Visual History of the World
The World Wars and Interwar
The first half of the 20th
century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with
an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a
purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and
the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and
shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of
Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict
through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The
war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and
cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the
systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an
unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.
Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937
The Unpopular Democracy: The German Reich
Parliamentary democracy prevailed in Germany in the revolution of
1918. However, it was never completely accepted by a broad section of
the population, and its existence was threatened from the start by
radical political forces. The feeling of national humiliation, economic
problems, and the internal weaknesses of the democracy made possible the
rise of National Socialism under Adolf Hitler, who was named chancellor
of the republic in 1933.
The First Years of the German Republic
Hyperinflation and attempted coups from groups from across the political
spectrum kept the republic from finding peace and stability in its early
The German monarchy collapsed in the wake of social unrest in
1 November 1918.
Funeral of the victims of the November Revolution, Berlin, Jan 1918
Social Democrat 2 Friedrich Ebert took over
responsibility for the government in the transitional period.
moderate left emerged triumphant in debates at worker and soldier
councils over the question of the form of government. A national
assembly in Weimar drafted a democratic constitution on January 19,1919,
and established a parliamentary republic with Ebert as president.
Fearing Karl Licbknecht would proclaim a socialist republic, another
Social Democrat, 3 Philipp Scheidemann, proclaimed the German Republic
on November 11.
The radical left felt betrayed by the government due to the lack of
The military suppressed 4 revolts and voluntary
military groups, known as Freikorps ("Free Corps"), made up of soldiers
returning from the war, terrorized the country.
Officers of the
Freikorps murdered Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, the leaders of the
German Communist party.
The right wing considered the government, which had signed the
"dishonorable treaty of Versailles" to be agents of the French
state—"fulfillment politicians". The signatory of the armistice,
Matthias Erzberger, was murdered by right-wing extremists.
2 Friedrich Ebert, ca. 1918
3 Philipp Scheidemann talks to
the people, reconstructed picture,
4 Government troops during the general
strike in Berlin, March 3-12,1919
6 Distribution of flyers during the
Kapp Putsch, March 1920, in Berlin
monarchist Kapp Putsch in 1920 and Hitler's 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, were
The finances of the German Reich were catastrophic; the war had
consumed vast sums and the victorious powers demanded reparations. To
avoid bankruptcy, more money was printed and 5 inflation skyrocketed. In
October 1923, a US dollar cost 40 billion reichsmarks.
5 Banknote of the German Reichsbank,
November 15, 1923
The Hitler Beer Hall Putsch 1923
Adolf Hitler, who was previously unknown, attempted to establish a
right-wing dictatorship in Germany with a "March on the Feldherrnhalle"
(Bavarian War Ministry) in Munich on November 9,1923.
While in prison
following the suppression of the putsch attempt, he wrote his
ideological work Mein Kampf. Hitler was released early for good behavior
in 1924 and promised to seek power by legal means.
After the failed coup of the NSDAP: the accused; in the middle the main
initiators Kriebel, Ludendorff and Hitler, Munich, February 1924
Adolf Hitler, with NSDAP members
The Fall of the Weimar Republic
After a short interim of stabilization, Hitler's National Socialists
received a boost from the world economic depression. With the aid of the
German National party, Hitler took over power in Germany in 1933.
The republic seemed to settle down to transient stability after 1924.
The economy recovered with a new currency and the regulation of
reparations payments under the Dawes Plan. Culturally, Berlin was a
Foreign Minister Stresemann pursued a path of reconciliation with
Germany's neighbors, recognizing the western border with France in the
7 Locarno Treaty of 1925.
7 From left: Gustav Stresemann,
Austen Chamberlain, Aristide Briand,
the Locarno Treaty, 1925.
Germany signed a friendship
and neutrality treaty with the Soviet Union and was accepted into the
League of Nations.
The election of the committed monarchist Paul von Hindenburg as
president in 1925, however, symbolized the republic's disfavor among a
wide section of the population. The world economic depression in 1929
strengthened the enemies of the state and initiated the disintegration
of democracy. After the collapse of Hermann Muller's Social Democratic
government in 1930, President Hindenburg named Heinrich Bruning
chancellor by emergency decree, responsible solely to the president and
not to the parliament.
Bruning's economic policies increased 8 mass
unemployment; by the beginning of 1933 there were almost six million
people out of work.
8 Unemployed workers read job listings, Berlin, 1932
Growing poverty, fear of losing social status, and the lack of prospects
drove many, particularly the middle class and youths, into the hands of
Adolf Hitler's radical 9 National Socialist German Workers' party (NSDAP)—the
Nazi party—and presented it with an enormous increase in votes in the
1930 Reichstag election.
The anti-Semitic and nationalistic smear
campaign against the system and the "November criminals" popularized the
11 " dagger thrust legend," according to which the German politicians of
the revolution of 1918 had stabbed the undefeated German army in the
back by signing a peace treaty with the Allies.
When in 1932 the
National Socialists became the strongest party after the elections, the
Center Party attempted to profit from the Nazis' mass popularity by
joining them in a coalition supporting the "Enabling Act."
On January 30,1933, President 10 Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor of
the National Socialist-DNVP coalition.
"In two months we will have
pushed Hitler into a corner so that he squeaks," promised Vice
Chancellor Franz von Papen, who was allied with the DNVP—a statement
that would quickly prove to be a fatal miscalculation.
9 Election poster of the NSDAP, 1932
11 The "Stab in the Back" propaganda picture, 1924
10 Hindenburg and Hitler drive through Berlin, 1933
political party, Germany
byname of National Socialist German Workers’ Party, German
Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP)
political party of the mass movement known as National Socialism. Under
the leadership of Adolf Hitler, the party came to power in Germany in
1933 and governed by totalitarian methods until 1945.
It was founded as the German Workers’ Party by Anton Drexler, a Munich
locksmith, in 1919. Hitler attended one of its meetings that year, and
his energy and oratorical skills soon enabled him to take over the
party. He ousted the party’s former leaders in 1920–21 and renamed it
the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. In 1920 Hitler also
formulated a 25-point program that became the permanent basis for the
party. The program called for German abandonment of the Treaty of
Versailles and for the expansion of German territory. These appeals for
national aggrandizement were accompanied by a strident anti-Semitic
rhetoric. The party’s socialist orientation was basically a demagogic
gambit designed to attract support from the working class.
Under Hitler the Nazi Party grew steadily in its home base of
Bavaria. It organized strong-arm groups to protect its rallies and
meetings. These groups drew their members from war veterans groups and
paramilitary organizations and were organized under the name
Sturmabteilung (SA). In 1923 Hitler and his followers felt strong enough
to stage the Beer Hall Putsch, an unsuccessful attempt to take control
of the Bavarian state government in the hope that it would trigger a
nationwide insurrection against the Weimar Republic. The coup failed,
the Nazi Party was temporarily banned, and Hitler was sent to prison for
most of 1924.
Upon his release Hitler quickly set about rebuilding his moribund
party, vowing to achieve power only through legal political means
thereafter. The Nazi Party’s membership grew from 25,000 in 1925 to
about 180,000 in 1929. Its organizational system of gauleiters
(“district leaders”) spread through Germany at this time, and the party
began contesting municipal, state, and federal elections with increasing
However, it was the effects of the Great Depression in Germany that
brought the Nazi Party to its first real nationwide importance. The
rapid rise in unemployment in 1929–30 provided millions of jobless and
dissatisfied voters whom the Nazi Party exploited to its advantage. From
1929 to 1932 the party vastly increased its membership and voting
strength; its vote in elections to the Reichstag (the German Parliament)
increased from 800,000 votes in 1928 to about 14,000,000 votes in July
1932, and it thus emerged as the largest voting bloc in the Reichstag,
with 230 members (38 percent of the total vote). By then big-business
circles had begun to finance the Nazi electoral campaigns, and swelling
bands of SA toughs increasingly dominated the street fighting with the
communists that accompanied such campaigns.
When unemployment began to drop in Germany in late 1932, the Nazi
Party’s vote also dropped, to about 12,000,000 (33 percent of the vote)
in the November 1932 elections. Nevertheless, Hitler’s shrewd
maneuvering behind the scenes prompted the president of the German
republic, Paul von Hindenburg, to name him chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933.
Hitler used the powers of his office to solidify the Nazis’ position in
the government during the following months. The elections of March 5,
1933, gave the Nazi Party 44 percent of the votes, and further
unscrupulous tactics on Hitler’s part turned the voting balance in the
Reichstag in the Nazis’ favour. On March 23, 1933, the Reichstag passed
the Enabling Act, which “enabled” Hitler’s government to issue decrees
independently of the Reichstag and the presidency; Hitler in effect
assumed dictatorial powers.
On July 14, 1933, his government declared the Nazi Party to be the
only political party in Germany. On the death of Hindenburg in 1934
Hitler took the titles of Führer (“Leader”), chancellor, and commander
in chief of the army, and he remained leader of the Nazi Party as well.
Nazi Party membership became mandatory for all higher civil servants and
bureaucrats, and the gauleiters became powerful figures in the state
governments. Hitler crushed the Nazi Party’s left, or
socialist-oriented, wing in 1934, executing Ernst Röhm and other
rebellious SA leaders at this time. Thereafter, Hitler’s word was the
supreme and undisputed command in the party. The party came to control
virtually all political, social, and cultural activities in Germany. Its
vast and complex hierarchy was structured like a pyramid, with
party-controlled mass organizations for youth, women, workers, and other
groups at the bottom, party members and officials in the middle, and
Hitler and his closest associates at the top wielding undisputed
Upon Germany’s defeat, Hitler’s suicide, and the Allied occupation of
the country in 1945 at the end of World War II, the Nazi Party was
banned, and its top leaders were convicted of crimes against peace and
There have been minor Nazi parties in other countries (such as the
United States), but after 1945 Nazism as a mass movement was virtually
The "Golden Twenties"
Berlin was an open-minded metropolis with a thriving art and cultural
scene throughout the Weimar Republic period.
Be it the silent films of
Fritz Lang (film "Metropolis"),
German actress Brigitte Helm in "Metropolis", the new
Expressionism in painting and poetry,
theater of Bertolt Brecht, or the glamour of the entertainment
Marlene Dietrich, for
example—cultural life in the German capital was vibrant and drew
intellectuals from all over the world.
The victory of National
Socialists in Germany abruptly put an end to this creative
Metropolis is a 1927 silent science fiction film
directed by Fritz Lang and written by Lang and Thea von Harbou.
Lang and von Harbou, who were married, wrote the screenplay in 1924, and
published a novelization in 1926, before the film was released. Produced
in Germany during a stable period of the Weimar Republic, Metropolis is
set in a futuristic urban dystopia and examines a common science fiction
theme of the day: the social crisis between workers and owners in
capitalism. The film stars Alfred Abel as the leader of the city, Gustav
Fröhlich as his son, who tries to mediate between the elite caste and
the workers, Brigitte Helm as both the pure-at-heart worker Maria and
the debased robot version of her, and Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the mad
scientist who creates the robot.
Metropolis was produced in the Babelsberg Studios by Universum Film
A.G. (UFA) and released in 1927. The most expensive film of its time, it
cost approximately 7 million Reichsmark to make. The film was cut
substantially after its German premiere, and there have been several
efforts to restore it, as well as rediscoveries of previously lost
footage. The American copyright lapsed in 1953, which eventually led to
a proliferation of versions being released on video.
born Dec. 5, 1890, Vienna, Austria-Hungary
died Aug. 2, 1976, Los Angeles, Calif., U.S.
Austrian-born American motion-picture director whose films, dealing with
fate and man’s inevitable working out of his destiny, are considered
masterpieces of visual composition.
The son of an architect, Lang briefly studied architecture at
Vienna’s Technical University, then travelled widely before settling for
a time in Paris as a painter. While recovering from wounds suffered in
the service of Austria during World War I, he started to write
screenplays; after the war he went to Berlin to work with Erich Pommer,
a German film producer.
His first successful picture as a director was Der müde Tod (1921;
Between Worlds). Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (1922; Dr. Mabuse) studied a
criminal mastermind; Die Nibelungen (1924; released in two parts in the
United States, Siegfried and Kriemhild’s Revenge) was based on the early
13th-century German poem; Metropolis (1926) was an Expressionist vision
of the future; and M (1931), his most famous German film, explored the
compulsion to murder. Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1932; The Last Will
of Dr. Mabuse), in which a madman speaks Nazi philosophy, attracted the
attention of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis’ chief propagandist, who invited
Lang to supervise German films. Lang left for Paris the same evening and
later moved to the United States.
Fury (1936), a study of a lynch mob, is his most praised American
film. Others include You Only Live Once (1937), Western Union (1941),
Hangmen Also Die (1943), Scarlet Street (1945), Clash by Night (1952),
Rancho Notorious (1952), Moonfleet (1955), and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Brigitte Eva Gisela Schittenhelm (March 17, 1908, Berlin, Germany –
June 11, 1996, Ascona, Switzerland) was a German actress, best
remembered for her role as the dual role Maria and her double the
Maschinenmensch in Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film, Metropolis.
After Metropolis, which was her second film, Helm made over 30 other
films, including talking pictures, before retiring in 1936.
Her other appearances include The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927), Alraune
(1928), L'Argent (1928), Gloria (1931), The Blue Danube (1932),
L'Atlantide (1932), and Gold (1934).
In 1935, angered by Nazi control of the German film industry, she
moved to Switzerland where she later had 4 children with her second
husband Dr. Hugo von Kuenheim, an industrialist. After her retirement
from films she refused to grant any interviews concerning her film
career. Helm was considered for the title role in Bride of Frankenstein
before Elsa Lanchester was given the role.
Brigitte Helm in Metropolis
Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang.
Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang.
Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang.
Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang.
original name Marie Magdalene Dietrich, also called Marie Magdalene von
born December 27, 1901, Schöneberg (now in Berlin), Germany
died May 6, 1992, Paris, France
German American motion-picture actress whose beauty, voice, aura of
sophistication, and languid sensuality made her one of the world’s most
glamorous film stars.
Dietrich’s father, Ludwig Dietrich, a Royal Prussian police officer,
died when she was very young, and her mother remarried a cavalry
officer, Edouard von Losch. Marlene, who as a girl adopted the
compressed form of her first and middle names, studied at a private
school and learned both English and French by age 12. As a teenager she
studied to be a concert violinist, but her initiation into the nightlife
of Weimar Berlin—with its cabarets and notorious demimonde—made the life
of a classical musician unappealing to her. She pretended to have
injured her wrist and was forced to seek other jobs acting and modeling
to help make ends meet.
In 1921 Dietrich enrolled in Max Reinhardt’s Deutsche Theaterschule,
and she eventually joined Reinhardt’s theatre company. In 1923 she
attracted the attention of Rudolf Sieber, a casting director at UFA film
studios, who began casting her in small film roles. She and Sieber
married the following year, and, after the birth of their daughter,
Maria, Dietrich returned to work on the stage and in films. Although
they did not divorce for decades, the couple separated in 1929.
That same year, director Josef von Sternberg first laid eyes on
Dietrich and cast her as Lola-Lola, the sultry and world-weary female
lead in Der blaue Engel (1930; The Blue Angel), Germany’s first talking
film. The film’s success catapulted Dietrich to stardom. Von Sternberg
took her to the United States and signed her with Paramount Pictures.
With von Sternberg’s help, Dietrich began to develop her legend by
cultivating a femme fatale film persona in several von Sternberg
vehicles that followed—Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai
Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The
Devil Is a Woman (1935). She showed a lighter side in Desire (1936),
directed by Frank Borzage, and Destry Rides Again (1939).
During the Third Reich and despite Adolf Hitler’s personal requests,
Dietrich refused to work in Germany, and her films were temporarily
banned there. Renouncing Nazism (“Hitler is an idiot,” she stated in one
wartime interview), Dietrich was branded a traitor in Germany; she was
spat upon by Nazi supporters carrying banners that read “Go home
Marlene” during her visit to Berlin in 1960. (In 2001, on the 100th
anniversary of her birth, the city issued a formal apology for the
incident.) Having become a U.S. citizen in 1937, she made more than 500
personal appearances before Allied troops from 1943 to 1946. She later
said “America took me into her bosom when I no longer had a native
country worthy of the name, but in my heart I am German—German in my
After the war, Dietrich continued to make successful films, such as A
Foreign Affair (1948), The Monte Carlo Story (1956), Witness for the
Prosecution (1957), Touch of Evil (1958), and Judgment at Nuremberg
(1961). She was also a popular nightclub performer and gave her last
stage performance in 1974. After a period of retirement from the screen,
she appeared in the film Just a Gigolo (1978). The documentary film
Marlene, a review of her life and career, which included a voice-over
interview of the star by Maximilian Schell, was released in 1986. Her
autobiography, Ich bin, Gott sei Dank, Berlinerin (“I Am, Thank God, a
Berliner”; Eng. trans. Marlene), was published in 1987. Eight years
after her death, a collection of her film costumes, recordings, written
documents, photographs, and other personal items was put on permanent
display in the Berlin Film Museum (2000).
Dietrich’s persona was carefully crafted, and her films (with few
exceptions) were skillfully executed. Although her vocal range was not
great, her memorable renditions of songs such as Falling in Love Again,
Lili Marleen, La Vie en rose, and Give Me the Man made them classics of
an era. Her many affairs with both men and women were open secrets, but
rather than destroying her career they seemed to enhance it. Her
adoption of trousers and other mannish clothes made her a trendsetter
and helped launch an American fashion style that persisted into the 21st
century. In the words of the critic Kenneth Tynan: “She has sex, but no
particular gender. She has the bearing of a man; the characters she
plays love power and wear trousers. Her masculinity appeals to women and
her sexuality to men.” But her personal magnetism went far beyond her
masterful androgynous image and her glamour; another of her admirers,
the writer Ernest Hemingway, said, “If she had nothing more than her
voice, she could break your heart with it.”
original name Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht
born Feb. 10, 1898, Augsburg, Ger.
died Aug. 14, 1956, East Berlin
German poet, playwright, and theatrical reformer whose epic theatre
departed from the conventions of theatrical illusion and developed the
drama as a social and ideological forum for leftist causes.
Until 1924 Brecht lived in Bavaria, where he was born, studied
medicine (Munich, 1917–21), and served in an army hospital (1918). From
this period date his first play, Baal (produced 1923); his first
success, Trommeln in der Nacht (Kleist Preis, 1922; Drums in the Night);
the poems and songs collected as Die Hauspostille (1927; A Manual of
Piety, 1966), his first professional production (Edward II, 1924); and
his admiration for Wedekind, Rimbaud, Villon, and Kipling.
During this period he also developed a violently antibourgeois
attitude that reflected his generation’s deep disappointment in the
civilization that had come crashing down at the end of World War I.
Among Brecht’s friends were members of the Dadaist group, who aimed at
destroying what they condemned as the false standards of bourgeois art
through derision and iconoclastic satire. The man who taught him the
elements of Marxism in the late 1920s was Karl Korsch, an eminent
Marxist theoretician who had been a Communist member of the Reichstag
but had been expelled from the German Communist Party in 1926.
In Berlin (1924–33) he worked briefly for the directors Max Reinhardt
and Erwin Piscator, but mainly with his own group of associates. With
the composer Kurt Weill he wrote the satirical, successful ballad opera
Die Dreigroschenoper (1928; The Threepenny Opera) and the opera Aufstieg
und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (1930; Rise and Fall of the City of
Mahagonny). He also wrote what he called “Lehr-stücke” (“exemplary
plays”)—badly didactic works for performance outside the orthodox
theatre—to music by Weill, Hindemith, and Hanns Eisler. In these years
he developed his theory of “epic theatre” and an austere form of
irregular verse. He also became a Marxist.
In 1933 he went into exile—in Scandinavia (1933–41), mainly in
Denmark, and then in the United States (1941–47), where he did some film
work in Hollywood. In Germany his books were burned and his citizenship
was withdrawn. He was cut off from the German theatre; but between 1937
and 1941 he wrote most of his great plays, his major theoretical essays
and dialogues, and many of the poems collected as Svendborger Gedichte
(1939). The plays of these years became famous in the author’s own and
other productions: notable among them are Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder
(1941; Mother Courage and Her Children), a chronicle play of the Thirty
Years’ War; Leben des Galilei (1943; The Life of Galileo); Der gute
Mensch von Sezuan (1943; The Good Woman of Setzuan), a parable play set
in prewar China; Der Aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (1957; The
Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui), a parable play of Hitler’s rise to power
set in prewar Chicago; Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti (1948; Herr
Puntila and His Man Matti), a Volksstück (popular play) about a Finnish
farmer who oscillates between churlish sobriety and drunken good humour;
and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (first produced in English, 1948; Der
kaukasische Kreidekreis, 1949), the story of a struggle for possession
of a child between its highborn mother, who deserts it, and the servant
girl who looks after it.
Brecht left the United States in 1947 after having had to give
evidence before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He spent a
year in Zürich, working mainly on Antigone-Modell 1948 (adapted from
Hölderlin’s translation of Sophocles; produced 1948) and on his most
important theoretical work, the Kleines Organon für das Theater (1949;
“A Little Organum for the Theatre”). The essence of his theory of drama,
as revealed in this work, is the idea that a truly Marxist drama must
avoid the Aristotelian premise that the audience should be made to
believe that what they are witnessing is happening here and now. For he
saw that if the audience really felt that the emotions of heroes of the
past—Oedipus, or Lear, or Hamlet—could equally have been their own
reactions, then the Marxist idea that human nature is not constant but a
result of changing historical conditions would automatically be
invalidated. Brecht therefore argued that the theatre should not seek to
make its audience believe in the presence of the characters on the
stage—should not make it identify with them, but should rather follow
the method of the epic poet’s art, which is to make the audience realize
that what it sees on the stage is merely an account of past events that
it should watch with critical detachment. Hence, the “epic” (narrative,
nondramatic) theatre is based on detachment, on the Verfremdungseffekt
(alienation effect), achieved through a number of devices that remind
the spectator that he is being presented with a demonstration of human
behaviour in scientific spirit rather than with an illusion of reality,
in short, that the theatre is only a theatre and not the world itself.
In 1949 Brecht went to Berlin to help stage Mutter Courage und ihre
Kinder (with his wife, Helene Weigel, in the title part) at Reinhardt’s
old Deutsches Theater in the Soviet sector. This led to formation of the
Brechts’ own company, the Berliner Ensemble, and to permanent return to
Berlin. Henceforward the Ensemble and the staging of his own plays had
first claim on Brecht’s time. Often suspect in eastern Europe because of
his unorthodox aesthetic theories and denigrated or boycotted in the
West for his Communist opinions, he yet had a great triumph at the Paris
Théâtre des Nations in 1955, and in the same year in Moscow he received
a Stalin Peace Prize. He died of a heart attack in East Berlin the
Brecht was, first, a superior poet, with a command of many styles and
moods. As a playwright he was an intensive worker, a restless piecer-together
of ideas not always his own (The Threepenny Opera is based on John Gay’s
Beggar’s Opera, and Edward II on Marlowe), a sardonic humorist, and a
man of rare musical and visual awareness; but he was often bad at
creating living characters or at giving his plays tension and shape. As
a producer he liked lightness, clarity, and firmly knotted narrative
sequence; a perfectionist, he forced the German theatre, against its
nature, to underplay. As a theoretician he made principles out of his
preferences—and even out of his faults.