Ruhr Occupation

(Ruhrkampf)
   Germany's Ruhr district takes its name from the Ruhr River. Flowing west for 145 miles through Westphalia (in the Weimar era the district comprised parts of Prussia's* Rhine Province and Westphalia), the river passes Essen and Mülheim before joining the Rhine at Duisberg. Embracing about 1,800 square miles, the Ruhr district was (and is) among the world's densest and most important industrial regions: from Dort-mund in the east to Duisberg in the west, the district is a continuous urbanized area. Its evolution was owed largely to the mining and steel concerns formed in the nineteenth century by the Krupp* and Thyssen* families. With huge anthracite deposits, the Ruhr provided coal not simply to German firms but to steel industries throughout much of Europe.
   The Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr launched the crisis-ridden year of 1923. Responding to Germany's failure to meet reparations* demands, French Premier Raymond Poincare ordered troops into the district on 11 January. The action was in some measure a sign of French exasperation over four years of deadlock on reparations and economic issues. The Ruhr had been a target of threats since 1921, when Germany was found "in default in the fulfillment of the obligations" of the Versailles Treaty.* Yet only Belgium supported Poin-care's move; indeed, former allies surmised that he aimed to foment separatism in western Germany.
   The occupation provoked a violent emotional reaction in Germany. On 13 January Chancellor Wilhelm Cuno* appealed to the Ruhr's population for "pas-sive resistance" and noncooperation. Industry in the valley ceased to function, and Germans were briefly united as they had been in August 1914. But the Ruhr's idle workers needed to be paid. As dislocation and runaway inflation* intensified, German society became radicalized. Moreover, despite passive re-sistance, the French gradually established control in the Ruhr. Thus, while Cuno's policy initially enjoyed widespread support, his inability to control the crisis generated uneasiness within his cabinet. The Center Party,* key to his coalition, was increasingly aroused by complaints from its Rhenish branch pro-testing the Republic's abandonment of the region. Finally, after a bitter attack in Germania (the Center's chief newspaper*), Cuno resigned in August 1923.
   Although Gustav Stresemann,* Cuno's successor, terminated passive resis-tance, his action neither ended the Rhineland's chronic problems—among which was reawakened separatism—nor reestablished German sovereignty in the Ruhr. Moreover, it spawned crises throughout Germany: on 26 September, the day passive resistance ended, Bavaria* instituted a dictatorial regime under Gustav von Kahr*; an attempted coup, the Kustrin Putsch, was staged by the Black Reichswehr* on 1 October; Hitler* prepared his Beerhall Putsch*; and hyper-inflation intensified. But the occupation had induced a precipitous collapse in the value of the French franc and a similar fall in Poincare's popularity. The Premier's defeat in the May 1924 elections proved a watershed in French policy. With the 30 August 1924 adoption of the Dawes Plan,* the French began evac-uating the Ruhr; the last troops left on 31 July 1925.
   The occupation instructed Germans in the ability of a superior military force to exercise its will with impunity. Despite internal divisions, it also confirmed the willingness of Germans to sacrifice for policies in which they believed. Yet in addition to bloodshed and the hardship attached to the inflation, the episode gave rise to problems of a military nature that haunted France and Germany. Since both Cuno and General Hans von Seeckt* were united in the belief that the occupation violated Versailles, their successors felt even less constrained to adhere to the treaty. Although Seeckt never seriously considered intervention against the French, covert measures were taken by the Reichswehr* in response to France's violation of German sovereignty. A new and highly illegal volunteer system was created (including the Black Reichswehr), veterans of the former air force were organized into the Ring der Flieger (Fliers' Circle), and the Reichswehr's rapprochement with the Red Army was further promoted. Finally, Seeckt's conviction that the army would require Freikorps* support in the event that France advanced beyond the Ruhr resulted in the unfortunate resurgence of paramilitary units. These by-products of the occupation were aggravated by an unfortunate legacy: a heightened and embittered German nationalism.
   REFERENCES:Cornebise, "Gustav Stresemann" and Weimar Republic; Harold Gordon, Reichswehr; McDougall, France's Rhineland Diplomacy; Post, Civil-Military Fabric; Rupieper, Cuno Government; Schmidt, Versailles and the Ruhr.

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

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