The Ominous Sign

MEGermany’s descent into the abyss of hyperinflation began with an ominous sign – assassination of Reich Finance Minister Matthias Erzberger on August 26th, 1921. Political murder was almost an everyday thing in Weimar Republic at that time (only the right-wing extremists committed 354 assassinations in 1919-22) but even by those standards murder of a finance minister was way out of the ordinary.

Although prior to his coming to power Adolf Hitler was firmly opposed to political assassinations (he firmly believed that they did more harm than good to those who committed them – and just about always produced no tangible political results), it still influenced his political mentality – and was arguably one of the reasons why after coming to power he ordered his first (and only) political murder – the infamous Night of Long Knives on June 30th, 1934.

Erzberger could have been a competent finance minister but he was a really bad politician. Bad in a sense that the key feature of a competent and successful politician as (still is) the ability to transform enemies into allies.

Unfortunately for him, he did exactly the opposite. By becoming a de-facto one of the political leaders of the Catholic working class (and a radical one at that), he alienated (and subsequently turned into sworn enemies) just about all other influential Catholic groups – landowners, conservatives and even high-ranking clergy.

In addition (as if it was not enough), he deeply enraged the powerful national forces – right-wing parties, the conservatives and the national liberals of the German People’s Party. For them he was one of the “November criminals” (i.e. traitors) as he was one of the German politicians who signed the 11/11 Armistice of 1918.

And when he became the adviser of the Catholic Chancellor of the Reich, Joseph Wirth, who prepared a fresh scheme of taxation designed to impose new burdens upon capital and upon the prosperous landed interests in the summer of 1921, his political enemies (already no strangers to political murder) finally decided that they had enough.

The one who chose (or was chosen) to finally do something to get rid of the troublesome politician and government official for good, was one Manfred von Killinger – a naval officer, Great War veteran, Freikorps leader (he took part in the brutal crushing of Bavarian Soviet Republic), a military writer and a leading member of the Germanenorden – a völkisch secret society in early 20th-century Germany.

The Munich lodge of the Germanenorden subsequently became the Thule society – the founder of DAP. There is no evidence, however, that he and Adolf Hitler knew each other personally at that time (Killinger joined the NSDAP only in 1927).

To carry out the assassination (i.e. execution) of Matthias Erzberger, he hired two experienced killers – Heinrich Tillessen and Heinrich Schulz. Both were former Navy officers (like himself) and members of the disbanded Marinebrigade Ehrhardt (ditto).

They were also members of the much-feared Organization Consul (O.C.) – the ultra-nationalist death squad established by Captain Hermann Ehrhardt after his Freikorps was outlawed by the central government in Berlin. A year later – in June 1922 – O.C. members assassinated another key member of the German government – Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau (considered by them to be a Jewish traitor).

On August 26th, 1921 in Bad Griesbach, a spa in the Black Forest (Baden) they shot and killed Erzberger when he was out for a walk. The assassins were later smuggled into Hungary and were prosecuted only after World War II.

Predictably, the assassination did not change a thing – his successors completed his financial, federal and rail reforms transformed Germany (and not in the way his assassins wanted).

Manfred von Killinger went on to become a prominent Nazi politician – n 1928, he was elected to the Landtag in Saxony, and, in 1932, to the Reichstag. From 1933 to 1935, he was Minister-President (essentially, Reichskommissar) of the Free State of Saxony.

From 1936 on, he was a prominent Nazi diplomat – first s Germany’s first Consul General in San Francisco and then Ambassador to Slovakia and then Romania (where he was an active participant in the Holocaust).

A week after the essentially pro-Soviet King Michael’s Coup of August 23, 1944 did away with the fascist Antonescu regime (and made a crucial contribution to the defeat of Germany in World War 2), Killinger committed suicide to avoid being captured by the advancing Red Army.

 

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