Monthly Fragebogen: Prisoner of the Reich

“Ever heard of what they call ‘shot while attempting to escape?'” Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon describes his brief brush with arrest and imprisonment in early 1933

Oranienburg, Konzentrationslager

Despite his deep involvement in the radical-nationalist politics of the Weimar era, nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon was regarded with some distrust by the National Socialist government following the 1933 Machtergreifung. von Salomon was an ‘Ehrhardt man’, a follower of prominent Marine Brigade Freikorps leader Hermann Ehrhardt, whose relationship with Hitler and the NSDAP had been largely antagonistic and was probably the original source of much of the regime’s suspicion. Ehrhardt had helped stymie Hitler’s attempts to march on Berlin in 1923, had been behind the (absolutely disastrous) alliance between Otto Strasser and SA-rebel Walter Stennes in 1931, and his more prominent followers had moved fairly openly in National Bolshevik or similar circles prior to 1933. The company the writer kept following Hitler’s accession to the Chancellorship would not have helped allay any latent mistrust, considering he tended to mix with those who the new state regarded as politically unreliable. von Salomon’s reputation as a potential troublemaker was further compounded by an incident which occurred while visiting the home of writer friend Hans Fallada on 7 April, 1933, shortly after the NSDAP took power. Fallada had attempted to shock his housemaid by telling her that his guest was an “assassin”, a reference to von Salomon’s role in the Rathenau-murder and his (alleged) involvement in  the Landvolk bombings of the late ’20s. The housemaid promptly gossiped about the mysterious houseguest to Fallada’s landlords, who in turn decided to report this “assassin” to the authorities, reasoning that they had intercepted a plot to murder the Führer.  The inevitable result was both men being picked up by the police on the 12th and held without charge for a fortnight or so, a period of internment that was thankfully brief due to the intercession of friends helping clear up the misunderstanding. von Salomon’s account of this experience is transcribed below, taken from the 1954 English translation of his post-WWII bestseller Der Fragebogen

Easter of 1933 found me living at Grünheide near Erkner, a suburb to the east of Berlin. The owner of a guest-house on Lake Peetz had furnished for me a small building some distance from his pension. It consisted of one room only, but it was big enough and comfortable enough for me to be able to sleep in it and work in it as well. Rowohlt lived a hundred yards away, in a small house with a narrow garden that led down to the lake shore. I could see from the light in his sleeping porch whether or not he was at home. He usually returned exhausted and then he would throw me out by noisily lowering the bed on his veranda. One evening I went over, thinking that I might be able to discuss something with him, but he pulled down his bed; I strolled back to my own place, feeling rather depressed, worked for a little, and then went to bed. It seemed to me that I had only just fallen asleep when I was awakened by noise and a tremendous banging on my door. I cried:

“All right, Rowohlt, what is it?”

But it wasn’t Rowohlt. It was the police. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was precisely six a.m. I thought, with a certain satisfaction, that they were acting exactly according to form. I turned on the light and opened the door. Immediately the room was filled with powerfully built men, who brought with them the fresh morning air. They fell upon my bed and table, and rummaged through my trunk and my suits.

“Why didn’t you open the door at once?” one of them asked me. I replied that I had wished to check that it was really six o’clock. The man said:

“So you know all about it, eh?”

I assured him that I did know more or less all about this sort of thing. That was a mistake, for the man said at once:

“In that case I needn’t waste a lot of words on you. You’re under arrest.” Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: Adolf Hitler and the Beer Hall Putsch

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

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

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: The Landvolk Movement

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

Landvolk_Wer_Hilf

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