“We fought for the German worker!” Stormtrooper Kurt Massmann recounts a meeting-hall battle between Brownshirts and Communists
The following short account, ‘Saalschlacht‘ (‘Meeting Hall Brawl’), was first published in the 1934 book Kampf: Lebensdokumente deutscher Jugend von 1914-1934, a collection of reminiscences from members of various nationalist, youth, and paramilitary movements. The translation below was not made by myself, but comes from George L. Mosse’s book Nazi Culture. The original author of the document was Kurt Massmann; as an economics student in Hamburg and Rostock, Massmann had joined the SA and NSDAP in 1929-30 and became particularly active as a leader in the National Socialist Student League. After 1933 he worked as freelance journalist and writer for a number of different publications and contributed to books relating to Party history and ideology. He died fighting in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. Elements of Massmann’s account below might strike some readers as being difficult to swallow, although the author does present his story as factual. While it’s entirely likely Massmann is exaggerating or romanticizing certain aspects, situations such as the author describes really weren’t that uncommon. Pitched meeting-hall battles where chairs, glasses, and bottles were employed as weapons were a feature of political life, especially in the early ’30s. The literature is also full of accounts of former Communists joining the SA (and vice versa), including those who had previously had quite a good time beating up the ‘enemies’ who later became their comrades-in-arms. As historian Peter Merkl has remarked: “For the young in particular, changing from the Red Front to the brown shirt appears to have been no more unusual or consequential than change of juvenile gang membership…” The anti-capitalist aspects of the NSDAP’s ideology, along with its emphasis to certain demographics of its status as a “Workers’ Party”, contributed to the blurring of the lines between the two movements which made such membership transfers possible – as did the Communist Party’s own enthusiastic attempts to play up its militancy and nationalist credentials.
A Meeting-Hall Brawl
Once we held a meeting in a workers’ suburb. The meeting had been called by us National Socialist students.
It was a very small meeting hall. One SA troop sufficed to guard the gathering. Around nine-thirty another SA troop was expected to show up at the close of the meeting in order to protect the participants from possible attack.
At eight o’clock the giant Schirmer, who was to speak that night, rolled up his shirt sleeves and with a friendly smile spat into his hands, which were as big as an average-sized trunk. He had been in Russia for three years and was familiar with the whole swindle there. Upon his return to Germany he became a National Socialist with all heart and soul, one of those who cause shivers to go through the hearts of the timid bourgeois, anxious over the dangerous “Socialism” rampant among the National Socialists! A splendid fellow! A man to whom one could entrust all one’s money and who would sooner kick the bucket from hunger before he would take a penny of it.
It is said that one day he was introduced to the Führer. The tall, uncouth lad, who otherwise was never at a loss for words, just stood there, swallowed hard, wiped his eyes with his fore-paw, and finally stammered: “Well, Adolf Hitler…” and exuberantly shook his hand. Then he came to his senses, blushed fiery red – oh, holy miracle! – pulled himself to his full height, saluted, and marched off with a smart about-face. Continue reading