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Karl Helfferich

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Karl Helfferich
Karl Helfferich
Vice-Chancellor of the German Empire
In office
22 May 1916 – 24 October 1917
ChancellorTheobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Georg Michaelis
Georg von Hertling
Preceded byClemens von Delbrück
Succeeded byFriedrich von Payer
Secretary of State of the Interior
In office
22 May 1916 – 23 October 1917
ChancellorTheobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Georg Michaelis
Georg von Hertling
Preceded byClemens von Delbrück
Succeeded byMax Wallraf
Secretary of State of the Treasury
In office
21 January 1915 – 22 May 1916
ChancellorTheobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Preceded byHermann Kühn
Succeeded bySiegfried von Roedern
Personal details
Karl Theodor Helfferich

(1872-07-22)22 July 1872
Neustadt an der Weinstraße, Rhineland-Palatinate
Died23 April 1924(1924-04-23) (aged 51)
Bellinzona, Switzerland
Spouse(s)Annette, b. von Siemens
Alma materUniversity of Berlin
University of Munich
University of Strasbourg
OccupationLawyer, economist

Karl Theodor Helfferich (22 July 1872 – 23 April 1924) was a German politician, economist, and financier from Neustadt an der Weinstraße in the Palatinate.[1]

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Helfferich studied law and political science at the universities of Munich, Berlin, and Strasbourg. He taught at the University of Berlin and later at the government school for colonial politics and oriental languages. In 1902 he entered upon a diplomatic career. He soon became a leader in the German government's policy of economic imperialism, and in 1906 he was appointed director of the Anatolian Railway which was financed by Deutsche Bank. In 1908 he was made chairman of the directorship of the powerful Deutsche Bank in Berlin.[2]

At the close of the Balkan War, Helfferich was the German financial delegate to the international conference (1913). He was the secretary for the Treasury from 1916 to 1917, and was said to be responsible for financing expenses for World War I through loans instead of taxes. He counted upon a final German victory and upon imposing heavy indemnities upon the Allies.[2] He also served as the vice-chancellor for Chancellors Georg Michaelis and Georg von Hertling.

During the November Revolution, Helfferich became an early supporter of the self proclaimed "national socialist" Eduard Stadtler and helped fund the founding of his Anti-Bolshevist League on December 1, 1918, receiving a cash donation of 5,000 marks from Paul Mankiewitz, the director of Deutsche Bank.[3] This was the nucleus of the 500-million-mark Anti-Bolshevik Fund established by German industry on January 10, 1919, in Berlin. Money from this fund flowed into propagandistic anti-Bolshevik, later National Socialist projects, but also to violent groups such as Freikorps, which were intended to crush the socialist movement after the November Revolution. Stadtler, the founder and leader of the Anti-Bolshevist League, according to his own account, arranged for the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on January 12, 1919, and broke "Gustav Noske's hesitance" about using the military in Berlin days before.[3]

After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Helfferich was sent to Moscow as the German Ambassador to Russia, succeeding Wilhelm Mirbach, who was assassinated. Elected to the Reichstag of 1920, Helfferich led the conservative and monarchist right, known as the Deutsch-Nationalen, and strongly opposed reparations and the economic fulfillment of the Versailles Treaty. In particular, he directed his denunciations against the democratic Catholic leader Matthias Erzberger, against whom he had a celebrated lawsuit in 1920.[2]

The lawsuit was a substantial event in the Weimar Republic, and especially for Helfferich. After the publication of his seminal pamphlet "Fort Mit Erzberger" regarding the prominent Weimar politician Matthias Erzberger in 1919, he began a very public political tirade smearing Erzberger's name. He accused Erzberger of financial improprieties, such as his financial decisions to use war bonds instead of taxes during the war, and questioned his patriotism, focusing particularly on Erzberger's role in the armistice negotiations, which Helfferich and his nationalist supporters viewed as a betrayal of Germany. This all culminated into action when Erzberger filed formal suit against Helfferich citing libel in January 1920.[4] After weeks of deliberation and statements, the presiding judge ruled in favor of Erzberger, forcing Helfferich to pay a fine of 300 marks.[5] Despite losing the legal battle, in the eye of the German public, Helfferich and his right-wing political views were seen as the winner. After pressure from his own party, Erzberger was forced to resign his position as Finance Minister. In the eyes of the public, support had fully rallied behind Helfferich, mirroring the sway of the political climate during this tumultuous period. Unfortunately, tensions continued to rise against Erzberger, until he was assassinated by two individuals who were directly tied to the Organization Consul and subsequently to the conservative right-wing.

Helfferich was a prominent politician of the German National People's Party (DNVP) and gave radical antirepublican speeches against politicians who supported reparations fulfilment. In June 1920 he was selected as spokesman in the Reichstag for the parliamentary committee of inquiry into policies during the war, which he defended.

During the 1923 hyperinflation, Helfferich developed a plan for a new rye currency, indexed to the price (in paper marks) of rye and other agriculture products.[6][7] His plan was rejected because of the extreme variability in the price of rye compared to other commodities, but many of his plan elements were incorporated in the successful RentenMark, which began circulation on 15 November 1923. At the end of 1923, when Helfferich applied for the post of Reichbank president, he was rejected in favor of Hjalmar Schacht.

Helfferich was killed in a railway wreck near Bellinzona, Switzerland, on 23 April 1924.[1]


His publications comprise chiefly economic and political studies.


  • The Reform of German Finance, 1897
  • Studies on Money and Banking, 1900
  • Money, 1903
  • Germany's National Wealth 1888-1913, (Deutschlands Wohlstand, 1888-1913) 1915
  • Speeches and Essays from the War, 1917
  • Do Away with Erzberger!, Verlag Scherl, Berlin, 1919, letters to the editor, the Berlin newspaper "Tag"
  • The World War, (Der Weltkrieg) (3 vols.) published 1919 by Ullstein Berlin

See also


  1. ^ a b "Helfferich Killed In Swiss Disaster. Death Of German Nationalist Chief Is Established By Finding Of Passport. His Body Not Identified Those Of Other Bellinzona Victims Charred Beyond Recognition. Four Americans Safe". New York Times. April 25, 1924.
  2. ^ a b c Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Helfferich, Karl" . Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company.
  3. ^ a b Stadtler, Eduard. Erinnerungen – Als Antibolschewist 1918–1919.
  4. ^ “ERZBERGER WILL SUE HIS CRITICS FOR LIBEL," The Catholic Standard and Times Volume 24, Number 48, 11 October 1919 - The Catholic News Archive, 1919.
  5. ^ Arnold Brecht on Matthias Erzberger's Libel Suit against Karl Helfferich in 1920 (Retrospective Account, 1966)
  6. ^ Holtfrerich, Carl-Ludwig & Balderston, Theo (1986), The German Inflation, 1914-1923, New York: De Gruyter, pp. 315–318, ISBN 3-11-009714-1.
  7. ^ Guttmann, William; Meehan, Patricia (1975), The Great Inflation, Germany 1919-23, Farnborough: Saxon House, pp. 206–207, ISBN 0-347-00017-7.

Further reading

External links

Media related to Karl Helfferich at Wikimedia Commons

Political offices
Preceded by Vice Chancellor of Germany
Succeeded by
This page was last edited on 31 May 2024, at 08:38
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