The Nazi Martyrs: Horst Wessel

Horst WesselCult of martyrs and martyrdom is a very powerful propaganda tool. Christian philosopher, theologian and apologist wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Implying that the ultimate sacrifice made by Christian martyrs made a critical contribution to the ultimate triumph of Christianity (which was probably true).

Consequently, it is not surprising that the Nazis who had no shortage of martyrs due to violent (and often deadly) clashes with their political opponents, used their martyrs to the maximum possible propaganda extent.

More specifically, they used Nazi martyrs as powerful role models to inspire the Nazi Party members, soldiers and civilians to do everything possible (and even humanly impossible) to make the maximum contribution to winning the existential war that Germany (and the Nazis) were fighting. Including risking – and, if necessary, sacrificing – their very lives.

The most well-known (by far) Nazi martyr is, obviously, one Horst Wessel. A 22-year Berliner and a local SA leader (he was an SA company commander with a rank of Sturmführer – Second Lieutenant). He was also recognized as a highly effective public speaker so he undoubtedly had a stellar political career in front of him.

However, his promising career was cut short on January 14th, 1930 when he was shot in the head by two members of the Communist Party of Germany – who were no less violent than their Nazi enemies.

One of his murderers – one Albrecht “Ali” Höhler – was identified, arrested, charged with this murder and sentenced to mere six years in prison. Predictably, Nazis had other ideas about the proper punishment for him so after they came to power the SA comrades of Horst Wessel forcibly took Ali out of jail and shot him on the spot.

On 10 April 1935, five years after Wessel’s assassination, and two years after the SA murder of Höhler, two persons accused of being involved in Wessel’s killing were put on trial and subsequently beheaded in Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison.

In early 1929, Wessel wrote the lyrics for a new Nazi fight song Kampflied (“fight song”), which was first published in Goebbels’s newspaper Der Angriff in September, under the title Der Unbekannte SA-Mann (“The Unknown SA-Man”).

The song later became known as Die Fahne Hoch (“Raise the Flag”) and finally the “Horst-Wessel-Lied” (“Horst Wessel Song”). The Nazis made it their official anthem, and, after they came to power, the co-national anthem of Nazi Germany, along with the first stanza of the Deutschlandlied (“Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”).


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