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Germany’s Catholic Fraternities and the Weimar Republic


Jeremy Stephen Roethler

Through the last century, Catholic fraternity alumni have served as German chancellors, presidents, federal ministers, state executives, and leading voices in Germany’s parliament. They have played leading roles in the Catholic press, in Catholic youth groups, in Catholic civic associations, and in the German Catholic hierarchy. After World War II, Catholic fraternity alumni played founding roles in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), the two parties that led West Germany’s transition from its catastrophic defeat («zero hour») to the economic miracle (1949–1969). This book considers the ideas that many of these Catholic leaders encountered as college students or as active alumni in their fraternities in the fifteen years before Adolf Hitler came to power.
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Chapter Three: A Republic in Crisis


← 46 | 47 →CHAPTER THREE

A Republic in Crisis

What do millions of fallen soldiers mean to us today? In the time of hyperinflation, we had to calculate the value of currency in trillions. Millions upon millions have lost their last emergency pennies. Millions upon millions are without work and bread. Millions have to be expended just to ameliorate the worst of the emergency conditions. And, year after year, we have paid billions upon billions of Reichsmarks as tribute to foreign powers.


A War Comes to an End

News of the armistice ending the Great War hit the German population just before the holidays. In four long years of carnage, empires, kings and millions of people had vanished from the earth. In the aftermath, a fractured German population struggled to come to terms with the collapse of its ruling dynasty and the outbreak of revolutionary chaos in many of its urban centers. In Münster, a Catholic fraternity alumnus wrote in the December edition of Unitas that Germany’s Catholics would be celebrating a “nervous” Christmas.2

In early 1919, Social Democratic Party leader Friedrich Ebert prepared to commission Germany’s leading legal minds to write a new constitution for a new ← 47 | 48 →republican government. At this potentially transformative moment in German history, leading Catholics insisted that this foundational document enshrine the principles of Christianity. As the contributor to Unitas argued, the “great buzz” words...

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