Erzberger, Matthias

Erzberger, Matthias mätēˈäs ĕrtsˈbĕrgər [key], 1875–1921, German public official. He was a leader of the left wing of the Catholic Center party in the Reichstag from 1903. Early in World War I, he supported an annexationist policy, but in 1917 he led the fight for the Reichstag peace resolution. He helped build the democratic coalition that pressed for more parliamentary government. He joined (Oct., 1918) the cabinet of Maximilian, prince of Baden and headed the German delegation that signed the armistice. A member of the first republican cabinet under Philipp Scheidemann, he pressed for acceptance of the Treaty of Versailles. When Scheidemann resigned (June, 1919) rather than sign the treaty, Erzberger joined the new cabinet as vice chancellor and finance minister. He introduced drastic reforms, centralizing tax collection and bringing all railroads under national control. His policies were opposed by conservatives and reactionaries, who also despised him for his signing of the humiliating 1918 armistice. When an old rival, former finance minister Karl Helfferich, ruthlessly attacked Erzberger in a pamphlet questioning his competence and veracity, Erzberger sued. When the court found some of the charges libelous but—probably unwarrantedly—sustained others, Erzberger resigned.

See K. Epstein, Matthias Erzberger and the Dilemma of German Democracy (1971).

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