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. Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: The Social General

Ernst von Salomon and Hans Zehrer discuss the ‘lost government’ of General Kurt von Schleicher

This month’s excerpt from Ernst von Salomon’s Der Fragebogen is drawn from a section of the book where the author engages in a long, engaging discussion with conservative-revolutionary intellectual Hans Zehrer. This discussion took place after the conclusion of the Second World War, and sees the two discussing the political conditions of the Weimar period, the rise of National Socialism, and their perspectives – as first-hand participants in the national-revolutionary movement – on their own place in the tumultuous series of events which unfolded through the early 1930s. In this segment, Zehrer and von Salomon dissect the career and character of General Kurt von Schleicher, the last Chancellor of Weimar Germany, an authoritarian-minded ‘strong-man’ with pretensions towards his own brand of conservative socialism (hence his self-appointed moniker, ‘the Social General’). Zehrer was editor of Die Tat, a conservative-revolutionary intellectual periodical, and in many respects he was the ‘man behind the curtain’ in the Schleicher government; Zehrer provided Schleicher with much of the substance of his ideology, and during the brief period of Schleicher’s chancellorship Die Tat effectively acted as a de facto state publication. Schleicher’s aim was a dictatorial state with an expansive welfare system, labor programs to engage the unemployed, a militaristic political culture, all founded on a broad coalition between the army, trade-unions, social-democrats, and the more ‘moderate’ National Socialists. His government lasted slightly over a month before he was dismissed to make way for a Hitler chancellorship. Both Schleicher and his wife were killed during the Night of the Long Knives in ’34; Zehrer went into self-imposed ‘internal exile’ on the island of Sylt for the duration of the Third Reich. 

Zehrer said:

“Those last two years of the Weimar Republic were intellectually one of the most fruitful periods of our history. Never before had there been so much thinking and planning in Germany. The shell was suddenly broken as the old figures of the Weimar period began one by one to disappear. Above the clouds of stale jargon, heads suddenly began to appear on all sides, talking in a language which, in quite a new sense, was common to them all. Suddenly the old, outworn divisions no longer existed, the foolish distinctions derived from parliamentary seating arrangements of ‘Left’ and ‘Right,’ suddenly the ideological flood subsided and it was possible to talk sensibly. It was like a draught of fresh air. Everything seemed possible if only we set about it the right way, and everywhere there was the strength to do just that. What had for years on end been preached as the ultimate wisdom no longer seemed to apply, and it all assumed a new meaning. But then it became apparent that in every discussion a silent guest was present, who was usually invisible and yet who controlled it; for he posed the theme, prescribed the methods and decided on the direction. And this silent guest was Adolf Hitler. His silence was weird if not actually sinister. And since he was not to be grasped and pinned down in argument, the discussion circled through ideas and projects, worries and anxieties about itself, broke down, struggled to its feet and finally began all over again from the beginning. Even as early as the late twenties men of all parties were meeting and talking, from ‘Right’ to ‘Left.’ Yes, even the Communist intellectuals were sociable and sparkled in conversation for the amusement and titillation of the others. Only the National-Socialists never took part. To begin with everybody thought that eventually they too would turn up and would enjoy the excited and exciting talk: their absence was put down to the fact that they had, as yet, no intellectuals amongst them. But they didn’t come, they’ve never come, even today they don’t. And while the talk went on between the fish course and the meat and arguments were heatedly set up and heatedly demolished over the teacups or the whisky, the SA marched with steady tread through the streets of the cities. Of all the weeds which sprang up so gaily, none was a match for the rise of National-Socialism. None, that is, until the advent of Schleicher. He had the right idea!”

“A general like many others and a chancellor like many others, and smashed like them all.” Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: The National Socialist political breakthrough

While visiting friends in the Wurtemburg countryside, nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon is treated to a grass-roots view of the NSDAP’s 1930 electoral triumph

In this month’s excerpt from his post-WWII best-seller Der Fragebogen, conservative-revolutionary writer Ernst von Salomon recounts his experience in Wurtemberg of the infamous German Reichstag elections of September 1930. In the previous elections of 1928 the National Socialists had won a mere 12 seats; the sudden explosive growth of the NSDAP to 107 seats a mere two years later was a triumphal shock for both the Party and for Germany, representing the dramatic political changes which had beset the country over such a short expanse of time, particularly since the onset of the Great Depression in October 1929. von Salomon’s description of the peasant regions of Swabia provide a lively account of this transformed German countryside in this period: a countryside which “was, beyond any question of doubt, National-Socialist”; a countryside where elderly women, Church-goers, and peasant girls had already begun using the ‘Hitler-greeting’ in recognition of their shared adoption of völkisch-socialist values. The political landslide of 1930, in von Salomon’s account, is thus unsurprising, a reflection of the successful permeation and normalization of National Socialist ideology into day-to-day German life at the local level.

It was during the summer of 1930, when Berlin was first beginning to feel the effects of what happened on October 23rd, 1929, that I went for a few weeks to Calw, a small, South German town in Wurtemberg, to visit the painter Rudolf Schlichter. I had read thoroughly the works of Hermann Hesse, who was also born in Calw, and the exactness of his descriptions allowed me to recognise many details of the place with great delight. The most fortunate province of Germany, solid, hard-working, industrious, middle-class Wurtemberg, was reflected in the good city of Calw as in a convex glass. The little district capital, situated in the smiling valley of the Nagold, struck me as a very picture of comely arrangement. A little industry, a certain amount of wood trade, all happily mingled together and backed by an industrious farming community, a solid Catholic minority living side by side with a quantity of Protestant sects, good roads and railways to the most delightful parts of the Black Forest and the Swabian Alps, to Pforzheim in Baden and the provincial capital, Stuttgart, all this combined to give the district capital its own specific character. If anywhere, then surely here the economic and social life drew its sustenance from a soil that would be fruitful to all seed save only that which aspired aggressively to drastic change. Here every man could, with energy and care, look after his own affairs. And when, in the evenings, the local dignitaries sat over a good, neighbourly bottle of wine, these worthies did not allow political differences of opinion to interfere with personal friendships, while their mutual interdependence in matters of trade and their frequent blood relationships both served as strong deterrents to fanaticism of any sort.

On the market place was a first-class delicatessen shop, which saw to it that the products of distant lands as well as those of an active home industry found their way into the kitchens of the Calw households. Its proprietor was to be seen at all times, enveloped in a spotlessly white coat, standing among his sacks of raisins and his prettily coloured boxes of dried fruit. In his spotlessly clean shop his ruddy, healthy face radiated confidence and politeness, while his pleasant smile promised all comers that here they could expect good, reliable service. I praised his shop heartily, and he said, in his strong Wurtemberg accent:

“You know, I worked like a black to get this business going…” and he said: “You know, I still need another ten thousand marks to get out of debt…” Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: ‘A bashing! A proper bashing!’

Jailed by American occupying forces, nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon encounters some “old Nazis”

Last month I started a new ARPLAN series, The Monthly Fragebogen, in which I post extracts from nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s post-War autobiographical best-seller Der Fragebogen. In this month’s excerpt from the novel we encounter von Salomon in prison, shortly after being arrested by US military forces in June 1945 for the crime of being a “security threat” and a “militarist.” von Salomon had never joined the NSDAP and had associated with members of the Resistance, like Hartmut Plaas and Harro Schulze-Boysen, yet this was not enough to avoid his arrest and placement first in the Kitzbühel prison, then in a series of concentration camps. This excerpt is the beginning of the long ending section of von Salomon’s memoir which describes his experiences of internment in these American-run prison camps, where he and hundreds of other German officials, soldiers, and National Socialists lived in abominable conditions. von Salomon’s description of the treatment he and others were meted out (which grows considerably worse following on from the section below) was intended to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the forces of Democracy and Liberalism, that they were neither against brutal interrogation techniques, nor against using internment to help locals settle personal scores. 

The cell was quite large for one person and quite small for two. On either side stood wire beds on which were laid very repulsive, lumpy and incredibly filthy sacks of straw. But at least there was no latrine-bucket. My cellmate was a native of Kitzbühel, a tailor by trade, and he immediately offered to turn the worn collar of my summer coat when I was ‘outside.’ He had to serve a ten days’ stretch for having broken the curfew. He had been drunk at the time. Herr Bacherl [the prison warder] was a friend of his. Herr Bacherl had been a prison official even before the First World War. On the door hung a notice so faded as to be almost illegible, but the Imperial and Royal seal was still visible. Herr Bacherl seemed to be a persevering and at the same time adaptable character.

From downstairs horrible noises were again audible, coming from the interrogation room. My tailor knew all about it.

“It’s the other fellow now,” he said.

Apparently it was two parachute soldiers who were being ‘interrogated’ by the Polish-American officer. They had been arrested on a charge of using the syringes with which SS men could remove the ‘blood group’ tattoo-mark. It was the first time I heard about such things. The two parachute soldiers, who had been left here in Kitzbühel,  were sent for alternately and beaten to a jelly.

Midday dinner was excellently cooked but there was very little of it. I requested Herr Bacherl that he convey my congratulations to his wife and my thanks for her excellent cooking. Should she need anyone to help her peel the potatoes, the young lady who had arrived with me had considerable experience of such work. Herr Bacherl seemed impressed and thoughtful.

I was very worried about Ille. I was shocked at how wrong her reactions had been. The first night in the Kitzbühel lock-up I slept extremely badly, and solely on account of Ille. The whole afternoon I had spent walking anxiously up and down, waiting to be interrogated, though I kept telling myself that this was most unlikely. The gentlemen were certainly in no hurry: such gentlemen never are.

My tailor was not particularly communicative. He had already been inside for a couple of days and hoped to be ‘remitted’ after five more. He said, secretively:

“Here in Austria you can fix anything.”

Herr Bacherl had an assistant, Walter by name, and he was an honest-to-God ‘resistance fighter.’ At first I imagined that he had been given his present job in order that he might keep an eye on that ‘forced Nazi’ Bacherl – but it later transpired that Bacherl was his father-in-law. I had frequently attempted to explain to Ille that most trouble inside prisons resulted from the way unaccustomed prisoners allowed the warders to treat them. This was the reason why criminals were usually quite happy in gaol, while intellectuals later wrote books about how they had been insulted. It was a great relief to me to find that Ille, after recovering from her initial shock, had regained her self-control. Even on the second day she had reached such a point with little Walter that she persuaded him to fetch me to her door. Through the old-fashioned key-hole I could see her seated on her bed, her arms clutched about her knees. She came to the door as soon as she heard my voice. Herr Bacherl had already proposed to her that she help his wife with the potatoes, and Ille had immediately agreed. Now, however, she was already angling for another job, one that would give her an opportunity of coming in contact with the Americans. She whispered that I need not be anxious on her account. Apart from this, Walter would serve as a link between us. Ille was all right. Continue reading