The Battle of Neumünster

“The flag is our symbol! We will not surrender it!” Three accounts of the infamous Landvolk farmers’ riot in Neumünster, August 1, 1929

Bauernfahne

The Landvolk movement (Landvolkbewegung, or ‘Rural Peoples’ Movement’) has become somewhat obscure today, but during the late 1920s and early ’30s it had an incredible influence over radicals on both the Right and the Left in Germany. Peasant farmers in Schleswig-Holstein, fed up with the terrible economic situation and the policies of establishment Social-Democratic or liberal politicians, began organizing collectively to fight back – a previous article on this blog, from Ernst von Salomon’s memoir Der Fragebogen, describes their often terroristic methods in some detail.  One of the most notorious events connected with the Landvolk, aside from their penchant for bomb-planting, was the infamous ‘Battle of Neumünster’ which took place on 1 August, 1929, in the town of that name. Prominent Landvolk spokesman Wilhelm Hamkens had been jailed on 1 July for inciting tax-strikes among his fellow peasants. Upon hearing that Hamkens was to be transferred for release to the town of Neumünster on 1 August, thousands of revolutionary peasants decided to converge on the town for a peaceful march and rally to welcome him back to freedom. The result was chaos. It was at the Neumünster march that the Landvolk peasants opted to fly their own flag for the first time – a black flag (representing both nationalism and German mourning), bedecked with a white plough (for their livelihood) and a red sword (indicating their fighting spirit), the three colors thus completing those of the old Empire. The police’s decision to try to confiscate the flag created havoc: battles in the streets, fingers and noses being hacked from bodies, farmers beating police with heavy ash walking-sticks. The three accounts excerpted below describe the Neumünster battle in quite vivid detail, clearly demonstrating how unstable the Weimar Republic was becoming as state authority withered and as a revolutionary spirit seized even those classes of society usually associated with stolid traditionalism. The first is a historical account from Alexander Otto-Morris’s excellent academic study of the Landvolk, while the other two constitute fictionalized retellings: one from nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s novel about the revolutionary peasants, the other from a well-known novel by Hans Fallada, who was a journalist in Neumünster at the time of the riot. 

Rebellion in the Province:
The Landvolkbewegung and the Rise of National Socialism
in Schleswig-Holstein (2013)
by Alexander Otto-Morris

Alexander Otto-Morris’s book Rebellion in the Province is, so far as I am aware, the most authoritative history of the Landvolk available in English. It is an excellently-written academic work which manages to be an easy, gripping read as well as deeply informative and thoroughly referenced. I have excised Otto-Morris’s numbered references to make the text more readable in a casual blog setting, but they indicate that he constructed his account from an exhaustive reading of police and governmental reports about the incident, as well as from contemporary newspaper articles. The excerpt below is taken from Chapter Six of Rebellion, which covers the movement at its peak over the course of 1929, before it descended into outright terrorism. – Bogumil

The plans for a rally in Neumünster became public after the Schleswig-Holsteinische Volkszeitung printed a letter written by Hamkens from prison to Johannes Kühl, requesting that a crowd meet him on August 1 [after being released]… Alarmed at this news, the provincial authorities took steps to avoid another disturbance. First, they arranged for Hamkens to be secretly moved to Flensburg as a precautionary measure. Then, on the day before his release, representatives of the Regierungspräsident travelled to Neumünster to meet with the town’s mayor, Lindemann, and police commander, Chief Inspector Bracker, seeking to prevent the anticipated demonstration. As the town’s police administrator, it was Mayor Lindemann who had the power to enforce the prohibition of open rallies and even of indoor meetings if they were deemed to pose a danger to the public peace, safety and order. In answer to the Regierungspräsident’s representatives’ pleas, however, Lindemann declared that he viewed a Landvolk rally as harmless and explained that rallies of the communists and the Republican-friendly paramilitary corps, the Reichsbanner, were always peaceful. Despite warnings that the Landvolkbewegung was more dangerous than the communists, especially because it was a movement without organisation, definite membership or leaders, Lindemann was unmoved. He could see no reason why the rally should be banned and was adamant that such events should be left to run their course.

Doubting that Neumünster’s police force, a chief inspector and 27 officers, were sufficient to maintain order, the provincial government representatives pressed Bracker and Lindemann to accept the assistance of a riot police contingent. In fact, so great was their concern, they even offered to put a further unit on call in Kiel. Bracker, however, was of the opinion that a riot contingent presence would simply be a provocation. Continue reading

Wanderers into the Void

The German Communist Party, National Bolshevism, and the ‘Schlageter line’

Ruhr_Occupation_Propaganda

“Hands off the Ruhr!”

The Occupation of the Ruhr

On January 11th, 1923, massed ranks of French and Belgian troops marched through the demilitarized Rhineland into the Ruhr Valley. “We are fetching coal,” announced the French Prime Minister Poincaré, and that, at least on the surface, provided the official justification for the aggressive occupation of the Ruhr. Germany had repeatedly defaulted on the reparations payments demanded of it by the Treaty of Versailles; France was due 200,000 metres of telegraph poles and several million Gold Marks worth of coal; and so 70,000 foreign soldiers trooped into Germany’s industrial heartland.

The German people, however, suspected that more cynical motives were driving the Gallic engineers and administrators who were now, under military protection, seizing German resources for forcible export to the West. Poincaré’s loathing for the German nation was infamous, as were French territorial ambitions on the Rhineland; in the eyes of many Germans the true purpose of the Franco-Belgian action was not to “fetch coal” but to permanently cripple and dismember the wounded body of the German nation.

Ironically, the attempt by France and Belgium to weaken the nascent German Republic instead created a united front of resistance through stoking the fires of German nationalism. There is no more effective means of inflaming a wave of patriotism than a foreign invasion, particularly in a nation already suffering from the humiliating wounds of surrender, war debt, political instability, and mounting hyperinflation. The immediate consequence of the occupation was the rallying together of those segments of German society which, up until the noise of French and Belgian boots tramping along Rhenish roads reached their ears, had been at one another’s throats.

Centre-right Reichschancellor Wilhelm Cuno declared his support for a campaign of local passive resistance. German industrialists refused to deliver demanded consignments of coal. Social-Democrats organized strikes and demonstrations. Unions joined with employers’ associations to raise funds for workers engaged in industrial actions. And the radical nationalists – Freikorps veterans, völkisch activists, and patriotic Verbänden, often supported clandestinely by the army – engaged in acts of violent reprisal, retaliating against massacres, arrests, and house searches conducted by French occupation forces with their own acts of sabotage, assassination, and terrorism. Continue reading