocaust. Teaching materials also available on the Weimar Republic.
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