Ebert was influential in securing SPD support for the war in 1914. On the eve of war he travelled to Switzerland to arrange the movement of SPD funds if the party was outlawed. As the leader of organized labour, Ebert had close relations with government and military authorities throughout the war. Two of his sons were killed during the war, something he used to emphasise his patriotism. On 9 November, 1918, Ebert became Imperial Chancellor as revolution broke out in Berlin. He opposed the radical left, declaring, ‘Without democracy there is no freedom. Violence, no matter who is using it, is always reactionary’, but he compromised Weimar democracy by his dependence on the army command and his use of the para-military Freikorps against the left.Ebert headed a joint SPD-USPD government until elections were held to a National Constituent Assembly in January 1919. Ebert became president of the new Weimar Republic (Germany’s first democratically elected head of state) and retained office in a turbulent period in German politics. Ebert reluctantly accepted the need for Germany to sign the Treaty of Versailles, at one point saying he might be prepared to resume the war. It was left to Johannes Bell (depicted by Sir William Orpen from behind) and Hermann Muller (shown leaning over him) to sign on behalf of Germany. There were arguments among the Allies over how Germany should be treated, as France, Britain and the United States prioritised different objectives.In May 1919, the terms of the Treaty – on reparations, war guilt clause, loss of territories in Europe and colonies, limitations on armed forces – were presented to German representatives, precipitating opposition in government and the Armed Forces, and heated discussion in Cabinet. He continued as President until 1925, forced to confront the issues that arose from the Treaty and its political and economic consequences. After his death came the unravelling of the Treaty and the book examines how much of a part it played in creating the circumstances of the Second World War.
HARRY HARMER‘s particular interest is late 19th- and early 20th-century German history. He has studied the history of the Weimer Republic and the rise of Hitler, and his PhD involved research into the Communist International and the European parties, of which the German was the most significant. He is the author of a number of biographies.