The Uneven Alliance: German Nationals and the Hitler Government

“Well, that’s revolution…” Complaints and observations from a member of the German National People’s Party about his party’s unequal position in the NSDAP-led ‘National Government’

When Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on 30 January, 1933, it was not as the leader of a uniformly National Socialist regime. The initial Hitler cabinet was instead a coalition government comprising, alongside the more radical NSDAP, the monarchist German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP), the paramilitary Stahlhelm, and several non-partisan conservative figures such as Franz von Papen and Konstantin von Neurath. The early hopes among Germany’s patriotic circles that this ‘National Government’ augured a new era of equal dominance for the various forces of the political Right were soon dashed, however, particularly after the passage of the Enabling Act. The National Socialists began using their newfound authority to enforce a process of ‘consolidation’ and ‘coordination’ throughout Germany, in which the political apparatus at every level was gradually occupied by NSDAP functionaries while political opponents – including those ostensibly on the same side as the NSDAP – were systematically harassed and oppressed. German Nationals were not spared any of this treatment – DNVP officials found their offices ransacked, their staff persecuted, their meetings broken up, and their middle-class voters jeered at in National Socialist rallies and newspapers. The office of Vice-Chancellor von Papen, seen by many on the Right as a sympathetic figure, was soon flooded with hundreds of alarmed letters from German Nationals and from other conservatives, men and women who had become painfully aware that the new ‘National Government’ would be neither monarchist nor conservative but was instead marching steadily towards a new and troubling political form of National Socialist radicalism. The two documents translated below, written by a certain Dr. Bubenhöfer – a prominent Freudenstadt physician and a member of the Württemberg DNVP’s leadership committee – provide a typical example of the kinds of reports sent to the Vice-Chancellor’s office by concerned German Nationals. The complaints and observations in Bubenhöfer’s letter and accompanying political memorandum help illustrate some of the key ideological differences between the DNVP and the more revolutionary NSDAP: Bubenhöfer’s writing expresses considerable concern about the ‘socialism’ within the NSDAP, about the NSDAP’s tolerance for Germany’s pre-existing welfare state measures, about its deliberate sidelining of other patriotic groups, and about the potential for instability represented by the SA. Interestingly, some of Bubenhöfer’s complaints are a little atypical of the DNVP, which tended to be more ‘moderate’ on most issues than the NSDAP; Bubenhöfer was a member of the DNVP’s völkisch wing, and as well as being perturbed about the NSDAP’s totalitarianism he also complains that it has been far too lenient in its treatment of Marxists, Jews, and “racial inferiors!” What eventually happened to Bubenhöfer is uncertain, but the DNVP soon faced the same fate as most other nationalist organizations – by the end of June 1933 it was pressured to dissolve itself, with many of its members and officials feeling obliged to go over to the NSDAP.

The Uneven Alliance:
Württemberg DNVP Leader Dr. Bubenhöfer’s
April 1933 Letter to Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen

Dr. Med. Bubenhöfer
Freudenstadt
Specialist in Surgery & Gynecology
Chief Physician of the District Hospital

Freudenstadt, 11 April, 1933
His Excellency Herr Vice-Chancellor v. Papen
Berlin

Esteemed Herr von Papen!

Might I once again avail myself of the right which you granted me, to be able to write to you?

If, in an hour of leisure, you might read through a short essay which I have recently dictated, as is my custom, and would perhaps write me your opinion on this or that, I would be most grateful. I have lived with all of these issues for many years, they consume me both inside and outside of my job. I have delivered many a lecture on these various topics. Above all, however, I am particularly concerned by issues regarding the assessment of the Centre, the position to take towards the NSDAP, and the topic of eugenics. And I would be grateful for a brief critique from you, whom I consider such a capable critic. There is so much going on right now which we do not like. Well, that’s revolution. My friends and I witness so much which shocks us. I will mention only two things: As I was able to tell you in Stuttgart, I salvaged a national defense organization, with weapons, out of Captain Damm’s old Freischar organization,1 preserving it through all the perils of the Bolz government.2 Today the SA are no longer willing to recognize us; yes, they even go so far as to doubt our national will because we are not National Socialist.

14 years ago, together with a few friends, I founded a German-völkisch order with which we hoped to perform long-term völkisch work with the aim of combating Freemasonry. Today we ourselves are denounced as Freemasons. Well, such things are the phenomena of revolution, but they nonetheless strongly dampen the satisfaction of nationally-minded men in the National Revolution. What the Stahlhelm3 wrote recently, that Hitler might one day be pleased to have them, I had also hoped might some day be said of a National Government about my organization. But the National Socialists do not need us and do not want us. And so I have no other recourse but to dissolve the organization, which is so highly esteemed by all sides – including by Reichswehr Minister von Blomberg – and thus to destroy, at least formally, a camaraderie which has held fast for 11 years of the most difficult times. When as a leader one has to say farewell to thousands of comrades without any apparent discernible need, because now our “friends” are at the helm, this is something which simply has to be endured. And yet we German Nationals, to whom I also belong, are part of the government. One would therefore think that an organization led by a man known throughout the state of Württemberg for his nationalist spirit would be acceptable to any National Government. We were to be in the government, I was told, not the SA leader.4 Continue reading

Proclamation and Programme of the German Völkisch Freedom Party

“Free from fruitless parliamentarism and the exploitation of labour!” The 1923 provisional programme of the German Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP)

In the notes appended to the previous article on this blog – a historical overview of the German Völkisch Freedom Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, DVFP) by academic Stefanie Schrader – I pointed out that the DVFP, Germany’s predominant völkisch party throughout much of the 1920s, never really had an “official” political programme. The party did produce a programme circa January 1923 which was briefly disseminated to the public, but this programme was only considered a “preliminary version” and was never formally ratified by the leadership as a definitive statement of party principles. The reason behind this decision lies with the DVFP’s innate hostility to “parliamentarism” in all its forms, an attitude which it had inherited from the pre-War völkisch movement and which was not entirely uncommon within other nationalist organizations. Political programmes were associated with political parties, and political parties were the offspring of hated parliamentarism; it was controversial enough within the völkisch movement (and even within the party itself) that the DVFP had constituted itself as a registered political party and was running in elections, so the leadership’s rejection of a formal programme can thus be viewed as something of a sop to those in the völkisch camp who were uncomfortable with the accoutrements of democratic participation. Considering the DVFP instead chose to communicate its principles to the public via “Guidelines” and “Statements,” however, the content of which was scarcely much different to its unofficial draft programme (which I have translated below), the entire dispute seems like much hand-wringing over nothing to me – although it does demonstrate the mindset under which the Deutschvölkische operated, and the ways in which they tried to reconcile their hatred of parliamentary democracy with their own participation in the Weimar system. Particularly interesting is how similar the draft DVFP programme appears to that of the National Socialists, although by comparison the Völkisch programme does come across as somewhat vaguer, as less clearly-defined. The DVFP had its own National Socialist/Bolshevist wing at this stage, centered around prominent social-radical members like Count Ernst zu Reventlow and Franz Stöhr; their abandonment of the party for the NSDAP in 1927 precipitated the DVFP’s strong conservative wing making their presence much more overt, and simultaneously helped lead to a significant decline in the German Völkisch Freedom Party’s overall public influence and support.

Proclamation
of the
German Völkisch Freedom Party!

NS_Swastika

German men and women! German youth!

The spiritual, political, and economic misery of the German Volk is mounting. Moral depravity and a lack of patriotism are spreading at an appalling rate. Inflation is rising unbearably. Folk-comrades will have to die of starvation, German children will be forced to waste away, unless we ourselves are able to raise the money required to satisfy the insatiable greed of our enemies.1

This is the consequence of politics in an era which Fichte2 a century ago had already termed the Age of Complete Sinfulness, an age which seeks its fulfillment in us today. This is the consequence of politics ever since Bismarck’s dismissal. This is the consequence of the 9th of November, 1918. This is the impact of the Jewish spirit and of its Marxism, which have bankrupted the entire world. This is the consequence of an undignified Policy of Fulfillment, a policy through which we are being bled to death, through which we shall become a nation of slaves, and which has earned us only contempt and abuse from abroad. Whosoever adopts a servile disposition shall eventually himself end up a servant.

Salvation, however, is impossible so long as the situation remains as it is today! On the contrary: We would have to continue our hopeless downhill slide! While hardship grows; while we are treated so unfairly, as no negro-state is even treated; while German women are fair game for the black French;3 while all of this goes on, all the political parties tear one another apart in petty, obscene struggles and quarrels over the issues of the day and in disputes over ministerial posts! Every form of generosity and will to action is paralyzed. With speeches they give the pretense of being able to make us whole. Continue reading

The German Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP)

Völkisch parliamentarism: A historical overview of the German Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP)

The German Völkisch Freedom Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, DVFP), although something of a historical footnote now, was for much of the 1920s the NSDAP’s primary rival for the völkisch vote within German party politics. The DVFP was the younger of the two parties, having been founded in December 1922 as a result of a split within the bourgeois-nationalist German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP) over the party’s approach to the “Jewish question.” While the more radical elements in the DNVP’s völkisch wing felt the party was not giving enough attention to the issue, much of the rest of the party were concerned that the völkish radicals’ bellicosity was harming their image with the public, particularly in the aftermath of the assassination of German-Jewish Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau. When the DNVP leadership definitively came down against the radicals at the Görlitz party conference in 1922, the die was cast: the völkisch radicals left the party and, coalescing around prominent nationalist activists Albrecht von Graefe, Reinhold Wulle, and Wilhelm Henning, founded the DVFP. In trying to be a broad-based organization representing the entirety of the fractious and highly-diverse völkisch movement, however, the DVFP proved unable to deliver a genuinely coherent, definitive vision of the alternative Germany which they intended to create. This ultimately ensured that the party’s early successes in electoral politics eventually withered away, overshadowed by the growing dynamism of the National Socialists. The article below, written by academic Stefanie Schrader, provides a brief historical overview of this story. It was taken from the 2012 collection Movements and Ideas of the Extreme Right in Europe, and so far as I am aware is the only really thorough examination of the DVFP available in English. Its description of the DVFP helps to highlight some of the major differences within the Weimar era völkisch movement; in contrast to the more radical NSDAP, the DVFP’s ideals were more in line with the ‘conventional’ völkisch politics of the pre-War era, with its ideals and norms still heavily influenced by political attitudes of the late 19th century. It is interesting to consider, in light of this, whether it could ever have achieved the same level of success as the NSDAP, had history for the latter party turned out rather differently.

Völkische Weltanschauung on the Back Benches:
The Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei and the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic
By Stefanie Schrader

NS_Swastika

During the years of the Weimar Republic, the German public witnessed the coming and going of a hardly countable number of small political parties, in particular right-wing parties, which aspired to enter the Reichstag and other influential positions. Nevertheless, when it comes to accounts of Weimar Germany’s political parties the focus is often rather quickly, probably even too rashly, diverted to the NSDAP, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, as the only radical party on the far right that succeeded in becoming a mass movement with a substantial faction in the Reichstag by 1930. Evidently, there are obvious reasons for reviewing the rise of the National Socialists as a political party, which tried to play the parliamentary game during the late 1920s and succeeded in doing so with fatal consequences for parliamentarian culture even before 1933. But there are also good reasons for an inquiry into the ideological background and political agenda of neighbouring, if not rivalling groups such as the German Völkisch Freedom Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, DVFP).

The author of a highly critical three-volume handbook on the völkisch movement, published between 1929 and 1931, remembered the DVFP in direct comparison with the National Socialists as having been the more influential party in parliament only a couple of years ago. Already the name, Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, is difficult to grasp. It is almost impossible to translate without inaccurately reducing the meaning of the adjective völkisch to national or nationalistic, racial or racist, ethnic folkish or anti-Semitic. Where the party is mentioned in a small number of anglophone publications, for instance of the 1960s, it usually figures as “German Racist Freedom Party” or “German Folkish Freedom Party.” More recent authors prefer to leave the term völkisch untranslated. But the lack of conceptual clarity is far more than just a problem of translation into other languages. First and foremost, the inflationary contemporary use of the adjective and the absence of a precise definition of what the concept völkisch actually was supposed to mean are characteristic features of the German discourse about the term in the 1920s. The distinctly heterogeneous character of the völkisch movement on the threshold between the German Empire and the Weimar Republic and its ideological complexity are a confusing, if not elusive phenomenon. The DVFP was thus just one of many groups which labelled themselves völkisch. The unique aspect of this particular völkisch organisation was its being the first völkisch party in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic.1 Continue reading