Karl Joseph Wirth

#Onthisday, September 6th, 1879, Karl Joseph Wirth, the youngest German Chancellor to date, was born in Freiburg i.B. He was on the left wing of the Zentrum (=Catholic) party.

When he became chancellor in May 1921, he pursued a policy of compliance with the demands for the allied reparations after World War I. The aim was to convince the allies that their demands were impossible to deliver. This policy led to rising government debt that was covered through the printing of currency, ultimately resulting in the 1923 hyperinflation.

In 1922 his foreign secretary Walther Rathenau negotiated the Treaty of Rapallo whereby the Soviet Union and Germany recognised each other as sovereign states, opened trade relations and Russia renounced any reparations.

Two months later Walther Rathenau was assassinated. Wirth blamed his death on right wing parties, accusing them of “pouring poison into the wounds of the nation”.

By November 1922 his policy of compliance had buckled under the opposition and -having failed to bring together another coalition- resigned as chancellor. He left the Zentrum when his party entered into a coalition with the right wing DNVP. He briefly returned to frontline politics as minister of the interior under the Bruning government in 1931.

When the Nazis brought the Enabling Act (Ermaechtigngsgesetz), he pushed back in a passionate speech but was required to vote for it. He emigrated to Switzerland immediately afterwards. Whilst there he tried to alert the Vatican of the Nazi’s anti-Semitic policies though with little success.After the war he returned to West Germany but failed to find a political home. He opposed Adenauer’s policy of integrating into the West, advocating closer ties with the Soviet Union. He visited Moscow and was given decorations by the Soviet Union and the GDR. The CIA claimed he was a Russian spy and he was refused a pension. He died in his hometown of Freiburg in 1956.

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