Nazi Brags About Rathenau Murder

“Kern and Fischer went to the Reichstag one day when Rathenau was speaking. On the way home, Kern stood for a long time looking into a photographer’s window on the Unter den Linden in which was a portrait of Rathenau. The strange, dark, eager yet self-possessed eyes look at us out of the narrow aristocratic face almost searchingly. Fischer, after a long scrutiny said: ‘He looks a decent sort’.”

Three days later Walter Rathenau, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the German Republic lay dead from a volley of bullets fired by ###anz Kern from an automobile which followed the little dark red car that drove quietly upon the Konigsallee, carrying the statesman-philosopher who had brought new hope to the Fatherland.

STORY TOLD IN PROUD VEIN

And so the strange story of the atrocious murder of a man whose virtues and high qualities the assailants regarded as too admirable, is told with amazing effrontery, boastfulness and pride by one of the accomplices in the crime. This is embodied in a book written by Ernest von Salomon, a product of Prussian militarism, who, at the end of the World War sought and found adventure in the chaotic conditions of the time and who today occupies an important official position in the Hitler regime.

“Die Geaechteten” (The Ones That Were Persecuted) was issued by the Ernest Rowalt Verlag, Berlin, 1930, and it was symptomatic of an impending moral collapse that such a tale of braggadocia and wanton satisfaction in violence could be issued and circulated in a land of great cultural and artistic achievements. In 1931, the volume made a rather curious appearance in an English version issued in London by Jonathan Cape, under the title of “The Outlaws,” the English translation having been made by Ian F. D. Morrow.

VOLUME DISAPPEARED

Somewhat mysteriously, the {SPAN}vol###{/SPAN} disappeared from circulation {SPAN}###ly{/SPAN} afterwards, or with the advent of the Nationalist-Socialist Government in Germany, and it took a long search both in England and in this country to secure a copy of the book, which with a most innocent blurb on the jacket and most evasive introduction from the translator, tells a horrible story of conspiracy, anti-social destructiveness and murder.

Commenting on the appearance of this book, a correspondent from Berlin wrote at the time:

“We are passing through a period in which people take pride in committing crimes against the Republic and have no fear of speaking openly about their deeds, as if no court and no justice existed. Salomon does not defend or apologize for his course. On the contrary, he indicts the whole of society for not having understood and sufficiently appreciated the heroism and greatness of his comrades. The entire work is permeated with a spirit of impudence and contempt for the present government in Germany.”

EXPLOITS OF YOUNG CADET

The narrative is devoted to the adventures and exploits of the young cadet, von Salomon, amid stray military units which refused to accept the peace of Versailles, rebelling against all new conditions and the dictates of law and order. He went off to fight the Red armies from the Baltic States and invited all kinds of encounters in the Rhineland, Upper Silesia, etc. The story is exciting enough in itself and draws still more hectic animation from the writer’s intensely nervous, if not morbid state of mind. But more startling and terrifying than anything else is the account of the cold-blooded and carefully planned preparations for the crime of June 24, 1922.

For many hours the writer of the book and Herman Fisher and Franz Kern sat together airing their plans in a feverish and not always coherent manner. I quote from page 270-1:

“‘Rathenau has begun an active policy. It is for the furtherance of this active policy that he is going to Genoa.’”

“‘Rathenau? H’m — Rathenau —’ Kern rose and leaned against the window. ‘He is our hope, for he is dangerous.’ Kern began to walk up and down the room. In the darkness he stumbled against a box of bombs, against rifles that were stacked in the corner. He began to speak softly and insistently:

“FIERCEST CRITIC OF AGE”

“He has more power in his hands than has been given into any single hand since November 18. If ever Fate came to a man with a demand, with a passionate demand, it is to this man who has shown himself the fiercest critic of his contemporaries and of his age. He indeed is the finest and ripest fruit of his age. He unites in himself everything in this age that is of value in thought, in honor, and in spirituality. He saw what nobody else saw and he made demands that nobody else put forward.” Kern went to the window, threw it open and looked out. Then he turned round. ‘But he has never taken the last step, the step that would make him free. I feel in every sentence of his speeches and writings that he is waiting to take this final step until the time comes when it will prove to be decisive. I think the time has come. I think he will prove himself equal to the emergency. For us all that matters is whither he leads.’ I rose and came to meet Kern in the middle of the room. Kern said:

“‘I couldn’t bear it if once again something were to arise out of the chaotic, the insane, age in which we live. Let him pursue what fools call a policy of fulfilment. That’s no business of ours. We fight for higher things. We are not fighting to make the nation happy—we are fighting to force it to tread in the path of destiny. But I will not tolerate that this man should once again inspire the nation with a faith; that he should once again raise it up to purposefulness and give to it a national consciousness. For these things belong to an age that was destroyed in the war, that is dead, dead as mutton.’”

“‘In that case,’ said I, ‘we know who is our enemy. It only remains to decide where he is most vulnerable.”

DEMANDS UPHEAVAL

Von Salomon, writing in a highly emotional state, literally fuming and raging with his pen for countless pages against the new democratic order or the idea of the German people resigning themselves to their fate, continues to demand a new upheaval that will discredit the signers of the Treaty of Versailles and revoke the terms of peace. He repeatedly comes back to the same conclusion:

“Duty was no longer duty, loyalty no longer loyalty, and honor no longer honor—what remained was action.” He had another conversation with Kern and Fisher:

“Kern said: ‘If this final act is not attempted now, it may be impossible for decades. We want a revolution. We are free from the hindrance of plans, methods and systems. Therefore, it is our duty to take the first step, to storm the breach. We must retire the moment our task is done. For our task is attack, not government.’”

“Fischer sat motionless. A policeman passed slowly and looked us up and down. Night came on. Kern said: “The desire for change is here, everywhere; it has stirred whole nations. For those who seek to advance and who are not cowards, it is the only real reason for life. The situation cannot be controlled by one man. But each individual can determine its tendency by his own action. What we have done up to now has strengthened the position but is not enough. We are attacking what is material; and that is, after all, embodied in man. We have destroyed limbs but not the head and not the heart. I intend to shoot the man who is greater than all those who surround him.’”

“My throat grew dry. ‘Rathenau?’ I asked.”

“‘Rathenau,’ said Kern and stood up.”

MURDER DETAILS PLANNED

Deliberately were the preparations for the murder then begun. The historian of the crime does not withhold any of the shocking details. We are told that:

“The car did not arrive until we were in bed at our lodging in the Schiffbauerdamm. Ernest Werner Techow told us that he had had a breakdown on the way. He knows nothing as yet of Kern’s plan; for Kern was determined not to allow his assistants to be in any way responsible for the deed. He only mentioned Rathenau if it could not be avoided. He feverishly prepared everything that was connected with the deed. But he procured neither money nor passports for himself. When I finally inquired what he intended doing when his task was accomplished, he answered: ‘Not what you think. We shall try to escape to Sweden. If the act leads to no decisive result, we shall return at once and attack the next man. I cannot believe that our deed will not be at least a beacon to rouse men to further action. When the end is to come does not rest with me.’”

“Hardly any of our preparations went right at the first go off. Something was wrong with the car. The expected Lewis gun did not arrive; we had to get another one; and it missed fire several times when we were testing it. Fischer was trying for days to find a suitable garage, and he eventually got it with the help of a man who had untrustworthiness written all over his face. When finally, we heard that Rathenau was going away from home, Kern said to me dispiritedly: ‘It seems as if the very stars in their courses were fighting against us.’”

MORE COMPLICATIONS

There were other complications. Kern wanted to confine the conspiracy to the smallest possible number of persons. He roughly refused help that was offered him. He made Fisher take lessons in driving from Techow so that Techow could also be eliminated. On the other hand, he made much use of the services of a young student who was presumably of a psychopathic type. We are assured that Fisher was of an equable temperament. Kern invariably returned to him for advice. Whenever Kern became fidgety with regard to certain details he would take him for a long walk. Then came the fateful day. We must again leave the story to the incredible chroniclers:

“On Saturday, June 24, 1922, at about half past ten in the morning, the car stood in a side street off the Konigsallee in the residential suburb of Grunewald, near Rathenau’s home. Fischer kept watch at the corner where this street opened into the Konigsallee. Kern fetched his old waterproof out of the car. Techow was engaged at the bonnet; he told Kern that the oilfeed was broken, but that the car could do a short quick run.”

“Kern was calm and cheerful. I stood by and watched him. I was trembling to such an extent that I felt as if the engine against which I was leaning had already started. Kern slipped on his coat. I wanted to say something—something warm and reassuring. Finally I asked: ‘What motive shall we give if we’re caught?’”

ASSUMES ALL BLAME

“‘If you’re caught,’ said Kern cheerfully, ‘you can throw all the blame on me—obviously. On no account tell the truth—say anything—Lord, it doesn’t matter what you say. Say anything that the people will understand who are in the habit of believing what they read in newspapers. For all I care you can say he’s one of the Wise Men of Zion or that his sister is married to Radek, or any rot you like. Anyhow, whatever you say, make your statement as bald as possible. That’s the only way they’ll grasp anything. They’ll never understand our real motives; and if they did, it would be a degradation for you. Mind you don’t get caught! Every man will be needed soon.’ He pulled the leather helmet over head, and his face looked gallant and honorable in the severe brown frame. He said ‘The Dusseldorf affair mustn’t be given up. Yesterday I had news that somebody has blown the gaff about the Friedberg gun-running business again. The men must be warned—don’t forget. You must clear out of Berlin at once. Tell the Elberfeld people to be careful of Matthes, the Cologne man; he’s planning a coup for his Separatists. Gabriel must not leave the Pfalz if the row begins. If Hitler is the man I think he is, he’ll realize his chance now. A year later will be a decade too soon. Say good-bye to the other fellows for me.’ He lifted the Lewis gun from under the seat and put it ready in the front of the car. He turned and looked me full in the face: ‘Stick to it, old chap; you’re a useful tool—mind you don’t let yourself get rusty. I want to ask one thing,—let Wirth live; he’s a good fellow and not dangerous.’ He leant forward, took me by the lapel of my coat, and said softly, ‘You can’t think how thankful I am that everything is behind me.’”

ACTION BEGINS

“At that moment a little dark red car drove quietly up the Konigsallee. Fischer came and climbed into our car without a word. Techow was sitting at the wheel; his face had suddenly gone grey and hard as if it were carved in wood. Kern shook hands with me briefly, got into the car and stood upright for a moment with his coat blowing in the breeze. The engine began to quiver. I flung myself at the door and stretched my hand into the interior—nobody took it. Kern sat down and the car started.”

“The car started; I wanted to hold on to it; it slipped away humming. I wanted to scream—to run—but I was paralyzed, vacant, petrified, utterly forsaken in the grey street. Kern looked ’round once more. Once more I saw his face. Then the car disappeared around the corner…”

The next chapter of the book brazenly reproduces the shocking newspaper headlines announcing the cold blooded assassination in the light of day of the man who, as Minister of Raw Materials during the War and as Minister of Reconstruction after the Peace, had rendered patriotic services to the Fatherland which were generally acknowledged to be unparalelled in their significance and usefulness. But Walter Rathenau, great industrialist, with the social vision of a superb humanitarian, capitalist, financier, and poet-philosopher, cherishing plans for the abolition of poverty and misery, was a son of the ancient race, and the forces of reaction which were then assembling and preparing for an onslaught on the progressive elements that were building Republican Germany, could not forgive his origin, nor even condone the fact of his unremitting and single-minded labors in behalf of the country.

FUGITIVES FROM JUSTICE

As fugitives from justice, Kern and Fisher roamed through various parts of Germany for many months. Von Salomon tells of his travels from one city into another in an attempt to get into communication with them. He was within easy reach of the deserted castle in Thuringia in which they found a hiding place, but he did not know until after the occurrence, that the two conspirators committed suicide when the building was surrounded by the secret police.

The historian of the conspiracy also tells of his own apprehension and imprisonment. After being confined for nearly two years, he became the beneficiary of an amnesty effected by changing political conditions. Then with the rise of the Nazis to power, he was promoted to a high official position, which he still holds. But the author does not conclude the story without many more flourishes of defiance, hurling contempt and denunciation at all those who stood for progressive and democratic ideas.

It was a strange time in which conspirators and murderers were permitted publicly to gloat over their deeds, but there came a still stranger period which marked the apotheosis of the assassins of Rathenau. With the advent of the Hitler regime in 1933, Kern and Fisher were extolled and glorified as national heroes and at the same time the memorial to Walter Rathenau, erected in Berlin by a gratified Republic, was torn down by the Nazis.

It is not a little strange that this book, teeming with fierce denunciation, brutal assaults of all kinds, culminating ultimately with a horrifying murder, should be introduced to the reader in the most placid and non-committtal manner.

“This,” say the English publishers, on the wrapper of the volume, “is a book written by one who grew up in the confused times of the war and post-war troubles in Germany. A sixteen-year-old cadet when the war ended, the author was brought up in the traditions of Prussian militarism. The book describes the mental states through which he passed on seeing one after another of his former ideals shattered—how he adopts fresh ideals only to lose them again, and how he finally is imprisoned for carrying his ideals to their logical conclusion. The story of his adventures with the new armies in various parts of Germany, and in encounters with the Red armies in the Baltic States, makes very exciting reading.

“Even for those who do not agree with the author’s political views, the book will have a psychological interest—it is a gripping picture of the problem of finding the right social organization as it presents itself to a very young man who is therefore terribly earnest.”

In a tone of equal indifference or nonchalance is written the translator’s introduction to the volume, who says:

“The wild adventures of this boy of sixteen in Courland and elsewhere, his subsequent deeds in the Rhineland, Upper Silesia, and other disaffected areas, and his role in the murder of Rathenau give his pages an absorbing interest.”

Of course, the boy who was sixteen years of age in 1919 was nineteen in 1922, and twenty-seven when he published the original German book. But the English publisher and translator have, somehow, decided to treat as a sympathetic, romantic figure, this raving blusterer who pours out more than four hundred pages of unrestrained condemnation of standards of loyalty, morality and virtue which all civilized people hold dear.

It would have been a much truer description to the book to say that it is a companion volume to Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”

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