1931: Debt, Crisis, and the Rise of Hitler

The two-decade period between the world wars fascinates me. A devastating conflict and worldwide pandemic (the misnamed Spanish Flu accounted for far more fatalities than the war) was followed by an explosion of wealth in developed countries, and then an implosion of financial markets across the globe. Technological advances were balanced with a growing interest in eugenics; life expectancy increased, but working conditions deteriorated.

Tobias Straumann’s 2019 book focuses on the economic instability of Germany. Straumann is not the first historian to blame the Treaty of Versailles for Germany’s inter-war financial crisis, but his in-depth investigation of the numerous attempts to alleviate the Germany’s war-time debt obligations is insightful. Hitler of necessity has to play a prominent role in the narrative, but Straumann’s use of him is adept, almost literary; as he does in the cover illustration shown on this post, the Nazi leader lurks in the margins, only occasionally stepping forth to be quoted, but when the Germany economy collapses at the end of the book, his rise to the chancellorship seems inevitable.

In his introduction, Straumann states he was inspired to write this book by the European debt crises in the early years of the current decade. While it would be interesting to compare the economics of the 1930s and 2010s, no comparison is actually made. It’s an unfortunate omission, as seeing how the two decades responded could have made studying the 1930s seem more relevant.

The prose style is scholarly, and aside from Hitler no memorable characters emerge from the text. Fortunately, the audiobook reading by Nigel Patterson moves at a clear and brisk pace, giving life to the often dry text. Overall, if you share my interest in this era, or are intrigued by international finances, this book is definitely worth your time.