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Stab in the back theory and the Rathenau assassination

By now, Hindenburg's autobiography, Out of My Life, had been published. In it, Hindenburg supported the stab-in-the-back fantasy about the defeat of Germany's army. Hindenburg was still benefiting from his not having signed the armistice agreement in 1918 – as a supreme military commander had been obliged to do. He would never have described the real reason for Germany's defeat: his and Ludendorff's stupidity. Germany's defeat, claimed Hindenburg, was due primarily to revolution on the home front and the establishment of a republic.

Into 1922, hatred for the "November Criminals" (those who favored or had signed the peace treaty) remained very much alive in Germany. And defiance of Allied demands for continued reparations payments was winning applause from common Germans. France was still asking for more in reparations than Germany could pay, but in April at Genoa in Italy a meeting attended by representatives from the major European powers was attempting to solve postwar problems including reparation payments.


Walter Rathenau, industrialist and statesman. He described himself as thoroughly German and "belonging to no other tribe or people."

At the conference at Genoa, the representative from the Soviet Union was seeking economic aid and recognition for his nation. Poincaré, representing France, was especially disdainful toward the Russians. The representatives from the Soviet Union and Germany were receiving little respect, and they responded to their similar frustration by meeting at a villa called Rapallo just outside Genoa. There they agreed to re-establish diplomatic and consular relations, and they agree to most-favored trade between their two countries. In a spin-off of this meeting, the Russians and Germans met again, in secret, to discuss military collaboration. Secretly they agreed that Russia would manufacture arms for sale to Germany and German pilots and tank crews would train on Russian soil – hidden from the Allies. Germany was to train Russian army officers in the military matters, and German officers and scientists in Russia were to do research.

Germany's President Ebert was shocked by what his diplomats had done, while representatives of German industry were delighted at the opportunity that the agreements with the Soviet Union presented. Superficial aspects of the Rapallo Agreement became public knowledge in Germany, and anger arose from those opposed to any dealings with Bolshevik Russia. Anti-Semitism was involved in this opposition, because the German delegation that made the agreement with the Russians was led by Walter Rathenau, Ebert's Minister of Foreign Affairs. Rathenau had been one of Germany's leading industrialists and financiers. He had risen to prominence during World War I as the government's organizer of industry. He was a Christian who was outspoken about his Jewish heritage.

Rathenau described himself as thoroughly German, as belonging to "no other tribe or people." But Rathenau was in a dangerous position. More than three hundred assassinations had taken place in Germany since the armistice, and stupid Germans were accusing Rathenau of representing world Jewry, of wanting to deliver Germany to the Bolsheviks and of besmirching Germany's honor. As Rathenau was being chauffeured in an open car, two young men in their twenties, members of an outlawed Free Corps unit that had migrated to Bavaria (the Ehrhardt Brigade), were in a car that pulled up alongside Rathenau. As their car passed they shot at Rathenau with a submachine gun and threw a hand grenade.

A memorial service for Rathenau at the University of Berlin had to be canceled in fear of a riot by anti-Semitic students. The two assassins were tracked down by Berlin police. One was killed in a shoot-out and the other committed suicide.


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