Anarchist activity in Nazi Germany - Albert Meltzer

Target - Anarchist assassination attempts failed

Some notes on the activity of anarchists in Germany immediately preceding and soon after the Nazis' gained power, including accounts of attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

While containing several inaccuracies, we reproduce the article here in full. A discussion about factual errors herein is below the article.

After World War II, the police archives were taken by the Americans and when these were opened to scholars they found that German anarchist resistance through the ages had been extremely large. There had been an extremely active and influential working class anarchist movement in a line from that under Bismarck to that under Hitler. It had been ignored by historians because workers in general, like women in particular, only exist for them in relation to power politics or intellectual currents (also, perhaps, because it entails some real research as distinct from looking up other people's books). Here we can only give some pointers to research.

Much of the old anarcho-syndicalist movement, in the FAUD (later crushed by Hitler), was centred in the Rhineland and the Ruhr, where it had a base in the mines and in heavy industry and had built on the experience of workers councils in 1918. In Bavaria, the workers movement was much more fickle. Bavarian nationalism obscured the issue: in Munich, the people turned out almost in mass to moum the death of the local hereditary petty ruler, but within months they were rising in mass against the bourgeoisie and upper class, though perhaps some saw it as against Prussian domination. A 'soviet' was formed-with the participation of anarchist intellectuals - to be crushed by the vicious bourgeois-Christian dictatorship. Hitler's new party was in due course subject to these fluctuations of sympathy, at first because it was thought to be 'Bavarian monarchist'. Its comic-opera rising in 1923 was mildly put down by the same govemmment which had massacred the workers in the Commune of Munich. In some places like Wurttemberg there were under the Weimar Republic active sections of the FAUD, mainly railway workers who had escaped from Munich.

In Berlin the anarcho-syndicalists were part of a much wider anarchist movement and operated within a distinct socialistic culture, bitterly divided between orthodox Socialists and Communists which minimalised the effect of anarchism. The success of Hitler's party had a shattering and paralysing effect on the working class movement. For years it had been thought, even by those who opposed the Communist Party, that its Red Front/Army would put up a fight. It was expected that the struggle would come with its success, not with its failure. This attitude was ingrained even with those who advocated Socialist-Communist unity against Nazism. Though working class formations had long since battled in the streets against Hitlerism, nobody anticipated the struggle would be given up without a shot or a blow.

In a town like Cologne, only months before Hitler took power anarcho-syndicalists had organised a demonstration, receiving huge popular support, against the visit by Dr Goebbels, who bitterly complained he was 'chased out of his native town like a criminal'. It was a challenge to the larger tendencies, who felt obliged to organise similar demonstrations, making Nazi propaganda tours, at the height of the Depression (and therefore when 'historians' later claimed they were building support) risky in the extreme. Hitler took to travelling by plane (then considered hazardous) as the lesser danger.

In Berlin, marches by Nazis were surrounded and heavily protected by police (like fascist marches in Britain). Isherwood, as a young observer a few months before the Nazis took power, noted how the hostile crowds in the Moabit working class district laughed when an elderly and portly SS captain could not sustain the pace, and finding himself on his own, frantically tried to catch up with the protective cordon. (A few months later and that captain would probably be invested with the power of life and death over the scoffers).

The Nazi murder gangs attacked individual opponents out on their own (something in the nature of contemporary gay-bashers) but shied in the main from open confrontation. One gang, to which Horst Wessel belonged, tried it on and he became a Nazi martyr. The Nazi (prepower) Jew-baiting activities were against professional people or writers, often when sitting around in cafes, and petty shopkeepers, on their own.

It never occurred to people, least of all organised workers living in proletarian districts, there they too would become isolated. After Hitler took power - was handed power by Hindenburg, with the tacit approval of most parties - the power of the SS dramatically increased.

Almost overnight the top-heavy organisation of the workers collapsed with the wholesale arrests, quite illegal, of their leadership. Nothing disappeared more ignominiously than the Red Front army, one day parading through the streets with its Moscow - trained generals, the next day languishing in holes and cellars in the hastily formed concentration camps (at first, converted derelict warehouses) without striking a blow (the despised Austrian reformist Social-Democrats at least fought it out to the last against Dolfuss).

The Communist party became illegalised, the Socialists and trade union movement tried to make their peace and niche and were slowly illegalised - after which social democracy had nothing to to offer. Trade union leaders sought to transfer their funds to war veterans' organisations (where for ideological reasons the Nazis could not sequestrate them, but controlled them anyway). The working class as a whole was stunned at the fact that the entire defence they had built around themselves had gone with the wind.

This overcame the German anarchists too, with the exception of the Rhineland, it became a marginalised dissent movement, unable to speak and therefore to grow. The Rhenish workers were slower to accept the situation, they were not initially provoked to industrial action by the Nazis, but as propaganda contacts vanished, they too succumbed though never completely). During the twelve years of Nazi dictatorship, a few isolated, especially industrially based, groups, remained constant. But any concerted action was never possible, though in Madrid during the civil war people queued to see a dud German shell displayed in the window of a large store, bearing a sage, 'Comrades! The shells I make do not explode'. (It may have been indicative of sabotage, which certainly went on, or it may been propaganda set up in Spain - who can tell ?)

Where the German anarchists, and the council-communists (who during the whole Nazi period sunk their differences, never great) resisted was by individual action. It is one of the ironies of history, though typical, that the only attempt against Hitler thought worthy of commemoration is that by the upper-class generals who backed his war effort until it was losing (while such intellectuals as Rudolf Rocker and Augustin Souchy within the International Workers Association declined after the War to support documentation on anarchist attempts on Hitler's life on the undoubtedly true grounds, such activity is what brings the anarchist into disrepute'!).

Nobody ever assumed that the assassination of Hitler would entail automatic defeat of Nazism. But such was the concentrated hero worship of the Fuhrer, it would have destabilised the entire Nazi party, and given a revival of confidence to the anti-Nazi majority to assert itself once more, if merely defensively.

There were never as many attempts on Hitler as on Mussolini by the Italian anarchists, but far more than generally supposed. Only a few are listed here, and we have not even (for want of detailed knowledge) touched on other aspects of the resistance such as that of the anarcho-syndicalists at Duisburg. No attempt has ever been made in genuine research by those in a position to carry it out (lest it detract from the last-ditch plot, to save the Reich, of the generals and the Prussian aristocrats?)

The pioneer attempt (in fact, the destruction of the Reichstag, not an assassination plot) was that of van der Lubbe, a council-communist. He thought that the burning of the parliament of Nazis and those who had ceded them victory would be a signal for the proletariat to rise. Though successful as far as the burning went he was denounced by world communism and its liberal allies as a Nazi agent. The suggestion was that the Nazis did it themselves to discredit the Communists (a typical liberal response to action).

The Schwarzrotgruppe (Black and Red Group), originally based in Dusseldorf, was the first and most persistent of groups advocating and planning the assassination of Hitler. They felt that the mistake made in the Reichstag Fire was the involvement of a man of Dutch origin, bearing in mind the hatred of foreigners presumed to be growing in Germany with Nazi brainwashing (though in a totalitarian country one is inclined to think that everyone else is thinking and acting the same).

They twice set up near-successful attempts, once in the Munich beerhall where the nonevent of the Nazi putsch of 1923 was being celebrated, another time at the Nuremberg opera. Both were foiled at the last moment, but as the perpetrators escaped.

Those concerned fled to Glasgow (where they were given shelter by the late Frank Leech, a well-known Anarchist, in whose house I met them in 1937). They deemed it prudent to go to Birmingham (which had an interesting sequel when, a generation later, the German police by some confusion (no doubt caused by the loss of their main files to Washington) thought the Red and Black Group (English anarcho-pacifist) then existing was the same group as the Schwarzrot (Black Red) group, long since dead or dispersed, and named them, to their intense surprise, as responsible for the killing of an ex-Nazi banker.

There was an immediate response to these two failed attempts in an entirely individual plot to shoot Hitler at a rally in Cologne, but as the man responsible was caught, there may be no record. This led to mass arrests among Rhenish workers and caused a paralysis in activity. Of the many other attempts that were also made, one of which we have more facts is that of Hilda Monte. She was both in the anarchist and council communist movements, and had been active in two or three of the active resistance units.

An extremely determined person, she was disappointed that the Schwarzrot people had not used her (they felt her Jewish origin would be exploited by the Nazis, as it certainly was in the later case of Herschel Grynszpan whose assassination of vom Rath led to the notorious 'Crystal Night' pogrom). In order to work more freely, she became a British subject, by the device of marrying a gay activist, John Olday, who, though a German resident from birth, had a British passport through a Canadian father.

She was involved in plans for another attemp on Hitler's life at a rally and narrowly escaped to England. Olday was deported as a result. There the group with which she had been involved formulated the plans which had been thwarted by mere chance (Hitler hadn't turned up). They were funded originally by a wealthy industrialist, George Strauss, a Labour MP (later Father of the House). Hilda Monte returned to Germany, but presumably the plan went wrong and she arrived back in London before war broke out.

The authorities were suspicious of a German who had turned up just before hostilities, even though she had a recently-acquired British husband with whom she had never lived! She was interned, and like many anti-fascists, felt the humiliation keenly. Contacting British anarchists, she felt sure her plan would go through if she could get back again. Strauss by now had backed out of the association, though his connections would have been useful (he possibly thought he was being inveigled into a Nazi plot though after the war he acknowledged his earlier help). The person Hilda Monte found, by coincidence, who was prepared to back her financially and with official contacts was a film star (who, whether by chance or discovery, was assassinated by the Nazis in Portugal).

She was allowed to return (how, I have no means of knowing) where she contacted her group, was captured by the Gestapo and murdered - fairly horribly, one assumes. A socialist comrade informs me that Det Sgt Jones, of Special Branch, spoke to him during the war of his concern about the reckless way in which Hilda had been allowed to return and his admiration for her audacity. It would seem Intelligence decided to clear her of any suspicion of wanting to help Hitler, and let her get on with her own thing. She is not mentioned in any list of Allied agents sent into Germany (some suggest because of her racial origin, or because of her sex but more probably because she was independent of Government service): her action is commemorated in Israel (where archives on her case are kept) though she was never a Zionist.

During the war when Hitler met Franco there was another plan to assassinate the pair of them together, by Spanish anarchists this time, though with some French and German involvement. This certainly would have changed the course of history, and certainly have been a highspot of anarchist resistance, had it been successful. Those who sneer at such attempts as amateur should bear in mind that those concerned were not professional assassins but ordinary workers living under intolerable oppression. At the very least, these events should be made public and not hidden. They were representative of the real feelings of workers during the years of class defeat when their rulers were dragging their name in filth.

Written by Albert Meltzer, in Black Flag Magazine

Comments

Entdinglichung
May 22 2013 09:52

Hilda Monte (her real name was Hilde Meisel) wasn't an anarchist in the period of the resistance, she joined the idealistic socialist (neo-kantian and anti-marxist) and in its internal structure higly hierarchical Organisation Internationaler Sozialistischer Kampfbund (ISK) in 1929, in the years before, she was for some years member of a social revolutionary youth group called Schwarzer Haufen (Black Crowd). In 1939 she left the ISK while still adhering to its principles and participated from Britain in the left socialist German-language broadcasting station Sender der europäischen Revolution 1940-42, set up in cooperation with the SOE. In 1944-45, she worked together with the OSS and was part of the ISK intelligence network in Switzerland (which was considered to be the organization which had the most reliable information from inside Germany), she was shot on 17th April 1945 by the SS at the Swiss border while she was returning from a meeting with Austrian resistance members

- http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilde_Meisel
- http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internationaler_Sozialistischer_Kampfbund
- http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sender_der_europ%C3%A4ischen_Revolution
- http://library.fes.de/fulltext/isk/isk-es-index.html#speaks (Europe Speaks, English language publication of ISK exiles, 1942-1947)

btw: the ISK had a small british sister organization called the Socialist Vanguard Group (SVG)

robot
Feb 23 2009 16:00

Ouch, you should be careful with this article if you are interested in German anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist resistance to the Nazi regime. It is highly inaccurate in many details and does not at all reflect the historical debate and research of the past 20 years. The confusion already starts in the headline – neither the start date (1918) is accurate (the nazis took power in 1933), nor did the resistance end in 1937.

I do not know what was published on the subject so far in English. But there some quite good German books on it. Here are just some of them:

- Rudolf Berner, “Die unsichtbare Front – Bericht über die illegale Arbeit in Deutschland“, ISBN 3-922226-23-X

- Theissen / Walter /Wilhelms, “Anarcho-Syndikalistischer Widerstand an Rhein und Ruhr“ ISBN 3-922628-00-1 (out of print, but still available second-hand)

- Andreas G. Graf (Hg.), “Anarchisten gegen Hitler“, ISBN 3-931836-23-1

- Mümken, Jürgen, “Anarchosyndikalismus an der Fulda. Die FAUD in Kassel und im Widerstand gegen Nationalsozialismus und Faschismus”, 978-3-936049-36-7

Entdinglichung
Feb 23 2009 16:30

I know, I was only picking at one striking inaccuracy in the article, the ISK is sometimes treated as an anarchic or libertarian group because of being non-marxist (and vegetarian, e.g. sometimes in Graswurzelrevolution), the date 1937 is not completely wrong because most larger groups and central structeres and networks (not only of the FAUD but of more or less all leftist resistance organisations) had been destroyed at this point

btw.: there were also a few resistance Groups by the Föderation Kommunistischer Anarchisten Deutschlands (FKAD), mentioned e.g. by Theissen/Walter/Wilhelms, a good account on the FAUD resistance in Berlin can be found in a chapter in Hans-Rainer Sandvoß: Die „andere“ Reichshauptstadt - Widerstand aus der Arbeiterbewegung in Berlin von 1933-1945 ISBN 978-3-931872-94-1, a good but expensive study on workers movement resistance in Berlin

Steven.
Feb 23 2009 17:24

The dates in the title referred to the years covered in the article. The article covers events between 1918 and 1937.

However, if it is not clear we will change it.

As for its accuracy, yes I am quite sceptical in general of the accuracy of Albert Meltzer's historical articles. Partly because in some cases at least he seems more concerned with enhancing the role of anarchists in history than in recounting it correctly.

We could maybe put some sort of disclaimer in the introduction to this article.

martinh
Feb 23 2009 23:06

Albert nearly always wrote from memory, rather than doing any research. To be fair to him, the materials for the research just weren't available when he was writing, certainly not to someone without connections to academia. And he always complained that his own notebooks and diaries had been confiscated by the police.

It was also written at least 15 years ago and this is an area where more research has been done since then, which should be incorporated and spread wider.

On Steven's point about Albert being concerned to enhance anarchists' reputation, the point of this article is to celebrate the resistance that was kept out of sight - I think he wrote it aroud the time Schindler's List came out and was frustrated that only good bourgeois were shown as in any way resisting the Nazis. He does also include council communists in his account and, unlike some, is not trying to claim them as anarchist, though he does recognise the closeness of their ideas to those of the FAUD.

Regards,

Martin

robot
Feb 24 2009 05:17

Let's just state that the article of course is no total crap but that it contains a lot of inaccuracies and details placed in wrong contexts, that might cause confusion if you work with it today,

syndicalist
Feb 24 2009 18:37
Quote:
- Theissen / Walter /Wilhelms, “Anarcho-Syndikalistischer Widerstand an Rhein und Ruhr“ ISBN 3-922628-00-1

Good book...hard for me to read cause german is not my first language, but found it interesting. I see it's available from: http://www.sjakoo.nl/books/4747.htm

Entdinglichung
Feb 25 2009 09:48

another good book:

Dieter Nelles: Widerstand und internationale Solidarität. Die Internationale Transportarbeiter-Föderation (ITF) im Widerstand gegen den Nationalsozialismus unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Seeleute. Klartext Verlag. Essen 2001. ISBN 3-88474-956-0

about the resistance of the german sailors groups of the ITF which had strong syndicalist and anti-authoritarian tendencies, the network was coordinated by a group of sailors in Antwerpen around Hermann Knüfken, a former KAPD and KPD member (he stayed in Britain after the war, worked for the secret service and strangely joined the Tories a few years before he died in 1976 in Brighton)

Ex-temp
Feb 25 2009 18:37

Entdinglichung that does sound very interesting. Do you know if there are any articles in English about them? We would be very keen to have something about them in our library here on libcom.org, if you ever felt like writing something...

David in Atlanta
Feb 25 2009 20:28

There's a short biography on Hilda Monte here

The ITF in those days had as general secretary Edo Fimmen, a former anarchist close to Domela Nieuwenhuis and the "London Bureau" socialist groups.

syndicalist
Feb 26 2009 02:56

Sorry to digress, here's some background on Fimmen: http://www.globallabour.info/en/2006/09/edo_fimmen.html I knew he was the "spirtual" model for some in the ITF, I never knew of his anarchist background. Where you'd find that out David?

Entdinglichung
Feb 26 2009 15:09

the spunk.org article on Hilda Monte/Hilde Meisel is crap, the author knows nothing about the ISK (which was never luxemburgist, council communist but neo-kantian and "ethical socialist") ... the (unfortunately German) Wikipedia article is mostly accurate: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilde_Meisel

Entdinglichung
Feb 26 2009 16:50

there is an english review of Nelles book about the ITF resistance in http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=147086&jid=ISH&volumeId=48&issueId=01&aid=147085 on page 10-13 (International Review of Social History (IRSH), Nr 48, 2003)

syndicalist
Feb 26 2009 17:21

Solidarity: The First 100 Years of the International Transport Workers' Federation

http://www.itfglobal.org/infocentre/itf100.cfm

"Rotterdam dockers called upon their European colleagues to support a strike in 1896. As a direct result of the practical solidarity by seafarers a new organisation was born. In 1996 the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) celebrates 100 years of solidarity. Numerous industrial disputes throughout the world have been supported by the ITF and its member unions. The Federation can be proud of a rich and heroic past.

This book is published jointly by the ITF and Pluto Press as part of the extensive programme of celebrations of the ITF's centenary year."

David in Atlanta
Feb 27 2009 21:12

Mitch, the German wikipedia entry on Fimmen states that he was part of a Christian anarchist youth group that advocated a general strike against war.

On the same topic, Willi Winkelmann, a militant in the German
Anarcho-syndicalist group in Barcelona, was an ITF member See http://gimenologues.org/spip.php?article353

I may be incorrect about Winkelmann being an ITF member.
Andreas G. Graf and Dieter Nelles point out that the German ITF sailors and the DAS militants shared a syndicalist and internationalist, although not anarchist, viewpoint.

Entdinglichung
Jul 14 2009 13:05

the daily paper of the ISK (1932-1933) is now online: http://library.fes.de/inhalt/digital/funke/funke.html

Bernardoconnor
Feb 15 2010 16:19

My interest lies in the 200 DOWNEND agents sent into Germany by OSS from September 1944. Apart from Hilde Meisel and Anne Beyer (Kappius) were there other women sent in?

Where were they trained in UK?

Entdinglichung
May 15 2013 10:51

there is now an accurate article on Hilde Meisel/Hilda Monte in English on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilde_Meisel