Monthly Fragebogen: Röhm’s Rise and Fall

Röhm triumphant, and Röhm in ruins – nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s experience of the rise and fall of the SA Chief-of-Staff

 Two of the most interesting sections of Ernst von Salomon’s novel Der Fragebogen recount the author’s experiences with SA Chief-of-Staff Ernst Röhm. von Salomon met Röhm at least a couple of times in his life, and associated with a number of people who were close to the Brownshirt leader; von Salomon’s Freikorps membership and his role in the Fememord of Walter Rathenau seems to have created a mutual sense of soldierly respect between the two men, even if they were not close. In the first section of Der Fragebogen reproduced below, von Salomon recounts his chance encounter with Röhm on a train shortly after the National Socialist Machtergreifung (the ‘seizure of power’). Röhm’s depiction there, triumphant and celebratory, is in stark contrast to von Salomon’s more distant depiction of him in the second excerpt. That section of the novel consists of von Salomon’s account of Röhm’s fall, his murder during the Blood Purge of ’34. In this second, longer extract, von Salomon first recounts the shock and horror he experienced at Röhm’s demise, particularly while listening to Hitler’s infamous radio address on the subject. The author then transitions into a description of a meeting with Dr. Walter Luetgebrune, with the Herr Doktor providing his own insights into Röhm’s fall and the reality behind the ‘Night of the Long Knives.’ Luetgebrune, a völkisch-nationalist lawyer who legally defended numerous members of the National Socialist, Landvolk, and national-revolutionary movements, was an intimate of Röhm’s and the chief legal adviser to the SA and SS; he was himself arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of involvement in the ‘Röhm Putsch.’

Röhm’s Rise (‘Der Fragebogen’, Section B):

…I went back to Berlin, not in order to watch the glory of the National-Socialist seizure of power, but because I wanted to talk to Rowohlt about my book, The Cadets. I’d been working at it all the time I was in Vienna. I had to, I had to give myself the counter-weight of Prussia. I’ve no idea how I ever managed to get it done. I’d sit over my manuscript in the evening, and outside the musicians would sing their sad songs… about how there’d be a Vienna and we’d be dead, there’d be girls and we’d be dead… and when I stopped writing towards dawn I could be sure that outside somebody would be singing about how one day it’ll all be over and about tombs and coffins… I had to have The Cadets as an antidote to the whole macabre atmosphere down there.

I went to Berlin by way of Munich, where I had to change trains. On Munich station I acquired a powerful escort of brown-shirts, headed by Ernst Röhm. He was going to Berlin, so I went with him. Röhm recognised me, though we had not met since August, 1922, shortly before I went to gaol.

“Where have you come from?” he asked, while his clanking escort gazed at me respectfully.

“France, Spain and Austria,” I replied smartly. He took me into his compartment and I admired the handsome overcoat he was wearing, and his brown silk shirt, and his perfectly tailored breeches.

“Yes,’ he said with satisfaction, “the days are over when we had to run about dressed like scarecrows.”

Röhm and his people were drunk with the assurance of victory. Later they became drunk on something else. Bottle after bottle was respectfully passed into the compartment with the remark: “For the chief of staff.” We knocked the necks off them and drank.

“You’ll be joining us, of course!” Röhm said.

“Who is us?” I asked.

“You must come in with me. I need your sort.”

“For what?”

“I appoint you an SA-Standartenführer here and now.”

“That’s a fine appointment. But what I want is something to do.”

“Well, in that case how about an appointment at supreme SA headquarters?”

It was quite hopeless to attempt to show Röhm that an appointment and something to do were not identical. He spoke of deployment and Gleichschaltung and the seizure of power and I gave up.

“‘Have a look at this man,’ he finally said in irritation to his adjutant who had sat there, with a cold and expressionless face, occasionally leaning back while he raised a bottle to his lips or leaning forward to say: “Right, chief of staff!” The adjutant leaned forward and said:

“Right, chief of staff!”

Röhm nodded in my direction:

“Man’s an intellectual. Nothing to be done with him.” Then, turning to me and with the intention of being polite, he added: “We can’t do without you intellectuals altogether. You’ll be made a counsellor and you’ll keep your trap shut.”

I leaned forwards and said:

“Right, chief of staff!”

Then I slapped him on the back and took a swig from the bottle.

It was utterly hopeless. But I had, as you might say, come home.

Röhm’s Fall (‘Der Fragebogen’, Section E):

I was extremely curious to hear what Hitler would have to say about the events of June 30th, 1934 [the ‘Night of the Long Knives’]. Wilhelm Scheuermann invited me to listen to the broadcast with him. Scheuermann came from Alsace and he was one of those German Alsatians who are as fanatically German as the French Alsatians are French. He was a journalist and had been one of the best known war correspondents during the World War; later he was a highly esteemed contributor to the national Press. Rowohlt had published his biography of Oberlin, entitled A Man With God. He was an old man, by this time a sort of eccentric. He had an ill-kempt beard, like a goat’s, and his general appearance was so broken down and decayed that it required an effort of will to overcome one’s reluctance to be seen with him in public. But he liked going out, and he loved good food. He had now invited some foreign correspondents to dine with him at a well-known restaurant in the centre of the city, a place famous for the excellence of its French cooking. It was very important, he felt, that we should listen to Hitler’s speech in their company. He had learned by experience that even the most hard-boiled among the foreign correspondents were liable, under the impact of Hitler’s oratory, to misjudge the reception his speeches got from German listeners.

There were Englishmen, Americans and Frenchmen at the restaurant. Scheuermann was a most charming host. The speech was monstrous. To begin with I tried to go on eating, but I could not. The foreign correspondents, too, laid down their knives and forks. The waiters stood by the sideboard, their faces pale and motionless. The harsh, throaty, heavy voice silenced all other noises in the room; it seemed to cover us like a thick blanket and to make even breathing difficult. Only once, when Hitler said that during the course of the ‘action’ the notes of one of the conspirators had been found and that when he read these notes he had been staggered… only then did I, with a great effort, manage to say I could well believe that. My voice sounded rusty and abrupt. The correspondents glanced at me for a moment and then their eyes returned to the radio, which was in a cupboard over the sideboard. The man had the nerve to maintain the fiction that Röhm had been shot because he was a homosexual; he had the nerve to allege that Röhm had established contact with foreign powers for the purpose of committing high treason; he had the nerve to repeat everything that had already, laboriously enough, been officially put out and which no single human being of normal intelligence had been able to believe. And through it all this voice emanated a dark and menacing power, it vibrated as dangerously as the buzzing of a hornet, it roared as sullenly as the roar of an irritated lion, displaying a latent brutality which made me hunch my shoulders.

Tremulously I tried to think what I should say to the foreigners when it was over, to these men who were far better informed than myself concerning many aspects of the business and who now listened without moving a muscle of their faces. The man with the voice succeeded in one thing: in my shame for my fatherland I was suddenly choking with the furious feeling that these men were my enemies, that so far as they were concerned I no longer had any choice, that despite everything, everything, I must still accept the fact that I belonged to my own country, to a country in which this could happen, this inexcusable, atrocious justification of an inexcusable, atrocious act of violence. I hated these men, these witnesses to our almost intolerable humiliation, and I wished that they too, sitting there, enveloped in their moral security, might one day get a man such as this in their country. Oh, they too should know the trembling of the knees, they too should be faced daily and hourly with the foul alternatives of behaving like a fool or like a coward. Should I tell the Englishman there something about the bloody history of his kings, about Ireland and the concentration camps of the Boer War? Should I remind that Frenchman of Robespierre and the murder of the Duc d’Enghien and Napoleon’s note: “André Hofer is to be court-martialled in Mantua, found guilty and shot”? Should I recall to the American the extermination of the Indians, the treatment meted out to the negroes, the rule of the gangsters in Chicago?

But we were seated here, here in the centre of Berlin, a few minutes’ walk from the man who was now roaring: “At that moment I was the supreme judge in my land,” whereas in fact all he had been was the supreme executioner. And I had once written of my faith in our nation, of its great, historic task which was to find, between East and West, the one true order; I had once spoken of our last dream, of that enormous, final ambition for the realisation of which we had fought; I had done that, and for that my comrades had died, for that we had heard the prison doors close behind us; I had once written that our final ambition, our most secret faith, was in the victory of the German way throughout the whole world!

Scheuermann sat there with closed eyes. The correspondents did not make notes. They no longer stared at the radio. They looked at us, Scheuermann and myself, the two Germans. The voice was thanking one man, General von Blomberg, for his outstandingly loyal behavior. “I shall never forget him for this,” said the voice, almost breaking with emotion. So he too had been enticed into the abominable circle, he had suddenly become a chum, an accomplice, he a general and an aristocrat and the representative of the last power within the land in which we could place some hope, he too inveigled into the sinister clique, bought and won through self-interest.

Never have I so despised myself as when, the speech over, I got up and walked out. Scheuermann came with me. He settled the bill, we left the foreigners alone, we muttered a few words and we disappeared. In the street we did not speak. We had nothing to say to one another, we two who were both Germans by belief and not just through a biological accident.

I collected all the reports I could find concerning June 30th, 1934. One name, which I hunted for everywhere in vain, was that of my old defender, Dr. Luetgebrune. I had not seen him since the day he got me out of gaol on the occasion of my involvement with the Peasants’ Movement. But I had seen a photograph of him in the paper, at some SA parade. He was wearing a uniform, that of an SA Group Leader, which became him extremely ill. One year after June 30th, 1934, I thought I saw him in a taxi that passed me in a Berlin street. But I could not be sure that it was he. I telephoned Muthmann, whom Luetgebrune had also at one time defended in the Neumünster trial. Muthmann promised to make enquiries. The very next day he called me back. The doctor really was in Berlin after months in prison. Muthmann gave me his address. I went to see him at once.

He got up as I came in. I was shocked. Before me there stood an old man with watery eyes above very deep pouches. He looked as though he had been put through a wringer. I held out my hand and cried:

“Doctor – don’t you recognise me?”

He stared at me and mumbled:

“Yes, yes.”

His hand was reaching for the light switch. I gripped it and it trembled badly. I turned on the light. The doctor opened the door to a big room, the floor was covered with books torn from their cases and shelves. In the centre stood an enormous round table, piled high with papers. In the corner was a prie-dieu on which stood an open Gutenberg bible. The doctor was a most devout Christian of the Reformed Church. He began shuffling about among the papers on the table. I said:

“Doctor, I heard you were about again… is there anything that I can do for you?”

He supported himself with both his hands on the table while he sank into a chair.

“I’m finished,” he said, “I’m completely finished. They finished me.”

I saw a pile of papers on the table, large sheets and small, completely blank save that each one was signed, and the signatures were either ‘Adolf Hitler’ or ‘Ernst Röhm.’

“What are these?” I asked.

The doctor took a sheet with a trembling hand. He said:

“They’re blank signatures. I always had to show my full authority for the cases I handled. So Hitler and Röhm gave me these blank sheets to fill in as need arose. I was legal adviser to the supreme command of the SA…” He repeated: “Legal adviser…”

I said:

“Please give them to me, doctor, I can find a use for them.”

He looked up:

“How?” he asked.

I said:

“Imagine, doctor, if Hitler got a letter every day saying: ‘Dear Adolf, here I am in hell. When are you coming to join me? Yours, Ernst Röhm.'”

The doctor laid his arm on the table and rested his head on his arm. I sat down beside him and said:

“Or what do you think of this? A letter indisputably signed by our great Führer and addressed to every Party office in the land: ‘Every word that I have uttered during the last shameful fourteen years has been a lie. But now I recognise the truth: I am the greatest traitor in the history of the world. I hereby dissolve the Party and place Germany’s destiny in the hands of…’ Of whom? Yes, whom…? Doctor?”

The doctor looked up. He said, as the tears trickled down over those great pouches beneath his eyes:

“And what has happened to justice…?”

What should I say? I said:

“I see you’re busy tidying up. Shall I help you?”

It was a long job. The doctor had not been in Munich. He had been attending some legal function in central Germany. He was arrested there though he could not discover why. Then he was moved to Berlin, where he arrived just one day after the last shots had re-echoed from the bloodstained walls of the Lichterfelde. That fact saved his life. The interrogations to which he was subjected were as grotesque as were the accusations made against him. As an SA Group Leader he was automatically suspected of having participated in the ‘Röhm Putsch.’ The fiction that there had been such a putsch was rigidly maintained. But the doctor could prove that Röhm had given him – who had never even been a Party member – the rank and the right to wear the uniform simply in order that he might command the authority he needed in the offices of the supreme SA leadership to carry out his job there. The doctor could prove that he had only worn his uniform once: that apart from the one connected with his legal duties he had never held any other sort of appointment: that he was never called in when political matters were being discussed: and that indeed only occasionally did he have any personal dealings with the SA leaders, and then only to talk about some current law case. He was thereupon accused of having failed to do his duty as an SA Group  Leader; had he done his duty he must have known of the intended act of high treason. This was the devil’s logic. His life hung by a thread – but meanwhile Rudolf Hess had already begun his journeys to apologise to the dependents of those men who had been murdered in error. Meanwhile the man who killed General von Schleicher and his wife had himself been shot. Meanwhile the Reichswehr had demanded a statement clearing the general’s honour, had demanded and got it. For months on end Luetgebrune had been moved from prison to prison, had been interrogated over and over again and finally, without any explanation, had been set free. He did not speak of his time in prison. No one spoke of his time in prison, except those who had come through it all right.

How about Röhm? The doctor thought highly of Röhm. Röhm had a soldierly toughness, like the mercenaries of old who wished to live and let live; he also possessed that remarkable form of tolerance which, while allowing respect for an adversary, does so simply to fight him all the more stubbornly. Of course Röhm was really homosexual; the doctor had undertaken several legal cases for him connected with this fact. The doctor knew that the danger to Röhm from these inclinations lay in the tendency to form a clique, to judge his colleagues less according to their actual qualifications than according to the degree of personal sympathy which they inspired. But Röhm was himself aware of this and was always prepared to listen to criticism on this score. Röhm, the old trooper, hated the stupid and narrow-minded arrogance of the Party as represented by its heavily decorated leaders; he was, to a certain extent, defending his own cause when he spoke publicly against the false morality of the Party authorities in the matter of “decadent art” and the use of lipstick by “the German women.” He was the only one with the courage to contradict Hitler. When Hitler shouted, Röhm shouted back even louder. But he was loyal to Hitler. That was certain. Röhm might completely forget that Hitler had once been his protégé – Hitler never forgot.

Röhm was convinced of the rightness and necessity of the ‘national revolution.’ He was convinced that his SA were the assault troops of the revolution, not the Party, which provided the administrative organisation, and which, with its many-sided structure and its multiple offices, had the task of constructing a mould for the future state into which the state could, in due course, be poured. Röhm believed himself to be responsible for the continuation of the revolution even after the formation of the new state, and he referred to himself and to his SA as the “engine” of the movement. He took the Party programme seriously in so far as it affected his field. His field, and of this he had no doubt, lay in the formation of a “people’s militia.” This was a task that fully suited his temperament. The old trooper was proud to have an ever larger force at his command; he swallowed the Stahlhelm, and every increase in strength delighted him; he would have liked to swallow the Communist Rotfrontkämpfer and the Social-Democrat Reichsbanner too if he could. He harboured no distrust against former enemies; he was so convinced of the radiant charms of his proud SA, of its sense of comradeship, its organisation, its leaders, its uniforms, its “loyalty,” its “keenness” – that he thought it impossible for anyone who learned to know it as it really was to resist its spirit.

Did Röhm wish to swallow the Reichswehr? The doctor said:

“Röhm was an old soldier. He’d been in the Reichswehr himself and he still had many friends and comrades there. Naturally he wished to see the Reichswehr expanded to be the armed forces, the Wehrmacht, of the new Germany; he did not insist on the re-introduction of the compulsory military service so long as this was forbidden by the Versailles Treaty, but he did want the cadres to be filled by volunteer enlistment. He regarded it as his task to arrange this. But here he came up against the Reichswehr’s opposition. He did not wish to swallow the Reichswehr, and the Reichswehr for its part did not wish to swallow him. He left the decision to Hitler. And Hitler did not make one.”

The doctor said:

“Naturally we discussed all this frequently. When it was being commonly alleged that it was Röhm’s ambition to be made War Minister, I asked him if this was true. Röhm replied that it was widely rumoured that my ambition was to become Minister of Justice, and he asked if that was true. I gave him my word of honour that I should never desire the Ministry of Justice and that even if it were offered to me I should decline the appointment. He said: ‘In that case I can give you my word of honour that I should never desire the War Ministry and that even if it were offered me I should decline it.’ And Röhm – well, I think Röhm was a man of his word.”

I asked:

“Did he wish to make a putsch?”

The doctor glanced at the wall where hung a plaque with the heads of Hitler and Röhm in relief. He said heavily:

“I’ve thought a lot about the fatality of that day. You can imagine how many friends I had. I knew them all, and they all talked to me quite openly. When I was being interrogated I was asked if Röhm had wished to make a putsch – I was asked this over and over again, so they obviously didn’t know themselves, though they behaved as though the putsch were proved – and I replied with a clear conscience: ‘No.'”

Later my good old doctor became, once again, the counsel for the defence. He made enquiries and bit by bit he amassed the evidence. The reunion of the SA leaders had been ordered by Hitler, not by Röhm. Röhm was sick at the time, rheumatic, and felt far from the top of his form. The SA leaders were waiting for Hitler’s decision concerning the future relationship between the SA and the army. Hitler had continually avoided making one. The SA knew that it no longer had the Führer’s ear, while he was quite ready to listen to the Reichswehr generals. But these too he left in doubt as to what his decision would be. Hess had made a menacing speech in which he had threatened those elements anxious to continue the revolution. The SA had become unpopular with all the local branches of the Party, and the SA leaders believed that Hess was speaking for himself, as the Party representative within the Ministry, and not as Hitler’s mouthpiece. The SA leaders hoped that at the Bad Wiessee reunion they would at last have an opportunity of laying their complaints before Hitler. They were in good heart because they interpreted Hitler’s previous indecision to their advantage; in any event, no matter what he decided, they were determined to bow to his will. Röhm even let the Reichswehr know this.

One of the Reichswehr generals, the commander of the Munich area and an old comrade of Röhm’s from the World War, went to see Röhm after he arrived in Bad Wiessee. He laid his hand on the hilt of Röhm’s dagger. This was in allusion to the weapons of the SA. Röhm, the old “machine-gun king of Bavaria,” had managed, despite everything that had happened over the years, to safeguard his secret arms dumps. Now he had broken up his arsenals and distributed the weapons among the various units of the SA. The Reichswehr knew this. The Reichswehr was of the opinion that these guns belonged by rights to it. The Reichswehr jealously clung to its title as the ‘nation’s only armed force.’ The general pointed out to Röhm with the utmost earnestness that he was making a fatal error if he thought that the Reichswehr would not open fire; the Reichswehr would open fire and in no uncertain fashion. The general was of the opinion that the possession of arms by the SA was one fact which made it more difficult for the Chancellor to make a decision, a decision which was awaited equally by the Reichswehr and by the SA. The general proposed to Röhm that the weapons in question be put in neutral hands and he suggested that they be entrusted to the local police forces; these forces were to be subordinated to Himmler in the near future, but meanwhile both they and Himmler were still under Minister Röhm. Röhm was very impressed by the extreme earnestness of the general, and he announced his readiness to accept this proposal. He gave the general his word of honour that he would not make a putsch, that he had no ambition to be War Minister, that he would order that the arms be deposited as suggested. The general, his anxieties now set at rest, departed. In fact Röhm gave his deputy in Munich, Group Leader Schneidhuber, the necessary instructions. Hitler was in Godesberg.

At dawn trucks drove up to the local depots of the SA and the weapons were loaded on board. The SS had not been informed of Röhm’s agreement with the general, but they saw what was now happening. They informed Godesberg that the SA was arming.

A single question put to Schneidhuber would have explained everything. But Hitler went to find Schneidhuber, tore off his epaulets, and had him led into the next room and there shot.

So may it have happened; it is at least a credible picture. The only organisation that could confirm or deny it, the Reichswehr, kept silent. In such cases the Reichswehr always kept silent. The Seeckt tradition was bearing its fruit.

Dr. Luetgebrune described the events of June 30th as a fatality. But the doctor was the counsel for the defence, not the judge. The “supreme judge” had said: “Homosexuality.” He had said: “Conspiracy with persons abroad.” Whether the picture of the fatality as drawn by the doctor in his capacity of defending counsel be true or not, one thing is certain: for fourteen years Hitler had known that Röhm was homosexual. And there was not the single, slightest shred of evidence to support his allegation concerning conspiracy with persons abroad. Since when was homosexuality a capital offence? And was General von Schleicher a pederast? Was the leader of ‘Catholic Action,’ Ministerial Councillor Dr. Klausener, homosexual? Had the entire entourage of Vice-Chancellor von Papen, men like von Bohse and Edgar Jung, conspired with persons abroad? This was no question of a fatality. He spoke as a man who wished to hush up a crime.

It might well strike foreigners as inexplicable that the German nation as a whole should patiently tolerate this appalling deed, that the Reichswehr should accept the shooting of its general. However, Schleicher’s death constituted a trump card in the army’s hand and one that could be played to its full value. Hitler paid the cost of this trump in many favours bestowed on the army. It might be a gift or it might be a deal – the army accepted the gifts and haggled over the deals, and profited accordingly. Once upon a time the army had been the nation’s representative. Now the Wehrmacht was just a power among powers.

As for the broad masses of the people, were they not told that with this bloody act the revolution was ended? Might they not feel that the end of the revolution, of such a revolution, was not too expensively bought at the price of this appropriate deed? Did this not mean that the state was once again asserting its rights – by right?

If  this was in fact the end of the revolution, then the next task of the “supreme judge” must be the creation of justice – as Napoleon had created the Code Napoléon when his particular revolution was over. Dr. Luetgebrune believed firmly that this would happen, and he made ready to co-operate in the drawing up of a new code of laws, a recreation of justice. When I visited him he was hard at work, trying desperately to work out what was implied in the official decision to scrap ‘Roman Law.’ He found nothing superior to Roman Law, that first, genial discovery of a genial state, a discovery that in its validity had outlived the state which begot it for more than a thousand years. Was not Roman Law precisely the one form of law which ‘served the people’…?

The doctor had lost everything. He had always lived well, with his camel-hair coats and the aroma of expensive cigars that he dispensed wherever he went. He had never saved money. Now he still owned a small house at Mittenwald, built in the peasant style of Upper Bavaria, and that was all he did possess. His big offices were not closed. They continued as before, but there was nothing being done in them. They started by consuming the remnants of the doctor’s fortune and then they vegetated on credit. The doctor had no longer any cases to handle; his former clients avoided him like the plague.

He had to be rehabilitated. The revolution was over and a period of law was now to take its place. Hitler had discriminated against him, and I felt that Hitler must now rehabilitate him. What was the point of my having a cousin on Hess’s staff? But the cousin became very agitated when I told him what I wanted him to do. He was not going to venture into the quagmire of June 30th, he cried. Anything else, but not that! Finally, however, he laid the case before Hess. Hess in due course told him that he had attempted to intervene with Hitler. But Hitler had said at once:

“Don’t talk to me about Dr. Luetgebrune. For fourteen years that man concealed from me the fact that Röhm was homosexual!”

And at home in my trunk I had the blank signatures, the unused authorisations which Hitler had signed for use in Luetgebrune’s legal cases. It was no good. If the doctor did not wish to starve to death he would have to request that a disciplinary committee or court be set up to investigate his case. He did this with extreme reluctance, for he knew exactly how much his dear colleagues – the “fence sitters,” he called them – had begrudged him his past triumphs, those colleagues who had joined the National-Socialist Legal League in March, 1933, at the earliest and who were now enjoying a golden age as the “guardians of the people’s rights” in a manner suitable to “the healthy attitude of the nation.”

The case that was drawn up against him contained eight charges, and the doctor said that a glance at this document would show me how right he was to describe them as fence-sitters. Each individual charge was, in all its perfidy, easily refuted. None had the slightest bearing on the events of June 30th, which alone made the setting-up of this committee necessary. The eighth charge was so grotesque that the doctor, in order not to bring the court and the dignity of the legal profession as a whole into disrepute, had decided to ignore it. This charge accused the doctor of having, as a “National-Socialist lawyer,” defended the Jew Krojanker. The doctor had never been a Party member. Long before 1933 he had been defending counsel in the case of the “Gambling House on the Heydt Strasse.” One among the many defendants had been Herr Dr. Krojanker of the shoe company, Konrad Tack & Co. The doctor had never even met Herr Dr. Krojanker. 

Charge one against him was that he had demanded too much money from the leaders of the Peasants’ Movement for his part in their defence. This charge affected me. The doctor had defended me often enough and he had always refused to accept a single penny for doing so. I knew many other men whom he had likewise defended for nothing. But this accusation also affected the responsible leaders of the Peasants’ Movement, for it automatically implied that they had casually squandered the peasants’ money. The answer was to send for the peasants.

And they came, those men who had at one time made the financial arrangements with the doctor, they came, led by Hamkens. As was their custom they wore their green coats, their heavy boots, with their flat caps on their heads and their sticks in their hands. The sight of the peasants appearing before this court delighted me. And I was even more delighted when the president of the committee adopted an extremely affable manner towards the peasants; these simple men of the soil must be completely confused by the pomp of this splendid court, and his friendly and patronising manner was designed to put them at their ease in such a way as to ensure that they say what the court was anxious to hear. 

The president was Professor Noack, a lawyer, from Halle. And in front of him stood the peasant Hamkens, from Tetenbull, in his heavy boots, twisting his cap between his fingers, with the same serious, modest, somewhat distant expression on his face, indicative of an extreme effort to concentrate, that he had worn before so many courts where he had been the accused. But this the president did not know. Naturally the honest peasant spoke Low German, and the president was clearly making ready to drag the words from his mouth, one by one if need be. But it all went quite smoothly. Hamkens described carefully how he had asked that the doctor let him have an estimate of the costs of the defence. He went on to say, with furrowed brow, how shocked he was at the total figure.

“And then?” asked the president.

“Then,” said Hamkens, “the doctor offered to undertake the whole case for a round sum.”

“Which was?” asked the chairman.

“Which was about half the official fee,” said Hamkens.

And then the simple peasant produced the figures, very exact figures. He explained, apologetically as it were, that as a landlord he’d had to pick up the habit of keeping careful accounts, for without it his inn would soon have gone bankrupt. The president, somewhat taken aback, asked one or two other artful questions, which Hamkens answered simply but fully. Then the president dismissed Hamkens, who picked up his stick, which he had carefully laid along the edge of the witness box, and, with the heavy step of the marsh peasant who is accustomed to stride across very damp, very rich soil, prepared to leave the hall. But before he head reached the door the president called him back. The president said that it had been a great pleasure to the court to hear the testimony of so outstanding a witness, to make the acquaintance of so distinguished and patriotic a man – and here he turned his head from side to side as though demanding the approbation of his colleagues on the bench; he said that he was himself quite well aware that in its time the Peasants’ Movement had been a highly patriotic, nationalistic, and excellent cause which had consciously fought for a new, a greater, a cleaner Germany; and it was quite obvious, wasn’t it, that to defend their good, patriotic cause the peasants would only have called in a lawyer of whom they were convinced that he too was a firmly patriotic man? That was obvious, wasn’t it?

Hamkens said:

“Of course.”

The president said:

“Of course, of course. And it’s obvious, isn’t it, that you’d never have taken on a lawyer who you knew also defended Jews?”

The doctor glanced up, horrified. Hamkens knew nothing about the eighth charge. Hamkens said slowly:

“Well, such a consideration would never occur to us about our Herr Doktor. We knew our Herr Doktor. We knew he didn’t just defend his clients – we knew he defended justice itself.”

The doctor was formally told that he was rehabilitated. We spent the evening with Hamkens and the other peasant witnesses, and we all sang Schleswig-Holstein, ocean-girt.


Leave a Reply