1923: Albert Leo Schlageter, Nazi martyr

On this date in 1923, a German paramilitary was shot by a French firing squad near Dusseldorf for his anti-occupation sabotage efforts.

Albert Leo Schlageter, a World War I veteran and conservative Catholic who signed up with the right-wing Freikorps and tangled with communists after the war, joined the fledging Nazi party when it absorbed his Freikorps unit in 1922.

The next year, France occupied the Ruhr to secure war reparations payments then crippling Germany, which would do much to speed the rise of the Nazis in the years ahead.

Schlageter was nabbed sabotaging railroad lines in resistance, and Berlin’s protests didn’t help him much.

He became a Nazi martyr literally overnight, and as the nationalist right ascended, the place of his passion was marked with a 90-foot cross and used for party rallies. His name christened a naval vessel, a Luftwaffe fighter wing, two SA units, and several Nazi badges and decorations:

A 1923 NSDAP pin honoring Schlageter.

There was also a play about him, Schlageter, whose debut performance was for Hitler’s first birthday as Chancellor in 1933. The most famous work of Hanns Johst, it was notable for the line “Wenn ich ‘Kultur’ höre, entsichere ich meinen Browning!” — “When I hear the word ‘culture’, I reach for my gun!” — subsequently adopted by so many gun-reaching Nazi kulturkampfers that it is provenance is regularly misattributed.

Unsurprisingly, Schlageter’s cult has waned into obscurity since 1945. But one needs not endorse his philosophy or its horrifying posthumous expressions to appreciate the man’s struggle against foreign occupation and bravery in what he took to be the country’s interests.

For the Communist Karl Radek, this martyr of the right stood for many more whose sincere intentions had been bent against themselves — “those German Fascisti, who honestly thought to serve the German people.” Addressing the Communist International’s Executive Committee in the days after the officer’s execution, Radek anticipated Schlageter pointing the way to a future very different from that which came to pass:

Schlageter, a courageous soldier of the counter-revolution, deserves to be sincerely honoured by us, the soldiers of the revolution.

Schlageter went … to the Ruhr, not in the year 1923 but in the year 1920. Do you know what that meant? He took part in the attack of German capital upon the Ruhr workers; he fought in the ranks of the troops whose task it was to bring the miners of the Ruhr under the heel of the iron and coal kings. The troops of Waters, in whose ranks he fought, fired the same leaden bullets with which General Degoutte quelled the Ruhr workers. We have no reason to believe that it was from selfish motives that Schlageter helped to subdue the starving miners.

The way in which he risked his life speaks on his behalf, and proves that he was convinced he was serving the German people.

[The German Communist Party] believe[s] that the great majority of the nationalist-minded masses belong not to the camp of the capitalists but to the camp of the workers. We want to find, and we shall find, the path to these masses. We shall do all in our power to make men like Schlageter, who are prepared to go to their deaths for a common cause, not wanderers into the void, but wanderers into a better future for the whole of mankind; that they should not spill their hot, unselfish blood for the profit of the coal and iron barons, but in the cause of the great toiling German people, which is a member of the family of peoples fighting for their emancipation.

Schlageter himself cannot now hear this declaration, but we are convinced that there are hundreds of Schlageters who will hear it and understand it.

On this day..

7 thoughts on “1923: Albert Leo Schlageter, Nazi martyr

  1. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1945: Johann Georg Elser, dogged assassin

  2. Would anyone know about any family connection to Schlageters born in Bremerton, WA circa 1900?

  3. Pingback: ExecutedToday.com » 1934: Night of the Long Knives

    • He is related to us on my mother’s side. From what I’ve read., he seems to have been doing what he believed was necessary. I think he had even thought of becoming a Catholic priest.

  4. The need for liberation and emancipation from the human condition of ignorance and fear always leads people to become prisoners of an elite who believe their class or rank has the ideological solution. Fear is a feast for wolves.

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