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Consider this statement from a speech by Yegor Gaidar:

Historically, such myths have a dangerous precedent--namely, Germany between World War I and World War II. Then, the legend went that Germany was never defeated in the war, but "stabbed in the back" by the Jews and the Socialists. To some degree, the responsible party was the democratic German government, as it was unprepared to publish materials about what really happened before and after World War I.

  1. Is his rendition of the facts correct? That is - is it true that the democratic Weimar Governments declined to publish WWI documents which revealed that Germany was actually defeated?
  2. If yes, is there information why they took such an apparently illogical decision?
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Felix - I am your friend Vector of old - temporary name change. – user2590 Jan 6 '14 at 22:28
@ComeAndGo Names come and go but friends persist :) – Felix Goldberg Jan 6 '14 at 22:45
I'm never quite sure if I'm 'coming or going', so.... – user2590 Jan 7 '14 at 1:09
What documents would qualify as the proof for a military defeat? – jjack May 31 '15 at 12:56

The difficulty is that, by a suitably chosen narrow meaning of defeat: Destruction of the army in the field, loss of all conquered territory, or significant loss of hoe country areas, the German Army wasn't defeated. Here is a map that shows the Allied March to the Rhine after the Armistice; which thus shows that on Nov 11, 1918, the Germans still held all of Belgium east of the line Ghent-Maubeuge; significant French territory between Longwy and Metz; and all of Alsace-Lorraine.

Given adequate supply, logistical and reinforcement support from the home front, the German General Staff position that the war could have been continued is reasonable.

Of course, we know now that that assumption was invalid; the Allied blockade had had its desired effect, both the German economy and home-front morale were completely broken, and further continuance of the fighting was moot, leading only to an inevitable destiny; but the German army, and particularly its senior commanders, had been sheltered thus far from the privations of the populace.

It is thus a curious paradox, for which I cannot recall any earlier precedent in history, that while the German Nation had been utterly defeated, its Army had, in some sense at least, not been defeated.

Update: from here (my emphasis):

By mid-October Ludendorff and Hindenburg wanted to distance themselves from a negotiated settlement or surrender to Allied demands. Now politically powerless, Ludendorff favored what he could have done better had he not gambled on his offensive and ruined the moral and fighting strength of his troops: he was for fighting on the defensive – through 1919. He and the German admiralty insisted that submarine warfare continue. And on October 20, Hindenburg told Prince Max that his government should keep Germany fighting "for our honor to the very last man," and if this resulted in Germany breaking off negotiations with Wilson, claimed Hindenburg, so be it.

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I would argue that Carthage had been defeated even before Zama. Otherwise, a very good summary. – Tom Au Dec 6 '13 at 14:23
Good comparison. I was going to disagree, and then thought better of it. – Pieter Geerkens Dec 6 '13 at 14:27
These are points on which people can reasonably disagree. I'm glad you (and I) thought about it "both ways." – Tom Au Dec 6 '13 at 14:45
I mean: was it really the German General Staff position that the war could have been continued? Did they submit such a document to the Kaiser or the Chancellor? Or a letter? Or something? (I am asking because I recall having read they they actually said to the Kaiser that they cannot fight any longer, given the situation with logistics and supply). – Felix Goldberg Dec 6 '13 at 15:27
tl;dr: Germany did not surrender in WWI. Hence it was not defeated. It was an armistice. That's why in WWII the allies insisted that both Germany and Japan surrendered unconditionally. They weren't doing that mistake twice. – Lennart Regebro Dec 7 '13 at 6:25


There is a mention here of "a formal Reichstag commission of enquiry . . . held by the Weimar government." The commission criticized some aspects of the stab in the back theory, but not all of it:

The expression ‘stab-in-the-back’ in the oft-used sense, as if the country had attacked the victorious army in the rear and as if the war had been lost for this reason alone, is not accurate. We succumbed for many reasons.”

The report blamed “a pacifistic, international, anti-military and revolutionary undermining of the army” for the defeat and that this movement “originated at home but the blame does not attach to the entire population, which in four and a half years of war endured superhuman sufferings.”

The report stated that the blame for the situation that the army found itself in should be attached “only to the agitators and corruptors of the people and of the army who for political reasons strove to poison the bravely-fighting forces. One should therefore speak not of a ‘stab-in-the-back’ but of a poisoning of the army.”

The name of the report is not given, but two individuals involved in it were Albrecht Philip and General Hermann von Kuhl. The Wikipedia article on von Kuhl calls the commission the Historical Commission of the Reich Archives. It also quotes him1 as saying

The German offensive of spring 1918 had to battle with severe challenges... The mobility of the army was limited. Front-line units were gradually exhausted, while the enemy's combat power grew substantially through the arrival of the Americans and through the new means of combat – the tank.

This was the gist of the report: there was little evidence of the German military being "stabbed in the back".

I can find no other mention of the commission anywhere, so I don't know whether or not the results were published at the time. It would have been published at some point - obviously - but I don't know if it was published during the time of the Weimar Republic.

1Originally from 1918 – Year of Victory: The End of the Great War and the Shaping of History, edited by Ashley Ekins.

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It is my pleasure to welcome you to History :-) – andy256 Jun 4 '15 at 7:54
Welcome and +1 for a very interesting answer! – Felix Goldberg Jun 4 '15 at 10:16
Am I alone in feeling that this report actually vindicated the stab-in-the-back theory but blaming only "agitators" rather than the whole population? After all, covert subversion of the war effort by "agitators" is what the stab-in-the-back theory was about to begin with, anyway, wasn't it? – Felix Goldberg Jun 4 '15 at 10:17
@FelixGoldberg I did get an impression similar to that. Everything I've read seems to imply that the committee was concerned with not being too radical, i.e. challenging the belief at the time. – HDE 226868 Jun 5 '15 at 21:46
@andy256 Apologies for not saying this before, but it is my pleasure to thank you for the warm welcome. :-) – HDE 226868 Jun 6 '15 at 21:17

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