A well-organized, fast-moving political narrative situating the absolute breakdown of Germany's currency in 1923 in the double context of the international drive for World War I reparations and the violent effects of internal political extremism.
Royal Historical Society fellow Taylor (Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany, 2011, etc.) examines the historical span from the overthrow of the “once unshakeable representatives of the monarchical state” in November 1918 to the end of 1923 at the height of the crisis. The introduction of the “fixed-value Rentenmark” in November 1923 was followed rapidly by the beginning of new negotiations on reparations and apparent stability. Early on, Taylor identifies the major players in his drama. First, Erich Ludendorff, and his military associates, who seized on Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points and launched their campaign against the betrayal of the armistice and the “stab-in-the-back” of the Versailles Treaty. Then, the author examines extremists of right and left, out of which the Nazis emerged. The former organized armed units under Ludendorff and assassinated leaders like Matthias Erzberger and Walther Rathenau, whom they associated with the Versailles sellout. The latter took to the streets and organized military units for Soviet-style revolution. Meanwhile, the Allies maintained their embargo on German food supplies and other trade until they were satisfied that reparations were forthcoming. Against this backdrop, Taylor methodically traces the fall of the currency and growth of the debt. By November 1923, a loaf of bread could be bought for 140 billion marks, and the middle class was left with next to nothing. Tax reforms and collections, social welfare cuts, impoverishment of students and government workers all played their part.
Taylor’s history provides plenty of relevant lessons for today—and not only for Europe.