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“If These Trees Could Talk” A Visit to Buchenwald

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are beginning to wind up our trip to Germany staying with our friends Linda and Holger near Karlsruhe. As do so I am beginning to catch up on writing about some of the places that we have been to and things that we have experienced.

Last Saturday while driving from Wittenberg to Eisenach to meet our friends Gottfried and Hannelore we stopped at Buchenwald, a notorious Concentration Camp located on the Ettersburg hill and the Buchenwald Forrest near Weimar. The area is beautiful and serene, it is hard to imagine the evil that took place here. The deaths of over 50,000 people who died from being executed by hanging or with a shot to the base of the neck, being worked to death, starved, maltreated, and being used as Guinea Pigs for medical experiments cannot be removed by the scenery in the local area.

If you visit Buchenwald you will be surprised at how vast the camp is. The area most visited is the main camp, but two others adjoin it, though the visible markers are less numerous or obvious than at the main camp. Unless you have more than a couple of hours you cannot do it all. Had I had the time I would have liked to walk the entire perimeter, which you can do, but due to our schedule I could only spend about an hour and a half there.

At the gate there is an inscription which must be read from the inside of the camp. It states Jedem das Seine or to each their own, which the SS interpreted to mean that the Master Race had the right to humiliate and destroy all others.

Buchenwald was opened in 1937 as a place where the Nazi regime could imprison political prisoners as well as members of what they called untermenschen or sub-human. The former included Communists, Socialists, other political opponents, of course Jews, as well as people deemed “asocial” which could mean almost anything. Repeat offenders and habitual criminals, Roma and Sinti, Homosexuals, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the mentally, and the mentally or physically disabled. As the Nazi occupation of Europe grew to encompass most of the continent the list expanded to include the former as well as political, military, social, religious and intellectual leaders of those countries, and anyone else deemed a threat the Reich.

But Buchenwald was not a Death Camp. It had no gas chambers and those executed were killed up close and personal with a bullet to the base of the neck, being hanged in some manner, and in a few cases of Catholic clergy, crucified upside down. Yet it was a place of horror. General Dwight Eisenhower wrote after visiting the Ohrdorf sub-camp of Buchenwald subsequent to its liberation wrote:

The same day [April 12, 1945] I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.

Eisenhower was so moved that he ordered that the best reporters and newsmen come and record what he had seen. He did not want the horrors to be denied by history. He wrote:

I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that `the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to through the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.

One of those reporters was Edward R. Murrow who broadcast his visit to Buchenwald:

There surged around me an evil-smelling stink, men and boys reached out to touch me. They were in rags and the remnants of uniforms. Death already had marked many of them, but they were smiling with their eyes. I looked out over the mass of men to the green fields beyond, where well-fed Germans were ploughing….

[I] asked to see one of the barracks. It happened to be occupied by Czechoslovaks. When I entered, men crowded around, tried to lift me to their shoulders. They were too weak. Many of them could not get out of bed. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There were 1200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all description.

They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only names in the little black book — nothing more — nothing about who had been where, what he had done or hoped. Behind the names of those who had died, there was a cross. I counted them. They totaled 242 — 242 out of 1200, in one month.

As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they must have been over 60, were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it, but will not describe it.

In another part of the camp they showed me the children, hundreds of them. Some were only 6 years old. One rolled up his sleeves, showed me his number. It was tattooed on his arm. B-6030, it was. The others showed me their numbers. They will carry them till they die. An elderly man standing beside me said: “The children — enemies of the state!” I could see their ribs through their thin shirts….

We went to the hospital. It was full. The doctor told me that 200 had died the day before. I asked the cause of death. He shrugged and said: “tuberculosis, starvation, fatigue and there are many who have no desire to live. It is very difficult.” He pulled back the blanket from a man’s feet to show me how swollen they were. The man was dead. Most of the patients could not move.

I asked to see the kitchen. It was clean. The German in charge….showed me the daily ration. One piece of brown bread about as thick as your thumb, on top of it a piece of margarine as big as three sticks of chewing gum. That, and a little stew, was what they received every 24 hours. He had a chart on the wall. Very complicated it was. There were little red tabs scattered through it. He said that was to indicate each 10 men who died. He had to account for the rations and he added: “We’re very efficient here.”

We proceeded to the small courtyard. The wall adjoined what had been a stable or garage. We entered. It was floored with concrete. There were two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised; though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little.

I arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than 500 men and boys lay there in two neat piles. There was a German trailer, which must have contained another 50, but it wasn’t possible to count them. The clothing was piled in a heap against the wall. It appeared that most of the men and boys had died of starvation; they had not been executed.

But the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald. God alone knows how many men and boys have died there during the last 12 years. Thursday, I was told that there were more than 20,000 in the camp. There had been as many as 60,000. Where are they now?

I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words.

If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least sorry….

Allied prisoners of war, especially Russians and Poles were brought to Buchenwald. While many Red Army POWs were assigned to the work camps, thousands of other Soviet POWs were summarily executed upon their arrival and thus were never registered as inmates and are not counted in the official German numbers of those who died at the Camp.

In one of the more unusual instances, 168 Allied aviators from the United States, Britain, Canada, and other Commonwealth nations were transported to Buchenwald by the SS from France in August 1944. Normally such prisoners were the responsibility of the Luftwaffe. The men arrived at Buchenwald and remained for two months in the same conditions as the other inmates. During that time three died. The Luftwaffe found out about the prisoners and had them transferred to Stalag Luft III, a regular POW Camp in Silesia from which the legendary Great Escape had been made in March 1944.

One of the Canadians wrote of their arrival at Buchenwald:

As we got close to the camp and saw what was inside… a terrible, terrible fear and horror entered our hearts. We thought, what is this? Where are we going? Why are we here? And as you got closer to the camp and started to enter [it] and saw these human skeletons walking around—old men, young men, boys, just skin and bone, we thought, what are we getting into?

As for me the the cruelty of the SS to their inmates is horrible enough, but I think for me it was the larger scale use of the camp and it’s inmates for medical experiments by physicians that affected me the most. I have Robert Jay Lifton’s book The Nazi Doctors, but to see where and stand where these practitioners of evil did their work was difficult. Lifton wrote:

In all fundamentalisms, and they are usually religious or political, there is the sense of profound threat to what are considered fundamental beliefs and symbols, and a compensatory invocation of a sacred text (the Bible, the Koran, Mein Kampf) as a literal guide to every form of action. History stops so that murderous therapy can be applied. While medicine does not provide the sacred text, one can revert to ancient practices of shamans, witch doctors, and tricksters who could be expected to kill in order to heal. For physicians as well as charismatic spiritual physicians, there is a release from Hippocratic restraint.

Hundreds of inmates were injected with Typhus in order to test treatments for the disease. To test balms which could help victims of incendiary bombs, prisoners were exposed to White Phosphorus which caused massive and incredibly painful burns in order to test the treatments. Many other experiments were conducted by the SS Doctors of Buchenwald.

Almost all of the prisoners at Buchenwald and its sub-Camps were used as slave laborers for German industrial plants and armaments plants. The sub- Camp at Mittelbau-Dora (Nordhausen) which became independent from Buchenwald in 1944 was a key production facility for the V-1 and V-2 rockets. Under the direction of SS Gruppenführer Oswald Pohl and the Verwaltung und Wirtschaft Hauptamt, the Administrative and Economics Main Office, Fritz Sauckel, General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment who oversaw the efforts to bring extra laborers to the Reich, and Armaments Minister Albert Speer.

Buchenwald is both historical reality that cannot be denied, as well as an everlasting reminder of the capacity of supposedly advanced human beings can do to others. Man’s capacity for evil is limitless and Buchenwald is one of the great reminders of it.

As I listen to and read the opinions of many American supporters of President Trump I believe that such evil could happen again, this time in my country and at the hands of my countrymen. Honestly, I don’t think that most of these people are really evil. I think that most are simply deluded by years of propaganda put forth by the politicians, pundits, and preachers of the political right who play upon their fears of being displaced economically and socially by minorities, women, foreigners, and others deemed less deserving of having a chance to live the American Dream. In their fear they would excuse the actions of a government that would run Buchenwald and the other components of the Concentration Camp system, not only for punishing political opponents, but also using that system to exploit victims for economic gain without any consideration of them as human beings.

This is something that we have to remember now more than ever. For at least a few months the American President who is an admirer of everything authoritarian now controls all three branches of the Federal Government. With such power at his disposal, a compliant executive branch, a subservient legislative branch, and a Supreme Court in the hands of Right Wing ideologues it would be incredibly easy to pass something like the Reichstag Fire Decree or the Enabling Act giving the President unlimited power.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote these words not even two years ago.

The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.

I do not want to sound like an alarmist but I am beginning to doubt that the institutions so well designed by our Founders to withstand assaults on the Constitution by one or two branches of government can survive this. There is no going back from what has happened over the past few weeks and we will be very fortunate if our institutions survive in the manner that our Founders intended. The outward structure may survive, but the heart of those institutions will be destroyed, even if the Democrats regain control of the House and Senate.

Tomorrow we travel to Munich to spend the night before flying home Monday. Our trip has allowed me to me more reflective about the current American crisis without being immersed in it on a minute to minute basis.

I expect to post something from Munich so until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under historic preservation, History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Wade Page Nazi Thug versus the Respectable Nazis

Wade Page, the gunman who walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin and opened fire killing 6 members of that community was a Nazi thug. A member of the “Hate” music scene Page was a virulent racist and anti-semite. Even some of the bigger Neo-Nazi groups condemned Page’s action. However, that does not mean that they disapproved of what happened, just that the blatantness of Page’s action embarrassed them.

Page and his thuggish brothers are much like the Brownshirts, the Nazi bullies that intimidated anyone who stood in their way prior to the Nazi seizure of power and in its immediate aftermath.  They were useful tools of smarter and more respectable Nazis but often proved an embarrassment to the party. When the Sturmabteilung, the SA Brownshirts became a political liability Hitler and the SS made an alliance to eliminate the SA leadership and sharply reduce that organization’s power in the Third Reich. Men like Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich who planned and executed the Holocaust  held such thugs in contempt.

Page has put Neo-Nazi leaders and sympathizers on the spot. While Neo-Nazi and others like them believe and preach White Supremacism, anti-Semitism, and racism they at least publicly distain murder of people at worship. It is very hard for them to defend him to do so would be to expose themselves. However, I wonder if the victims had been Moslems if they would have condemned the action at all.

Despite the brutal nature of Page’s massacre of the Sikhs, his type of White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi is less dangerous to society than the “respectable” Nazis. In the 1920s and 1930s the quiet and “respectable” Nazis remained in the background. The were lawyers, judges, economists, police officials, teachers, engineers and physicians. They mingled with the mainline conservatives, nationalists and even monarchists. They served as civil servants, education or in the private sector and remained in the background. They were the respectable front of National Socialism. Many kept their party membership hidden from colleagues even as Hitler built bridges with industrialists, bankers and brought their party to the forefront of the German political scene.

After the seizure of power they were the men that drafted the Nuremberg Laws and the Enabling Act. They wrote laws on forcible sterilization, they ran the political, economic and bureaucratic organizations that used slave labor to power their economic machine. They sat around a table at Wansee and dictated the Final Solution to the “Jewish problem”  They were the men that engineered the Holocaust. But unlike the Brownshirt “thugs” of the SA they were respectable and tried to keep their hands clean.  Without them Hitler could not have succeeded in gaining absolute power or keeping it.

It is the respectable Nazis who hold back their more virulent ideas for the time that they can use the political system that they despise to gain power and government agencies that they rail against to enforce their agenda. This is exactly what National Socialist Movement leader Brian Culpepper of Tennessee advocates. He said “We insert ourselves into the infrastructure of other established parties due to the bias against us and the difficulty of third parties getting ballot access….” and that “We have people working with the most recent incoming class of freshmen in the House,…And they don’t even know it.”

The Wade Page type of Neo-Nazi or White Supremacist is easy to spot and until they do something heinous like Page did in Oak Creek most of us don’t take them seriously. Covered in racist tattoos and playing in bad bands they hardly seem a credible threat until they are caught committing a serious crime or murder.

However, people that hold similar views but are more subtle in their methods and presentation are much more dangerous. Just as men like Wilhelm Frick, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Stuckart, Ernst Kaltenbrunner and Otto Olhendorf were in the Third Reich these men and women are often well educated, come from good homes and mingle quite well. They lead think tanks, write commentary in national and local publications, websites and even provide commentary on cable news programs. They promote fear and pedal conspiracy theories involving those that they distain, accuse opponents of trying to destroy the country and refer to their opponents as liberals, socialists or communists or in league with radical Islamists. They publicly disavow violence but their ideology is that which those that commit violence use as justification for their acts.

Wade Page is a troubling figure but even more troubling those that hold the same views  and given the right circumstances have the money and political capital to bring them to fruition. One only has to look at the history of the Weimar Republic to see how easily this can happen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Current American Crisis and Drawing Comparisons from the End of the Imperial Germany

Revolution: Members of the Spartacists Bund in Berlin

Introduction

There are times when great nations face catastrophe. It is something that has befallen every world power at one time or another. Therefore it should not be a surprise if the United States despite the claims of those supporting American Exceptionalism succumbs to some great crisis which fundamentally changes it.  While I do not proclaim the end of the United States it does appear that we are experiencing events which have the potential of reducing our status as a great power and plunge the nation into political and economic chaos.  Some including California Governor Jerry Brown have compared the current state of the country to the division of the country in the American Civil War.

Likewise since there are some leaders of the loud and influential Tea Party movement who openly talk about revolution it is important to know what can happen if there is a political or economic collapse that leads to revolution at home while troops are still in combat. All of this happened in Germany in 1918.  In our current time such a possibility is higher than at any time in American History. Thus I feel we are in a potentially perilous time where long standing institutions are in crisis even while wars rage around the world.

However I do not, for all the vitriol spent believe that our current crisis is comparable to the Civil War except the absolute contempt that the opposing sides hold each other. The Civil War was a war which pitted region against region and our divisions know few geographic boundaries and even the “Red State versus Blue State” divide is deceiving.  It is my belief that what we are experiencing is much more similar to the crisis faced by Imperial Germany at the end of the First World War.  Then Germany was about to concede the loss of the war despite having known enormous battlefield success that lasted until the summer of 1918 when the tide of the war turned irreversibly against them as Allies collapsed and pulled out of the war was coupled with battlefield defeats, economic ruin and massive political and social unrest. The result of the collapse of Imperial Germany was a civil war and the foundation of the ill-fated Weimar Republic which eventually succumbed to the extremism and dictatorship of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party of Germany, the Nazis.

The German Revolution of 1919 and civil war is important for those who study highly developed states when they enter a period of social and political upheaval usually following military defeat that causes the society to question or even overthrow the established order.  The end of Imperial Germany and the establishment of the Weimar Republic on November 9th 1918 is a prime example.   This paper concerns the first years of the Republic, and the dependency of the Majority Socialist leadership to the General Staff and their use of Freikorps to quell revolutionary chaos and avert the establishment of a Soviet State.

Members of the Leftist “People’s Naval Division” occupied the government quarter and terrorized Berlin

This study begins with the establishment of the Republic and concludes with the Kapp Putsch.  This is an era that is seldom referenced by political or military leaders in western states and historians themselves are often divided in their interpretation of the subject.  The study of this period is vital to those who study politically polarized societies which are either war weary or have suffered the shock of military defeat coupled with a government which is blamed for the events.  Thus, it is important to study the relationship of the military to the government and in particular the military’s relationship to politicians who have little connection to or affinity for the military, its traditions and culture and the often adversarial relationship of these politicians to military leadership which often sees them as adversaries.  The period also shows how actions of those who in their antipathy to the military create a climate where the military loathes the civilian leadership and the government.  The results of such conditions can endanger the society as a whole and ultimately usher in periods of great tragedy.  This occurred in Weimar Germany with the result that the military in the later years of the Republic neither the military nor the Majority Socialists could not work together against the Nazi takeover of the state.  However, the first years of the relationship set the tone and foredoomed the Republic.

The Complexity of the Situation

General Wilhelm Groener convinced Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate and helped forge an alliance between the Majority Socialists and the Army to head off a Soviet style Revolution

The history of Weimar, particularly that of the military and Freikorps in their relationship to the Republic is complex.  Not only is the relationship between the military and government complex, but the Freikorps themselves, their organization, leadership and political affiliation were not monolithic as is sometimes maintained,[i] nor were the Freikorps the direct ancestors of the Nazi SS/SA organizations despite often similar ideology,[ii] nor can they dismissed by saying that they were composed of “former soldiers and officers ill-disposed to return to civilian life.”[iii] The Freikorps’ association with the Army and Republic is more complex than some historians assert.  Despite the right wing leanings of many of units and fighters and future association of some to the Nazis, the blanket claim that the Freikorps were forerunners of the Nazi movement is not supportable.[iv]

It is true that without Freikorps support in Munich, along with support of the Thule Society, business leaders and others “that the transition of the DAP into the Hitler party could not have taken place.”[v] It is also true that elements of the Freikorps branded too revolutionary and unruly for service in the Army continued as secret societies and affiliated themselves with various right-wing political groups.[vi] Likewise a case can be made that the fierceness of many Freikorps veterans, younger leaders of the Army helped lay the foundation for the brutality of both the Army and Waffen SS as they prosecuted the Second World War.[vii] Yet simply because certain aspects of a subject are true does not make for a broader “truth.”  Heinz Höhne argues the reverse of what some have written in regard to the relationship of the Freikorps and Reichswehr to the Nazis, that in fact the Nazis did not issue from the Freikorps, but rather that many former members of the Freikorps, Imperial Army or the Reichswehr were attracted to the Nazis, particularly to the SS by its “philosophy of “hardness” and its attitude of bellicosity per se, basically unconnected with ideology.”[viii] Others historians state similar views especially those that study the relationship of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  Thus the thesis of this paper is that the historiography like the period itself is complex; that the composition, leadership and motivations of the Freikorps were not monolithic, nor were they beloved by the Reichswehr, nor were they the “trailblazers” for the Nazi movement.  The focus of this paper is on the relationship of the Reichswehr and the Freikorps to the Republic to the Kapp Putsch and the dangers of a relationship built on necessity without mutual trust.  Such a relationship is dangerous and can lead to unintended consequences.   This paper will explore the first years of the Weimar Republic and specifically look at several key events that were pivotal in the relationship between the Army and Freikorps and the Majority Socialists.

The Supporting Literature

The literature covering this period includes both well written academic histories and popular works which attempt to present a particular view. Additionally there are biographical works which shed some light on the subject. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926 by Harold Gordon Jr. is perhaps the best study of the Freikorps and their relationship to the state and the army.  Gordon’s work is exceptional in documenting the numbers, types, political affiliation, action and ultimate disposition of the Freikorps.  The History of the German General Staff by Walter Goerlitz; The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945 by John Wheeler-Bennett, The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933 by F.L. Carsten and The Politics of the Prussian Army: 1640-1945 by Gordon A. Craig are all extremely valuable in exploring the relationship between the military and the Republic.  The best of the general histories of the period, which focus on the National Socialist state are The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher, and Richard Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich. Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart is one of the best for telling the story of the fall of the Empire and the revolution in Germany.  Watt’s account is well written and documented work and touches on other factors affecting the new republic including Versailles and Allied political actions. The final chapter of Holger Herwig’s The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 gives a good account of the Army’s role in the end of the Empire and beginning of the Republic.  Andreas Dorpalen’s Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic adds an interesting dimension of Hindenburg’s role in the republic’s formation and negotiations between Groener, Noske and Ebert. Steven Ozments’ A Mighty Fortress is superficial in its treatment of the period.  Nigel Jones’ Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler is an interesting and somewhat entertaining but not very well documented tending to “broad brush” in a sensational way the Freikorps having none of the detail or nuance of Gordon, Craig, or Carsten on the Freikorps, nor the depth of Goerlitz or Wheeler-Bennett on the Republic’s relationship with the Army, or the attitude of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Gerald Reitlinger’s The SS: Alibi of a Nation 1922-1945 and Heinz Höhne’s The Order of the Death’s Head all add some information which details early Nazi involvement in the period, but are less useful to this early period most of their work focuses on later events.  Of other works, Kenneth Macksey’s Why the Germans Lose at War has an insightful but short chapter dealing with this period and Wolfram Wette’s The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality offers an interesting and at times provocative look at anti-Semitism in the German military in the years following the First World War.  Carlos Caballero Jurado’s The German Freikorps 1918-1923 is a short but very detailed study of those organizations and their actions.  B.H. Liddell-Hart who has a small chapter on General Hans Von Seeckt in The German Generals Talk which though it does not deal with the events in this paper make for interesting commentary on later actions of former Reichswehr officers who served the Nazi state.

A number of biographies touch on actions of German Officers who played key roles in World War Two.[ix] Most auto-biographies gloss over the Weimar period; however Admiral Erich Reader’s memoir Grand Admiral offers the insight of a naval officer with some direct observation of the revolution and the Kapp Putsch.  General Heinz Guderian in Panzer Leader omits his service in the Baltic “Iron Division.”  Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s memoirs has a brief section covering the period, but one comment is typical attitude toward of many officers throughout its existence:

“My cup of bitterness was full when I saw my devoted work rewarded by a warrant for my arrest for an alleged putsch against the socialist-influenced command of my III Bavarian Army Corps. Notwithstanding the degrading episodes during my imprisonment after 1945, I do not hesitate to describe this as the most humiliating moment of my life.”[x]

One thing that has to be noted about all the memoirs is that each of the writers was writing after the German Defeat and their imprisonment. Many times their words mask other actions and attitudes that are  not mentioned, thus while an important source one also has to have some suspicions when using them even the unintentional errors that come from time as well as the human tendency to have a somewhat selective memory.

Analysis

President Friedrich Ebert and his military commanders including General Hans Von Seeckt (2nd from right)

This paper will first examine the formation of the Freikorps by the Army and the Ebert government in response to uprisings by armed groups of leftists and the effectiveness of the Freikorps in putting down the various uprisings.   We will then address the relationship of the Army with the Majority Socialists and then move on to the crisis engendered by the Kapp Putsch.

The relationship of the Republic to the Army was born in the moment of crisis of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the armistice discussions with the Allies.  Beset by revolts in key naval bases and mutinies aboard ships of the High Seas Fleet and unrelenting Allied pressure on the German armies in the west the situation continued to deteriorate as the “red flag was flying in all the principle cities, soldiers behind the front were electing soldiers councils Russian fashion.”[xi] Revolutionary and defeatist propaganda spread by the radical left wing of the Independent Socialists and Spartacus League spread through the country and even affected combat units,[xii] while the “Majority Socialists had found out that the militant factions of the Independents had secretly armed themselves out of funds supplied by the Soviet ambassador and adopted the slogan “all or nothing.””[xiii] The situation had deteriorated so badly that Karl Liebknecht, leader of the Spartacus League “was announcing the establishment of a Soviet regime from the steps of the Imperial Palace.”[xiv]

Under these dire conditions, General Wilhelm Groener who had succeeded General Ludendorff as Quartermaster General called an emergency meeting of fifty “of his most senior army commanders.”[xv] In response to his question of whether the troops would follow the Kaiser and oppose the revolts only one answered in the affirmative, and eight responded that “there was no hope of using regular Army units to quell unrest at home.”[xvi] On November 9th Groener went to the Kaiser on behalf of the Supreme Command and in response to a suggestion that the Kaiser lead the Army back and suppress the revolts boldly stated “The Army will march home in peace and under its leaders and commanding generals, but not under the command of Your Majesty, for it stands no longer behind Your Majesty.”[xvii] The Emperor abdicated fleeing to Holland and Friedrich Ebert leader of the Majority Socialists was named Chancellor on November 9th and upon hearing the news, Philipp Scheidemann, without consulting Ebert announced that Ebert was Chancellor and “Long live the great German Republic!”[xviii] The mobs were not placated by the announcement and far left organizations with the Independents “had no intention of letting the revolution stop there.”[xix] In the streets of Berlin soldiers sold their weapons and vehicles officers were attacked by crowds on the streets and whenever “crowds found an Army officer; they tore off his epaulettes and medals.”[xx] Everywhere mutual recrimination was in the air, soldiers “blamed revolutionaries for the betrayal and stab-in-the back while revolutionaries blamed officers for all the costs and losses of the war.”[xxi]

Groener called Ebert promising the Army’s support of the new government in return for the government’s assistance to the Army in the maintenance of discipline and supply.[xxii] He also drafted a letter signed by Hindenburg pledging the Army’s loyalty and telling him that “the destiny of the German people is in your hands….”[xxiii]One source notes: “Thus, in half a dozen sentences over a telephone line a pact was concluded between a defeated army and a tottering semi-revolutionary regime; a pact destined to save both parties from the extreme elements of revolution but, as a result of which the Weimar Republic was doomed at birth.”[xxiv]

The High Command was able to bring the Army home in good order following the armistice but upon arriving most units “melted away like snow under a summer sun,”[xxv] those which remained were often shells of their former selves beset by soldier’s councils and leftist revolutionaries.  To support the government the High Command issued a directive stating that it “put itself as the disposal of the present government led by Ebert without any reservation.”[xxvi] Yet in December delegates of the National Assembly continued to sow resentment in the military by military discipline be placed in the hands of soldiers’ councils, that all badges of rank be removed with all decorations of insignia and honor.[xxvii] Reaction was heated,[xxviii] but despite this Groener, Colonel Walter Reinhardt, the Prussian Minister of War and the Republic’s Defense Minister, Gustav Noske endeavored to find forces to combat the growing revolution and rebellious military units.  The choice was not hard, the Army was of no use, so called “democratic forces” were in most cases both unreliable and ineffective, while only the Freikorps “provided suitable material for the immediate creation of an efficient, combat-ready army.”[xxix] Thus the Freikorps became the instrument of necessity to ensure that the government was not swept away by a Soviet style revolution.

Gustav Noske and General Von Luttwitz. Luttwitz would lead the Reichswehr and Freikorps units that participated in the Kapp Putsch

Gustav Noske, of the Majority Socialist party “saw himself as a patriot, a man of action…who had no time for theories…and was one of the few Socialists that the Supreme Command trusted.”[xxx] He had already distinguished himself by helping to bring under control the sailors revolts in Kiel by forming a loyal “Naval Brigade”[xxxi] and he  “realized that the government must have a dependable military force behind it if it was to survive and rule Germany” and the “old Officer Corps must be the backbone of any such force.”[xxxii] The Army had melted away and units of the workers and soldiers councils were poorly trained, organized and led “”fought against the government as often as for it” and “were of little practical value to either the government or the rebels.”[xxxiii] In the chaos of a Spartacus, now called the German Communist Party uprising and vacuum of political leadership of January 1st 1919 agreed to become defense minister stating “Someone must be the bloodhound, I won’t shirk the responsibility!”[xxxiv]

Noske reviewing Freikorps Hulsen. Many of the Freikorps were composed of professional soldiers and brought into the Reichswehr

Noske helped by the High Command helped organize volunteer units led by officers and NCOs composed of reliable veterans.  Freikorps varied in size from divisions to companies and were led by Generals down to Sergeants and even a Private First Class.  Their greatest success was in early 1919 when the Republic was beset by “Red” revolutions in many major cities.  Without the use of the Freikorps by the government it is unlikely that the Republic would have survived.[xxxv] On January 4th Ebert and Noske reviewed the troops of General Maercker’s Freiwillege Landesjaegerkorps and Maercker informed them that every volunteer had pledged loyalty to the government, seeing the discipline and order Noske told Ebert “Don’t worry. Everything going to turn out all right now.”[xxxvi] On January 5th 1919 mobs attacked the Chancellery and the officers of the Socialist Vörwarts newspaper and Noske led the Freikorps[xxxvii] to regain control of the city[xxxviii] and crush the revolt during which “Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were lynched by the officers of the Guards Cavalry Rifle Division.”[xxxix] In March after a period of uneasy calm the Freikorps, now reinforced by the 2nd Naval Brigade, or Ehrhardt Brigade[xl] were called upon to put down the revolt of the “People’s Naval Division.”[xli] Making liberal use of heavy weapons including tanks the Freikorps inflicted heavy losses on the leftists with over 1500 dead and 12,000 wounded in the uprising.[xlii] Other revolts were crushed and the Freikorps reached their zenith in Württemberg where Freikorps led by Lieutenant Hahn, a Social Democrat put down leftist revolts[xliii] and in Bavaria where Independents and Communists had taken the city with their “Bavarian Red Army which numbered nearly 25,000 men[xliv] on April 7th. After failed attempts by the Socialist government to retake Munich, they asked for Berlin’s help.  Violence and massacres of citizens by the various leftist groups inflamed the Freikorps, including the Ehrhardt Brigade and the revolt was crushed by May 2nd.[xlv] Dorpalen calls the Freikorps ruthlessness “completely unwarranted in view of the weakness of the opposing forces” and noted though they broke the leftist powers they deepened the nations’ cleavages”[xlvi] while Macksey writes that “where Freikorps’ brutality stained the pages of history there was invariably a forgoing or simultaneous record of excess by their sworn opponents.”[xlvii]

The Erhardt Brigade in Berlin during the Kapp Putsch

The Provisional Reichswehr was established on March 6th 1919 and the High Command began to assemble it from the Freikorps, remaining Army units and Republican defense forces.  Some Freikorps were brought into the new Army in total, but the tumult had not yet ceased.  There was a great distrust between many in the Army, the remaining Freikorps and the Socialists.  The crisis was precipitated by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Noske and others threatened resignation over the war guilt clauses, but Groener warned that if the treaty was rejected the Army could not win against the Allies if hostilities were renewed.[xlviii] The treaty imposed harsh limitations on the German Army which many bitterly resented, however, Seeckt, the Chief of Staff of the Army felt that it was “more important to keep the Army in being and preserve the possibility of a military resurrection.”[xlix] Yet the government had lost the support of the Officer Corps and many looked to General Walther von Lüttwitz, the Reichswehr’s senior commander for leadership.[l]

Korvettenkapitan (Lieutenant Commander) Erhardt commander of the 2nd Naval Brigade whose announced demobilization triggered the Kapp Putsch. Erhardt would have to flee after the Nazi takeover. Even revolutionaries become victims as revolutions end

Other right-wing groups and individuals made plans to overthrow the government.  They favored revolt against the government, but “their political aims were hazy.”[li] Seeckt and Reinhardt felt it necessary to demobilize Freikorps who’s ill-discipline and political radicalism was a “danger to the consolidation desired by the army command.”[lii] This movement climaxed with the alliance of Lüttwitz to Wolfgang Kapp and was triggered by the orders disbanding the 2nd and 3rd Naval Brigades in compliance with Versailles and due to their radical views.[liii] In spite of the opposition of his chief of staff Von Lüttwitz began planning a coup to save Germany.[liv] The conspirators showed “little regard for coordination of effort and a quite amazing ability to work at cross purposes.”[lv] On March 12th without consulting Kapp, Lüttwitz and Ehrhardt launched the Putsch and Ehrhardt’s brigade in full battle dress entered Berlin. At this point the Reichswehr command froze; officers refused to condone the putsch but at the same time refused to support Noske and Reinhardt who demanded armed opposition,[lvi] while Navy officers openly supported it.[lvii] Seeckt declared that “Troops do not fire upon troops!” and “When at occurs, then the true catastrophe, which was avoided with so much difficulty on November 9, 1918 will really occur.”[lviii] The coup died amid massive strike by workers and lack of popular support but the damage was done.  Noske resigned, many officers in were discredited[lix] and dismissed including Lüttwitz and Admiral Von Trotha, who openly supported the coup,[lx] though Raeder says that Von Trotha and the Navy staff only” thought of anything of complete loyalty to the government.”[lxi] The relationship which had endured the dire days of the Republic was ended.  The Reichswehr would emerge a lean and highly trained organization and remain a power broker in the Republic but the animosity between the Army and the Socialists that they could not stand together against the Nazis despite a mutual interest in doing so.[lxii]

Conclusion

The end of Weimar and the beginning of a nightmare

The period was a critical and complex and should be studied by anyone living in a state with a powerful military tradition and institutions in crisis.  Unlike popular notions, the Freikorps were diverse and not the seed-bed of the Nazi movement and though many former members would become Nazis.  Several, including Ehrhardt narrowly escaped death at Nazi hands.[lxiii] Freikorps were viewed by Army leadership as an expedient force that could not remain in the service once the Army was functional.

Key lessons include that the military cannot become a “state within a state,” and that both military and civilian leaders must seek to bridge any gulf that separates them in times of crisis.  In Weimar both the military and the Socialists thoroughly distrusted one another with the result that they eventually, despite early success[lxiv] worked against each other in later years.  Actions by both Socialists and the military ultimately subverted the Republic and ensured its demise and Seeckt’s policy of separation from politics “tended toward a renunciation of the soldier’s potential restraining influence on adventurous statesmen.”[lxv] Such is the fateful lesson for today.


[i] Jones, Nigel. The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler. Constable and Robinson Ltd. London, U.K. 1987 and 2004.  This is Jones assertion and he attempts to make the tie using careers of some individuals who served both in Freikorps and either in the Nazi Party or Military and attitudes common in many Freikorps with similar attitudes found in the Nazi movement.  The 2004 edition of his work includes an introduction by Michael Burleigh echoing his sentiments.

[ii] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Group. London, U.K. and New York, NY. 2003. pp.227-229.  Evans discusses the fact that the Nazis did have a number of Freikorps veterans but at no point makes the connection that the Freikorps are a direct ancestor.

[iii] Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People. Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY 2004 p.246

[iv] Gordon, Harold J. Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1957.  Gordon’s work is perhaps the most detailed study involving the Freikorps and the Reichswehr. He is exceptional in discussing the relationship of both with the various political parties including the Nazis.  He refutes this assertion throughout the book.

[v] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship. Translated by Jean Steinberg. Praeger Publications, New York, NY 1970. Originally published as Die Deutsche Diktatur: Enstehung, Struktur, Folgen des Nationalsozialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Koln und Berlin. 1969. p.101

[vi] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954 pp. 91-92

[vii] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, U.K. 2004. p.28

[viii] Höhne, Heinz. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The Penguin Group, London U.K. and New York, NY 1969. Translated by Richard Barry. Originally Published as Der Ordnung unter dem Totenkopf. Verlag der Spiegel, Hamburg, 1966. p.54.

[ix] These include Macksey’s biographies of Kesselring and Guderian , Richard Giziowski’s The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Peter Padfield’s Dönitz: the Last Führer, David Fraser’s biography of Field Marshal Rommel Knight’s Cross, Messenger’s work on Von Rundsedt, The Last Prussian, and Höhne’s Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy all provide brief but interesting views of the actions and attitudes of these officers during the revolution and during the  Weimar period.

[x] Kesselring, Albrecht. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring with a new introduction by Kenneth Macksey. Greenhill Books, London UK. 1997. Translated from the German by William Kimber Ltd. Originally published as Soldat bis zum letzen Tag. Athenaum, Bonn, Germany 1953 pp.18-19

[xi] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.200

[xii] Gordon, Harold Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1957 pp.4-5 Gordon recounts the story of an entire replacement train revolting when it reached the front which had to be disarmed by a shock battalion.

[xiii] Watt, Richard M.  The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 1968. p.186

[xiv] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954. p.18

[xv] Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold Press a member of the Hodder-Headline Group, London, UK and New York NY 1997 p.445

[xvi] Ibid. Herwig. p.445

[xvii] Carsten, F.L. The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1966 p.6.  It is noted by a number of author’s that Groener did this, to maintain the unity of Germany and prevent its division.

[xviii] Ibid. Watt. p.196  Watt notes Ebert’s reaction as being enraged as the proclamation of the Republic technically “invalidated the existing constitution; Germany was now technically without a government.” (p.197)

[xix] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xx] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xxi]Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997. p.65

[xxii] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1955 pp.347-348.  Craig gives an interesting account noting the Groener’s call to Ebert shows recognition of the legitimacy of the new government and notes that the offer was somewhat conditional.

[xxiii] Dorpalen, Andreas. Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 1964 p.26

[xxiv] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.21

[xxv] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxvi] Ibid. Carsten. p.11. This was of critical importance as Carsten later notes that the Army realized that the government could not survive without its support.  Groener was perhaps the officer who most recognized the situation and endeavored to ensure that “the best and the strongest element of the old Prussia, was saved for the new Germany, in spite of the revolution.” (p.12)

[xxvii] Ibid. Carsten. p.18 Carsten produces the bulk of the English translation of these points and notes that the anti-military feeling had become widespread.

[xxviii] Ibid. Giziowski. p.66  Giziowski recounts the speech of Hermann Goering in response to the announcement. This shows how such treatment can breed anger and resentment in a military that feels it has been betrayed after serving its country in a long and difficult war: For four long years we officers did our duty and risked all for the Fatherland. Now we have come home, and how do they treat us? The spit on us and deprive us of what we gloried in wearing. I will tell you that the people are not to blame for such conduct. The people were are comrades…for four long years.  No, the ones who have stirred up the people, who have stabbed this glorious army in the back…. I ask everyone here tonight to cherish a hatred, a deep and abiding hatred, for these swine who have outraged the German people and our traditions.  The day is coming when we will drive them out of our Germany.”

[xxix] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxx] Ibid. Watt. p.168

[xxxi] Ibid. Gordon. pp. 19 and 24.  This was the 1st Marine Brigade, or Brigade Von Roden of which elements would later serve in under the command of other Freikorps such as the Guards Calvary Rifle Division.

[xxxii] Ibid. Gordon. p.14

[xxxiii] Ibid. Gordon. p.18

[xxxiv] Ibid. Watt. p.239

[xxxv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426

[xxxvi] Ibid. Watt. p.247

[xxxvii] Thee forces included the Landesjaegerkorps and Guards Cavalry Rifle division.

[xxxviii] Ibid. Gordon. p.30

[xxxix] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.36

[xl] This was one of two additional Naval Brigades formed by Noske after the success of Naval Brigade Von Roden.  It was one of the most combat effective but unfortunately violent and radical of the Freikorps, it would as we will see be a key unit in the Kapp Putsch but would not be absorbed into the Reichswehr.

[xli] This unit was not a Navy unit at all but was composed of many who were criminals and other rabble. See Gordon, Carsten and Watt.

[xlii] Jurado, Carlos Caballero. The German Freikorps 1918-23. Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK 2001 p.12

[xliii] Ibid. Gordon. p.42  His units were known as Security Companies.

[xliv] Ibid. Jurado. p.13

[xlv] Ibid. Gordon. pp.47-49. An estimated 550 people including 200 innocent bystanders were killed in the fighting.

[xlvi] Ibid. Dorpalen. p.29

[xlvii] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.45

[xlviii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. pp.57-59

[xlix] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.216

[l] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.61

[li] Ibid. Carsten. p.74

[lii] Ibid. Carsten. pp.74-75

[liii] Ibid. Carsten. p.76  Another consideration is that Noske, Reinhardt and Seeckt all were seeking to retire Lüttwitz.

[liv] Ibid. Gordon. p.97

[lv] Ibid. Craig. p.376

[lvi] Ibid. Carsten. pp.78-79

[lvii] Höhne, Heinz. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Cooper Square Press, New York, NY 1979 and 1999. Translated from the German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Originally published in Germany by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, München. 1976. p. 78.  Canaris also had been suspected of complicity in the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht but was acquitted. (pp.56-71)

[lviii] Ibid. Gordon. pp.114-115

[lix] Among them Maercker who had been such a strong supporter of the Republic in the early days.

[lx] Ibid. Carsten. p.98

[lxi] Raeder, Erich. Grand Admiral. Translated from the German by Henry W. Drexell. United States Naval Institute, Annapolis MD, 1960. Da Capo Press edition published 2001. p.111. This is interesting as almost all histories implicate the Navy High Command of either some complicity or at least agreement with the Putsch participants.

[lxii] The final part in the drama would come when General Kurt Von Schleicher became the last Chancellor before Hitler.  Schleicher had assisted Groener and Noske in the early days of the Republic and often attempted to use the Army’s influence in politics. He was fatally short sighted and was a victim of the SS “night of Long Knives” which was directed against the SA.

[lxiii] Ibid. Jones. p.266  Others such as Gerhard Rossbach had similar experiences.  Korvettenkapitän Löwenfeld of the 3rd Naval Brigade became an Admiral, Wilhelm Canaris , who was implicated in the Kapp Putsch but kept his career would later head the Abwehr and die in a concentration camp.

[lxiv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426  Gordon has a good discussion of this topic in his conclusion.

65 Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Published 1948 B.H. Liddell-Hart, Quill Publications, New York, NY. 1979. p.18 Liddell-Hart’s analysis of the results of the Reichswehr’s disconnection from the larger society and political process is remarkable due to current trends in the American military which like the Reichswehr has become somewhat more conservative and disconnected from society, exceptionally technically proficient but not adept in politics or grand-strategy.

 

Works Cited

 

Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure and Effects of National Socialism. Translated from the German by Jean Steinberg with an introduction by Peter Gay.  Praeger Publishers, New York, NY. 1970 Originally published in Germany as Die deutsche Diktator: Entstehung, Struktur, Folgen den Nationalsozialismus by Verlag Kiepenheuer und Witsch. Koln und Berlin.

 

Carsten, F.L. The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1966

 

Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1955

 

Dorpalen, Andreas. Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 1964

 

Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Books, New York, NY and London, UK. 2003

 

Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997

 

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

 

Gordon, Harold Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1957

 

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

 

Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold Press a member of the Hodder-Headline Group, London, UK and New York NY 1997

 

Höhne, Heinz. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Cooper Square Press, New York, NY 1979 and 1999. Translated from the German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Originally published in Germany by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, München. 1976.

 

Höhne, Heinz. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The Penguin Group, London U.K. and New York, NY 1969. Translated by Richard Barry. Originally Published as Der Ordnung unter dem Totenkopf. Verlag der Spiegel, Hamburg, 1966.

 

Jones, Nigel. The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed the Way for Hitler. Constable and Robinson Ltd. London, UK 1987

 

Jurado, Carlos Caballero. The German Freikorps 1918-23. Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK 2001

 

Kesselring, Albrecht. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring with a new introduction by Kenneth Macksey. Greenhill Books, London UK. 1997. Translated from the German by William Kimber Ltd. Originally published as Soldat bis zum letzen Tag. Athenaum, Bonn, Germany 1953.

 

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Published 1948 B.H. Liddell-Hart, Quill Publications, New York, NY. 1979

 

Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975

 

Macksey, Kenneth. Kesselring: The German Master Strategist of the Second World War. Greenhill Books, London, UK 2000.

 

Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People. Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY 2004

 

Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, U.K. 2004

 

Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954

 

Watt, Richard M.  The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 1968

 

Wette, Wolfram. The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, UK  2006. Translated from the German by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Originally published as Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskrieg, Legenden. S. Fischer Verlag Gmbh, Frankfurt am Main, Germany 2002

 

 

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Glenn Beck Attacks the Churches and Threatens Religious Liberty

Glenn Beck “Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”  (Fox News Photo)

Preface: This post comes in the midst of my Lenten journey in which I have become reacquainted with the works of those who confronted Nazi policies that placed their ideology over the Christian faith. During this time I was not expecting to begin to see certain commentators actually attempt to blatantly attack a key part of the witness of the Christian Church in telling Christians to place political ideology over faith and recommend that church members leave their church if it does not conform to those commentators’ political ideology.  As a historian as well as a Priest I can only draw parallels to the Nazis who placed their ideology above the Church and persecuted those who stood against them, even before they took power. Glenn Beck did just that this week, though not in power he has thrown down a gauntlet to the Church which does not agree with his ideology and strikingly urged church members to leave their churches if those churches had “social justice” as one of their belief’s equating it with Communism and Fascism. This is an attack on the church and as a Priest I cannot be silent. There would be some that will disagree saying that the Left is more of a threat and I do not disagree that ideologues on any part of the spectrum can threaten religious liberty, however I have never seen anyone as popular as Beck is with the Right, who on the Left propose what Beck has this past week.  That is why I must oppose Beck on this issue now. I do hope that my readers understand that this is not an attack on conservatives or conservative principles but rather against a man whose ideas if carried to their logical conclusion would be dangerous. Beck talks a lot about faith and religion on his show which attracts many listeners but he seems to believe that religious expression is one in the same with political ideology.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

“It is not God who divides us but human beings. The Almighty has blessed our work; therefore it cannot be destroyed. No power within or without the Reich will keep us from going our way into the future.” Adolf Hitler speaking in an address at Regensburg July 7th 1937 referring to the arrests of 11 Catholic Priests who condemned Nazi policies.

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” Martin Niemöller

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16)

The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.” The Barmen Declaration Article Three.

I do not think that people learn anything from history.  This week Glenn Beck called his own church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints “Communist or Fascist” its official statements of beliefs regarding social justice.  Now I may disagree with LDS theology but I hardly think them to be Communist or Fascist in fact I think for the most part they are to be commended for their love of this country as well as their ethic of doing good and taking care of needy LDS members.  Not only did Beck call his own church these rather pejorative names but he recommended that people not only leave the church but urged the same for any member of any church that espouses social justice in their official beliefs.  To quote Beck:

“I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

Beck went on the attack this week against churches who teach social justice.  The reason according to Beck is that “Social justice was the rallying cry—economic justice and social justice—the rallying cry on both the communist front and the fascist front….” He went on and attacked his own church saying “Where I go to church, there are members that preach social justice as members–my faith doesn’t–but the members preach social justice all the time. It is a perversion of the gospel….” When called out had to try to reframe his very clear attack on his own church’s official doctrine as well as so many other churches and religions groups.  Speaking as a Christian I cannot answer for other religions but Beck has attacked the clear commands of Scripture and the Christian tradition of caring for the least and the lost in elevating his ideology above both his own church as well as the vast majority of Christian faith and belief that goes back 2000 years.  He has sought to divide people from their churches and from the faithful of their traditions for political expediency.  However Beck is not the first to do so.  Let us take a trip back to the end of the Weimar Republic and Nazi era….

Niemöller in WWI Inperial Navy Uniform

Martin Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism.  This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.  Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.  However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church.  Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned.  He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists.  Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor.  Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens.  He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral.  Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist.  Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration.  He too would be imprisoned and survive the war.  Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Bonhoeffer in Nazi Prison in 1944

Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews.  He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”  He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity.  Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr.  For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war.

Karl Barth convicted of “Seducing the German people” and exiled to his native Switzerland

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth.  Barth angrily denounced Naziism when it attempted to create new “German Christian” churches in which National Socialist political theories were given the same sanctity as theological dogma.  Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen after being removed from his professorship at the University of Bonn for refusing to take the mandatory oath to Adolf Hitler, alter his teaching to meet Nazi standards or begin class with the customary “Heil Hitler!” He would say that it would be in bad taste “to begin a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount with Heil Hitler.” For his efforts he was found guilty by a Nazi court of “seducing the minds” of German students.  For an excellent short article on Barth see “Witness to an Ancient Truth” Time Magazine April 20th 1962 online at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,873557-1,00.html

Fr Rupert Meyer the “Apostle of Munich” and steadfast opponent of Hitler

Bishop Galen of Münster and Father and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church, the Jews and Nazi policies on euthanasia.  They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis, in fact over 2000 priests and Protestant ministers from Germany and occupied countries were housed at Dachau.

All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against in Germany as well as other groups, political and religious.  They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as well as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches.  Since I have dealt with the Nazi persecution and atrocities against the Jews and others in other posts I will not elaborate further here.

General Wilhelm Groener, despised by the Nazis for saving the by working with Socialists to prevent a Communist takeover

Not only were Jews the enemy but so were any parties that disagreed with the Nazi policies including the church or rather the church that refused to surrender to them.  Likewise military officers who stood by the Republic against Nazi and other right-wing putsches during the 1920s, men who risked all to defend the rights of people on both sides of the political chasm that divided the country.

Deposed after the Nazi seizure of power General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord was deposed as head of the German Army and in retirement worked against the Nazis including the Valkyrie plot until his death from Cancer in 1944

Leftist accused them of being reactionaries and Monarchists while the right did whatever they could to discredit men like General Wilhelm Groener, General Major Walther Reinhardt, General der Infantrie Georg Maerker, General der Infrantie Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord and General Kurt von Schleicher were either driven from office and ostracized, forced out of the military or in the case of von Schleicher killed by the SS during the “night of the long knives.”

Confidant of President Hindenburg, opponent of the Nazis and briefly Chancellor of the Weimar Republic General Kurt von Schleicher would be assassinated by the Nazis during the Night of the Long Knives

Additionally other men who kept the German Republic from becoming a Communist state notably Gustave Noske of the Social Democratic Party who was the first Reichswehr Minister and who with his successor Otto Geßler of the German Democratic Party worked with the military leadership to keep both the extreme left in the form of the Spartacist League, the Independent Socialists and from the extreme Right who attempted to overthrow the government in the Kapp Putsch.  All were treated shamefully by the Nazis and even their successors did not fare well, to consolidate power Hitler had the General Leutnant Werner Freiherr von Fritsch falsely accused of homosexual acts and disgraced and evidence points to his murder on the Polish front in 1939 as the “honorary colonel” of his old Regiment.  Those who opposed Hitler and the Nazis later in the war, even those who were genuine heroes were put to death before Nazi “People’s Courts.”  They did the same with politicians who they viewed to be threats to their rule, even conservatives not just Socialists or Communists.  Religious leaders who resisted both Protestant and Catholic were sent to concentration camps where many did not return from.

Too frequently we here Beck and others call Americans with views different from their ideology “traitors” or “un American.” Before Iraq I listened to talk radio almost every day and when I came back I could no longer stomach the invective and malice that is so widespread among these commentators.  If they continue to dominate “conservative” politics then I fear that they will use the power of the government and media to silence those that oppose them and it will not matter if the opponent has served in the military as they routinely condemn former high ranking military officers who disagree with them such. These propagandists are not patriots and neither Beck nor any of the major conservative talk show hosts have served a day in the military yet they influence “conservative” opinion more than anyone else and dare to slander those in the military or those who have served honorably including Senator John McCain who dare to disagree with them. The Nazis did the same thing.

Today we face a similar movement by some “conservative” voices in the United States.  Many influential members of the “conservative” media, including Rush Limbaugh and most recently Glenn Beck who I have previously referred to own the airwaves, their words listened to often more than those of the Gospel.  They derive some of their popularity from voicing support for “Christian moral values” such as being against abortion.  This has endeared them to many conservative Christians who listen to them more than their faith or religious institutions.  Unfortunately many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between the vitriolic and un-Christian rage of these talkers against anyone identified as the enemy that they have forgotten the Gospel and become simply an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians.  It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs agree lock stock and barrel Beck and others on the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war, even when they attacked Pope John Paul II when he refused to countenance the invasion of Iraq. Beck uses Scripture only to give his ideology, whatever it may be some semblance of decency.  What Karl Barth said of Nazi ideology can be said of Beck’s ideology: “This was a nationalist heresy…. confusion between God and the spirit of the German nation.” Pundits and politicians on the Left may also place ideology over religion however they seldom espouse the heresy of linking the Christian faith with the spirit and destiny of the United States.

That may seem harsh, but there is a group led by Andrew Schlafly the “Conservative Bible project” that seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with to the “Social Gospel.” I guess if Beck wants he can get a copy when it comes out.  If you don’t like what Scripture says change it…right?

I cannot sit by while Beck and others smear people including churches who disagree with their ideology which does not rest on Scripture or but merely uses it to inflame people into actions that turn them against the members of their own churches.  This unfortunately is evil masquerading as good.  Too many turned their eyes away from the Nazi menace thinking that Hitler could be reasoned with and that he really stood for their values.  Too few stood up early to sound a warning.  My issue with Beck and others like him be they pundits, talk show hosts, media personalities or politicians of any stripe regardless of whether they come from the right or the left do what Beck did this week I will call them on it.  People can play political games and fight all they want but when they attack the Church for political and ideological gain, seek to divide it against itself or co-opt churches to do their bidding then I have a problem.  I do not care if that threat comes from the Left as it sometimes does or the Right where a few years ago I would not think it was possible to come from. Unfortunately Beck’s message is main stream to many of his followers regardless of their faith and this is a threat to religious freedom for if those like Beck gained power then religious freedom would only be for those who agree not with Scripture or 2000 years of the Christian tradition but for those who agree with the ideology espoused by Beck and those like him.  It would be the “freedom” of the German Christians who gave themselves to the Nazi ideology to be “free.”  Ideas have consequences and when one advocates revolution and for people to leave their churches for any political ideology it is a grave threat to religious freedom.

Beck and those like him are enemies of freedom of religion. For Beck that cannot be blamed on being a Mormon. In fact he has attacked, perverted and misconstrued the doctrine of that church as well as the Roman Catholic Church and numerous Protestant denominations spanning the theological spectrum simply because he paints them “progressives” which is simply another word for Communist or Fascist. Beck is an enemy of religious liberty because he places his political ideology over that of the Gospel, not just that of his own church, but others.  That is why he should be opposed and confronted every time that he makes such statements. They reveal his true heart, ideology and intentions and no amount of backtracking, excuses or attempts to change the subject can alter that hard cold and brutal fact. His sleight of hand to go on the attack and criticize offenders on the left, notably Jeremiah Wright only clouds the issue and does not change the fundamental truth of Beck’s worldview. Likewise his attempt to separate the Church from the poor is destructive and if Christians want to follow Beck’s teaching then they chose evil over truth. As Father James Martin SJ said in America “Glenn Beck’s desire to detach social justice from the Gospel is a subtle move to detach care for the poor from the Gospel.  But a church without the poor, and a church without a desire for a just social world for all, is not the church.  At least not the church of Jesus Christ.” http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&id=21159420-3048-741E-7761300524585116

To again quote the Barmen Declaration”

“Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)

The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of th free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.” The Barmen Declaration Article 6

I am afraid of the Glenn Beck’s of the world.  We appear to be at a precipice that we may or may not be able to pull back from. The Nazis used the same kind of language to attack the Christian faith and co-opt the vast majority of them. Men like Niemöeller, Bonhoeffer and many others were sent to the concentration camps, tried by kangaroo courts and some killed.  I was on another blog where the discussion of this has been heated. I don’t like getting called a communist by allegedly “Christian” people who have bought Beck’s vision hook, line and sinker. If this is Beck’s version of the faith he can keep it.  Unfortunately the rhetoric is so high, the division so deep and the anger so real that I am afraid that the fuse of violence may have been laid and that nothing will stop it especially with Beck  and others stoking the fire on a daily basis on television and radio. Beck seems to be predicting and almost hoping for some kind of violent revolution seizing upon the now boiling anger on the Right and to some extent on the Left, anger that has consumed and co-opted so many conservative Christians is so great that at sometimes I wonder if this can end well though I do not predict civil war or revolution like Beck.

While I criticize Beck I cannot exclude from criticism those on the Left who have used angry, inflamed and hateful language and actions which also raises ante in ideological clash because it does take more than one faction to stir the witches’ cauldron of hatred which threatens not just religious liberty, but all liberty in this nation.  I will pray for peace, respect and mutual understanding and I will not give up hope or resign myself to despair as my faith is in Christ crucified and resurrected.  I will maintain the faith and remember the words of Bonhoeffer which help to undergird me in times like these:

“The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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