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

Monthly Fragebogen: The Rathenau Murder

On a drive to Silesia, nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon and comrade Hartmut Plaas reminisce over their participation in the assassination of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau

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The murder of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau in 1922 was one of the defining events of the early Weimar Republic, today typically presented as a prime act of anti-semitism: Rathenau’s liberalism, his wealth and links with industry, his role in Germany’s defeat in the Great War, his prominence in the development of the new democratic Republic, all were in his murderers’ eyes apparently a by-product of his Jewishness. Yet the reality is a little more complex. Rathenau was a liberal, but one who dreamed of a powerful, organic “New State” which would transcend “petit-bourgeois parliamentarism” through a “living structure” of “corporations” representing all “multifarious elements of local and professional life.” Rathenau was a Jewish capitalist, but one who saw the war economy as the model for the future: a private economy subordinated to the interests of the nation through state planning and the corporatist reorganization of industry. There is a reason that his ultranationalist murderers described him as looking “a decent sort” while at the same time worrying that he might be one of the Learned Elders of Zion. These assassins were young (and immature) men, members of the clandestine Organisation Consul (OC), a terrorist group which had grown out of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt freikorps. They were undoubtedly anti-semitic, undeniably sought to achieve National Revolution through murder and terror, yet they also admired Rathenau’s vision as they simultaneously feared how it might strengthen the Republic they despised: “He is our hope, for he is dangerous… I couldn’t bear it if once again something were to arise out of the chaotic, the insane, age in which we live.” Ernst von Salomon, former OC-member and author of the post-WWII bestseller Der Fragebogen, was jailed for his role as a lookout in the Rathenau murder, as well as for his involvement in other subsequent acts of Fehme violence. In this month’s excerpt from the Fragebogen, von Salomon recounts a drive to Silesia in 1939 in which he and friend Hartmut Plaas (and their wives Ille and Sonya) reminisced over their role in Rathenau’s death and their impressions of the subsequent trial. A cynical reader might take the at times mournful, regretful tone adopted here to be a confection designed to polish over von Salomon’s spotty reputation in a US-occupied, post-WWII democratic Germany. Yet one should also keep in mind that Hartmut Plaas was executed in 1944 for the vital role he played in Admiral Canaris’s anti-Hitler resistance efforts – and that von Salomon’s Ille was herself half-Jewish, a friend whom Ernst had pretended to marry specifically to protect. Both men, like Rathenau himself, were in reality complex figures. 

I said:

“When Kern sent me to Hamburg, back in 1922, to find a chauffeur – because the naval officers could all drive torpedo boats but not cars – I went to Warncke. He couldn’t drive either, but he took me to a bar where his people were in the habit of going. There were a lot of young men there, almost all ex-sailors, and while Warncke was finding a chauffeur I had a good look at them. I recognised one who’d been at Cadet School with me, a chap called Winzer. We used to call him UXB, because we never knew when he was going to blow up. I couldn’t help going up behind him, slapping him on the shoulder and saying: ‘Well, UXB?’ He spun round and bellowed: ‘Good Lord! Salomon!’ This shook me, because of course I was travelling under a false name. ‘Quiet!’ I said: ‘I’m called Schievelbein these days.’ He understood at once and we sat down together and had a talk. [Note: By a ‘chauffeur’ von Salomon means a getaway driver; the assassins drove up besides Rathenau as he was being driven to the Foreign Office, shooting and throwing a grenade at him, before speeding away. – Bogumil]

“Later, when the police had traced my movements as far as Hamburg, they interrogated all the young men who’d been in the bar, including Winzer. They got nothing out of any of them. Their questions kept revolving around a young man who’d come from Berlin. One of the ex-sailors, who wanted to have a bit of fun with the police, and who in fact knew nothing, laughed when they questioned him. ‘The young man from Berlin? He certainly had nothing to do with the Rathenau murder. He was a Jew!’ The police followed this up at once: how did they know the young man was a Jew? Winzer had called him Salomon. Winzer was then asked what the name was of the young man who’d come from Berlin. Winzer was absolutely unable to remember his name; he was somebody he’d known very slightly, years before, at Cadet School, and there’d been so many cadets. The police found out very easily that Winzer had been at Karlsruhe Cadet School. They made enquiries whether there had ever been a cadet there called Salomon. And that was that. They had me.” Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: The Landvolk Movement

Bombs, barns, and bailiffs – nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s experiences in the revolutionary peasants’ movement, the Landvolk

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Last month’s excerpt from the autobiographical novel Der Fragebogen dealt in part with the conversion of Ernst von Salomon’s brother, Bruno von Salomon,  to Marxism. Bruno, like Ernst, was a nationalist – specifically an adherent to the ‘new nationalism’ prominent after the First World War. Bruno, before he became a Marxist, passed through the ‘Landvolk’ movement – as did Ernst, although the conclusions each reached from their experiences were different. The Landvolk movement (Landvolkbewegung, in English the ‘Rural Peoples’ Movement’) was a socio-political phenomenon beginning in the late 1920s in which the peasants of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s northenmost province, rebelled against the authority of the Weimar state. Incensed by Germany’s terrible financial situation, by high tax rates, by a lack of protectionism, by what they felt were unfair property seizures over tax and loan debts, by a lack of effective political representation, the province’s peasants began to fight back. Organizing as a class, the Landvolk were not an organized party; they had a flag (black, with a red sword and white plough) and leaders (Claus Heim and Wilhelm Hamkens), but both were informal, and there was no real hierarchy, no real organizational structure. Motivated by a shared pro-völkisch, anti-capitalist, anti-system worldview, this grass-roots movement began a series of vigorous protests against Weimar officials – protests which became more wild and more raucous over time until, inevitably, they devolved into outright terrorism. Naturally, all this activity attracted political radicals, which is how Bruno and Ernst von Salomon ended up in the region, along with countless other nationalists, communists, fascists, and National Socialists looking to turn words into action and fight directly against the hated Weimar state by helping the peasants in their struggle. Ernst von Salomon’s recollections of his and his brother’s involvement in the Landvolk movement from Der Fragebogen, reproduced below, provide a rather wry, first-hand recollection of an often-overlooked segment of Weimar radicalism. From these one can see the real-life inspiration for many of the events in von Salomon’s Landvolk-themed novel Die Stadt (published in English as It Cannot Be Stormed), which along with Hans Fallada’s A Small Circus (Bauern, Bonzen, und Bomben) is one of the best literary accounts of the Schleswig-Holstein peasants’ struggle.

I had neither seen nor heard from my brother Bruno for many years. He had as good as vanished. Our last quarrel had been shortly after the Kapp Putsch. He approved of putsches, but not of Kapp, whereas I thought that in those troubled times any man who wished was entitled to make his own putsch. My brother, who knew nothing save, as he put it, how to lead a company in close formation through a sewage farm, was making diverse efforts to lead an honourable, civil life; the question of loss of social rank worried him not in the slightest, and for a long time he lived in Hamburg as a workman in a woolcarding factory – until he at last realised that he would have more chance of changing the world than of altering himself. He recalled that no German can ever really go down so long as he continues to make use of the knowledge acquired at his elementary school. And so he succeeded in persuading the owner of a small printing press in Blankensee, who published a feeble and patriotic weekly paper, that under his editorship the subscriptions would be doubled. The periodical was called Die Deutsche Front, neither more nor less.

It did not occur to my brother that he might change his periodical’s name. It corresponded to a deeply felt need. This was a period when suddenly and everywhere men remembered that they too had served in the war. Feelings of personal dignity had long lain fallow, overwhelmed in the wreckage of the collapse; later each individual had been fully occupied in trying to hack a path through the ruins of civilian existence. But obviously during the din of battle every soldier had dreamed of a beautiful world such as could never come true. And obviously, too, when compared with the emotions of war-time those of peace seemed relatively ineffectual. Any ex-soldier was bound to feel that life had been filled with a starker intensity during the few seconds which decided whether or not a salient could be held than during those Homeric struggles for large, medium, or small coalitions which constantly placed the same small band of worthies on page one of the morning papers. So it is hardly surprising that as soon as this generation had recovered from its physical and psychological exhaustion a positive torrent of war books began to appear, books in which the authors attempted to put down on paper what had once been such very real experiences. It made no difference whether the war was seen from a positive or a negative attitude: the common experience was affirmed in all its power: and many a man who had previously maintained that his military service had been nothing but one long, atrocious martyrdom, now began to assert that he too had always been a good soldier – or alternatively to boast that he at least had had the guts to stand up to a bully of a sergeant-major. Continue reading