Monthly Fragebogen: Prisoner of the Reich

“Ever heard of what they call ‘shot while attempting to escape?'” Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon describes his brief brush with arrest and imprisonment in early 1933

Oranienburg, Konzentrationslager

Despite his deep involvement in the radical-nationalist politics of the Weimar era, nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon was regarded with some distrust by the National Socialist government following the 1933 Machtergreifung. von Salomon was an ‘Ehrhardt man’, a follower of prominent Marine Brigade Freikorps leader Hermann Ehrhardt, whose relationship with Hitler and the NSDAP had been largely antagonistic and was probably the original source of much of the regime’s suspicion. Ehrhardt had helped stymie Hitler’s attempts to march on Berlin in 1923, had been behind the (absolutely disastrous) alliance between Otto Strasser and SA-rebel Walter Stennes in 1931, and his more prominent followers had moved fairly openly in National Bolshevik or similar circles prior to 1933. The company the writer kept following Hitler’s accession to the Chancellorship would not have helped allay any latent mistrust, considering he tended to mix with those who the new state regarded as politically unreliable. von Salomon’s reputation as a potential troublemaker was further compounded by an incident which occurred while visiting the home of writer friend Hans Fallada on 7 April, 1933, shortly after the NSDAP took power. Fallada had attempted to shock his housemaid by telling her that his guest was an “assassin”, a reference to von Salomon’s role in the Rathenau-murder and his (alleged) involvement in  the Landvolk bombings of the late ’20s. The housemaid promptly gossiped about the mysterious houseguest to Fallada’s landlords, who in turn decided to report this “assassin” to the authorities, reasoning that they had intercepted a plot to murder the Führer.  The inevitable result was both men being picked up by the police on the 12th and held without charge for a fortnight or so, a period of internment that was thankfully brief due to the intercession of friends helping clear up the misunderstanding. von Salomon’s account of this experience is transcribed below, taken from the 1954 English translation of his post-WWII bestseller Der Fragebogen

Easter of 1933 found me living at Grünheide near Erkner, a suburb to the east of Berlin. The owner of a guest-house on Lake Peetz had furnished for me a small building some distance from his pension. It consisted of one room only, but it was big enough and comfortable enough for me to be able to sleep in it and work in it as well. Rowohlt lived a hundred yards away, in a small house with a narrow garden that led down to the lake shore. I could see from the light in his sleeping porch whether or not he was at home. He usually returned exhausted and then he would throw me out by noisily lowering the bed on his veranda. One evening I went over, thinking that I might be able to discuss something with him, but he pulled down his bed; I strolled back to my own place, feeling rather depressed, worked for a little, and then went to bed. It seemed to me that I had only just fallen asleep when I was awakened by noise and a tremendous banging on my door. I cried:

“All right, Rowohlt, what is it?”

But it wasn’t Rowohlt. It was the police. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was precisely six a.m. I thought, with a certain satisfaction, that they were acting exactly according to form. I turned on the light and opened the door. Immediately the room was filled with powerfully built men, who brought with them the fresh morning air. They fell upon my bed and table, and rummaged through my trunk and my suits.

“Why didn’t you open the door at once?” one of them asked me. I replied that I had wished to check that it was really six o’clock. The man said:

“So you know all about it, eh?”

I assured him that I did know more or less all about this sort of thing. That was a mistake, for the man said at once:

“In that case I needn’t waste a lot of words on you. You’re under arrest.” Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: Adolf Hitler and the Beer Hall Putsch

Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon describes his brushes with Adolf Hitler, the Munich national-revolutionary scene, and the ‘November Putsch’ of 1923 HitlerPutsch_Commemorative_Postcard

This month’s excerpt from Ernst von Salomon’s bestselling memoir Der Fragebogen covers the intersection of the author’s life with that of Adolf Hitler. The actual meeting between Hitler and von Salomon, which took place shortly after the murder of Foreign Minister Rathenau in mid-1922, was very brief. Following Rathenau’s assassination, which von Salomon had been involved in organizing, the young author (then only 19) fled to Bavaria, at that time an “order cell” of nationalist politics within the body of the German Republic. von Salomon was seeking safety from the police forces hunting him, and he found it in Munich amidst the ferment of squabbling, competing nationalist groups, aided in his flight by Captain Hermann Ehrhardt (“the Kapitän”). Ehrhardt had been the leader of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt Freikorps to which von Salomon had belonged, and was now the guiding light behind the ‘Organisation Consul’ (OC) terror group in which von Salomon and his comrades had plotted the deaths of high officials. “The Kapitän” figures prominently within the subsequent account; Ehrhardt’s presence provided von Salomon with his brief introduction to Hitler, and the man was undoubtedly also the source of much of the ‘insider information’ which the author here conveys to the reader. Ehrhardt at the time was in the thick of things, a prominent player among the many nationalist parties and paramilitaries in Bavaria, seeking to use his influence and large retinue of loyal followers to guide developments in his preferred direction. As a result his path inevitably crossed with Hitler’s; Ehrhardt hoped to use Hitler’s propagandistic skills for his own purposes, which meant providing troop training for the SA in return, as well as cooperation with the NSDAP-dominated ‘Working Group of Patriotic Combat Associations’ (rendered in this translation as the ‘Workers’ Union of the Fatherland Block’). Ehrhardt came to regret these actions. von Salomon depicts his attitude towards Hitler as scathing, with Ehrhardt describing the future Führer as fundamentally dishonest, an “idiot”, a megalomaniac whose desperate play for power (the ‘Beer Hall Putsch’) threw a massive wrench into the army’s intricate, developing plans to seize power legally. Whether accurate or not, Ehrhardt’s claims and von Salomon’s description of the Munich nationalist scene are useful – they provide a firsthand account of the chaotic web of intersecting loyalties, animosities, plots, schemes, and rivalries which were the defining feature of nationalist and military politics within the Munich of the early ’20s. 

After the assassination of Rathenau I hurried to Munich to see the Kapitän. It was not an easy matter to establish personal contact with him, and the only address we had was that of his adjutant. When I told the latter why I had come, he immediately informed me that the Kapitän was in a towering rage on our account.

We had no idea what the Kapitän was actually doing in Munich. He lived there, under a false name, and posed as a clerk in an optical goods firm. His adjutant informed me that it was the Kapitän’s intention to unite everything that was on the side of bourgeois society: all the ‘Patriotic Formations’ and associations and groups, which sprang up like mushrooms after the defeat and which together constituted the ‘National Movement,’ from the Bavarian Monarchist League, through the Freikorps successor organisations and the para-military formations, the war veterans’ leagues and the local defence force run by Forestry Commissioner Escherich, to the Oberland League which had sprung from the youth movement, all these groups and splinter groups were to be welded together into one great organisation, the so-called ‘Fatherland Block.’ And this block was in agreement with the Bavarian Minister-President of the time, Count Lerchenfeld, who came originally from the Bavarian People’s Party, and with his ministry. Together they planned to create a Bavarian ‘cell of order,’ a neat and socially united state to act as a counter-weight to the other unstable provinces of a Germany torn asunder by party strife. And this was the moment we chose to commit our act of madness! The Kapitän would have to disown us, said the adjutant, if he were to avoid “sabotaging his own policy.”

A meeting place had been arranged in the Marien Platz, at the corner of the Wein Strasse. I almost failed to recognise the Kapitän, for I had only seen pictures of him in uniform. Now he was wearing civilian clothes, with a straw hat, and he had shaved off his nautical beard. I endured a few frightful minutes.

He ‘blew me up,’ he really gave me a piece of his mind – and I could only keep stammering, “Yes, Herr Kapitän!” and suggesting that he shoot me. Finally, standing there at the corner of the Marien Platz and the Wein Strasse, he roared at me in his rage:

“And don’t keep calling me ‘Herr Kapitän!’ Call me ‘Herr Konsul,’ or ‘Herr Professor’!”

I clicked my heels and said:

“Right, Herr Kapitän!”

He said, angrily:

“Oh, come along,” and almost collided with a cyclist. Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: Kristallnacht

Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon recalls events surrounding the ‘Night of Broken Glass’, the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938kauft_nicht

Kristallnacht, the ‘Night of Broken Glass’, is considered one of the defining events of the history of Hitler’s Reich. On November 9, 1938 – the  15-year anniversary of the Bürgerbräukeller-Putsch – Ernst von Rath, a German junior diplomatic clerk in Paris, died in hospital. von Rath had been mortally wounded via multiple gunshot wounds two days earlier; his murderer, a teenaged Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan (Grünspan in German), was a passionate young Zionist seeking symbolic retribution for the ill-treatment of Jews in Germany. The response to von Rath’s death was retribution-in-kind, a storm of attacks by SA-men and other National Socialists against Jewish property, particularly businesses and synagogues. Individual Jews in some cases were also targeted. The claim generally is that the pogrom was organized or encouraged by the state rather than a spontaneous uprising; in either case it is clear that the government did little to prevent the attacks, even if some senior figures in both Party and government expressed a moral or political opposition to them. Such misgivings were also shared by segments of the civilian population. Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s post-WWII memoir Der Fragebogen provides a first-hand example of these misgivings as they were voiced both by ordinary Germans (von Salomon and his friends) and some state officials (Otto Meißner, head of the Presidential Chancellery). von Salomon’s evident revulsion towards Kristallnacht and his discussion of the complex problems of collective guilt and complicity are especially interesting considering his earlier membership of the highly anti-Semitic terrorist movement, Organisation Consul. That von Salomon’s opposition to the regime’s anti-Jewish measures was genuine is difficult to refute, considering he sheltered his half-Jewish lover Ille Gotthelft from any potential persecution. Regardless, the author’s attempt to refute the notion that the German nation as a whole shared equal culpability for the regime’s excesses caused some controversy and debate after his book’s publication. 

That November evening of 1938 Ille and I had stayed rather late at the home of my friend Axel, playing dice. I was at the time very preoccupied with my work; not only was I writing a script and a film treatment simultaneously, but I was also preparing a thick volume of endless material concerning the role of the public official in the German post-war, one of the most interesting subjects of our age and of great importance. (This book has never been published.) I had arranged an interview with Minister of State Dr. Meißner for the purpose of discussing with him his activities during 1919, and I had already made a draft of the principal points I intended to raise.

Axel lived in the Sächsischer Strasse, in Wilmersdorf, and I some ten minutes’ walk away in Charlottenburg. To reach our home by the shortest route Ille and I had to cross the Olivaer Platz, a pretty little square just off the Kurfürstendamm, which contained the shops where we bought our daily groceries. At the corner of the square, where the Konstanzer Strasse joins the Kurfürstendamm, was a small wine shop; it was here that we occasionally bought a bottle or two when we had unexpected guests. As Ille and I passed this little shop I suddenly became aware of the crunch of broken glass beneath my feet, and looking about me saw that the plate-glass front of the shop was smashed and that the bottles were quite unprotected – anybody could have stolen them.

“Some drunk must have crashed into it,” I remarked to Ille, who had stopped and was gazing at the damage. She thought we should notify the proprietor, but we did not know whether he lived in the building.

At this moment we heard a loud crash followed at once by the tinkle of falling glass. We turned around. On the other side of the street a group of apparently young men, dressed in riding boots and civilian jackets, were standing outside a café. One of them was even then picking up a stone, which he put into a cloth that he used as a sling and which, with practised skill, he hurled at one of the café’s great mirrors. There was an echoing crash and again the tinkle of falling glass.

A taxi was parked at the corner of the Konstanzer Strasse and the Kurfürstendamm. I hurried towards it while Ille, clinging to my arm, ran along beside me.

“What’s going on here?” I asked the driver. He was an elderly man who wore a military badge in his hat in place of a cockade. He looked at me and said, in his Berlin accent:

“Go on home and don’t ask questions. I ain’t taking no more fares tonight. Me, I’m keeping out of trouble.” Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: Teacup Revolutionaries

Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s experiences with the ‘Red Orchestra’ anti-Hitler resistance movement

Red_Orchestra

The ‘Red Orchestra’ is one of those exalted historical resistance movements in today’s Germany, along with the ‘White Rose’ student group and the aristocrats & officers of the 20th July assassination plot. It seems to be a common theme on this blog that aspects of history are never as black-and-white as they’re typically presented in modern discourse, that reality is complex and that peoples’ motivations are rarely as easy to categorize as we might like them to be. This is the case with the Red Orchestra as with anything else. Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s friendship and association with two central figures of the Orchestra – Harro Schulze-Boysen and Arvid Harnack, as well as their respective wives Libertas (‘Libs’) and Mildred – is evidence enough of this. von Salomon was a Freikorps veteran, a nationalist revolutionary who endured multiple jail sentences for his involvement in anti-Weimar terrorist movements, yet when the Third Reich emerged his deep-seated open-mindedness and his natural aversion to the regime’s excesses saw him moving in circles as opposed to National Socialism as he had been to the earlier ‘November Republic’. Despite his obvious sympathy for Schulze-Boysen (a former national-liberal type whose links to far-left and far-right have seen him sometimes classified as a ‘National Bolshevik’) and Harnack (an Arplan-member given to nervously hanging around the Soviet embassy), von Salomon’s reminiscences of his exposure to their conspiratorial activities paint a picture that is more human than hagiographical. Like the subversive Organisation Consul with which von Salomon had once plotted murder, the Red Orchestra come across as full of the recklessness of youth, dangerously careless and more than a little flippant in their scheming of drawing-room conspiracies. The author’s depiction is of brave men, principled men, but men who were still nonetheless ‘teacup revolutionaries’, freedom-fighters in far over their heads. The section below is taken from Section E. of the English translation of von Salomon’s post-war memoir Der Fragebogen

About the year 1931 a man named Harro Schulze-Boysen founded a periodical which he entitled Der Gegner (The Opponent). He explained to me that the crust which “the old men” had laid over us, which the last century had imposed on ours, was ready to break. He described this crust as being lethal to all true intellectual and spiritual life. He said that it was formed of the ideologies of an age that had achieved power too late and too unexpectedly, too feebly and too undeservedly, so that it knew not how to use it except through the dusty network of bureaucracy. Finally, he said, a younger generation had grown up in the shadow of that power which, though hitherto employing its outworn jargon, was yet now capable of making itself understood in its own language. “They are  beginning to poke their heads through the clouds and to call to one another,” he said. He also said that his periodical was intended to give these youthful forces a chance to make themselves heard. It was to be a magazine for radicals, regardless of what particular platform they should speak from.

The man who told me all this was a slender, well-built, blond young man, with a rather stiff manner, carefully parted hair, and light, somewhat hard eyes. His words seemed unsuited both to his appearance and to his manner. When first I met him I had taken him for a junior naval officer, and as it happened his father was an admiral and he was a grandson of Grand Admiral von Tirpitz. He soon had many contributors to his magazine, young men of all political views, Catholics, Socialists, Communists – and, to represent the Nationalists, Ernst Jünger, Bogumil and myself.

When I returned from Austria Der Gegner was no more. The opponents, however,  undoubtedly still existed. I ran into Schulze-Boysen in the street, towards the end of 1933, and failed to recognise him. He spoke to me. His features were very different from what they had been. He had lost half an ear and his face was covered with inflamed wounds that had scarcely yet healed. He had been arrested because well-known young Communists had contributed to his magazine. It was the SA who had treated him in the fashion to which his face bore witness.

“I have,” he said, put my revenge in cold storage.”

He said it was his intention, with the assistance of his relatives, to enter the army. He may have felt that I did not think much of this idea, for he told me that he knew exactly what he was doing. It was a long time before I heard from him again. Continue reading