Dienstag, 23. Oktober 2012

Freikorps Werdenfels: Historical background (Pt. 3)

‚Red‘ and ‚White‘ terror  

Civil wars tend to be some of the most brutal struggles and the fighting in and around Munich in 1919 were no difference.
(‘Red’ of course refers to those who sided with the Bavarian Republic of Councils and ‘White’ to the troops sent by the Bavarian government Hoffmann (residing at Bamberg in northern Bavaria) and the federal German government in Berlin.)  

‘Red’ terror

The ‘Red’ terror i.e. the use of violence by the Republic of Councils was means to stabilize its position and to awe its enemies. The Republic didn’t have a very strong base among the Munich people, especially as the supply situation (food and articles of daily use) became worse in the cut-of city every day. Confiscations and forced openings of safe-deposit boxes were supposed to help improve the situation but weren’t met with much enthusiasm, of course (although vouchers were issued in many cases). 

Weapons were also confiscated and used to equip the ‘Red Army’. The press was suppressed to hamper ‘white’ propaganda. Counterrevolutionary initiatives were condemned by a revolutionary tribunal but not many verdicts were rendered, most of them quite moderate.   

Some isolated killings resp. ’court-martials’ by individual ‘reds’ and small groups acting on their own initiative took place throughout the city. Among the victims were also members of rivaling factions within the Republic of Councils (one of them was the short-term town major Wilhelm Weinberger). 

The event that become the epitome of the ‘Red’ terror was the killing of hostages at the Luitpold-Gymnasium (grammar/secondary school) on April 30th. At first only two imprisoned ‘white’ soldiers were shoot as a spontaneous reaction to reports of massacres committed by ‘whites’. Later on the same day eight more hostages were killed, supposable by the order of Rudolf Egelhofer. Among these eight victims were several members of the nationalist Thule-Society but also professor and painter Ernst Berger, who was only arrested for expressing his resentments in public.   

All these events (especially those at the Luitpold-Gymnasium) were massively exaggerated by ‘white’ propaganda and fueled the fears of the citizens and the hatred of the ‘white’ forces. (‘Rotmord über München’ – ‘Red murder over Munich’ being a famous slogan of the ‘white’ propaganda.)

'Red murder over Munich' - 'white' propaganda

‘White’ terror

Already during their advance on Munich ‘white’ forces committed several acts of violence but the intensity increased dramatically as they reach the city. Executions of prisoners and leaders of the Republic of Councils became day to day business for parts of the ‘white’ troops. Often these victims didn’t receive any form of trial, in many cases they weren’t what they were suspected to be. For example at one occasion over 50 former Russian POW were shot just because they were Russians and thus must have been ‘reds’ on account of the ‘whites’.   

Shot revolutionaries in Munich

Depending on the sources the numbers of victims from April 30th to May 8th vary between 557 and 1.200. About 650 are documented, though (335 of them civilians, according to police records). But these are only the numbers of the people killed, an even greater number was abused and an also undocumented number of flats and houses (especially those in parts of the city like Giesing) were plundered and devastated during house searching.   
This was only one part, though, as the atrocities continued through the whole of May 1919.

The cellars of a lot of official buildings were used as impromptu prisons for political opponents although the term ‘prison’ in today's sence may be a little bit misguiding. Some must have been more like medieval dungeons or, in some cases, also a foretaste of the SS or Gestapo prisons. Altogether more than 100.000 people were (temporary) imprisoned during early May. That’s more than a sixth of the whole population of Munich at that time! Most of these arrests were plain arbitrariness or motivated by very base motives. Of course the conditions under which these prisoners were kept were degrading to say the least. 

The mechanic Johann Lehner arrested and shot without a trial by federal troops on May 3rd, 1919. He was wrongly (!) accused of taking part in the killing of hostages at the Luitpold-secondary school.
If (and when to which extent) the Freikorps Werdenfels, or members thereof, took part in these or other atrocities is not documented. At one point they were accused of being responsible for massacring 21 members of a catholic craftsmen association on Mai 6th, but it turned out that members of the Freikorps Bayreuth committed this crime.

1 Kommentar:

  1. As you say Civil War (usually religiously or politically motivated) brings out the worst in people and the Freikorps in many instances were little more than armed militias. In some respects the German Revolution reminds of other internecine wars such as the breakup of Yugoslavia at the end of the last century.

    Interestingly the 1926 General Strike in Britain almost lead to full-blown revolution/civil war, with armoured cars on the streets and the formation of a government-backed right-wing militia, the OMS. How different thing might be if it had erupted!