Reichswehr Lieutenant Richard Scheringer’s infamous 1931 conversion from National Socialism to the Communist Party of Germany
On 4 October, 1930, three young Reichswehr officers from the Fifth Artillery Regiment in Ulm were sentenced by the Federal Court in Leipzig to 18 months’ imprisonment for the crime of preparing to commit high treason. Radicalized by Germany’s ongoing domestic instability and international weakness, and motivated by a contempt for the ‘old order’ and for the older generation of Reichswehr officers, these three young men – Richard Scheringer, Hanns Ludin, and Hans Wendt – had been caught disseminating National Socialist propaganda within army garrisons and attempting to foment support for a prospective ‘national revolution’ among the officer corps, hoping in this way to foster a sense of nationalist-anticapitalist radicalism within the Reichswehr which would help prepare it for its role as a ‘people’s army’ in the event of a nationalist uprising. The ‘Ulm Reichswehr trial’ was a highly publicized event within Germany (Hitler famously gave testimony to the court, defending his party against accusations of treason), and the fate of the three young officers became a cause célèbre for nationalists in Germany, who regarded them as martyrs for the cause of the Fatherland. There was thus something of a sensation among the German public when, in early 1931, one of the Ulm officers publicly announced his decision to ‘convert’ to Communism: Richard Scheringer. During their incarceration in the Gollnow fortress-prison, Scheringer and Wendt had become friendly with the institution’s many Communist inmates, and through long political debates with his new comrades Scheringer in particular had increasingly come to doubt the substance and validity of National Socialist doctrine. Helped along in his conversion by the allure of the Communist Party of Germany’s (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) ‘programme for the national and social liberation of the German people,’ as well as by the poor impression left by the NSDAP leaders he had met since his imprisonment, Scheringer finally decided to renounce ‘fascism’ and to throw his lot in with the cause of Marxism-Leninism instead, and a declaration to this effect was read out in the Reichstag by KPD deputy Hans Kippenberger on 19 March, 1931. Scheringer’s jump to Communism was heralded as a great victory by KPD publications, as the forerunner of many more conversions to come, and the party was eager to make as much political capital from the event as it could. Scheringer was swiftly incorporated into the party’s ‘national and social’ propaganda strategy, with the young ex-officer set to work writing propaganda material from his cell in Gollnow, and his name was attached to a new journal explicitly directed at winning over disillusioned, socially-conscious nationalists and soldiers. Translated below are three pieces related to Scheringer and his decision to cross the barricades and ‘go red’: an extract from Kippenberger’s Reichstag speech, in which he reads out Scheringer’s declaration for the ‘red front’; an article from KPD daily Die Rote Fahne discussing the reaction to Scheringer’s decision and its significance for German Communism; and a Communist propaganda leaflet penned by Scheringer and addressed to rebellious members of the Berlin SA, an example of the type of material which the KPD hoped would help convince idealistic National Socialists and help create more Scheringers to swell the ranks of the “fighting proletariat.”
Scheringer Declares for German Communism
From the 1931 Verhandlungen des Reichstags, vol. 445.
Scheringer’s declaration announcing his ideological conversion to Marxism-Leninism was first made public to the German people by Communist Reichstag deputy Hans Kippenberger on 19 March 1931, read out towards the conclusion of a speech given during an otherwise unremarkable parliamentary debate on the issue of defense spending. Scheringer and Kippenberger had become acquainted only a month or so beforehand, meeting over a glass of schnapps in a smoke-filled Gollnow workers’ pub while Scheringer was out of prison on a weekend furlough. During their meeting Scheringer had stressed to Kippenberger that his decision to ‘go red’ was sincere and that he was especially committed to “warning the Volk about Hitler”, whom he had met and not been particularly impressed by. Kippenberger for his part had emphasized to Scheringer the anti-pacifist credentials of the KPD, assuring him of the party’s commitment to revolution and to building a powerful German Red Army. Scheringer was especially impressed by Kippenberger’s martial background (Kippenberger was a decorated WWI veteran and the leader of the KPD’s underground paramilitary apparatus), which helped reassure him of the correctness of his decision and of Kippenberger’s suitability for conveying that decision to the world. For the sake of brevity I have only translated an extract of Kippenberger’s speech, the end portion which deals specifically with the NSDAP and with Scheringer, the rest being concerned with the rather dull topic of Reichswehr funding issues. The translation has been made from the Reichstag stenographic transcripts for 1931. – Bogumil
Extract from KPD Deputy Hans Kippenberger’s Speech
to the German Reichstag of 19 March, 1931.
KIPPENBERGER (KPD): …But I would here like to point out another fact with reference to the relationship between the Reichswehr, the National Socialists, and, moreover, the Social-Democrats: that in the Reichstag faction of the National Socialist Party there are 25 deputies who, from 1918 to 1920, fought against the workers as members of the Freikorps. This means that there are 25 National Socialist members of the Reichstag who, according to the Reichstag Handbook, boast of having helped erect the Versailles System and of helping to set the Weimar Republic in the saddle through blood, terror, and murder
(“Very true!” from the Communists)
together with Noske and with Herr Groener.1 If we review the list of 25 National Socialist murderers who are today drawing parliamentary allowances from the Republic, then we can extend their ranks directly to Social-Democracy –
(The President’s bell sounds)
VICE-PRESIDENT VON KARDOFF: Herr Deputy Kippenberger, I call you to order.2
KIPPENBERGER (KPD): – not only via a Winnig or a Grützner,3 who have also outwardly demonstrated their spiritual kinship through their open conversion to the NSDAP, but also in such a way that the 25 on this side here (to the right) include at the very least Herr Wels as the chairman of the party over on that side,4 who played exactly the same role and function. Continue reading