chaos and terror in germany -- 10/07/15

Today's selection -- from Hitler's Art Thief by Susan Ronald. On November 8, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany abdicated and the Armistice went into effect three days later. In Germany, what immediately followed was fighting, atrocities, political chaos and national despair -- a period known as the "terror." The socialist and communist movements quickly coalesced in November 1918, but by May 1919 they had been snuffed out and the Weimer Republic, which lasted 14 years, emerged as the new government of Germany:

"[In] November [1918], a large group of Socialist and Communist soldiers had risen up as the Spartacus League, named after the Greek slave who rebelled against the Romans. This prompted [Hjalmar] Schacht and other members of the Klub von 1914 to form the Deutsche Demokratische Partei (DDP), or German Democratic Party. It was intended to provide a centrist political movement in response to the excesses of both Left and Right, which the DDP believed the Zentrum Party did not fill. Their aim was to give Germany conservative, yet enlightened, solutions to the troubled times ahead. ...

"Spartakus at work", propaganda poster
against the Spartacus League, 1919

"Schacht and the DDP sensed the need to present an alternative to the poisonous rhetoric of both Left and Right. The armistice was signed at 5:10 a.m. on November 11 by French general Foch, supreme commander of the Allied Forces, and the German High Command, led by Matthias Erzberger. ...

"November was so anarchic that everyone feared what the next day might bring, Bands of paramilitary groups, known as Freikorps, ranged everywhere. Hostilities erupted with the suddenness of an earthquake, only to subside and flare up again hundreds of miles away in seemingly unrelated incidents.

"January 1919 brought no relief from the 'terror' -- as it was called at the time. One of the key players actively working toward making Germany a socialist republic was the left-wing philosopher Rosa Luxemburg, nicknamed 'Red Rosa,' who had been freed from prison in Breslau on the same November evening that the kaiser fled to Holland. Together, she and her Spartacus League co-founder, Karl Liebknecht, began the Red Flag newspaper, which demanded amnesty for all political prisoners and the abolition of capital punishment.

"Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht attached themselves to the ill-fated German Revolution in January 1919 -- also called the Spartacist Uprising -- with the more militant Liebknecht persuading Luxemburg to help him occupy the editorial offices of the liberal press in Berlin. The result was catastrophic for both. The fledgling Weimar leader, Friedrich Ebert, felt compelled to restore order quickly, and called upon the paramilitary right-wing Freikorps to use whatever methods it must.

"On January 15, the first of the Freikorps political murders were committed. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were captured by the Volunteer Division of Horse Guards and brought to divisional headquarters at the Eden Hotel. There they were separately interrogated by Captain Waldemar Pabst. That evening, Liebknecht was the first to be led out from the back of the hotel, and was clubbed with the butt of a rifle by one of the guards, who had 'strict orders from the officers' to do so, before he was bundled into the back of a car. At a desolate spot along the Charlottenburg Highway, the car carrying Liebknecht stopped to let him out. He staggered forward a few steps and was shot in the back while 'trying to escape.'

"While Liebknecht was taken to his place of execution, Luxemburg appeared at the rear of the hotel, guarded by officers. Again the same guard swung his rifle, this time knocking out Luxemburg. She was dragged into the second awaiting automobile. One of her guards, Lieutenant Vogel, emptied his revolver into her bleeding head at point-blank range. Her body was then hurled into the Landwehr Canal. She was found some four months later, bloated and barely recognizable. The mother of German communism who had worked with Vladimir Lenin in 1907 at the Russian Social Democrats' Fifth Party Day in London -- had been unable to conquer militarism with her words. Her followers believed that her death and that of Liebknecht were declarations of all-out war.

"Armed outrages in reaction to their murders multiplied; wildcat strikes and atrocities became a common feature of life throughout Germany in the following months. Kurt Eisner, that well-beloved local hero of Munich, was murdered on February 21 -- shot in the back by the monarchist federalist Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley. Freikorps units of right-wing paramilitary groups were called upon by Ebert to invade other 'council republics' like Bremen, Hamburg, and Thuringia. Atrocities against the Left continued until May 2, 1919, when the last vestige of the left-wing resistance, the Munich Soviet Republic, which had replaced Eisner's free state of Bavaria, fell."


Susan Ronald


Hitler's Art Thief: Hildebrand Gurlitt, the Nazis, and the Looting of Europe's Treasures


St. Martin's Press


Copyright 2015 by Susan Ronald


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