Does National Socialism support the ideals of socialism?
The history of the Hohenzollern debate.
Hello and welcome to a new episode of History and Politics, the Körber Foundation's podcast on history and politics. Today we are again talking to a guest about how the past shapes and influences the present.
Today's conversation focuses on the involvement of the House of Hohenzollern, in particular Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, in the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship. On the one hand, this topic is part of a scientific examination of the role of the House of Hohenzollern and the German nobility in National Socialism. With the Hohenzollern's claims for compensation and the reports that various historians have presented in this case, the controversy has also moved to the center of numerous legal disputes that are still ongoing.
What is the background to today's claims for compensation by the Hohenzollern family? What role did the nobility play in the establishment of National Socialism in the interwar period? What political weight did the actions of the former emperor's son have in the political environment of the Weimar Republic? And what is the tension between the involvement of the nobility and the later resistance surrounding the assassins of July 20, 1944?
My colleague Bernd Vogenbeck spoke to the historian Stephan Malinowski about these questions. Stephan Malinowski teaches Modern European History at the University of Edinburgh, has done extensive research on the history of the nobility under National Socialism and has published relevant publications. Malinowski is one of four historians who have submitted expert opinions on the question of the Hohenzollern family's claims for compensation.
Mr. Malinowski, welcome to the History & Politics Podcast of the Körber Foundation, we are honored to have you as our guest. First I would like to ask you: What are the Hohenzollern claims for compensation actually about?
So the demands are part of a dispute that begins immediately after reunification. It is about works of art, essentially paintings and other works of art that are being reclaimed, and objects and movables that were expropriated as part of the Soviet expropriation after 1945 and that can then be reclaimed under the so-called Compensation Act of 1994. The important thing here is that it is not about getting someone back, but essentially about the fact that compensation payments are made. That is how it was determined by the legislature in 1994. And there is now this exclusion clause, the so-called worthiness test, because an applicant can be excluded if he has supported either the communist dictatorship or social socialism - these two systems have been lively equated by the legislature. So the "substantial advance payment" is the formulation of the lawyers, if it has taken place, so if the applicant or his ancestors have made a considerable contribution to National Socialism, which translated into the language of normal people means, supported National Socialism, then these compensation payments are excluded.
What do you have to look at?
So I think the questions that now arise in this strange dispute basically refer back to the core questions of how one wants to understand National Socialism, how one wants to interpret, how one wants to discuss questions of guilt and responsibility. These are of course questions that are already present among contemporaries around 1933, they are present in exile and then, to name perhaps the most important example, are present in the Nuremberg trials, where the Allies try to assume responsibility and guilt define. Also in a legal sense - to that extent these are very old questions. With Marx one could say: They once existed as a tragedy and now come back to us as a farce. Just as, according to this famous Marx formulation, all important things happen twice. So these are questions that are basically not unknown to historians. They lead back to one of the key questions, as one explains January 30, 1933, the transfer of power to Hitler in January 1933, the first Hitler cabinet. Who is - in a historical sense - responsible for the transfer of power to National Socialism and then, of course, for the leadership of the Third Reich, if you will. Every historian knows, if one were to go through this archaeologically, that the oldest explanatory layer is Hitler as a single figure who seduces certain parts of the German people like a magician. The Nuremberg model was a bit different, with the so-called main war criminals: You can define a small group, whether that's twelve or 24 people. If you add the follow-up processes, you get a few dozen or maybe a few hundreds. And in an early phase, at the end of the 1940s, the idea was that the main people responsible for this dictatorship were basically known and judged, and that closed the question of responsibility. What historians have done in the last twenty to forty years is of course to develop much more complex models and to say that responsibility basically means that we are dealing with millions of people who have shared responsibility in establishing the leadership of this dictatorship .
I would also like to go back to the position you have just put forward that of course it took more than a small group to establish National Socialism, in order to establish the National Socialist dictatorship in Germany. The question of who provided the impetus, who was to blame and who contributed to it. As a centuries-old functional elite, the nobility plays a particularly important role. What is it actually at this point in time, what happened before?
Unlike in other European countries, the nobility in Germany had a special position of power - in certain sectors that can be named. This would include: the state leadership and the higher bureaucracy, diplomacy, then of course the military, especially in Prussia, but also in other parts of Germany, one would also include agriculture, that is, large estates. So there are certain sectors in which the nobility in Germany retains very strong bastions of power compared to countries where aristocratic power is broken much earlier. Now, of course, the prime example would be France and the break in the French Revolution and the 19th century. That doesn't happen in Germany.
Also in 1918, 1919? What is changing there?
So the position of power that I have now outlined, by which I mean above all the empire until the collapse of 1918. And then there is this revolution of November 1918, which historians used to use very often with formulas like the stuck revolution or the betrayed revolution or the described a failed revolution. So a revolution that deprives the nobility of parts of their privileges or, in principle, of formally deprives them of all privileges, also abolishes the title of nobility and changes it into a name component. But the so-called abolition of the nobility in 1918 is of course a very relative thing: the nobility are still there, they are also on their estates, they keep their castles, they keep their land holdings, they even keep the titles as part of their names. So there is only a very partial break in the nobility as a whole and of course that also applies to the so-called formerly ruling houses.
In order to be able to understand this presence correctly, it is valuable to come back to the question of how important the nobility actually was for the political landscape of the Weimar Republic as a whole. You once described it like this: He was too weak to remain in power, but strong enough to significantly damage the political system of the Weimar Republic. What moved the nobility and what alliances did they enter into, how did they actually shape the fate of this republic?
On the one hand, what applies to the time before 1918 applies to the period after 1918, namely remaining in certain positions of power. It is impossible to explain large estates and the associations of large landowners, which exert a great influence in the entire empire, but above all in Prussia, practically without nobles. One cannot explain the Reichswehr leadership and its actions and its attempt to prepare for the next war and to create the army for the coming and planned war of revenge without the nobility. It is difficult to explain certain parts of diplomacy without the aristocracy and it is basically difficult to research and grasp the entire network of political right in Weimar without aristocrats. This is astonishing insofar as the total proportion of the nobility in the population is between 0.1 and 0.2 percent. A tiny minority, but one that is incredibly present in certain sectors of this society. I would add that Weimar society is a shattered and shaken society on an extremely nervous search for orientation. Whether it is in the political left, in the center or in the far right, there are very intense, emotionally charged searches. And if you look at it from the right and reconstruct it, we have of course all learned to look at National Socialism, because we know that National Socialism is the factor that prevailed in 1933. But if you look at that from 1921, 1928 or even 1931, where it has not yet been established that Hitler or National Socialism will ultimately win in this chess game, then you see that in different sectors of the political right. All of these organizations have a certain orientation towards the world of yesterday, as Stefan Zweig put it, i.e. towards the regime within which the nobility plays a very important role. A counterworld, a better world seen from the perspective of the right. And from this better aristocratic world, which in the reading of the right stands for both the past and the future, this former crown prince stands out, who is an unmistakable figure, simply through the fact that he is the eldest son of the emperor.
That means, on the one hand, we are talking about a real position of power that the nobility still holds. And on the other hand also a position that the nobility remains an example for large parts of the population. The path “from emperor to leader” is one that is closely connected with the nobility?
Aristocracy always has an imaginary side. So if the nobility is not perceived as nobility, there is no nobility: the “mastery of visibility”, as my doctoral supervisor Heinz Reif calls it. Similarly in the charismatic model, yes, the charismatic leader is only a charismatic leader if his transmission is read by the recipient, by millions of recipients. One of the fascinating basic observations for the cultural scene in the Weimar Republic is that a lot of people talk about nobility. One of the guiding formulas is the new nobility: We need a new nobility, and for these models of the invention of a new nobility, of course, we always need the old and actually existing nobility. The figure of the knight, the figure of the fighter, the figure of the leader on horseback, the figure of the nature-loving, physical, charismatic leader, who is a counter-image to the boring social-democratic bureaucrat, for example. This is then an ideal that you can find everywhere. To take perhaps the most powerful figure: It is of course interesting that there is talk of a new nobility even under National Socialism and that the entire idea of the SS, which will then become the most powerful institution in the Third Reich after 1933/34, is basically itself as defines the new nobility and calls itself that too. The whole game with castles of the order, where then own customs are created, with own symbols and own coats of arms. In part, this is pure robbery within the nobility. But at the same time it is participation: a great many aristocrats do indeed participate in the SS as officers.
I draw two observations from this. One is the importance of the nobility and individuals within the nobility for political radicalization in the interwar period. The question of the substantial advance is of course also touched on, it is just something that is not just a private matter, but ultimately these are actors who enjoy increased visibility and thus also increased responsibility, which we will certainly have to talk about again if you look at the question of the substantial advance. The second is the entire iconography around the nobility and their political entanglement. And there is, I believe, a date that also has a very central place. You have just talked about January 30, 1933, followed in March by a day that, if you like, actually symbolizes the coming together of conservative-monarchist circles and National Socialism. What day is that What does it mean?
So the so-called Day of Potsdam, staged on March 21, 1933 as a huge mass spectacle in the garrison town of Potsdam, against the background of the Reichstag, which had already burned down at the end of February 1933, about a month beforehand, and staged as a preparation for the enabling law to establish dictatorship. With the attempt to depict a fusion, to depict it graphically, as a ritual between the old Prussian traditional world and the new militant-warlike, young-dynamic National Socialist world. Shown in the garrison church in Potsdam, which was a kind of holy shrine and temple for Prussian militarism in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the Reich President Paul von Hindenburg as the central figure, who does not appear here in civilian clothes, because he is the Reich President of a still existing republic, but in his field marshal's uniform with a marshal's baton. He then descends into the crypt to the coffins of the two great - or allegedly great - Prussian kings Friedrich II and his father, and lays wreaths there. An event that is being filmed, photographers are there, radio broadcast live, so one of the biggest or, one must say, at this point in time the most important propaganda spectacle of the still very young and unfinished German dictatorship. This is where the former crown prince participates. One must rather say to his entire family: The Crown Princess Cecilie von Prussia is also there and the sons, August Wilhelm, the emperor's fourth son in the uniform of an SA general and two other sons in steel helmets. Then you practically have the fusion of old and new, represented in one family. The Crown Prince, photographed by press photographers, smiling in conversation with Adolf Hitler and when the parades are being held. And also in the so-called Kaiserinloge, so visible from afar in the church. Later, during the second ritual in Berlin, in the so-called Kroll Opera, he sits in the diplomatic box. All of these things are registered, all over the country by the national press, but also by the international press. You can follow this coverage in great detail in French, British or American newspapers.
These pictures are with us to this day.
These images are with us to this day. You will of course then - that's the story with that Master of Visibility, a symbolic visibility is generated - of course everywhere understood to mean that the emperor's son and the entire Hohenzollern family pay their respects to this new regime, fits into the intended representation and apotheosis of the fusion of old and new.
The Pictures of the Day from Potsdam are the icons of the moment of the liaison between conservatism, monarchism and the National Socialist movement. At the core of this is the question of the substantial advance that Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia has or has not made. Christopher Clark portrayed the Crown Prince as a useful idiot. You said that his position should not be underestimated. Can you embed this in a historical context so that we can better understand where the different assessments of the experts in the current Hohenzollern processes actually come from?
The more recent discussion has focused on Potsdam Day because it is practically the most visible and spectacular event. But Potsdam is basically just one link in a very long chain of symbolic political appearances in which the former Crown Prince or his brothers make appearances that strongly support National Socialism or the Nazi movement. You can extend this both backwards and forwards. The whole of 1933 basically seems like an almost hypomanic event in which the Crown Prince appears at every nook and cranny with swastika armbands and then appears as a Stahlhelm man or in Stahlhelm events in 1933 or 1934.He also writes public letters to the German, American and British press and to the media public, in which he repeatedly supports the young Third Reich and calls for national unity by attempting to defeat the Stahlhelm and the SA, which at that time was 1933 have very many and very serious conflicts with one another. So: He does not belong to the conservatives who are trying to accentuate the conservative elements against the SA and against National Socialism, but rather the other way around, he is trying to bring it to a practical merger. In addition to this purely symbolic political level, one should also add that there are certain acts where he intervenes much more directly in the political processes. Perhaps the most important example of this is his election call for Hitler on April 1 or 3, 1932, that is the situation of the Reich presidential election in the spring of 1932. At this point in time, the Crown Prince first tried a constellation in which he himself would have been elected President the support of the National Socialists. Put simply, at this point in time - we are in March 1932 - he is trying to establish a direct coalition with Hitler. When that failed because he had his father, the Kaiser, basically forbid this plan, he immediately published a declaration in early April 1932 that he would elect Hitler. This message, too, which can be traced and reconstructed in great detail in the press, is recorded in the entire world press within 24 hours. The former Prussian Crown Prince advocates voting for Hitler against Hindenburg. This form of appearances, to which he then publishes full-page articles in the American press in which he says that we have to support this new regime, that is practically the fight of Europe against Bolshevism and that the other countries of Europe will eventually become brilliant Be grateful to leaders. That is more than just symbolic politics. Of course there is also acting within his right-wing networks. One example is a letter in 1933 in which he asked the leader of the Silesian Stahlhelm to support the merger with the SA. These are the two largest military associations. So you have to see that both the SA and the Stahlhelm consist of around 500,000 men, the Reichswehr at that time only has 100,000, i.e. ten times the manpower of the regular army. It's about the question of how to bring this potential together. The fact that the former Crown Prince appears symbolically as the former Army Group Leader of the Western Front, of which he was in command, can be seen next to Ernst Röhm, shows himself next to Heinrich Himmler and marches next to Röhm and Himmler during marches, these are of course signs that no one overlooks could and nobody overlooked it. Contemporaries perceive this to be very precise and very detailed. The question now is whether this performance is significant, i.e. whether it can be described as significant support, that is a question. Historians have no tools to answer this question with yes or no, but one can only say that after everything that can be reconstructed, the sources speak a very clear language. The first interpretation that my colleague Christopher Clark presented in 2011 was based on a source that was much thinner than the one we have today. And Clark's first argument was to say the man is just a marginal figure. The argument is not a bad one. One can say that the man has no office, he does not join the party, he does not join the SA or the SS, although he has an SA rank in the end because he belongs to the engine brigade. But, in short, he will not become a minister and he will not join any organization. The counter-argument to this would, of course, be that high nobility always and especially kings and princes and crown princes, especially in a republic, do not become treasurers in an organization or groundskeepers or party leaders, but they act practically in the background. They act by providing their name and their charism and the charism that is attached to their title or name. When the Crown Prince of Prussia makes his person publicly available at these public events, then he is making the highest degree of participation conceivable for a prince. There are individual figures, for example from the Hessen or Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha families, who then actually join the SS or the NSDAP and practically act as party members. But that is rather a rare figure in the high nobility. So the typical is more the work on the symbolic level. And you have them here in their purest form.
Against the background of the enormous pressure to modernize, which the nobility has actually been exposed to since the 19th century and which has increased again in the Weimar Republic: How does Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia play on the political expectations of himself, how does he deal with it?
So the pressure to modernize the nobility is of course older than 1918. You could say that this is a very massive challenge that all noble societies in Europe are facing in the 19th century. What breaks down after 1918 are certain networks. If you look at that as a whole for the Hohenzollern family after 1918, then the observation is, yes there is criticism from Social Democrats or other Republicans who say why these people don't actually work? The term drone is one and the parasite, which are practically metaphors that would then be used by left-wing Republicans. They mean what these people are doing, they are sitting in their castles, which are still financed or allowed by the republic, without even coming close to a bourgeois idea of gainful employment. So neither the emperor nor any of his sons or any other part of this family, which includes around 40-48 individuals, does what one might see with the concept of modernization or republicanization. That doesn't happen. But one could perhaps formulate that precisely the refusal of this modernization achievement and precisely the fact that the former crown prince, who becomes a hybrid figure between a military leader who appears in boots and uniform in most photo situations, although he is no longer an officer, he doesn't belong to any army. But he appears as an officer. You can also see him in sporting dress when he plays tennis in Grunewald or when he visits certain villas there, as a hunter in his Renaissance castle in Oels in Silesia near Wroclaw, or as a skier in Sankt Moritz, with other people in Switzerland, in casinos, or on Kurfürstendamm in theaters. Very often in an open sports car accompanied by young women whom he gathers around him, especially actresses. So: He stylizes himself into a basically modern dream figure. He plays a very broad keyboard, a very broad spectrum of symbolic and political things, and that can be seen as a modern figure, which, incidentally, his father, the emperor, was already able to do. And here it seems to me to be interesting to then compare that with the achievements that Hitler, that is, Hitler's practically parallel leading figure, who appears completely different, brings forward. Hitler will emerge as the more successful figure. But there is a time - and the climax is around 1932 - when this figure of the former crown prince, somewhat forgotten by history, is treated as one of the political leaders and as a potential king. And that is the case both in the worries of the Social Democrats, so if you read the Vorwärts, the leading newspaper of the German Social Democrats, it is full of worries, a mixture of worry and ridicule about this man. But the British and American press are also overflowing with predictions for the whole of 1932: This is the man to come, the monarchy is coming back. Between June and October 1932 this is a scenario that is taken seriously all over the world.
Could we perhaps briefly outline this context: How did the nobility as a whole, independently of the Hohenzollern family, move in this inter-war period? How do the nobility actually deal with their precarious situation?
So perhaps it should be noted that the nobility naturally existed as little as the working class or the peasants or the bourgeoisie. This is a group; you would have to differentiate between individual groups that you have to distinguish here. The contrast between the Catholic nobility in Bavaria and the Protestant nobility in East Elbe Prussia is of course very great, for example. One would have to differentiate between different status groups. One would have to differentiate between very old families and the newer nobility. And then perhaps one of the most important dividing lines is that between rich and poor. So there are rich families and poor families and then the lines between poor and rich run naturally through the families. In many families in Prussia, if they are very numerous, then the eldest son may inherit a relatively large estate that, if he is lucky, survives the agricultural crises of 1924 and the crises of 1932 with no fault of his own and still has enough money throws off. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the maybe four or five brothers and two sisters can be financed by it. There are certain supply institutions that are no longer available. On the one hand, this includes the army, so traditionally very many of the sons, in some families in Prussia practically all sons, went into the army. That is no longer possible, with the Reichswehr limited to 100,000 men, with an officer corps of around 4,000 men, the resources are very small. The same applies to monasteries, monasteries and other supply institutions for women. Overall, there is a crisis that grips the nobility and the compulsion to react somehow to this crisis, to this economic crisis as well. These habitual restrictions, which are very strong in Germany and especially in Prussia, remain strong after 1918. So the idea and the possibility of making a career in the very core that make up the modern economy are very bad, very small. That is, certain core areas of civil life and modern civil careers remain obscured. Partly because you build them yourself. Sharp contrast here to aristocratic societies such as in England, Great Britain or France, also Italy, where this diffusion works differently and earlier than in Germany and especially Prussia. In short, there is practically a limit to this modernization effort, which is partly based on the structures and events, and partly, however, is sought by the nobility or the aristocratic majority, as one could put it, themselves. And which, curiously, or not curiously, will only dissolve after 1945. In the Federal Republic it is no longer the case that the Prussian families are trying to become Bundeswehr officers, but suddenly this diffusion into the areas of modernity that was refused after 1918 practically succeeds.
Against this background, what motivated large parts of the nobility to support National Socialism?
On the one hand there is a community “The enemy of the enemy is the friend”, so there is an agreement on the rejection of democracy, of republic, of social democracy, of socialists, of communists, of the left as a whole, of trade unions. The entire front of struggle in which we stand together against social democracy, against the republic, is one. That is the first reason why one automatically comes close to the Nazi movement. Anti-Semitism is of course an important field, and in my book I called it a communicative bridge. If one assumes that the Nazi movement, which is largely petty-bourgeois and also proletarian and rural, does not really fit what the nobility used to be. You need a bridge - the question is how do these two different worlds communicate with each other. The anti-left is an element, anti-Semitism and also the racially defined anti-Semitism is a common language in the Prussian nobility very early on. And then, as a third sector, you can add material interests and hopes for the world that National Socialism promised. This includes, first of all, the reintroduction of general conscription, building up the army, i.e. practically the explosive expansion of the Reichswehr, which was reduced by the Treaty of Versailles and which the National Socialists inflate after 35 to the apparatus of force that will then be available in 1939. But it is not just about officer positions, it is also about positions in the civil service. So if you dismiss all Jews and if you dismiss all Social Democrats and all left-wing Republicans after 1933, then, of course, career opportunities suddenly arise that the sons from noble families as well as from middle-class families knew how to use and which immediately took advantage of. In this sector, I would say that this is perhaps the most important point in material interests, the idea very early on was that the National Socialists would bring with them an agricultural program which, on the one hand, would help owning one's own land. To round that off and build it up. And of course the plan of conquest in the east, which was already fixed in “Mein Kampf” in 1925, and then - you didn't have to be a prophet for the direction in which future war of conquest would go - these violent estates in the east. The National Socialist fantasy of the people without space, which was nonsense. You then had the room, but no people at all who wanted to settle there. But one found volunteers everywhere in the noble families to be able to knight and ride and settle again in the east, this settlement fantasy is a very strong argument.
Is it actually possible to observe an increasing appropriation of the nobility during National Socialism itself? Is there an increasing radicalization there? How can the nobility be drawn into this National Socialism, perhaps in order to endeavor a picture, what roles does it play there?
So I think it's an ambivalent picture of what you get when you look at time 33-45. Because on the one hand there are countless nobles who benefit from this system as individual figures, who advance within the Wehrmacht, within the SS - a very important factor by the way, there are also celebrities and important noble careers in the SA. Within the civil service, within the ministries, within the settlement offices and so on. So in the whole behemoth, in the whole organizational monster that the National Socialists will create from 33 onwards. There are jobs everywhere. For individual figures, and of course that applies above all to land ownership and the attempt to create the so-called Fideikomiss, i.e. the forms of traditional property ties that were basically the heart, the backbone, the economic backbone of the land-owning nobility, for this a kind of Getting a replacement is the hope and the attempt and an important reason to join the new empire or the third empire. But one can also say that this calculation does not work out. The more the Reich moves forward, the more the National Socialists basically make it clear to the nobility that we no longer need you. This applies to the demolition of the celebrations for the 75th birthday of Kaiser Wilhelm II, that is January 27, 1934, when a large monarchist aristocratic event is demolished by SA people who set off fireworks and, to the horror of the old ones, sometimes very much Old gentlemen, then 85-year-old generals, show that the brutal forms of the new era can turn against the nobility. The shooting of General Kurt von Schleicher, the last Reich Chancellor before Hitler, on June 30, 1934, other nobles were also shot, including Colonel von Bredow from the Reichswehr leadership. So: The clear announcement that the Third Reich only needs the nobility in the forms that they themselves define as nobility, and basically the new nobility is the SS. The National Socialists basically rewrite what the term means. And from this line of conflict I would then partially declare July 20th, and that's one reason why the proportion of nobility among the July 20th conspirators is practically so high.
Her book, recently published in English, is called "Nazis and Nobles, the History of a Misalliance". That is something that becomes clear in what you have just said: Different expectations on the part of the nobility, that will in fact lead to July 20th. Where does a break take place?
On the one hand, I would say that I believe that one of the great founding legends of the Federal Republic of Germany is to associate the term resistance with the date of July 20th. Before and after 1933 the resistance actually came from completely different corners. And then, since the 1950s, people in the Federal Republic of Germany began to regard Stauffenberg, July 20, and thus almost automatically the Prussian nobility as the symbolization of resistance, or at least of conservative resistance. The reason why there are so many aristocrats in there, I think there are five, six or maybe eight or ten different threads that should be kept apart. On the one hand, of course, there are motifs that the nobles share on July 20th with the bourgeoisie or with members of other social classes on July 20th. There is a certain rejection of the politics of violence.The Holocaust and the policy of killing European Jews, as far as they were aware of them, and they were aware of them, plays an important role. The impression or insight that the war is being lost plays an important role. So: there are lines of conflict that nobles share with others. One reason why nobles are so present on July 20th is simply because so many of them are still in positions of power, especially in the Wehrmacht. Which, of course, also means that the question you have to ask for each and every one of these biographies is basically where they were in 1933. And the answer is in almost all cases, or, to put it more cautiously, in a majority of the biographies that I have now would come in from July 20, they are men, sometimes women, who were among the supporters of the regime in 1933, but who were in a position in 1944 that Hans Mommsen once called "resistance from command heights", where they were among the belong to the few and only ones who can still take meaningful or effective action against the regime. And you have to see that. So in 1944 the only group from which an effective resistance functionally could still proceed, the army, is the Wehrmacht. But since so many of these nobles are active in middle and high management positions in the Wehrmacht, Stauffenberg, Tresckow and Schulenburg are three important examples, are they able to attack the system from within? So I think the operation that you always have to carry out spiritually or historically is that the National Socialists need a few months to smash the organizations of the most powerful labor movement in the world. So the social democratic, communist, socialist organizations, the parties, the trade unions and so on have been smashed by the summer of 1933. Because you can attack and break an organization relatively quickly with the means of a dictatorship. It's more difficult with the nobility. And if you look at how Stauffenberg, Tresckow, Schulenburg, how they communicate with each other, Moltke, Yorck, there are sometimes networks that go through families, that go through friendships, that go beyond trust, absolute trust between men and women, who speak the same code, who come from the same milieu, who know and trust each other. This is much more difficult for a dictatorship to attack than an organization. Which is also part of the reason why the National Socialists, even after July 20, 1944, had great difficulties understanding how these people function, what they think, where they come from and so on. But there is an immediate reflex among Hitler and the Nazi leadership after the assassination attempt, after the bomb detonated in East Prussia, to say that it was the nobles, this is a monarchist putsch, behind it are the Vons, they were always against us. So this old line of conflict between the nobility and National Socialism breaks out again with great sharpness. In this respect, it is never a one-way street in the declaration to say that the entire nobility has diffused into the Nazi movement, but it is a contradicting story of rapprochement and repulsion. That is why I used the term mésalliance and the term misunderstanding. So it is, if you will, a loose contact relationship, which works partially and in areas and in certain periods of time and helps to make the Third Reich functional and to keep it functioning. This applies above all to the early days, i.e. to the time around and immediately after 1933, but it is also a story of contradictions and, at the end, of resistance.
And this contradiction becomes clear, as you have just said, that a large part of those who were involved on July 20th were also involved on Potsdam Day. Both dates are, if you like, parts of the biographies of these people. The question that worries me is why, after 1945, do we look so much more closely at this July 20th? And what does that have to do with the fact that today we are in a situation where the view of the nobility is shaped by this understanding of noble resistance?
So I think the overall situation in Germany after 1945 was that they were looking for positive counter-images. And then of course there are different ones, you have to see that, there is not just one story, but at least two, namely an East German and a West German. So the GDR naturally has a completely different narrative about resistance than the Federal Republic. One can also say that, for example, the emigrants play an important role, some of whom come back from abroad and had their own idea of what resistance was. So there is the strong history of communist resistance in the GDR and the main card that one could play here was of course to show that the political opponents of National Socialism were of course the left and not the conservatives. 1933 is nothing more than a coalition of conservatives and National Socialist forces, that couldn't be written off. But that is precisely why this early Adenauer republic was needed, and the key date for this is July 20, 1954, the great commemorative event with Federal President Theodor Heuss at the Free University of Berlin and the great speech on the resistance, the conservative resistance of July 20 , the figure of Stauffenberg and the co-conspirators around it as hero figures. Until then, they are basically considered traitors by the Right. So it takes 10-20 years for these figures to change from traitor figures to hero figures. Then there are certain ladder counts. I would make the role of Marion Countess Dönhoff very strong here, who is one of the most influential East Prussian nobles, who then builds this narrative very strongly as a publicist and above all through time, but also through other networks. And it's a narrative that everyone has something for. So there are heroic figures in there, if you take Stauffenberg, a good-looking, highly intelligent, educated man who is injured while still on the sickbed and translates Homer from ancient Greek or does that with his brother and so on. The term heroic figures that could be offered to the Federal Republic here and in the joint German attempt to represent the so-called other Germany is the logical conclusion in this Adenauer Republic to look to the nobility and to look to the conservatives. Because you couldn't take the communists now. It would have been very difficult for this early Federal Republic, which was very strongly dominated by the CDU and very strongly dominated by the FDP, to resort to heroic figures who would have been taken from the communist or left-wing social democratic camp. The actual resistance around 1933 is natural, but politically it is perfectly understandable why we arrived at July 20th. Perhaps a little less clear is why we are still today, 2021, why public remembrance is still so stuck on this date. Of course, you have other characters in addition to it, i.e. the character Georg Elser with the bomb attack in Munich in 1939, which has been problematized because it is practically a terrorist attack, at least that's how it was described and not so long ago, who then kills innocent civilians . Of course you have the white rose and the Scholl brothers. So there are other groups that have also been stylized, but up to Bryan Singer's Hollywood movie about Stauffenberg, this remains the most important icon, which, by the way, can also be sold abroad. So when I do seminars in Great Britain, and previously I taught in Ireland, about the Third Reich and ask the students what comes to mind about German Resistance, then of course first of all ...
Tom Cruise ...
Tom Cruise and then of course July 20th comes.
What does that actually disguise? How does that obstruct our view of this time?
So it obscures insight and that is why I would always make this communication between these two moments, January 30, 1933, transfer of power to Adolf Hitler and July 20, 1944, the explosion of the bomb in Stauffenberg's briefcase. How these two moments communicate with each other. You need the second moment with the briefcase to make you forget the first. You need the focus on 1944, read from a conservative perspective, because it helps to make people forget the role that a large part of the German conservatives had played in 1933 in enabling, establishing and starting the Third Reich. Without conservative participation, you only have to look at who is the minister in this first Hitler cabinet, and that was the problem in the 1950s. I would say that from a conservative perspective that is still the constellation in 2021, how do you get rid of this eyesore, how do you define the way. And then you look, and of course there are these characters, it's not that there weren't any conservative Nazi opponents, of course there were and they should be described in practice. But the narrative figure in which Hitler would practically have asserted himself as a dictator against the right and against the conservatives is simply verifiably wrong. But if this image is to be maintained because one wants to maintain a positive image of conservative organizations and traditions, then July 20th is the most important moment and it will remain so.
What chance do you actually see in our questioning this fixation on July 20 through the Hohenzollern debate?
So probably the chance that really new insights will prevail is relatively small, because not really new facts emerge. And because the arguments aren't new either. But I do believe that certain things will be reshuffled and changed again as a result of this debate. If this show by Jan Böhmermann has two million viewers on YouTube, it is certainly not because millions of people are suddenly interested in historical details. Rather, I see two things in it: One is what is being discussed here are questions of how extreme social inequality is created and preserved, because in the end, of course, the point is that a very wealthy family makes demands here and not everyone in the Federal Republic of Germany understands, why should they now get additional compensation from a republican reading? So it's about inequality, that's one thing. Nobility is always inequality, without inequality one cannot define nobility at all. The second is in fact in the historical debate, in the historical partial debate that is in there, is of course this view of the former Crown Prince and the Hohenzollern family, which history had forgotten a little for reasons that were beyond my imagination that it is suddenly coming back and is actually asking very old questions from a new perspective, which I would say that had already been discussed in Nuremberg, in the Nuremberg trials in 1945/46. So it is not that the questions are new, but one can say that new glasses are being put on here and one is saying what can we actually learn about January 1933 and about the so-called seizure of power when we see this story Look again from the perspective of this former ruling house. How did they actually act, how do they argue, who do they meet, how do they speak, what are their ideals, what do they actually want? And then it unfolds, well I've been doing the thing for 20 years now, I would say that it was still full of surprises for me if you go into these sources again in detail. The story doesn't have to be rewritten, but you get a whole set of fascinating insights into the right milieu. So you can break down the right-wing and right-wing radical milieu completely differently and you can ask what connects the peasant from Pomerania and the so-called shop girl from Ku’damm with Prince Eitel Friedrich of Prussia? And what form of communication can these three characters find in order to then act together against the republic at a NS or Stahlhelm event? What are the emotional and cultural and symbolic lines that connect them, and what dreams can these three characters dream together? There is no historical field, at least not in Germany, that is more densely cultivated and researched than the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. But it can be said that there is very little or no research at all on these specific issues. And it's amazing that we've forgotten that so far. I am not expecting any revolution that will come out now, that is, in the form of knowledge, but definitely with the fact that it can be nuanced and portrayed again. And that's basically how history always works when it is interesting. So we haven't just started researching the French Revolution since yesterday, but nevertheless there are practical perspectives in which, for example, the history of Jacobinism or the question of how women behaved in the French Revolution are posed again in a completely new way. And, at best, I would expect such a moment from this debate.
Thank you for talking to us, Mr Malinowski.
That was our History and Politics Podcast with Stefan Malinowski on the compensation claims of the House of Hohenzollern and the role of the nobility in the interwar period and under National Socialism.
If you would like to find out more about this topic, take a look at Stefan Malinowski's book, “Vom König zum Führer. Social decline and political radicalization in the German nobility between the German Empire and the Nazi state ”. It was published in 2003. Current information on the political debate with the historians' reports in the Hohenzollern case can also be found on the website of the German Bundestag.
All further information on the work of the History and Politics Department of the Körber Foundation can be found on our foundation website. There you will of course also find all episodes of our History and Politics Podcast. That's it for today, thank you for listening and hope that you will be there again next time when we ask how history shapes our present.
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