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Old March 27th, 2014 #1
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Default Organisation Consul (OC)

Hermann Ehrhardt, here in 1920 during the Kapp Putsch in Berlin.

Organisation Consul (OC), 1920-1922

The Organisation Consul, also called "Black Reichswehr", built in 1920 after the failed Kapp Putsch as a successor organization to the Marine Brigade Ehrhardt. The the Freikorps leader Hermann Ehrhardt (1881-1971) under paramilitary secret society was oriented right-wing and nationalistic, and working toward a violent destruction of the Weimar Republic. He presented a military-run organization with around 5,000 members, whose headquarters was in Munich. From the Organisation Consul numerous acts of political violence went out in the early Weimar Republic. Maybe she was already behind the assassination of the Bavarian USPD deputies Karl Gareis (1890-1921). Secured is their responsibility for the killings at the former Finance Minister Matthias Erzberger (1875-1921) and at the AEG-industrialist and Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau (1867-1922) and for the attempted murder at the Kassel mayor and former Prime Minister Philipp Scheidemann (1865-1939). Through the Republic Protection Act of 21 July 1922 prohibited the organization persisted in subsequent years as New German federal government and as a covenant Wiking.

Formation and development of the Organisation Consul

The "in the semi-darkness licensed illegality" (Gotthard Jasper) working Organisation Consul (OC) was a "Janus-faced entity" (Susanne Meinl) of the German post-war period after 1918. The organization ran both as a covert military organization with connivance of the imperial government, the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty and worked on the other as a terrorist organization by the German counter-revolution to the fall of the Weimar Republic through. It was after the failed Kapp Putsch Lüttwitz March 1920 at the instigation of officers of the disbanded Ehrhardt Brigade formed, the commander Hermann Ehrhardt (1881-1971), the arrest by fleeing to the "cell of order" Bayern had withdrawn.

A written charter, the "foreign race" explicitly excluded, made the "resolute national collection of men" to the task to make impossible by setting up a national government, the return of the present-day conditions. In this sense, the statute wrote the members of the Organisation Consul, "to combat anti-everything and international, of Judaism, of social democracy and the radical left-wing parties" before. Your Personnel backbone made 35 to 120 man strong "working groups" who were as intact cells of the dissolved Ehrhardt Brigade in the northeast and south of Germany rural shelter. Furthermore inlet was named after an assumed name of their submerged leader Ehrhardt Organisation Consul of units of the German Navy in the North Sea and in Flensburg, in which the able-bodied marine officers of the brigade had been taken over.

Under the benevolent toleration by the Munich police chief Ernst Pöhner (1870-1925) and disguised as "Bavarian wood-recycling society", coordinated the actual organization-Consul headquarters in Munich-Schwabing (Trautenwolfstr. 8) Since December 1920, the activities of their to protect Head Office at the Dekonspiration into districts divided local groups with the aim to repeat the failed coup in March 1920 right with better preparation. The de facto head of the Organisation Consul took Ehrhardt's chief of staff Alfred Hoffmann (1890-1933), under whose command in the Munich headquarters four rods together with about 30 salaried officers worked to develop the secret society to effective political and military weapon. Around mid-1921 commanded the secret society that financed his activities inter alia through arms smuggling and trafficking (including the Irish Republican Army), a staff strength of putatively at least 5,000 men, which should be ready to march at alarm within a few hours.

The paramilitary force of the secret society was during the 3rd Polish uprising (May 1921) visible when organization-Consul-members came together from all over the empire to assist in its own assault company of the Upper Silesian self-protection in the suppression of the rebellion fomented by the Polish side. Following the Organisation Consul was preparing to ward off further uprisings and with the financial support of the Foreign Office for the establishment of a separate regiment of 2,000 men, which should be expanded, if necessary, on the strength of a division. To this end, the Organisation Consul made ​​contacts with other paramilitary organizations such as the SA and established a branch organization for the recruitment of Austrian volunteer in Vienna.

Detection and reorganization of the secret society after the Erzberger murder in 1921

The public learned of the existence of the Organisation Consul after the attack on the former Finance Minister Matthias Erzberger ( Centre , 1875-1921). Erzberger was on 26 August 1921 have been persecuted and killed during a recovery vacation in the Black Forest by two men. The immediate bombers could evade the police access by fleeing to Hungary. The law enforcement agencies was extensive incriminating evidence in their hands. This rich wide extension and internal organizational structure of working with encrypted instructions and couriers secret society was exposed. Moreover fast access succeeded in the arrest of a part of the Munich line rod so that the Organisation Consul regardless of the discrete support they by the police and influential politicians in Bavaria as George Home ( BVP enjoyed, 1865-1938), excavated for and are smashed could.

In fact, the Organisation Consul reorganized underground amazingly quickly. At the same time Offenburg prosecutor prepared the indictment against the military head of the Organisation Consul, Manfred von Killinger before (1886-1944), and other members of the Munich headquarters for murder and secret societies. As a legal successor to a New German Confederation was founded in Munich. This should speed up Ehrhardt effort to infiltrate other paramilitary groups of German rights and their collection under his leadership and based mainly on the association of nationally minded soldiers. As the public face of the renewed Organisation Consul served a magazine Wiking specially created. At the same time a domestic "intelligence service" was built, who regarded himself as a secret replacement of the banned by the Allied defenses and successfully for connections to the Reichswehr tried.

The provocation theory and the assassinations of Scheidemann and Rathenau

In parallel, the Organisation Consul also renewed their terrorist wings to both for the case of a foreign policy conflict ("Plan A") as to be for a domestic crisis ("Plan B") prepared to take power. Ehrhardt's strategy was based on the experience of the failed Kapp Putsch. A legal coup could succeed only view if it was possible to draw the Reichswehr on your page. Ehrhardt's plans involved not to initiate the planned coup on their own, but to create a situation in which the national government would seek from external or internal political oppression itself out for the assistance of Ehrhardt troops. The Organisation Consul hoped as Freikorps underground on a renewed Polish uprising in the demilitarized plebiscite area of Upper Silesia to only representative of the Reichswehr knock him down and then use this to march on Berlin.

As a secret society, the organization pursued inside at the same time a "provocation strategy", which called for the release of an uprising from the left. Meanwhile, successful control in the service of the Reich Government would then use it to overthrow it and the the Republic. For this purpose, prepared the Organisation Consul for the summer of 1922 a series of bomb attacks, which were perpetrated by mobile terror squads in northern and eastern Germany. At the beginning of the series of attacks a cyanide attack on the Kassel mayor and former Minister President was Philipp Scheidemann (1865-1939) on 4 June 1922 in a forest near Kassel. Scheidemann survived because the wind drove the poison gas. In response to the failure of the assassination plan, the organization-Consul-group changed their approach for the subsequent assassination of the German Foreign Minister and AEG-industrialist Walther Rathenau (1867-1922). Rathenau was born on 24 June 1922 shot in his automobile when he was on his way from his home in Berlin-Grunewald to the Foreign Office.

The prohibition of the Organisation Consul 1922

A continuation of the series of murders was prevented by the government crackdown. Two Republic Protection Regulations (26 and 29 June 1922) and subsequent Republic Protection Act (July 21, 1922) banned along with other right-wing organizations and the Organisation Consul, and laid their organizational structure by rapid search successes lame so far that a continuation of the provocation strategy could be prevented. A connection attempt against the journalist Maximilian Harden (1861-1927) on 3 July 1922 did not go back to the Organisation Consul, but was perpetrated by right-wing free-riders. To successfully overcome the series of murders triggered by the political crisis also contributed significantly disciplined in the whole behavior of the Left and of the nationwide protest. This was not aimed at the overthrow, but to the strengthening of the Weimar Republic and its government, contrary to the expectations of the organization-Consul Guide.

Legal Findings and policy orientation

The judicial processing of the series of murders in front of the newly formed state court to protect the Republic in Leipzig put the nationwide network only, out of which both attacks had been perpetrated, and penalized the participation in two assassination attempts with some long-term prison sentences. The question of the responsibility of the Organisation Consul left the State Supreme Court, however, open and referred her own secret societies process, the opening of which, however, lasted a long time. Although the first again escaped Organisation Consul-chief Ehrhardt was arrested in November 1922 in Munich, but was able in July 1923 with the help of its own people again to escape from custody.

Ehrhardt founded on a concept power elite Wehrbund position in the German right-wing radicalism went against the putting on mass agitation Rally Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and its - originally founded with the support of the Organisation Consul - SA continuously lost. In November since 1923 , the previous at the Bavarian-Thuringian border to march on Berlin in position Ehrhardt organization (was "Bund Wiking" ) passive because Hitler repeated in Ehrhardt's eyes the fundamental strategic error of the March coup in 1920 and had missed an integration of the Reichswehr. Ehrhardt's subsequent efforts to find a collection of the "patriotic movement" under his leadership were based personnel and organization on the model of a contrite in the summer of 1922, Organisation Consul, but zeitigten after the end of the Ruhr crisis and hyperinflation no notable successes more.

The legal treatment of the "Org" complex took place only in 1924. She was clearly in a judicial character, which did not want to frustrate by the stabilization of the Republic, that they put the foreign policy compromising involvement of public authorities in the illegal rearmament of the "Black Reichswehr" open. The accused organization-Consul members benefited from a national consensus of silence, who honored their "patriotic motives" with quite diffractive acquittals. So was prevented over the period of the Weimar Republic and abroad, that the supporting role of the secret society came first pioneered in the time of the German counter-revolution from 1920 to 1923 to the attention of the contemporary public.

Ehrhardt himself assumed his military organization after the Nazi seizure of power, Hitler and retired to private life. During the Rohm affair in 1934 at risk of persecution, he evaded to Switzerland and went in 1936 to Austria in Brunn am Wald (market Lichtenau in the forest district, the district of Krems, Lower Austria) to manage a family farm until his death in 1971 by law enforcement to remain unmolested.

Organisation Consul was an ultra-nationalist force operating in Germany in 1921 and 1922. It was formed by members of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, a Freikorps unit which disbanded after the Kapp Putsch failed to overthrow the German Weimar Republic. It was responsible for the assassinations of the Republic's Minister of Finance, Matthias Erzberger, in August 1921 and Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau in June 1922. Erzberger was murdered because he was the German representative in signing the 1918 armistice.


The OC was created in 1921 by Captain Hermann Ehrhardt and some of his followers in the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt. They had been hiding out in Bavaria following the forced disbandment of Freikorps organizations after the Kapp Putsch of 1920. His fighters had formed the Association of Former Ehrhardt Officers which then became the OC.[1] The founders used Freikorps contacts to recruit members in dozens of cities and small towns all over Germany. Eventually it came to have districts encompassing large swaths of the nation.[2]

Mission statement

An excerpt:

"Spiritual aims:

The cultivation and dissemination of nationalist thinking; warfare against all anti-nationalists and internationalists; warfare against Jewry, Social Democracy and Leftist-radicalism; fomentation of internal unrest in order to attain the overthrow of the anti-nationalist Weimar constitution . . .

Material aims:

The organization of determined, nationalist-minded men . . . local shock troops for breaking up meetings of an anti-nationalist nature; maintenance of arms and the preservation of military ability; the education of youth in the use of arms.


Only those men who have determination, who obey unconditionally and who are without scruples . . . will be accepted. . . . The organization is a secret organization. "[


At least 354 people were murdered for political reasons, between 1919 and 1922.[4] Some notable victims are as follows:

Hans Paasche - Retired Naval Officer, Pacifist. Shot in front of his children in his estate at Waldfrieden, May 21, 1920 [5]
Matthias Erzberger – Politician. Murdered by Heinrich Schultz and Heinrich Tillessen, Aug 26 1921 [6]
Karl Gareis – Politician in the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. Murdered.[7]
Philipp Scheidemann – Politician. Assaulted with prussic acid in the eyes.[7]
Marie Sandmayr – Servant who reported an illegal arms cache. Murdered by Schweighart and others [8]
Walther Rathenau – Politician. Murdered by Ernst Werner Techow, Erwin Kern, and Hermann Fischer. June 24, 1922 [9]

The end

After Rathenau's murder, the OC became the Viking Bund. Related to it was the Olympia Sports Association (Sportverein Olympia) [10]

The Viking Bund eventually became related to the Nazi SA (storm troopers), but apparently by 1923, Hermann Göring writes that the Viking Bund had "declared war against the party and the SA".[11] In 1934, Ehrhardt was on the list of people to be killed by the Nazi party during the Night of the Long Knives purge, but he escaped, and was later invited back to Nazi Germany.[12]


The OC murders often took the form of a "Feme" – a secret court that rendered death penalty sentences on perceived enemies. It was named after the Femgericht courts of Medieval Germany.[13]

The OC had a front company, the Bavarian Wood Products Company, with a headquarters in Munich [6]

Ernst Pöhner was a great deal of help to the OC. He was the chief of Bavarian police, so he could do things like embezzle money to support the OC, and falsify passports for members to escape trial.[14]
Organisation_Consul Organisation_Consul

Walther_Rathenau Walther_Rathenau

Ernst_Werner_Techow Ernst_Werner_Techow

Organisation Consul (OC) successor in April 1920 to the Brigade Ehrhardt. Of the several Wehrverbände formed in response to the dissolution of the Freikorps, OC was especially infamous.

Organized by Hermann Ehr-hardt, OC made Munich its home since Ehrhardt (alias Consul Eichmann) was wanted by north German authorities for his part in the Kapp Putsch.

Widely tolerated in Bavaria, OC was elitist and militarily well trained. Hoping to sustain a radical Freikorps spirit, Ehrhardt focused less on creating a group of men devoted to him than on generating a corps of leaders capable of infiltrating other organizations.

Because Ehrhardt was persona non grata, OC was supervised by Alfred Hoffmann, while its military affairs were administered by Manfred von Killinger. Ernst von Salomon served as adjutant.

Although OC never exceeded five thousand men, the fact that other former Freikorps units were identified with it led officials to assume that it was far larger. Subordinate to its Munich office were thirteen Gauleiter (regional leaders), responsible for organizing and training auxiliary units.

Persevering during 1921-1922 with military training in both Bavaria and Silesia, OC participated in the Upper Silesian campaign of May 1921. (As the Versailles Treaty prohibited Reichswehr troops from entering the province, paramilitary activity in Silesia enjoyed the tacit support of the Weimar regime.)

While Femegericht was associated with several Freikorps successor groups, the term is especially associated with OC. As its goals included the "fomentation of internal unrest in order to attain the overthrow of the antinationalist Weimar Constitution," OC adopted assassination as its favored means of pro-voking unrest.

On 9 June 1921 members of OC shot and killed Karl Gareis, leader of Bavaria's USPD. Its first renowned target, former Economics Minister Matthias Erzberger, was murdered on 26 August 1921 in the Black Forest. Following this crime, the assassins were smuggled into Hungary.

When the Baden police implicated OC in their investigation, Ehrhardt renamed the group Neudeutscher Bund (New German League). Its aspirations remained unchanged.

In the summer of 1922 Neudeutscher Bund attacked Philipp Scheidemann and Maximilian Harden and assassinated Walther Rathenau. Ehrhardt disappeared after these "triumphs," and the organization was again disguised with a new name, Bund Wiking (Viking League).

Although twenty members of Bund Wiking were brought to trial in 1924, the indictment was membership in a secret military association rather than murder.

In 1926 Carl Severing, Prussian Interior Minister, ordered the League's dissolution as an unlawful organization. Not only did Bund Wiking ignore Severing, it brought suit against him in an attempt to establish the illegality of his order (with twisted logic, it argued that the Republican Reichsbanner was also illegal).

The courts upheld Severing; however, the League failed to act until Ehrhardt published the following in the 27 April 1928 Vossische Zeitung: "Captain Ehrhardt has dissolved Bund Wiking throughout the Reich. The reason is that he is convinced that there is no future in power politics."

REFERENCES- Diehl, Paramilitary Politics; Howard Stern, "Organisation Consul"; Waite, Vanguard of Nazism.

The Accused in the Rathenau Trial (October 13, 1922)

The Organization Consul was a secret, ultra-nationalist, terrorist organization that was formed from elements of the Ehrhardt naval brigade [Marinebrigade Erhardt] after the brigade was dissolved by the government in the wake of the Kapp Putsch. The group was named after “Consul Eichmann,” the alias of its leader, Hermann Ehrhardt. The Organization Consul dedicated itself to the destruction of the Weimar Republic through the assassination of leading politicians. It hoped to foment a revolt on the Left, and to use that opportunity to lead a right-wing counterrevolution. The Organization Consul was widely assumed to have been responsible for the murders of Matthias Erzberger and Walther Rathenau, and the attempted murder of Phillip Scheidemann. In direct response to Rathenau’s assassination, the government passed the Law for the Protection of the Republic [Republikschutzgesetz] in 1922. The law gave the security forces enhanced power to repress groups that conspired against the state.

This photo shows the defendants in the Rathenau murder trial (from left to right): Ernst von Salomon, Ernst Werner Techow, Karl Tillessen, Waldemar Niedrig, Friedrich Warnecke, Hans Gert Techow. Ernst von Salomon (far left) was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in Rathenau’s murder. In 1951, he published Der Fragebogen [The Questionnaire], an autobiographical novel that centered on the Allied Military Government's denazification program. The book became a controversial bestseller.

Terror from the Right:
Revolutionary Terrorism and the Failure of the Weimar Republic

The most infamous organization and the one responsible for the most significant assassinations was the Organization Consul (OC). The OC was founded by Captain Hermann Ehrhardt, a Freikorps leader, coup plotter, and popular luminary of the extreme Right. Erhardt reasoned that the only way to destroy the Weimar government was to convince the lower classes that the government was incapable of representing their interests and thus provoke another wave of revolution in Germany. Such chaos would, Erhardt believed, unite right-wing elements behind a national dictator. The OC acted to spark this revolution by systematically murdering key Weimar politicians and leftist figures.19 OC member and popular author Ernst von Salomon actually named the targets: "Scheidemann, Rathenau, Zeigner, Lipinski, Cohn, Ebert and all the men of November [November Revolution of 1918] must be killed. Then we shall see whether or not there are uprisings in the Red Army, the Independent Socialist party, and the Communist party."20 The official face of the OC was carefully constructed to meet the legal requirements for a political organization in the new democracy. The OC constitution admitted its goals included "struggling against . . . internationalism, Judaism, Social Democracy and radical leftist parties," but so did countless other organizations and political parties. The OC also declared that it would struggle against the Weimar constitution "in word and speech."21 Weimar authorities knew the game the OC and a host of similar organizations played, but they lacked both the political will and resources to stop them.

19 Founded in Bavaria, the OC enjoyed legal protection and even financial resources from a sympathetic government.22 Bavaria was a hot bed of right-wing extremism, and it was no secret that the government and local military units supported the efforts of the OC and dozens of other paramilitary organizations wholeheartedly. The president of Bavaria, Gustav Ritter von Kahr, openly despised the Weimar government in Berlin and identified with upstart leaders like Adolf Hitler and Hermann Ehrhardt. Munich served essentially as a secure base where radicals could plot freely against the government.23 Kahr even protected extremists who were wanted for crimes in other parts of Germany. He and the German military forces in Bavaria acted as state sponsors of terrorism because they provided groups like the OC and the NSDAP with political, financial, and military support. As is the case for many more recent terrorist organizations, state-sponsorship (or at the very least, benign neglect) facilitated the extremists’ terrorist acts.

20 The OC was a tightly organized, hierarchical organization directed by Erhardt and a handful of others comprising the "Munich Central." Below the Central were 13 "gauleiters" responsible for recruiting and supervising local cells. Cells formed wherever possible. The Weimar government estimated that the total strength of the OC was approximately 5,000 members.24 In addition to murdering politicians, the OC, like the Freikorps, meted out swift punishment against members suspected of collaborating with the authorities or in any way betraying the secrets of the organization, specifically the dozens of weapons caches hidden throughout Germany. This punishment, which sometimes included death, was administered by ad hoc tribunals comprising extremists. The so-called "Feme courts" were modeled after medieval courts that administered swift and violent justice.25 The fact that the OC was both diffuse and highly organized indicates it operated with relative impunity. Organizations like the OC existed on several planes, only one of which was secretive and conspiratorial. Extremist groups regularly published newspapers and held rallies against the Weimar government, but the core members actually performed the terrorist acts.

21 The assassination that had the greatest impact was that of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau. The aftermath of the act, which involved no less than five members of the OC, revealed the extent to which anti-Weimar and specifically anti-Semitic sentiment had become popular in Germany. Rathenau was from a powerful and historically important Jewish family. Intensely patriotic, Rathenau was responsible for organizing Germany’s industrial resources and managing its war economy during the First World War. However, his selection as foreign minister confirmed the worst fears of the extreme Right. German racists believed that Jews were responsible for destroying Germany and perceived Rathenau as someone who would deliver Germany on a silver platter to the hated international forces of communism and capitalism. In June 1922, Rathenau was gunned down on his way to work by two assassins. Most Germans were not surprised by the murder, and a significant number celebrated. In the six months since he had assumed the post, German students had begun a popular chant: "Strike down Walther Rathenau/ The God-damned Jewish sow!" After his murder the chant was altered: "Someone struck down Walther Rathenau/Hurrah! When is the next Jewish pig?"26 Alarmingly, more respectable voices shared in this joy. Thomas Mann recalled hearing an eminent professor rejoicing in the prospect of "one less Jew." Nobel prize-winning physics professor Philip Lenard told his students that they could not observe Rathenau’s burial and be "idle on account of a dead Jew."27

22 Although Rathenau’s murder sent shockwaves throughout Germany, it failed to provoke the revolution sought by the extreme Right. However, the long-term effects were significant because it was the first time in the four years of political violence that a Jew in a prominent position was murdered for being just that. The murder was more shocking than those of Luxemburg and Liebknecht because Rathenau was a well-respected politician with an international reputation. His crime was his race and his role in trying to legitimize the Weimar government abroad. Other politicians labeled as "November criminals," a reference to Germans who accepted the hated Peace of Versailles, suffered Rathenau’s fate. Matthias Erzberger, a well-respected Catholic politician and leader of the moderate Center Party, had been murdered in 1921. Historian Carole Fink maintains that the murder of Walther Rathenau "foretold not only the destruction of the Weimar Republic but also the threat to the existence of the Jews of Germany and Europe."28

23 The Weimar government responded to the wave of political violence by banning organizations like the OC, but this was generally ineffective, as paramilitary groups simply re-surfaced with different names, organizational charts, and constitutions. The government created new law enforcement organizations like the Reich Commissioner for the Surveillance of Public Order and passed a host of laws to entangle groups in court and drain their resources.29 Left-wing critics also mobilized and attempted to counteract the extremists by properly labeling them in the public mind as terrorists. Journalist Emil Julius Gumbel exposed the blatant favoritism German judges showed right-wing defendants in contrast to those on the Left. Gumbel also analyzed the ideology and motivation behind the perpetrators. Gumbel noted, "The organization’s extremist attitudes lead them to believe that by killing one’s political opponent, one can thereby do away with the ideas he stands for." Gumbel also highlighted the role youth played as "terrorists" and lamented that they truly believed they were acting in the tradition of Brutus by killing the "few Republicans that Germany possesses."

The grave of Hermann Fischer and Erwin Kern in Berlin.

The Anti-Semitism Behind the Assassination of Walther Rathenau

by Gary Herzberg

At 10:45 a.m. on June 24, 1922, Walther Rathenau departed his house in his open car. Headed to work, the Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic turned at the corner of the Wallotstrasse onto the Königsallee. As Rathenau finished the turn, a six-seated dark gray automobile pulled up alongside of Rathenau's car and then cut him off. Three men were in the large vehicle. One of the gentlemen lifted a submachine gun, pointed it at Rathenau, and fired five times. A second gentleman threw a hand grenade into Rathenau's car. The six-seated vehicle sped away; Rathenau died.[i]

Anti-Semitism was a factor in the assassination of Walther Rathenau. Even Rathenau was aware of his vulnerability due to his Jewish heritage. Speaking of his religion, Rathenau confided to a friend, Albert Einstein, that he felt he was representing a German populace that did not fully accept him.[ii] In a letter to a confidante, Rathenau lamented, "My heart is heavy.... [W]hat can a man like that do in this paralyzed world with enemies all around?".[iii] Rathenau's religion certainly made him susceptible to the torrents of anti-Semitism in the Weimar Republic. Yet claiming that assassins murdered Rathenau solely, or even primarily, because of his religion would be misguided. The Organization Consul, members of which murdered Rathenau, preached anti-Semitic doctrine, but within a broader nationalistic framework aiming to restore dignity to Germany in the aftermath of the First World War. Many Germans were concerned with Germany's national reputation. As Foreign Minister, Rathenau had a stake in shaping Germany's post-war reputation. Although one cannot divorce anti-Semitism from the nationalistic desires of many German citizens, Rathenau's murder should be interpreted largely as a result of deep dissatisfaction with the Weimar government, and not purely as an act of anti-Semitic violence.

Anti-Semitism in the Aftermath of the First World War

Slurs against Rathenau often incorporated anti-Semitism. For months prior to his assassination, Rathenau had received death threats, many of them inveighing against his Jewish heritage. Plots against Rathenau's life were so numerous that German police instructed him to carry a pistol with him at all times.[iv] Members of the Upper Silesian Selbstschutz, a domestic military organization, would chant, "God damn Walther Rathenau. / Shoot him down, the dirty Jew."[v] This quotation is telling not in its hatred of a government figure, given the rampant domestic unrest of the time, but rather in the agitators' channeling of their anger into an anti-Semitic catharsis. As Historian Carole Fink remarked, "Rathenau, who was about to plead for a defeated, and largely unrepentant Germany, risked disappointment and danger for Germans, for Jews, and for himself."[vi] Rathenau's Jewish background evidently made him particularly susceptible to ridicule. In fact, bands of German students had chanted from the outset of Rathenau's tenure as Foreign Minister, "Strike down Walther Rathenau/ The God-damned Jewish sow!".[vii] Threats against Rathenau's life had a distinctly anti-Semitic tone.

However, the frequent politically motivated murders of non-Jews in the early years of the Weimar Republic suggest that anti-Semitism was not the only force that provoked widespread dissatisfaction with Rathenau. Rathenau's assassination perhaps marked the nadir of a four-year string of high profile murders in the Weimar Republic. Self-professed German nationalists carried out most of the murders of over three hundred government officials and radical activists between 1918 and 1922.[viii] Political figures including the Majority Socialist leader in Bavaria, Erhard Auer, were targets for assassination.[ix] Insurrections grew commonplace as domestic frustrations generated massive instability during the early years of the Weimar Republic. Indeed, a professor with the University of Heidelberg remarked in 1922, "[P]olitical murder has gone from being a heroic deed, to becoming a daily act, an easy source of earnings for 'impulsive customers.'"[x] Blame for Germany's post-war turmoil continually found targets. Two radical German nationalists unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Philipp Scheidemann, Social Democratic ex-Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, by spraying prussic acid in his face.[xi] The assassination of Mathias Erzberger of the Centre (Catholic) Party transpired at the hands of two other radical German nationalists who blamed Germany's post-war humiliation on Erzberger for his role as Imperial Secretary of State in negotiating an armistice.[xii] Anti-Semitism plainly was not the only factor that motivated unrest in the early years of the Weimar Republic.

Dissatisfaction with Rathenau

One terrorist group, the Organization Consul, targeted its nationalist energies at many Jewish political figures in the Weimar government and was ultimately responsible for the assassination of Rathenau. Despite their targets, the Organization Consul operated within a broader nationalistic framework that strived to do more than eliminate Jews in government. In fact, members of the Organization Consul had also murdered the Catholic Mathias Erzberger.[xiii] The Organization Consul's radical nationalistic motivations are exemplified by the fact that the organization was an offshoot of the Ehrhardt Freikorps, which had directed the Kapp Putsch in March 1920.[xiv] The Kapp Putsch was an attempt to overthrow the government of President Friedrich Ebert and to enact a dictatorship under Wolfgang Kapp. When the Kapp Putsch failed, the Weimar government attempted to dissolve the Ehrhardt Brigade.[xv][xvi]The ideology of the Organization Consul operated under a rubric of radical German nationalism, of which anti-Semitism was a part. The oath that the Organization Consul leadership mandated overtly mentioned nothing of anti-Semitism, instead stressing German blood: "I declare on my honor that I am of German descent."[xvii] For the Organization Consul, however, nationalism implicitly meant combating the presence of Jews in Germany. One of the organization's bylaws espoused a "spiritual aim" of "warfare against all anti-nationalists and internationalists; [and] warfare against Jewry."[xviii] Plainly, the Organization Consul juxtaposed a Jewish identity with anti-nationalism in Germany thus making anti-Semitism more complex than a blind hatred towards Jews. Therefore, despite Rathenau's eager contention, "[M]y religion [is] that Germanic faith which is above all religions,"[xix] the Organization Consul's credo of conflating Jewish descent with anti-nationalism in Germany was insurmountable for Rathenau. The bylaws of the Organization Consul served as a linchpin for Jewry's association with traitorousness. However, many members of the clan had formed political bonds and a few of the leaders of the Ehrhardt Brigade clandestinely established the Organization Consul, named after "Consul Eichmann," which was an alias of Hermann Ehrhardt, the leader of the Ehrhardt Brigade.

The members of the Organization Consul certainly were not the only Germans who desired for Rathenau to be ousted from the Weimar government. Notably, Karl Helfferich also campaigned to remove Rathenau from his post as Foreign Minister. Helfferich, who served as Germany's Secretary of the Treasury at the beginning of the First World War, remained an ardent nationalist and became a steadfast critic of the leadership of the Weimar Republic.[xx] Helfferich criticized Rathenau in regard to Germany's policy on reparations—in early June of 1922 Helfferich delivered a speech in the Reichstag in which he invectively asserted that Rathenau was "utterly ruining Germany and the German people in subservience to the Entente."[xxi]

Rather than concluding that Helfferich targeted Rathenau because of the latter's religion, one must take into account the context in which Helfferich stated his views. An analysis of the words that Helfferich used to derogate Rathenau in the Reichstag suggests that anti-Semitism did not principally motivate Helfferich; rather, Helfferich espoused a widely shared discontent with the operations of the Weimar government. In a speech criticizing Rathenau, Helfferich condemned Rathenau's foreign policy for "[bringing] poverty and misery on countless families, [driving] countless people to suicide and despair, [sending] abroad large and valuable portions of [Germany's] national capital."[xxii] On the prominent stage of the Reichstag, Helfferich did not enounce anti-Semitic diatribes. Instead, Helfferich's perhaps latent anti-Semitism was entwined with his discontent with Rathenau's policymaking. Although a critic of Helfferich, following Rathenau's assassination, accused Helfferich of advancing "secret or semi-secret Chauvinist, Nationalist, anti-Semitic and Monarchist organizations,"[xxiii] anti-Semitism was evidently not Helfferich's core concern. Moreover, Rathenau was not Helfferich's only political enemy; Helfferich lobbied against the non-Jewish Erzberger as well.[xxiv] Further, it would be unfair to conclude that anti-Semitism stood at the root of all of the grievances of Rathenau's detractors. Historian Carole Fink described most citizens of the Weimar Republic in 1922 as "frightened" about the future of the Weimar Republic, and that not all Germans "sought the reduction of 'Jewish power.'"[xxv] Thus, while anti-Semitism was interwoven with public discontent with Rathenau, many Germans were more concerned with perceptions of Weimar's execrable governance than with Rathenau's Jewish background.

Rathenau's Assassins

The anti-Semitic sentiments of Rathenau's assassins were decidedly more acerbic than the views espoused by Helfferich. The plot to murder Rathenau appears to have begun in April 1922, when Erwin Kern, an ex-naval officer, gathered a few comrades to discuss his perspectives on the political situation of the Weimar Republic.[xxvi] Despite limited documentation on Kern's particular views—he committed suicide before police could apprehend him following the assassination—Kern appears to have been motivated in large part by the anti-Semitic text, Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Kern claimed that Rathenau "was one of the 300 Elders of Zion committed to taking over the world."[xxvii] Kern certainly had radical views: he asserted that Rathenau "wanted to bring Germany under the influence of the Jews."[xxviii] Rathenau's Jewish heritage helped to make him a political target for Kern.

Despite Kern's seething anti-Semitism, the motivations that Kern appears to have had for assassinating Rathenau were more nuanced than a simple hatred for Rathenau's Jewish background. Kern appeared to passionately care about Germany's political reputation, resenting the humiliation to which Germany had been subjected in the years after the Great War. That is, swayed to murder Rathenau not simply because of anti-Semitism, Kern was "fanned by Nationalist agitation into a fervor of hatred against Jews and the Republic."[xxix][xxx] The amalgam of zealous patriotism and anti-Semitism that Kern professed is captured in Kern's final words, yelled to police from his perch inside of a tower in Saaleck Castle in Naumburg, just before he shot himself: "Long live Ehrhardt!".[xxxi] As elaborated upon earlier, the Ehrhardt Brigade and the Organization Consul championed German nationalism, viewing anti-Semitism as one salient hindrance to developing a respectable, powerful German state. As virulently anti-Semitic as Kern was, and as motivated as he was to assassinate Rathenau because of the latter's Jewish blood, Kern had grand nationalistic motives as well. Kern apparently hoped that the assassination would incite a putsch.[xxxii] Anti-Semitism was a significant component of Kern's radical nationalism, and was fused with it, but certainly did not comprise the whole of it. Kern contended that, because of Rathenau's Jewish heritage, the Foreign Minister would betray the Fatherland. In fact, to generate support for murdering Rathenau among his Organization Consul comrades, Kern alleged that Rathenau had made a secret agreement with the Entente that would deepen the humiliation of Germany, and would make Germany further subservient to the Entente.

Kern's co-conspirators in the murder appear to have been characteristic members of the Organization Consul, eager to rid German politics of Jews, but chiefly motivated to protect and restore dignity to the German nation. Next to Kern, Ernst von Salomon was the leading conspirator in the plot to assassinate Rathenau.[xxxiii] Von Salomon, in describing his motivation to murder Rathenau, asserted, "Scheidemann, Rathenau, Zeigner, Lipinski, Cohn, Ebert... must be killed, one after the other. Then we shall see whether or not there are uprisings in the Red Army, the Independent Socialist party, and the Communist party."[xxxiv] Von Salomon appears to have been suspicious of a Communist plot to take over or undermine Germany. He evidently suspected that many Jews and non-Jews alike were players in this conspiracy. In contrast with Kern, then, von Salomon did not largely focus on Jews in his calculations to protect Germany.[xxxv] Instead, von Salomon contended that Jews were one enemy among the broader Communist enemies of Germany.

Less is known about the other conspirators in the plot against Rathenau's life. Hermann Fischer killed himself in the same tower that Kern did, with no documentation of his particular views other than that he screamed from the turret of diehard allegiance to the Organization Consul (see Figure in Appendix).[xxxvi] Hans Stubenrauch, according to Kern, was merely a "handy tool, who would do as he was told and ask no questions."[xxxvii] The other notable players in the assassination of Rathenau—Ernst Werner Techow and Gerd Techow—deflected blame onto Kern when tried in court.[xxxviii] Yet one could reasonably expect the Techow brothers to deny culpability when legally confronted; their anti-Semitic views are thus unclear. Nonetheless, the plot to murder Rathenau appears to have been primarily the creation of Kern, fervently desiring to purge a prominent Jew. The other conspirators in the assassination plot certainly appear to have been anti-Semitic, but there is not enough evidence to draw a solid conclusion.

Reactions in the Weimar Republic to the Assassination of Rathenau

Apocryphal accounts assert that many Germans celebrated the elimination of a Jew from government, suggesting that anti-Semitism was commonplace in Germany in 1922. Nobel Prize-winning novelist Thomas Mann alleged that he overheard a professor exult that there was "one less Jew!"[xxxix] On the day of Rathenau's funeral, Heidelberg's Nobel Prize-winning Professor of Physics, Philip Lenard, apparently forbade students to skip his lecture "on account of a dead Jew."[xl] These caustic comments vivify the fact that a London-based newspaper, The Spectator, reported in Rathenau's obituary that his assassination was "as little a surprise as a murder can well be."[xli] Even if Rathenau's assassination was not a foregone conclusion, a palpable amount of Germans harbored anti-Semitism.

Yet as pronounced as anti-Semitism was among some people during the early years of the Weimar Republic, these malicious anecdotes ignore the fact that anti-Semitism was not necessarily a dominant public attitude. Isolated rumbles of glee following Rathenau's assassination, and even perhaps the predictability of his murder, should not cloud the fact that many Germans considered Rathenau's death to be a tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of Berliners watched Rathenau's funeral procession as the cortege passed through the Brandenburg Gate.[xlii] One spectator melodramatically, but no less tellingly of the widespread grief surrounding Rathenau's death, commented, "Four deep they marched in their hundred thousands, beneath their mourning banners... passing like a portent silently along the great thoroughfares lined by immense crowds, wave after wave, from the early afternoon till late into the June sunset."[xliii] Against the specter of Professor Lenard's anti-Semitism, German trade unions, comprising roughly 200,000 workers in Berlin, declared a day of mourning.[xliv] Many Germans citizens who were unable to attend the funeral convened en masse in Hamburg, Munich, Chemnitz, Eberfeld, Essen, and Breslau to honor Rathenau.[xlv] As marked as anti-Semitism was among some Germans, many other Germans plainly respected the fallen Jewish leader. Anti-Semitism evidently did not overwhelmingly grip Germany in the early years of the Weimar Republic, as it did under the Nazi regime a decade later.


There is debate over the role that anti-Semitism played in the assassination of Walther Rathenau. No doubt anti-Semitism was a motivating factor for Erwin Kern and his co-conspirators. No doubt many Germans were anti-Semitic. Yet one must understand that there was severe political unrest in the Weimar Republic between 1918 and 1923, which derived in large part from national humiliation following Germany's defeat in the First World War. In the Weimar Republic after the war, anti-Semitism and German nationalism were often entwined. Anti-Semitism suggested that Jews did not represent the interests of Germany. In turn, the assassination of Rathenau must be viewed in terms of an amalgam of anti-Semitism and national unrest. Rathenau's murder was not purely an act of anti-Semitism, but rather occurred within a broader context of deep public dissatisfaction with the Weimar government.
Only force rules. Force is the first law - Adolf H. Man has become great through struggle - Adolf H. Strength lies not in defense but in attack - Adolf H.
Old March 31st, 2014 #2
Alex Linder
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Alex Linder

Good stuff, Rick.
Old April 3rd, 2014 #3
Matthaus Hetzenauer
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Matthaus Hetzenauer
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^ Hear, hear!

thanks, Rick
Wit' jews ya lose; wit' rope deah's hope.
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