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Press and Politics in the Weimar Republic$

Bernhard Fulda

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199547784

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199547784.001.0001

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War of Words: The Spectre of Civil War, 1931–2

War of Words: The Spectre of Civil War, 1931–2

(p.169) 6 War of Words: The Spectre of Civil War, 1931–2
Press and Politics in the Weimar Republic

Bernhard Fulda (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The final years of the Weimar Republic were dominated by two factors: the economic crisis with its surge in mass unemployment; and the development of the Nazi party into a mass movement. How did politicians respond to the challenges of a media democracy? This chapter studies the intensive news coverage of political violence, and examines the increasingly authoritarian nature of government press management. But even at this point, the Nazi press was unsuccessful in attracting a wider readership. So why did voters choose to support the Nazis? This book demonstrates that the economic crisis as such was insufficient in mobilizing voters to vote for the NSDAP. Rather, press presentation of increasing Communist violence and the perceived threat of civil war, together with the media image of an indecisive government, turned the Nazis into an attractive choice for voters desperate for decisive action.

Keywords:   political violence, NSDAP, press management, civil war

We no longer need to predict civil war, we are already in the midst of it.

Volksstimme, 263, 10 November 1931, a Social Democratic provincial newspaper in Prussia, quoted in Dirk Schumann, Politische Gewalt in der Weimarer Republik 1918–1933. Kampf um die Straße und Furcht vor dem Bürgerkrieg (Essen, 2001), 337

Two factors dominated German politics during the final years of the Weimar Republic, in 1931 and 1932: an unfolding economic crisis of unprecedented severity; and a rising tide of street‐violence. Parliamentary democracy failed to respond effectivley to either challenge. After the Nazi electoral breakthrough of September 1930, only negative majorities were possible in the Reichstag. The Brüning government therefore relied heavily on Reichspresident Hindenburg's backing and the use of emergency decrees to manage the situation. Between March 1931 and February 1933, the Reichstag only met for a total of twenty‐seven days. As a forum for political debate, the German national parliament ceased to play any meaningful role.1 Yet Brüning's deflationary crisis management based on presidential emergency decrees might actually have saved parliamentary democracy in the long run. In June 1932 the reparations issue, which had been plaguing German domestic politics and the economy ever since 1919, was resolved at the Conference of Lausanne; in 1932 there were increasing signs of a natural economic recovery, especially in the consumer industries; and the American decision to leave the gold standard in early 1933 opened up the possibility of a controlled devaluation of the German currency, thereby easing the balance‐of‐payments constraints which had forced Brüning to adopt severe deflationary measures since 1930.2 It is very likely that parliamentary democracy would have been considerably more conservative and authoritarian in character than at any point during the 1920s, but there can be little doubt that if Reichstag elections had been held only in autumn 1934—rather than in July 1932—German history would have taken a very different course.3

So why did Hindenburg dismiss Brüning? Historians have thoroughly researched the behind‐the‐scenes intrigues which brought about Brüning's (p.170) downfall at the end of May 1932, and yet one crucial factor has received scant attention: the role of the press in exaggerating existing political violence and constructing the spectre of an imminent civil war. The truly divisive issue in spring 1932—the Gretchenfrage facing the Brüning cabinet—was not whether or not to initiate work‐creation programmes, but how to position the government in the face of increasingly vociferous accusations of allowing Germany to descend into violent chaos.4 In fact, compared to the losses of human life in the early years of the Weimar Republic, the level of street‐violence between 1930 and 1932 was negligible, nor did it at any point threaten to spiral out of the control of the state authorities. But a sensationalist and partisan press accorded such prominence to this Zusammenstoss violence that these clashes were pushed to the forefront of political debate. Political violence was turned—for contemporaries and historians alike—into an apparently ‘ubiquitous’ phenomenon of the late years of the Weimar Republic.5 In fact, one should treat the term ‘political’ with some caution. As a recent study has argued, much of the street‐violence originated in a local culture of neighbourhood radicalism fed by generational and gender tensions in which party ideologies played only a minor role.6 It was partisan press coverage which charged these clashes with political meaning, and which called for decisive government action. At the same time, politicians were increasingly wary of the press, which they held responsible for much of the violent antagonism. As a result, increasingly draconian inroads were made into press freedom, promoted even by the last remaining pillar of parliamentary democracy, the SPD.


As long as he enjoyed the support of Hindenburg, Brüning was reasonably confident that he would manage to resolve the crisis, and thereby steer Germany back into calmer political waters. But throughout this period, Brüning worried that sensationalist press coverage was undermining public confidence in his economic measures, both within Germany and abroad. What he wanted was a dispassionate press supporting the government in its struggle to master the situation.7 Instead, sensationalist and partisan press coverage whipped up public excitement and made government even more difficult, as Brüning repeatedly complained. September 1930 was a case in point. In Brüning's eyes, the slump of German bond prices was not primarily caused by the Nazi electoral breakthrough. Rather it was the subsequent press coverage, especially of Ullstein's tabloid BZ am Mittag, which exacerbated Germany's foreign‐exchange situation. It was deplorable, Brüning announced in a cabinet meeting that the Reich government had no means at its disposal to ban this ‘irresponsible press’, which merely out of a craving for sensation ‘was fuelling a mood of anxiety through alarmist news about allegedly imminent putsch attempts’.8 In the case of ‘sensationalist, (p.171) damaging news, like in the case of the BZ am Mittag, only a newspaper ban would produce relief for a longer time’.9 Other senior politicians shared this view. In late September 1930, when the cabinet discussed Hitler's testimony at the trial of the Ulm Reichswehr officers, Hans Luther, the Reichsbank president, voiced his lack of understanding for newspapers which covered Hitler's speech ‘in such a major way [and] tendentiously without consideration for the effects at home and abroad’.10 Two weeks later, he complained to Brüning about the BZ’s incorrect coverage of the Reichsbank's deliberations about a possible change to its interest rates. This article, he claimed, constituted ‘a serious threat to [public] confidence in the unpolitical management of Reichsbank affairs’.11 And in December 1930, the foreign minister pointed out to his colleagues the damage done by the discussion of all government measures ‘in full public’ (‘in voller Öffentlichkeit’) by the media. In no other country was government activity reported in a similar way, he claimed. It was necessary to work towards greater discretion.12

Leading Social Democrats were also concerned about press coverage, but they worried more about the polemical nature of it. In early 1930, Carl Severing complained that ‘Pressefreiheit’ (press freedom) had become ‘Pressefrechheit’ (press impudence).13 At the end of that year, now Prussian interior minister, he observed with anxiety the intensification of political conflict, a development which he blamed particularly on the lack of restraint in the radical press. His draft for a presidential emergency decree to combat political radicalism was sent to the Reich government for consideration. Civil servants around Brüning were in the process of investigating measures for the protection of the Reich against ‘sensationalist false reports’, and were very ready to take up the Social Democratic initiative.14 In January 1931, a series of violent clashes in Berlin which received considerable press coverage added a sense of urgency to these efforts.15 In one case a mass indoor rally in Friedrichshain featuring a debate between Joseph Goebbels and the KPD district leader, Walter Ulbricht, degenerated into a large‐scale brawl. By this stage, such debating encounters had become something of a tradition, and they usually ended in a more or less bloody mêlée.16 In preparation for this particular event, Goebbels's Angriff published an article calling for a day of reckoning, as well as printing a poem glorifying violence and Nazi martyrs.17 That evening, Goebbels had hardly begun to speak when fighting broke out.18 The clash left over a hundered injured and attracted extensive media attention both in Berlin and the provinces. It was widely claimed that the event signified a new dimension of political violence.19 The Social Democratic police president of Berlin considered Goebbels's Angriff a crucial factor in encouraging this violence against political opponents. On 4 February 1931, he banned the Nazi tabloid for claiming after a recent clash between SA members and Communists that such violent acts were ‘understandable’, a comment which the Communist Ulbricht decried as a ‘call for the murder of workers’ in a Reichstag debate.20 That same (p.172) day, leading members of both the Prussian and the Reich government met and agreed that more stringent press regulations were needed.21

One of the problems which law‐makers faced was the immunity from state prosecution which members of parliament enjoyed. Many radical papers exploited this provision by appointing parliamentarians as their managing editors. The KPD even issued a directive to this effect.22 By February 1931, the Reichstag had to consider over 400 applications by the state prosecution to lift the parliamentary immunity of various of its members, mostly for press offences.23 As a consequence, during one of the Weimar Republic's longest and most heated Reichstag sessions, the press law of 1874 was changed to prevent the exploitation of immunity by members of parliament acting as managing editors.24 After ongoing consultations between the Reich government, the Prussian government, and the interior ministers of other German states, Reich Chancellor Brüning further curtailed press freedom in his emergency decree against political excesses of 28 March 1931. Although Brüning's demand for enforced corrections was not yet included, the decree significantly extended government powers to ban daily newspapers for up to two months.25 Even liberals applauded, though with a heavy heart. ‘One only needs to read the newspapers of the extremist Right and of the radical Left which accuse each other of the worst acts of violence to realize that extraordinary circumstances exist which necessitate extraordinary measures’, commented the Ullstein broadsheet Vossische Zeitung.26 The Social Democratic party organ Vorwärts explained to its readers that either state authorities managed to curb the bloody violence between the extremists parties or else these fights would one day degenerate into a civil war.27


It was not the first time that Vorwärts had conjured up the spectre of civil war in an editorial on German domestic politics. From December 1930 onwards, articles on the paramilitary wing of the NSDAP, the SA, often referred to Hitler's ‘civil war army’.28 On 7 January, at the occasion of the burial of a Reichsbanner member murdered by National Socialists, Vorwärts devoted its entire front page to a chronology of Nazi acts of murder under the banner headline ‘The bloody path into the Third Reich’.29 This is turn provoked accusations of bias, which led right‐wing journalists, in turn, to point an accusing finger at left‐wing acts of violence that were alledgedly leading to a ‘creeping civil war’.30 Goebbels's Angriff routinely accused left‐wing opponents of acts aimed at triggering a civil war.31 And politicians were only too ready to pick up this media discourse. At a typical National Socialist rally in early February 1931, the speaker—a Nazi member of the Reichstag—announced that the republican Reichsbanner was ‘openly driving towards civil war’. The Nazis, he added, were armed and prepared: ‘The only question is who will strike first.’32 Claims that a civil war was in the offing (p.173) received further plausibility after the Nazis' demonstrative departure from the Reichstag on 10 February 1931. Rumours had it that this exodus was the result of the pressure from a minority faction within the NSDAP leadership opposed to Hitler's legalistic course.33 Hitler himself, when he contradicted these press reports and tried to rein in the increasingly restless SA, also felt it necessary to invoke the threat of a civil war.34

However, ‘civil war’ in the early 1930s was nothing but a media invention and a stick with which to beat one's political opponents. It was a typically loaded and emotive term which journalists and politicians used to portray the grass‐roots hooliganism on German streets, playing on the fears of contemporaries who had lived through the early years of the Weimar Republic. The brawls and fist‐fights of 1931, the stabbings, and the occasional use of handguns did not compare to the massive bloodshed of 1919 and the early 1920s. Yet compilations of long (and one‐sided) chronologies of political clashes on the pages of a partisan press conveyed the impression that contemporaries were already experiencing the first signs of the proliferation of violence so characteristic of a fully fledged civil war. Such lists and detailed reports on violent clashes, whether in Goebbels's Angriff or Münzenberg's Welt am Abend, helped to contribute to what one Social Democratic journalist called ‘the psychology of civil war’. It was always the political opponent who was blamed for instigating violent acts, which, in turn, fostered a spirit of revenge and retaliation.35 This partisan coverage of political violence also contributed to the increasing polarization of German politics. State or Reich authorities trying to address the issue of street‐violence were immediately attacked for supporting either one or other reading of events, and were accused of siding with the ideological enemy. It was this that eventually cost Brüning Hindenburg's support, and thereby his chancellorship, in the spring of 1932.

In terms of public perception, most of the responsibility for the continuing political violence on German streets in spring and summer 1931 fell on the Communists. The revolt and subsequent purge of the revolutionary faction within the National Socialist SA—the so‐called Stennes crisis in early April 1931—received massive media attention and seemed to lend further credibility to Hitler as a guarantor of legality.36 The Communists, in contrast, visibly intensified their armed struggle against fascism and their agitation against the Reich government.37 Among the usual clashes with their right‐wing opponents, some attacks stood out for their organized and calculated character. At the end of May 1931, for example, at the occasion of a huge rally in Breslau by the nationalist paramilitary veterans' organization, Stahlhelm, Communists attacked participants at train stations throughout Germany. In Breslau itself, a violent attack resulted in one dead and several severely injured Stahlhelm members. Police authorities quickly established that these attacks had been ordered from the very top of the KPD leadership.38 It was not difficult for Hugenberg's Nachtausgabe to sell these events as a ‘plague of Communist murder’.39 Only a few days later, the KPD started to organize hunger marches and organized looting of food shops (p.174) throughout the country to protest against Brüning's second economic emergency decree with its drastic cuts in unemployment benefits. Rote Fahne and Welt am Abend were alone in claiming that these incidents were spontaneous actions of unorganized, desperate unemployed.40 All the other Berlin papers agreed that these demonstrations, which often degenerated into riots and clashes with the police, were part of a Communist plan to destabilize further domestic politics and to create a revolutionary situation.41 According to the Berlin political police the Communist press played a major role in exacerbating tensions.42 This was a view shared by the Prussian interior minister, Carl Severing, who instructed Prussian district presidents to keep a close eye on Communist newspapers in mid‐June.43


As policing fell within the responsibility of the German states, the Reich government under Brüning did not have to get involved at this stage. Rather than political violence, Brüning's main preoccupation in June 1931 was the looming liquidity crisis of the German banking system, caused by the outflow of short‐term foreign deposits. Only for a regular reader of the National Socialist press like Göring was there a connection between international finance and street‐violence. At a meeting with Brüning, Göring declared that the withdrawal of foreign exchange was the result of the anxiety caused by the ‘signs of civil war which reveal themselves everywhere in Germany’—yet despite the daily excesses by Communists no radical measures were adopted, Göring complained.44 Brüning was right to refute this claim. Foreign investors were preoccupied with other news than Göring. The collapse of Austria's Credit‐Anstalt and the subsequent freezing of Austrian balances in May 1931, followed by Brüning's aggressive appeal for reparations concessions in early June, led foreign investors to repatriate their funds while there was still time. By the end of the month, the Reichsbank's reserves were depleted and it was forced to ration credit to the banking system.45 Occasional reports in the foreign press about political clashes on German streets probably did not help to instil confidence, but they did not fundamentally affect foreign investors' decision‐making.46

Depending on which newspapers they read, German contemporaries were more or less able to comprehend the economic crisis which was unfolding in June and July 1931 because of Germany's dependence on short‐term foreign loans. Experts widely agreed that there was only a handful of German newspapers which offered a thorough and high‐quality coverage of economic affairs, among them the liberal Berliner Tageblatt.47 Elite papers in Berlin, like Ullstein's Vossische Zeitung, Hugenberg's Tag, or the right‐wing Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, also provided a decent overview of economic developments. But they were the exception rather than the norm. Provincial and local newspapers, on which most Germans had (p.175) to rely for their information, rarely featured a well‐developed economic section, and mostly limited their coverage to an eclectic range of agricultural and business news.48 In any case, articles on the economy were apparently hardly ever read by the average newspaper consumer. This, at least, was one of the findings of an empirical survey on media consumption in rural Germany in 1937.49 There is no reason to believe that things were any different a few years earlier. The business section of a newspaper was for most readers ‘a closed book’, admitted a study from 1928.50 It is telling that tabloid newspapers did not offer much economic coverage at all. Such articles were obviously not popular enough to make it into these papers.

However, no one reading a newspaper in early July 1931 could escape the fact that Germany was in the throes of a serious financial crisis. Articles on the desperate efforts by the Reich government to cope with the effects of the massive withdrawal of foreign deposits were no longer confined to newspapers' business section, they were generally given front‐page status, in tabloids just as in provincial papers. Similar to the period of hyper‐inflation, when newspapers had announced the latest dollar rate for marks on their front pages, they now provided almost daily coverage on the state of Germany's gold and foreign exchange reserves.51 Most contemporaries probably missed news of the collapse of a major Bremen textile company, Nordwolle, which mostly appeared only in small notes.52 But when Nordwolle's largest creditor and Germany's second‐largest commercial bank, the Danat‐Bank, closed its doors on 13 July, the news was spread on the front pages of all Berlin tabloids, resulting in a run on banks throughout the city which forced the Reich government to declare a general two‐day bank holiday.53 Press coverage of the banking crisis sent shock‐waves through German society. ‘Germany faces ruin’, ran a typical banner headline in the provincial Angermünder Zeitung on July 13.54 Ullstein's Berliner Morgenpost tried to assure its readers that although Germany was probably suffering through the worst economic crisis ever, it was a ‘crisis of confidence’ and not to be confused with the inflation crisis of 1923.55 However, the front‐page headline ‘Critical days for Germany’ hardly lent itself to inspiring confidence.56 Photos of queues of people in front of various Berlin banks waiting to get access to their deposits reinforced the impressions of an exceptional crisis.57 In Hugenberg's Berliner Lokal‐Anzeiger, Adolf Stein skilfully dramatized events even further:

‘Things are quiet everywhere’, the government proclaims complacently. Indeed! Everyone is completely demoralised. One cannot manage an outcry any longer. Fear is making people choke. Many a small pensioner is asking himself if he will still receive his starvation money next month, many a business man is running around to rustle something up before the looming end . . . Never has Germany experienced a week such as this third week of July 1931.58

In fact, the Reich government under Brüning was anything but complacent. Nervousness and anxiety were the predominant mood. Cabinet ministers resented (p.176) the fact that their frantic efforts at damage control were exposed to the full glare of media attention.59 But it was not just indiscretions and leaks that worried the cabinet. Facing the prospect of a general collapse in confidence in the German currency, the government perceived the press with its unpredictable impact on the public's mood as part of the problem. Consequently, among the various emergency decrees issued over these critical days was the press decree of 17 July, which allowed Reich and state authorities to force newspapers to print announcements, replies, and corrections, and to ban them if they threatened ‘public peace and order’.60 The implementation rule passed on to the press stated that the decree was to serve ‘the pacification of the population and for the prevention of the creation of a mood of catastrophe’.61 It meant to counter ‘concealement and distortion of true [facts] and the assertion of false facts’.62 Some democratic journalists reluctantly welcomed the decree, calling it ‘an unfortunately necessary measure’ caused by the agitation in the radical press.63 But most journalists deplored the very vague definition of terms on which the government was able to censor the press. The Communist Welt am Abend announced the end of press freedom in a banner headline.64 ‘We fear that a cold hand is in the process of pulling a cloth over Germany. It is becoming more difficult to breathe’, the Münzenberg tabloid commented on the decree.65 The liberal Berliner Tageblatt concurred with this view. Castigating the decree's ‘caoutchouc clauses’, the paper commented that the ‘threat of getting banned . . . is worse than the strictest pre‐censorship’, in an article entitled ‘The end of press freedom’.66

A heated meeting between Reich interior minister Wirth and representatives of the German press about the decree of 17 July 1931 revealed the extent to which politicians' unease with a sensationalist mass press, Communist street‐violence, and anxiety for the stability of the German currency were intertwined. Some of the press reports he had encountered exceeded anything the German people could bear, Wirth explained to the journalists. ‘With satanic evilness [they] propagate the bankruptcy of all banks, [and] the collapse of currency, [and] workers are turned wild.’67 The minister pointed to Communist activities in the wake of the banking holiday in central Germany and the Rhineland to legitimate his claim that the country was ‘teetering on the brink of disaster’. The government was prepared to proclaim martial law in certain districts if trouble‐spots emerged, in which case the present regulations would appear harmless in comparison. When one editor dared to point out the decree's weaknesses, Wirth became very agitated. Existing regulations had not sufficed to deal with the ‘ludicrous reports on the German currency’. As an example, he referred to last week's Montag Morgen, the left‐wing Berlin weekly, which he called ‘an incredible scandal’. Germany had entered a ‘danger zone’, now it was ‘neck or nothing’, and the German government had to have ‘the option to destroy the Communist press in case of emergency’.68

Putting the screws on the press was a displacement activity for a government frustrated by its inability to influence mass psychology. It also demonstrated (p.177) how politicians were taking those press products they encountered as indicators of ‘the press’ in general, and how they projected their own readings onto the wider population, without any further thought on the likely impact of any individual publication. The example of the Montag Morgen mentioned by Wirth is a case in point. On Monday, 13 July, the Berlin weekly had published an article on its front page with a headline putting July 1931 in the same sequence as November 1918 and August 1923, proclaiming that, after losing both the First World War and the Ruhr struggle, Germany had now once again lost a war, namely Brüning's ‘war of revision’. It called on the government to turn against the nationalist revanchists and to seek a rapprochement with France. If this course was not followed, the paper predicted another two to three weeks of financial struggle ending with the ‘total dissolution of the entire economic system’.69 Annoying as this sensationalism might have been for a government engaged in crisis management and worried about public confidence, in the larger frame of events this article was a complete irrelevance. With its very limited readership, the left‐wing pacifist Berlin weekly was not in a position to cause a mass panic. But due to its very critical attitude to the Reichswehr, Montag Morgen was a newspaper which was routinely scrutinized by government authorities, and therefore loomed large in decision‐makers' minds. They simply assumed that their own reaction was representative of that of German newspaper readers generally.

Similarly, the language they encountered in a number of Communist publications became in their imagination a powerful influence over millions of discontented workers. In reality, the KPD leadership at the time was struggling with the fact that Communist newspapers were losing readers all over Germany. The KPD central committee complained that there existed ‘hundreds of local party groups in which not a single party member is subscribing to a party newspaper’.70 According to detailed information available to the SPD, the official Communist press in Germany had lost more than 10 per cent of its readers in the first half of 1931, and now stood at just under 220,000 copies in total, not counting Münzenberg's Welt am Abend.71 During the banking crisis, this figure was even lower as Rote Fahne and several regional KPD papers had been banned on the basis of the previous emergency decree of 28 March 1931.72 Of course, some of the remaining Communist papers used the opportunity to proclaim the imminent collapse of capitalism.73 This was hardly a major threat to political stability, nor was the rhetoric itself new. But at least in some cases, like that of the Welt am Abend, the cabinet did encounter news—and comment—which chimed with their worst fears. ‘Measures with which the government has attempted to prevent the growth of the panic into a currency catastrophe have so far failed’, the Welt am Abend started a front‐page article dealing with the falling exchange rate of the Reichsmark and the slump in bond prices for the Young Loan in London.74 In a similar vein, the Münzenberg tabloid reported that panic buying and stockpiling was occurring in Berlin, caused by fears that the currency (p.178) crisis would be followed by ‘inflation‐like times’.75 In the eyes of decision‐makers like Wirth the fact that such things were happening was bad enough. Their publication, however, raised the spectre of a domino‐like collapse in public confidence.


Contemporaries’ perceptions and interpretations of developments, however, were much more complex than any of the decision‐makers in 1931 realized. Despite all agitation from the radical Right and Left, there did not yet exist an anti‐republican majority in the wake of the banking crisis. This became apparent at the occasion of the referendum on the dissolution of the Prussian parliament held on 9 August 1931. The referendum was part of a concerted right‐wing attack on the last bastion of the Republic, the SPD‐led government of Prussia. Social Democratic control over the police force in Germany's biggest state constituted a considerable political power factor. Also, without Social Democratic toleration of Brüning's emergency decrees, the Reich government would swiftly become dependent on the extreme Right.76 Despite their anti‐parliamentary intentions, the supporters of the referendum used democratic rhetorics to argue their case. In view of the landslide elections of autumn 1930, the composition of the Prussian state parliament elected in May 1928 no longer reflected the true political opinions of Prussian voters, they claimed. Indeed, at the Reichstag elections in 1930, the Nazis won ten times as many votes in Prussia as they had received in 1928. Elections in other German states throughout 1931 showed that the Reichstag elections in 1930 had not constituted the climax of Nazi support.77 In Berlin, the NSDAP membership nearly doubled between November 1930 and June 1931; the SA nearly tripled in size throughout Germany in 1931.78 Still, at least on the basis of their performance in September 1930, all those right‐wing parties and groups supporting the referendum represented under 40 per cent of Prussia's electorate, well short of the absolute majority needed for a successful referendum. However, the referendum's prospects improved dramatically when the KPD party organ Rote Fahne declared on 23 July that the Communists were going to throw their support behind the proposition.79 According to calculations in Hugenberg's Nachtausgabe, this meant that the referendum scheduled for 9 August was now backed by just under 50 per cent of the Prussian voters, certainly on the basis of their preference in 1930.80 Hugenberg himself claimed that public opinion concerning the success of the referendum had changed completely.81

As so often, however, it was difficult to make out public opinion within the polemics published in the partisan press. In the weeks before 9 August, Münzenberg's Welt am Abend strongly promoted what it called ‘the red referendum’, by presenting it as a Communist mass movement and by completely ignoring its right‐wing bed‐fellows.82 In Hugenberg's Nachtausgabe and Berliner (p.179) Lokal‐Anzeiger, the referendum featured as an undertaking initiated by the nationalist Right under the leadership of Hugenberg, aimed against the Social Democrats who were allegedly responsible for ‘the decline in the German economy, the bad state of finances, [and] the chaos in governance’.83 Communist participation was almost never mentioned. The same was true of Gobbels's Angriff, which described the referendum as the necessary destruction of Social Democracy and Catholic Centre party prior to the Nazi takeover of power in the Reich.84 Ullstein's mass paper, the Berliner Morgenpost, in contrast, did not miss the opportunity of polemicizing against the referendum of ‘swastika and Soviet star’, and denounced the enterprise as an exercise in ‘catastrophe politics’.85 Other liberal and democratic papers were equally outspoken in their opposition, which, in turn, drew hostile reactions from the radical press. Two days before the vote, the Prussian government felt sufficiently nervous about the state of popular opinion to resort to extraordinary measures. Taking advantage of the press emergency decree of 17 July, it forced newspapers throughout Prussia to publish a lengthy official declaration against the referendum on their front pages.86 Drafted by the head of the Prussian press office, the declaration built on newspaper readers’ long exposure to news of political street‐violence.87 The text warned against the ‘unnatural alliance’ of parties whose ‘fanatical supporters are facing each other daily in attacks and bloody fights’. Repeatedly, the declaration conjured up the prospect of a civil war: once the ‘citadel of democracy and Republic’ had been stormed, ‘chaos’ would reign whilst the radical wings would fight for ‘ultimate victory’, and Germany would experience a ‘patricidal war’.88 The effectiveness of this declaration remained unclear. At least among those newspapers supporting the referendum, it only served to heighten their agitation further. Whether in nationalist provincial newspapers or radical tabloids in Berlin, journalists fumed against the ‘undemocratic’ measure adopted by the Prussian government.89 Liberal observers, like the chief editor of Mosse's Berliner Tageblatt, Theodor Wolff, feared that this blatant violation of press freedom would tip the balance in favour of the referendum supporters.90

Yet when the votes had been counted, it turned out that less than 37 per cent of the Prussian electorate had supported the referendum.91 Ullstein's mass papers proclaimed the result a ‘victory of reason’, and pointed out that the radical parties had lost nearly a quarter of their voters since September 1930.92 However, not knowing that 1932 would see a dramatic increase in votes for anti‐democratic parties, contemporaries were unable to appreciate just how extraordinary this result was. Historians of the Weimar Republic, too, have tended to give short shrift to this episode in direct democracy.93 Certainly the one factor usually given to explain voters' dissatisfaction with Weimar democracy in 1932, the severe economic crisis, was already present. In early 1931, estimated unemployment had come close to the six million mark, a record figure so far in the history of the Republic, and even in summer 1931 estimated unemployment still stood well above five million.94 Theoretically at least, the number of voters hit by (p.180) economic hard times and dissatisfied with parliamentary democracy ought to have been higher than in September 1930, and significantly higher than only those 9.8 million who supported the referendum on 9 August. So why did the referendum fail? Clearly, both camps, the Communists just like the nationalist Right, had failed to convince a great number among their followers why they should suddenly make common cause with the ideological enemy. After months of press coverage of political violence, allegedly always instigated by the other side, suspicion towards an initiative supported by the other camp was sufficiently strong to make many voters stay at home. It is difficult to know how many of these had been swayed by the official Prussian press declaration, though it is likely that the number was only small. In those parts of provincial Prussia where right‐wing newspapers held a monopoly, news about Communist participation in the referendum had largely been absent, and turnout for the referendum was strong despite the official declaration. In Berlin, in contrast, where it was difficult to overlook the competing progagandistic claims to ideological ownership of the referendum, many potential supporters shied away from casting their votes—more, in fact, than almost anywhere else in Prussia.95


Just how important media coverage of political violence had become within the political culture of the Weimar Republic was revealed on the evening of 9 August 1931, the day of the referendum. In a cynical exercise in public relations management, the twenty‐four‐year‐old Erich Mielke, a local news reporter of the KPD party organ Rote Fahne and member of the party's self‐defence formation, led an ambush on three policemen in the vicinity of the party headquarters on Bülowplatz, killing two police officers. When the police returned fire, a gun battle developed, in the course of which one man was killed and several Communists were severely wounded. The police subsequently occupied the KPD headquarters and banned the party organ Rote Fahne.96 Although not known at the time, the action had been ordered by the leader of the KPD's ultra‐left wing, the chief editor of Rote Fahne and inventor of the slogan ‘Beat the Fascists wherever you meet them’, Heinz Neumann. Worried about the propagandistic consequences of the party's involvement in the referendum, Neumann wanted to distract attention from the referendum's failure and to provoke a new situation in which the KPD could once again be portrayed as the victim of harsh government repression.97 His plan succeeded only in part. On 10 August 1931, news of the spectacular murder and subsequent police occupation of the KPD headquarters displaced the referendum's outcome as the day's sensation in many newspapers. But in terms of public perception, the murder was a terrible fiasco for the KPD. In previous months, policemen had repeatedly been shot and sometimes killed in clashes with Communists, but most of these incidents had arisen spontaneously (p.181) out of confrontations between demonstrators and police forces trying to disperse them.98 Now, Hugenberg's Nachtausgabe published a photo on its front page showing graffiti which appeared on a wall in north Berlin on 9 August which stated that for each worker shot, two police officers would die. The deaths on Bülowplatz, the tabloid concluded, were the result of premeditated political murder.99 This was a view shared by the Berlin police president. Communist terrorist groups were engaged in a fight against police forces by means of organized assassinations, he told the press.100

The event aroused great public interest. The funeral of the two police officers turned into a public demonstration as hundreds of thousands of Berliners lined the streets to pay their last respects.101 In the provinces, too, the Communist attack triggered passionate responses. The deed revealed the ‘sinister face of the red civil war’, commented a journalist of the Magdeburgische Zeitung.102 The Reich government, too, debated the murders.103 Following the circulation of a memorandum by the interior ministry on the ‘preparations for a violent overthrow of the constitution by the KPD’ from July 1931, the defence minister, Wilhelm Groener, now considered it high time for immediate and radical measures against the Communist threat. He was fully convinced that the KPD was trying everything to escalate its excesses step by step towards an armed uprising and towards civil war, Groener wrote in a letter to his cabinet colleague, the interior minister, Wirth.104 Over the next weeks, the Reich interior ministry conducted a survey of political offences by the radical Left and Right brought to court on the basis of the emergency decrees of 28 March and 17 July. The result was unambiguous: in almost all German states, and in most types of political offences, the Communists were well ahead of the National Socialists.105

Events in subsequent weeks and months seemed to justify the view that the KPD constituted the greater threat. Hardly a day passed without news of Communist violence in bourgeois papers. Reports from all over Germany told of attacks by Communists on political opponents which resulted in fatalities. In Berlin, a series of armed attacks on pubs that were known to be regular meeting places for the SA attracted considerable media attention in September and October 1931.106 Recent historical studies into the nature of street‐violence in the Weimar Republic have emphasized the mostly uncoordinated, grass‐roots nature of such clashes between supporters of radical parties engaged in local territorial struggles.107 But for contemporaries reading their daily newspapers the picture that emerged was considerably more threatening. While in any given community clashes between political opponents were experienced only every once in a while, they occurred daily on the pages of an anti‐Communist press. Moreover, news of local clashes were framed by other reports on illegal Communist activities which suggested that they were part of a grand plan to unleash revolutionary terror. Readers learned about Communist arsenals of weapons and ammunitions, bomb attacks on regional politicians, and attempts to infiltrate the Reichswehr.108 According to Hugenberg's Nachtausgabe, there (p.182)

                   War of Words: The Spectre of Civil War, 1931–2

Fig. 6.1. On the pages of Hugenberg's tabloid Nachtausgabe the Communist threat was omnipresent, as in this edition, 229 of 31 October 1931. ‘Terror’ was one of the key terms used in autumn 1931, and helped to convince many a reader that violent responses—like those of the National Socialists—were the only effective way of dealing with the Communist menace.

(p.183) was unrefutable evidence for the dangerous ambitions of Communist terror organizations.109

In autumn 1931, ‘terrorists’ and ‘terror groups’ were terms which appeared routinely in headlines relating to Communist activities, and not just in Hugenberg's papers or in Goebbels's Angriff. In the eyes of the KPD leadership, such newspaper consonance could only be explained through official press manipulation. According to a party‐internal circular from September 1931, the Social Democratic government in Prussia was organizing a ‘central campaign of all bourgeois papers—from the Social Democratic to the nationalist press’ against the Communist party. In the eyes of the KPD leadership it was ‘one of the most devious terror‐ and murder‐baitings against our party which has ever taken place in Germany’.110 Münzenberg's Welt am Abend and other Communist papers tried hard to counter the negative impression by focusing their attention on the National Socialists. Much of the violence blamed on the Communists, the Münzenberg paper claimed, was provoked by the Nazis, who thereby provided the bourgeois press with the material needed for its red‐baiting.111 Through daily compilations of news of Nazi‐instigated violence throughout Germany, the tabloid attempted to popularize its own slogan of ‘SA‐terror’.112 But, as the Communists soon realized, this counter‐campaign did not achieve the desired effect largely because of the limited reach of the party press.113 By November 1931, the KPD leadership feared that this relentless ‘crusade of lies’ by the bourgeois press was preparing the grounds for a general ban of the Communist party, and issued an official resolution against what it called acts of ‘individual terror’.114 For right‐wing journalists, this resolution was both an official admission of the existence of a Communist terror campaign, as well as a transparent and unconvincing move to avoid official sanctions.115

When media attention started turning to the National Socialists in October 1931, this was not the result of the Communist press campaign. Rather, news of the nationalist rally in the small northern German town of Bad Harzburg moved Hitler's party back into the limelight. Using slogans against the ‘Marxist blood terror’, and threatening that nationalist paramilitary organizations would not come to the defence of the present ‘system’ in case of future uprisings, the anti‐republicans gathered at Harzburg called on Reich President Hindenburg to replace the Brüning cabinet with a truly right‐wing government.116 Although this demonstrative show of nationalist unity was to prove only short lived, it contributed significantly to heightening the temperature of political discourse. ‘It is do or die now’, proclaimed a headline in Vorwärts. According to the Social Democratic party organ, the following months would see the decisive struggle deciding whether or not Germany would become a fascist dictatorship.117 On the same day, the left‐liberal Welt am Montag in Berlin published a statistic on the extent of political violence in Germany. According to its own research 457 dead and 1,154 wounded had been left lying on the ‘battle field of political opinion struggle’ in the last nine years. Ever since 1929, the paper proclaimed, (p.184) Germany was experiencing ‘an era of latent civil war’.118 This article was probably brought to the attention of the Prussian interior minister, the Social Democrat Severing, who received regular reports on the number of casualties and arrests resulting from ‘political excesses’.119 That same week, Severing castigated the level of violence in a speech to the Prussian parliament which took up the theme of the Welt am Montag article. A guerrilla warfare was being waged daily, which he took as early signs of a civil war. Vorwärts reported this speech under the headline ‘Protection from civil war!’120

A few days after Severing's speech, a National Socialist mass rally involving tens of thousands of SA members in Brunswick saw a series of Nazi attacks on left‐wing opponents, leaving two dead. In the wake of the intensification of political cleavages caused by the Harzburg front, press coverage of events in Brunswick was even more polarized than usual. Just what had happened was difficult to make out in the dissonance of Berlin newspapers. A huge banner headline in Vorwärts sold the news as ‘Civil war in Brunswick’.121 This was partly the polemical response to the fact that the National Socialist interior minister of Brunswick denied that events had occurred as reported by the local SPD paper.122 According to Goebbels's Angriff, SA members had acted in self‐defence against Communist attackers.123 Hugenberg's nationalist papers sided unambiguously with the National Socialist version. The tabloid Nachtausgabe, normally only too eager to report about violence and death, skimmed over the clashes in Brunswick, and claimed the entire affair was a typical product of left‐wing media hype.124 This view also coloured coverage of events by Hugenberg's news service Telegraphen‐Union. Readers of provincial newspapers which relied on TU for their news provision learned about the Nazi rally in Brunswick as an impressive demonstration of SA discipline, marred only by attacks by left‐wing demonstrators and decried by hostile press commentators afraid about the alleged advance of the so‐called ‘nationalist opposition’.125


Mutual recriminations and talk about a pending civil war reached a preliminary climax in November 1931. Social Democratic newspapers advertised a new SPD campaign under the slogan ‘Against the Harzburg‐Brunswick reaction, against inflation and civil war!’126 National Socialists, in turn, prepared rallies for 9 November, the day of commemoration for so‐called party ‘martyrs’, by publishing death lists of its fallen members. The Communist Welt am Abend countered this by publishing its own list, giving the names of 18 Berlin workers killed by National Socialists in 1930 and 1931 alone.127 On 9 November, mass scuffles between several hundred members of the republican paramilitary organization Reichsbanner and SA men left two Nazis dead. Goebbels's Angriff described events as ‘bestial atrocities of marxist murder‐bandits’, and accused the (p.185) Social Democratic Vorwärts of promoting murder; Vorwärts in turn proclaimed events as the result of National Socialist ‘civil war‐ranting’.128 In mid‐November, it was impossible to open the SPD party organ without encountering numerous articles refering to Nazi or Communist violence with headlines threatening civil war. The war of words finally became an issue for the Reich government when a delegation of SA members tried to lobby President Hindenburg personally with their complaints.129 Although Hindenburg declined to receive them, he issued a statement which signalled some sympathy, and encouraged them to present their material to the new Reich interior minister, Groener.130 Among the documentation which Hitler subsequently sent to Groener were several death and casualty lists like those which had previously appeared in the Nazi press, as well as an article from the Social Democratic Münchner Post. The latter was an ‘infamous fabrication from beginning to end’, Hitler declared. But it was significant because ‘supporters of the marxist parties are being pushed systematically towards civil war and bloody terror through such ranting reports [Hetzberichte]’. Hitler ended his letter by expressing his expectation that Groener would take all necessary measures to curb the ‘murderous frenzy of Marxism’.131

Groener was well aware that political violence and its distorted presentation in the daily press constituted a real challenge for the Reich government, which depended as much on President Hindenburg's whims as it did on the reluctant toleration of the Social Democrats. To act on Social Democratic calls for harsher measures against the National Socialists meant incurring the misgivings of Hindenburg, while to follow right‐wing calls for a ban of the KPD would lead to a conflict with the SPD. Yet to do nothing was to jeopardize the government's authority. Groener's first statement to the press when taking over the interior ministry after the cabinet reshuffle in October 1931 reflected this precarious balancing act. He emphasized his intention to safeguard the authority of the state and deplored the attempts to divide the people into two camps. The reputation of the German Reich demanded that terrorist acts against political opponents and bloody confrontations among citizens were made impossible, Groener declared. If need be, he would ask the Reich president for draconian emergency decrees to achieve this. At the same time, he guaranteed that he would safeguard the evenhanded enforcement of existing decrees.132 This statement received a lot of coverage throughout the German press.

Expectations were accordingly high prior to Groener's first conference with interior ministers of the various German states in mid‐November 1931.133 Editors tried their utmost in the days before the conference to paint the opposing camp as the origin of all violence. Vorwärts presented a chronology of judicial verdicts against Nazis to counter what they perceived as a right‐wing press campaign to whitewash Hitler's ‘rugged warriors’.134 The agitated tone in the press and the panoramic view of political violence provided by newspapers was not without an effect on Groener. In his opening remarks at the conference, he referred to the need to fight energetically the ‘murder epidemic’ which (p.186) had become a ‘cultural shame’ for Germany.135 The subsequent discussion touched several times on the issue of the press. The Social Democratic interior minister of Hessen, Leuschner, complained about the language in the Nazi press which ‘brutalised and provoked’; which in turn provoked the Nazi minister of Brunswick to declare that he too considered the press responsible for much of the violence and that he was very satisfied with the effects achieved by banning Social Democratic newspapers in Brunswick.136 Groener himself was more worried about the overall impression left by sensationalist language. When Severing mentioned Communist preparations for civil war, Groener turned against the term ‘civil war’: ‘such a term has to vanish from our vocabulary, from our press’, he declared to his colleagues and admonished them to forestall ‘this damned fabrication of rumours’.137

If Groener had hoped to calm public sentiment with the meeting, he largely failed. Newspapers latched on to his use of the term ‘murder epidemic’ and reported that Social Democrats demanded of Brüning that measures be taken against the threat of pending civil war.138 It was also noted that Groener had only criticized Communist organisations, and that he had mentioned a request by Hindenburg that he should pay particular attention to the material received from Hitler.139 Social Democrats suspected that Groener was minimizing the responsibility of the National Socialists for much of the brutalization of German politics.140 In fact, in autumn 1931 both Brüning and Groener wanted to bring about the recognition of the NSDAP as a ‘normal’ party, to integrate it into decision‐making, and thereby to defuse its oppositional appeal. Through this approach Brüning hoped to secure Nazi consent to a second term in office for Hindenburg, and to maintain the favour of Hindenburg, who had long demanded a shift of the Reich cabinet towards the political Right.141 This strategy could only work if the National Socialists could be presented credibly—and in contrast to the KPD—as a legal political movement. Brüning's plan received a serious blow when news broke of the so‐called Boxheim documents at the end of November 1931. Leaked to the Hesse authorities by a Nazi renegade, the papers contained a detailed set of proposals by a regional National Socialist functionary for emergency decrees following a Nazi takeover of power. Based on the assumption that after a failed Communist coup the SA would rule supreme, the Boxheim documents made a farce of Hitler's repeated assurances of the NSDAP's alleged legality. Apart from measures such as food rationing, the abolition of private income, and compulsory labour for everybody above the age of sixteen, the proposed decrees also stipulated the death sentence for any attempt to disobey the new authorities.142 Berlin's liberal and left‐wing press had a field day. ‘Death sentence! Death sentence! Death sentence! The Reich of blood courts’, titled Münzenberg's Welt am Abend; Ullstein's Tempo sold the documents as evidence for Nazi intentions to stage a coup and establish a ‘bloody dictatorship’; Mosse's 8‐Uhr‐Abendblatt published drastic caricatures of what life under a Nazi dictatorship would entail.143

(p.187) As was to be expected, the Nazi leadership distanced itself from the Boxheim documents, claiming that party headquarters in Munich had not been involved in this private work of an individual, and issuing renewed pledges of legality. Hugenberg's papers agreed in minimizing the affair.144 Brüning himself, who was pinning high hopes on the secret coalition talks between the regional Centre and Nazi parties in Hesse after the spectacular Nazi election victory there in mid‐November, instructed the Reich state prosecutor to play down events.145 But he was also aware of the dynamics triggered by lurid front page headlines. A few days after the Boxheim revelations, Hitler gave a press conference to US and British correspondents in which he dismissed the documents, stating that he would not dream of throwing overboard the principle of legality when having reached the threshold of power. The NSDAP would attain power within the next ten months, Hitler proclaimed to the foreign journalists.146 The Times’ headline ‘Threshold of Power’, in turn, triggered front‐page headlines in Berlin's democratic press, which accused Hitler of undermining the Reich government's authority abroad.147 The media storm over Hitler's press conference caused one of Brüning's coalition partners and the Social Democrats to pressure the Reich chancellor into issuing a public condemnation of National Socialist interference in foreign politics.148 A few days later, in order to prevent a similar media scandal, Brüning instructed the Reich mail ministry to prevent a radio broadcast by Hitler aimed at American audiences.149


Brüning knew he depended on Hindenburg's support, and he therefore tried hard to convince the Nazis through confidential negotiations to agree to an extension of Hindenburg's mandate, which was coming to an end in early 1932. He wanted to bring this about by way of embracing the Nazis in a regional coalition of Centre party and NSDAP in Hesse. Yet his room for manœuvre was significantly constrained by anti‐Nazi press polemics. This added to his already existing sense of frustration regarding press coverage of his economic politics. In his eyes, the less the press was let in on governmental debate and decision‐making, the better. Throughout November and December 1931 Brüning repeatedly complained in cabinet about leaks and indiscretions which had allegedly become ‘such a persistent phenomenon that policy‐making was hardly possible any longer’.150 His views were reinforced by complaints from Germany's leading business associations about inaccurate and sensationalist press reports on pending government action on prices, which allegedly led to a collective buyers' strike.151 Ever since the press decree of 17 July 1931, relations to publishers and journalists had been strained; but they now deteriorated further. Editors, in turn, blamed Brüning's restrictive information policy for the increasing reliance of journalists on rumour and hearsay. ‘Brüning in the darkroom—the (p.188) fear of the public’, ran one headline accusing the Reich chancellor of fostering uncertainty and misunderstandings about the government's intentions.152

Brüning was not inactive, though. Behind the scenes, he commissioned Hans Schäffer, state secretary in the Reich finance ministry, to establish contacts with the senior editors in the Ullstein publishing house and to bring about a gentlemen's agreement to exercise restraint regarding news of a financial nature. The editors reluctantly agreed to a trial period in which they would publish confidential information only with Schäffer's knowledge and assent. At the same time, they pointed out to Schäffer that despite their support for the government's general policy, they would not refrain from criticizing individual measures or intentions. Still, Brüning's emissary was satisfied: ‘I consider this arrangement as an attempt to achieve something of the unity in the press that we always notice with the French . . .’, he concluded his report of the meeting to the Reich chancellor.153 Schäffer, of course, suffered not only from a misconception of the French press but also displayed considerable naïvety regarding the dynamics of the German media. As the head of the Reich government press office stated in his reply to Schäffer's report, the number of journalists brought into such an agreement would have to be much larger to achieve the desired effect. Establishing preferential channels of communication with only a handful of editors would inevitably result in the ‘strongest animosity among their other colleagues'.154

At least in the case of the Ullstein papers, however, the government's backroom manœuvres were not without an effect. Various factors helped to convince the owners of Germany's largest publishing enterprise that co‐operation with the government was worth their while. After years of internal turmoil and bitter family disputes, the Ullstein brothers decided in the second half of November 1931 to approach Schäffer and ask him to become the managing director general of the Ullstein firm.155 Although Schäffer took up the position only in spring 1932, his influence was already felt in December 1931. There was little the Brüning government could do about the sensationalist presentation of anti‐Nazi news in the Mosse papers, like the many photo reproductions of the Boxheim documents which accompanied the 8‐Uhr‐Abendblatt’s extensive criticism of Hitler's foreign press conference.156 But similarly critical coverage in Ullstein's tabloids could now be tackled. On 8 December 1931 a set of new directives was circulated to the firm's various leading editors and managing directors which reflected the publishers' intentions to work towards the Brüning government. Editors were asked to bring the following guidelines to the attention of their editorial staff:

1. It is not the task of either BZ [am Mittag], or Tempo, or [Berliner] Montagspost to actively engage in the political struggle . . . 2. Greatest caution needs to be exercised in the composition of headlines of street‐sale based tabloids. Through tendentious or overly sensationalist headlines our newspapers can all too easily be identified with a particular [political] line which does not correspond to editorial intentions, and which is not in the interest of the entire firm.157

(p.189) The Ullstein drive to depoliticize the firm's tabloids came in the wake of the Ossietzky trial, which had sent shock‐waves through the German press. In late November 1931 the chief editor of the left‐wing Berlin weekly Weltbühne, Carl von Ossietzky, was sentenced to eighteen months in prison for treason. The trial had been triggered by a Weltbühne article in 1929 on a secret and illegal programme of rearmament in the German aircraft industry.158 The Ullstein brothers were aware that with Franz Höllering, their chief editor of BZ am Mittag, they potentially had similar trouble on their hands. They had poached Höllering from Münzenberg's successful Communist Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung and put him in charge of BZ am Mittag in summer 1930. Ever since, the BZ am Mittag had repeatedly incurred the wrath of the Brüning government.159 In November 1931, the tabloid castigated the sentence in the Ossietzky trial as the prostitution of justice to reactionary political ends. Later that month, the Ullstein tabloid devoted significant coverage to the Boxheim documents; in early December a front‐page leading article on ‘Hitler's brown legal army’ gave details of the organization of SA and SS, and the following day the Ullstein tabloid was in the forefront of the media attack on Hitler's foreign press conference.160 Shortly after the first set of guidelines, the Ullsteins circulated another reminder to their editors to tone down partisan polemics: ‘Everyone who polemicizes in the newspaper today needs to be aware that he is putting the responsible editor and possibly the publishing house at serious risk if the reported facts are wrong or if the permissible level of criticism is exceeded.’161 This did not seem to greatly impress Höllering and his staff. In mid‐December 1931, BZ am Mittag and Tempo both published reports about Nazi attempts at organizing a private airforce as sensational front‐page news, although the rumour that Hitler had ordered twenty‐five aeroplanes had immediately been described as false by the aircraft company in question.162

This was exactly the kind of sensationalist anti‐Nazi headline which Brüning wanted to avoid at a time when he was about to open negotiations with Hitler about an extension of Hindenburg's mandate. The government acted swiftly. Groener, the interior minister, circulated guidelines to all relevant state authorities encouraging them to apply the press emergency decree to maintain ‘public safety and order’: ‘Newspaper bans exist in order to prevent the whipping up of the unstable mood of the public through irresponsible provocations, and particularly through alarmist, one‐sided press reports and news which serve to foment disquiet.’ This applied particularly to newspapers which ‘serve essentially the demand for sensations and which are retailed exclusively or predominantly on the streets’.163 That same day Höllering was fired. The Communist Welt am Abend was not the only one to report that this move had been the consequence of government members expressing ‘in no uncertain terms their dissatisfaction with the political line of the BZ am Mittag, especially towards the Nazis.’164 In the left‐wing Weltbühne, Carl von Ossietzky labelled the Höllering case ‘the most scandalous capitulation yet to National Socialism’, and a ‘crime against German (p.190) press freedom in the midst of its most difficult crisis’.165 Höllering was replaced by Fritz Stein, the Berlin correspondent for the Hamburger Fremdenblatt, but not before various cabinet members and the Reich president were consulted and had approved the appointment. One of Stein's first acts was to write to Brüning and to promise a reorientation of the Ullstein press: in view of the ‘very definite political reasons’ for his appointment, he understood his task as that of ‘giving first the BZ am Mittag and later the Vossische Zeitung a new political form and redirecting them on to the path of responsible political thought and action, a path which I and my political friends have followed for ten years’.166

Within the Ullstein firm, publishers defended their action not least by pointing to the potentially counterproductive results of a continuous barrage of anti‐Nazi press reports: ‘[T]he moment has now arrived where our papers are unintentionally engaging in propaganda for the National Socialist party through overly eager coverage of developments in the Hitler camp . . . [T]he particular emphasis on such news may lead the politically inexperienced reader to the view that the Hitler movement is growing every day and that the leader of the National Socialist party is in reality the rising star.’167 In the same circular, the publishers called on their editors to pay heed to public opinion. Statements of political opponents ought to be at least reported and not just dismissed out of hand, without giving readers a chance of assessing the validity of the newspaper's judgement: ‘After all, one cannot describe from the outset everything that is promoted at numerous rallies and which is believed by millions of voters as so irrelevant that one need not [even] discuss it.’168 Just how anxious the publishers were about the potential repercussions of going against their readers became clear in a passage relating to the death penalty. ‘Criminal cases in which the judgement of healthy folk sentiment [das Urteil des gesunden Volksempfindens] is clear from the outset should be discussed in our newspapers in a careful manner. It antagonizes the views of the people when the attempt is made to explain clear‐cut crimes in a literary‐aestheticizing manner on the basis of the perpetrator's background or dispositions. . . . The journalistic struggle against the death penalty should not be exaggerated in specific cases.’169 As Modris Eksteins pointed out in his study of the German liberal press, with their financial investments menaced at a time of economic depression publishers tended to become the pliant servants of interest groups and of public opinion.170


Effecting a change within the editorial offices of Ullstein's BZ am Mittag did not, however, greatly improve Brüning's position. His main problem persisted: having to steer a policy which maintained both Hindenburg's approval and Social Democratic toleration in a political climate deeply polarized by partisan press coverage. In early 1932, a decree by Groener which allowed National (p.191) Socialists—in contrast to Communists—to become members of the Reichswehr exacerbated tensions with the Social Democrats, who were fundamentally at odds with the Reich government's stance on Nazi legality. They were particularly incensed by the fact that Groener's decree mentioned the Boxheim documents in the same breath as plans by the republican Reichsbanner from autumn 1930 to develop its so‐called ‘Defence Formations’ into some sort of ancillary police force. In their eyes, attacks on the Reichsbanner had been part of a concerted right‐wing press effort to deflect responsibility for the rising tide of political violence in 1931; Groener's decree now seemed to lend credibility to these claims, and was obviously downplaying the danger emanating from the National Socialist SA. As a result, the SPD‐led Prussian government started to prepare the grounds for a ban on the SA in co‐operation with other German states such as Bavaria, Baden, and Hesse.171 Hence, once negotiations about the presidency with the National Socialists had broken down, the Brüning government found itself in a quandary: its unsuccessful overtures to Hitler had antagonized the Social Democrats, who were now needed more than ever to secure the election of Hindenburg to a second term in office. Yet Hindenburg wanted at all costs to avoid being seen by the public as the candidate of the political Left. The failure to square this circle eventually cost Brüning his office.

From February 1932, Hindenburg's renewed candidacy was promoted with fervent urgency. So‐called ‘Hindenburg committees’ under the leadership of the Berlin mayor, Heinrich Sahm, initiated a bourgeois Sammlungspolitik which was meant to reconnect to his election in 1925 and the celebration of his eightieth birthday in 1927. Their petition asking Hindenburg to stand again was circulated by more than 1,100 German newspapers and resulted in the collection of more than three million signatures within two weeks.172 But for Berlin observers the differences with 1925 were all too obvious: then, Hindenburg had enjoyed the support of the entire right‐wing press, and particularly of Hugenberg's newspapers which were now openly hostile; also, his most outspoken opponents from 1925, especially Berlin's major liberal newspapers, now played a very visible role in promoting him. The prominence of liberal and Social Democratic newspaper support immediately attracted scathing right‐wing press attacks labelling Hindenburg the candidate of the ‘Weimar system’.173 It was no coincidence that when Hindenburg announced his candidature in mid‐February, he emphasized the fact that he had received his encouragement ‘not from a single party but from broad sections of society’.174 Once Hindenburg's announcement had been made public, the Reich government immediately set out to reorganize the campaigning apparatus in an attempt to block criticism from the right. ‘Above all, [the Hindenburg committees] have to be liberated from their dependence on the press, particularly of the Ullstein‐Mosse press’, announced the senior civil servant in charge of the organization of the election campaign.175 How this was to be achieved, however, remained unclear: it was, after all, impossible to ask the liberal Berlin mass press not to support Hindenburg; nor was it possible (p.192) to prevent right‐wing journalists from using this support as evidence for their claim that Hindenburg had now become the candidate of the Left. When the Reichstag reconvened in late February 1932, after a four‐month break, Goebbels produced a scandal when he attacked Hindenburg for having sided with Social Democracy. There was a National Socialist proverb, Goebbels declared: ‘Tell me who is praising you, and I tell you who you are! Praised by the Berlin asphalt press, praised by the party of deserters, . . .’. Social Democrats reacted to this provocation by interrupting his speech with stormy protests and demands that he take back the latter remark. Goebbels tried to resume his speech by emphasizing the historical changes in press support: ‘Today the Jews of the Berlin asphalt press are proclaiming the Field Marshal their leader. These are the same Jews and Social Democrats who in 1925 poured buckets of scorn and abuse over the General Field Marshal.’176 Continuing protests by Social Democrats about Goebbels's use of the term ‘party of deserters’ led to an adjournment; Goebbels was subsequently barred from the session for allegedly having insulted the Reich president.177

This kind of attack deeply troubled Hindenburg. Two days after Goebbels's Reichstag speech, he sat down and produced a memorandum on his candidature which was circulated confidentially among Conservatives and Reichswehr circles. ‘The attacks which I have expected are already under way’, Hindenburg complained. ‘In the right‐wing press and at rallies public opinion is stirred up against me with the allegation that I have accepted my candidature . . . from the hands of the Left or from a partisan “black–red coalition”. This allegation is a blatant lie!’ In reality, Hindenburg claimed, he had followed the request of a wide range of right‐wing parties and groupings ‘between Centre [party] and German Nationalist Party’, which included ‘a very large part of those voters which elected me into the office of Reich President in 1925.’178 This was also the message which he proclaimed in his only contribution to the election campaign, a radio broadcast in early March.179 Accordingly, the guiding theme of the pro‐Hindenburg propaganda was the emphasis on ‘non‐partisanship’ and the ‘reconciliation of differences’. Press propaganda was deemed inefficient in reaching voters ‘because of political counter‐currents’. Instead, the emphasis was placed on visual communication, particularly on posters.180 Over the following weeks, an unprecedented number of posters by the competing camps adorned the streets of Berlin; Goebbels described the election campaign as a ‘war of posters’.181 Apart from portraits and full‐length photos of the imposing Reich president, the Hindenburg campaign built significantly on the public's perception of partisan press agitation and political violence. In doing so, it tellingly adopted some of the terms and slogans which the anti‐republican press had popularized over the previous thirteen years, especially the term ‘system’. Cars hired by the Hindenburg committees sported banners proclaiming ‘Against the system’ in great letters, followed by a small line stating ‘of eternal conflict: vote Hindenburg’.182 This was symptomatic of the dilemma of the Hindenburg campaign: trying to appeal (p.193)

                   War of Words: The Spectre of Civil War, 1931–2

Fig. 6.2. An election poster from spring 1932, calling on voters to support Hindenburg. The depiction of the violence and strife perpetrated by the political extremes visualized effectively the main theme of the Hindenburg campaign, non‐partisanship. It was this public image of non‐partisanship which motivated Hindenburg to take such offence at being forced by Brüning and Groener to ban the SA in April 1932. © Bundesarchiv, Plak 002‐016‐007.

to both the republican and anti‐republican camp through a campaign aimed at arousing popular support, not least by damning violent partisanship. ‘Volksverhetzung’, incitement of the people, was a term that played a major role.183 One particularly poignant poster showed a giant worker using a broom to sweep away hordes of clashing Communists and Nazis, with the caption ‘Enough now of Hitler's incitement of the people! Vote Hindenburg’. Playing on the same theme of civil war, the poster ‘Stop the German self‐destruction!’ showed two men engaged in a violent fist‐fight.184

The National Socialists, too, propagated the image of a German people engaged in strife and civil war. In his controversial Reichstag speech in late February, Goebbels made constant references to the spectre of civil war, sometimes claiming that the threat of civil war was growing by the day, at other points claiming that Germany was already in the midst of a civil war.185 He was, in fact, (p.194) simply stating what his Angriff had been writing for years. The competing propagandistic uses of the image of civil war only served to heighten the conflict between Social Democrats and the Brüning government over the treatment of the National Socialist SA. In early March, Otto Braun, the Social Democratic prime minister of Prussia, wrote to Brüning to complain about Nazi agitation: ‘. . . the language of the National Socialist press which can scarcely be outdone in terms of acrimony, which also indulges in untrue claims about the alleged murdering of party members by political opponents on an almost daily basis and which is thereby aiming to incite the lowliest instincts for revenge of the great masses, [all this] has created an alarming atmosphere in which political tensions are growing every day.’186 A few days later, Groener received information from Hitler opponents in the Stennes camp that preparations were under way within the SA to attempt a coup should it become clear after the first round of elections that Hitler stood no chance of winning. He informed Severing, who put the Prussian police on special alert.187 The conservative minister president of Bavaria, Held, had no knowledge of these developments, but he, too, urged Brüning to take measures against the SA. ‘I am afraid we are on the brink of revolution and civil war unless we ruthlessly suppress everything that furthers these’, Held wrote shortly after the first round of elections, at which Hindenburg had decisively beaten Hitler, but had narrowly missed an absolute majority.188

This charged atmosphere of anxiety and fear of pending revolutionary action was the direct result of partisan press coverage of political violence, especially in 1930 and 1931 which had framed public perception of the legality of the growing National Socialist movement, either in positive or negative terms. It also constrained the room for further tactical manœuvring of the Reich government. A few days after the first round of presidential elections, Severing ordered house searches of Nazi party offices throughout Prussia. The material seized proved that on election day the Munich party headquarters had, indeed, ordered the SA to be on alert and ready for combat. Some documents showed that the SA was intending to steal Reichswehr weapons and were unwilling to be drawn into defence formations in case of a Polish invasion. The publication of the material shortly before the decisive vote in the presidential elections received massive press attention, and significantly increased the pressure on Groener to ban the SA after elections.189 It also brought about a sea‐change in opinion within the Reich government, which now decided to take decisive action. The Reichswehr was temporarily so incensed about the revelations that it agreed to Groener's plan of banning the SA; it was widely felt that now ‘the psychological moment’ had come for such a move against the Nazis.190 On 13 April, three days after his re‐election as Reich president, Hindenburg signed an emergency decree stipulating the dissolution of the SA and SS. These organizations, the official announcement explained, constituted a ‘private army’ which had led to a ‘civil war‐like situation’ which the state could not continue to tolerate.191


It had required considerable effort by Brüning and Groener to convince a reluctant Hindenburg to sign this emergency decree. Hindenburg was deeply unhappy about the lack of electoral support among fellow nationalists and conservatives. For weeks, right‐wing newspapers had been emphasizing socialist support for Hindenburg to delegitimize the propagandistic claim of Hindenburg's nationalist non‐partisanship. Hugenberg's Nachtausgabe published photos of pro‐Hindenburg mass rallies staged by the SPD‐led Iron Front with masses of red flags, gleefully pointing out that these events had not been concluded with the singing of the German national anthem but that of the socialist International.192 On the day after his election, Hindenburg refused to accept congratulations by his press chief. ‘[W]ho voted for me?’, he allegedly complained. ‘I have been elected by Socialists, I have been elected by the Catholics . . . and I have been elected by the Berliner Tageblatt . . . My own people did not vote for me.’193 Almost defiantly, he announced in his declaration to the German people that same day his intention to exercise his office ‘in a spirit of non‐partisanship and equality’.194 In this respect, the ban on the SA could not have come at a more inopportune moment. Hindenburg's son Oskar tried to prevent it, claiming that it would only result once more in the political Right dragging his father through the mud.195 Brüning was well aware that the decision would cause a media uproar. He asked a senior Social Democrat to exercise his moderating influence on the left‐wing press to prevent their coverage becoming too triumphalist and thereby provoking the political Right even more.196 Also, to accommodate Hindenburg's concerns, the official explanation of the SA ban concluded with a passage emphasizing that this step had originated ‘in the strictly non‐partisan intention of the Reich leadership to apply equal standards to all parties’.197

As was to be expected, right‐wing journalists strongly disagreed about the non‐partisan nature of the SA ban. ‘We know the baiting in the left‐wing press, which for weeks has not tired of presenting this ban as well‐founded and necessary through false reports of all kinds’, the Deutsche Zeitung commented in a leading article.198 The justification for the ban mentioned ‘numerous grave offences and excesses by the dissolved organizations’ but ignored the ‘fact’ that during the election campaign ‘the vast majority of murderous attacks’ had been committed by members of the Reichsbanner, Communists, or Social Democrats, noted the Berliner Börsen‐Zeitung.199 For any regular reader of a right‐wing newspaper, this argument was both familiar and very convincing. In fact, the failure to dissolve the republican Reichsbanner at the same time as the SA became the focal point of right‐wing criticism. Already days before the ban, early rumours had included speculations about whether or not the Reichsbanner would be banned alongside the SA.200 Until the last moment, right‐wing newspapers warned against taking (p.196) an allegedly one‐sided step. Banning the SA would jeopardize Hindenburg's much trumpeted neutrality only days after his re‐election.201 Once the ban was announced, headlines declared the state leadership to have joined the Left.202 Berlin's right‐wing broadsheets immediately published all information they were able to find to prove that the Reichsbanner, too, was a ‘private army’ just like the SA, engaged in very similar activities, and therefore deserving the same treatment by the authorities.203

According to Groener and Brüning, these newspaper articles were produced with the clear intention of serving as argumentative evidence to sway the grumbling Hindenburg.204 They came to the president's attention in a number of ways. He himself was a faithful reader of the very conservative Neue Preußische (Kreuz‐)Zeitung, and had initiated repeatedly in the past political action on the basis of its political coverage.205 Numerous right‐wing personalities remonstrated with him about the SA ban and passed on newspaper clippings to back up their claims against the Reichsbanner; similarly, opponents of Groener within the Reichswehr supplied Hindenburg with a collection of anti‐Reichsbanner newspaper reports.206 Nor was this the first time that Hindenburg had received such compilations of right‐wing news reports discrediting the republican Reichsbanner.207 Hindenburg took the negative publicity very seriously. He sent Groener an irritable letter, stating that he had received evidence that ‘organizations similar in nature to the one banned existed among other parties’, and that the non‐partisan exercise of his office demanded that this material be seriously investigated. If the material were shown to be correct, the organizations in question ought to be banned, too. In a highly unsual move, he handed this letter to the press even before Groener received it. Hugenberg's Nachtausgabe published it on its front page, under the sensationalist headline ‘Hindenburg demands investigation into dissolution of Reichsbanner’.208

Relations between the Reich president and Groener soured quickly. Anticipating presidential concern over the Reichsbanner, Groener had immediately reacted to right‐wing attacks by calling in the leader of the republican organization, Höltermann, and convincing him to announce the immediate self‐dissolution of the Reichsbanner’s Defence Formations. Right‐wing commentators felt that this was a disingenuous move to pre‐empt further action on the Reichsbanner.209 The fact that Höltermann was rejecting in detail accusations against his organization at press conferences aroused annoyance in Hindenburg's circles, as it was felt that Groener had leaked the material sent to him by the President. In reply to an official complaint, Groener pointed out that the material he had received primarily consisted of newspaper articles and that therefore it had not required indiscretion on his part to allow Höltermann to react to the various accusations.210 At a meeting in late April, Hindenburg complained once more to Groener that the current situation consituted an ‘unequal’ treatment of SA and Reichsbanner. Groener agreed to some minor concessions but in essence maintained his position that further government action on the Reichsbanner was (p.197) superfluous.211 For those on the political Right, the outcome was unambiguous: ‘Reichsbanner wins. Groener does not give in’, ran a headline in Hugenberg's Nachtausgabe.212

Hindenburg's disenchantment with Groener reached its climax on 10 May 1932. On that day, Groener defended his decision to ban SA and SS but not Reichsbanner in the first Reichstag session after Hindenburg's re‐election. Interrupted by constant jeering from Nazi members of parliament who accused him of drawing on left‐wing media inspiration, Groener labelled the SA a ‘state within the state’ and ‘a threat to state authority’, whilst describing the Reichsbanner as an organization designed for the protection of the Reich constitution.213 Point by point, Groener dismissed the accusations raised in the material he had received from the Reich president.214 This unequivocal attack on the National Socialists and the very public repudiation of Hindenburg's anti‐Reichsbanner intentions found warm words of praise in the republican press, but turned Groener into a persona non grata in the Reich president's circles. ‘Politically he was dead after this speech’, Brüning commented in his memoirs.215 Encouraged by complaints from Schleicher and other Reichswehr generals that Groener had allegedly violated the non‐partisanship of the Reichswehr, Hindenburg informed Brüning the following day that he considered Groener no longer acceptable either as interior minister or defence minister. Brüning refused to ask Groner personally to step down and threatened to resign if Hindenburg insisted.216 This refusal, in turn, irreperably damaged the relationship between chancellor and Reich president. Groener's announcement to the press on 12 May that he had asked Hindenburg to relieve him from his office as defence minister in order to concentrate on his duties as interior minister further contributed to Hindenburg's perception of insubordination. That same day, just before Hindenburg's departure for a three‐week holiday in East Prussia, Brüning met the Reich president and defended Groener once more with warm words. He encountered little sympathy. Hindenburg instructed the chancellor not to undertake any changes to the cabinet during his absence, and then left Berlin for his estate at Neudeck. Brüning knew at this moment that his dismissal was imminent.217

Throughout May 1932, speculations were rife in the Berlin press over the future of the Brüning cabinet.218 Right‐wing newspapers called for Brüning's resignation. Polemics became particularly intense when plans for land‐reform were announced in mid‐May. Key leaders of the agrarian lobby complained to Hindenburg and asked him to intervene. On 27 May, the DNVP Reichstag group published a declaration labelling the government's land‐reform plans as ‘complete bolshevism’. Brüning's continuing dependence on Social Democratic support was a ‘deadly danger’ for Germany, declared Hugenberg's Tag.219 Hindenburg now had to act. As long as he refused to appoint National Socialists to the cabinet, any reorientation of the Reich government towards the political Right depended on the co‐operation of the German Nationalists. In Hindenburg's eyes, the refusal of DNVP and Stahlhelm to support his candidature for the presidency (p.198) earler in the year had been the result solely of the influence of Hugenberg and his press.220 He was therefore not willing to go against the nationalist press once more. At the crucial meeting between Brüning and the Reich president on 29 May, Hindenburg announced that he would refuse to continue signing emergency decrees for the current government. According to Brüning's state secretary, Pünder, who recorded Brüning's report of the meeting only a few hours after the event, Hindenburg declared with tears in his eyes: ‘I finally have to move towards the Right now, the newspapers and the entire people demand so. But you have always refused this.’221 The following day, the entire Brüning cabinet resigned.

Of course, Hindenburg was wrong. Only the right‐wing press had clamoured for a shift towards the Right. But these were the newspapers which mattered to Hindenburg: ‘his people’ were clearly not the readers of the 8‐Uhr‐Abendblatt, or other liberal or left‐wing papers that, even in late May, still supported Brüning.222 Historians have been at pains to point out the fateful influence of the camarilla around Hindenburg. The fact that Hindenburg's perception of the German ‘public’ was primarily shaped by his reading of the Kreuz‐Zeitung has largely been overlooked. Gustav Stresemann at least was deeply worried to find the former field marshal reading this reactionary paper when he made his first official visit to the newly elected president.223 Throughout his time as Reich president, Hindenburg's perception of his own political standing was strongly influenced by his consumption of right‐wing press narratives, which, in turn, conditioned his views of legitimate and necessary political action. It is telling that Hindenburg dressed up his authoritarian dismissal of Brüning with democratic rhetoric, referring to the views of a sub‐set of right‐wing papers as those of the press generally, and presenting this published opinion as a genuine indicator of public opinion more generally. Based on such a selective reading of newspaper texts, it was indeed possible to perceive Brüning as someone siding with the ‘Marxists’.


In June 1932, Brüning's successor, Franz von Papen, lifted the SA ban and the standing prohibition on the wearing of uniforms. Almost instantly, newspapers reported of an explosion of street‐violence throughout Germany. As usual, partisan coverage resulted in irreconcilable versions of events. Many provincial newspapers followed the lead of the Hugenberg papers, and demanded radical action from the new Reich government, especially towards Prussia, which was widely described as a hotspot of Communist rioting due to Social Democratic leniency.224 For many bourgeois newspaper readers, this demand appeared entirely legitimate. ‘The Communists have received order from Moscow to murder and plunder as much as possible; this order is made public in their (p.199) newspapers and leaflets’, reported Elisabeth Gebensleben‐von Alten, the wife of Brunswick's deputy mayor and a keen reader of the right‐wing Braunschweiger Landeszeitung to her daughter. ‘Such poor fatuous people! And National Socialists who walk on their own are attacked and are beaten . . . to death every day. Much, much more severe action has still to be taken against the Communists.’225 For those readers suspicious of the political Right, however, media reports of street‐violence allowed a totally different interpretation. Events in early July, according to the Social Democratic Vorwärts, suggested ‘that the behaviour of the SA over these last days are part of systematic preparations for the outbreak of civil war’.226

The new Reich chancellor, Franz von Papen, used the need to suppress violence as a pretext for a decisive attack on the constitutional order. On 17 July 1932, eighteen people were killed at the occasion of an SA demonstration through Altona, a working‐class municipality on the Prussian side of the state border of Hamburg. Allegedly attacked by Communist roof‐top snipers, police opened fire and engaged for hours with an invisible enemy. In some ways, the ‘bloody Sunday’ in Altona resembled the ‘blood May’ of 1929 in Berlin: most of the deaths were caused, as autopsy results later revealed, by ricocheting bullets fired from police guns.227 Media representations of the event, however, allowed multiple readings, and the prominence of the events in Altona constituted an ideal opportunity for Papen to put into effect a plan which had long been under discussion in conservative circles. On 20 July, a presidential emergency decree deposed the Social Democrat‐led state government of Prussia, and replaced it with a commissioner responsible directly to the Reich. The Prussian government, it was argued, had shown itself unable, or unwilling, to cope with the ‘bloody disorders originating with the Communists’.228 This was not a claim which remained undisputed. Three months later, at the high court session in which the deposed Prussian cabinet sued for confirmation that the Reich's action was unconstitutional, debate centred on mortality figures and the question of how near Prussia had come to civil war in summer 1932. While rejecting the accusation that the Prussian government had violated its duties, the judges decided that the situation in July had constituted an emergency situation justifying Reich intervention.229 ‘Herr von Papen exploited the fear of Communists of the German Bürger to play himself up as saviour, and to use this for political bargaining’, commented the former police president of Berlin, the Social Democrat Grzsesinksi, in 1933.230 Papen's coup dealt a the final blow to the Weimar Republic. Already at the time, many contemporaries were aware of the political significance of the event. ‘Historical day! Finally reversal of fortune in Prussia’ ran a typical headline in one provincial newspaper.231 Fourteen years after the revolution of 1918, parliamentary democracy was finally being rolled back. Looking back in 1933, the right‐wing lawyer Carl Schmitt described Papen's coup in Prussia as the beginning of ‘Year 1 of German politics’, which led via Schleicher to what Schmitt called the ‘first German people's chancellor’, Adolf Hitler.232


Economic depression and mass unemployment are insufficient to explain the radicalization of German society in the early 1930s. In his pioneering study of the unemployed in Marienthal in 1932, the Austrian social scientist Paul Lazarsfeld found apathy and resignation to be individuals' predominant psychological reaction to unemployment.233 Britain and the United States equally experienced high unemployment levels during the Great Depression, and yet they did not witness a surge in concurrent street‐violence. In Germany, a vicious circle of clashes and counter‐strikes was kept in motion by partisan press coverage. ‘At Denzer's we passed the time playing cards. Of course we discussed the recent political events and clashes in Berlin and the Reich’, one worker described the daily routine at a Communist tavern in Berlin in July 1932. Heated up by the consumption of alcohol, discussion of the opposition's ‘crimes’ somewhere in Germany as reported in the daily press often resulted in the resolve to defend one's own turf by physically attacking National Socialists in the locality.234 On the other side of the political divide, news reports of Communist violence motivated many young men to join the SA. Between November 1931, when public anxiety about a pending civil war reached a preliminary climax, and August 1932, in the wake of the bloody Reichstag election campaign, membership doubled from 227,000 to 455,000.235

Throughout this period, many democrats worried about the radicalizing influence of the Communist and National Socialist press. Articles in the radical press, according to the Social Democrat Carl Severing, set the tone and prepared the grounds for much of the political violence.236 Consequently, newspaper bans became a constant feature of political practice. In 1932, the Communist Rote Fahne was banned on more than a third of its publication days, and Goebbels's Angriff proudly proclaimed itself to be Germany's ‘most frequently banned daily’.237 But even repeated newspaper bans did little to curb street‐violence, and only added legitimacy to the claim of victimization, one of the propagandistic pillars of both the KPD and NSDAP. Furthermore, many of those young men engaged in street‐violence in the early 1930s were not necessarily readers of radical newspapers. Readers of Hugenberg's Nachtausgabe, of Münzenberg's Welt am Abend, or even of Ullstein's Berliner Morgenpost might well have deduced from their reading that radical action was called for in the face of the opposition's militancy. People were so adrenalized by propaganda, senseless criticism, and reciprocal hatred that ‘we are now living in a state of latent civil war’, Dorothy von Moltke reported to her South African parents in July 1932.238

Yet if one considers the huge number of German men who were members of paramilitary organizations during the early 1930s, the number of people actually killed in political confrontations was surprisingly small. Official Prussian (p.201) statistics counted 155 dead for 1932, including the victims of the ‘bloody Sunday’ in Altona. As historians of political violence in Weimar Germany have pointed out, this constituted only a fraction of the fatalities of 1919 and 1920, and hardly qualified for the label ‘civil war’. In the 1990s, the number of gang‐related homicides resulting from fights over turf, status, and revenge was many times higher in Los Angeles County alone.239 The image of civil war which gained plausibility in Germany during the early1930s was based on excessive partisan press coverage which created the impression of ubiquitous and therefore uncontrollable violence, which, in turn, triggered massive fears in the population. ‘These excesses everywhere in Germany are terrible, one does not dare open the paper any longer with all these awful reports of murder attempts and attacks by Communists’, wrote one young woman in July 1932.240 For some contemporaries, such reports signified only the tip of an iceberg. ‘Of course the newspaper reports which we have come across are very fragementary’, German industrialists noted when complaining to Brüning about Communist violence in summer 1931, ‘in reality the number of excesses, as well as that of victims, is considerably higher!’241

References to the opposition's violence became a standard rhetorical device both for journalists and politicians. All this contributed to a widespread perception of public disorder which proved fateful to German democracy. As Dirk Blasius has recently pointed out, the National Socialists were levered into power on 30 January 1933 not in a power vacuum, but in an ‘order vacuum’. A ‘civil war hysteria’ afflicted contemporaries and contaminated political decision‐making, Blasius argues. ‘Civil war’ became the political slogan of the year 1932; eventually, the question of civil war and civil peace decided the fate of the Weimar Republic.242 This ‘civil war hysteria’, however, needs to be understood as a massive media panic, a press‐induced over‐reaction with politically disastrous effects. ‘Civil war’ was a slogan created and promoted by partisan editors and politicians intent on legitimizing their own ideology. From as early as January 1931, the spectre of civil war haunted German newspaper readers. This partly explains the right‐wing passions triggered by Groener's ban of the SA in April 1932. After a heated presidential election campaign in which ‘civil war’ had been the dominant theme, banning the major right‐wing paramilitary force appeared as an unjustifiable act of political short‐sightedness to all those who saw Communist terrorists as the main threat to law and order in Germany. Elisabeth Gebensleben‐von Alten recorded widespread ‘exasperation’ about the ban among her middle‐class peers: ‘even in circles which have so far been distant to the Hitler movement one is beginning to lean towards the movement’, she wrote at the height of the election campaign to the Prussian state parliament in late April 1932.243

Not surprisingly, none of the traditional bourgeois parties, the so‐called Honoratiorenparteien, was able to benefit from the widespread perception of left‐wing violence. It was the NSDAP that appeared as the most promising (p.202) bulwark of bourgeois Germany. ‘The National Socialists certainly owe a major part of their growth to the outrage caused by the shameful murder attacks by Communists’, observed a right‐wing journalist in November 1931.244 Bourgeois fear of Communism was grounded in the experience of the revolution of 1918‐19, and it was stoked on a daily basis by right‐wing journalists in the early 1930s. Similarly, on the Left, many young Germans—especially men—concluded from their newspaper reading that Social Democracy offered little in terms of active resistance to fascism and voted for the Communists instead. By summer 1932, these two radical parties attracted over 50 per cent of the popular vote. With militant radicalism against the ideological enemy as one of their attractions, the two camps could not join forces without losing significant parts of their electoral support, a fact demonstrated by the referendum of August 1931 and again at the Reichstag elections in November 1932, when the much‐publicized Nazi participation in the Communist‐led transport workers’ strike in Berlin cost the NSDAP much sympathy among its bourgeois supporters.245 But although most Germans in 1932 could not agree on the best way forward, on one issue there was widespread consensus: parliamentary democracy was deemed incapable of offering a way out of the perceived crisis.


(1.) Thomas Mergel, Parlamentarische Kultur in der Weimarer Republik: Politische Kommunikation, symbolische Politik und Öffentlichkeit im Reichstag (Düsseldorf, 2002), 179–81; Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (London, 2003), 275–6.

(2.) There is a massive historiography on Brüning's deflationary politics. For the debate between Carl‐Ludwig Holtfrerich and Knut Borchardt about Brüning's ‘room for manœuvre’, see Jürgen von Kruedener (ed.), Economic Crisis and Political Collapse: The Weimar Republic 1924–1933 (New York, 1990). For signs of a spontaneous recovery in 1932, see Harold James, The German Slump: Politics and Economics, 1924–1936 (Oxford, 1986), 343–419; for Germany's balance of payments constraints, see Albrecht Ritschl, Deutschlands Krise und Konjunktur 1924–1934. Binnenkonjunktur, Auslandsverschuldung und Reparationsproblem zwischen Dawes‐Plan und Transfersperre (Berlin, 2002). On the strategic significance of the large amount of dollar‐denominated commercial debt, see Adam Tooze, Wages (p.279) of Destruction. The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London, 2006), 27–8.

(3.) This counterfactual argument has elicited some controversy in the past. For a sceptical assessment of Brüning's longer term plans and a ‘conservative alternative’, see the discussion in Heinrich August Winkler, Der Weg in die Katastrophe. Arbeiter und Arbeiterbewegung in der Weimarer Republic 1930 bis 1933 (Bonn, 1990), 580–1.

(4.) Dirk Blasius, Weimars Ende. Bürgerkrieg und Politik 1930–1933 (Göttingen, 2005), emphasizes the importance of ‘civil war’ as the main paradigm of German domestic politics at this time, but his focus is on the Papen and Schleicher governments.

(5.) Eve Rosenhaft, Beating the Fascists? The German Communists and Political Violence 1929–1933 (Cambridge, 1983), 6. For description of political violence as ‘ubiquitous’, see Richard Bessel, Political Violence and the Rise of Nazism: The Storm Troopers in Eastern Germany 1925–1934 (Yale, 1984), 76; Dirk Schumann, Politische Gewalt in der Weimarer Republik 1918–1933. Kampf um die Straße und Furcht vor dem Bürgerkrieg (Essen, 2001), 359.

(6.) Pamela E. Swett, Neighbors and Enemies. The Culture of Radicalism in Berlin, 1929–1933 (Cambridge, 2004).

(7.) See the opening remarks of Brüning at Ministerbesprechung of 29 September 1930, in Bundesarchiv Berlin‐Lichterfelde (BArchL), R43 I, 2479, ff. 250–1.

(8.) Brüning at cabinet meeting of 23 September 1930, in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, 434–5.

(9.) Brüning at cabinet meeting of 9 March 1931, in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, 932.

(10.) Luther at cabinet meeting of 25 September 1930, in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, 448.

(11.) Letter Luther to Brüning, 9 October 1930, in BArchL, R43 I, 2479, ff. 253–4.

(12.) Curtius at cabinet meeting of 9 December 1930, in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, 692. For similar tensions in the sphere of economic policy‐making, and the publicity generated by the German Institute for Business Cycle Research, see Adam Tooze, Statistics and the German State, 1900–1945: The Making of Modern Economic Knowledge (New York, 2001), 149–76.

(13.) See Verhandlungen des Reichstags. IV. Wahlperiode 1928, cccc–xxvii. 4415.

(14.) Letter Severing to Prussian prime minister Braun, 18 December 1930, and draft of emergency decree, repr. in Gerhard Schulz, Ilse Maurer, and Udo Wengst (eds.), Staat und NSDAP 1930–1932. Quellen zur Ära Brüning (Düsseldorf, 1977), 175–178; letter state secretary in Reich chancellory Pünder to Reich interior minister Wirth, 27 January 1931, in BArchL, R43 I, 2480, f. 5. See also Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, i. 842, fn. 1.

(15.) See the extensive press clipping collection on political violence for January 1931 in the files of the Reich interior ministry, in BArchL, R1501, 20364, ff.5–170.

(16.) For previous encounters, see Swett, Neighbors and Enemies, 245–6.

(17.) A, 18, 22 January 1931: ‘Abrechnung mit den Marxisten!’ Cf. Russell Lemmons, Goebbels and Der Angriff (Lexington, 1994), 70.

(18.) Police report of 24 January 1931 on Friedrichshain Saalschlacht, in BArchL, R1501, 20364, f. 159.

(19.) BLA, 39, 23 January 1931: ‘Die Schlägerei am Friedrichshain’; VZ, 38, 23 January 1931: ‘Schwere Krawalle am Friedrichshain’; V, 38, 23 January 1931: ‘Die Saalschlacht am Friedrichshain’. Cf. Goebbels's diary entries of 24 and 25 January 1931, in Ralf Georg Reuth (ed.), Joseph Goebbels Tagebücher (Munich, 1992), ii. 555.

(20.) Angriff, 30, 3 February 1931: ‘Volkszorn über den Roten’. For Ulbricht's comment, see Reichstag session of 5 February, in Verhandlungen des Reichstags. V. Wahlperiode 1930, ccccxliv. 444, 684, and Goebbels's reply, ibid., 690.

(21.) See minutes of meeting of 4 February 1931, in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, i. 842–6.

(22.) Otto Braun, Von Weimar zu Hitler (Zurich, 1940), 323. For the KPD, see VZ, 411, 11 September 1921: ‘Abgeordnete als “verantwortliche” Redakteure’; KrZ, 458, 30 September 1921: ‘Der Mißbrauch der Immunität’.

(23.) See Verhandlungen des Reichstags. V. Wahlperiode 1930, ccccxliv. 832, 847. Cf. Braun, Weimar zu Hitler, 324.

(24.) See minutes of the Reichstag session on 9–10 February 1931, in Verhandlungen des Reichstags. V. Wahlperiode 1930, ccccxliv. 779–855. Cf. Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 288.

(25.) Reichsgesetzblatt 1931, I, 79–81. For the prior consultations, see Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, ii. 932–4.

(26.) VZ, 76, 29 March 1931: ‘Für inneren Frieden’ (postal edition).

(27.) V, 149, 29 March 1931: ‘Die Notverordnung’.

(28.) e.g. V, 1, 1 January 1931: ‘Hitlers Bürgerkriegsarmee’.

(29.) V, 10, 7 January 1931: ‘Der Blutweg ins dritte Reich’.

(30.) DZ, 12b, 15 January 1931: ‘Kopfpreise auf Faschistenführer! Rote Hetze und ihre Folgen’.

(31.) e.g. A, 18, 22 January 1931: ‘Hetze zum Bürgerkrieg’; A, 22, 27 January 1931: ‘Blutige Schlacht bei Hamburg. Auftakt zum Bürgerkrieg’.

(32.) Police report on Nazi rallz in Lübeck, 13 February 1931, in BArchL, R1501, 125791, ff. 293–6.

(33.) V, 71, 12 February 1931: ‘Der Auszug der Kinder Israel’.

(34.) ‘Nationalsozialisten!’, in VB, 41, 18 February 1931.

(35.) V, 149, 29 March 1931: ‘Die Notverordnung’. The same point was made by the liberal VZ, 261, 5 June 1931: ‘Opfer der Mordseuche’.

(36.) For details on the Stennes crisis, see Peter Longerich, Die braunen Bataillone. Geschichte der SA (Munich, 1989), 109–11. For press coverage, see the newspaper clippings in BArchL, R1501, 125791, ff. 405–13, 476–83.

(37.) For state authorities' awareness of a ‘major stirring‐up campaign’ planned by the Communits, see letter Haentzschel (Reich interior ministry) to Nachrichtenstellen of the German states, 23 April 1931, in BArchL, R1501, 20648, ff. 252–62.

(38.) A copy of a circular by the KPD's central committee with instructions regarding the Stahlhelm rally in Breslau is included in the report of the Berlin political police IA, of 7 August 1931, copy in BArchL, R1501, 20639, ff. 303–7.

(39.) NA, 125, 2 June 1931: ‘Die kommunistische Mordseuche’.

(40.) e.g. RF, 115, 3 June 1931: ‘Erwerbslosensturm gegen Notverordnung’; RF, 116, 4 June 1931: ‘Hungersturm auf drei Lebensmittelgeschäfte’; WaA, 127, 4 June (p.281) 1931: ‘Hungerschreie in Berlin und im Reich’; RF, 120, 9 June 1931: ‘Ueberall Hungerrevolten’.

(41.) e.g. DAZ, 248, 4 June 1931: ‘Die planvolle kommunistische Tumult‐ und Mordpropaganda’; V, 264, 9 June 1931: ‘Kommunistisches Revolutionsspiel’; BBZ, 264, 10 June 1931: ‘Sowjet‐Deutschland. Kommunistische Aufwiegeleien in Westdeutschland’; DZ, 135b, 12 June 1931: ‘Tag fuer Tag: Todesopfer der roten Hetze. Die Flamme des Bürgerkriegs’.

(42.) Memorandum of 11 June 1931, copy in BArchL, RM1501, 20368, f. 89.

(43.) Letter Severing to district presidents, 17 June 1931, copy in BArchL, R43 I, 251, f. 138.

(44.) Minutes of meetings of Brüning with leaders of Reichstag parties, 15 June 1931, in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, ii. 1207.

(45.) Barry Eichengreen, Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1919–1939 (New York, 1992), 270–3. Cf. Isabel Schnabel, ‘The German Twin Crisis of 1931’, Journal of Economic History, 64 (2004), 822–71.

(46.) Note the little coverage of political violence in The Times compared to its coverage of the Austrian crisis and Brüning's reparation initiative.

(47.) Otto Meynen and Franz Reuter, Die deutsche Zeitung. Wesen und Wertung (Munich, 1928), 125–6.

(48.) Otto Groth, Die Zeitung. Ein System der Zeitungskunde (Journalistik) (Mannheim, 1928), i. 752.

(49.) Alfred Schmidt, Publizistik im Dorf (Dresden, 1939), 65–6. For the same view, in anecdotal form, by the Head of the Press Office of the Reich government, see Walter Zechlin, Pressechef bei Ebert und Hindenburg und Kopf. Erlebnisse eines Pressechefs und Diplomaten (Hanover, 1956), 14–15.

(50.) Meynen, Reuter, Zeitung, 151.

(51.) e.g. NA, 154, 6 July 1931: ‘Neue Schutzmaßnahmen der Reichsbank’; WaA, 155, 7 July 1931: ‘2 Milliarden Devisenverluste der Reichsbank’; NA, 155, 7 July 1931: ‘3–4 Milliarden Mark wurden Deutschland abgezapft’; WaA, 156, 8 July 1931: ‘Letzte Rettungsversuche vor der Katastrophe’; BM, 163, 10 July 1931: ‘Eine Milliarde für Deutschland’.

(52.) e.g. BM, 161, 8 July 1931: ‘Zusammenbruch der “Nordwolle” in Bremen: Waghalsige Spekulationen!’; BZaM, 159, 11 July 1931: ‘Der Lahusen‐Skandal’.

(53.) BZaM, 160, 13 July 1931: ‘Reichsgarantie für die Danatbank’; NA, 160, 13 July 1931: ‘Die Folgen der Zahlungseinstellung bei der Danatbank’; WaA, 160, 13 July 1931: ‘Der Zusammenbruch der Danatbank’.

(54.) AZ, 161, 13 July 1931: ‘Deutschland vor dem Ruin’.

(55.) BM, 166, 14 July 1931: ‘Krise des Vertrauens, nicht der Währung!’

(56.) BM, 166, 14 July 1931: ‘Kritische Tage für Deutschland’.

(57.) e.g. WaA, 161, 14 July 1931: ‘Alle Banken und Sparkassen für 2 Tage geschlossen’; NA, 163, 16 July 1931: ‘ Das Berliner Postscheckamt wird belagert’, ‘Riesenandrang bei Eröffnung der Berliner Sparkasse’; WaA, 163, 16 July 1931: ‘Massen vor Sparkassen und Banken’;. AZ, 164, 17 July 1931: ‘Der neue Spareransturm auf die wiedereröffnete Sparkasse’.

(58.) Adolf Stein published his weekly columns in a book every year—his column of 16 July 1931 appeared in Rumpelstilzchen [pseud. for Adolf Stein], Das sowieso (Berlin, 1931), 354.

(59.) For Brüning's criticism of the BZaM, see minutes of cabinet meeting of 17 July 1931, in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, ii. 1375. Cf. NA, 159, 11 July 1931: ‘ “Phantastische und irreführende Zahlen” ’.

(60.) Reichsgesetzblatt 1931, I, 371.

(61.) BM, 170, 18 July 1931: ‘Die Notverordnung gegen die Presse’.

(62.) Letter of 18 July 1931, in BArchL, R43 I, 2701a, f. 112.

(63.) G, 328, 18 July 1931: ‘Neue Notverordnung: Gegen die Ausschreitungen in der Presse’.

(64.) WaA, 165, 18 July 1931: ‘Es gibt keine Pressefreiheit mehr’.

(65.) WaA, 165, 18 July 1931: ‘Der Wortlaut’.

(66.) BT, 335, 18 July 1931: ‘Das Ende der Pressefreiheit’.

(67.) Wirth's statements were recorded at length in the diaries of the Mosse editor Ernst Feder, entry for 20 July 1931. Repr. in Ernst Feder, Heute sprach ich mit . . . Tagebücher eines Berliner Publizisten 1926–1932 (Stuttgart, 1971), 300–1.

(69.) MM, 28, 13 July 1931: ‘November 18–August 23–Juli 1931’.

(70.) Circular of ZK‐Org. Department of 13 March 1931, quoted in Klaus‐Michael Mallmann, Kommunisten in der Weimarer Republik: Sozialgeschichte einer revolutionären Bewegung (Darmstadt, 1996), 215.

(71.) See V, 436, 17 September 1931: ‘Kramladen der KPD’. Cf. Arbeiterpolitik, 293, 17 December 1931: ‘Münzenberg‐Blätter sind keine kommunistische Zeitungen’.

(72.) WaA, 156, 8 July 1931: ‘Eine unbestrittene Tatsache und ihre Folgen’; WaA, 164, 17 July 1931: ‘Die Verbotswelle’.

(73.) WaA, 166, 20 July 1931: ‘Zeitungsverbote vom Wochenende. Noch mit der alten Notverordnung’.

(74.) WaA, 162, 15 July 1931: ‘Marksturz im Ausland’.

(75.) WaA, 164, 17 July 1931: ‘Hausse in Lebensmitteln’.

(76.) Cf. Volker R. Berghahn, Der Stahlhelm. Bund der Frontsoldaten 1918–1935 (Düsseldorf, 1966), 165–80; Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 304–5, 385–9.

(77.) Both in Oldenburg in May 1931 and in Hamburg in September 1931 the NSDAP increased its share of votes further by over one‐third compared to its performance in September 1930: see Jürgen Falter, Thomas Lindenberger, and Siegfried Schumann, Wahlen und Abstimmungen in der Weimarer Republik. Materialien zum Wahlverhalten 1919–1933 (Munich, 1986), 72, 94, 100.

(78.) Wirsching gives the figure 12,000 for November 1930, in Andreas Wirsching, Vom Weltkrieg zum Buergerkrieg? Politischer Extremismus in Deutschland und Frankreich 1918–1933/39. Berlin und Paris im Vergleich (Munich, 1999), 448–9; in June 1931, according to Goebbels, the membership was a bit over 20,000, see diary entry of 16 June 1931, in Reuth, Tagebücher, vol.II, 601. The SA had 88,000 members in January and 260,000 in December 1931, according to Longerich, Die braunen Bataillone, 111.

(79.) RF, 146, 23 July 1931: ‘Heraus zum Volksentscheid!’

(80.) NA, 183, 8 August 1931: ‘Wieviel Stimmen sind zum Erfolg notwendig?’

(81.) Tag, 181, 30 July 1931: ‘Hugenbergs Aufruf zum Volksentscheid’; V, 370, 10 August 1931: ‘Das ist jetzt anders!’

(82.) e.g. WaA, 181, 6 August 1931: ‘Die rote Massenbewegung für den 9. August. Großbetriebe für Volksentscheid’; WaA, 183, 8 August 1931: ‘Alles für den Roten Volksentscheid!’

(83.) NA, 181, 6 August 1931: ‘Weshalb muß der Preußische Landtag durch Annahme des zum Volksentscheid gestellten Gesetzes am 9. August aufgelöst werden?’

(84.) A, 155, 8 August 1931: ‘Hau zu!’

(85.) BM, 184, 4 August 1931: ‘Geht nicht hin!’, BM, 185, 5 August 1931: ‘Worum es geht! Nicht stimmen am 9. August!—Laßt die Extremen unter sich’; BM, 189, 9 August 1931: ‘Am Scheideweg. Zerstörung oder Aufbau?’

(86.) Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 389.

(87.) For the activities of Hans Goslar, see Matthias Lau, Pressepolitik als Chance. Staatliche Öffentlichkeitsarbeit in den Ländern der Weimarer Republik (Stuttgart, 2003), particularly 312–15.

(88.) BM, 187, 7 August 1931: ‘Kundgebung der Preußischen Staatsregierung.’

(89.) e.g. BA, 183, 7 August 1931: ‘Nun erst recht an die Wahlurne!’; P, 183, 7 August 191: ‘Geht hin zum Volksentscheid und stimmt mit Ja!’; NA, 182, 7 August 1931: ‘Hindenburgs scharfes Urteil gegen die Preußische Regierung’; WaA, 183, 8 July 1931: ‘Preußenregierung und Faschisten’.

(90.) Diary entry of 7 August 1931, in Feder, Heute sprach ich mit . . ., 302.

(91.) See www.gonschior.de/weimar/Preussen/Volksentscheide.html last accessed 15 January 2007. The secondary literature often gives 37,1%, but this was only the preliminary result as announced in most of the daily press on 10 August.

(92.) BM, 190, 11 August 1931: ‘Der abgeschlagene Ansturm’; BZaM, 184, 10 August 1931: ‘Nein!’; ‘Frankreich atmet auf’.

(93.) Against all contemporary evidence, Bracher speaks of a ‘psychological victory’ for those supporting the referendum, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Die Auflösung der Weimarer Republik. Eine Studie zum Problem des Machtverfalls in der Demokratie (Villingen, 1971 edn. [1955]), 342.

(94.) See Falter et al., Wahlen und Abstimmungen, 38.

(95.) In Berlin, less than two‐thirds of those voting for one of the supporting parties in September 1930 backed the referendum, see V, 370, 10 August 1931: ‘Berliner Ergebnis’. The Sportpalast in Berlin saw two mass rallies, one by the NSDAP, one by the KPD on subsequent days: WaA, 182, 7 August 1931: ‘Die Massenkundgebung im Sportpalast’; NA, 183, 8 August 1931: ‘Massen‐Kundgebung für ein neues Preußen’. Cf. WaA, 183, 8 August 1931: ‘Im Zeichen des Roten Volksentscheids’; WaA, 184, 10 August 1931: ‘Der Rote Volksentscheid in Berlin’.

(96.) V, 370, 10 August 1931: ‘Das Blutbad am Bülowplatz’; NA, 184, 10 August 1931: ‘Die Kämpfe am Bülowplatz’.

(97.) The background to the murder was never fully established. My account here follows the balanced presentation in Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 391–2, though I emphasize more strongly the media background of those involved. In October 1993, Erich Mielke, former head of the Stasi in the GDR, was sentenced for the murder of the two police officers. Cf. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 27 October 1993: ‘Mielke wegen Mordes zu sechs Jahren Freiheitsstrafe verurteilt’.

(98.) For an overview of such attacks, see the list of 23 instances for the period 1 January–15 May 1931, contained in the report of the Berlin police president of 11 June 1931, copy in BArchL, R1501, 20368, ff. 99–101.

(99.) NA, 184, 10 August 1931: ‘Der Meuchelmord an den Schupooffizieren war vorbereitet’.

(100.) BM, 190, 11 August 1931: ‘Zwei Polizei‐Offiziere erschossen’.

(101.) BM, 196, 18 August 1931: ‘Die Beisetzung der erschossenen Schupo‐Offiziere’.

(102.) Magdeburgische Zeitung, 436, 12 August 1931, quoted in Dirk Schumann, Politische Gewalt in der Weimarer Republik. Kampf um die Straße und Furcht vor dem Bürgerkrieg (Essen, 2001), 336, 340.

(103.) See minutes of cabinet meeting of 10 August 1931, in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, ii. 1549. For the following, see also Winkler, Weg in dieKatastrophe, 392–5.

(104.) Letter Groener to Wirth, 14 August 1931, in BArchL, R43 I, 2675, f. 146; rep. in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, ii. 1562–3. For the memorandum by the Nachrichtensammelstelle of 22 July 1931, see copy in BArchL, R43 I, 2675, ff. 45–140.

(105.) The survey covered the period April–June 1931 and was circulated in a letter of 29 August 1931, repr. in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, ii. 1624–36.

(106.) For an overview of press coverage in the period August to November 1931, esp. through Berlin papers, see the material collected in BArchL, R1501, 20369, and 20370.

(107.) See Swett, Neighbors and Enemies, esp. ch. 5; and Schumann, Politische Gewalt. An exception to this was the organized campaign against SA taverns in Berlin in 1931, see Rosenhaft, Beating the Fascists, ch. 5.

(108.) e.g. NA, 195, 22 August 1931: ‘Waffenrazzia bei Kommunisten’; NA, 236, 9 October 1931: ‘Kommunisten‐Anschlag auf Dr. Brachts Villa’; T, 262, 9 November 1931: ‘K.D.‐Wühlarbeit in der Reichswehr’.

(109.) Cf. NA, 249, 24 October 1931: ‘Polizei besetzt abermals das Berliner Liebknecht‐Haus—Grund: Sprengstoff’.

(110.) Circular of the KPD's central committee, 12 September 1931, repr. in Hermann Weber (ed.), Die Generallinie. Rundschreiben des Zentralkomitees der KPD an die Bezirke 1929–1933 (Düsseldorf, 1981), 388–9.

(111.) WaA, 188, 14 August 1931: ‘Die Provokateurszentrale in der Hedemannstraße’; WaA, 189, 15 August 1931: ‘Geheim‐Konferenz der Provokateur‐Zentrale. Wie Goebbels Ullstein mit “Schupomördern” versorgt’.

(112.) WaA, 261, 7 November 1931: ‘SA.‐Terror und Abwehrfront’; WaA, 265, 12 November 1931: ‘Nazi‐Terror über Oranienburg’.

(113.) See the KPD circular of 12 September 1931, in Weber (ed.), Generallinie, 389.

(114.) For the significance of biassed media coverage as background for this resolution, see WaA, 266, 13 November 1931: ‘Erklärung der Kommunistischen Partei gegen Einzelterror und Bluttaten’. For calls of a ban of the KPD, see WaA, 263, 10 November 1931: ‘Die Ablenkungs‐Offensive. Ueble Hetzereien der bürgerlichen Presse’. Cf. Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 442–5; Rosenhaft, Beating the Fascists, 77–9.

(115.) WaA, 267, 14 November 1931: ‘Vor Groeners Minister‐Konferenz. Verbotshetze gegen die KPD’.

(116.) Der Stahlhelm, 42, 18 October 1931; quoted in Bracher, Auflösung, 365.

(117.) V, 478, 12 October 1931: ‘Es geht ums Ganze!’ See also Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 432–4.

(118.) WaM, 41, 12 October 1931: ‘Fieberkurven der Politik’.

(119.) The article can be found in the files of the Prussian interior ministry, see GStA, I. HA, Re77, tit. 4043, 120, f. 301. For Severing's reception of regular reports on political violence, see Rosenhaft, Beating the Fascists, 6–7.

(120.) V, 486, 16 October 1931: ‘Schutz gegen den Bürgerkrieg! Severing spricht im Landtag über die Pläne der Bürgerkriegsparteien’.

(121.) V, 492, 20 October 1931: ‘Bürgerkrieg in Braunschweig’. See also Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 441–2.

(122.) V, 491, 20 October 1931: ‘Die Nazi‐Unruhen in Braunschweig’.

(123.) A, 187, 21 October 1931: ‘104 000 in Braunschweig’. For the use of the concept ‘self‐defence’ by both KPD and NSDAP, see Wirsching, Vom Weltkrieg zum Bürgerkrieg, 575–6.

(124.) Tag, 251, 20 October 1931: ‘Der SA.‐Aufmarsch in Braunschweig’; NA, 248, 23 October 1931: ‘Verbot aller Aufmärsche?’

(125.) e.g. BA, 246, 20 October 1931: ‘Was die Linke meldet . . . beruhte auf freier Erfindung’; BA, 247, 21 October 1931: ‘Die Vorgänge in Braunschweig. Der Garnisonälteste berichtet’; P, 245, 19 October 1931: ‘SA.‐Tagung in Braunschweig’; P, 247, 21 October 1931: ‘Die Wahrheit über Braunschweig’.

(126.) See the advertisements for SPD rallies in V, 513, 1 November 1931, and V, 515, 3 November 1931.

(127.) A, 202, 7 November 1931: ‘Es fielen für Deutschland die Berliner Nationalsozialisten’; WaA, 262, 9 November 1931: ‘Es fielen für den Sozialismus’.

(128.) V, 528, 10 November 1931: ‘Die Blutsaat geht auf’; A, 204, 10 November 1931: ‘Zwei Nationalsozialisten von Reichsbanner‐Mördern gemeuchelt. Zerfetzt, zerstochen und zertrampelt—Der “Vorwärts” darf weiter hetzen’.

(129.) V, 533, 13 November 1931: ‘Der Krieg auf den Straßen’.

(130.) Hindenburg declared that he had ‘followed with great regret [news of] murderous deeds and attacks which happened recently’ and that he had instructed Groener to ‘devote particular attention to the fight against such incidents’. This statement received triumphant acclaim in the Nazi press, see WaA, 267, 14 November 1931: ‘Vor Groeners Minister‐Konferenz’.

(131.) Letter Hitler to Groener, 14 November 1931, reprinted in Schulz et al. (eds.), Staat und NSDAP, 213–15, here 215.

(132.) V, 491, 20 October 1931: ‘Groener über seine Aufgabe. Erklärung gegen den politischen Straßenterror.’ See also VZ, 472, 20 October 1931, article reprinted in Herbert Michaelis and Ernst Schraepler (eds.), Ursachen und Folgen. Vom deutschen Zusammenbruch 1918 und 1945 bis zur staatlichen Neuordnung Deutschlands in der Gegenwart, Vol.8, Die Weimarer Republik. Das Ende des parlamentarischen Systems. Brüning—Papen—Schleicher 1930–1933 (Berlin, 1963), 317–19.

(133.) e.g. T, 267, 14 November 1931: ‘Gegen Raub und Strassen‐Terror’; BZaM, 267, 14 November 1931: ‘Ministerrat gegen Terror’; 8UA, 267, 14 November 1931: ‘Kommunisten‐Partei wird nicht verboten’.

(134.) V, 540, 17 November 1931: ‘Ehrenliste der Unschuldslämmer. Material für die Ministerkonferenz’.

(135.) Groener's opening speech at the meeting of interior ministers in the Reich interior ministry, 17 November 1931, repr. in Schulz et al. (eds.), Staat und NSDAP, 216–19, here 218.

(136.) See notes on meeting of interior ministers of 17 November 1931, repr. in Schulz et al. (eds.), Staat und NSDAP, 223–4.

(137.) Ibid., 226.

(138.) e.g. T, 269, 17 November 1931: ‘Groeners Kampf gegen die Mordseuche’; NA, 269, 17 November 1931: ‘Groener fordert Polizeimassnahmen gegen die Mord‐ und Terrorhetze’ and ‘SPD. will Brüning unter Druck setzen’; V, 541, 18 November 1931: ‘Gegen Terror und Mordhetze’.

(139.) e.g. T, 269, 17 November 1931: ‘K.D.‐Propaganda und Reichswehr. Hitler‐Material als Beratungsstoff’; NA, 269, 17 November 1931: ‘Die Polizei‐Minister beraten. Untersuchung der Denkschriften, die Hitler dem Innenminister überreicht hat’.

(140.) V, 545, 20 November 1931: ‘Die Totenliste’. See also Johannes Hürter, Wilhelm Groener. Reichswehrminister am Ende der Weimarer Republik (1928–1932) (Munich, 1993), 316–17.

(141.) Heinrich Brüning, Memoiren 1918–1934 (Stuttgart, 1970), 460–1; Hürter, Groener, 279, 311, 316; Winkler, Weg in die Katastrohpe, 449–51.

(142.) Bracher, Auflösung, 381–2; Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 448.

(143.) WaA, 276, 26 November 1931: ‘Todesstrafe! Todesstrafe! Todesstrafe! Das Reich des Blutgerichts’; T, 276, 26 November 1931: ‘Hessens Naziführer wollten putschen. Eine Blut‐Diktatur sollte errichtet werden’; 8UA, 276, 26 November 1931: ‘Nazi‐Hochverrat erwiesen’.

(144.) e.g. NA, 276, 26 November 1931: ‘Die Wahrheit über das hessische “Dokument” der Nationalsozialisten’.

(145.) Brüning, Memoiren, 463–5; Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 448–51.

(146.) The Times, 5 December 1931, 10: ‘Herr Hitler's Policy. “Threshold of Power” ’.

(147.) T, 284, 5 December 1931: ‘Hitler‐Interview zwingt Regierung’; BZaM, 284, 5 December 1931: ‘Hitler drängt sich in die Außenpolitik. “An der Schwelle der Macht” ’; 8UA, 284, 5 December 1931: ‘‐die Regierung aber schweigt!’

(148.) Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 453–4.

(149.) T, 290, 12 December 1931: ‘Hitlers gescheiterte Amerika‐Rede’; 8UA, 290, 12 December 1931: ‘Das Rundfunk‐Verbot für Hitler’. Cf. Brüning, Memoiren, 468; Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 477–8.

(150.) Brüning in cabinet meeting of 4 November 1931, in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, Vol. 3, 1903–1904. Cf. cabinet meetings of 5 and 16 November 1931, and 3 December 1931, in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, Vol. 3, 1917, 1969, 2043.

(151.) See letter to Brüning, 12 November 1931, regarding ‘Käuferstreik durch falsche Pressemeldungen’, in BArchL, R43 I, 2480, ff. 95–7. For a discussion of this complaint in the inofficial daily press conference in Berlin on 16 November 1931, see BArchL, R43 I, 2480, ff. 101–2.

(152.) ‘Brüning in der Dunkelkammer—Die Angst vor der Öffentlichkeit’, in Demokratischer Zeitungsdienst, quoted in Der Deutsche, 270, 22 November 1931: ‘Zu diskret’. For a similar critique, see letter of the publisher of the Hannoverscher Kurier, Walther Jänecke, to Brüning's secretary of state, Hermann Pünder, 11 November 1931, in BArchK, N1005 Pünder, 180, f. 94.

(153.) See letter Hans Schäffer to Brüning, 14 November 1931, repr. in Gerhard Schulz, Ilse Maurer, and Udo Wengst (eds.), Politik und Wirtschaft in der Krise 1930–1932. (p.287) Quellen zur Ära Brüning (Düsseldorf, 1980), ii. 1097–8. Cf. Eksteins, Limits of Reason, 234.

(154.) Letter of the head of the Reich press office, Walter Zechlin, to Schäffer, 17 November, in BArchK, N1005 Pünder, 180, ff. 101–2.

(155.) Eksteins, Limits of Reason, 147–53, 180–93, 232–3.

(156.) See the first two pages of 8UA, 284, 5 December 1931.

(157.) Circular of 8 December 1931, signed by Dr Wolf, Ullstein Zeitungen‐Zentralbüro, copy in BArchL, N2193 Carl Misch, 13, ff. 70–1.

(158.) Elke Suhr, Carl von Ossietzky. Eine Biographie (Cologne, 1988), 162–8. See also 8UA, 273, 23 November 1931: ‘Empörendes Urteil im Weltbühne‐Prozess’; WaA, 274, 24 November 1931: ‘Der Fall Ossietzky. Geheimnisse’.

(159.) See VB, 177, 27/28 July 1930: ‘Finanz‐Bolschewisten’; Eksteins, Limits of Reason, 235–7.

(160.) BZaM, 283, 4 December 1931: ‘Hitlers braune legale Armee’; BZaM, 284, 5 December 1931: ‘Hitler drängt sich in die Außenpolitik’.

(161.) Ullstein circular to all leading editors and managing directors, 12 December 1931, copy in in BArchL, N2193 Carl Misch, 13, ff. 106–7.

(162.) BZaM, 291, 14 December 1931: ‘Hitler organisiert ein Fliegerkorps’; T, 291, 14 December 1931: ‘Wozu braucht Hitler Flugzeuge? Seine Organisation der S.A.‐Flieger’. Cf. NA, 291, 14 December 1931: ‘Hitler hat keine Flugzeuge bestellt’.

(163.) Letter Groener of 16 December 1931, in BArchL, R43 I, 2701a, f. 306.

(164.) WaA, 293, 16 December 1931: ‘Krach bei den Ullstein’.

(165.) Die Weltbühne, 28, 5 January 1932, 3–5, quoted in Eksteins, Limits of Reason, 237.

(166.) Letter Fritz Stein to Brüning, 19 December 1931, in BArchL, R43 I, 2480, f. 106, quoted in Eksteins, Limits of Reason, 236.

(167.) Ullstein circular of 18 December 1931, copy in BArchL, N2193, 13, ff. 74–5.

(168.) Ibid., f. 75.

(169.) Ibid., f. 74. This passage referred to the case of the ‘postman murderer’ Ernst Reins, which was widely covered in the Berlin tabloid press in mid‐December 1931. See T, 290, 12 December 1931: ‘Todes‐Strafe gegen Reins beantragt’; WaA, 291, 14 December 1931: ‘Das Todesurteil’.

(170.) Ekstein, Limits of Reason, 223.

(171.) Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 485–7; Hürter, Groener, 318–19, 326–7; minutes of conference in Prussian ministry of the interior, 27 February 1932, reprinted in Schulz et al. (eds.), Staat und NSDAP, 282–7, here 283.

(172.) Harwood L. Childs, ‘Foreign Governments and Politics: The German Presidental Election of 1932’, The American Political Science Review, 26 (1932), 486.

(173.) e.g. DZ, 28a, 3 February 1932: ‘ “Ullstein will Hindenburg” ’; DZ, 36a, 12 February 1932: ‘Niemals für den Kandidaten der Linken’; DZ, 38b, 15 February 1932: ‘Kandidat des Weimarer Systems’; A, 35, 16 February 1932: ‘Der Kandidat der Sozialdemokratie’.

(174.) Hindenburg's declaration of 15 February 1932, repr. in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, iii. 2295. See also his letter to Oldenburg‐Januschau, 17 February 1932, in which he explicitly mentions attacks on him in the nationalist press, reprinted in Vogelsang, Reichswehr, 442.

(175.) Letter of state secretary, Franz Kempner, to Hindenburg's state secretary, Otto Meissner, 16 February 1932, repr. in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, iii. 2309, fn. 2. See also Sahm's refusal to continue serving as chairman after Hindenburg's acceptance because he was unwilling to act as ‘the spearhead of a Mosse‐Ullstein front’, excerpt of memoirs, entry for 13 February 1932, repr. in Vogelsang, Reichswehr, 436, 438.

(176.) Goebbels's speech in Reichstag session of 23 February 1932, in Verhandlungen des Reichstags, ccccvi. 2250–1.

(177.) Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 488. For the press controversy about whether or not Goebbels had intended to insult Hindenburg, see NA, 46, 24 February 1932: ‘Zwei Erklärungen Groeners’. Cf. Goebbels's declaration in the subsequent Reichstag session on 25 February 1932, in Verhandlungen des Reichstags, ccccvi. 2346–7.

(178.) Letter Hindenburg to Friedrich von Berg, 25 February 1932, reprinted in Michaelis and Schraepler (eds.), Ursachen und Folgen, 401–5, here 403. Cf. Bracher, Auflösung, 399–403.

(179.) Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 516–17.

(180.) See the guidelines on ‘Election propaganda’ from mid‐February 1932, repr. in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, iii. 2310.

(181.) Goebbels diary entry for 5 April 1932, in Reuth, Tagebücher, ii. 640. Cf. Gerhard Paul, ‘Krieg der Symbole. Formen und Inhalte des symbolpublizistischen Bürgerkrieges 1932’, in Diethart Kerbs and Henrick Stahr (eds.), Berlin 1932. Das letzte Jahr der Weimarer Republik (Berlin, 1992), 27.

(182.) See photo 00060013 in the Ullstein photo archive, online at www.ullsteinbild.de last accessed 12 December 2006. The slogan also accompanied a poster showing Hindenburg behind two shaking hands, reproduced in Paul, ‘Krieg der Symbole’, 32.

(183.) For demonstrators carrying placards calling to ‘Terminate sedition!’, see Paul, ‘Krieg der Symbole’, 28.

(184.) For a photo of a advertisement pillar sporting the ‘Volksverhetzung’ poster, see Paul, ‘Krieg der Symbole’, 32. The ‘Selbstzerfleischung’ poster is in the poster collection of the German Historical Museum, Berlin, P 63/219, online at www.dhm.de/lemo/html/weimar/verfassung/praesiwahl32/index.html last accessed 12 December 2006.

(185.) Goebbels in Reichstag session of 23 February 1932, in Verhandlungen des Reichstags, ccccvi. 2246–9.

(186.) Letter Otto Braun to Brüning, 4 March 1932, reprinted in Schulz et al. (eds.), Staat und NSDAP, 287–8.

(187.) Thilo Vogelsang, Reichswehr, Staat und NSDA Beiträge zur deutschen Geschichte 1930–1932 (Stuttgart, 1962), 162–4; and Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 522–4. Letter Groener to Severing, 8 March 1932, repr. in Schulz et al. (eds.), Staat und NSDAP, 299, esp. fn. 6.

(188.) Letter Held to Brüning, 15 March 1932, repr. in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, iii. 2368.

(189.) WaA, 80, 6 April 1932: ‘Die SA. rüstet weiter’; V, 160, 6 April 1932: ‘Dokumente des Hochverrats’; BT, 162, 6 April 1932: ‘Zum Bürgerkrieg gerüstet’. For Groener's position on the SA, and the Länder pressure for a ban, see Vogelsang, Reichswehr, 163–8; Hürter, Groener, 332–40; Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 523–4.

(190.) Letter Groener to Brüning, 10 April 1932, repr. in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, iii 2426. See also the memorandum by Brüning's secretary of state, Pünder, on a call received by General Schleicher on 8 April 1932, quoted in Vogelsang, Reichswehr, 169.

(191.) Repr. in Michaelis and Schraepler (eds.), Ursachen und Folgen, 458–9.

(192.) NA, 83, 9 April 1932: ‘Sieht der Feldmarschall auch diese Bilder?’ and ‘Die letzten Stunden’.

(193.) Quoted in Zechlin, Pressechef, 119. Electoral studies have shown this to be an adequate summary of Hindenburg's electoral support, see Jürgen Falter, ‘The Two Hindenburg Elections of 1925 and 1932: A Total Reversal of Voter Coalitions’, Central European History, 23 (1990), 225–41.

(194.) NA, 84, 11 April 1932: ‘Kundgebung Hindenburgs’.

(195.) According to memorandum by Groener, 12 April 1932, in Vogelsang, Reichswehr, 453.

(196.) On his meeting with Hilferding, see Brüning, Memoiren, 544.

(197.) Official justification of SA ban on 13 April 1932, repr. in Michaelis and Schraepler (eds.), Ursachen und Folgen, 459. For the difficulty of convincing Hindenburg, see Brüning, Memoiren, 541–4; and Hindenburg's characterization in Theodor Eschenburg, ‘Die Rolle der Persönlichkeit in der Krise der Weimarer Republik’, in Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 9 (1961), 3–7, 18–20.

(198.) DZ, 87a, 14 April 1932: ‘Der letzte Schlag des Systems’.

(199.) BBZ, 173, 14 April 1932: ‘Reichsaktion gegen die Nationalsozialisten’.

(200.) WaA, 84, 11 April 1932: ‘Kommt SA.‐ und Reichsbanner‐Verbot?’; WaA, 85, 12 April 1932: ‘Um eine Hitler‐Koalition’.

(201.) NA, 86, 13 April 1932: ‘Die Regierung sei in letzter Minute eindringlich gewarnt! Auffassung der Reichsregierung keineswegs einheitlich’.

(202.) e.g. DAZ, 173, 14 April 1932: ‘Der Staat steht links’; NA, 87, 14 April 1932: ‘Natürlich Jubel bei der Linken!’

(203.) BBZ, 175, 15 April 1932: ‘Die sozialdemokratische Privatarmee’ and ‘Der Skandal von Langewiesen’; Tag, 91, 15 April 1932: ‘Reichsbanner—Hilfspolizei gegen SA’ and ‘Und die “Eiserne Front”, Herr Reichspräsident?’; DZ, 88a, 15 April 1932: ‘Bewaffnetes Reichsbanner bei der Polizei‐Aktion’; DZ, 23, 16 April 1932: ‘Die Privatarmee der SPD’; KrZtg, 104, 15 April 1932: ‘Der neue Schlag’; NA, 88, 15 April 1932: ‘So sieht die “legale” Linke aus’ and ‘Bürgermeister von Langewiesen redet sich heraus’. See also the newspaper clipping collection in the Reichswehr ministry files, in BArchL, R1501, 126032.

(204.) See Groener's report on the events which led to his resignation, repr. in Vogelsang, Reichswehr, document 22, 454–5. According to Brüning, allegations were leaked by Reichswehr circles to newspapers to produce articles which could then be presented to Hindenburg as ‘evidence’, see Brüning, Memoiren, 546–7.

(205.) For Hindenburg's reliance on the Kreuz‐Zeitung, see Stresemann's experience, in Anthony Nicholls, Weimar and the Rise of Hitler (London, 1991 edn.), 101. For initiatives triggered by Kreuz‐Zeitung articles, see letter Otto Meissner to Brüning, 10 March 1931, with the request to investigate a Kreuz‐Zeitung report on the Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft, and reply of 19 April 1931, in BArchL, R43 I, 557, ff. 308–12.

(206.) Vogelsang, Reichswehr, 177, 454; Eschenburg, ‘Persönlichkeit’, 19. For press coverage of such right‐wing protests with Hindenburg, see NA, 87, 14 April 1932: ‘Protest bei Hindenburg’. In his memoirs, Brüning claimed that the material sent to Groener by Hindenburg consisted of various newspaper clippings from the right‐wing Berliner Börsenzeitung and Deutsche Zeitung, see Brüning, Memoiren, 446.

(207.) See letter Otto Meissner to Brüning, 19 December 1930, and reply of 10 January 1931, in BArchL, R43 I, 2701, ff. 270–81; letter Reinhold Quaatz to Brüning of 29 October 1931, with a list of attacks on Stahlhelm members, and his subsequent complaint in a letter to Hindenburg, 27 November 1931, in BArchL, R43 I, 2701a, ff. 250–2, 290–1.

(208.) NA, 89, 16 April 1932: ‘Hindenburg fordert Untersuchung über Auflösung des “Reichsbanners” ’.

(209.) See Karl Rohe, Das Reichsbanner Schwarz Rot Gold. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte und Struktur der politischen Kampfverbände zur Zeit der Weimarer Republik (Düsseldorf, 1966), 422. Cf. letter Groener to former Crown Prince Wilhelm, 22 April 1932, repr. in Michaelis and Schraepler (eds.), Ursachen und Folgen, 463–4. For right‐wing criticism, see NA, 89, 16 April 1932: ‘Proteste gegen die versuchte Tarnung des “Reichsbanners” ’.

(210.) See letter Hindenburg to Groener, 22 April 1932, and reply Groener to Hindenburg, 22 April 1932, repr. in Schulz et al. (eds), Politik und Wirtschaft in der Krise, 1402–3. See also Vogelsang, Reichswehr, 179.

(211.) See undated notes for Hindenburg on meeting with Groener on 26 April 1932, and the official communiqué of that same day, repr. in Schulz et al. (eds.), Politik und Wirtschaft in der Krise, 1413–14.

(212.) NA, 94, 22 April 1932: ‘ “Reichsbanner” siegt. Groener gibt nicht nach’.

(213.) See Groener speech in Reichstag, 10 May 1932, in Verhandlungen des Reichstags, ccccvi. 2548, 2546.

(214.) Ibid., 2548–50.

(215.) Brüning, Memoiren, 587. For positive press coverage of Groener's speech, see BT, 221, 11 May 1932: ‘In den Fesseln der Demagogie’; VZ, 225, 11 May 1932: ‘Deutliche Sprache’. On the negative reception by some of those present, see the diary entries of Brüning's state secretary, Pünder, of 10 and 11 May 1932, in Hermann Pünder, Politik in der Reichskanzlei. Aufzeichnungen aus den Jahren 1929–1932, ed. by Thilo Vogelsang (Stutgart, 1961), 120–1.

(216.) For reports on the generals' complaints, see WaA, 111, 13 May 1932: ‘Generäle gegen Groener’. For Hindenburg's reaction, see memorandum by the office of the Reich president on the development of the crisis and resignation of the Brüning government, 10 June 1932, reprinted in Vogelsang, Reichswehr, 462–3, and 190–1. Cf. Bracher, Auflösung, 435–7; Hürter, Groener, 348–50; Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 562–5.

(217.) See his memoirs, in which he describes himself as ‘politically already finished’ in mid‐May 1932, Brüning, Memoiren, 588. This view is shared by Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 576.

(218.) For Brüning's complaints about the sensationalist coverage of the cabinet crisis, see Pünder's memo for the press conference of 18 May 1932, repr. in Die Kabinette Brüning I u. II, iii. 2534–5.

(219.) BBZ, 245, 28 May 1932: ‘ “Vollendeter Bolschewismus” ’; Tag, 129, 29 May 1932: ‘Nationale Freiheit, Herr Reichspräsident’. For a discussion of agrarian lobbying at Neudeck, see Bracher, Auflösung, 449–55; and Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 570–3.

(220.) See letter Hindenburg to Oldenburg‐Januschau, 22 February 1932, repr. in Vogelsang, Reichswehr, 443–4.

(221.) See diary entry of 29 May 1932, repr. in Pünder, Politik, 128.

(222.) e.g. 8UA, 121, 26 May 1932: ‘Verschwörung gegen Brüning’; 122, 27 May 1932: ‘Hindenburg hält zu Brüning!’; 123, 28 May 1932: ‘Morgen Entscheidungstag’.

(223.) Nicholls, Weimar, 101.

(224.) e.g. P, 166, 18 July 1932: ‘Warum das Zaudern?’

(225.) Letter Elisabeth Gebensleben‐von Alten to Irmgard Brester‐Gebensleben, Brunswick, 22 June 1932, in Hedda Kahlshoven (ed.), Ich denk so viel an Euch. Ein deutsch‐holländischer Briefwechsel 1920–1949 (Munich, 1995), 145–6.

(226.) V, 322, 11 July 1932: ‘Bürgerkrieg in Permanenz’.

(227.) See Leon Schirmann, Altonaer Blutsonntag 17. Juli 1932: Dichtung und Wahrheit (Hamburg, 1994).

(228.) NA, 168, 20 July 1932: ‘Begründung der Verordnung’. For a summary and discussion of the so‐called ‘Preußenschlag’ see Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 646–80.

(229.) See Preußen contra Reich vor dem Staatsgerichtshof. Stenogrammbericht der Verhaldungen vor dem Staatsgerichtshof in Leipzig vom 10. bis 14. und vom 17. Oktober 1932, ed. Arnold Brecht (Berlin, 1933); and the analysis in Blasius, Weimars Ende, 108–22.

(230.) Albert Grzesinski, Im Kampf um die deutsche Republik. Erinnerungen eines Sozialdemokraten, ed. Eberhard Kolb (Munich, 2001), 282.

(231.) P, 169, 21 July 1932: ‘Historischer Tag! Endlich Schicksalswende in Preußen’.

(232.) Quoted in Blasius, Weimars Ende, 177.

(233.) See Marie Jahoda, Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Hans Zeisl, Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal. Ein soziographischer Versuch über die Auswirkungen langandauernder Arbeitslosigkeit (Leipzig, 1933).

(234.) Quoted in Rosenhaft, Beating the Fascists, 151. See also Swett, Neighbors and Enemies, 255.

(235.) Longerich, Die braunen Bataillone, 111, 159.

(236.) V, 335, 21 July 1931: ‘Die Presse‐Verordnung’.

(237.) Kurt Koszyk, Deutsche Presse 1914–1945. Geschichte der deutschen Presse Teil III (Berlin, 1972), 328.

(238.) Dorothy von Moltke, Ein Leben in Deutschland. Briefe aus Kreisau und Berlin 1907–1934 (Munich, 1999), 205.

(239.) Schumann, Politische Gewalt, 321, 328; Richard Bessel, ‘Politische Gewalt und die Krise der Weimarer Republik’, in Lutz Niethammer (ed.), Bürgerliche Gesellschaft in (p.292) Deutschland. Historische Einblicke, Fragen, Perspektiven (Frankfurt am Main, 1990), 389. For gang homicides in LA County, see the research by Alex Alonso, and statistical material posted at www.streetgangs.com last accessed 14 December 2006.

(240.) Letter to Irmgard Brester‐Gebensleben to Elisabeth Gebensleben‐von Alten, Utrecht, 2 July 1932, in Kahlshoven (ed.), Briefwechsel, 146.

(241.) Letter Gesamtverband Deutscher Metallgiessereien to Brüning, 12 June 1931, in BArchL, R43 I, 2701a, f. 89.

(242.) Blasius, Weimars Ende, 12–13, 35.

(243.) Letter Elisabeth Gebensleben‐von Alten to Irmgard Brester‐Gebensleben, Brunswick, 22 April 1932, in Kahlshoven (ed.), Briefwechsel, 143. According to Hugenberg's Nachtausgabe, the Prussian election campaign was dominated by the conflict between Groener and Hindenburg over the adequate treatment of the republican Reichsbanner, see NA, 91, 19 April 1932: ‘Neue Lügen im Wahlkampf’.

(244.) DAZ, 523/524, 13 November 1931: ‘Unsere Meinung’.

(245.) Winkler, Weg in die Katastrophe, 765–77.