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“Undefeated in battle” – The stab-in-the-back myth

Production, script & direction
SWR 1998, 44 Min.

“The ‘stab-in-the-back myth’ was in essence a political propaganda war over the question of blame. Who was to blame for losing the war? The military, the incorrect assessment of military power, especially in America? Or was it the damned politicians, the Social Democrats, with the Center and Democrats as followers who wanted democracy?”

Theodor Eschenburg (1904-1999) from a 1998 interview

In November 1918, news that sailors of the High Seas Fleet had begun to mutiny sparked a revolutionary spirit which, by November 9th, had leapt all throughout Germany. Everywhere workers’ and soldiers’ councils were established, and Friedrich Ebert became Chancellor. One day later, Wilhelm II fled into exile in the Netherlands. At last the way was clear for a ceasefire, which was signed on November 11th in the forest of Compiègne. Thus, the political collapse occurred before the signing of the military ceasefire. This fact was used by right-wing circles in the following years to argue that the supposedly undefeated army in World War I had been "stabbed in the back" by the Revolution, by Marxists, pacifists and Jews.

After the failed coup of 1923, Hitler used the stab-in-the-back myth and the dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Versailles to draw the masses to his side. He blamed the humiliating defeat of the Third Reich on the Democratic parties of the Weimar Republic and the “November criminals”. The removal of this Democracy was, in his words, the first requirement for the recovery of national greatness.

The stab-in-the-back myth remained part of his propaganda. Towards the end of World War II, it was the foundation of his rallying calls, with which he implored the populace, to never again – as alleged in 1918 – lay down their weapons shortly before certain victory.

Production: Anne Roerkohl dokumentARfilm GmbH

Franz Wimmer: Wir wollen Frieden, Kohlezeichnung 1916
Franz Wimmer: We Want Peace, charcoal drawing 1916
Deutsche Soldaten im Schützengraben, Westfront 1918
German soldiers in a trench, western front 1918
Satirezeitschrift "Kladderadatsch", 30. Nov. 1919, nach Hindenburgs Anhörung zur Schuldfrage im Reichstag
Satirical magazine “Kladderadatsch”, Nov 30th 1919, after Hindenburg’s hearing concerning the question of guilt in the Reichstag
Wahlplakat der DNVP, 7. Dez. 1924; Sozialdemokratische Satirezeitschrift "Der Wahre Jacob", 7. Juni 1930
Election poster of the German National People's Party, Dec 7th 1924; Social democratic satirical magazine „Der Wahre Jacob“, June 7th 1930