Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s account of the Third Reich’s absorption of the National Movement, from his 1951 memoir Der Fragebogen
This is the first entry in a new ARPLAN series: The Monthly Fragebogen. Over the next year I intend to post, once a month, an excerpt from Ernst von Salomon’s famous novel Der Fragebogen (in English ‘The Questionnaire’ or ‘The Answers’). Der Fragebogen was first published in 1951 by the Rowohlt Verlag publishing house and instantly became a huge success. Using the US Military Government’s de-nazification questionnaire for its structure, the autobiographical novel was the first major best-seller in West Germany and sold in large numbers both inside Germany and out, helping to cement Ernst von Salomon’s place in German literature. von Salomon, a Freikorps veteran and a member of the Weimar-era Conservative Revolutionary literary milieu, had been a successful novelist before the War, but it was Der Fragebogen which really made his name. It is an excellent book, one of my personal favorites, and as well as being a stirringly-written novel it provides an unparalleled introduction into the chaotic tumult that was German life and politics from the early 1900s until the collapse of the Reich in 1945. von Salomon rubbed shoulders with countless people of historical importance at one point or another, many of them members of the National Movement – Adolf Hitler, Ernst Röhm, Hans Zehrer, Ernst Jünger, Claus Heim, Bodo Uhse, Othmar Spann, Hans Grimm, Martha Dodd, Otto Meissner, Konrad Henlein, Hans Fallada, Hanns Ludin… He lived quite a life, and Der Fragebogen is quite a book.
The excerpt below is taken from Section E. of Der Fragebogen, ‘Membership in Organisations’. This long passage provides an on-the-ground view of the complicated relationship which the new National Socialist government had with other members of the National Movement during the regime’s early years. Although they were all ostensibly on the same side, the National Socialists and nationalist paramilitaries like the Stahlhelm, Wehrwolf, Kampfring, etc. had competed and occasionally fought against one another during the ‘time of struggle’, and the peace between them after 1933 was uneasy. In this excerpt von Salomon describes how the paramilitary he was associated with – the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, headed by the eponymous, infamous nationalist revolutionary Captain Hermann Ehrhardt (“the Kapitän”) – was swallowed whole by the National Socialists like the Stahlhelm and all the others. The Ehrhardt Brigade had taken part in the Kapp Putsch; it had provided training to the SA when it was first being established; its members (as the ‘Organization Consul’) had been responsible for the assassination of government ministers Erzberger and Rathenau; under the name Bund Wiking it had dabbled in plotting revolution; and yet now it could no longer independently exist in the Third Reich it had longed to bring to power. On 17th July, 1933, as von Salomon describes below, the Brigade took part in a ceremony at Saaleck to both honor its fallen martyrs and to finally publicly commit its loyalty to Hitler’s government. A month later the Marinebrigade was incorporated as an independent unit of the SS. Less than a year after that, in February 1934, its independence was annulled, it was dissolved, and its members expelled or absorbed. Four months on and Kapitän Ehrhardt was forced to flee his fatherland lest he meet the same fate as Röhm or Schleicher. von Salomon’s description of these events is bitter; a man who fought and yearned for a nationalist Germany, yet was appalled at the betrayals this resulted in.
The nationalist militant organisations had ‘profited’ by the National-Socialists’ seizure of power. As the result of a compromise within the ‘national government,’ which had included such non-National-Socialist ministers as Hugenberg, Seldte and Papen, they had been placed on an equal footing with the Party’s organisations – which meant that they might do part of the latters’ dirty work. The SA and they received a sort of authority to act as police.
“Wonderful, wonderful,” I remarked to the Kapitän. “Just what we always wanted!”
The Kapitän said angrily:
“God knows, I don’t wish to see you in a spot where you’ll be glad I kept the Brigade together.”
The Kapitän had appointed Walther Muthmann commandant of the Berlin division of the Brigade, a force of some fifty unemployed seamen whom the Kapitän had set up in a home and who wore the old, grey uniform of the navy with the imperial crown on their buttons and the Viking ship on their sleeve. They did nothing but sit about in the home and cost the Kapitän a considerable amount of money. But there they were, and Muthmann, also dressed in uniform and wearing the long loose officer’s cape, the spanier of the old navy, appeared everywhere as though behind him reverberated the tramp of a hundred thousand marching feet.
“Have you got guns?” I asked him.
“Not many,” he said. “A couple of pistols – but,” he added emphatically, “we clean them every day.”
At that time we were all living on the cheap fame of time passed, the Kapitän at our head. There was a splinter-group called, officially, the German National Youth League, and popularly the ‘green boys’ because they walked about in green shirts. This group had long been a thorn in the eye of the SA, and one day the SA fell upon them, and among the men arrested and lugged off to the SA headquarters in the Pape Straße was a member of the Brigade. Muthmann, in all the glory of his cloak, went there at once to demand the man’s release. But the SA just locked up Muthmann too. He was put in the cellar with the other arrested men and, like them, he was beaten up. But in contrast to the others this was no novelty for Muthmann, and he managed to fight his way through the SA men until he got to Group Leader Ernst. Bloody and bruised, he shouted in Ernst’s face:
“And you pretend to be soldiers!” Continue reading