© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012
Volume Two: The National Socialist Movement
Chapter VII: THE CONFLICT WITH THE RED FORCES
|© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012|
In 1919–20 and also in 1921 I attended some of the bourgeois meetings. Invariably I had the same feeling towards these as towards the compulsory dose of castor oil in my boyhood days. It just had to be taken because it was good for one: but it certainly tasted unpleasant. If it were possible to tie ropes round the German people and forcibly drag them to these bourgeois meetings, keeping them there behind barred doors and allowing nobody to escape until the meeting closed, then this procedure might prove successful in the course of a few hundred years. For my own part, I must frankly admit that, under such circumstances, I could not find life worth living; and indeed I should no longer wish to be a German. But, thank God, all this is impossible. And so it is not surprising that the sane and unspoilt masses shun these ‘bourgeois mass meetings’ as the devil shuns holy water.
I came to know the prophets of the bourgeois Weltanschhauung, and I was not surprised at what I learned, as I knew that they attached little importance to the spoken word. At that time I attended meetings of the Democrats, the German Nationalists, the German People’s Party and the Bavarian People’s Party (the Centre Party of Bavaria). What struck me at once was the homogeneous uniformity of the audiences. Nearly always they were made up exclusively of party members. The whole affair was more like a yawning card party than an assembly of people who had just passed through a great revolution. The speakers did all they could to maintain this tranquil atmosphere. They declaimed, or rather read out, their speeches in the style of an intellectual newspaper article or a learned treatise, avoiding all striking expressions. Here and there a feeble professorial joke would be introduced, whereupon the people sitting at the speaker’s table felt themselves obliged to laugh – not loudly but encouragingly and with well-bred reserve.
And there were always those people at the speaker’s table. I once attended a meeting in the Wagner Hall in Munich. It was a demonstration to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Leipzig.17) The speech was delivered or rather read out by a venerable old professor from one or other of the universities. The committee sat on the platform: one monocle on the right, another monocle on the left, and in the centre a gentleman with no monocle. All three of them were punctiliously attired in morning coats, and I had the impression of being present before a judge’s bench just as the death sentence was about to be pronounced or at a christening or some more solemn religious ceremony. The so-called speech, which in printed form may have read quite well, had a disastrous effect. After three quarters of an hour the audience fell into a sort of hypnotic trance, which was interrupted only when some man or woman left the hall, or by the clatter which the waitresses made, or by the increasing yawns of slumbering individuals. I had posted myself behind three workmen who were present either out of curiosity or because they were sent there by their parties. From time to time they glanced at one another with an ill-concealed grin, nudged one another with the elbow, and then silently left the hall. One could see that they had no intention whatsoever of interrupting the proceedings, nor indeed was it necessary to interrupt them. At long last the celebration showed signs of drawing to a close. After the professor, whose voice had meanwhile become more and more inaudible, finally ended his speech, the gentleman without the monocle delivered a rousing peroration to the assembled ‘German sisters and brothers.’ On behalf of the audience and himself he expressed gratitude for the magnificent lecture which they had just heard from Professor X and emphasized how deeply the Professor’s words had moved them all. If a general discussion on the lecture were to take place it would be tantamount to profanity, and he thought he was voicing the opinion of all present in suggesting that such a discussion should not be held. Therefore, he would ask the assembly to rise from their seats and join in singing the patriotic song, Wir sind ein einig Volk von Brüdern. The proceedings finally closed with the anthem, Deutschland über Alles.
And then they all sang. It appeared to me that when the second verse was reached the voices were fewer and that only when the refrain came on they swelled loudly. When we reached the third verse my belief was confirmed that a good many of those present were not very familiar with the text.
But what has all this to do with the matter when such a song is sung wholeheartedly and fervidly by an assembly of German nationals?
After this the meeting broke up and everyone hurried to get outside, one to his glass of beer, one to a cafe, and others simply into the fresh air.
Out into the fresh air! That was also my feeling. And was this the way to honour an heroic struggle in which hundreds of thousands of Prussians and Germans had fought? To the devil with it all!
That sort of thing might find favour with the Government, it being merely a ‘peaceful’ meeting. The Minister responsible for law and order need not fear that enthusiasm might suddenly get the better of public decorum and induce these people to pour out of the room and, instead of dispersing to beer halls and cafes, march in rows of four through the town singing Deutschland hoch in Ehren and causing some unpleasantness to a police force in need of rest.
No. That type of citizen is of no use to anyone.
On the other hand the National Socialist meetings were by no means ‘peaceable’ affairs. Two distinct Weltanschhauungen raged in bitter opposition to one another, and these meetings did not close with the mechanical rendering of a dull patriotic song but rather with a passionate outbreak of popular national feeling.
It was imperative from the start to introduce rigid discipline into our meetings and establish the authority of the chairman absolutely. Our purpose was not to pour out a mixture of soft-soap bourgeois talk; what we had to say was meant to arouse the opponents at our meetings! How often did they not turn up in masses with a few individual agitators among them and, judging by the expression on all their faces, ready to finish us off there and then.
Yes, how often did they not turn up in huge numbers, those supporters of the Red Flag, all previously instructed to smash up everything once and for all and put an end to these meetings. More often than not everything hung on a mere thread, and only the chairman’s ruthless determination and the rough handling by our ushers baffled our adversaries’ intentions. And indeed they had every reason for being irritated.
The fact that we had chosen red as the colour for our posters sufficed to attract them to our meetings. The ordinary bourgeoisie were very shocked to see that, we had also chosen the symbolic red of Bolshevism and they regarded this as something ambiguously significant. The suspicion was whispered in German Nationalist circles that we also were merely another variety of Marxism, perhaps even Marxists suitably disguised, or better still, Socialists. The actual difference between Socialism and Marxism still remains a mystery to these people up to this day. The charge of Marxism was conclusively proved when it was discovered that at our meetings we deliberately substituted the words ‘Fellow-countrymen and Women’ for ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ and addressed each other as ‘Party Comrade’. We used to roar with laughter at these silly faint-hearted bourgeoisie and their efforts to puzzle out our origin, our intentions and our aims.
We chose red for our posters after particular and careful deliberation, our intention being to irritate the Left, so as to arouse their attention and tempt them to come to our meetings – if only in order to break them up – so that in this way we got a chance of talking to the people.
In those years’ it was indeed a delightful experience to follow the constantly changing tactics of our perplexed and helpless adversaries. First of all they appealed to their followers to ignore us and keep away from our meetings. Generally speaking this appeal was heeded. But, as time went on, more and more of their followers gradually found their way to us and accepted our teaching. Then the leaders became nervous and uneasy. They clung to their belief that such a development should not be ignored for ever, and that terror must be applied in order to put an end to it.
Appeals were then made to the ‘class-conscious proletariat’ to attend our meetings in masses and strike with the clenched hand of the proletarian at the representatives of a ‘monarchist and reactionary agitation’.
Our meetings suddenly became packed with work-people fully three-quarters of an hour before the proceedings were scheduled to begin. These gatherings resembled a powder cask ready to explode at any moment; and the fuse was conveniently at hand. But matters always turned out differently. People came as enemies and left, not perhaps prepared to join us, yet in a reflective mood and disposed critically to examine the correctness of their own doctrine. Gradually as time went on my three-hour lectures resulted in supporters and opponents becoming united in one single enthusiastic group of people. Every signal for the breaking-up of the meeting failed. The result was that the opposition leaders became frightened and once again looked for help to those quarters that had formerly discountenanced these tactics and, with some show of right, had been of the opinion that on principle the workers should be forbidden to attend our meetings.
Then they did not come any more, or only in small numbers. But after a short time the whole game started all over again. The instructions to keep away from us were ignored; the comrades came in steadily increasing numbers, until finally the advocates of the radical tactics won the day. We were to be broken up.
Yet when, after two, three and even eight meetings, it was realized that to break up these gatherings was easier said than done and that every meeting resulted in a decisive weakening of the red fighting forces, then suddenly the other password was introduced: ‘Proletarians, comrades and comradesses, avoid meetings of the National Socialist agitators’.
The same eternally alternating tactics were also to be observed in the Red Press. Soon they tried to silence us but discovered the uselessness of such an attempt. After that they swung round to the opposite tactics. Daily ‘reference’ was made to us solely for the purpose of absolutely ridiculing us in the eyes of the working-classes. After a time these gentlemen must have felt that no harm was being done to us, but that, on the contrary, we were reaping an advantage in that people were asking themselves why so much space was being devoted to a subject which was supposed to be so ludicrous. People became curious. Suddenly there was a change of tactics and for a time we were treated as veritable criminals against mankind. One article followed the other, in which our criminal intentions were explained and new proofs brought forward to support what was said. Scandalous tales, all of them fabricated from start to finish, were published in order to help to poison the public mind. But in a short time even these attacks also proved futile; and in fact they assisted materially because they attracted public attention to us.
In those days I took up the standpoint that it was immaterial whether they laughed at us or reviled us, whether they depicted us as fools or criminals; the important point was that they took notice of us and that in the eyes of the working-classes we came to be regarded as the only force capable of putting up a fight. I said to myself that the followers of the Jewish Press would come to know all about us and our real aims.
One reason why they never got so far as breaking up our meetings was undoubtedly the incredible cowardice displayed by the leaders of the opposition. On every critical occasion they left the dirty work to the smaller fry whilst they waited outside the halls for the results of the break up.
We were exceptionally well informed in regard to our opponents’ intentions, not only because we allowed several of our party colleagues to remain members of the Red organizations for reasons of expediency, but also because the Red wire-pullers, fortunately for us, were afflicted with a degree of talkativeness that is still unfortunately very prevalent among Germans. They could not keep their own counsel, and more often than not they started cackling before the proverbial egg was laid. Hence, time and again our precautions were such that Red agitators had no inkling of how near they were to being thrown out of the meetings.
This state of affairs compelled us to take the work of safeguarding our meetings into our own hands. No reliance could be placed on official protection. On the contrary; experience showed that such protection always favoured only the disturbers. The only real outcome of police intervention would be that the meeting would be dissolved, that is to say, closed. And that is precisely what our opponents granted.
Generally speaking, this led the police to adopt a procedure which, to say the least, was a most infamous sample of official malpractice. The moment they received information of a threat that the one or other meeting was to be broken up, instead of arresting the would-be disturbers, they promptly advised the innocent parties that the meeting was forbidden. This step the police proclaimed as a ‘precautionary measure in the interests of law and order’.
The political work and activities of decent people could therefore always be hindered by desperate ruffians who had the means at their disposal. In the name of peace and order State authority bowed down to these ruffians and demanded that others should not provoke them. When National Socialism desired to hold meetings in certain parts and the labour unions declared that their members would resist, then it was not these blackmailers that were arrested and gaoled. No. Our meetings were forbidden by the police. Yes, this organ of the law had the unspeakable impudence to advise us in writing to this effect in innumerable instances. To avoid such eventualities, it was necessary to see to it that every attempt to disturb a meeting was nipped in the bud. Another feature to be taken into account in this respect is that all meetings which rely on police protection must necessarily bring discredit to their promoters in the eyes of the general public. Meetings that are only possible with the protective assistance of a strong force of police convert nobody; because in order to win over the lower strata of the people there must be a visible show of strength on one’s own side. In the same way that a man of courage will win a woman’s affection more easily than a coward, so a heroic movement will be more successful in winning over the hearts of a people than a weak movement which relies on police support for its very existence.
It is for this latter reason in particular that our young movement was to be charged with the responsibility of assuring its own existence, defending itself; and conducting its own work of smashing the Red opposition.
The work of organizing the protective measures for our meetings was based on the following:
(1) An energetic and psychologically judicious way of conducting the meeting.
(2) An organized squad of troops to maintain order.
In those days we and no one else were masters of the situation at our meetings and on no occasion did we fail to emphasize this. Our opponents fully realized that any provocation would be the occasion of throwing them out of the hall at once, whatever the odds against us. At meetings, particularly outside Munich, we had in those days from five to eight hundred opponents against fifteen to sixteen National Socialists; yet we brooked no interference, for we were ready to be killed rather than capitulate. More than once a handful of party colleagues offered a heroic resistance to a raging and violent mob of Reds. Those fifteen or twenty men would certainly have been overwhelmed in the end had not the opponents known that three or four times as many of themselves would first get their skulls cracked. Arid that risk they were not willing to run. We had done our best to study Marxist and bourgeois methods of conducting meetings, and we had certainly learnt something.
The Marxists had always exercised a most rigid discipline so that the question of breaking up their meetings could never have originated in bourgeois quarters. This gave the Reds all the more reason for acting on this plan. In time they not only became past-masters in this art but in certain large districts of the Reich they went so far as to declare that non-Marxist meetings were nothing less than a cause of’ provocation against the proletariat. This was particularly the case when the wire-pullers suspected that a meeting might call attention to their own transgressions and thus expose their own treachery and chicanery. Therefore the moment such a meeting was announced to be held a howl of rage went up from the Red Press. These detractors of the law nearly always turned first to the authorities and requested in imperative and threatening language that this ‘provocation of the proletariat’ be stopped forthwith in the ‘interests of law and order’. Their language was chosen according to the importance of the official blockhead they were dealing with and thus success was assured. If by chance the official happened to be a true German – and not a mere figurehead – and he declined the impudent request, then the time-honoured appeal to stop ‘provocation of the proletariat’ was issued together with instructions to attend such and such a meeting on a certain date in full strength for the purpose of ‘putting a stop to the disgraceful machinations of the bourgeoisie by means of the proletarian fist’.
The pitiful and frightened manner in which these bourgeois meetings are conducted must be seen in order to be believed. Very frequently these threats were sufficient to call off such a meeting at once. The feeling of fear was so marked that the meeting, instead of commencing at eight o’clock, very seldom was opened before a quarter to nine or nine o’clock. The Chairman thereupon did his best, by showering compliments on the ‘gentleman of the opposition’ to prove how he and all others present were pleased (a palpable lie) to welcome a visit from men who as yet were not in sympathy with them for the reason that only by mutual discussion (immediately agreed to) could they be brought closer together in mutual understanding. Apart from this the Chairman also assured them that the meeting had no intention whatsoever of interfering with the professed convictions of anybody. Indeed no. Everyone had the right to form and hold his own political views, but others should be allowed to do likewise. He therefore requested that the speaker be allowed to deliver his speech without interruption – the speech in any case not being a long affair. People abroad, he continued, would thus not come to regard this meeting as another shameful example of the bitter fraternal strife that is raging in Germany. And so on and so forth
The brothers of the Left had little if any appreciation for that sort of talk; the speaker had hardly commenced when he was shouted down. One gathered the impression at times that these speakers were graceful for being peremptorily cut short in their martyr-like discourse. These bourgeois toreadors left the arena in the midst of a vast uproar, that is to say, provided that they were not thrown down the stairs with cracked skulls, which was very often the case.
Therefore, our methods of organization at National Socialist meetings were something quite strange to the Marxists. They came to our meetings in the belief that the little game which they had so often played could as a matter of course be also repeated on us. "To-day we shall finish them off." How often did they bawl this out to each other on entering the meeting hall, only to be thrown out with lightning speed before they had time to repeat it.
In the first place our method of conducting a meeting was entirely different. We did not beg and pray to be allowed to speak, and we did not straightway give everybody the right to hold endless discussions. We curtly gave everyone to understand that we were masters of the meeting and that we would do as it pleased us and that everyone who dared to interrupt would be unceremoniously thrown out. We stated clearly our refusal to accept responsibility for anyone treated in this manner. If time permitted and if it suited us, a discussion would be allowed to take place. Our party colleague would now make his speech.... That kind of talk was sufficient in itself to astonish the Marxists.
Secondly, we had at our disposal a well-trained and organized body of men for maintaining order at our meetings. On the other hand the bourgeois parties protected their meetings with a body of men better classified as ushers who by virtue of their age thought they were entitled to-authority and respect. But as Marxism has little or no respect for these things, the question of suitable self-protection at these bourgeois meetings was, so to speak, in practice non-existent.
When our political meetings first started I made it a special point to organize a suitable defensive squad – a squad composed chiefly of young men. Some of them were comrades who had seen active service with me; others were young party members who, right from the start, had been trained and brought up to realize that only terror is capable of smashing terror – that only courageous and determined people had made a success of things in this world and that, finally, we were fighting for an idea so lofty that it was worth the last drop of our blood. These young men had been brought up to realize that where force replaced common sense in the solution of a problem, the best means of defence was attack and that the reputation of our hall-guard squads should stamp us as a political fighting force and not as a debating society.
And it was extraordinary how eagerly these boys of the War generation responded to this order. They had indeed good reason for being bitterly disappointed and indignant at the miserable milksop methods employed by the bourgeoise.
Thus it became clear to everyone that the Revolution had only been possible thanks to the dastardly methods of a bourgeois government. At that time there was certainly no lack of man-power to suppress the revolution, but unfortunately there was an entire lack of directive brain power. How often did the eyes of my young men light up with enthusiasm when I explained to them the vital functions connected with their task and assured them time and again that all earthly wisdom is useless unless it be supported by a measure of strength, that the gentle goddess of Peace can only walk in company with the god of War, and that every great act of peace must be protected and assisted by force. In this way the idea of military service came to them in a far more realistic form – not in the fossilized sense of the souls of decrepit officials serving the dead authority of a dead State, but in the living realization of the duty of each man to sacrifice his life at all times so that his country might live.
How those young men did their job!
Like a swarm of hornets they tackled disturbers at our meetings, regardless of superiority of numbers, however great, indifferent to wounds and bloodshed, inspired with the great idea of blazing a trail for the sacred mission of our movement.
As early as the summer of 1920 the organization of squads of men as hall guards for maintaining order at our meetings was gradually assuming definite shape. By the spring of 1921 this body of men were sectioned off into squads of one hundred, which in turn were sub-divided into smaller groups.
The urgency for this was apparent, as meanwhile the number of our meetings had steadily increased. We still frequently met in the Munich Hofbräuhaus but more frequently in the large meeting halls throughout the city itself. In the autumn and winter of 1920–1921 our meetings in the Bürgerbräu and Munich Kindlbräu had assumed vast proportions and it was always the same picture that presented itself; namely, meetings of the NSDAP (The German National Socialist Labour Party) were always crowded out so that the police were compelled to close and bar the doors long before proceedings commenced.
The organization of defence guards for keeping order at our meetings cleared up a very difficult question. Up till then the movement had possessed no party badge and no party flag. The lack of these tokens was not only a disadvantage at that time but would prove intolerable in the future. The disadvantages were chiefly that members of the party possessed no outward broken of membership which linked them together, and it was absolutely unthinkable that for the future they should remain without some token which would be a symbol of the movement and could be set against that of the International.
More than once in my youth the psychological importance of such a symbol had become clearly evident to me and from a sentimental point of view also it was advisable. In Berlin, after the War, I was present at a mass-demonstration of Marxists in front of the Royal Palace and in the Lustgarten. A sea of red flags, red armlets and red flowers was in itself sufficient to give that huge assembly of about 120,000 persons an outward appearance of strength. I was now able to feel and understand how easily the man in the street succumbs to the hypnotic magic of such a grandiose piece of theatrical presentation.
The bourgeoisie, which as a party neither possesses or stands for any Weltanschhauung, had therefore not a single banner. Their party was composed of ‘patriots’ who went about in the colours of the Reich. If these colours were the symbol of a definite Weltanschhauung then one could understand the rulers of the State regarding this flag as expressive of their own Weltanschhauung, seeing that through their efforts the official Reich flag was expressive of their own Weltanschhauung.
But in reality the position was otherwise.
The Reich was morticed together without the aid of the German bourgeoisie and the flag itself was born of the War and therefore merely a State flag possessing no importance in the sense of any particular ideological mission.
Only in one part of the German-speaking territory – in German-Austria – was there anything like a bourgeois party flag in evidence. Here a section of the national bourgeoisie selected the 1848 colours (black, red and gold) as their party flag and therewith created a symbol which, though of no importance from a weltanschauliche viewpoint, had, nevertheless, a revolutionary character from a national point of view. The most bitter opponents of this flag at that time, and this should not be forgotten to-day, were the Social Democrats and the Christian Socialists or clericals. They, in particular, were the ones who degraded and besmirched these colours in the same way as in 1918 they dragged black, white and red into the gutter. Of course, the black, red and gold of the German parties in the old Austria were the colours of the year 1848: that is to say, of a period likely to be regarded as somewhat visionary, but it was a period that had honest German souls as its representatives, although the Jews were lurking unseen as wire-pullers in the background. It was high treason and the shameful enslavement of the German territory that first of all made these colours so attractive to the Marxists of the Centre Party; so much so that to-day they revere them as their most cherished possession and use them as their own banners for the protection of the flag they once foully besmirched.
It is a fact, therefore, that, up till 1920, in opposition to the Marxists there was no flag that would have stood for a consolidated resistance to them. For even if the better political elements of the German bourgeoisie were loath to accept the suddenly discovered black, red and gold colours as their symbol after the year 1918, they nevertheless were incapable of counteracting this with a future programme of their own that would correspond to the new trend of affairs. At the most, they had a reconstruction of the old Reich in mind.
And it is to this way of thinking that the black, white and red colours of the old Reich are indebted for their resurrection as the flag of our so-called national bourgeois parties.
It was obvious that the symbol of a régime which had been overthrown by the Marxists under inglorious circumstances was not now worthy to serve as a banner under which the same Marxism was to be crushed in its turn. However much any decent German may love and revere those old colours, glorious when placed side by side in their youthful freshness, when he had fought under them and seen the sacrifice of so many lives, that flag had little value for the struggle of the future.
In our Movement I have always adopted the standpoint that it was a really lucky thing for the German nation that it had lost its old flag 18). This standpoint of mine was in strong contrast to that of the bourgeois politicians. It may be immaterial to us what the Republic does under its flag. But let us be deeply grateful to fate for having so graciously spared the most glorious war flag for all time from becoming an ignominious rag. The Reich of to-day, which sells itself and its people, must never be allowed to adopt the honourable and heroic black, white and red colours.
As long as the November outrage endures, that outrage may continue to bear its own external sign and not steal that of an honourable past. Our bourgeois politicians should awaken their consciences to the fact that whoever desires this State to have the black, white and red colours is pilfering from the past. The old flag was suitable only for the old Reich and, thank Heaven, the Republic chose the colours best suited to itself.
This was also the reason why we National Socialists recognized that hoisting the old colours would be no symbol of our special aims; for we had no wish to resurrect from the dead the old Reich which had been ruined through its own blunders, but to build up a new State.
The Movement which is fighting Marxism to-day along these lines must display on its banner the symbol of the new State.
The question of the new flag, that is to say the form and appearance it must take, kept us very busy in those days. Suggestions poured in from all quarters, which although well meant were more or less impossible in practice. The new flag had not only to become a symbol expressing our own struggle but on the other hand it was necessary that it should prove effective as a large poster. All those who busy themselves with the tastes of the public will recognize and appreciate the great importance of these apparently petty matters. In hundreds of thousands of cases a really striking emblem may be the first cause of awakening interest in a movement.
For this reason we declined all suggestions from various quarters for identifying our movement by means of a white flag with the old State or rather with those decrepit parties whose sole political objective is the restoration of past conditions. And, apart from this, white is not a colour capable of attracting and focusing public attention. It is a colour suitable only for young women’s associations and not for a movement that stands for reform in a revolutionary period.
Black was also suggested – certainly well-suited to the times, but embodying no significance to empress the will behind our movement. And, finally, black is incapable of attracting attention.
White and blue was discarded, despite its admirable æsthetic appeal – as being the colours of an individual German Federal State – a State that, unfortunately, through its political attitude of particularist narrow-mindedness did not enjoy a good reputation. And, generally speaking, with these colours it would have been difficult to attract attention to our movement. The same applies to black and white.
Black, red and gold did not enter the question at all.
And this also applies to black, white and red for reasons already stated. At least, not in the form hitherto in use. But the effectiveness of these three colours is far superior to all the others and they are certainly the most strikingly harmonious combination to be found.
I myself was always for keeping the old colours, not only because I, as a soldier, regarded them as my most sacred possession, but because in their aesthetic effect, they conformed more than anything else to my personal taste. Accordingly I had to discard all the innumerable suggestions and designs which had been proposed for the new movement, among which were many that had incorporated the swastika into the old colours. I, as leader, was unwilling to make public my own design, as it was possible that someone else could come forward with a design just as good, if not better, than my own. As a matter of fact, a dental surgeon from Starnberg submitted a good design very similar to mine, with only one mistake, in that his swastika with curved corners was set upon a white background.
After innumerable trials I decided upon a final form – a flag of red material with a white disc bearing in its centre a black swastika. After many trials I obtained the correct proportions between the dimensions of the flag and of the white central disc, as well as that of the swastika. And this is how it has remained ever since.
At the same time we immediately ordered the corresponding armlets for our squad of men who kept order at meetings, armlets of red material, a central white disc with the black swastika upon it. Herr Füss, a Munich goldsmith, supplied the first practical and permanent design.
The new flag appeared in public in the midsummer of 1920. It suited our movement admirably, both being new and young. Not a soul had seen this flag before; its effect at that time was something akin to that of a blazing torch. We ourselves experienced almost a boyish delight when one of the ladies of the party who had been entrusted with the making of the flag finally handed it over to us. And a few months later those of us in Munich were in possession of six of these flags. The steadily increasing strength of our hall guards was a main factor in popularizing the symbol.
And indeed a symbol it proved to be.
Not only because it incorporated those revered colours expressive of our homage to the glorious past and which once brought so much honour to the German nation, but this symbol was also an eloquent expression of the will behind the movement. We National Socialists regarded our flag as being the embodiment of our party programme. The red expressed the social thought underlying the movement. White the national thought. And the swastika signified the mission allotted to us – the struggle for the victory of Aryan mankind and at the same time the triumph of the ideal of creative work which is in itself and always will be anti-Semitic.
Two years later, when our squad of hall guards had long since grown into storm detachments, it seemed necessary to give this defensive organization of a young Weltanschhauung a particular symbol of victory, namely a Standard. I also designed this and entrusted the execution of it to an old party comrade, Herr Gahr, who was a goldsmith. Ever since that time this Standard has been the distinctive token of the National Socialist struggle.
The increasing interest taken in our meetings, particularly during 1920, compelled us at times to hold two meetings a week. Crowds gathered round our posters; the large meeting halls in the town were always filled and tens of thousands of people, who had been led astray by the teachings of Marxism, found their way to us and assisted in the work of fighting for the liberation of the Reich. The public in Munich had got to know us. We were being spoken about. The words ‘National Socialist’ had become common property to many and signified for them a definite party programme. Our circle of supporters and even of members was constantly increasing, so that in the winter of 1920–21 we were able to appear as a strong party in Munich.
At that time there was no party in Munich with the exception of the Marxist parties – certainly no nationalist party – which was able to hold such mass demonstrations as ours. The Munich Kindl Hall, which held 5,000 people, was more than once overcrowded and up till then there was only one other hall, the Krone Circus Hall, into which we had not ventured.
At the end of January 1921 there was again great cause for anxiety in Germany. The Paris Agreement, by which Germany pledged herself to pay the crazy sum of a hundred milliards of gold marks, was to be confirmed by the London Ultimatum.
Thereupon an old-established Munich working committee, representative of so-called völkisch groups, deemed it advisable to call for a public meeting of protest. I became nervous and restless when I saw that a lot of time was being wasted and nothing undertaken. At first a meeting was suggested in the König Platz; on second thoughts this was turned down, as someone feared the proceedings might be wrecked by Red elements. Another suggestion was a demonstration in front of the Feldherrn Hall, but this also came to nothing. Finally a combined meeting in the Munich Kindl Hall was suggested. Meanwhile, day after day had gone by; the big parties had entirely ignored the terrible event, and the working committee could not decide on a definite date for holding the demonstration.
On Tuesday, February 1st, I put forward an urgent demand for a final decision. I was put off until Wednesday. On that day I demanded to be told clearly if and when the meeting was to take place. The reply was again uncertain and evasive, it being stated that it was ‘intended’ to arrange a demonstration that day week.
At that I lost all patience and decided to conduct a demonstration of protest on my own. At noon on Wednesday I dictated in ten minutes the text of the poster and at the same time hired the Krone Circus Hall for the next day, February 3rd.
In those days this was a tremendous venture. Not only because of the uncertainty of filling that vast hall, but also because of the risk of the meeting being wrecked.
Numerically our squad of hall guards was not strong enough for this vast hall. I was also uncertain about what to do in case the meeting was broken up – a huge circus building being a different proposition from an ordinary meeting hall. But events showed that my fears were misplaced, the opposite being the case. In that vast building a squad of wreckers could be tackled and subdued more easily than in a cramped hall.
One thing was certain: A failure would throw us back for a long time to come. If one meeting was wrecked our prestige would be seriously injured and our opponents would be encouraged to repeat their success. That would lead to sabotage of our work in connection with further meetings and months of difficult struggle would be necessary to overcome this.
We had only one day in which to post our bills, Thursday. Unfortunately it rained on the morning of that day and there was reason to fear that many people would prefer to remain at home rather than hurry to a meeting through rain and snow, especially when there was likely to be violence and bloodshed.
And indeed on that Thursday morning I was suddenly struck with fear that the hall might never be filled to capacity, which would have made me ridiculous in the eyes of the working committee. I therefore immediately dictated various leaflets, had them printed and distributed in the afternoon. Of course they contained an invitation to attend the meeting.
Two lorries which I hired were draped as much as possible in red, each had our new flag hoisted on it and was then filled with fifteen or twenty members of our party. Orders were given the members to canvas the streets thoroughly, distribute leaflets and conduct propaganda for the mass meeting to be held that evening. It was the first time that lorries had driven through the streets bearing flags and not manned by Marxists. The public stared open-mouthed at these red-draped cars, and in the outlying districts clenched fists were angrily raised at this new evidence of ‘provocation of the proletariat’. Were not the Marxists the only ones entitled to hold meetings and drive about in motor lorries?
At seven o’clock in the evening only a few had gathered in the circus hall. I was being kept informed by telephone every ten minutes and was becoming uneasy. Usually at seven or a quarter past our meeting halls were already half filled; sometimes even packed. But I soon found out the reason why I was uneasy. I had entirely forgotten to take into account the huge dimensions of this new meeting place. A thousand people in the Hofbräuhaus was quite an impressive sight, but the same number in the Circus building was swallowed up in its dimensions and was hardly noticeable. Shortly afterwards I received more hopeful reports and at a quarter to eight I was informed that the hall was three-quarters filled, with huge crowds still lined up at the pay boxes. I then left for the meeting.
I arrived at the Circus building at two minutes past eight. There was still a crowd of people outside, partly inquisitive people and many opponents who preferred to wait outside for developments.
When I entered the great hall I felt the same joy I had felt a year previously at the first meeting in the Munich Hofbräu Banquet Hall; but it was not until I had forced my way through the solid wall of people and reached the platform that I perceived the full measure of our success. The hall was before me, like a huge shell, packed with thousands and thousands of people. Even the arena was densely crowded. More than 5,600 tickets had been sold and, allowing for the unemployed, poor students and our own detachments of men for keeping order, a crowd of about 6,500 must have been present.
My theme was ‘Future or Downfall’ and I was filled with joy at the conviction that the future was represented by the crowds that I was addressing.
I began, and spoke for about two and a half hours. I had the feeling after the first half-hour that the meeting was going to be a big success. Contact had been at once established with all those thousands of individuals. After the first hour the speech was already being received by spontaneous outbreaks of applause, but after the second hour this died down to a solemn stillness which I was to experience so often later on in this same hall, and which will for ever be remembered by all those present. Nothing broke this impressive silence and only when the last word had been spoken did the meeting give vent to its feelings by singing the national anthem.
I watched the scene during the next twenty minutes, as the vast hall slowly emptied itself, and only then did I leave the platform, a happy man, and made my way home.
Photographs were taken of this first meeting in the Krone Circus Hall in Munich. They are more eloquent than words to demonstrate the success of this demonstration. The bourgeois papers reproduced photographs and reported the meeting as having been merely ‘nationalist’ in character; in their usual modest fashion they omitted all mention of its promoters.
Thus for the first time we had developed far beyond the dimensions of an ordinary party. We could no longer be ignored. And to dispel all doubt that the meeting was merely an isolated success, I immediately arranged for another at the Circus Hall in the following week, and again we had the same success. Once more the vast hall was overflowing with people; so much so that I decided to hold a third meeting during the following week, which also proved a similar success.
After these initial successes early in 1921 I increased our activity in Munich still further. I not only held meetings once a week, but during some weeks even two were regularly held and very often during midsummer and autumn this increased to three. We met regularly at the Circus Hall and it gave us great satisfaction to see that every meeting brought us the same measure of success.
The result was shown in an ever-increasing number of supporters and members into our party.
Naturally, such success did not allow our opponents to sleep soundly. At first their tactics fluctuated between the use of terror and silence in our regard. Then they recognized that neither terror nor silence could hinder the progress of our movement. So they had recourse to a supreme act of terror which was intended to put a definite end to our activities in the holding of meetings.
As a pretext for action along this line they availed themselves of a very mysterious attack on one of the Landtag deputies, named Erhard Auer. It was declared that someone had fired several shots at this man one evening. This meant that he was not shot but that an attempt had been made to shoot him. A fabulous presence of mind and heroic courage on the part of Social Democratic leaders not only prevented the sacrilegious intention from taking effect but also put the crazy would-be assassins to flight, like the cowards that they were. They were so quick and fled so far that subsequently the police could not find even the slightest traces of them. This mysterious episode was used by the organ of the Social Democratic Party to arouse public feeling against the movement, and while doing this it delivered its old rigmarole about the tactics that were to be employed the next time. Their purpose was to see to it that our movement should not grow but should be immediately hewn down root and branch by the hefty arm of the proletariat.
A few days later the real attack came. It was decided finally to interrupt one of our meetings which was billed to take place in the Munich Hofbräuhaus, and at which I myself was to speak.
On November 4th, 1921, in the evening between six and seven o’clock I received the first precise news that the meeting would positively be broken up and that to carry out this action our adversaries had decided to send to the meeting great masses of workmen employed in certain ‘Red’ factories.
It was due to an unfortunate accident that we did not receive this news sooner. On that day we had given up our old business office in the Sternecker Gasse in Munich and moved into other quarters; or rather we had given up the old offices and our new quarters were not yet in functioning order. The telephone arrangements had been cut off by the former tenants and had not yet been reinstalled. Hence it happened that several attempts made that day to inform us by telephone of the break-up which had been planned for the evening did not reach us.
Consequently our order troops were not present in strong force at that meeting. There was only one squad present, which did not consist of the usual one hundred men, but only of about forty-six. And our telephone connections were not yet sufficiently organized to be able to give the alarm in the course of an hour or so, so that a sufficiently powerful number of order troops to deal with the situation could be called. It must also be added that on several previous occasions we had been forewarned, but nothing special happened. The old proverb, ‘Revolutions which were announced have scarcely ever come off’, had hitherto been proved true in our regard.
Possibly for this reason also sufficiently strong precautions had not been taken on that day to cope with the brutal determination of our opponents to break up our meeting.
Finally, we did not believe that the Hofbräuhaus in Munich was suitable for the interruptive tactics of our adversaries. We had feared such a thing far more in the bigger halls, especially that of the Krone Circus. But on this point we learned a very serviceable lesson that evening. Later, we studied this whole question according to a scientific system and arrived at results, both interesting and incredible, and which subsequently were an essential factor in the direction of our organization and in the tactics of our Storm Troops.
When I arrived in the entrance halt of the Hofbräuhaus at 7.45 that evening I realizcd that there could be no doubt as to what the ‘Reds’ intended. The hall was filled, and for that reason the police had barred the entrances. Our adversaries, who had arrived very early, were in the hall, and our followers were for the most part outside. The small bodyguard awaited me at the entrance. I had the doors leading to the principal hall closed and then asked the bodyguard of forty-five or forty-six men to come forward. I made it clear to the boys that perhaps on that evening for the first time they would have to show their unbending and unbreakable loyalty to the movement and that not one of us should leave the hall unless carried out dead. I added that I would remain in the hall and that I did not believe that one of them would abandon me, and that if I saw any one of them act the coward I myself would personally tear off his armlet and his badge. I demanded of them that they should come forward if the slightest attempt to sabotage the meeting were made and that they must remember that the best defence is always attack.
I was greeted with a triple ‘Heil’ which sounded more hoarse and violent than usual.
Then I advanced through the hall and could take in the situation with my own eyes. Our opponents sat closely huddled together and tried to pierce me through with their looks. Innumerable faces glowing with hatred and rage were fixed on me, while others with sneering grimaces shouted at me together. Now they would ‘Finish with us. We must look out for our entrails. To-day they would smash in our faces once and for all.’ And there were other expressions of an equally elegant character. They knew that they were there in superior numbers and they acted accordingly.
Yet we were able to open the meeting; and I began to speak. In the Hall of the Hofbräuhaus I stood always at the side, away from the entry and on top of a beer table. Therefore I was always right in the midst of the audience. Perhaps this circumstance was responsible for creating a certain feeling and a sense of agreement which I never found elsewhere.
Before me, and especially towards my left, there were only opponents, seated or standing. They were mostly robust youths and men from the Maffei Factory, from Kustermann’s, and from the factories on the Isar, etc. Along the right-hand wall of the hall they were thickly massed quite close to my table. They now began to order litre mugs of beer, one after the other, and to throw the empty mugs under the table. In this way whole batteries were collected. I should have been surprised had this meeting ended peacefully.
In spite of all the interruptions, I was able to speak for about an hour and a half and I felt as if I were master of the situation. Even the ringleaders of the disturbers appeared to be convinced of this; for they steadily became more uneasy, often left the hall, returned and spoke to their men in an obviously nervous way.
A small psychological error which I committed in replying to an interruption, and the mistake of which I myself was conscious the moment the words had left my mouth, gave the sign for the outbreak.
There were a few furious outbursts and all in a moment a man jumped on a seat and shouted "Liberty". At that signal the champions of liberty began their work.
In a few moments the hall was filled with a yelling and shrieking mob. Numerous beer-mugs flew like howitzers above their heads. Amid this uproar one heard the crash of chair legs, the crashing of mugs, groans and yells and screams.
It was a mad spectacle. I stood where I was and could observe my boys doing their duty, every one of them.
There I had the chance of seeing what a bourgeois meeting could be.
The dance had hardly begun when my Storm Troops, as they were called from that day onwards, launched their attack. Like wolves they threw themselves on the enemy again and again in parties of eight or ten and began steadily to thrash them out of the hall. After five minutes I could see hardly one of them that was not streaming with blood. Then I realized what kind of men many of them were, above all my brave Maurice Hess, who is my private secretary to-day, and many others who, even though seriously wounded, attacked again and again as long as they could stand on their feet. Twenty minutes long the pandemonium continued. Then the opponents, who had numbered seven or eight hundred, had been driven from the hall or hurled out headlong by my men, who had not numbered fifty. Only in the left corner a big crowd still stood out against our men and put up a bitter fight. Then two pistol shots rang out from the entrance to the hall in the direction of the platform and now a wild din of shooting broke out from all sides. One’s heart almost rejoiced at this spectacle which recalled memories of the War.
At that moment it was not possible to identify the person who had fired the shots. But at any rate I could see that my boys renewed the attack with increased fury until finally the last disturbers were overcome and flung out of the hall.
About twenty-five minutes had passed since it all began. The hall looked as if a bomb had exploded there. Many of my comrades had to be bandaged and others taken away. But we remained masters of the situation. Hermann Essen, who was chairman of the meeting, announced: "The meeting will continue. The speaker shall proceed." So I went on with my speech.
When we ourselves declared the meeting at an end an excited police officer rushed in, waved his hands and declared: "The meeting is dissolved."
Without wishing to do so I had to laugh at this example of the law’s delay. It was the authentic constabulary officiosiousness. The smaller they are the greater they must always appear.
That evening we learned a real lesson. And our adversaries never forgot the lesson they had received.
Up to the autumn of 1923 the Münchener post did not again mention the clenched fists of the Proletariat.
|© Copyright Peter Crawford 2012|