Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Bands of Restless Men 2

1. Last week I started reading a book published in 1944. The first chapter talked about how a man named Alfred Rosenberg came across a book in Moscow that he was convinced was true. It told of a worldwide conspiracy by Jews to take over the world. Driven out of Moscow during the communist revolution, he found himself in Munich, Germany in 1918.

2. Munich in late 1918 was an extremely polarized place. There were the communists, who were energized by the Russian revolution a year earlier. (Lenin had actually spent some time in Munich previously.) But then there were also the discontented soldiers who had just returned from World War I, half infuriated, half demoralized.

War is heck, or something like that. In Bavaria in 1918, as in all Germany, there were many who had just returned defeated from World War I. Many of them had been sucked out of high school to fight, and all they knew was war. They had not trained for "normal" life. What they knew was how to kill.

Many of them were infuriated that the German leadership had surrendered. And what was worse, the terms were devastating. Germany was forced to pay the entire bill for all the Allied forces. It was a punishment they could not meet, that would have other consequences, as Keynes had argued.

3. On November 7, 1918, the anniversary of the Russian revolution, a Jewish socialist named Kurt Eisner marched through the city of Munich with a few hundred men and took over the government without a shot. The king fled. The generals and ministers fled. Eisner declared a republic.

Two months later he was shot dead on his way to resign. Three months after that the communists took over and declared Munich a Soviet Republic. A month later, the republic was restored, and Munich was reconnected to the rest of Germany.

4. The communists had killed ten people in all, in their final moments of power as the "White Army" marched on them. These were prisoners detained in conjunction with the assassination of Eisner. The author of my book even here says it was done by a fanatical subordinate against the will of the communist leaders.

The death toll on the other side made this act by a communist pale in significance. Fifty-three Russian prisoners from World War I all shot to death in a sandpit south of Munich. A priest in a village gave a list of twelve people who frightened him in town. The twelve innocent men were dragged to the Munich slaughterhouse and shot against a wall, along with several hundred others.

Heiden says this: "The drunken soldiery arrested, by mistake, Catholic workers, loyalists, enemies of the revolution and the republic; they murdered twenty-one persons in a cellar by order... of their captain" (22). The White Army went to one of the barracks. Every tenth man was shot at random. There was one person in the midst of the barracks, a spy, who quickly became the executioner--Adolf Hitler was his name.

5. After the republic was restored, these men went semi-underground, still discontented, still murderers. In public, the Allies were still around after the war, still watching. But there is a silent army of former soldiers, secretly stockpiling weapons. Anyone who might tell was eliminated. "One night we get into an automobile together. Two comrades 'happen' to be along. Out into the woods; we raise our gun to the fellow's head, and boom. That is how we fight against traitors" (24).

The minister who pushed for Germany to sign the Treaty of Versailles--shot in a dark thicket of the Black Forest. Opponents were eliminated. Politicians were killed. Judges and police turned a blind eye. Harry Potter no doubt was imitating life when it had the early days of Voldemort be days when people just disappeared.

There were patriotic revolts, led especially by displaced middle-level German officers from the war. "A fatherland rises up within the fatherland" (26). It is no longer the Germany of Luther or poets. It is not the place of the cathedral. The disaffected do not feel like it is their land any more. They belong not to Germany but to its "army."

6. There was a man sending out the murderous deplorables in Bavaria. His name was Ernst Röhm. New groups with new names under varying leaders kept springing up, but Röhm stood in the background orchestrating much of it. He was the one who founded the National Socialist Worker's Party. He took the clubs of talkers in back rooms and made them political. Rosenberg's ideas became actionable, as these groups hunted down Jews and beat them.

"Events have taught me," Röhm wrote in an autobiography, "that the leading stratum of our society is incapable of giving the German people the will to freedom." (33). "Only he who is without possessions has ideals."

"A broken people, a broken army, broken men. The new movement rises out of wreckage... The gilded troop met in feebly lighted beer halls... Officers became conspirators... Now they were with workers. Not with the main body of workers... but with the flotsam, the stragglers living on the fringe of their class, the workers at odd jobs and the unemployed. The declassed of all classes came together; those of the upper and the lower classes made common cause."

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