In German History, the 9th of November repeats itself as a day on which important moments in history have taken place. Events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the proclamation of the Weimar Republic, and Hitler’s first failed putsch, among others, took happened on this exact day. All of the events that have just so happened to fall on this date have been significant not only for German history but for European and world history in general. Here’s everything that has happened on the 9th of November, which can provide a better understanding of German and European history in the last two centuries.
1. 9th Of November 1849: The End of the 1848 Revolution
The first event on the 9th of November was the death of Robert Blum, which marked the end of the 1848 liberal revolution. This revolution had brought the German people hope for a constitution that would have given its citizens civil rights and freedoms. This constitution could also have brought German unification, which the population strongly desired.
In the first half of the 19th century, Germany did not yet exist as a country and was fragmented into hundreds of independent states. These independent states had absolutist governors who strongly limited the citizens’ rights and their ability to travel across states. For this reason, industry and commerce were underdeveloped and the population had poor living conditions in comparison with other European countries.
The German people had watched the French and other liberal revolutions happen throughout Europe, and now longed for their own liberal revolution. Most Germans wanted freedom of expression and of the press, as well as the freedom to develop their state’s economy through private enterprise, all of which were forbidden in most states.
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Together with a desire for democratization, there was also a desire for unification. The German-speaking people had not only language in common, but also culture and traditions. For this reason, the idea of a liberal revolution in Germany became tied up with the idea of German unification.
Throughout the early 19th century, there was a growth in the number of patriotic and democratic movements, usually led by students. Although these movements were outlawed, they continued to spread their ideas of democracy and German unification illegally. It was also during this period that the first socialist and communist movements began, with The Communist Manifesto being written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848.
After a year of bad crops and consequent worsening of living conditions in Europe, the unsatisfied population reacted in 1848 with a series of revolts. The first took place in France, in late February, and was quickly followed by a revolt in Vienna and another in Berlin. In these revolts, workers demanded better living and working conditions, as well as democracy and unification for the German people.
The leaders of the German states acknowledged these requests and formed the Frankfurt Parliament, in which representatives of various states assembled to write a constitution for a unified Germany. The main questions concerned the role of Austria in a unified Germany, and whether the form of government should be a constitutional monarchy or a republic.
Among the representatives of the states was Robert Blum, from the Kingdom of Saxony. Blum had fought his entire life for democratization and unification, as well as for gender equality, and was against antisemitism. In the Frankfurt Parliament, he sided with the left in wanting a democratic republic and worked to refrain extremist left movements within the Parliament, such as communism.
As revolutionary fighting began in Vienna in October of 1848, Blum left the Parliament to participate in these efforts. However, he was arrested on the 4th of November. Despite his immunity as a member of the Frankfurt Parliament, he was executed on the 9th of November.
Robert Blum’s death became a symbol of the failure of the 1848 revolutions in the German-speaking territories. The remainder of the Frankfurt Parliament was unable to implement a constitution or unify the German territories since the king chosen to rule didn’t accept the constitution. At this time, the rulers of the German states still believed in their divine ruling rights and, for this reason, refused to be limited by a constitution. The Parliament was dissolute without achieving any of the desired outcomes.
2. 9th of November 1918: The Fall of the German Empire
World War I broke out in July of 1914, and the German Empire was optimistic about its chances of winning the war. However, in late 1918, the German army was forced to continuously retreat, and, by November, the war had been lost.
Unable to rule a destroyed and disappointed nation that had lost faith in its government, German Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated the throne. Wilhelm II fled to the Netherlands on the 9th of November 1918, as did his chancellor, Maximillian, prince of Baden. The German Empire completely collapsed, and it was up to the growing socialist and communist parties to proclaim a new government.
Tensions rose between the different parties; each of which was eager to seize power. There were doubts among the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) on whether to form a republic or a constitutional monarchy. Friedrich Ebert, leader of the SPD which was the biggest party at the time, preferred a constitutional monarchy. However, his friend and colleague, Philipp Scheidemann, proclaimed the Republic from the balcony of the Reichstag, the German Parliament. Scheidemann acted without authorization from his superiors at the SPD due to fears that the communists would seize power. He turned out to be right.
Two hours later, Karl Liebknecht, co-leader of the Spartacus League, also proclaimed the Republic in the streets of Berlin. The Spartacus League, led by Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, was a communist movement that had resulted from internal conflict within the SPD. This league would later become the KPD (Communist Party of Germany).
The double proclamation of the Republic on the 9th of November 1918 led to a tumultuous winter with internal conflicts between the two parties. Eventually, with the help of the German army and the paramilitary militia, Freikorps, the SPD managed to suppress the communist movement and the Spartacus League. In this process, both Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were murdered by the Freikorps. This led to an unbridgeable break between the SPD and the KPD, which were unable to become allies to stop the rise of the Nazi movement.
3. 9th of November 1923: The Hitlerputsch, or Beer Hall Putsch
The first years of the Weimar Republic were tumultuous and marked by economic, social, and political instability. Hyperinflation prevented Germans from leading normal lives and accumulating wealth since their paychecks quickly became worthless. There were attempted putsches and revolts in the streets and poverty became generalized throughout Germany.
It was in this political and socio-economic state of affairs that the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), or Nazi Party, was formed. It was led by Adolf Hitler, and, in the early twenties, was still relatively small. On the 9th of November 1923, Hitler and the NSDAP made their first attempt at seizing power in Germany. The party members began marching from a Beer Hall in Munich, having as their goal to arrive in Berlin and overthrow the republic.
This plan, however, did not succeed, and they were quickly stopped by law enforcement. Despite being arrested, Hitler’s case never made it to the Supreme Court, as cases of this nature usually did. For this reason, he was sentenced to five years in prison, out of which he only served nine months before being released for “good behavior.”
During this time, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), the book which outlined his political thoughts and served as the framework for the Nazis. Hitler also became convinced that it would not be possible to seize power through a putsch or revolt. Instead, he began trying to grow his party and attain a governing position legally, by being elected.
4. 9th of November 1938: Kristallnacht, or “The Night of Broken Glass”
After seizing power on March 23rd, 1933, the Nazis quickly passed the first wave of anti-Semitic laws. Anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews were some of the main focuses of the Nazi party, and its concretization in state law was achieved through three waves of anti-Semitic legislation. Each wave of anti-Semitic legislation worsened discrimination against Jews, finally causing them to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps.
The boycotting of Jewish business and the attempt to remove Jews from public life began right after Hitler and the Nazi party rose to power, on April 1st, 1933. The government of the Third Reich passed legislation that forbade Jews from holding professions within state service or working in legal matters. The goal of these anti-Semitic laws was to remove Jews from intervening in public affairs and organizations, as well as to financially harm the community.
In 1935, two years later, more anti-Semitic laws were put in place, this time aiming at preventing Jews from marrying or having sexual relations with Germans. This set of laws, known as the Nuremberg Laws, considered a Jewish person to be not only someone who believed in Judaism but anyone who had more than three Jewish grandparents. From 1935 onwards, Judaism was considered by the Third Reich not as a religion, but as a race. Through these laws, Jewish people also lost the right to German citizenship and, with it, their most fundamental rights.
The third wave of anti-Semitism began in 1938, with the Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht. On this night, close to 1400 synagogues were destroyed, along with 7500 Jewish businesses and homes. Although the number of confirmed deaths is 91, there were likely hundreds more which were not reported. During the Kristallnacht, around 30,000 Jewish men, from ages 16 to 60, were arrested.
In the Nazi party narrative, this night was described as a popular uprising against the Jewish community after the murder of Ernst vom Rath, an official of the German embassy in Paris. Rath was shot on the 7th of November 1938 by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew whose parents had recently been deported from Germany. However, this series of pogroms were actually planned by the Nazi party and ended up being followed by a larger wave of anti-Semitic legislation.
After the 9th of November 1938, all Jewish businesses were closed, and Jewish children could no longer attend public schools. Now, Jews were not only barred from public professions, but also from private ones, having no means to earn a livelihood. Jews lost their right to mobility, that is, the ability to travel, since they could no longer freely use public transportation, own a car, or have a driver’s license. All Jewish passports had a stamp with the letter “J.” Furthermore, the pogroms were blamed on the Jewish community, which was fined to pay one billion Reichsmarks, and lost the right to insurance payouts.
5. 9th of November 1989: The Fall of the Berlin Wall
Following World War II and the fall of the Third Reich, Germany was divided into four zones, each for one of the winning Allied powers: the USA, the UK, France, and the Soviet Union. In 1949, four years after the war had ended, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) or Bundesrepublik Deutschland, an independent German state, was formed in the Western influence zones. In the Eastern Zone, the German Democratic Republic was formed by the Soviet Union.
Over the next decade, the two countries developed in very different ways: while the FRG sympathized with the West and Western powers, creating a capitalist society, the GDR was an ally of the Soviet Union, and a communist state was formed.
Over the 1950s, the FRG went through an “economic miracle” that allowed for an increase in living conditions and purchasing power, as well as for quick reconstruction of the country. The GDR, however, had to pay heavy war fines and reparations to the Soviet Union, which hindered its economical growth. It also had to put institutions in place which would allow for a communist economy and organization, which was even more difficult to do in a country devastated by war. For these reasons, the standard of living in the GDR began lagging behind that of the FRG.
The population’s discontentment with the GDR’s government was aggravated after the crushing of the 1953 uprising, in which workers’ revolted against longer working hours and lower salaries. The Soviet Union intervened by violently stopping the revolts, causing anywhere between 55 and 125 deaths. Afterward, mass arrests of protestors took place, and it became clear that the GDR did not allow its citizens freedom of expression.
For both economic and political reasons, millions of GDR citizens left their country for the FRG, where they had better living and working conditions, as well as fundamental rights. During the 1950s, more than 3.5 million citizens left East Germany for West Germany, causing great concern to the Soviet Union. In order to stop mass emigration, the GDR closed its borders and, in 1961, began building the Berlin Wall. After 1961, emigration became nearly impossible and even life-threatening. The amount of GDR citizens reaching the FRG decreased significantly.
Over the following decades, the differences in the standard of living and in freedoms and rights in both German countries grew significantly. Particularly in the 1980s, the Eastern bloc began struggling economically, lagging behind Western countries.
In 1989, there was a significant increase in the number of demonstrations in the GDR against the Berlin Wall and for freedom to travel. The government had recently changed, from Erich Honecker, who was aligned with Brezhnev’s political thought, to Egon Krenz, who reflected Gorbachev’s reformatory tendencies. Krenz and his government eventually partially yielded to the wishes of the demonstrators, drafting a new law that would facilitate travel between East and West.
On the 9th of November 1989, spokesperson Günter Schabowski was responsible for announcing this decision to the public. However, Schabowski had not been present while this law was being drafted and, as a result, mistakenly said it would take immediate effect. As a result, thousands of East Germans watching the press conference that night rushed to the Berlin Wall, leaving the guards powerless to stop them from crossing over.
The events that coincidentally took place on the 9th of November show how tumultuous the 19th and 20th centuries were in German history. From Robert Blum’s execution to the fall of the Berlin Wall, what happened on this fateful day always had far-reaching consequences that redefined German history. Robert Blum’s death symbolized the failure of Germany’s only revolution and the postponing of unification and democracy for the German-speaking people.
The double proclamation of the republic in 1918 set the tone for the following decade, which would be defined by political and economic instability. The same can be said regarding the 9th of November 1938, the Night of Broken Glass, which paved the way for further discriminatory measures against Jewish people. Lastly, the effects of the 9th of November 1989 are still visible today, when Germany is again unified but is nevertheless confronted by the differences between former East and West Germany.