William Walter Kay
This posting advertises the e-book – The Green Swastika – Environmentalism in the Third Reich - which can be found at:
Below are some excerpts from the book.
Nazi Germany was the greenest regime the world has ever seen. To an unprecedented degree Third Reich officials enthusiastically promoted: organic farming, reforestation, eco-forestry, endangered species preservation, extirpated species re-introduction, invasive species eradication, wilderness conservation, naturalism, neo-paganism, pantheism, sun-worship, Religion of Nature, holistic science and medicine, herbalism, animal rights, bio-centrism, wind power, bio-fuels, hysterical anti-pollutionism, back-to-the-land anti-urbanism, limits-to-growth and overpopulation propaganda, and apocalyptic anti-industrialism.
Such ecological sentiments were not merely the quirks of eccentric Nazis, nor were they held only by a fringe green faction within the Nazi Party, nor were they disposable propaganda motifs. Most Nazis, and most certainly the Party leadership itself, sincerely embraced ecological values. Ecological messaging played a crucial role in the Nazis’ rise to power and in their wielding of power.
Nature-worship was neither a peripheral nor an ephemeral phenomenon in the Third Reich. The Nazi intellectual vanguard disparaged humanity vis-à-vis Nature and mocked human efforts to master Nature. The trope of “Nature’s precarious balance” abounds in Nazi literature. Naturalist metaphors and parallels were standard features of Nazi rhetoric.
The naturalist-ecological mindset manifested in a wide spectrum of Nazi institutions and practices. Nazi forest and wetland conservation policies were extensive and extraordinary. An idolatrous nurturing of soil was basic to Nazism. Ecological ideas played significant roles in Nazi policies in conquered territories. Even the Third Reich’s modernizing tendencies exhibited pronounced ecological components.
Nazi propagandists deployed the overlapping credos of Social Darwinism, Political Biology, and Human Ecology to justify policies of racial supremacy, international war, social hierarchy, authoritarian governance, and corporatist economics. Aristocratic political structures were deemed expressions of Natural Law. Ecological arguments justified the Lebensraum doctrine. Social Darwinist arguments provided a pseudo-scientific rationale for the Holocaust. Nazis murdered in the name of Nature. (1)
At the taproot of Nazi environmentalism lay a German aristocracy, besieged by progress and struggling both to re-monopolize state policy-making and to comprehensively cartelize land markets. A resurgent aristocracy formed the nucleus of both German conservationism and German fascism. These were not two separate movements at a distance but rather a single, indivisible bloc.
Table of Contents
GERMANY: JANUARY 5, 1919 TO AUGUST 2, 1934
THE GERMAN ARISTOCRACY
The Aristocratic Nazi Connection
DARRE, SIEFERT, GORING, HIMMLER, HITLER
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXT
The Crisis in Germany: 1914
THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT AND THE THIRD REICH
The Early Movement
Six Major German Environmental Organizations during the 1900 to 1945 Era
Defeats and Frustration
The Oneness of Fascist-Conservationism
The Reich Nature Protection Law and Related Movement Achievements
A Tale of Two Nazi Era Eco-campaigns: Hohenstoffeln Mountain and Ems River
Obstruction of War Effort
Religion of Nature
Germany: January 5, 1919 to August 2, 1934
World War I Germany prefigured Nazi Germany. War began with a declaration, pursuant to the Prussian Law of Siege, placing 24 Generals in charge of civilian governance in 24 Imperial Army districts. The military engulfed the civilian realm. Partisan squabbles disappeared. Censors reigned.
At war’s outset an “Appeal to the World of Culture” signed by 93 of Germany’s foremost scientists and artists rejected claims of German aggression. Two weeks later 4,000 German professors expressed solidarity with the Kaiser and defended the invasions of Belgium and France. Pastors praised the “German crusade” as a “work pleasing unto God.”
WWI swallowed hitherto unimaginable resources and necessitated unprecedented centralization of production. Old taxes went up; new taxes came in. Governments borrowed unheard of sums. By 1916 bureaucratic controls blanketed labour and commodity markets. Regulations enmeshed the private sector. All phases of food production and distribution were policed. Black markets fed half the citizenry.
While the Eastern Front barely resembled industrial warfare, the Western Front debuted battle tanks, poison gas, aerial bombardment, and submarines. In July 1916 an Allied push to dislodge Germans from a 20-mile front in France’s hilly Somme area resulted in ten weeks of artillery exchanges and tank attacks. The Germans held the Somme at a cost of 650,000 casualties. The German Army Chief lost his mind.
After Somme, Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff established a de facto dictatorship. Hindenburg, of ancient Prussian aristocratic stock, attended cadet school at age 11 and served during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Fellow Prussian Ludendorff was born in 1865 unto an impoverished aristocrat father and wealthy aristocrat mother. He too went straight to military school and rose rapidly in rank. In 1912 Ludendorff broke with tradition by becoming a stump politician promoting increased armament expenditure. Ludendorff was the proactive junior partner to the twice-retired Hindenburg.
A declaration of “total mobilization” heralded intensified exploitation of human and material resources with minimal regard to civilian well-being, especially in occupied territories. Trainloads of Belgian and Polish workers pulled into forced-labour camps. Total War was, however, largely rhetorical. Generals shuffled papers, issued orders, but never really controlled industry. Total War came to mean: terrorizing civilians, blasting undefended towns, and flaunting the distinction between combatant and non-combatant; …crimes the German Army had been committing since 1914. (1)
In July 1917 Ludendorff and Hindenburg brought about the dismissal of Chancellor Hollweg in the blind hope some mythic strong man might miraculously materialize to re-invigorate the masses. He never materialized, and Ludendorff remained at the centre of critical decisions. (2) As the Western Front crumbled, the German High Command increasingly turned to parliamentarians, especially to the Social Democratic Party (SPD), for support.
WWI exacerbated pre-existing fissures within the SPD. Under the leadership of Friedrich Ebert (a monarchist saddle-maker cum bar-owner) the SPD supported the Kaiser’s war despite bitter opposition from militant factions within the party.
The SPD (est. 1875) was originally a radical, working-class, socialist party. Between 1878 and 1890 Chancellor Bismarck’s strict anti-socialist law led to thousands of SPD members being arrested. The removal of the anti-socialist law coincided with Bismarck’s controversial dismissal by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Thereafter, to maintain legality the SPD eschewed revolutionary rhetoric, anchoring itself to constitutional means.
Circa 1918 the SPD’s share of the popular vote stood at 20%. The party commanded a sprawling network of educational and cultural associations. More importantly, SPD-affiliated union membership stood to 2.6 million (25% of the industrial workforce). An equal number of workers were kept from any form of union membership by economic and political controls related to employment cartels and company-supplied housing. Non-unionized workers played key roles in the 1905 strike wave and in the 1918 November Revolution.
General Ludendorff’s 1918 spring offensive through the Somme began with a 6,000-gun bombardment followed by waves of infantry and armour. The German Army came within two miles of the Paris-Calais railway before being clobbered back. Two weeks of fighting resulted in 230,000 German casualties. Ludendorff sought psychiatric help. (In his retrospective book, The Total War, Ludendorff claimed Germany lost WWI because their commitment was not total enough.)
Finding Allied peace terms unacceptable Ludendorff insisted the war go on. After a range of civilian politicians refused to cooperate, Ludendorff handed his resignation to Kaiser Wilhelm II on October 26, 1918, departing for Sweden to convalesce.
On November 9, 1918 Prince Maximillian (Margrave of Baden), himself dubiously anointed Chancellor weeks earlier, announced the Kaiser’s abdication without consulting the Kaiser who was convalescing at the Belgian resort of Spa. Maximillian believed abdication would ensure favourable terms from the Allies and remove a pretext for revolutionary activism. He arbitrarily transferred the Chancellorship to the SPD’s Friedrich Ebert on the understanding that aristocrats would retain control of the military and that squelching revolutionary activism would be the new government’s first order of business.
The oligarchy found abdication unbearable. General von Einem suffered aphasia upon hearing the news. A shipping magnate committed suicide. Such drama foreshadowed the November Revolution’s collision with calculated obstruction from judges, generals, bishops, and professors.
Friedrich Ebert’s faction within the SPD considered the November Revolution complete when they attained power. Other factions within the SPD, along with splinter groups like the Spartacists and myriads of independent radicals, expected the revolution to go much further. In Berlin, and elsewhere, newly minted workers’ councils formed militias. Ebert’s faction formed their own militia funded by foreign governments and German elites. Ebert separately negotiated a secret pact with “Free Corps” Commander General Groener.
In December 1918 oligarchic elements formed the Union for Struggle against Bolshevism to prevent thousands of recently discharged freebooting veterans, the Free Corps, from re-entering civilian life. Free Corps men were first hired to aid “White” forces fighting “the Reds” around the Baltic.
The German oligarchy would avoid the fate of their Russian counterparts through either naked force or through alliances with lower-class parties who could supply a popular base. The SPD’s reputation as a workers’ party, and its connections to organized labor, allowed them to effectively stymie socialist revolutionary tendencies. On the other hand, the SPD’s democratic constitution, and its integration into unions with democratic constitutions, rendered them unreliable over the long term. SPD governance served as a stop-gap measure for oligarchic circles as they frantically fashioned puppet parties that were “socialist” and “worker” in name only. Military intelligence officers and aristocrats atop the Thule Society, Pan-German League, and the massive but short-lived Fatherland Party concocted the German Socialist Party in late 1918 and the German Workers Party on January 5, 1919.
The SPD and Spartacists both chose January 5, 1919 as a day of demonstration in support of the November Revolution. Even the Spartacists were amazed when hundreds of thousands of Berlin’s workers, professionals, and housewives poured into the streets, many of them haphazardly armed. On January 6 shops remained closed and crowds increased hourly. At an afternoon meeting at Ebert’s office in the Chancellor’s Palace, the head of the Prussian War Ministry picked SPD stalwart Gustav Noske to serve as Commander-in-Chief. Noske then departed for a Berlin suburb with Prussian General von Luttwitz to mobilize infantry and cavalry.
That evening Berlin’s demonstrators were ambushed by machine-gun fire from rooftops. Berliners were held in a state of terror for ten days while Noske’s and Luttwitz’s forces deployed artillery and aerial bombardment on revolutionary socialist strongholds. Similar crackdowns, directed by the SPD, occurred across Prussia and Bavaria. In Munich twelve leaders of a radical SPD faction were summarily lined up and shot by their erstwhile SPD comrades. In early March 1919, after revolution activism subsided, Berlin’s working class districts were subjected to house-to-house searches. As many as 1,500 Berliners, including women and teenagers, perished, many by firing squad. (3)
World War I traumatized Germany. Out of a pre-war Second Reich population of 67,000,000, over 13,000,000 performed military service. 1,700,000 died in action. 2,700,000 were wounded. 16,000 were executed for desertion.
At war’s end 800,000 veterans received invalid pensions. A third of the post-war Republic budget went to war widows, orphans, and invalids. 8,000,000 soldiers melted back into civilian life, leaving behind a rump army of hard-bitten lifers and fanatics. (4)
While eulogizing national sovereignty, the Versailles Treaty torpedoed German national sovereignty. Versailles transferred 13% percent of German territory and 10% of German citizenry to neighbouring states. The valuable Alsace-Lorraine region went to France and a Polish Corridor divided East Prussia from Germany. In annexed territories, a German’s private property could be expropriated without compensation. Germany also had to pay six billion British pounds in reparations.
The critical contest during the chaotic 1919-1926 period raged between the ruling SPD and the German Communist Party (KPD). The SPD functioned as the status quo’s bulwark despite its Marxist rhetoric. SPD ideologues skillfully used Marxist rhetoric to cloak a minimalist, reformist agenda. The legal battle for physical possession of Marx and Engels’ unpublished manuscripts exemplified the medieval-scholastic nature of this ideological struggle. Marxist polemics raged. All Germany read Marx.
The privileged strata atop the SPD made common cause with pro-democratic, pro-civil liberty sections of the business community. They feared an overly Marxist line might frighten these businessmen into the reactionary fold.
An assembly dominated by the SPD, Catholic Centre Party, and German National People’s Party met in Weimar from February to August 1919 to draft the Republic’s Constitution. These three parties won most of the seats in the subsequent 1920 election and thus formed the first government of the Weimar Republic.
Shortly after the 1920 election the Republic ordered the disbanding of a Free Corps brigade garrisoned near Berlin and affiliated with Admiral von Tirpitz’s Fatherland Party. In the morning of March 13, five thousand soldiers from this brigade, swastikas emblazoned on their helmets, marched through the Brandenburg Gates. Army troops protecting Berlin refused orders to block their entry. Free Corps brigade commanders, supported by Generals Ludendorff and Luttwitz, announced a new cabinet. The civilian government fled, leaving instructions to Berliners to “stop working, stop the return of bloody reaction.” The civil service walked off en masse as did workers running Berlin’s water, gas, transit, and electricity services. After five days of watching a million Berliners mill about at rallies, the coup leaders fled to Sweden. The Republic was restored. Ludendorff was absolved of his complicity.
In March 1921, SPD-led clashes with the Communists, complete with aerial and artillery bombardment, resulted in thousands of casualties. Nevertheless, the KDP grew, mainly through gathering splinters from the discredited and disintegrating SPD. The KPD soon led a mass movement.
The SPD relied heavily on the Free Corps to contain the revolutionary movement. Municipalities set up Home Corps militias. Political parties and trade unions formed militias. By mid-1921 over a million Germans belonged to some type of militia or paramilitary force.
The fledgling German Socialist Party dissolved into the more robust German Workers Party, which then renamed itself the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP, Nazi Party) in 1921. Ernst Rohm, formerly of Bavaria’s battle-hardened Free Corps Epp, commanded the NSDAP militia, the Imperial War Flag Union (later Storm Battalion, or SA).
Rohm, an Army Major thrice wounded (twice in the head), took up the mercenary life because he considered himself “a bad man.” Rohm’s war veterans recruited wayward youth craving soldiers’ fraternity and small handouts of cash. (Rohm’s clique were openly homosexual; openly hebephiliac.) (5) To this milieu Hitler preached that Marxism was a Jewish conspiracy. The Judeo-Bolshevism myth, from inception, masked a planned politicide of the labour movement leadership.
In 1921, after Germany missed reparation payments, France occupied Germany’s industrial Ruhr area. In 1923 France and Belgium, for the same reasons, again invaded the Ruhr. Vehement condemnation of the Versailles Treaty permeated Germany. In addition to foreign occupation, the Weimar Republic faced hyperinflation and the growth of a violent pro-monarchist counter-revolutionary movement.
The Republican government responded to the Ruhr occupation by ordering passive resistance. This spiralled. In mid-1923 over 300,000 Ruhr workers went on strike. Major work-sites formed autonomous councils and militias. Armed “Proletarian Hundreds” liquidated counter-revolutionary squads. The KPD, recruiting tens of thousands per month, now out-membered the SPD. The main trade union federation and their SPD allies fought against worker radicalization at every turn.
The Moscow-led Communist International did not yet control its German contingent. Nevertheless, Trotsky urged his German comrades to set November 7, 1923 as insurrection day. That autumn, however, partly due to the KPD’s entering into coalition governments with the SPD in Saxony and Thuringia, and partly due to pre-emptive attacks by government forces, talk of insurrection petered out. On November 7 only workers in Hamburg, never a KPD stronghold, rose up. Isolated, these insurrectionists were defeated, albeit after fierce street-fighting. Thereafter armed clashes subsided while KPD electoral activity intensified. In the ensuing years the KPD garnered up to 15% of the vote.
General Ludendorff maintained a fanatical following. In Munich, November 8, 1923, Ludendorff was honoured guest at a convention that tumbled into a beer hall. Nazis including Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess, Herman Goring, and Adolf Hitler relied on Rohm’s SA to force their way in to the hall. Hitler fired his handgun at the ceiling to get attention, then announced a plan, endorsed by Ludendorff, to begin a putschist “March on Berlin.” The next morning 3,000 marched toward Munich government buildings until they were hit by a fusillade of bullets from a police line. Sixteen putschists, and three police, died.
(Because Rohm’s mercenary career with Free Corps Epp had been partly bankrolled by the Bavarian Royal family, Hitler dispatched Rohm to request support from Prince Rupprecht for the planned putsch. Failing the first time, Rohm returned to Rupprecht’s court to kneel, cry, and beg – only to be rebuffed again.) (6)
Ludendorff was arrested following the putsch but immediately released. From 1924 to 1928 he sat as a member of parliament. (Ludendorff’s psychiatrist introduced him to a mystic-neurologist whom Ludendorff then married. His bride converted him to Divine German Faith – a religion claiming Germans were angels set upon by demons taking the form of Jews and Popes. Ludendorff’s following diminished as he lost mental coherence. His significance plummeted after 1928. He died in 1937.)
Hitler turned his prosecution into a show trial and became a celebrity. He received the minimum five-year sentence for treason and served eight months during which time he and Hess co-wrote the best-seller Mein Kampf.
In Mein Kampf Hitler described his war service as “the greatest and most unforgettable time of my earthly existence.” He parroted Ludendorff’s dictum that modern war is a People’s War to be fought “Totally.” Victory depended on Will. Those undermining the Will must be crushed.
In 1925, after Ebert’s death, the SPD-led government appeased the aristocracy by choosing 78-year-old General Hindenburg as their presidential candidate. In the later 1920s the SPD converted police forces under their command, including the 700-strong Berlin Police Department, into a de facto security service for the largest reactionary paramilitary – Steel Helmet. SPD credibility among the working class dissipated.
The November Revolution altered the political, not the economic, order. Weimar Republic reforms enabled the persistence of the ancient regime. Many German states sought possession of princely landholdings, usually through buy-outs. Princely houses ceded some property, then created foundations to administer much of the remainder, thereby retaining control of most of their land.
The Weimar Constitution allowed member states to confiscate property only with proper compensation. If princes and states could not agree on a price, the matter went to court. States often could not afford to pay the princes the huge awards handed down by judges whose tenures usually pre-dated the November Revolution. By 1925 over 100 cases were before the courts. The Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt’s lawsuit dragged on for the entirety of the Weimar Republic. A federal moratorium on claims in February 1926 further debilitated negotiations. In response to the moratorium, a broad-based coalition launched a referendum campaign on the following proposal:
“The entire fortunes of the princes who have ruled in any one of the German states until the revolution of 1918, as well as the entire fortune of the princely houses, their families and family members, are confiscated without compensation, in the interest of the general welfare.” (7)
Weimer Constitution Article 73 stipulated that before any proposal could be put to a referendum, a petition on the proposed question first had to be signed by 10% of qualified voters. For the referendum to succeed, over 50% of qualified voters had to vote “yes.” In 1926, qualified voters numbered 40 million.
Proponents of confiscation garnered 12.5 million signatures; hence, a referendum was called for June 1926. Campaigning was ferocious. President Hindenburg thundered against expropriation, as did the Nazis.
15.5 million Germans voted for confiscation. The “yes” vote far exceeded the “no” vote, and far exceeded the number of votes cast for any party in any previous German election. Nevertheless, it fell short of the required 20 million. The referendum was the largest experiment in direct democracy in human history to date. The level of support for confiscation shocked aristocrats, fueling their anti-republican drive. (8)
While the aristocracy organized themselves in various ways, three formations stand out: German Aristocrat Association, Steel Helmet, and Herrenklub.
Founded in 1874 by northern protestant nobles, the German Aristocrat Association expanded nation-wide after the November Revolution. The Association held conventions and published a periodical. Membership ultimately topped 20,000 (30% of German nobles). The Association demanded monarchical restoration. Membership could be revoked for supporting the Republic. Jews (1.5% of nobles) were excluded from membership through an Aryans-only clause passed in the early 1920s. In 1929, the Republic’s War Minister, fearing a coup, prohibited armed forces officers from belonging to the Association. (9)
The Association’s younger members eventually won out, and the Association became thoroughly Nazified long before 1933. After 1933 Chancellor Hitler maintained friendly relations with Association leader Prince Adolf zu Bentheim-Teckenburg.
Steel Helmet was an anti-Bolshevik, pro-monarchist paramilitary. Originally founded by a soda water magnate, Steel Helmet attracted substantial aristocratic support. General Paul von Hindenburg served as Steel Helmet’s honorary chairman until 1926 when he became President of the Republic. (10) Steel Helmet leaders included Duke Carl Eduard von Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha and all five of the Kaiser’s sons. A 1929 Steel Helmet rally in Munich featured all five Hohenzollern princes marching abreast. In October 1931 Steel Helmet, then numbering over 500,000, joined the Harzburg Front.
Founded in 1924, but with precursors going back centuries, Herrenklub was an exclusive discussion circle dominated by aristocrats committed to expunging Marxism. At its peak influence (1932-1933) Herrenklub had 5,000 members spread across 20 chapters. Its influential Berlin Chapter (which included co-founders Franz von Papen, General Kurt von Schleicher, and Hindenburg’s son, Oskar) met in an elegant building a block from the Reichstag. The Berlin Chapter was a fervent source of plots aimed at disengaging the German state from the German electorate. By 1932 President Hindenburg found himself surrounded by Herrenklubbers, and it was they who convinced him to anoint Hitler as Chancellor. (11)
By 1930 Germany was Continental Europe’s most industrialized country, with consumption levels on par with Britain. The percentage of workers employed in agriculture fell from 50% in 1900 to 33% in 1930. Germany was far more urban than Italy. Modernization endowed Germany with Europe’s largest and most militant labour movement. The Great Depression caught the Weimar Republic between the anvil of an organized working class and the hammer of world capitalism. (12)
Under pressure from the labour movement, the Republic improved unemployment benefits in 1927. After the Crash of 1929 these unemployment benefits became unaffordable. The SPD and the German National People’s Party dominated parliament but could not agree on a solution. Germany entered a permanent election cycle.
In March 1930 President Hindenburg, citing the emergency powers sections of the Weimar Constitution, arbitrarily appointed Catholic Centre Party leader Heinrich Bruning as Chancellor. Bruning remained Chancellor (and Foreign Minister) without a parliamentary majority until May 1932. Hindenburg’s signature was required on every Bruning decree; thus, Hindenburg leveraged large military outlays, and bail-outs of the indebted estates of his aristocrat cronies.
Unemployment and fiscal imbalance exposed structural disorder and exacerbated the impasse between urban and rural sectors. At the disequilibrium’s core, preindustrial elites struggled against elites of an emerging industrial order. Artisans and petty merchants resisted corporate capitalism. Rural nobilities resisted upstart urban politicians. A Manichean mindset reared in high society.
Counter-revolutionaries used “the Jews” as a lightning rod for popular frustration with economic dysfunction. Anti-Semitism swept Germany, with clergymen being its more brazen disseminators. Lutheran ministers updated their centuries-old ostracizing diabolism with “Judeo-Bolshevism.” In rural Germany illiteracy and primitive Christianity persisted. The Nazis recruited successfully in such areas in part by appropriating church-like features: hierarchy, disciples, shrines, symbols, incantations, hymns, and blind obedience.
During Prussian-born Alfred Hugenberg’s tenure as top executive of Krupp Industries (1909-1918) he personally acquired a media empire encompassing many German newspapers, a wire service, and the UFA film company. Hugenberg co-founded the Pan-German League and German National People’s Party.
As part of the 1929 campaign against reparations Hugenberg gave Hitler unprecedented media exposure including clips in weekly newsreels shown before movies in cinemas across Germany. This exposure shrapnelled the Nazi Party from its Bavarian base into every urban market. In the September 1930 election the Nazi vote spiked sevenfold. With 18% of the vote and 107 seats, the Nazis were suddenly Germany’s second largest party. Nazi membership before Hugenberg’s benevolence stood at 170,000; two years later it exceeded 800,000.
In 1931 Hugenberg founded the Harzburg Front to oust Chancellor Bruning and terminate the Republic. Hugenberg’s welcoming of the Nazi Party into the Harzburg Front triggered large donations from industrialists to the Nazi Party. Rohm’s prowess at street politics impressed this constituency. The oligarchy approved of SA (Brownshirt) violence but wanted to be insulated from it.
The Nazis were openly supported by many aristocratic houses, notably the Royal Hohenzollerns. Princely support was tremendously important to the Nazi Party and was recognized as such at the time. Princes made the Nazis respectable. Princely presence at Nazi functions added lustre. Princes helped recruit industrialists like the Thyssens, Krupps, and Bechsteins whose donations sustained the cash-strapped Party. The Princes contributed their own funds as well. Prince Ratibor-Corvey, one of Germany’s wealthiest men, was one of the Nazi Party’s chief donors.
The Nazis assured the aristocrats that despite the Nazis’ populist rhetoric, the aristocracy’s landholdings were sacrosanct. Aristocratic opponents of the Nazis, such the Wittelsbachs and Habsburgs, opposed not their violent anti-republicanism but their anti-Catholicism and pan-Germanism.
Aristocrats and movie stars graced Goring’s and Goebbels’ parlours well before 1933. Few from this set deigned to read populist screeds like Mein Kampf. While Nazi politicians posed as frugal commoners, they lived extravagantly, often treating themselves to lavish banquets.
Hitler and Goring repressed misogynistic impulses to charm aristocratic women. Princess Gisela zu Wied, a woman of maximum bulk and minimal beauty, maintained a busy Nazi salon. The princesses made Hitler “salonfahig” (suitable for a salon). To the horror of his plebeian comrades, they decked Hitler out in dinner jackets, starched shirts, and patent leather shoes.
What percentage of Germany’s 70,000 nobles joined the Nazi Party? This figure is unknown, but it would be starkly higher than the percentage of the general public joining the Party. The nobility were the most Nazi-friendly demographic cohort. Every noble family east of the Elbe River had at least one member in the Party. (13)
Of the known 270 card-carrying Nazi princes and princesses, 80 joined before 1933. A survey of 312 “old aristocratic” families found 3,592 Nazi Party members, 962 of whom joined before 1933. (14) Most importantly, many of the aristocrats who joined the Nazi Party after 1933 were already members of other fascist organizations. In Germany, as across Europe, the aristocracy formed the social nucleus of fascism.
Businessmen were divided, but most did not support the Nazis. Those who did settled into roles as neo-feudalism’s junior partners. Grassroots Nazi support in urban areas came from the lower middle classes: civil servants and teachers. In rural areas Nazi grassroots support came from tenant farmers, distressed artisans, and village shopkeepers. Rank-and-file Brownshirts were quasi-mercenary unemployed workers.
In the April 1932 presidential run-off election between Hitler and Hindenburg, Hitler garnered 37% of the vote. In July’s parliamentary elections the Nazis held at 37% winning 230 seats, thus becoming the largest parliamentary party. In the November elections Nazi support declined 4%. The crest had passed. Herrenklub rode to their rescue.
Chancellor Bruning loyally fought for Hindenburg in the 1932 election but fell victim to the intrigues of General Kurt von Schleicher who persuaded Hindenburg to sack Bruning in May 1932. The final straw was Bruning’s decision to divide some bankrupt aristocratic estates among their tenant-farmers. Hindenburg called this “Bolshevism.”
The next Chancellor, Bavarian land-magnate and cavalry officer Franz von Papen, had been a Catholic Centre Party parliamentary spokesman. An unreconstructed monarchist and aristocratic supremacist, Papen was determined to end democracy. He lifted the ban on Brownshirt activity and deposed the elected SPD government in Prussia. Defence Minister General von Schleicher organized a rival faction within Papen’s cabinet.
Hindenburg replaced Papen with Schleicher on December 1, 1932 but Schleicher was unable to garner parliamentary support. Schleicher offered to transfer the Chancellorship to Hitler provided that he, Schleicher, be given control of the military. Hitler refused. Schleicher tried to go around Hitler and form an alliance with Nazi moderate Gregor Strasser. This too failed. Strasser resigned.
Every political party had been financially bankrupted by perpetual campaigning. Putschists in the Brownshirts grew restless. Street fights assumed civil war dimensions.
In mid-January 1933 Goring convinced Hindenburg’s Chief of Staff that a Hitler cabinet would restore Kaiser Wilhelm II. Hitler promised Oskar Hindenburg that Oskar’s father’s estate would be transferred to Oskar exempt from death duties.
In late January 1933 a roomful of Herrenklubbers listened as Franz von Papen explained why only the Nazis could destroy the labour movement. Papen convinced the assembled to entrust the Nazis with limited power so they could do their dirty work. After the impending blood-letting, the Nazis would be shuffled from office and the Kaiser restored. A common resolve to crush the militant worker element, and to subvert the Weimar constitution, overrode any fears of Nazi levelling. Hitler became Chancellor on condition that Papen would be Vice-Chancellor and that the Nazi Party would be limited to two cabinet positions.
On January 30, 1933 the “Cabinet of Barons” was unveiled. Nazi ministers were: Dr Wilhelm Frick (Interior Ministry) and Steel Helmet co-founder Franz Seldte (Labour Minister). Joining them were: Franz von Papen (Vice-Chancellor and Prussian Commissar), Baron Konstantin von Neurath (Foreign Minister), Count Lutz Schwerin von Korigsk (Finance Minister), Baron Paul von Eltz-Rubenach (Transport and Postal Service), and General Werner von Blomberg (Armed Forces). Economics Minister Alfred Hugenberg clumsily adopted populist strategies that antagonized aristocrats. He was out in months.
The Hohenzollern’s point-man, Hermann Goring, took over the Prussian Interior Ministry, soon re-named the Gestapo. Heinrich Himmler captured Bavaria’s police forces.
Himmler’s “SS” (Protective Echelon), which began in the 1920s as a bodyguard for top Nazis, had grown into a black-trench-coated party-within-the-party numbering 50,000. The SS was the Nazis’ main bridge to the aristocracy. Originally composed of Free Corps mercenaries led by an aristocratic clique, by January 30, 1933 the SS had welcomed scores of princes, dukes, and counts into its upper echelon.
Chancellor Hitler was initially taken aback by the zeal with which his aristocratic coalition partners demanded violent repression. Old elites, in and out of the government, whitewashed Nazi aggression and lent credence to wild exaggerations of Marxist strength and militancy.
On February 1, 1933 Hitler issued a declaration blaming Marxism for German misery. On February 3 Hitler informed a meeting of armed forces commanders of his intention to “exterminate Marxism root and branch” and to “eliminate the cancerous ravages of democracy.” In attendance were five barons including Army Chief von Hammerstein and Commando-Group General von Seutter und Lotzen. Two weeks later Goring addressed 25 oligarchs at his private residence. He quoted Bismarck’s maxim: “Liberalism leads to Socialism.” The assembled pledged three million marks to a Nazi election fund. (15)
Goring had already ordered Prussia’s 54,000 police to attack militant workers, assuring them he would cover any excesses. During February he doubled the force’s size by deputizing SA, SS, and Steel Helmet men. Within hours of the suspicious Reichstag Fire (February 27, 1933) 4,000 KPD members were arrested. Communists gravely underestimated the resolve of their enemies and the capacity of the modern state. (16)
The governing coalition exploited the Reichstag Fire to have Hindenburg sign, and parliament sanction, emergency decrees terminating the Republic. In the patently unfree, unfair March 5, 1933 election, 39 million went to the polls (95% of eligible voters). Despite the terror, the SPD lost only 2% of their support, receiving seven million votes and 120 deputies. The Communists received five million votes and 81 deputies (all of whom were in jail or exile). The Nazis received 17 million votes (43.9%) and the German National People’s Party received three million (8%) – a bare majority but enough to assuage uneasy consciences. Thereafter most parties were dissolved. (17)
The new parliament’s investiture ceremonies were broadcast live and in meticulous detail on national radio from Potsdam, the Hohenzollerns’ shrine. Hitler greeted Hindenburg outside Garrison Church, near Frederick the Great’s crypt. Dignitaries in vivid regalia filled Garrison’s galleries. In the Emperor’s box Kaiser Wilhelm’s chair sat empty. Behind this vacant seat, decked in Death Head Hussar uniform, sat Crown Prince Frederick Wilhelm and his fanatically Nazi wife Princess Cecilie von Mecklenburg. With bells ringing and organ peeling, Hitler and Hindenburg strolled the aisle; Hindenburg pausing to raise a baton to Frederick Wilhelm.
At the post-investiture parade, Hindenburg and the Crown Prince, both more conspicuous on the reviewing stand than Hitler, saluted goose-stepping SA, SS, and Steel Helmet regiments. At the final ceremony at the Kroll Opera House, Frederick wore a General’s uniform and sat in the centre box. Hitler entered and marched directly to Frederick who greeted the Fuhrer with a straight-arm salute. (18)
On April 1, 1933, with the KPD dispatched, the regime moved against the moderate labour movement with another wave of arrests. A May 10 book-burning torched books with materialist, socialist, or class-struggle content.
The first concentration camp had opened at Dachau in March 1933. By July 31 Germany counted 27,000 political prisoners. The Jews arrested had been engaged in socialist or labour activism. The Nazis’ coalition partners were not overly interested in persecuting Jews. On April 1, when the Nazis announced a boycott of Jewish businesses and called for quotas on Jews in the professions, their coalition partners demurred.
Government money poured into Rohm’s SA. By mid-1933 over one million Brownshirts prowled the streets. By December 100,000 socialists and union militants had been interned, albeit no more than 27,000 at any given time. Abuse was rampant. (Executions are an unknown quanta. Aside from secret extra-judicial killings, over the 12-year course of the Third Reich, criminal courts condemned to death 16,650 citizens while doctors ordered over 200,000 citizens euthanized. Some indeterminable portion of these legal killings were political assassinations.) (19)
By December 1933 Brownshirts numbered two million (almost half being Steel Helmet transfers). While opportunists jumped on the bandwagon, the rank-and-file Brownshirt remained destitute and discontent. SA leaders were predominantly lower middle class. Rohm openly called for replacing industrial capitalism with a small farm and artisanal economy.
By June 1934 Himmler’s SS numbered 200,000 and commanded all police forces except Goring’s Gestapo. Resistance had been vanquished. Goring streamlined the camps, then transferred them to the SS when the number of inmates dipped below 10,000.
With the KPD and SPD dispatched, the aristocracy pressed the Nazis to deal with their rowdy and unacceptably plebeian SA subsidiary. Goring and Himmler convinced Hitler that his 15-year ally, Rohm, was plotting a coup.
On June 30 Hitler surprised Rohm in the morning before a scheduled meeting and had him summarily shot. Hess called an emergency meeting of the Munich SA at their Brown House headquarters. All who arrived died. In Berlin an SS-Gestapo team stuffed 150 SA leaders into the coal cellar at a cadet school, then pulled them out four at a time, charcoaled X’s over their hearts, and ordered recruits to fire rifle rounds into the Xs. The SA had no clue. Many died shouting “Heil Hitler.” Two-hundred assassinations were committed in 24 hours. Law professors rushed forth with justifications. (20)
Other purge victims included Gregor Strasser and his clique within the Nazi Party. General Schleicher and wife were shot to pieces over their breakfast table. Vice-Chancellor von Papen’s speechwriter and secretary were assassinated, the latter while at work down the hall from where Papen was sitting. Papen was kept under lock-step surveillance for seven days. He then resigned from cabinet; accepting a posting as envoy to Austria.
Media mogul Hugenberg read the tea-leaves and dissolved his German National People’s Party four days before the purge. He assumed a low profile for the remainder of the Third Reich.
The Rohm Purge, by dispelling any notion of Nazi levelling, was roundly applauded by the aristocracy. Hindenburg warmed to Hitler. On his deathbed, August 2, 1934, Hindenburg signed a decree uniting Presidency and Chancellorship, thus making Hitler a dictator. A snap plebiscite legitimized this. The “Marxists” remained the phantom focus of Nazi repression long past this moment of definitive regime consolidation.
In January 1933 Franz von Papen and his Herrenklub co-conspirators convinced President Hindenburg to unleash the Nazis onto Germany’s revolutionary socialist movement. After the bloodletting, so plotted Papen, the old guard would oust the Nazis and restore the Kaiser. Hitler became Chancellor on condition that Papen would chaperone as Vice-Chancellor and that the Nazis would be limited to two cabinet positions. The “Jewish problem” was a non-issue. Anti-communism formed brick and mortar of this coalition. (1)
Thus Germany’s ancient regime empowered Hitler to violently re-order their country. They eagerly endorsed: annihilating militant sections of the working class, perverting parliamentarianism, purging culture, and the building of the concentration camps. While Hitler’s deft sidestep during the 1934 Rohm Purge surprised the old elite, they remained loyal to the Third Reich. Complicity in Operation Barbarossa and the Final Solution capped their un-coerced collaboration.
Little of what now defines the Third Reich was novel. Fuhrer-principle, militarism, imperialism, racism, neo-feudalism, and obscurantism define the Second Reich. The Third Reich left Germany’s class structure largely undisturbed. Industry and agriculture were kept in line by bribery, intimidation, and restoration of stability. Business took advantage of labour’s decapitation and queued for government contracts. The Nazis swiftly forgot about the distressed artisans and farmers, hitherto their cause celebre.
Third Reich cabinet ministers never purged the civil service or judiciary. Policemen kept their jobs but saluted new chiefs. Economic policy continued to be steered by long-serving technocrats. Foreign Ministers, always aristocrats, oversaw a legion of high-born career diplomats.
Structural disequilibria were closeted within ultra-nationalist furies. The more time elapsed without challenges to the Nazis’ encroaching power monopoly, the more difficult challenge became. Aristocrats who condoned excesses gradually developed qualms about the juggernaut.
During the Third Reich’s first decade, aristocrats flaunted censorship laws, they cavalierly criticized the regime, they maintained contacts with relatives in hostile countries, and they disregarded currency trading restrictions. Hitler decried the “Purple International” but could do little. During this decade the Nazi state and the aristocracy were one and the same. Divergences, however, were foreshadowed after the Rohm Purge with Papen’s abrupt departure and with the Nazis’ stifling of monarchist societies and indefinitely postponing restoration.
By 1937, as weapons production hit high gear, everyone obsessed over the impending showdown with the Soviet Union. Earlier Hitler rallied Germany against Marxism; now he rallied Europe against Bolshevism. With rearmament absorbing the unemployed, the regime now faced labour shortages. New concentration camps were designed with production in mind.
Radicalization of Jewish policy tracked operations in the East. The Nazis launched a boycott of Jewish businesses on April 1, 1933, and a drumbeat of anti-Jewish regulations followed, beginning with a ban on the employment of non-Aryans in government. Still, even after de-emancipation (September 1935) little violence occurred. On Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) 36 Jews were killed and 25,000 were briefly thrown into camps. While Kristallnacht seemed more an echo of medieval pogrom than obvious precursor to Judeocide, in the same month Hitler predicted in a Reichstag speech that the impending war in the East would result in: “the annihilation of the Jewish people in Europe.”
In 1939 a smattering of aristocratic cliques dusted off Papen’s original plot and began flirting with stratagems to oust Hitler. They discovered one-party-states are two-edged swords. The Hitler Youth, SS, Gestapo, and the entire cultural industry were jealously ruled by a Nazi cabal. Goebbels overwhelmed Germans with a torrent of films, books, and press releases. He monopolized film production from script to screen. Every movie instilled Nazism and Fuhrer-worship. Radio became his medium of choice. Five million Germans owned radios.
Goebbels mythologized Hitler as the all-controlling brain. In reality, Hitler was an incorrigible bohemian who slept late and rarely got to business before noon. Hitler never mastered bureaucratic process nor even believed he should. He was seldom seen reading government reports, or even seated at a desk. Eschewing paperwork, loose talk assumed decisive significance. His erratic work routine and emotionalism worsened after 1939. He avoided meetings and hid in his Alpine villa. With Hitler missing in action Goebbels, Goring, Himmler, and Darre built states-within-states, collectively consuming most of the Reich budget. As well, first Hess, then Bormann built power bases as Hitler’s gatekeeper. (2)
In May 1940 after the Crown Prince’s eldest son was killed in action in France, tens of thousands of mourners lined up to view his casket. Finding this display of monarchist devotion threatening, Hitler ordered royals withdrawn from exposed positions. When the Kaiser died (June 1941), Hitler wanted a state funeral in Berlin where he could star. The Kaiser’s instructions insisted he be buried in Doorn. Hitler restricted attendance and blocked news coverage.
Germany’s dearth of natural resources divided the Third Reich between autarkists and exporters. Reichsbank President Schacht counselled increased manufacturing exports to pay for raw material imports. Goring counselled staying the autarkic course and conquering Eastern Europe’s oil and minerals. Goring prevailed. The Lebensraum doctrine of farmland scarcity would be prosecuted in such a way as to secure supplies of raw materials. The crusade against Judeo-Bolshevism sacralized geopolitical necessity. A combined war of conquest and quasi-religious crusade was launched in June 1941 under the banner: Operation Barbarossa.
(Barbarossa, “Red Beard” a.k.a. Frederick I, was a 12th century Holy Roman Emperor with Eastern ambitions. In the 1800s Barbarossa morphed into a mythic messiah. Wagner’s Siegfried heralded Barbarossa’s second coming. The Hohenzollerns postured as Barbarossa’s heirs; their Second Empire a revival of his Reich. Wilhelm I was commemorated with an equestrian statue on a mountain with a sleeping Barbarossa hewn into its slopes. The mountain became a venue for Barbarossa cult rituals, which after 1918 acquired anti-democratic modulations.)
From Operation Barbarossa’s outset, the emphasis was on capturing grain and petroleum fields. Goring demanded the Soviet oil industry be transferred to the German oil consortium. There would be no restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union. Moreover, unlike the French ruling class, which the Third Reich sought to subdue but not destroy, Soviet elites were marked for extinction.
Simultaneous with Barbarossa, Goring christened, and Himmler launched, the Final Solution. The 3,000-strong SS Einsatzgruppen, following on the heels of the invasion force, shot or drowned 800,000 civilians in the first six months of the war. Einsatzgruppen experimented with piping truck exhaust fumes into sealed trailers to economically combine killing with transportation. The first extermination camp (Chelmno) opened in December 1941.
Defeat at Moscow and the harrowing retreat in the winter of 1941-1942 ended the Third Reich’s winning streak. They attempted to seize back the initiative by capturing the oil-rich Caucasus. At this juncture Hitler replaced Eastern Front generals, many of them of aristocratic lineage, with men of more proven Nazi sympathies. This was mutation, not purge. (3)
A rumour circulated that a secret decree authorized the systematic removal of princes from positions of military authority. Prince Philipp von Hessen took the issue directly to Hitler in February 1942. Hitler assured Philipp:
“A decree in such a form does not exist and your sons can naturally become officers at any time. I must however, refuse entry into the army of the sons of Royal Houses who have either verbally or by their actions opposed the National Socialist State or me.” (4)
The circumscribing of princely military authority proceeded cautiously. Prince Friedrich Karl Hohenzollern continued to occupy a commanding position in the Sixth Army advancing on Stalingrad. Prince Georg Wilhelm von Hannover remained General Staff Officer over the Second Panzer Group’s operations at Smolensk. Princes Ernst August von Hannover and Ludwig von Hessen-Darmstadt remained on active Eastern Front duty.
Hitler had declared Total War on January 10, 1942. Ten days later, armament industry executives met in Berlin. On the same day, in the same city, the Wannsee Conference expedited the Final Solution. Participants in both meetings moved about in one small radius. Top priority went to the Army and to the production of oil and coal. (The energy crisis prompted pioneering developments in bio-fuels and wind power).
Stewardship of the Total War economy remained entrusted to the industrial and agrarian cartel bosses who had long served the Nazi state. They now concentrated on harnessing slave labour. Himmler’s rampantly expanding SS enlarged its slave force. SS business partners located their plants near or inside concentration camps. Slave labour was also tapped for mining and construction. Germany imported three million slaves in 1942. By late 1943 the Third Reich operated 1,000 slave camps. By war’s end, 25% of the armament industry workforce was slaves – part of a seven million slave-force then toiling under the Reich.
The Wannsee Conference approved three more death camps (Belzec, Sobidor, and Treblinka). The four camps operating mid-1942 would be the venue for 1.7 million murders. Zyklon-B gas chambers were pioneered at Auschwitz where another one million were murdered.
As Hitler’s camarilla steeled for war to the bitter end, they amped up their Judeo-Bolshevist hysteria. From 1942 to 1944 the Judeocide was ancillary to frantic production efforts. In 1944 exterminationists eclipsed productivists.
Aristocratic estrangement exacerbated mid-1942 following the defeats at Stalingrad and El Alamein. Many now feared the war was unwinnable. Naval losses and a growing French Resistance provoked suspicions of spy networks. Prince Welf von Hannover’s discharge from the Army elicited protests from princely families. Prince Auwi (Hohenzollern) criticized Goebbels and was promptly dropped as a national speaker. Growing ever more anxious in 1943, Hitler sacked Wilhelm Frick as his Interior Minister, replacing him with Himmler who simultaneously fired his aristocrat-friendly adjutant Karl Wolff.
In May 1943 Hitler’s Decree Concerning Internationally Connected Men in the State, Party, and the Armed Forces subjected aristocrats to a vetting process to determine their suitability to keep their positions. The Decree remained secret. Reichsleiter Bormann informed Prince Richard von Hessen that any further involvement by Richard in the Army was “completely intolerable.” Richard’s brother Wolfgang was dismissed soon after. In December, Goebbels pleaded with Hitler to allow him to keep Prince Friedrich zu Schaumburg-Lippe on his staff. Hitler conceded. Prince Friedrich blamed Bormann for the May 1943 Decree, calling Bormann “a Marxist.”
The July 1943 overthrow of Mussolini by Italian aristocrats stunned Nazi leaders and further aroused suspicion of the princes. A 1944 document lists 39 princes recently ejected from the Wehrmacht. These included ten Hohenzollerns, and members from the Hannover, Habsburg, and Hessen families. (The document lists 17 princes still serving in active posts.)
The principal conspirators in the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler were: Count Claus von Stauffenberg, Count Ewald von Kliest-Schmenzin, Count Helmuth James von Moltke, Count Wolf-Heinrich von Helldorf, Count Friedrich Werner von der Wartenburg, Baron Rudolf von Gersdorff, and Count Peter Yorck von Wartenburg. As well, Prince Louis Hohenzollern expressed a willingness to lend support. Crown Prince Wilhelm’s adjutant, Count Heinrich Dohna-Schlobitten, was hanged for his complicity.
The July 20 plotters envisioned a “revolution from above” ushering in a corporatist, monarchist regime. While Prussians participated, many key conspirators, like von Stauffenberg, hailed from the southern, Catholic aristocracy. All had enthusiastically partaken in war crimes. This eleventh hour opposition had never protested the wars of aggression, the enslavement of Eastern European peoples, or the destruction of the Jews. They simply wanted out of a losing war and restoration of their pre-1918 arcadia.
After July 20, Nazi security services arrested a few thousand members of aristocratic families. Twelve Wittelsbachs went to concentration camps, as did ten Stauffenbergs and eight Goerdelers. A few hundred aristocratic family members perished in the camps, but most aristocrat prisoners were interned briefly and enjoyed privileged treatment. A rampaging SS liquidated 4,000 imaginary conspirators including some distinguished citizens and their obviously innocent relatives.
These bloodlettings were but hubris-laced drops in an ocean. The Third Reich murdered 5.7 million Jews, 2 million Polish civilians, and 3 million Soviet P.O.W.s. Untold additional millions of civilians perished during the sacking of 70,000 Eastern villages. (5) To this toll one must add the full body count of combatants in the European theatre, as responsibility for these wars of aggression rests wholly on the Third Reich.
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