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.

 

The Ruhr Uprising

Ruhr

The Ruhr uprising started as a perfectly legitimate civil (mostly workers’) protest against the totally illegitimate Kapp putsch. However, the German Communists (supported, interestingly enough, by various Social Democrats) predictably jumped on this unique opportunity to launch a coup of their own and seize power – at least in the Ruhr region (part of modern-day in North Rhine-Westphalia and now the largest urban area in Germany). And ideally – in the whole Germany.

On March 23th, 1920, the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt (the most potent Freikorps unit) led by von Lüttwitz marched into Berlin, occupied the government buildings and installed Wolfgang Kapp as new chancellor, calling for a return of the monarchy (no less).

Neither Reichswehr nor the police had any desire to interfere (as both were either neutral or outright supportive of the coup) so the Social Democratic government’s only chance to bring down the coup was to call a nationwide general strike hoping that neither German workers nor its civil servants have any desire to return to monarchy that they overthrew just sixteen months earlier.

Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (ADGB) – confederation of German trade unions supported the call for a general strike. Separately, the Communists (KPD), Independent Social Democrats (USPD) and the DDP – the German Democratic Party (well-represented in German governments) also called for a strike.

Government’s assumption was correct – there was little (if any) desire among the workers to do away with the republic and to replace it with the even more authoritarian monarchy than the Second Empire.

So it is no surprise that already on the very first day of the Kapp Putsch twenty thousand workers participated in a demonstration against the coup in just one Ruhr city – Bohum.

However, the national government was in for a big surprise (which actually should have been no surprise at all). In a matter of hours, the “medicine” (strikes and left-wing demonstrations) turned out to be not much better than the “disease” (the Kapp Putsch).

In some key aspects, it was even worse. On March 14th (the next day after the beginning of the putsch in Berlin), KPD, USPD and (surprise, surprise), regional chapter of SPD met in Elberfeld (now a subdivision of Wuppertal) and decided on a spontaneous alliance against the putschists.

With the ultimate objective (explicitly stated in their joint appeal) of… “winning political power by the dictatorship of the proletariat”. In practical terms, it was the call for another coup (a “counter-coup”, if you will). The Red one. The uprising.

The call was enthusiastically answered by local workers’ organizations who immediately began to form “Executive Councils” and take over political power across the whole Ruhr area.

These councils were predictably dominated by USPD and KPD with the active participation of representatives of anarcho-syndicalist Free Workers’ Union of Germany (FAUD) – an independent (from ADGB) trade union.

Two key differences made the “medicine” far worse than the “disease”. First, it got a military support from a 50,000 strong Red Ruhr Army (RRA) formed in a matter of a day on March 13th (the Marinebrigaden Ehrhardt that single-handedly occupied Berlin and ousted the national government had only 6,000 soldiers).

Second, unlike the Kapp Putsch that had no public support whatsoever, the Ruhr uprising could potentially count on support of millions of workers not just in the area but in the whole Germany.

300,000 mine workers (about 75% of the work force in mining) immediately proclaimed their support for the RRA. The national government was justifiably afraid that the uprising was a beginning of a full-scale Russian-style Communist revolution.

Not surprisingly, the mighty RRA in a very short time prevailed over the undermanned local government (police and Reichswehr) forces. The national government had no other choice than to… send in Freikorps units not that different from the ones who were involved in the Kapp Putsch.

On March 17th, RRA units attacked an advance party of the Freikorps Lichtschlag under Hauptmann Hasenclever. The Reds took the enemy force’s weapons, captured 600 Freikorps soldiers and occupied Dortmund, meeting little if any resistance.

Energized by these military successes, on March 20th in Essen, spontaneous leaders of the uprising formed the Central Committee of the Workers’ Councils which was supposed to serve as the de-facto provisional government of the region. Which by the end of March was firmly under the control of these councils.

By that time, the Kapp Putsch has already collapsed and on March 22nd the government, the unions and the parties (KPD, USPD, SPD and DDP) announced the end of the general strike. Having successfully defeated the “black coup”, the national government was now ready to take care of the Red one.

On March 24th, the government issued an ultimatum demanding that the workers’ councils put an end to the strike and the uprising by 30 March – or Ruhr will be occupied by the Reichswehr who will put an end to the uprising with a military force.

The RRA was a military force far superior to Freikorps units; however, it was no match for a Reichswehr. Consequently, the leaders of the uprising took this threat very seriously and agreed to start negotiations with the government.

Negotiations began on the same day – March 24th – in the city of Bielefeld. An agreement was reached which gave the chance for a peaceful end to the uprising. Unfortunately, some local leaders as well as the RRA commanders rejected the agreement preferring an “honorable downfall” to a “dishonorable surrender”.

Which predictably led to a new ultimatum issued this time by the military authorities – regional military commander Generalleutnant Oskar von Watter. Determined to crush the uprising with brutal force, he intentionally made it impossible to comply with.

The Essen Workers’ Council no less predictably called for a new general strike supported by over 300,000 miners. This gave von Watter the excuse for sending his troops (augmented by Freikorps units) to the area on April 2nd .

Crushing the uprising turned out to be not a walk in the park as von Watter expected. Despite their overwhelming technical superiority, his units lost 208 dead and 123 missing. Freikorps losses amounted to 173 dead.

RRA lost about 1,100 dead; however as everyone carrying weapons at the time of their arrest were shot—including the wounded – battlefield losses were roughly about even.

Reichspräsident Ebert issued an order that forbade these summary executions on April 3rd – the next day after von Watter’s troops entered Ruhr. However, the latter ignored it and issued a similar order only on April 12th when the uprising was completely crushed.

Invasion of Ruhr that was supposed to be demilitarized according to the Versailles Treaty did not make the Allies very happy (to put it mildly). Hence, on April 6th the French Army occupied Frankfurt, Hanau and Darmstadt, creating essentially a safe haven for the RRA (which promptly fled there).

The British occupation forces were threatening to occupy the Bergisches Land in reprisal for the blatant violation of the Treaty of Versailles by the Reichswehr and thus forced the latter to stop at the river Ruhr. However, by April 8th it was in full control over the whole Northern Ruhr area. The Ruhr uprising was over.

Adolf Hitler who undoubtedly followed the Ruhr events closely (he was an avid reader of all major German newspapers), made the following inevitable conclusions.

Yes, the Communists will seize any opportunity to obtain the power in a German region and in the whole Germany via an armed uprising and the general strike. Yes, it is all a Bolshevist conspiracy (KPD was a member of the Moscow-based Comintern, after all). And yes, it is all a part of a global Jewish conspiracy to grab the power in Germany – and ultimately to destroy it.

The latter (totally erroneous) conclusion was based on, alas, indisputable historical facts. Hugo Haase, the founder and the first Chairman of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany that played a leading role in the uprising (and subsequently joined Comintern), was a Jew.

He was also a co-chairman of the Council of the People’s Deputies – the government of the November Revolution in Germany from November 1918 until February 1919.

It was the Council that negotiated the armistice with the Allies on November 11, 1918. Which made Haase one of the “November criminals” in the eyes of Adolf Hitler and the November revolution – a part of a Jewish plot to destroy Germany.

Paul Levi, then chairman of the Communist Party of Germany that also played an important role in the uprising (and was already a member of Comintern) was a Jew. As was Hugo Preuss – a prominent Social Democratic politician and the author of the Weimar Constitution (the latter fact made the whole Weimar Republic a part of a global Jewish conspiracy in Hitler’s eyes).

 

The Kapp Putsch

Berlin, Kapp-Putsch, Putschisten

This time, the communist uprising in Germany was provoked by the right-wing putsch (coup attempt). The Kapp Putsch took place in Berlin on March 13th 1920– two weeks before Adolf Hitler was discharged from the Army.

Actually, it would have been much more accurate to call this putsch the Lüttwitz- Ehrhardt putsch after General Walther von Lüttwitz (Commander of Reichswehr Command Group I) and Korvettenkapitän (Major) Hermann Ehrhardt, the leader of the most powerful Freikorps known as the Ehrhardt Brigade (it had a swastika as their emblem) as these two characters played the key roles in the unsuccessful coup.

The reason why it was named after Wolfgang Kapp (62-year-old nationalist New York – born politician and member of Reichstag) was simple – after the putschists occupied Berlin (meeting no resistance from either Army or police) he declared himself Chancellor and formed a (very short-lived) provisional government

As any putsch worthy of its name, it attempted to overthrow the Weimar Republic, establish a right-wing authoritarian government (i.e. dictatorship) and thus undo the German Revolution of 1918, universally hated by the German Right.  It was supported by parts of the Reichswehr (military) and other conservative, nationalist and monarchist factions.

The coup failed miserably – it lasted for just four days. It is important that it was defeated not by the military force (as Reichswehr units were either neutral or outright supportive of the putsch) or the police (ditto) but by the general strike called by the legitimate (and mostly Social-Democratic) German government.

Apparently, German workers and civil servants, although not very happy with Weimar Republic, categorically did not want to go back to the old but not good at all days of the monarchy (let alone to accept an even more autocratic and even more right-wing regime).

This failed putsch should have taught Adolf Hitler a valuable lesson – a putsch (any putsch) does not work and will not work in Germany so the only way to power is via legitimate means – victory in Reichstag elections.

Unfortunately, it did not as three and a half years later Adolf Hitler attempted his own coup (Beer Hall Putsch) and twenty people had to die for Hitler to finally get this simple message.

He, however, learned another – and just the opposite – lesson (that in some way prompted him to attempt the Beer Hall Putsch). As the legitimate Social-Democratic government of Germany (a) did not want to alienate the very much right-leaning Reichswehr and police force and (2) after the Ruhr uprising considered the Communists a far more serious threat, it treated the Kapp putschists very leniently.

So Hitler (correctly) surmised that even if his coup fails and he is arrested he has little to fear about. And that’s exactly what happened.

The Kapp putsch had another – and groundbreaking – consequence for Adolf Hitler. Although the coup failed in Berlin, it succeeded in Bavaria (then essentially a semi-autonomous state in Germany) where the local Reichswehr troops toppled the Social Democratic state government and replaced it with the right-wing regime of Gustav Ritter von Kahr who played an important role in crushing the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919.

Von Kahr was the first mainstream politician who recognized Hitler’s potential as at least a statewide nationalist leader. And made a mistake that many others subsequently made – that he could control ‘the impetuous Austrian’ and use him for his own purposes.

So on May 14th, 1921, he invited a delegation from the NSDAP, led by Hitler, to discuss the political situation with him. Their alliance, though promising, never happened as Hitler (predictably) turned out to be impossible to control.

In two and a half years, von Kahr and Hitler found themselves on the opposite sides of the barricades (literally) when the former became instrumental in the collapse and suppression of Beer Hall Putsch, organized and led by the latter.

Hitler never forgot such betrayals and when von Kahr made a fatal mistake of staying in Germany after Nazis got the absolute power in March of 1933, the Führer delivered his revenge.

On June 30th, 1934, during the so-called “Night of Long Knives”, Gustav Ritter von Kahr was arrested and immediately executed by the SS assassins acting on Hitler’s personal orders.