Joseph Wirth

Last updated
Joseph Wirth
Bundesarchiv Bild 146III-105, Joseph Wirth.jpg
Chancellor of Germany
(Weimar Republic)
In office
10 May 1921 14 November 1922
President Friedrich Ebert
Preceded by Constantin Fehrenbach
Succeeded by Wilhelm Cuno
Personal details
Karl Joseph Wirth

(1879-09-06)6 September 1879
Freiburg im Breisgau, Grand Duchy of Baden, German Empire
Died3 January 1956(1956-01-03) (aged 76)
Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Political party Zentrum

Karl Joseph Wirth, known as Joseph Wirth, (6 September 1879 3 January 1956) was a German politician of the Catholic Centre Party who served for 585 days as Chancellor of Germany, from 1921 to 1922. During the postwar era, he participated in the neutralist Alliance of Germans party.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking office in government. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a "politician" can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.

Centre Party (Germany) Catholic political party in Germany

The German Centre Party is a lay Catholic political party in Germany, primarily influential during the Kaiserreich and the Weimar Republic. In English it is often called the Catholic Centre Party. Formed in 1870, it successfully battled the Kulturkampf which Chancellor Otto von Bismarck launched in Prussia to reduce the power of the Catholic Church. It soon won a quarter of the seats in the Reichstag, and its middle position on most issues allowed it to play a decisive role in the formation of majorities.


Early life

Joseph Wirth was born on 6 September 1879 in Freiburg im Breisgau, in what was then the Grand Duchy of Baden, the son of the Maschinenmeister (working engineer) Karl Wirth and his wife Agathe (née Zeller). According to Wirth himself, the Christian and social involvement of his parents had a strong impact on him. [1]

Freiburg im Breisgau Place in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Freiburg im Breisgau is a city in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, with a population of about 220,000. In the south-west of the country, it straddles the Dreisam river, at the foot of the Schlossberg. Historically, the city has acted as the hub of the Breisgau region on the western edge of the Black Forest in the Upper Rhine Plain. A famous old German university town, and archiepiscopal seat, Freiburg was incorporated in the early twelfth century and developed into a major commercial, intellectual, and ecclesiastical center of the upper Rhine region. The city is known for its medieval minster and Renaissance university, as well as for its high standard of living and advanced environmental practices. The city is situated in the heart of the major Baden wine-growing region and serves as the primary tourist entry point to the scenic beauty of the Black Forest. According to meteorological statistics, the city is the sunniest and warmest in Germany, and held the all-time German temperature record of 40.2 °C (104.4 °F) from 2003 to 2015.

Grand Duchy of Baden grand duchy between 1806 and 1918

The Grand Duchy of Baden was a state in the southwest German Empire on the east bank of the Rhine. It existed between 1806 and 1918.

From 1899 to 1906 he studied mathematics, natural sciences and economics at the University of Freiburg finishing with a dissertation in mathematics. [1]

University of Freiburg Public research university in Freiburg, Germany

The University of Freiburg, officially the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, is a public research university located in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The university was founded in 1457 by the Habsburg dynasty as the second university in Austrian-Habsburg territory after the University of Vienna. Today, Freiburg is the fifth-oldest university in Germany, with a long tradition of teaching the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The university is made up of 11 faculties and attracts students from across Germany as well as from over 120 other countries. Foreign students constitute about 16% of total student numbers.

From 1906 to 1913 Wirth worked as a teacher at a Realgymnasium in Freiburg. In 1909, he was a co-founder and first president of the Akademische Vinzenzkonferenz, a charity run by laymen for the poor. [1]

Early career

In 1911, he was elected to the Freiburg city council for the Catholic Zentrum . From 1913 to 1921, he was a member of the Badischer Landtag, the diet of the Grand Duchy (later the Republic of Baden). [1]

Republic of Baden federated republic in Germany between 1918 and 1945

The Republic of Baden was a German state that existed during the time of the Weimar Republic, formed after the abolition of the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1918. It is now part of the modern German state of Baden-Württemberg.

In 1914, Wirth became a member of the Reichstag. His main focus was on social issues. At the start of World War I, Wirth volunteered for military service but was deemed unfit to serve for health reasons. He then joined the Red Cross. From 1914 to 1917, he worked as a nurse on the Western and Eastern Fronts. After contracting pneumonia, he had to stop. [1]

Reichstag (German Empire) parliament of Germany from 1871 to 1918

The Reichstag was the Parliament of Germany from 1871 to 1918. Legislation was shared between the Reichstag and the Bundesrat, which was the Imperial Council of the reigning princes of the German States.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Pneumonia Infection of the lungs

Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung affecting primarily the small air sacs known as alveoli. Typically symptoms include some combination of productive or dry cough, chest pain, fever, and trouble breathing. Severity is variable.

In July 1917, Wirth voted in the Reichstag for the "peace resolution" sponsored by Matthias Erzberger. [1]

Revolution and Weimar Republic

During the German Revolution of 1918-19, Wirth became Finance Minister of Baden on 10 November 1918, after the provisionary government replaced the Grand Duke's ministers. In January 1919, Wirth was elected to the Constituent Assembly which met at Weimar. At the time he described himself as a "firm republican". In April 1919, he became Finance Minister of the newly created Freistaat Baden. [1]

After the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch of March 1920, when the government of Gustav Bauer resigned and was replaced by one led by Hermann Müller, Wirth became Minister of Finance of the Reich. He continued to hold this portfolio in the subsequent cabinet of Konstantin Fehrenbach. [1]

His task was to carry out the system of increased national taxation which his predecessor Matthias Erzberger had induced the Reichstag to adopt. When in May 1921 the Allied ultimatum on reparations ("London ultimatum") was presented to Germany and the sanctions enforced on the Rhine, the Fehrenbach cabinet, which had rejected the London terms, resigned, and Wirth was called upon to form a new cabinet as Reichskanzler. He succeeded in obtaining the cooperation of a number of Democrats (DDP) and Socialists (SPD), including the prominent industrialist and economist Walther Rathenau as Minister of Reconstructions. Wirth himself retained the portfolio of finance. The new government then accepted the Allies' reparation terms — 132 billion marks (£6,600,000,000) payable in yearly installments of £100,000,000 plus the proceeds of a 25% duty on German exports. By 31 August 1921, Germany had paid the first half-yearly installment of £50,000,000, and in the following October Rathenau succeeded in concluding a comprehensive agreement with France for paying reparations in kind for the reconstruction of the devastated regions.

By trying to comply with the Allied demands, the Wirth government attempted to show that it was impossible for the German Reich to satisfy all the reparation demands. [2] The extreme right reacted to Wirth's policy by calling for his assassination. [1]

After the assassination of Erzberger on 26 August 1921, the conflict between the Berlin government and the Bavarian government of Gustav Ritter von Kahr came to a head, the latter showing the same recalcitrancy against carrying out the special ordinances against plots as he had previously exhibited in regard to the dissolution of the illegal volunteer force, the Einwohnerwehr. Wirth stood his ground, and von Kahr was compelled by his own party in Bavaria to resign and make way for a more conciliatory Ministerpräsident.

The strife which arose out of this acute internal crisis had hardly abated when the announcement in mid-October of the decision of the League of Nations on the partition of Upper Silesia between Germany and Poland aroused wild excitement throughout Germany and sent the exchange value of the mark down; on 17 October, it was 750 marks to the pound. For his part, Wirth is recorded as declaring that Poland must be destroyed. [3] Wirth had not concealed his conviction that the severance from Germany of the rich industrial district of Upper Silesia would fatally affect Germany's capacity to pay further reparation installments, and the political tension in Berlin again became acute.

On 22 October 1921, he resigned in protest over the partition of Upper Silesia against the expressed will of the majority of the population. However, on 25 October, Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert once again asked him to form a government, which Wirth did on 26 October. [1]

In April 1922, Wirth and Rathenau signed the Treaty of Rapallo which ended Germany's foreign policy isolation. [1] After Rathenau was murdered by right-wing extremists in June 1922, Wirth gave a speech in front of the Reichstag in which he warned that "we are experiencing in Germany a political brutalization" that was characterized by "an atmosphere of murder, of rancor, of poison," and famously proclaimed, "the enemy is on the right!" [4] [5]

In July 1922, the Gesetz zum Schutz der Republik was passed on the initiative of his government, aimed at protecting the republic against its internal enemies. However, by 14 November 1922, Wirth felt that the Erfüllungspolitik of complying with Allied demands had failed and resigned. [1]

In 1924, Wirth joined the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold, an organization that aimed to protect the republic. When the Zentrum joined the government of Hans Luther in January 1925, Wirth criticized his party for working together with the nationalist DNVP. In August 1925, he left the Zentrum Reichstag fraction in protest over the social policies of his party but retained his seat as an independent. [1]

In April 1929, Wirth became Reichsminister for the occupied territories in the Second Müller Cabinet. After that government's resignation in late March 1930, Wirth became Minister of the Interior in the cabinet of Heinrich Brüning. His term of office ended in October 1931, when he was replaced by Wilhelm Groener. [1] [6]

Nazi era

In March 1933, two months after Hitler was appointed chancellor by Hindenburg, Wirth spoke passionately in the Reichstag against the Nazi-sponsored Enabling Act, which gave Hitler dictatorial powers. After its passage, Wirth emigrated to Switzerland, settling in Lucern. He communicated with leading statesmen in Britain and France about the dangers of Nazism, and traveled to the US, where he met with the exiled former chancellor Heinrich Brüning. Wirth resided in Paris from 1935 to 1939, when he returned to Lucern. Subsequently, he made efforts to inform the Vatican about the threat of Nazi Germany's anti-Jewish policies, and during World War II, he secretly kept in touch with anti-Nazi circles in Germany. [7]

Wirth's grave in Freiburg Grab Reichskanzler Wirth.jpg
Wirth's grave in Freiburg

Later life

Four years after the war, in 1949, Wirth returned home. He opposed Konrad Adenauer's policy of Western integration, for fear of making the division of Germany permanent. Together with Wilhelm Elfes, he founded the neutralist "Alliance of Germans" (BdD), that was also supported by the SED, and the newspaper Deutsche Volkszeitung . Although Wirth did not approve of Stalin's policies, he believed in a compromise with the USSR in line with the Rapallo Treaty.

In the CIA file "The background of Joseph Wirth", it is even claimed that Wirth was a Soviet agent. [7] Unlike West Germany, East Germany paid Wirth a small amount of financial aid. In 1954, Wirth was awarded the East German "Peace Medal" (Friedensmedaille). He received the Stalin Peace Prize in 1955. According to a CIA document Wirth claimed that he met with Lavrentiy Beria and Erwin Respondek (who arranged the meeting) in Karlshorat, Berlin in December 1952. The document states Wirth said Beria asked him to work for the East German government. [8]

He died of heart failure in 1956, aged 76, in his hometown of Freiburg and was buried in the city's main cemetery.

Related Research Articles

Walther Rathenau German businessman and politician

Walther Rathenau was a German industrialist, banker, intellectual, and politician, who served as German Foreign Minister during the Weimar Republic.

Philipp Scheidemann German chancellor

Philipp Heinrich Scheidemann was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). On 9 November 1918, in the midst of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, he proclaimed Germany a republic. Later, beginning in the early part of the following year, he became the second head of government of the Weimar Republic, acting in this post for 127 days.

Gustav Bauer German chancellor

Gustav Adolf Bauer was a German Social Democratic Party leader and 11th Chancellor of Germany from 1919 to 1920. He served as head of government for a total of 219 days. Prior to becoming head of government, Bauer had been Minister of Labour in the first democratically elected German cabinet. After his cabinet resigned in March 1920, Bauer served as vice-chancellor, Minister of Transportation, and Minister of the Treasury in other cabinets of the Weimar Republic.

Hermann Müller (politician) German chancellor

Hermann Müller  was a German Social Democratic politician who served as Foreign Minister (1919–1920), and twice as Chancellor of Germany in the Weimar Republic. In his capacity as Foreign Minister, he was one of the German signatories of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

Constantin Fehrenbach 19th and 20th-century German politician

Constantin Fehrenbach, sometimes falsely, Konstantin Fehrenbach, was a German Catholic politician who was one of the major leaders of the Centre Party or Zentrum. He served as President of the Reichstag in 1918, and then as President of the Weimar National Assembly from 1919 to 1920. In June 1920, Fehrenbach became Chancellor of Germany. He resigned in May 1921 over the issue of war reparation payments to the Allies. Fehrenbach headed the Centre Party's Reichstag fraction from 1923 until his death in 1926.

Wilhelm Marx German chancellor

Wilhelm Marx was a German lawyer, Catholic politician and a member of the Centre Party. He was Chancellor of Germany twice, from 1923 to 1925 and again from 1926 to 1928, and he also served briefly as Minister President of Prussia in 1925, during the Weimar Republic. He was the longest-serving Chancellor during the Weimar Republic.

Events in the year 1921 in Germany.

Events in the year 1922 in Germany.

Matthias Erzberger German politician

Matthias Erzberger was a German publicist and politician, Reich Minister of Finance from 1919 to 1920.

This Weimar Timeline charts the chronology of the Weimar Republic, dating the pre-history before the adoption of the actual Weimar constitution. This timeline stops when Hitler establishes the Third Reich.

Robert Schmidt (politician) German politician

Robert Schmidt was a German trade unionist, journalist, politician and member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. He served as Reichsernährungsminister (Alimentation), Reichswirtschaftsminister and Reichsminister für Wiederaufbau (Reconstruction) in a number of cabinets of the Weimar Republic.

Eugen Schiffer German politician

Eugen Schiffer was a German lawyer and liberal politician. He served as Minister of Finance and deputy head of government from February to April 1919. From October 1919 to March 1920, he was again deputy head of government and Minister of Justice. In 1921, he once more became Minister of Justice. Schiffer was co-founder of two liberal parties, the German Democratic Party (DDP) in 1918/19 and the Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (LDPD) in 1946.

Adolf Köster German politician

Adolf Köster was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and diplomat. He served as Foreign Minister of Germany (1920) and Interior Minister of Germany (1921–1922).

First Müller cabinet cabinet

Cabinet Müller I or the first Cabinet Müller was the third democratically elected government of Germany and the second in office after the Weimar Constitution came into force in August 1919. It was named after the new Chancellor (Reichskanzler) Hermann Müller of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The cabinet was based on the same three centre-left parties as the previous one: the SPD, the German Center Party (Zentrum) and the German Democratic Party (DDP). It was formed in March 1920 after the resignation of the Cabinet Bauer. The Cabinet Müller resigned in reaction to the outcome of the Reichstag elections of 6 June 1920.

Fehrenbach cabinet

The Fehrenbach cabinet was the fourth democratically elected Reichsregierung of the German Reich. It was named after Reichskanzler (chancellor) Konstantin Fehrenbach and took office on 25 June 1920 when it replaced the First Müller cabinet.

First Wirth cabinet

The First Wirth cabinet was the fifth democratically elected Reichsregierung of the German Reich. It was named after Reichskanzler (chancellor) Joseph Wirth and took office on 10 May 1921 when it replaced the Fehrenbach cabinet.

Second Wirth cabinet

The Second Wirth cabinet was the sixth democratically elected Reichsregierung of the German Reich, during the period in which it is now usually referred to as the Weimar Republic. The cabinet was named after Reichskanzler (chancellor) Joseph Wirth and took office on 26 October 1921 when it replaced the First Wirth cabinet.

Heinrich Brauns German politician

Heinrich Brauns was a German politician and Roman Catholic theologian, who for the German Center Party was a long-serving Minister of Labour of the German Reich from 1920 to 1928. Serving in a total of 13 cabinets, Brauns was a major influence on social policy in the Weimar Republic.

Cuno cabinet

The Cuno cabinet was the seventh democratically elected Reichsregierung of the German Reich, during the period in which it is now usually referred to as the Weimar Republic. The cabinet was named after Reichskanzler (chancellor) Wilhelm Cuno and took office on 22 November 1922 when it replaced the Second Wirth cabinet under Joseph Wirth. The Cuno cabinet was forced to resign on 12 August 1923 and was replaced the next day by the first cabinet of Gustav Stresemann.

Second Marx cabinet

The Second Marx cabinet was the 11th democratically elected Reichsregierung of the German Reich, during the period in which it is now usually referred to as the Weimar Republic. The cabinet was named after Reichskanzler (chancellor) Wilhelm Marx and took office on 3 June 1924 when it replaced the First Marx cabinet which had resigned on 26 May. Marx' second cabinet resigned on 15 December 1924 and was replaced on 15 January 1925 by a cabinet led by Hans Luther.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "Biografie Joseph Wirth (German)". Deutsches Historisches Museum. Archived from the original on July 11, 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  2. "Das Londoner Ultimatum (German)". Deutsches Historisches Museum. Archived from the original on February 23, 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  3. The Burden of German history, 1919-45: essays for the Goethe Institute, Michael Laffan Methuen, 1988, page 89
  4. Joseph Wirth, Reichstagsrede aus Anlass der Ermordung Rathenaus, June 25, 1922, in Politische Reden II: 1914-45, ed. Peter Wende (Frankfurt a.M.: Deutscher Klassiker, 1994), pp. 330-341.
  5. Ulrich Schlie: Altreichskanzler Joseph Wirth im Luzerner Exil (1939–1948). In: Exilforschung 15, 1997, S.180–199.
  6. "Kabinette von 1919 bis 1933 (German)". Deutsches Historisches Museum. Archived from the original on August 4, 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  7. 1 2 Ulrich Schlie: Diener vieler Herren. Die verschlungenen Pfade des Reichskanzlers Joseph Wirth im Exil: In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , 29. November 1997.


External liniks

Political offices
Preceded by
Konstantin Fehrenbach
Chancellor of Germany
Succeeded by
Wilhelm Cuno
Preceded by
Friedrich Rosen
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Walther Rathenau
Preceded by
Walther Rathenau
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Hans von Rosenberg
Preceded by
Carl Severing
Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Wilhelm Groener