1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wirth, Karl Joseph
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Wirth, Karl Joseph
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WIRTH, KARL JOSEPH (1870- ), German statesman, fourth chancellor of the post-war republican Reich, was born at Freiburg in Baden in 1879. The son of a working engineer, he was educated at the university of Freiburg. In 1908 he was appointed to the chair of Economics at the Technical College of that city; and after his election as a municipal councillor in 1911 he devoted himself to financial questions. In 1913 he obtained a seat as a member of the Catholic Centre party in the diet of Baden, and in 1918 was appointed Minister of Finance. In Jan. 1919 he was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly of the Reich which sat at Weimar. In March 1920, when the Ministry of the Reich was reconstructed after the Kapp Putsch, he received the portfolio of Finance, which he continued to hold in subsequent ministries. His task was to carry out the system of increased national taxation which one of his predecessors, Erzberger, had induced the Reichstag to adopt. When in May 1921 the Allied ultimatum on Reparation was presented to Germany and the “Sanctions” enforced on the Rhine, the Fehrenbach-Simons Ministry, which had rejected the London terms, resigned, and Dr. Wirth was called upon to form a new Cabinet. He succeeded in obtaining the cooperation of a number of able Democrats, Catholics and Socialists, including the prominent industrialist and economist, Dr. Walther Rathenau, as Minister of Reconstructions. Wirth himself retained the portfolio of Finance. The new Ministry then accepted the Allies' Reparation terms — 132 milliard marks (£6,600,000,000) payable in yearly instalments of £100,000,000 plus the proceeds of a 25% duty on German exports. By Aug. 31 1921 Germany had paid the first half-yearly instalment of £50,000,000; and in the following Oct. Dr. Rathenau succeeded in concluding a comprehensive agreement with France for paying reparations in kind for the reconstruction of the devastated regions.
After the assassination of Erzberger on Aug. 26 1921 the conflict between the Government of the Reich and the reactionary Bavarian Ministry of von Kahr came to a head, von Kahr showing the same recalcitrancy against carrying out the special ordinances of the Reich against reactionary plots as he had previously exhibited in regard to the dissolution of the illegal volunteer force, the Einwohnerwehr. Dr. Wirth stood his ground, and ultimately von Kahr was compelled by his own party in Bavaria to resign and make way for a more conciliatory minister-president. The strife which arose out of this acute internal crisis had hardly abated when the announcement in mid-Oct. of the decision of the League of Nations on the partition of Upper Silesia between Germany and Poland aroused wild excitement throughout Germany, and, among other consequences, sent the exchange value of the mark down (Oct. 17) to 750 to the £. Dr. Wirth had not concealed his conviction that the severance from Germany of the rich industrial district of Upper Silesia would fatally affect Germany's capacity to pay further reparation instalments, and the political tension in Berlin again became acute. Eventually Dr. Wirth resigned, but nobody was found able to form a ministry in his place and he resumed office.