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

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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

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: The National Movement Swallowed Whole

Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s account of the Third Reich’s absorption of the National Movement, from his 1951 memoir Der Fragebogen

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This is the first entry in a new ARPLAN series: The Monthly Fragebogen. Over the next year I intend to post, once a month, an excerpt from Ernst von Salomon’s famous novel Der Fragebogen (in English ‘The Questionnaire’ or ‘The Answers’). Der Fragebogen was first published in 1951 by the Rowohlt Verlag publishing house and instantly became a huge success. Using the US Military Government’s de-nazification questionnaire for its structure, the autobiographical novel was the first major best-seller in West Germany and sold in large numbers both inside Germany and out, helping to cement Ernst von Salomon’s place in German literature. von Salomon, a Freikorps veteran and a member of the Weimar-era Conservative Revolutionary literary milieu, had been a successful novelist before the War, but it was Der Fragebogen which really made his name. It is an excellent book, one of my personal favorites, and as well as being a stirringly-written novel it provides an unparalleled introduction into the chaotic tumult that was German life and politics from the early 1900s until the collapse of the Reich in 1945. von Salomon rubbed shoulders with countless people of historical importance at one point or another, many of them members of the National Movement – Adolf Hitler, Ernst Röhm, Hans Zehrer, Ernst Jünger, Claus Heim, Bodo Uhse, Othmar Spann, Hans Grimm, Martha Dodd, Otto Meissner, Konrad Henlein, Hans Fallada, Hanns Ludin… He lived quite a life, and Der Fragebogen is quite a book. 

The excerpt below is taken from Section E. of Der Fragebogen, ‘Membership in Organisations’. This long passage provides an on-the-ground view of the complicated relationship which the new National Socialist government had with other members of the National Movement during the regime’s early years. Although they were all ostensibly on the same side, the National Socialists and nationalist paramilitaries like the Stahlhelm, Wehrwolf, Kampfring, etc. had competed and occasionally fought against one another during the ‘time of struggle’, and the peace between them after 1933 was uneasy. In this excerpt von Salomon describes how the paramilitary he was associated with – the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, headed by the eponymous, infamous nationalist revolutionary Captain Hermann Ehrhardt (“the Kapitän”) – was swallowed whole by the National Socialists like the Stahlhelm and all the others. The Ehrhardt Brigade had taken part in the Kapp Putsch; it had provided training to the SA when it was first being established; its members (as the ‘Organization Consul’) had been responsible for the assassination of government ministers Erzberger and Rathenau; under the name Bund Wiking it had dabbled in plotting revolution; and yet now it could no longer independently exist in the Third Reich it had longed to bring to power. On 17th July, 1933, as von Salomon describes below, the Brigade took part in a ceremony at Saaleck to both honor its fallen martyrs and to finally publicly commit its loyalty to Hitler’s government. A month later the Marinebrigade was incorporated as an independent unit of the SS. Less than a year after that, in February 1934, its independence was annulled, it was dissolved, and its members expelled or absorbed. Four months on and Kapitän Ehrhardt was forced to flee his fatherland lest he meet the same fate as Röhm or Schleicher. von Salomon’s description of these events is bitter; a man who fought and yearned for a nationalist Germany, yet was appalled at the betrayals this resulted in. 

The nationalist militant organisations had ‘profited’ by the National-Socialists’ seizure of power. As the result of a compromise within the ‘national government,’ which had included such non-National-Socialist ministers as Hugenberg, Seldte and Papen, they had been placed on an equal footing with the Party’s organisations – which meant that they might do part of the latters’ dirty work. The SA and they received a sort of authority to act as police.

“Wonderful, wonderful,” I remarked to the Kapitän. “Just what we always wanted!”

The Kapitän said angrily:

“God knows, I don’t wish to see you in a spot where you’ll be glad I kept the Brigade together.”

The Kapitän had appointed Walther Muthmann commandant of the Berlin division of the Brigade, a force of some fifty unemployed seamen whom the Kapitän had set up in a home and who wore the old, grey uniform of the navy with the imperial crown on their buttons and the Viking ship on their sleeve. They did nothing but sit about in the home and cost the Kapitän a considerable amount of money. But there they were, and Muthmann, also dressed in uniform and wearing the long loose officer’s cape, the spanier of the old navy, appeared everywhere as though behind him reverberated the tramp of a hundred thousand marching feet.

“Have you got guns?” I asked him.

“Not many,” he said. “A couple of pistols – but,” he added emphatically, “we clean them every day.”

At that time we were all living on the cheap fame of time passed, the Kapitän at our head. There was a splinter-group called, officially, the German National Youth League, and popularly the ‘green boys’ because they walked about in green shirts. This group had long been a thorn in the eye of the SA, and one day the SA fell upon them, and among the men arrested and lugged off to the SA headquarters in the Pape Straße was a member of the Brigade. Muthmann, in all the glory of his cloak, went there at once to demand the man’s release. But the SA just locked up Muthmann too. He was put in the cellar with the other arrested men and, like them, he was beaten up. But in contrast to the others this was no novelty for Muthmann, and he managed to fight his way through the SA men until he got to Group Leader Ernst. Bloody and bruised, he shouted in Ernst’s face:

“And you pretend to be soldiers!” Continue reading