The Iron Dice

The Iron Dice | The Fight for the Republic #7

November 22, 2022 Dan Arrows Season 1 Episode 7
The Iron Dice | The Fight for the Republic #7
The Iron Dice
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The Iron Dice
The Iron Dice | The Fight for the Republic #7
Nov 22, 2022 Season 1 Episode 7
Dan Arrows

On May 1st, 1919 the city of Munich stands surrounded. 
35.000 soldiers, part government troops, part Freikorps stand ready to storm ahead and snuff out the revolutionaries controlling the city. While they load bombs onto their airplanes and fuel up british tanks captured during the war, they start painting skulls and swastikas on their steel helmets.
The battle for Munich is about to begin.

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Show Notes Transcript

On May 1st, 1919 the city of Munich stands surrounded. 
35.000 soldiers, part government troops, part Freikorps stand ready to storm ahead and snuff out the revolutionaries controlling the city. While they load bombs onto their airplanes and fuel up british tanks captured during the war, they start painting skulls and swastikas on their steel helmets.
The battle for Munich is about to begin.

► Patreon:         
► Twitter:           
► Dan's Twitter:
► Instagram:         

Support the Show.

Hello everyone and welcome to the Iron Dice. This is Dan Arrows and you are about to listen to part 7 of our series on the early Weimar Republic. If you’re new I suggest you listen to the other parts beforehand to get the most out of it but you don’t have to. At this point in the series we are taking off right after the Spartacist uprising has been violently crushed and Germany is about to be presented with the treaty of Versailles. Before we get to that point though we’re gonna have to talk about one event in particular that will put this new democracy on a very, very dark path. Without any further ado, hope you enjoy and I give you part 7 of The Fight for the Republic.



“The hour has come again. 
The dead rise again. 
Those ridden down ride again.”

- The Red Flag, March 1919

“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

- Antonio Gramsci

The date is May 1st, 1919 and the city of Munich stands surrounded. 35.000 soldiers, part government troops, part Freikorps stand ready to storm ahead and snuff out the revolutionaries controlling the city. As the soldiers prepare all their equipment, they paint skulls and swastikas on their steel helmets to signal their Germanic heritage. Its not the first clash between these two groups that we have seen, but now it is about to take on a new dimension. Its no longer just artillery and machine guns these guys are ready to deploy but outside the city of Munich, they are loading bombs onto fighter planes. Fueling up British tanks captured during the war.  Everything is set, for a bloodbath rivaling the great battles of the first world war. What non of the participants know yet, be it the soldiers reading their rifles or the revolutionaries holding out in the city, is that this battle will be part of the the first set of dominos to fall in a series of events ending with another lost world war, and Germany committing one of the worst crimes of human history. 

Bavaria and the city of Munich are a key puzzle piece to understanding the death of German democracy in the inter war years and this state, becoming a battle ground between the far-left and the far-right in early 1919 is not something anyone would’ve predicted. If there is a place where the monarchy should have had no trouble remaining in power even during the November revolution, it should’ve been Bavaria. Home of the thousand year old Wittelsbach dynasty. A family that spawned three Kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and one princess that the house of Windsor which reigns in Britain to this day is descendant from. Even to this day Bavaria remains a stronghold of conservative catholics and anti-progressivism. Despite all that, in early November 1918, six months before the battle for Munich,  Bavaria, falls to the revolution before Berlin does; if you remember Berlin is the last major city to be overtaken by revolutionaries. For that to happen, a couple of things had to come together. What certainly didn’t help the old powers governing the state for centuries is that the monarchy is already in crisis before the sailors in Germany's port cities rise up in early November. The roots of this go back further but for our story, we’ll look at the last king of Bavaria, Ludwig the third who becomes King of Bavaria in 1913 after usurping his cousin Otto the first. The problem Bavaria has at the time is that the person who rightfully should be the king, Otto the first can’t take the thrown because he is “melancholic”, as it was called at the time. Back then the field of psychiatry was still in its infancy and what they romantically described as being “melancholic”, modern doctors would probably call a paranoid hallucinatory, schizophrenic psychosis that makes him unable to take the throne. So in an unprecedented step, the political forces in the state, change the Bavarian constitution, stripping Otto of his right to the throne, while leaving his titles in place so you end up with two kings, Ludwig the third as the actual king of Bavaria, and Otto as the nominal one. And Ludwig could never really shake of the stench of being a usurper and there are even rumors that Otto isn’t actually mentally ill but fell victim to a nefarious conspiracy to remove him from power. Lugwig is also someone who, for a monarch is somewhat down to earth. He has a passion for everything agriculture which some of his subjects deem as unseemly so they give him the nickname of the “dairy farmer king”. And the fact that he seemed so affable as a prince made him hugely popular before but as King, people want someone who resembles a wiser, stoic father figure which Ludwig just isn’t. He is someone who has no problem leaving the palace to meet some friends in a bar and grab a couple of drinks. So that makes him very unpopular coupled with the enourmous amount of hardship Bavaria had to endure over the course of the war. Their state has seen 170.000 of their men die in the conflict, 65% of those between the ages of 20 and 29. Casualties from Munich alone mount to thirteen thousand. And it is in this climate of frustration and yearning for change that the authorities of Munich commit a fateful error that seals their fate. On November third, 1918, about a thousand sailors from Austria-Hungary want to pass through Munich on their way to Kiel, the epicenter of the unfolding revolution. Munich authorities, in an effort quell the ongoing events in the North, stop the train and forbid the sailors to travel further. You can probably guess what happened next. Instead of joining forces with the revolutionaries in the North of the country, the sailors pour into Munich and rally for the war to end, and the abdication of King and Kaiser. And as in Berlin, one person emerges from these conditions that will stirr the course of the revolution in Bavaria like noone else. If Berlin had Karl Liebknecht as the central figure of the revolution, Munich has a man by the name of Kurt Eisner. A man who, is definitely an unlikely candidate for this position given the fact that he’s not even from Bavaria but Berlin and had previously been a right-wing social democrat. Before his path took him to Bavaria he wrote for the social democratic newspaper vorwärts or forward and repeatedly butted heads with his comrades over his push for the party to abandon the goal of revolution and adherence to Marxism. 

He ends up getting kinda pushed out of the editorial department of the newspaper and when is marriage goes down the drain as well, he leaves his wife and children to move to Bavaria. When the war breaks out he initially supports it, mostly to accelerate the downfall of zarist Russia but over time realizes that a lot of the propaganda he believed initially is not true and that Germany is by no means innocent in the outbreak of the war. So from being at the fringe right of the social democrats, this realization slowly turns him into a radical pacifist and when the social democratic party splits in 1917, he becomes a founding member of the independents in Bavaria. When the sailors that got stopped from passing through then add to the pressure boiling in Munich, he is able to land a major coup. Wanting to capitalize on the current mood in the city, social democrats and independents call for a joint demonstration at the Theresienwiese where the Oktoberfest usually takes place. And this demonstation has a massive turnout. Sixty thousand people show up to demand an immediate end to the war and abdication of the monarchy. And while the demonstration is still taking place Kurt Eisner and a couple of his followers seize the moment, walking from one military garrison in the city to the next, telling the soldiers present that the revolution is here and that they need to get with the program. By 9PM there are no soldiers left that could even hypothetically be mobilized against the Revolution and later that night, the newly formed workers and soldiers councils elect Kurt Eisner as their chairmen. The reason why I call this somewhat of a coup is because Eisner and the independents aren’t even the party with the most support in the state or Munich itself. That spot belongs to the social democrats but because Kurt Eisner realizes the possibility of the moments, he is able to outmaneuver them insanely fast and make himself the top dog. Here is how one of his followers describes it:

“Lorries with guns and ammunition arrived. Soldiers and workers came, they were armed, assembled into small units, and sent off to occupy public buildings . . . At ten in the evening, all ministries, the general command, the railway station, as well as the post and telegraph
office were in the hands of the revolutionaries. Then the workers’ and soldiers’ council, accompanied by sixty armed men, marched to the state parliament building, which was handed over without resistance.
. . . All entrances were occupied by machine gunners, and the access road was also secured. At half past ten in the evening, Kurt Eisner opened the provisional constituent assembly of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils.”

On that same night Eisner himself proclaims Bavaria a Republic and establishes a provisional government made up of both independents and social democrats. For a lot of people this is reason to celebrate but the more conservative citizens of the state almost can’t believe what they are seeing take place. Seeing the Wittelsbach dynasty, a house that is older than the house of the Kaiser lose power to a leftist government, led by a Jewish coffee house intellectual, that wasn’t even born in Bavaria. And while we are still almost seven months out, from the fateful battle for Munich, you can already see the formation of this bloodthirsty, reactionary undercurrent waiting for their chance to strike. And the more conservative parts of the state have ways of making Kurt Eisners life harder. Farmers and the peasentry refuse to deliver goods to the city at one point causing wide-spread hunger and anger at the Eisner government. Unemployment also becomes a problem. But more so than anything else, Eisner becomes the figure of hatred among conservatives and the bourgeois middle class when he travels to Berlin, and hands secret documents that he edited beforehand, to one of Germany’s largest newspapers. Documents that according to Eisner show that it was Germany alone, and more specifically a few Prussian militarists in cahoots with big industrialists that are at fault for the world war. Now is that true? Not really but even if it was true, what gets everyone so up in arms about it is that he does this, before there is even a peace treaty. So these documents are a welcome feast for every foreign statesmen demanding compensation or reparations from Germany. But Eisner has a calculated goal in doing this because, should Bavaria be able to seperate from the rest of the Reich, they might get favorable treatment by the allies because of these documents. 
The blowback from this completely isolates him as even moderate social democrats distance themselves from him.
At the same time Eisner is facing pressure from the left as well because he isn’t really a radical in the sense that a Liebknecht is or was before he was murdered. Politically he is situated to the left of someone like Friedrich Ebert but to the right of a Rosa Luxemburg. He wants there to be a parliament that is voted on by the people but is controlled and held in check by workers councils. In December there is even a coup against his interior minister by a group of anarchist that fails. When Eisners government calls for a state-wide election it is boycotted by anarchists and the communist party, the KPD. And to make matters worse, his party, the independents gets destroyed in this election. The two big winners are the Bavarian Peoples Party, which is the party of landowners and the industry followed by the social democrats. The independents, get a mere two point five percent in the entire state. So now not only is he and his party nearly politically irrelevant in Bavaria as soon as the new government forms but those further left who boycotted the election are no agitating to overthrow his government, before it can be replaced by the new one.
By mid-February Eisner has become so unpopular that workers are shouting him down, when he’s trying to hold a public speech and its not long until he realizes that its the end of the road for him. He plans to offer his resignation on February the 21st at 10am. As Eisner is getting ready to do this, early in the morning his secretary suggests to him that he might wanna take the back door given how tense the mood in the city is. To which Eisner merely responds:

“You can’t avoid an assassination attempt in the long run and they can only shoot me to death once anyway.”

You can probably guess what happens next. As Kurt Eisner is on his way to parliament, with his resignation letter in his pocket, a guy runs up from behind and without saying a word puts two bullets into him. One hits Eisner in the back, the other one straight in the head killing him instantly in front of his wife, and son in law.

The assassin, who is immediately wounded and arrested by Eisners guards, had been a member of something called the Thule society. This had been a relativly small but influental secret society in Munich that combined all kinds of old-Germanic occultist beliefs with strong Antisemitism. In fact when you wanted to become a member of this society, you had to sign a “blood declaration of faith” stating that no Jewish or colored blood flows through your veins”. Now this assassin, wasn’t instructed to kill Kurt Eisner and had in fact been kicked out of the Thule Society for being Jewish but wanted to get back into their good graces with this assassination. 

With Kurt Eisners death, all hell breaks loose in Munich. Merely two hours after Eisner takes a bullet to the head, a socialist supporter of his storms into parliament while the government is the midst of a debate, pulls out a gun and shoots three people. Now this man had assumed these three guys were the ones behind the assassination of Eisner when in fact they had absolutely nothing to do with it so you can image the look on their faces when this guy kicks in the door looking for revenge. From this point onward it becomes clear that while Eisner had been pretty unpopular more broadly, he really held this thing together and as soon as he’s gone the government coalition just breaks apart. Partially out of fear of a right-wing counter-coup the social democrats declare themselves the legitemate government with not even having a majority in parliament while the groups to the left of the social democrats splinter into separate camps of communists, socialists and anarchists. What heats up the temperature in the city even further are the news that Hungary has undergone a revolution and declared itself a soviet republic. Here’s is how one contemporary describes it:

“The city took on a more threatening appearance as trucks arrived, red flags fluttering from them, crammed full of standing soldiers holding their weapons at the ready or ostentatiously loading them . . . Flyers called for the suppression of the bourgeois
press, for a general strike, for a “second revolution”.’”

Now the revolutionaries in Bavaria are not alone with their demands. In early 1919, this is happening all over the country and the federal government really starts to worry that the wheels are coming off of this thing. And its not just people wanting a soviet Germany or the like, those people are a minority, in fact. Most of the unrest is average workers going on strike because they don’t see the political and economic change that the November revolution promised. Hunger is also a factor since the British blockade on Germany is still in place and to top things off, following the murder of Liebknecht, there are more and more reports of the government deploying far-right Freikorps units to beat up and even kill workers striking for better conditions.
In Berlin these reports are especially powerful considering the pain a lot of people feel over the death of Liebknecht and Luxemburg still lingers and on March 3rd the strike wave reaches the capitol. Now the federal government is still out of town in Weimar holding the national assembly so this is also where the more radical elements of the strike see an opening. On March 3rd a number of communists, independents AND social democrats get together and declare a city-wide general strike. Today Berlin is very different but back then, the city was still an industrial hub and the entire city going on strike has huge repercussions. The workers demand fewer working hours, better pay, the dissolution of the freikorps and the dissolution of the military judiciary that had let Karl and Rosa’s murder off the hook. These demands aren’t new but in many ways were what the revolution in November had promised. But now, five months later, instead of key industries getting transfered into public ownership, what these workers are seeing is the government dragging its feet and sending in their far-right bloodhounds to crush any dissent. In addition those guiding the movement go further and again, want the government to recognize the authority of the workers and soldiers councils over all state matters. So while it varies throughout the country, the strike in Berlin definitely falls into the category of a political strike as opposed to an economic one. This is where we see the German revolution shift into a second, more radical phase where its not just about an end to war anymore. As expected there is also a ton of arguing and fighting over who leads the strike and what its goals are among communists, independents and social democrats, who especially are in a bind because they feel trapped between loyaltee to the party leadership on one side and the growing anger of the workers on the other. Nonetheless, on March 3rd, most factories in Berlin come to a grinding halt. 

The reaction to this by the government currently in Weimar and other observers in the country is nothing short of hysteria. Some newspapers are calling the strike movement “the new spartacists” and describe the coming conflict as a battle between the forces of “Light” and “Darkness”. The social democratic newspaper in the city of Hamburg calls those going on strike “Fanatics of a bolshevik gospel” who’s “general strike propaganda” will destroy the German economy and turn the country in Russia. A big newspaper in West-Germany called Rheinisch-Westfälische Zeitung stipulates that if the government can’t quell the strike 

“then tomorrow the annexation of Germany by Bolshevik Russia will be fulfilled and Mr. Lenin and Mr. Trotzky will raise the red flag over the Brandenburg gate!”.

The voices in the media really make this strike out be a potentially apocalyptic event and given this sort of commentary, its not difficult to guess the action the government in Weimar took. Here is where a man enters the scene that is as ruthless as you can imagine. There is an infamous quote from him that also coins his nickname. That quote is “Somebody has to be the bloodhound. I shall not shirk the responsibility”. So thats what the workers call him, the bloodhound. That man is, member of the social democratic party and recently appointed Defense Minister, Gustav Noske. We’ve encountered him before when he crushed the Spartakus Uprising or allegedly ordered the execution of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. He interprets the general strike breaking out in Berlin as a declaration of war. So instead of the federal government getting into contact with strike leaders or try to negotiate a peaceful resolution to this, they let their bloodhound off the leash who on March 3rd proclaims the state of siege over Berlin. He suspends the civil rights and liberties of everyone in the city and amasses thirty thousand Freikorps outside the city.
Those organizing the strike, the independents and social democrats in particuluar had anticipated something like this which is why they stayed away from any kind of combative rhetoric. Instead of filling the streets and getting gunned down like had happened before, they want to focus on the factories as their point of leverage. The communists, had different things in mind. On March 3rd the communists newspaper, the red flag writes:

“Onto battle! Onto the general strike! Down with Ebert-Scheidemann-Noske, the murderers, the traitors! Down with the national assembly! All power to the workers councils!”

The government forces take up positions inside the city relatively quickly because its not like there has been a coup for the control of the city its “just” a strike after wall. On the same night that the red flag publishes their call to battle, soldiers storm the building and completely destroy the red flags offices. Clashes all over the city take place that leave several people dead. Some of these clashes are rumored to have been provoked either directly by the government forces or through their agent provocateurs among the revolutionaries. On March 4th, stores start getting looted by people using the chaos inside the city to their benefit. As I said, lots of people are suffering from hunger, so some take what they can get and its not just stores that are looted. Police stations are raided for weapons as well and the strike leaders are also very aware of this problem. They put up posters all over Berlin calling the looters the “hyenas of the revolution” that “besmirch the honest struggle of the workers”. The groups organizing the strike  have been very adamant about not risking open conflict with the government forces. But they only have a limited influence in a city where both sides are armed to the teeth by now and see the other as an existential threat. One of the leftist groups in the city is the People’s Navy Division. These were the guys that rinsed the Freikorps at the battle for Berlin palace on Christmas Eve 1918 and thus far, have been acting with restraint. They in fact want to maintain order in the city as well and arrest “hyenas of the revolution” causing trouble. Throughout March 5th, the People’s Navy Division and another similar group called the Republican Soldiers Defense make their way to Alexanderplatz, which is a large public square in central Berlin to arrest looters. But when these guys get there, they are immediately fired up by Freikorps soldiers and heavy clashes brake out around the square. The Freikorps soldiers would later say that they fired on these guys “by accident” but considering what happened after, I find that very questionable. While the fighting is going on, a couple of representatives of the People’s Navy Division make their way to the adjacent police station to clear up the situation and stop this bloodbath. Its not really known how the conversation between the two sides went but what is known is that when the People’s Navy Divisions representatives leave the police station, their leader is straight up shot in the back and killed. This shows again, who these Freikorps are right because they dont want order, they want violence. They want to kill people and use the weapons they have brought home from the war on their political enemies. And that is what happens. The People’s Navy Division set up barricades around the square and attempt to storm the police station. Fighting with losses on both sides continues through out night and when the sun rises over Berlin again, the Freikorps are ready to reveal the ace up their sleeve. While the soldiers of the People’s Navy Division try to take a breath after all the heavy fighting in the darkness, they suddenly hear rumbling above their heads. Not a noise you were used to hearing in the sky at that time and what follows is a hail of bombs, ripping apart the streets around Alexanderplatz. The Freikorps have turned their fighter planes into improvised bombers that are now just wreaking havoc on the entreched positions of the People’s Navy Division. To make matters worse, the rumbling is not just coming from the sky, its coming from around the street corners as well. What is slowly making its way, through the streets of Berlin are thirty ton heavy british Mark four tanks, captured on the Western Front and now firing its 6 pounder guns at the scrambling sailors. The advancing tanks and airplanes are accompanied by 15 cm shells fired by heavy artillery that rip 20 feet wide holes into Berlins streets and houses. It’s an insane amount of destruction that the Freikorps are unleashing on this city, full of civilians. The people’s navy division has no other choice than to retreat to the eastern side of town which is where most of the workers live, looking for safety in numbers. Gustav Noske, the man coordinating this whole operation has no intention of letting them get away though. The battle of Alexanderplatz has now fully convinced him that there actually is no strike. It is just a sly maneuvour, a decoy for the true aim of the radicals, the communist revolution. He is determined to crush them without even the consideration of what using the weapons of war does to the civilian population in an urban environment. Meanwhile all over the city fighting brakes out between Freikorps and leftist groups including armed civilians. And given that the government has the declared the stage of siege for the city, its open season for the Freikorps. If there is sniper firing coming out of a housing block, or they believe so, its immediately targeted by heavy artillery.

The strike leadership at this point, in addition to seeing the outpouring of violence all throughout the city, which is exactly what they didn’t want, is also quarreling with itself on what to do and on March 7th, they decide to call off the strike. This doesn’t prevent the social democratic newspaper forward to blame them for the “sea of blood and wreckage” in the city. And this again really shows how much the social democrats have changed because before 1914, they were the ones who always resisted to caricature of striking workers as an angry mob or the like. Now the forward sounds exactly like the conservative newspapers of the day and decries any criticism of the conduct of the Freikorps as lies while also stating that where “beastliness begins, solidarity ends”. Meanwhile those sailors that retreated to the east of the city have set up barricades again and called upon the workers to assist them against the government forces that have already caught up. And now something is about to happen that in a lot of ways, paved the way for the violence unleashed on parts of the population 13 years from now. As so often in our story, it is again started by a rumor. A rumor that gets printed up in a Berlin Newspaper on March 9th saying that spartacists have executed more than sixty police officials at the Lichtenburg police station in the east of the city. In the following days Berlins newspaper will try to one-up each other and by the end the number of those allegedly executed has risen to two-hundred. The forward on March 10th demands “No Mercy with the murderers!”. The reaction to this among the government forces is as expected. Acts of reprisal for this supposed massacre happen all over town. At Moabit prison, government forces drag two captives, at least one of whom was a Russian pow who had nothing to do with anything into the prison yard and start beating them to death. Witnesses to this claim one captive was beaten with a rifle so long, and so brutally that the soldier only stopped when his rifle snapped in two. The other captive is beaten with a heavy wooden hammer as the surrounding soldiers eg on their colleagues. Afterwards they unload their rifles into the dead bodies of these men, have to reload and unload again. It leaves one lost for words, reading some of these accounts and the frenzy these soldiers are in that makes them seen as something that is not human, on some level. And its especially tragic because this massacre of police officials, never happened. It was completely fabricated by the prussian interior ministry and fed to the newspapers who were eager to demonize the radicals. And this rumour leads to Gustav Noske being determined to make an example out of Berlin. He gives the order to his men that quote

“Any person who is seen taking up arms against government forces is to be shot immediately.”

With that, Gustav Noske has given every single one of his men carte blanché to play master of life and death.

On March 12th, government forces surround the east of the city and launch an attack. The battle doesn’t last very long because the amount of destruction these guys are willing to cause is just overwhelming. Hundreds of civilians are caught in the crossfire of machine guns, get ripped apart by bombs or buried under rubble. One eye-witness describes it like this:

“The city district of Lichtenberg was surrounded, the individual housing blocks sealed off and then a mass murder began, the likes of which had not occured in Germany since the Peasents’ wars. On the streets, in the courtyards and apartments, people were beaten to death or shot.”

At night, the Freikorps gather those they have captured throughout the day to fulfill Gustav Noske’s order. Twenty-nine members of the people’s navy are gathered in a court yard at französiche Straße and gunned down with a machine gun. A day later, a 12 year old girl named Helena makes the mistake of opening a window and just mere seconds after takes a bullet to head by a trigger happy member of the Freikorps. Shortly after, the fighting dies down and the government declares that the city of Berlin has been quote “liberated”. This liberation caused by workers demanding that the government fulfill the promises of the revolution leaves a destroyed Berlin and 1200 lives lost, in its wake. The vast majority of which are civilians. Not civilians who over the course of the strike picked up arms to fight the Freikorps, but civilians caught in the crossfire. The city has suffered so many casualties that the morgues don’t have enough space for them and often the bodies are so blown to pieces, that their relatives can’t even identify them. The newspaper forward comments on those overfilling Berlin’s morques of having the typical facial features that you would find among the Spartacists quote”

“Even in death, anger, hatred and despair is written in their faces.”

Historian Mark Jones has this to say about the “liberation” of Berlin.

“Only four month after Germany had declared itself a Republic and only weeks after the National Assembly had gathered in Weimar for the first time, Germany’s first democratically elected government had ordered a military operation in Berlin that cost more than a thousand people their lives. The Republic did nothing to find out who these victims were, and no serious attempt was ever made to determine how many of them were civilians uninvolved in the strike and uprising. The logic of violence triumphed over rule of law and over civil rights. The Weimar Republic had experienced its founding massacre.”

You know, when the Weimar Republic was founded, its founders made a great effort to associate this new Germany, with the spirit of Weimar, so to say. As Friedrich Ebert said at the National Assembly:

“Now the spirit of Weimar, the spirit of philosophers and poets must fill our lives again.”

They wanted to show that this was a new country, one founded one culture, not militarism. And that largely remains the image of the Weimar Republic. This progressive but weak democracy that ultimately fell victim to fascism. Which is true in a broad sense. But what is also true is that this country, this new Germany was also founded on unchecked state violence against its citizens. Violence so severe, Germany had never witnessed anything like it. Partially that is due to the advances in technology but also the, again, boundless hatred of the people doing the violence. And its not like for the social democrats, liberal parties the press AND a significant part of the population, state violence is a legitimate tool of governance. It becomes one because to them, the horror scenario painted by voices in the press, civil war, famine and chaos, that is real to them. It is so real and terrifying that they see a non-violent strike as a threat to the pillars of the country. And because of that fear, state violence becomes a tool to be wielded, not just by Democratic parties crucially, but by those succeeding them.

One day after the strike and subsequent uprising in Berlin is put down, Gustav Noske travels back to Weimar on March 13th, to speak in front of the national assembly. If you believe that this would be some sort of questioning or inquiry if his methods in Berlin were legitemate or maybe excessive, you’re mistaken. As Gustav Noske steps in front of the National Assembly of all the significant parties in Germany at the time and declares victory in Berlin over the quote “beasts in human form” the hall erupts in applause. The parties making up the government and those further to the right applaud and cheer even harder when he quotes his order to shoot anyone who is seen picking up a weapon against government forces. Noske puts the blame of “whipping the population of Berlin into a frenzy” onto the red flag and the newspaper of the independents, freedom and praises the freikorps for their heroic effort.

“The volunteer troops have been insulted and slandered, but we only have these men to thank for not sinking into horrible chaos”, he says. As much as Noske is celebrated as a hero at this occasion, there is a small fraction of people at the National Assembly calling his story into question. One small delegation, not even made up of a dozen people belonging to the independents interrupt Noske, calling him shameless and a liar. Their shouts are frequently drowned out by the applause of the other attendees. At one point some other delegates shout directly at the independents telling them to “Go to Russia, go to Russia!”. But the independent delegates are not so easily intimidated and keep bringing up the fact that the order that Noske gave was illegal. And here it gets really stunning.

Noske responds:

“When thousands of people take up arms against the government in the streets of Berlin, when looters and murderers celebrate orgies, that is a state outside any rule of law.” And that it was necessary to act in a manner that “would restore calm and security as fast as possible.” And he is cheered for it. He is cheered for it not just by the right-wing but by the liberal parties and social democrats who had always upheld rule of law as one of their fundamental values. 

Gustav Noske’s appearance in front of the National Assembly ends without a single question by the government parties, calling his actions into question.

The independents newspaper comments this by writing:

“Never before has a government declared so openly and brutally that it has no regard for the law. And in a cause where human lives are at stake while demanding the return to legality from others.”

While the unrest in Berlin is put down, strikes continue and even increase in the rest of the country and especially in the Ruhr and Upper Silesia where the country gets a lot of its coal. And while in January the government still had reservations about simply unleashing violence on their perceived enemies, those reservations have completely disappeared. The strikes in the Ruhr especially freak them out considering at one point 75% of the workforce working in the coal industry are on strike and coal is what the country runs on. The strikes are put down in violent clashes, and slowly but surely, the government working hand in glove with the Freikorps secure their grip over Germany. With some exceptions I should say. And if the center of the revolution in the North of the country was Berlin, for the south its Munich. While the governments attention is on Berlin, Munich is going through its own turbulences. And here its not just strikes, its the real deal.

After Kurt Eisner gets gunned down a new state government is formed in Munich under the leadership of a guy called Hoffmann, who is a social democrat. Its not long after Hoffmanns government is also overthrown and the new government declares Bavaria soviet republic on the 12th of April. The regime that takes over Bavaria at this point is certainly an interesting one. Here is how historian Robert Gerwarth sums it up:

“The new regime’s leadership was dominated by urban literati from Schwabing, such as the 25-year-old Bohemian poet Ernst Toller or the anarchist writer and translator of Shakespeare,
Gustav Landauer. Their revolutionary agenda was as ambitious as it was unrealistic: it could only have been imposed in a far more dislocated and broken state than Bavaria. Banks and large industrial concerns were to be nationalized; ‘free money’ would be issued to abolish capitalism; universities were to be run by the students and professors stripped of their titles. The press was to be subjected to censorship by Landauer’s Office of Enlightenment and Public Instruction. The subject of history was abolished at Munich University as it was deemed
hostile to civilization. Franz Lipp, the Commissar for Foreign Affairs,
telegraphed to Moscow to complain that the ‘fugitive Hoffmann has taken with him the keys to my ministry toilet’, and declared war on the neighbouring state of Württemberg and on
Switzerland because ‘these dogs have not at once loaned me sixty locomotives. I am certain’, he added, ‘that we will be victorious. As the anarchist writer Gustav Landauer noted on a postcard sporting his face, sent to the novelist and literary critic Fritz Mauthner in April
1919: ‘The Bavarian Council Republic has honoured me by making my birthday a national holiday. I am now the “people’s delegate” for propaganda, education, science, arts, and a few other things. If I have a few weeks, I hope I can achieve something; however, it is very likely that it will only be a few days, and then all this will have been but a dream.”

Noteworthy here is that the power of those controlling Munich, never much extended to outside the city. Quite the opposite in fact. The quasi-blockage of food deliveries by the farmers has only tightened since Kurt Eisners assassination and Hoffman and his government that has fled to the city of Augsburg is even egging them on saying that Munich is now under “a dictatorship of Russians and Jews”.

Still, despite the rather loose grip this new administration has on Bavaria, in Russia its seen as the first sign that a bolshevik revolution is imminent in Germany. One message cabled from the Politburo in Moscow by the chairman of the COMINTERN reads:

“We are deeply convinced that the time is not far off when the whole of Germany will be a soviet republic. The Communist International is aware that you in Germany are now
Fighting at the most responsible posts, where the immediate fate of the proletarian revolution throughout Europe will be decided.”

Looking back, we of course know that Germany was far from bolshevik revolution at the time but when you’re in the moment, things can look much more volatile. Its not just wishful thinking in Moscow, the allies are thinking about this as well. Around the same time Robert Lansing, US Secretary of State notes that 

“Central Europe is aflame with anarchy; the people see no hope; the Red Armies of Russia are marching westward. Hungary is in the clutches of the revolutionists; Berlin, Vienna and Munich are turning towards the Bolsheviks.”

At the beginning of April 1919, all eyes rest on Munich. On the 13th of April, the day of Palmsunday, there is a coup attempt in Munich in favor of the Hoffmann state government. But the new leadership has not been slacking on preparing for something like this. From the moment they declare Bavaria a soviet Republic, they start arming workers, training them as good they can and position them to guard key points throughout the city. The soldiers in favour of the SPD government in exile arrest numerous members of the council in charge of the city and retreat to Munich central station to wait for reinforcements. One hope these guys had was that the soldiers still in Munich would rally to their side if there was any kind of uprising but on April 13th, that doesn’t happen and there are no reinforcements coming from outside either. While the firefight between the both sides is raging around Munich central station, a big argument breaks out among the leftist coalition governing the city. Seeing this coup attempt unfold, the KPD, the communists have had with the soft leadership of, what they called “coffeehouse anarchists”. And while the coup attempt around central station is still ongoing, the communists are able to secure leadership within the council and the declare what would be known as the second soviet republic. This one led by the communists, who’se first order of business is to finally crack down on anti-revolutionary elements within the city. They besiege Munich Central Station and after not even one day, the Palmsunday coup by pro-SPD militias ends in failure.

The communist leadership in charge of Munich is now more determined than ever to not let something like this happen again. They expand their “Red Army” that is now a sizable force of 20.000 soldiers. Immediately the communists in Munich get into contact with Lenin who gives them some practical advice on what to do like nationalizing the banks. The arristrocracy and other personell considerer counter-revolutionary is arrested. Munich’s main church, the Frauenkirche is seized and declared a temple of the Goddess of Reason. Three days later the communists are put to the test at the city of Dachau which is right outside of Munich. Of course these guys don’t just want to sit in Munich and do nothing, the revolution has to be carried forward. Not just for ideological reasons but because Munich is not self-sufficient. They need food, ammunition, all kinds of stuff. So firstly they focus on the city of Dachau which is controlled by the “whites” as they call them. Troops fighting for the federal government, and Dachau also has numerous paper factories that they want to get a hold on.
On April 15th, units of the red army move towards Dachau, where they encounter the first resistance. What is different compared to, the fighting in Berlin for instance, is that the “whites” here have no desire to die for the city of Dachau and crucially, know a lot of the men now fighting in the red army. So a lot of them just switch sides rather than fighting. And its not such a bad deal because the red army offers pay, clothing and food to anyone in their ranks. In this battle, the red army is led by a man named who I like quite a bit. Its a 25 year old man, with black curly hair and soft facial features. A guy like this, who is so young for a position like this is very common among the leaders of the second soviet republic but what sets him apart from the rest is that, he is a pure soul. Someone who rather than commanding an army dabbles in poetry and theater. After suffering a nervous breakdown during his time in the world war that turns him pacifist, fate or whatever you like to call it has now put him in charge of the red army. His name is Ernst Toller. On April 16th Toller gets the order from Munich to unleash the artillery on Dachau to prepare for the advance of the infantry. And he says no. Not because its a bad move strategically, but because Toller remembers, from his experiences in the war how much death and destruction this would cause. So instead he gives the white troops in Dachau an ultimatum to clear the city and stop the Hungerblockade on Munich. Shortly after, despite Tollers orders, his men fire their artillery at Dachau because you know, when you have democratic structures compared to a traditional command chain, it sometimes confusing on who is actually in charge and as soon as Toller realizes what his men have done, freaks out and orders them to stop immediatley. Because apart from the destruction artillery rains onto the citizens of Dachau, there is another side to his reasoning. He realizes that the federal government has made a big mistake, putting Munich under this hunger blockade because it has riled up a ton of people who aren’t even leftists. They might not care about the world revolution but they do care about feeding their family and using a blockade is seen as especially heinous because thats what the british are doing to the entire country right now. So when Toller and his men move into Dachau, the city population starts attacking the government forces. Armed with nothing but their fists and clubs they start attacking the soldiers from behind and cause a huge disarray among them. The workers form the paper and munitions factories in Dachau join in and the whites have no other choice but to retreat and let the reds take the city with under a hundred casualties. The leadership in Munich upon hearing of this, is exctatic. This seems to confirm what they had thought all along. That if the revolution comes, the peasants and farmers and workers will rally to their side and together, they will be victorious. They cable back to Ernst Toller to basically execute the captured officers but Toller denies the order again. He would later write of that moment:

“I tore up the order. Mercy towards the defeated is a virtue of the revolution.” 

Shortly after the red army is victorious at Dachau another clash occurs outside the city of Augsburg from which the revolutionaries ultimately have to pull back. And here is where things take a different turn. Previously it was just the city of Munich that was controlled by the radicals but it increasingly seems like it might spill over. Hoffmann and his government more and more fear the fight being taken to their doorstep. And this leads them to call upon men that do not have “mercy towards the defeated” as part of their language. 
After the reds are repelled at Augsburg he publicly makes the following appeal:

“Bavarians! Countrymen! In Munich rages a Russian terror, unleashed by foreign
elements. This insult to Bavaria cannot be allowed to last another day, not
even another hour. All Bavarians must immediately help, regardless of party
affiliation . . . Munich calls for your aid. Come on! Step forward! Now! The
Munich disgrace must be wiped out.”

15.000 Freikorps heed the call to settle the score with the hated reds, and are joined by an additional 15 to 20.000 thousand soldiers, sent by the federal government in Weimar. Right before this army reaches the outskirts of Munich, the Hoffman government makes an announcement that goes even further, than Gustav Noske’s order he gave during the fight for Berlin. It reads:

“Anyone who takes up arms against government troops will be punished by death . . / . Every member of the Red Army will be treated as an enemy of the Bavarian people and the German Reich.”

Here is where we get back to the beginning of the episode. Munich stands surrounded by 35.000 soldiers who brought with them the weapons of war, already used in Berlin. And these guys really feel like they are about to fight the revolution head on. Some newspapers have reported that up to 200.000 Russian troops are on the way to assists the forces inside Munich. Budapest, and Vienna, both not that far away from Munich, compared to Berlin are undergoing revolutionary events so it looks like the civil war is already here. While the government forces are in the process of encircling Munich they carry out atrocities left and right. In the village of Starnberg, 20 kilometers from Munich they execute thirty people accused of being revolutionaries. They drag over fifty Russian prisoners of war out of their cells and execute them on the spot. And when the communist leadership in Munich hears about these and more atrocities by the approaching soldiers, they put up posters warning of the “Prussian White Guard” all over the city. Some members of the so-called red-guard at a former Munich school called Leopold Gymnasium respond in kind and start to grab captured soldiers and hostages from their cells screaming: 

“Pigdogs, blood dogs, Noske dogs, they should all be shot, the whole band of them over
there belong against the wall.”

In the early hours of April 30th, seven men and one woman are put up against the wall at Leopold Gymnasium while members of the red guard ready their weapons. Now, executing a woman was something that even in this environment was very controversial and several of those present objected to her being included. Unfortunate for her though, others speak out in favor of her execution saying: 

“Away with the whore, because of her many others have already died.”

The women and other six men are given the choice to either face the firing squad or the wall and at roughly 5 in the morning, all seven are executed. All those executed, except for one, had been members of the earlier mentioned Thule society so their very existence was seen as a huge risk by these red guards cause they remember who killed Kurt Eisner.
What you have to keep in mind though is that, there is really no top down structure controlling everything in the city. Its pretty chaotic and when the leadership, including Ernst Toller hears that seven prisoners had been executed at Leopold Gymnasium, they are horrified. Toller himself rushes over to the Gymnasium to confirm what has happened and finds the bodies still laying where they were executed.
Toller, utterly shook by this, releases the remaining prisoners at the Gymnasium and gives the order put up a poster with his name on it, decrying this atrocity. Saying the factories and soldiers council is repelled by this quote “bestial act”. Now, these posters have an unintended by-effect, namely making it publicly known that this has happened. And the news spread like a wildfire through the city, all the way to the Freikorps positioning themselves outside. Their plan is launch the attack on May second, at 2PM in a concentric maneuver with units moving into the city from North, South, West and East just overwhelming the red army defenses. Meanwhile another fight breaks out among the leadership of the factories and workers council on what to do now. The communists want to fight to the very end, while Ernst Toller, who is an independent and the people around him see that they don’t stand a chance and want to negotiate with the Hoffmann government. And while Toller is succesful in convincing enough members of the council to take up negotiations, by this point Hoffman is no longer interested.
When the news about the atrocity at Leopold Gymnasium reaches the forces encircling the city, they can not contain themselves and just rush in. They are so blinded by their anger and hatred that they forgoe any strategic considerations or orders by their superiors. As a result they take heavy casualties until the rest of the army catches up but the battle of Munich in itself is not really a contests.

 The soldiers of the red army while holding out in some strategically important areas of the city are much less experienced, much less equipped than their enemies. They are simply no match for a professional fighting force coming at them with airplanes, tanks and artillery. As the factory workers and peasents of Dachau had come out to help the red army before, middle and upper class citizens of Munich now join forces with the soldiers attacking the city. Many newspapers, which had been banned under the communists for the most part go right back into press saying that the city if overflowing with joy about the arrival of the liberators. They also report on what has happened at Leopold Gymnasium in great detail and report that the bodies had been mutilated beyond recognition. The women, who was the Countess of Westarp had been sexually abused, according to the news reports. As so often in hour story, this isnt true but it fits the stereotypical image of the reds as “beasts in human form”. Which is not to say these prisoners weren’t mistreated prior to their execution. The oldest victim, a sixty-two year old professor who had said something negative about a propaganda poster, apparently suffered the worst of it. All of this pales in comparison to what the government soldiers were about to unleash upon their prisoners though. Because when we talk about the battle of Munich, the battle in itself isn’t that noteworthy. Its largely the same as we have seen in Berlin a month prior. What is so harrowing about this battle compared to Berlin, is the sheer inhumanity of the soldiers after their victory. They form execution squads all throughout the city and just go beserk. One of the leading figures of the council, the anarchist Gustav Landauer is kicked to death in his prison cell by Freikorps units on May third. They torture, they ransack and loot all around. One officer involved in this would later write gleefully in his memoirs about how he and his men restored order in “Red Munich”. He says one prisoner received a hand grenade “in the gills”, “gurgled in his blood and staggered of. He goes on to describe how he and his men capture a women, beat her to a pulp and whip her quote “until not a single white spot is left on her backside”. One of these Freikorps Units is noteworthy in particular, the one involved in the murder of Gustav Landauer in his prison cell. They are also one involved in the heaviest fighting surrounding the district of Giesing, in Munich which was a workers stronghold. After they triumph over the red army in Giesing they grab whoever they want, shoot them, club them to death. They get to fully live out their punishment fantasies that they had been dreaming of since the revolution. One leading figure in this unit which is called “Freikorps Epp” would later write about this moment:

“You couldn’t really differentiate between the one who actually shot and the one who got involved in the fighting by an unfortunate coincidence. Many innocents had to bite the dust. The bavarians of Colonel von Epp had no time to carry out lenghty investigations. With the Prussians its perhaps a little bit different.”

Its, its nothing short of sadistic butchery that these men revel in and would later say was quote “brutish, but appropriate”. You might expect, the entire leadership of the workers council to be tried and executed for treason, but these men go even further. In the ensuing cleansing, they will sentence over two-thousand people to death or long prison sentences. And sometimes it was even enough to just be accused of having supported the soviet republic to be executed. One of the men sentenced to fifteen years in prison would later write from his prison cell:

“In my mind, I look around and see nothing but the dead, lots of murder victims . . .’, ‘And that is the revolution that I have been cheering for. After only half a year, there is now a pool of blood: I am horrified.”

The martial law that all this murder and bloodshed is happening under would only be lifted months later in August, when the whites had made sure to have gotten every single revolutionary in the city.

What happened to the city of Munich in early May 1919 was nothing short of cataclysmic and would have a lasting impact on the entire country. And that impact is very intertwined with one soldier in Munich in particular. A soldier who, it seems like supported the cause of the revolutionaries for a while but when the government forces took over, quickly turned around to accuse several of his comrades of being communists. A soldier who had even been elected to be the representative of his soldiers council in April and probably carried the red armband as was custom. This soldier, living in Munich in 1919, is non other than Adolf Hitler.
And in a couple of years, he will reunite with numerous members of the Freikorp Epp. Do give you just a few names of the people “liberating” Munich in 1919:

Ernst Röhm, who later became leader of the SA. Rudolf Hess who would become Deputy Führer to Adolf Hitler in 1933. Hans Frank who would become govenor general of occupied Poland and oversee the construction of the death camps there. The list goes on and on its really is a who is who of Nazi higher ups with the most notorious one probably being a man named Oscar Dirlewanger. Now if you really wanna have a dark day you can look up this guys record in World War 2 because he really was one of the most sadistic psychopaths of the entire war and that is a really high bar to clear. Looking at the brutality on display in Munich in 1919, its hard not see this as a test-run for what would come later. Especially when you then read about the absolutely heinous crimes, people like Dirlewanger and his men would commit which are worse than anyone can imagine, like burning down three hospitals with patients still inside, what kind of song would they play and sing while doing this stuff? A song called “In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus” or “There is a Hofbräuhaus in Munich”.

Here is how historian Robert Gerwarth describes the legacy of the battle for Munich in his book November 1918:

“The profound sense of living in a world in which established social orders and hierarchies had been violently overturned prompted a right-wing backlash in Bavaria. After the bloodbath, moderates such as Hoffmann’s Social Democrats, despite having commissioned the action, did not stand much of a chance in Munich. A ‘White’ counterrevolutionary government eventually took over. Munich in particular was to become the most staunchly nationalist and anti-Bolshevik city in Weimar Germany and it was not a coincidence that it was the Bavarian capital that became the birthplace of Nazism.”

Our boy Ernst Toller, tried to hide from the rage of Freikorps but was ultimately captured as well. He was not sentences to death though he in fact only got a sentence of five years in prison, partially because he released the remaining prisoners at Leopold Gymnasium. He would leave Germany after being stripped of his citizenship by the Nazis and immigrate to New York. His last political project was him trying to make democratic countries like the US. Use their excess grain production to feed starving children abroad, which ultimately failed sadly. Constantly struggling with depression and financial woes after he gave all his money to refugees from the Spanish civil war, he hanged himself in his hotel room after laying out on his hotel desk “photos of Spanish children who had been killed by fascist bombs.”

You know, there is a reason why it took me a while to even mention the Nazis as a part of this story and partially that is due to the fact that I don’t want you to see this period as just the lead-up to the third reich. Its more than that. But it is impossible for me, to not draw the line between the enormous amount of violence unleashed on German citizens by their government in early 1919 to what we would see happen in the thirties and fourties. At this point in our story the government in Weimar can be happy. They have successfully beaten down the general strike in Berlin, the revolution in Bremen, Munich and other cities. They have everything they want now it seems. But unbeknownst to them, its only a matter of time before they realize that the prize they have to pay for this, could not be higher.