Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s experiences with the ‘Red Orchestra’ anti-Hitler resistance movement
The ‘Red Orchestra’ is one of those exalted historical resistance movements in today’s Germany, along with the ‘White Rose’ student group and the aristocrats & officers of the 20th July assassination plot. It seems to be a common theme on this blog that aspects of history are never as black-and-white as they’re typically presented in modern discourse, that reality is complex and that peoples’ motivations are rarely as easy to categorize as we might like them to be. This is the case with the Red Orchestra as with anything else. Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s friendship and association with two central figures of the Orchestra – Harro Schulze-Boysen and Arvid Harnack, as well as their respective wives Libertas (‘Libs’) and Mildred – is evidence enough of this. von Salomon was a Freikorps veteran, a nationalist revolutionary who endured multiple jail sentences for his involvement in anti-Weimar terrorist movements, yet when the Third Reich emerged his deep-seated open-mindedness and his natural aversion to the regime’s excesses saw him moving in circles as opposed to National Socialism as he had been to the earlier ‘November Republic’. Despite his obvious sympathy for Schulze-Boysen (a former national-liberal type whose links to far-left and far-right have seen him sometimes classified as a ‘National Bolshevik’) and Harnack (an Arplan-member given to nervously hanging around the Soviet embassy), von Salomon’s reminiscences of his exposure to their conspiratorial activities paint a picture that is more human than hagiographical. Like the subversive Organisation Consul with which von Salomon had once plotted murder, the Red Orchestra come across as full of the recklessness of youth, dangerously careless and more than a little flippant in their scheming of drawing-room conspiracies. The author’s depiction is of brave men, principled men, but men who were still nonetheless ‘teacup revolutionaries’, freedom-fighters in far over their heads. The section below is taken from Section E. of the English translation of von Salomon’s post-war memoir Der Fragebogen.
About the year 1931 a man named Harro Schulze-Boysen founded a periodical which he entitled Der Gegner (The Opponent). He explained to me that the crust which “the old men” had laid over us, which the last century had imposed on ours, was ready to break. He described this crust as being lethal to all true intellectual and spiritual life. He said that it was formed of the ideologies of an age that had achieved power too late and too unexpectedly, too feebly and too undeservedly, so that it knew not how to use it except through the dusty network of bureaucracy. Finally, he said, a younger generation had grown up in the shadow of that power which, though hitherto employing its outworn jargon, was yet now capable of making itself understood in its own language. “They are beginning to poke their heads through the clouds and to call to one another,” he said. He also said that his periodical was intended to give these youthful forces a chance to make themselves heard. It was to be a magazine for radicals, regardless of what particular platform they should speak from.
The man who told me all this was a slender, well-built, blond young man, with a rather stiff manner, carefully parted hair, and light, somewhat hard eyes. His words seemed unsuited both to his appearance and to his manner. When first I met him I had taken him for a junior naval officer, and as it happened his father was an admiral and he was a grandson of Grand Admiral von Tirpitz. He soon had many contributors to his magazine, young men of all political views, Catholics, Socialists, Communists – and, to represent the Nationalists, Ernst Jünger, Bogumil and myself.
When I returned from Austria Der Gegner was no more. The opponents, however, undoubtedly still existed. I ran into Schulze-Boysen in the street, towards the end of 1933, and failed to recognise him. He spoke to me. His features were very different from what they had been. He had lost half an ear and his face was covered with inflamed wounds that had scarcely yet healed. He had been arrested because well-known young Communists had contributed to his magazine. It was the SA who had treated him in the fashion to which his face bore witness.
“I have,” he said, “put my revenge in cold storage.”
He said it was his intention, with the assistance of his relatives, to enter the army. He may have felt that I did not think much of this idea, for he told me that he knew exactly what he was doing. It was a long time before I heard from him again. Continue reading