Peasants and Jews: Anti-Semitism and Rural Politics in Northwest Germany

Chapter 4: The Relationship Recast (1914-1924)

This chapter focuses upon the counties of Bremervörde, Wittmund and Aurich. I possess excellent archival evidence that in the form of the Nachlaß of Aurich attorney Wilhelm Schapp that I use to detail the reconstitution of the German Conservative party into the German Nationalist Peoples Party and the Agrarian League into the Landbund. Similarly, I am able to use the papers of Ludwig Alpers to illustrate how traditionalist and federalist elites in the county of Bremervörde sought to use the chaos of war and revolution to create an independent Hanoverian state. Lastly, I examine an outlier – the county of Wittmund – where the anti-Semitic Völkisch-Sozial Bloc won more votes than any place outside of Bavaria in the national election of May 1924. 

My spatial and statistical analysis will focus on the national elections of 1919, 1920, and the two elections of 1924, linking out via hyperlink to color maps and data sets.

In Chapter Four, I examine the impact of war, revolution, hyperinflation and stabilization on rural politics and the extent to which rural politics was recast. Using my GIS, I am able to chronicle the disintegration of the Imperial party system in the elections for the National Assembly in 1919 and the first Reichstag in 1920 and document the reconstitution of the Agrarian coalition (this time including urban constituents) in the form of a new Rightist Sammlungspartei – the German Nationalist Peoples Party (DNVP). Despite the secession of the pre-War anti-Semites into the German Racist Freedom Party (DVFP) in 1922, by the national elections of May and December 1924, the German Nationalists had succeeded in establishing their hegemony not only over traditionally Agrarian villages in East Friesland and the Elbe-Weser triangle, but also in formerly Liberal and Radical regions of Oldenburg. The chapter concludes with a micro-analysis of party politics in the county of Wittmund, the one place where the DVFP and the National Socialist Freedom Movement did extraordinarily well in 1924.

I will also spatially analyze changes in Agrarian interest representation. In 1920, the Agrarian League dissolved itself into a new competitor organization, the Reichslandbund. The Landbund differed from its pre-War predecessor in that it was less centralized and Berlin-centric and in that it was emphatically non-partisan at its highest levels and in its provincial and local branches. In my study area, this meant that German Hanoverians (supporters of the Guelph dynasty that was overthrown in 1867) and members of Gustav Stresemann’s German Peoples Party were assembled under the Landbund’s umbrella as well as anti-Semites, Conservatives and Nationalists of every stripe. Different local elites controlled the Landbund in the various counties of East Friesland, Oldenburg, and Stade. In the old constituency of Hanover 1 and Hanover 19, these elites were aligned with the DNVP (although the leader of the Landbund for the Stade district was a Racist, then a Nazi); in Hanover 2, they were sympathetic to a broad anti-Semitic orientation; in Hanover 18 they were allied with the German Hanoverians (the DHP); and in Oldenburg, they had been National Liberal before the War and were allied to the German Peoples Party through 1924. In sum, by 1924, the Landbund had succeeded in becoming a more respected, more non-partisan, and more powerful representative of Agrarian interests than its pre-War predecessor had been.

This chapter will be a significant addition to the literature because my GIS allows me to analyze continuity and rupture caused by the War in political society at the village. In this way, I am able to build upon the pioneering work done by Jens Flemming, Martin Schumacher, and Wolfram Pyta. As Teubner and Kimmel have shown, the War exacerbated tensions between peasants and Jews and led to increasing levels of anti-Semitic opinion. I argue was only as a result of the controlled agricultural economy of the First World War, the collapse of Imperial bonds with the defeat of 1918, and the first stages of hyperinflation, that Jewish economic activities in northwest Germany came to be perceived as negative. When this was coupled with the end of majority constituencies and the introduction of proportional representation, anti-Semites were no longer held captive as part of an Agrarian coalition that needed Liberal votes to succeed.