German referendum, 1929

German referendum, 1929

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The German referendum of 1929 was a failed attempt to introduce a 'Law against the Enslavement of the German People'. The law, proposed by German nationalists, would formally renounce the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

 and make it a criminal offence for German officials to co-operate in the collecting of reparations
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...



Throughout 1929 Germany
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

 and the Entente
Allies of World War I
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...

 worked on achieving a final settlement on the issue of German war debts. The proposed final settlement, known as the Young Plan
Young Plan
The Young Plan was a program for settlement of German reparations debts after World War I written in 1929 and formally adopted in 1930. It was presented by the committee headed by American Owen D. Young. After the Dawes Plan was put into operation , it became apparent that Germany could not meet...

, was considered relatively favourable to Germany. The Young Plan allowed for the release of all securities by the Allies and the removal of creditors' financial and economic control. In addition to this loosening of the economic burden of Versailles, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 also agreed to evacuate the Rhineland
Historically, the Rhinelands refers to a loosely-defined region embracing the land on either bank of the River Rhine in central Europe....

 in 1930, five years ahead of schedule. Although the Young Plan was certainly more advantageous to Germany than the original Treaty of Versailles, many German nationalists opposed it. They believed that accepting the Young Plan meant accepting Versailles. It meant confessing to the 'war guilt clause
Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles
Article 231, commonly known as the "Guilt Clause" or the "War Guilt Clause", is the first article in Part VIII, "Reparations" of the Treaty of Versailles. Apart from "Article 231", there is no title for this article in the treaty itself...

', which had not been modified under the Young Plan. More practically they also believed that favourable settlements such as this undermined the will of the German people to defeat Versailles.

Road to Referendum

Opposition to the Young Plan was led by nationalist politician and media baron, Alfred Hugenberg
Alfred Hugenberg
Alfred Ernst Christian Alexander Hugenberg was an influential German businessman and politician. Hugenberg, a leading figure within nationalist politics in Germany for the first few decades of the twentieth century, became the country's leading media proprietor within the inter-war period...

. He set up a league of many right-wing organisations to campaign together against the Plan. These organisations included the German National People's Party
German National People's Party
The German National People's Party was a national conservative party in Germany during the time of the Weimar Republic. Before the rise of the NSDAP it was the main nationalist party in Weimar Germany composed of nationalists, reactionary monarchists, völkisch, and antisemitic elements, and...

 (DNVP), the Pan-German League
Pan-German League
The Pan-German League was an extremist, ultra-nationalist political interest organization which was officially founded in 1891, a year after the Zanzibar Treaty was signed. It was concerned with a host of issues, concentrating on imperialism, anti-semitism, the so called Polish Question, and...

, the Stahlhelm
Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten
The Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten also known in short form as Der Stahlhelm was one of the many paramilitary organizations that arose after the defeat of World War I in the Weimar Republic...

 and the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party). This last choice was surprising as that party's violent tactics and anti-capitalist rheotric had made it anathema to the mainstream right. Yet Hugenberg admired the Nazis' dynamism and youthful enthusiasm and hoped to use them as a 'drum' in the campaign against the Young Plan. The right-wing league proposed a new 'Freedom Law' as an alternative to the Young Plan. The proposed 'Freedom Law' renounced the 'war guilt clause' and the occupation of former German territories. The proposed law renounced reparations and made it a criminal offence for any official to co-operate with their collection.

The centre-left, centre and centre-right parties all supported the Young Plan as a step in restoring Germany's position in international affairs. As such, the 'Freedom Law' had little support in the Reichstag
Reichstag may refer to:*Reichstag – the diets or parliaments of the Holy Roman Empire, of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, and of Germany from 1871 to 1945** Reichstag ** Reichstag...

. When finally proposed there the bill was defeated by a 318-82 margin. The right hoped that the public would be more sympathetic. Enough signatures expressing support for the proposition were gathered to force a referendum on the issue under Article 73 of the Weimar Constitution
Weimar constitution
The Constitution of the German Reich , usually known as the Weimar Constitution was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic...

. The fact that a sufficient number of signatures were gathered to cause a referendum surprised observers.


The referendum was held on 22 December 1929. 5.8 million voters, or 13% of all eligible voters, voted in favour of the 'Freedom Law'. The constitution required that a majority of all eligible voters had to vote in favour of a proposition for it to become law. As such, the 'Freedom Law' was never enacted.


The referendum was very favourable to the Nazi Party and, as such, is considered to be an important event in German history. Exposure in Hugenberg's widely read newspapers gave the Nazis free publicity and party leader Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 became a household name in Germany. In addition to this, campaigning with the mainstream right-wing parties gave Hitler a credibility he had lacked before. The dynamism and youthful enthusiasm of the Nazis which had appealed to Hugenberg appealed to voters too. In December 1929, the Nazis gained 11% of the vote in Thuringia
The Free State of Thuringia is a state of Germany, located in the central part of the country.It has an area of and 2.29 million inhabitants, making it the sixth smallest by area and the fifth smallest by population of Germany's sixteen states....

and made gains in other states.

In March 1930 the Reichstag ratified the Young Plan.