Oerter, Friedrich “Fritz” (1869-1935)

Fritz Oerter
Fritz Oerter

A short biography of the German anarchist Fritz Oerter.

Submitted by Battlescarred on November 1, 2011

Fritz Oerter was born on 19th February 1869, in Straubing, in Lower Bavaria, Germany. His brother Josef, “Sepp”, was born the following year. As a teenager Fritz moved with his family to Fürth where he trained to be a lithographic worker. Both he and Sepp became enthused by the ideas of the Social-Democratic Party, joining it in 1887.

The brothers were both associated with the left of the Party organised primarily within the youth organisations. Following expulsions of these elements the Oerters left in 1890 and joined the anarchist movement.

The Oerters were both involved in smuggling anarchist literature including the paper Autonomie across the border. Sepp had to flee to the USA in 1892.

In December 1892 both brothers (Sepp had by now returned) were arrested for delivering “seditious speeches” at a meeting of the unemployed in Mainz. On Oct 25th 1893 Sepp was sentenced to 8 years in prison and Fritz to 1 year. Fritz was badly affected by prison and spent the next decade in poor health.

Both the brothers participated in the Anarchistischen Föderation Deutschlands (German Anarchist Federation) founded in 1903 and contributed to the paper Der Freie Arbeiter (Free Worker).

Following accusations of embezzlement of funds from the Der Freie Arbeiter Sepp left the movement in 1908 and re-joined the Social-Democrats in 1913, eventually moving to the Nazi Party and becoming one of its MPs in northern Germany. He died in 1928. Fritz, on the other hand, remained an anarchist throughout his life.

Oerter took an internationalist position on the outbreak of World War One. In 1918/1919 he participated in the activities of the Workers and Soldiers Councils in Fürth. In 1919 he joined the FAUD and became influential within it. He became an editor of the FAUD paper Der Syndikalist. He was a leading proponent of the doctrine of passive resistance within the FAUD. He posited the General Strike, boycotts and passive resistance as the means of choice and said that violence from the ruling class should not be answered with violence. He did not see non-violence as an absolute but counselled that it should be used in the first instance. This disastrous theory was opposed within and outside the FAUD by other anarchists, many of whom had been involved in the armed uprisings from 1918 onwards. Oerter backed up his advocacy of passive resistance with speaking tours and a pamphlet, Violence or Non-Violence, published in 1920.

He had close friendships with the anarchist Gustav Landauer, the playwright Ernst Toller and Erich Muehsam (all actors in the Munich republic of workers and Soldiers Councils). He is said to have sheltered Erich Muehsam in 1924 after his release from prison and there is evidence that Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian poet visited him in Furth in 1926 (his friend Landauer had earlier translated Tagore into German). In the 1920s Fritz started a bookshop and lending library in Furth.

In 1935 Fritz was arrested by the SA (Nazi stormtroopers) and detained. Following his interrogation he died a week later in hospital at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, apparently of pneumonia, on 19th September.

Nick Heath

Sources: Article on Oerter: www.syndikalismusforschung.info/fritzoerter.htm
Andreas Müller – Die Anarchisten in Mühlheim-Styrum nach dem Sozialistengesetz at