Ernst von Salomon | Jack Lindsay
By using my choice of Rogue, Ernst von Salomon, I shall attempt to present why the post-war period is unique and far more interesting than public education allows.
During Adolf Hitler’s ascendancy to Power, there were men who defied him not simply because they were in disagreement with the direction of Germany he was steering them towards, but because they were threats to Hitler’s power.
A prestigious World War One General with the title: ‘The Lion of Africa’, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was invited to speak to the Fuhrer in a diplomatic position. He refused, ranted and insulted the Fuhrer. This lack of respect shown for those who do not deserve it is a part of Salomon’s philosophy.
One of the men targeted during the Night of the Long Knives was Hermann Ehrhardt. Even though Ehrhardt is not the subject here, I have to explain his part in this period for you to understand Ernst von Salomon. Ehrhardt was an early influence and a friend of Salomon.
Ehrhardt was a Torpedoboat Destroyer Captain at the end of the Great War. The loss of Germany in the Great War that led to the Kiel Mutiny and the German Empire, left many men and many of its military officers in an unstable position. The Communists started a year long civil conflict and revolts called the German Revolution. The situation led men like Ehrhardt to take up the leadership role, to ‘rally round the flag’ in defence of the Fatherland against the Communists threatening Germany, and against the interests of the Weimar Government.
Ehrhardt was a Monarchist. He went on to form and lead a Freikorps Unit, the Marine Brigade Ehrhardt. This was the unit Salomon joined. After the Kapp Putsch Ehrhardt went on to lay the groundwork for the Organisation Consul (the OC), a secret military organisation that was formed in 1920 and lasted until 1922. It covered the whole of Germany with its military and civilian connections. Its purpose was laid out in its constitution: to carry out a spiritual nationalist war against all ideas and peoples opposed to Prussian Nationalism and to overthrow the Weimar Republic.
The OC carried out political assassinations, counter-intelligence operations, infiltrated the Abwehr and sabotaged French military intelligence, gun-running, and prison break outs. They led armed resistance against the French in the Rhineland as well as forming illegal Friekorps units to fight Polish Insurgents and the Polish Army in the Silesian Uprisings of 1920 and 1921. With the death of the OC, the men involved were laughed at for their views, but they were so feared by the Weimar Government it took a moral panic for the OC to be hunted down and broken apart. These men were men of action, not of beer hall speeches.
Ernst von Salomon was born in the German Empire, Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein on the 25th September 1902 and died on the 9th of August 1972. His father was a judge, and he descended from an aristocratic Huguenots Family who held the title of Nobles of the Robe in Alsace. He was a Military Cadet from 1913 to 1919. In the conflicts he took part in, he was a Rifleman and Machine Gun operator/carrier. After his soldiering was over, he worked as an insurance clerk. Salomon started writing over this time and improved this skill while he was in prison. He wrote novels between 1930 and 1973; between 1937 and 1943 he contributed to the German cinema industry as a scriptwriter. A few of his novels are the key to understanding him and the inter-war period.
His first, published in 1930. Die Geächteten – The Outlaws, or The Ostracised when it is translated. It was a novel that covers his early life; the most active time of his life. It is the book that introduced me to him and highly recommended for you to be able to understand him.
The Freikorps platoon Salomon was involved in was led by Lieutenant Kay, but something didn’t fit right with these men. They were restless. The ‘naive’ nature of fighting for “Law and Order” and the chaos of the end of the war kept them restless. After all, the French were marching into the Rhineland and the Poles were pillaging in the East. They were shooting undisciplined sailors while Germany was being threatened in the West and East. This is what led Salomon, his Lieutenant and 28 other restless men to desert their posts and march towards German units who were on the move east.
Some of the most brutal fighting of the 20th Century was done in the east. To put it in perspective, The Russian Civil War is still going on and all of the Western territories (Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) of the Russian Empire have declared independence. Three of those territories held Germanic nobility, who took up arms to defend their traditions.
The “Baltische Landeswehr” fought under Major General Rudiger von der Goltz. Fighting both the Republican Government and the Bolsheviks, alongside Major Joseph Bischoff’s Iron Division that contained the Hamburger Corps. The unit Salomon joined with.
The Hamburg Corps was a unique and truly Teutonic unit. Ignoring army regulations, their eccentric CO (Lieutenant Wuth) wore his fraternity beret while leading his ‘Pirates’ into battle whenever he felt like it, under the Red banner of the Hanseatic League. They held naval court martials, hung mutineers and buried them. Before going back to singing their signature song “Der Störtebeker ist unser Herr”.
In 1919, after the Baltic wars came to a conclusion with the Bolshevik retreat and the direct intervention of the Entente. 50,000 old men and schoolboys stood side by side and defied the intervention. Committing an act of mutiny, they asked the White Army Government for Pavel Bermondt to lead them, creating the West Russian Volunteer Army. This campaign did not last too long. With the failure to succeed in Baltic Front in the Russian Civil War, the Hamburg Corps retreated and set up in the East Prussian Region. They hid their weapons. Farmers by day, border guards by night. They were then placed under the Command of Captain Rudolf Berthold. Berthold was known as “The Iron Eagle”. He served in WWI as a Flying ace. He shot down 44 planes. 16 planes with one hand.
While the unit is on their way to Kapp Putsch, Berthold and Wuth billet the men in a schoolhouse. Not long after, the schoolhouse is subject to a long siege. The unit eventually ran low on ammunition, a parley was called by Berthold and it was accepted. However, the officers were still targeted and Berthold attempted to flee. Shot, throat slashed, stabbed and mutilated, he went down fighting with one hand. When he was blocked from reaching for his sword, he disarmed a revolver and shot one. Wuth survived. Wuth had the unit keep him safe.
After the Putsch, Salomon orates the early stage of his philosophy. A short and disorganised nationalist and revolutionary rant. Claiming that no “revolution” has happened. That the same old bunch are in charge and that ‘they’ should lead a revolution, with the nation. That in history, all revolutions began in spirit before hand to hand fighting, but they had “started on the barricades, but haven’t put the rebellion of the spirit into practice”.
Afterwards Salomon escapes, goes home and becomes an insurance clerk. In his spare time he brushes arms with communists. He gets into fist fights, but he does not view them as enemies. Only rivals.
Salomon meets his best friend and biggest influence, Erwin Kern. They get involved in the OC. The “Kern and I” chapter covers Kern and Salomon’s nationalism. The defence of the Teutonic spirit against the Nationalist Communists (NazBols) who Kern names as Russian irredentists; irredentists who will use the last of the Teutonic Spirit to make Germany into Russia. Kern goes on to distinguish him and Salomon from mere patriots, because unlike those patriots. ‘They’ were fighting for the Teutonic, medieval spirit of Germany. Not the Liberal idea of a unified Germany – “they’re all great patriots…”.
Salomon spends a few chapters detailing his time in Prison, from the daily routine of prison life to the size of his cell and what was in it; 8 long x 4 wide in paces with a wooden workbench. He notes the prison’s historical significance. A 13th Century convent converted into a prison. To his imagination, feelings and his deliberate civil disobedience against the rules of the prison. Later on he covers conversations of comradery with his local political dissident, a communist by the name of Edi. Salomon (and eventually Edi) end up in the psychiatric ward.
He realised during the time he spent caged in the walls of his cell and Prison, that his world was of the Outlaws; that he shouldn’t be caged. This was the philosophy that propelled him onwards.
Salomon’s self-reflections on his last day in prison in the chapter, “1927” is a must read. It’s his philosophical and life reflection up to that point in his life: “The field was wide and open in which the battle between God and the Devil was being waged”, “I went to sleep feeling greatly comforted”.
His governor saw him as a talented writer and one of the wardens provided him with books not in the prison library. This assistance helped Salomon to make his life, views, experience and feelings into a collection of novels; novels that we are lucky to have translated into English.
His next book is called Die Stadt – It Cannot Be Stormed. It is a novel about the years between Salomon’s release from prison and his brother’s activities amongst the Farmer’s “Rural People’s Movement”, touching upon the philosophy of those in the movement, and the events that they took part in. Salomon’s brother, Bruno von Salomon, joined the Communist Party and was responsible for editing the movement’s newspaper. Salomon himself in 1929, ended up in Prison a second time. He carried out a fake terror attack with a bomb in the Reichstag building.
The Answers of Ernst von Salomon – To the 131 Questions in The Allied Military Government (1954) – ‘Fragebogen’(1951). The Answers’ is Salomon’s attempt at fighting back against the Allies’ Denazification questionnaire. The questionnaire was an attempt at making the Germans feel guilt for the Nazi ideology. However, Salomon felt the questionnaire was not Denazification, but Anti-German. Salomon, despite not being a Nazi, admitted his guilt, but in doing so defended the German character through explaining his actions and life. “…Life against theories, upholding Reality against appearances, Honour over Happiness” – The Outlaw’s, Chapter “1927”, page 432. This book covers the whole of Salomon’s life up to 1951, but it is not an autobiography.
What makes Ernst von Salomon a special type of Rogue. He was a conservative, but a conservative of the German Conservative Revolution. Ernst von Salomon and his best friend were not as well known out of those who held this philosophy. They were not ‘in’ the circle, but ‘of’ the circle. Salomon was a man of will and faith. Who in his middle age decided it would be wiser to stick to his collection of pipes and playwriting. He acknowledged that world events were out of his control and that all he could do to impact the world of his time was to use the pen as a sword.