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