100 Years of Nationalist Terror in Germany

The International Federation of Resistance Fighters – Association of Antifascists (FIR) commemorates the assassination of the German Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau 100 years ago. Anyone who examines the establishment of Nazi rule in Germany cannot avoid the fact that fascist murder gangs were already on the move in the Weimar Republic, seeking to destroy the “Jewish-Bolshevik enemy” with assassinations against democratic politicians.

The first victim was Matthias Erzberger, who had signed the armistice in November 1918 as a plenipotentiary of the German government. Members of the völkisch-nationalist Freikorps organization “Consul” assassinated Erzberger on August 26, 1921, and less than a year later, they carried out a hydrogen cyanide assassination attempt on Philipp Scheidemann, who had proclaimed the parliamentary German republic on November 9, 1918. Although Scheidemann was not a supporter of the November Revolution, he was considered a “November criminal” in the eyes of the extreme right. Scheidemann survived the assassination attempt of June 4, 1922, seriously injured.

The third victim was Walter Rathenau, who had been targeted by the völkisch-nationalist forces for several reasons. He was a left-wing liberal politician, but was considered a Jew and a “fulfillment politician.” Although he did not enter the German government until February 1922, he quickly became a target of völkisch propaganda. His major foreign policy achievement was the conclusion of the Treaty of Rapallo on April 16, 1922, with Soviet Russia, which enabled both states to break the foreign policy and economic isolation that had existed since the end of the First World War. This cooperation with “Bolshevism” intensified the hatred of the forces of the right. 100 years ago, on June 24, 1922, three members of the “Consul” organization attacked Rathenau’s car with a machine gun and hand grenade. Rathenau died on the spot.

The fourth victim of this series of violence was the publicist Maximilian Harden, who had repeatedly denounced the danger of the extreme right. He was one of the few publicists who defended the Treaty of Versailles because he was convinced of the war guilt of imperial Germany. This put him in the crosshairs of the völkisch-nationalist forces. He survived an assassination attempt on July 3, 1922, with a severe head injury.

The prosecution of the perpetrators proved difficult, as the police and the judiciary repeatedly tried to ignore the fact that this was a case of organized völkisch-nationalist terror. All those who could be identified were charged as “individual perpetrators.” Even when thirteen people stood trial in connection with the Rathenau murder in October 1922, because sufficient incriminating material had been found during a search of the headquarters of the “Consul” organization in Munich, the subject did not come up in the trial. In its reasoning, the court left open the question of whether it had been an organized conspiracy. The motive was seen as the effect of anti-Semitic slogans, so that this murder had been the act of fanatical “lone perpetrators”.

This series of murders shows that German fascism had its violent precursors. When Adolf Hitler, together with General Erich Ludendorff, staged his attempted putsch in Munich on November 9, 1923, as a “march on the Feldherren-Halle,” he had hopes that he would find enough militarily trained comrades-in-arms in the political environment. At that time, the seizure of power still failed. The assassination attempts on Walter Rathenau and other politicians, as well as the Hitler-Ludendorff putsch, were warning signals of the political dangers facing democratic development in Germany. However, the judiciary, security services and military were not prepared to protect the Weimar Republic adequately against this threat. In this way, they shared responsibility for the establishment of fascist regime in 1933.