Rathenau, Walther

(1867-1922)
   industrialist, social thinker, and Foreign Minister; his assassination* in June 1922 helped trigger the crises of the following eighteen months. He was born in Berlin* to Emil Rathenau, the Jewish founder of Germany's General Electric Company (Allgemeine Elektri-zitatsgesellschaft, AEG). His was an eclectic intellect drawn to writing and painting (Max Liebermann,* his cousin, encouraged him to paint professionally). After taking a doctorate in physics in 1889, he practiced for ten years as an engineer, first at an aluminum plant in Switzerland and then at an electrochem-ical concern in Bitterfeld. Financially independent, he became an AEG director in 1899. His intellect and charm soon won him a place both in fashionable society and among the avant-garde. He joined Berlin's Handelsgesellschaft (Chamber of Commerce) in 1902 and was connected with eighty-six German and twenty-one foreign firms by 1914. In 1907 he became chairman of AEG's board of directors. Yet despite his financial standing (and a circle of friends that included the Kaiser), he posed as a man of letters (his philosophy was a blend of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Max Weber,* and Friedrich Naumann*) and was most at home with writers and artists such as Frank Wedekind, Gerhart Haupt-mann,* Rainer Maria Rilke, and Edvard Munch. Advocating an epistemology that separated the soul from the intellect, his early essays were published in Maximilian Harden's* Zukunft. "Art and unconscious creation are the language of the soul," he wrote in his 1913 publication Zur Mechanik des Geistes (On the mechanism of the spirit), "science and conscious creation are the language of the intellect. The soul is nourished by the urge to life, the intellect by fear of death." Uneasy with liberal capitalism, he rejected the SPD because of the materialism fundamental to Marxism.
   Within weeks of August 1914 Rathenau wrote a memorandum predicting a long war and offering the government his help. He was soon leading the Kriegs-rohstoffabteilung (War Materials Department), where he and his colleague Wi-chard von Moellendorff* managed all of the country's raw materials; together they ensured that Germany could sustain the war until 1918. When Rathenau resigned in 1915, he received no thanks for his labors; indeed, he was soon accused of war profiteering and, as time passed, chided for doing too little to prepare Germany for a long war. In June 1915 his father died and he became AEG's president. Despite tireless efforts at rationalization, his nature never mir-rored his father's devotion to the world of commerce. He was an early champion of Erich Ludendorff,* but his enchantment faded when the general began ad-vocating unlimited submarine warfare. By 1917 he predicted the economic chaos, including the inflation,* that came after the war. Yet with defeat immi-nent, he proposed a levee en masse on 7 October 1918.
   Although Rathenau's commitment to parliamentary democracy remained lukewarm, he welcomed the Kaiser's abdication and joined the DDP after the Armistice.* Because he facilitated the November 1918 negotiations between Hugo Stinnes* and Carl Legien,* he earned the distrust of certain management-oriented Party leaders and was denied the chance to run for a seat in the National Assembly.* Yet his progressivism led Finance Minister Joseph Wirth* to ap-point him to the Socialization Commission* in 1920. In July 1920 Wirth took him to the Spa Conference* as his advisor.
   When Chancellor Wirth created the post of Reconstruction Minister in May 1921, it was to gain Rathenau's expertise. Having once insisted that Jews* decline prominent public office, Rathenau struggled with Wirth's offer, but eventually vacated his corporate positions to accept the post. Forced to resign when the DDP left Wirth's government in October 1921, he was employed by the Chancellor for missions to London and Cannes. Indeed, although Rathenau was a staunch opponent of the Versailles Treaty,* he generated Wirth's policy of fulfilling the treaty's terms as a means toward revising it. In January 1922 Wirth offered him the Foreign Office. Although he doubted his ability, he none-theless accepted the portfolio.
   Rathenau was keen on rapprochement with Russia, but he wished to subor-dinate the aim to improving relations with the West. However, in the weeks preceding the April 1922 Genoa Conference* he grew increasingly worried lest France and Great Britain recognize the Soviet government and dislodge Ger-many from its traditional role as Russia's closest trading partner. His alarm was exploited at Genoa by Ago von Maltzan,* who fabricated a story that Britain was near reaching a formal agreement with the Soviets and thus convinced Rathenau to sign the Rapallo Treaty.* His domestic enemies, already marking him a Jew* and a defeatist, now proclaimed him a Bolshevik agent. Rejecting Wirth's offer of protection, he was murdered, evidently by members of Organ-isation Consul,* on 24 June 1922.
   REFERENCES:Felix, Walther Rathenau; Joll, Three Intellectuals in Politics and "Walther Rathenau"; Harry Graf Kessler, Walther Rathenau; David Williamson, "Walther Rath-enau."

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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  • Rathenau, Walther — (1867–1922)    German industrialist, politician, writer, and statesman who served as the foreign minister of Germany during the Weimar Republic. Walther Rathenau was assassinated by an anti Semitic ultranationalist, but prior to his murder, he… …   Historical dictionary of the Holocaust

  • Rathenau, Walther — born Sept. 29, 1867, Berlin, Prussia died June 24, 1922, Berlin, Ger. German industrialist and statesman. From 1915 he headed the AEG conglomerate developed by his father, Emil Rathenau (1838–1915). In World War I he organized the conservation… …   Universalium

  • Rathenau, Walther — (29 sep. 1867, Berlín, Prusia–24 jun. 1922, Berlín, Alemania). Industrial y estadista alemán. Desde 1915 encabezó el conglomerado AEG (Sociedad general de electricidad) creado por su padre, Emil Rathenau (n. 1838–m. 1915). En la primera guerra… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Walther Rathenau — (* 29. September 1867 in Berlin; † 24. Juni 1922 in Berlin Grunewald) war ein deutscher Industrieller, Schriftsteller und liberaler Politiker (DDP). Er wurde als Reichsaußenminister Opfer eines politisch motivierten Attentats der Organisation… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • RATHENAU (W.) — RATHENAU WALTHER (1867 1922) Homme d’affaires et homme d’État allemand. Séduisant par son ambiguïté, Walther Rathenau fut d’abord un magnat de l’industrie où il succéda à son père, fondateur du konzern Allgemeine Elektrizitäts Gesellschaft (A.E.G …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Walther — Walther, Johann * * * (as used in expressions) Brauchitsch, (Heinrich Alfred) Walther von Nernst, Walther Hermann Rathenau, Walther Walther von der Vogelweide …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Rathenau-Institut — Das Walther Rathenau Institut, Stiftung für internationale Politik ist eine überparteiliche, gemeinnützige Stiftung mit Sitz in Berlin. Das Institut ist benannt nach Walther Rathenau, dem deutsch jüdischen Außenminister der Weimarer Republik.… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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