Before Hitler came:
Thule Society and Germanen Orden
Reginald H. Phelps
Late in 1933, several months after the establishment of the National Socialist regime, a book appeared in Munich with the exciting title Bevor Hitler kam: Urkundliches aus der Frühzeit der Nationalsozialistischen Bewegung von Rudolf von Sebottendorff. It was dedicated to the memory of seven members of the Thule Society (Thule Gesellschaft) who were killed by the Reds as 'hostages" in München on April 30, 1919, the day before the entrance into the city of White troops supporting the Bavarian government, then temporarily exiled in Bamberg. It combined details of its author's activities in Bavaria during the war and the revolution with an account of the Thule's history. Its principal thesis was summarized by Sebottendorff in the preface:
Thule members were the people to whom Hitler first turned, and who first allied themselves with Hitler!
The armament (Rüstung) of the coming Führer consisted-besides the Thule itself-of the Deutscher Arbeiterverein, founded in the Thule by Brother Karl Harrer at München, and the Deutsch-Sozialistische Partei, headed there by Hans Georg Grassinger, whose organ was the "Münchener Beobachter', later 'Völkischer Beobachter'. From these three sources Hitler created the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei.
The book must have aroused lively interest, for a second edition appeared early in 1934.
And well it might, considering the mass of information it contained about the myth-encrusted early days of the counterrevolution in Munich (though not about Hitler personally).
Its contents did not at all suit the official view, deriving from Mein Kampf that national socialism was essentially Hitlers own creation. On March I, 1934 the Bavarian political police sent a brief note to the publisher that the book was banned and confiscated because it was misusing Hitlers name for profit and contained inaccuracies derogatory to leading National Socialists:
The whole tendency of the book is in general -contrary to fact- to give the chief credit for the national renewal of Germany to the Thule Gesellschaft.
Sebottendorff's astounding claims have been little studied. Though Georg Franz-Willing's recent study of the period, Die Hitlerbewegung: der Ursprung, 1919-1922 (Hamburg and Berlin, 1962), uses documentary materials from the NSDAP Hauptarchiv in the Berlin Document Center, plus considerable oral information, he largely follows Sebottendorff's account of the Thule. Historians of National Socialism have paid little attention to the Thule. It is not mentioned by Alan Bullock, Hitler (New York, 1961), nor by Konrad Heiden, Geschichte des Nationalsozialismus (Berlin, 1932) - which, interestingly, Heiden begins by referring to the threefold origins of national socialism -as an intellectual movement, from largely North German figures in 1926-28; as a "living political cell" from the Vaterlandspartei and the Pan-Germans (Alldeutsche); as a "political instrument" from the Münich Reichswehr. Heiden does deal briefly with Thule in Adolf Hitler, das Zeitalter der Verantwortungslosigkeit (Zurich, 1936).
This article will consider the history of the Thule in relation to the völkisch movement generally, its connections with the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP, later NSDAP) and the Deutschsozialistische Partei (DSP), with the Völkischer Beobachter, and with the Freikorps Oberland, parent of Bund Oberland, which marched together with the NSDAP in the Hitler Putsch of November 1923. Materials from the NSDAP Hauptarchiv, from the Rehse Collection, and at the Institut für Zeitgeschichte and the Bavarian State Archives in Münich, make it possible to check Sebottendorff's claims and to fill in extensively the picture of the pre-Hitler völkisch movement, of which the Thule was a small, though locally important, part.
The principal individual sources are documents of Johannes Hering, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Thule Gesellschaft, two typescripts, one from 1936 and the other from 1939, a central figure in völkisch activities in Münich well before 1914, and of Julius Rüttinger of Nuremberg, whose correspondence in the Hauptarchiv sheds considerable light on this murky chapter of ideology and politics. The results only partly confirm the implication of Sebottendorff's title, and his claims; rather they show paraIlel racist groups, with overlapping memberships, most of them ultimately absorbed into, allied with, or declared heretical by, the National Socialists. And they illuminate the tragic event -the "murder of the hostages" (Geiselmord)- which became one of the principal springs of violent antisemitism and anti-Leftism in Bavaria.
Sebottendorff was born Rudolf Glauer, the son of a locomotive engineer, in Silesia. The Social Democratic Münchener Post reported that he had in 1909 been sentenced as a swindler and forger and that four years later he reappeared as "Baron von Sebottendorff," having meanwhile succeeded in being adopted by an Austrian of that name (and eventuaIly re-adopted by a German branch of the family) and having become a Turkish citizen!
After the fall of the München Soviet Republic, he moved to Bad Sachsa in the Harz, whence he returned to Istanbul and seems to have traveled in Mexico and perhaps the United States, and tumed up again at München in 1933, engaged in reviving the Thule. He disappeared after that; his publisher H. G. Grassinger thinks that he was killed by the Nazis but has no proof of this.
Sebottendorff's is a spectacular version of the not unfamiliar career of the shady and mysterious adventurer, often from foreign parts, who attaches himself vehemently to an extreme nationalist cause. He built up his own role excessively in the book; but he was less chary than Hitler in Mein Kampf of paying his respects to his "intellectual" antecedents, foremost among them Theodor Fritsch of Leipzig, and in lesser degree three Austrians, Guido von List, Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, and Baron Wittgenberg.
The most needed study of the "intellectual" roots of German racism and national socialism is, incidentally, one that would deal with such figures of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Joachim Besser made a promising beginning in 1949 and 1950, Der Okkultismus stand Pate, Archiv der unabhängigen Gesellschaft zur Pfiege junger Wissenschaft und Kunst (Peine, 1949) and Die Vorgeschichte des Nationalsozialismus im neuen Licht, Die Pforte, II (1950), but seems not to have pursued it; Wilfried Daim's significant, though not wholly convincing, study of Lanz, Der Mann, der Hitler die Ideen gab (Münich, 1958) likewise has not been followed.
Men like Guido von List and Lanz, publications like the former's 'Germanic" researches and the latter's Ostara-Hefte and his queer tomes of pseudo-anthropology, journals like Ludwig Woltmann's Politisch-anthropologische Revue, reveal a scientifically embroidered racist theory, complete with "theology," propagated with varying success among intelligentsia and aristocrats as well as among that famous foundering petty bourgoisie that is supposed to be the chief consumer of such wares; the same names run through the same arguments and blow up the same balloons of theory, year after year, in book after book. It is hard to decide the extent of their influence on such political-social movements as Adolf Stoecker's Christian socialism or the other antisemitic groups of the l880's and l890's; though they contributed to the ideological bases of such groups, they did not really produce a mass movement until after 1918; and the following account of Thule and its parent, the Germanen Orden, will show something of how and why this transition from conspiracy and propaganda effort to masspolitics occurred.
There is still no thorough study of Theodor Fritsch, probably the most significant figure of German antisemitism before the Nazis, and the chief instigator of the political and conspiratory movement from which the Germanen Orden and Thule grew; author of innumerable tracts and books, a leader from the l880's on in the antisemitic Deutschsoziale Partei and publisher of its Antisemitische Correspondenz and the Deutschsoziale Blätter from 1885 to 1894.
In 1902, after sulking in his tent for several years, Fritsch founded the Hammer a principal organ of "scientific" antisemitism, and henceforth devoted his chief energies, and the income from his successful trade journal Deutscher Müller, to this cause. He was in close contact with many racist-reformist groups, and he was deeply concemed with spreading his message both to the elite and to the workers, neither of them, especially in South Germany, very ready to receive it during the first decade of the Hammer.
Fritsch was an inveterate founder. As early as 1904 the Hammer published an appeal for a völkisch general staff (and Fritsch actually headed a national committee incorporating this idea); Hammer readers early formed local groups, Hammer-Gemeinden, consolidated in 1908 into the Deutsche Erneuerungs Gemeinde, and two years later the Deutscher Hammerbund.
Early in 1912 Fritsch ca1led for an antisemitic organization "above the parties." This was a crucial year; the Social Democratic success in the Reichstag election in January, and the growing fear of catastrophe abroad, exemplified in the continuing Morocco crisis and the Balkan war, stirred Fritsch as it simultaneously stirred Heinrich Class, chairman of the Alldeutscher Verband. Class's Wenn ich der Kaiser wär! published early that year under the pseudonym Daniel Frymann, with its appeal for dictatorship, its passionate denunciation of the Jews, its demand for "Deutschland den Deutschen," supplied Fritsch with a platfonn, He summoned Germans of good will and flawless Teutonic descent to unite, and he sponsored two organizations to carry on the task of "enlightenment".
At a meeting in Leipzig on Whitsuntide 1912, these two groups, the Reichshammerbund and the secret Germanen Orden-both already existing-were given formal status. Colonel Hellwig of Kassel headed the former until his death in 1914; the latter was led by Hermann Pohl, a sealer of weights and measures in Magdeburg, who was also Hellwig's vice-chairman in the Reichshammerbund.
Among those present at the founders. meeting was Julius Rüttinger, prominent in the nationalist commercial employees' union, Deutschnationaler Handlungsgehilfenverband (DHV) at Nürnberg, and soon to be head of both Reichshammerbund and Germanen Orden in that city. His correspondence in the NSDAP Hauptarchiv is the chief source for this account of the two organizations until 1919.
Their numbers were small, their growth slow. North and central Germany were obviously more fertile ground for this racist antisemitism than Bavaria and the south (and the number of subscribers for the Hammer in the north indicates that even that ground was not very fertile).
From Leipzig Rüttinger received in February 1912 the draft constitution of the Reichshammerbund; the Bundeswart, with Fritsch and an Armanen-Rat of twelve members -the term sounds like an echo of Guido von List's elitism- formed the executive. Members had to guarantee their Aryan blood; leaflets were for the present to be the chief weapon in the struggle against the Jews and for an independent middle c1ass. A set of guide lines followed at Easter, urging collaboration with Catholics, a broad spread of propaganda to workers, farmers, teachers, officials, and officers, and special activity at the universities. Rüttinger's correspondence reflects the slow progress of the Hammerbund and a persistent trend to internal disputes and petty concems.
At the end of 1912, the Nuremberg group reported twenty-three members, an average atttendance of ten at meetings, and a balance of 5.58 marks, from a year's income of 94.64! And 1913 showed figures hardly more impressive. Indeed, in June 1913 only nineteen Hammer-Gemeinden existed in all Germany. The liveliest center appears to have been Hamburg, under Alfred Roth, who succeeded Hellwig as Bundeswart on the latter's death in February 1914 and was to achieve notoriety as head in 1919 of the Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund.
He was ably seconded at Hamburg by Walter Otto and many other members of the DHV. Thousands of leaflets, hand-to-mouth propaganda, and a few hundred members! No wonder this looked like one more of Fritsch's stillborn children. Yet in October 1912 Fritsch and Hellwig informed the Hammer-Gemeinden:
We are now going to the limit! The enemy is prepared to exploit war or revolution; the Reichshammerbund must spread discord in his ranks; he shall find his master in the German!
And in the Hammer, in November, Fritsch fired a blast for "The Counter-Revolution"; the "hate of the Tschandala" had for decades been undermining the Germanic peoples; now the counterattack against the "chief criminals" must be launched; "a few hundred courageous men can accomplish the work"; the enemy leaders "must fall, at the very start of the revolt; not even flight abroad shall protect them. As soon as the bonds of civic order lie shattered on the ground and law is trodden underfoot, the Sacred Vehme enters on its rights; it must not fear to smite the mass-criminals with their own weapons."
Though the development of the secret Germanen Orden appears only obscurely in the material, it was obviously intended to be the activist side of the movement. In Nürnberg, as later in München, it lived in the shadows beside the Reichshammerbund; Rüttinger headed both groups in Nürnberg, forming, he wrote, the Germanen Orden out, of the Hammerbund, and there was doubtless much duplication of membership.
The Hammer rarely commented on the Germanen Orden, but in the first July issue of 1912, Fritsch, responding to inquiries, stated his approval of its aims and leaders. The Orden published frequent advertisements in the Rightist press (e.g., Deutsche Zeitung, Alldeutsche Blätter) at least from 1917 on, inviting "German-blooded, serious men of pure character" to join a "Germanic lodge." In organization, ritual, and terminology it clearly imitated Freemasonry. It published for many years a joumal, Runen embellished by the inevitable völkisch Swastika -a widespread symbol among racists long before Hitler had been heard of.
The Hauptarchiv contains a hectographed notice from Pohl, Aufklärungsschrift über Veranlassung, Zweck, Ziel, Ausbau der Treulogen, dated January 12, 1912, referring to a circular he had sent the previous November to "50 loyal persons in the Reich and Austria," about forming secret lodges to spread Fritsch's ideas.
Most of the favorable replies were from north and central Germany, and he announced that he had found support in thirty-seven different places. His tone was violent, his stress was on an "Aryan-Germanic" religious revival, Germanic supremacy over "lower working races," "inexorable hate for the Jews" and their exclusion from the Volkskörper; an all-powerful Pan-Germany-but he urged cautious procedure toward the Jews as well as toward the church.
In the spring Rüttinger sounded Hering-a central figure in völkisch activities in München -about founding a lodge there, but was informed that "the soil in München is too virginal"; it was even difficult to keep together in that tolerant city the fifty to sixty members of the Deutschsoziale Partei and the Hammerbund.
Rüttinger's approach to Karl Matthes of München was more fruitful, and, some time in 1913, Matthes evidently established a lodge at Münich. though he reported in October, "The work here is damned hard!" During the following months Pohl urged the creation of a grand lodge for all Bavaria, and there was some discussion whether Nürnberg or Münich should be its center. The Reichshammerbund was also established in Münich that spring, headed by Wilhelm Rohmeder, chairman of the Deutscher Schulverein and a familiar figure then and after the war in München nationalist circles.
The war threw both organizations into confusion. Riittinger went to the front early. Pohl wrote him there in November 1914 that finances were bad, nearly half the brethren were with the military; "the war came on us too early, the G.O. was not yet completely organized and crystallized, and if the war lasts long, it will go to pieces."The childish play of ritual and ceremony in the Orden wearied the members, as Rüttinger's successor Töpfer wrote him from Nürnberg; Pohl seemed to think that the banquets were the chief thing, and Töpfer himself was sick of reproaches from headquarters for doing too little.
In August 1916 Pohl was removed as chancellor of the Order, and Töpfer wrote in December 1917 that he had turned over the business of the Nürnberg lodge to its counterpart in Stuttgart; the Germanen Orden was "a seven months' child." there was no hope for it in Nürnberg but "in München it is still possible for it to awake after the war to a new and powerful existence."
Sebottendorff mentions a split in the Orden in 1916, the continuation of one branch, "Walvater", under Pohl and G. W. Freese, head of the Berlin lodge, while the author Philipp Stauff of Grosslichterfelde continued the other branch. To complete the confusion, the Stauff branch was called the Skalden-Orden; and documents in the "Schumacher files" of HA, under "Bunde," state that the cover name of that organization in Münich was Thule Gesellschaftl And a letter of Walter Nauhaus to Rüttinger from München, April 9, 1919, in HA No.886 seems to imply that the Thule, which he headed in Münich, was originally a branch of the Germanen Orden and not, as Hering indicates, a separate group. Such chaos among völkisch and nationalist groups in Germany was of course not unfamiliar.
Regrettably, the history of the German Orden in Münich is not much illuminated in the Hauptarchiv, and the curious anonymity of persons and events after Pohl's withdrawal is only partially clarified in Sebottendorff's book and in Hering's notes.
Sebottendorff states that the Orden was "revived" at a Christmas meeting in 1917, that he was made head of the province of Bavaria, and that he undertook to finance an information sheet and the journal Runen.
He made swift progress, finding in Münich an art student, the wounded veteran Walter Nauhaus, also a member of the Germanen Orden and head of a "Germanic study group" called the Thule Gesellschaft. The two allied; Nauhaus was to work on young prospects, Sebottendorff on older ones. Hering, Rohmeder, and Justizrat Gaubatz were his first supporters.
Sebottendorff ran notices in the press, became involved in a newspaper argument about Freemasonry, and in July issued invitations to join the struggle for "Deutschland den Deutschen" mainly against the Jews, as well as against egalitarianism. In the elegant Münich hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, Sebottendorff rented the rooms of a naval officers' club, and here, on August 17, 1918, in the presence of the evidently indestructible Pohl and G. W. Freese, a dedication ceremony was held.
Already the name Thule was used by the Germanen Orden as a cover, though the two were not yet merged, and Hering's diary long continues to refer to the Orden. Thirty members were initiated that day, and the Orden kept busy with meetings, initiations, and excursions at least once a week. How innocent they sound!
Hering's diary records talks about old Germanic subjects and a lecture by Sebottendorff on divining rods (pendeln), which upset Hering because such occult nonsense los't them good will. Less innocent is his note of a joint meeting with the Alldeutschen on October 24, when the publisher J. F. Lehmann-according to Sebottendorff, "the most active, driving element in the whole circle" demanded a coup d'etat.
Sebottendorff claims that there were by November 250 members in München, 1,500 in all Bavaria, but says that a large number disappeared with the revolution. Still the round of meetings continued, while Bavaria passed through that incredible series of governments that began with Kurt Eisner's overthrow of the monarchy on November 7 and culminated in the Soviet Republics of April 1919.
Thule and the Germanen Orden held their first joint meeting on November 9, to hear Sebottendorff issue a plangent call to arms against "Juda." And Thule's hospitable quarters in the Vier Jahreszeiten welcomed other nationalist groups -the Alldeutschen, Rohmeder's Schulverein, the Hammerbund among them.
Meanwhile the farce was over, and Thule and the Germanen Orden were quietly preparing for the counterrevolution and welcoming Lehmann's caches of weapons as well as his friends. Early in December Sebottendorff planned to seize Eisner during a political meeting at Bad Aibling but failed. So did an attempt to expand and generate counter-revolutionary activity through the "vigilante" Bürgerwehr, late in December, at a meeting in the Thule rooms. The plan was betrayed, the ubiquitous Lehmann imprisoned; there was a bitter session in the Provisional National Council on December 30, when the author-politician Ernst Toller attacked the whole plot; and the fact that the moderate Socialist cabinet members Auer and Timm had signed a proclamation for the Bürgerwehr sharpened the far Left's suspicions of their aims.
That tumultuous winter in Bavaria need not be described here. In the weeks after Eisner's assassination on February 21, the Thule did not escape the attention of the Workers' and Soldiers' Councils, but it kept up the pretense of being a study group for Germanic antiquity (and was even entered as such in the Münich: Vereins-Register on March 21, the date when, according to Nauhaus, it officially merged with the Germanen Orden). Its activists set up a military group (Kampfbund), with a detachment at Eching, a few miles north of München; they penetrated Communist organizations and, through contact with the legal Bavarian government at Bamberg, recruited for the free corps which were being formed to march against München.
Thule members took part in the unsuccessful Palm Sunday Putsch (April 13). Their role is described ironically in a narrative evidently by Seyffertitz of the Republican, Guard, leader of this anti-Soviet rising,who says that the leader of the Kampfbund in Münich, Friedrich Knauf, offered him six hundred men; actually ten or twelve tumed out, one of them a captain, "in gala uniform! Patent leather riding boots, riding whip, monocle!"
Sebottendorff left Münich and at Bamberg was authorized by the government on April 19 to set up a free corps. At München, the Communists seized control on April 14 from the first feeble Soviet government. Threats to take hostages were put into effect, and, as the iron ring of troops around Münich tightened, the Soviets struck more sharply at danger points within the city. How the Thule members were exposed is not clear; in any case, their quarters were raided on the aftemoon of April 26; the secretary, Countess Heila von Westarp was arrested, and in the course of the day four other members; two more were seized shortly thereafter .
Sebottendorff blames the official head of the Thule, Knauf, for failing to conceal membership lists. The next day Egelhofer, the Red commandant of München, posted a notice that a "band of criminals ...of the so-called upper classes" had been seized, plunderers who forged official passes in order to confiscate goods, "arch reactionaries, agents and touts for the Whites". They were taken to the cellar of the Luitpold gymnasium, a Red military post since its capture on April 14. On Egelhofer's orders, following reports of the killing of Red prisoners by the Whites at Starnberg, the seven Thule members, with two captured White hussars, and Professor Ernst Berger -a München artist and a Jew were shot one by one on April 30.
Apparently it is impossible to write "objectively" about this tragedy. Conservatives and moderates regard it as murder; the Left generally considers it to be horrible in itself, but understandable in view of the Whites' executions of Spartacists captured with arms, and the specific charge that the Starnberg shootings led to these reprisals; moreover, the Left maintains that the Thule victims were not hostages but were active counterrevolutionaries subject to whatever laws of war prevail in civil strife. There is no doubt that they were smuggling men and information out of Münich. But, if it can be argued that they were victims of a stern military code, the two hussars and Berger seem to have been shot as "hostages." In any case, few events have so enraged a populace as this one did.
Rumors spread like fire, multiplying the terrible deed, telling of frightful mutilations (this was indeed officially announced by the authorities after the fall of München, and denials the next day never quite quelled the false report). The White troops hastily threw over their plan of encircling the city gradually, and began to enter it on May 1, finding an uprising, with Thule participating, already under way.
The "murder of the hostages" goes far to explain the merciless repression of the Soviet republic, the willingness to gloss over White brutality, and the passionate wave of antisemitism that spread because the deed was alleged to represent the Vengeance of "Jewish soviet leaders" -Eugen Levine-Nissen, Tobias Axelrod, Max Levien-on antisemitic foes. The instant violent denunciation of the act by the Jewish author-politician Ernst Toller, ex-commander of the Red Army; the fact that the victim Berger was a Jew and that Levien, most bloodthirsty of the Soviet leaders -like Egelhofer and aIl those directly connected with the shooting- was not; the absence in the "hostage murder" trials in September and October of any indication of a " Jewish Conspiracy" behind the killings -all this was ignored or explained away by extremists of the Right; and for Sebottendorff, for the Thule, and for the National Socialists, the slaying of the hostages remained "an act of revenge by the Jews..'
Thus, in part actively through propaganda and counterrevolutionary action. in part because of the fate of the hostages, Thule and the Germanen Orden had a major share in the creation of the raw and rancorous atmosphere -so different from the golden haze enveloping the typical recollections of Münich before the war! -in which movements like national socialism throve.
But thus far nothing has been shown of their direct contact with the NSDAP or the proto-Nazi elements -Harrer's political group, the Deutschsozialistische Partei, the Völkischer Beobachter- listed by Sebottendorff as Hitler's other initial sources of strength.
Chronologically, the connection with the Beobachter, a minor weekly published in the eastem suburbs of München, comes first. When Sebottendorff bought the paper in the summer of 1918, it had existed since 1868, with interruptions and changes of name, a cheap newspaper presenting largely local items, with a middle-class. somewhat anticlerical and antisemitic bias. Franz Eher published it from 1900 on. He died in June 1918; the paper, already on the downgrade, ceased publication until Sebottendorff picked it up. without securing approval from his Germanen Orden colleagues, renamed it Münchener Beobachter und Sportblatt and began filling its four or six three-column pages with antisemitic material and items on horse-racing!
Thus he sought publicity for völkisch aims, particularly among the young. and he managed to keep the paper going, under the Eisner regime and afterward. It served also as a bulletin for meetings of several Rightist groups, including Thule and Germanen Orden, during that time. In May, after the fall of the Soviet Republic, its address was given as the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten. On May 31, the paper announced a völkisch, anticapitalist antisemitic program of twelve points, resembling considerably the twentyfive points of the NSDAP proclaimed by Hitler in February 1920.
In fact, though claiming to be a völkisch organ above the parties, the paper was sponsoring the program and the aims of the newly created Deutschsozialistische Partei. In the spring, Sebottendorff passed the editorship to Hanns Georg Müller; the staff included Wilhelm Laforce and Marc Sesselmarin, both Thule members and later persons of note in the NSDAP; among the contributors were Gottfried Feder and "Redivivus" that is, Bernhard Stempfle, a Catholic völkisch friar who, after being a warm ally of Hitler in the early years, dropped away and was murdered in the Röhm purge of 1934.
During 1919 the paper also began to appear twice weekly, changed its title to Münchener Beobachter und Freiwirtschaftszeitung/Deutschvölkische Zeitung (and in August one edition began to appear as Völkischer Beobachter) and moved to Thierschstrasse 15, the address of the Nazi official press, EherVerlag, in its palmy days.
On October 15 the firm of M. Mü1ler und Sohn began printing the paper, and the editorial offices were transferred to Müller's plant at Schellingstrasse 41- later, in 1923, the scene of dramatic events as Hitler conferred, Rosenberg editorialized, and Göring instructed his SA officers in these rooms. And on October 22, the paper carried its first report of a meeting of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, held on October 16 in the Hofbräukeller (not the grandiose Hofbräuhaus), where Erich Kühn, editor of Lehmann's Pan-German monthly Deutschlands Erneuerung, spoke on the Jewish question, and in the ensuing general discussion, "Herr Hitler of the DAP" declaimed fierily of the need of union against the Jews and of supporting the real "German" press.
In 1920 still the Beobachter maintained its standpoint ostensibly "above the parties," regularly carried columns " Aus der Bewegung" and " Aus völkischen Parteien," in which, to be sure, the (NS)DAP received increasing attention. The new editor Bernhard Köhler -though he was to hold a high post in the Third Reich- wrote on May 27, regarding the imminent Reichstag election, that adherence to a single party would be the "death of the völkisch movement." A curious squabble occurred at the founding of a League of Friends of the Beobachter, late in July, where "Hittler" (the paper frequently misspelled his name) charged the Beobachter with cowardice for not supporting the NSDAP, in which he was clearly the rising star, and with setting the price of its shares too high; so his imperialistic and "social" tendencies were early publicly revealed. As usual, he eventually won.
The scramble for money to get control of the paper before it fell into other, perhaps Separatist; hands, climaxed in the "loan" from Ritter von Epp to Hitler's friend Dietrich Eckart in December, and on Christmas Day a small announcement appeared that the NSDAP had taken over the paper at great sacrifice "in order to develop it into a relentless weapon for Germanism against any hostile un-German efforts." So Sebottendorff's Beobachter had indeed, roundabout, entered the arsenal of the Führer.
The baron's account of the paper's misadventures in 1919-20 gives numerous financial details, but nothing of the financial support by Gottfried Grandel of Augsburg, an early backer of Hitler, who in fact made the purchase of the paper possible for the NSDAP. While the sources on the Beobachter are fairly abundant, those concerning the Thule's connection with Karl Harrer's Arbeiterzirkel (not Verein) are scanty and depend on other witnesses than Harrer. He was a sports reporter on the conservative Munchener-Augsburger Abendzeitung who was actively collaborating with Sebottendorff by the fall of 1918 and was assigned to form a "workers' ring" parallel to other Thule rings for Nordic culture, genealogy, and so on.
Presumably this "ring" was the Politischer Arbeiterzirkel founded in November 1918, with Harrer as chairman, Anton Drexler -the founder of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei- its most active member next to Harrer, and Michael Lotter, acolleague of Drexler in the locomotive shops at Münich, as secretary. This tiny group, with three to seven members usually attending, met weekly or oftener. Copies of the minutes of many meetings in 1918 and 1919 are in the Hauptarchiv.
Generally Harrer was the chief speaker -"How the war came," "Germany's greatest foe: the Jews!" "Could we have won the war?'- such subjects were dealt with, and might have gone on interminably, had not Drexler in December urged the circle to take the lead in founding a political party. The Deutsche Arbeiterpartei came into existence in the tavern Fürstenfelder Hof on January 5, 1919, with its supporters chiefly from among Drexler's fellow workers at the locomotive shops, invited by word of mouth.
The exclusive circle continued to assemble, often in the Thule quarters, sometimes at the Cafe Gasteig across the Isar, or in private homes. Franz Dannehl, a perennial Thulist and occasional speaker at DAP meetings, claims to have discussed the founding of the party with Harrer at the Thule; but Drexler's pamphlet Mein politisches Erwachen, the document that so stirred Hitler when he read it after his first visit to a meeting of the party, mentions neither Harrer nor Dannehl nor the Thule nor the foundation of the party!
Though the minutes of the circle show no basic discussions of racist Weltanschauung, it is likely that Harrer's völkisch ideas seeped through the circle and through Drexler to the DAP, which was transformed a year later, about the end of February 1920, into the NSDAP. Yet it should be noted that the party's line was predominantly one of extreme political and social nationalism, not the Aryan-racist-theoretical pattern of the Germanen Orden and its like.
It will be recalled that Sebottendorff refers to Harrer's "Deutscher Arbeiterverein" as one of the three sources from which Hitler created the NSDAP. He claims indeed that this organization was founded on January 18, 1919 in the Thule rooms and that it later became the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei.
I find no evidence for this statement.
Harrer founded the Arbeiterzirkel with Drexler in November 1918, but Drexler was the party' s founder. The Nationalsozialisticher Deutscher Arbeiterverein was not founded until September 1920, to give the party corporate status. Harrer had already left the party in the preceding winter. There is, too, little evidence of participation by Thule members in the DAP. Sebottendorff gives 220 names of members of Thule, or the Thule Kampfbund, in his book, but fewer than twenty of these appear in the two probably authentic early lists of NSDAP party members. Nor do the attendance lists at DAP meetings in 1919 show any appreciable number of Thule names.
The conclusion is that the mixed elements in the DAP, and the kind of political activity it pursued, had little appeal for the conspiratory gentlemen of the Thule. Moreover, their political wishes were probably better answered in the Deutschsozialistische Partei, or for some even in the moderate Deutsche Volkspartei, than in the DAP.
As for the Deutschsozialistische Partei, the last of Sebottendorff's three sources of the NSDAP, it was only locally and in- directly a creation of the Thule; but its long program, which includes the phrase "Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz" that reappears in the Nazi program, shows substantial similarities to some parts of the latter.
Much of the purpose of the DSP had been foreshadowed in the prewar Deutschsoziale Partei, which Fritsch had supported, and which had established a small Ortsgruppe at München in 1911, with Hering as vice-chairman. The postwar DSP, another outgrowth of the Germanen Orden, was founded in the winter of 1918-19 by Alfred Brunner and Heinrich Kraeger of Düsseldorf.
The sympathies of the Beobachter in 1919, with Sebottendorff, H. G. Müller, and Sesselmann leading the way, inclined toward it more than toward its rival, the NSDAP. Here again the lines are blurred, for the DSP moved more energetically in Nürnberg, where Julius Streicher joined it early, than in München.66 It also grew swiftly outside Bavaria, unlike the early NSDAP, but in the long run it could not outmaneuver the coming Führer, and Streicher's capitulation, bringing the important Nürnberg DSP group to Hitler in 1921, marked the triumph of the Münchenh movement over a movement which -despite Streicher- seems to have been generally more moderate, even Christian Social, in its aims than was the NSDAP .
One other important connection of Thule and the Germanen Orden with the NSDAP -the Free Corps Oberland- is only briefly treated by Sebottendorff; and he ignores another of the most significant links, the Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund.
Sebottendorff, as noted previously, went to Bamberg shortly after mid-April 1919 to get official backing for a free corps. He writes that he made a report, supported by Stempfle, to the cabinet, on the need of quick action, that he was authorized to set up a free corps, and that the government than decided to summon Epp's free corps from Thuringia to join the attack on Münich. Sebottendorff opened a recruiting bureau in the Hotel Deutscher Kaiser at Nuremberg. His book gives in great detail his own movements in northem Bavaria in the days before Münich fell and some account of Oberland's part in the campaign.
The narrative of Seyffertitz supplements him, adding that shortly after the fall of Munich Sebottendorff and Knauf called him to the Vier Jahreszeiten to discuss merging Seyffertitz' detachment with Oberland, and Knauf put at his disposal there 70,000 marks, provided by the Münich Bürgerrat, in addition to some 30,000 presented the day before to his representative. Sebottendorff's political interference led to his removal from Oberland by its military leadership about the middle of May; the free corps was later taken over in part into Epp's regular formation, Schützenbrigade 21.
The Free Corps Oberland fought in 1920 in the Ruhr and against the Poles in Upper Silesia in 1921. After its dissolution, its successor, Bund Oberland, was officially headed by Knauf during 1921-22, till the latter -suspected of "Jesuit" tendencies- was dropped, founding shortly thereafter a counterorganization, Treu-Oberland; Friedrich Weber succeeded him.
The role of Bund Oberland under Weber among the Bavarian activists in 1923, and its participation in the Hitler Putsch, are well known. As for the Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund, this huge organization of the far Right was created in 1919 by Alfred Roth, Bundeswart of the Reichshammerbund, with the support of Class of the Alldeutscher Verband, and swept into its fold a mass of extremist organizations, including the members of the Hammerbund and, at least locally, many of the Germanen Orden.
Kurt Kerlen of the Thule at Nuremberg became the head of its Bavarian office. What the Thule and the Germanen Orden never attained in mass response was achieved by the furious activity of the Schutz- und Trutz- bund, until its dissolution in 1922 on suspicion of connection with the murder of Rathenau.
Hitler supplemented his income at times by speaking at its meetings. From 1919 to 1923 the Thule maintained its activities, despite bitter disputes between Knauf and Sebottendorff on the responsibility for the arrest of the hostages, and Sebottendorff.s departure. Familiar names continue to appear in Hering's diary-Lehmann, Rohmeder, Hermann Bauer, who succeeded Knauf as head of the Thule in February 1920 and used this office as a "Sprungbrett" to the chairmanship of the powerful Vereinigte Vaterländische Verbände Bayerns in 1923. Sesselmann, who followed him in office in 1924, remained chairman for years.
Dietrich Eckart and Alfred Rosenberg were guests of the Thule in its early days; Hans Frank joined it in the summer of 1919 and spoke to the members on Spengler's Preussentum und Sozialismus; he met Harrer and discussed with him and Drexler the forthcoming program of the DAP. The military and the police, anxious to keep order, now and then noted that Thule's antisemitic activities were continuing; Sebottendorff in fact was reproved in the summer of 1919 by the Reichswehr commander Möhl for distributing antisemitic leaflets to the Free Corps Oberland. But, in the chaos of contending rightist groups, Thule gradually grew quiet.
The split occasioned by the Hitler Putsch of 1923 was only partly made up for by the entrance of members of the NSDAP after the ban on the party -especially "intellectuals" like Rudolf Hess and Karl Fiehler, later mayor of Munich- into this useful cover organization.
After 1926 the Thule gave few signs of life. It was of course the Nazi triumph of 1933 that revived it; again the Vier Jahreszeiten housed Thule meetings, now more afluent, social, and artistic than a decade before. Sebottendorff published a journal, the Thule-Bote, and his book came out to claim Thule's place in the Nazi sun. But conflicting emotions stirred the members, the diehards refused to let Thule be "degraded" to a social club, and once more it split and foundered.
If now we examine Sebottendorff's statement that the Thule provided the three chief sources of National Socialism, and that "almost all of Hitler's collaborators had something to do with the Thule, if they were not themselves members," we find that it claims too much, and, perhaps, too little. While the München version of a völkisch workers' movement -the Harrer-Drexler line, Politischer Arbeiterzirkel and DAP- was initiated from the Thule, the pattern of mass national socialism, developed around the Führer complex, deviated sharply from the conspiratory nature of Thule.
The "old fighters" of Thule seldom joined the NSDAP; the political views dearest to most of them, the platform of the Deutschsozialistische Partei, were absorbed in fiercer form into the Hitler monolith. So was the originally "non-partisan" Beobachter. So was much of the contentious military wing represented by the Kampfbund and Oberland. The obsessive antisemitism remained, but the atmosphere of the Vier Jahreszeiten and the discussions of Germanic antiquity gave way to the beer hall meetings, and the mammoth processions of SA, SS, and co-ordinated civilians.
On the other side, Thule was only a segment of the völkisch movement, and Sebottendorff muddles his case by saying "Thule" when he means "Germanen Orden" or even broader groupings. The ideology -if the word may be used- of Fritsch and his like was a main part of that movement; the many small völkisch cells in the Reich kept the movement going, but they made conspicuously little headway in München and Bavaria until war, revolution, the München Soviets, and the killing of the hostages provided the festering soil for them to grow in. Only then did violent racist antisemitism become "popular" in Bavaria, only then could München become the logical center for national socialism. But, to repeat: It was less the theories of racist cranks than concrete national and local conditions, plus the remorseless propaganda of Hitler, that enabled national socialism to make its start at the place and time it did.
One of the last entries in Rüttinger's file may serve as an epilogue for the Third Reich's treatment of cast-off pioneers. On August 20, 1936 he was informed that he was barred for life from holding party offices because of "belonging from March 1912 to May 1921 to the Germanenorden". Even though former members of lodges who had left them before 1933 might remain Nazi party members, they could not hold office. The measure "simply corresponds to the basic attitude of the NSDAP toward Freemasonry" [!] And the end: "No protest against this decision is permitted."
Sebottendorff, the leader of the Thule society, was known as an adept at astrology, alchemy divining rods and other occult practices and it was his belief that the Jews were really in control of the Freemasonic lodges that probably led to their eventual seizure and closure when the Nazi’s took power. Indeed, the whole idea of brotherhood that typified freemasonic beliefs was at odds with what the Thulists believed. Indeed Sebottendorff went so far as to say that ‘equality is death’. Thus, freemasons were also singled out by the Nazi’s. He spread his propaganda through Der Münchener Beobachter a newspaper that he purchased because he needed an avenue with which to spread his profane doctrine. As conditions in Members of these groups were not averse to using terrorism to gain their political aims and to put it as briefly as possible, the Thulists wanted to bring together all the anti-Semitic forces in Germany into forceful political action, both legal (elections) and illegal (terrorism). While the The common theme of the more successful occult groups has always been to hold economic views in keeping with the politics and interests of the wealthier classes. In so doing wealthy patrons and converts can help finance the movement and give it an air of legitimacy. This was violently demonstrated when Hitler betrayed the Of note here is the fact that Rudolf Hess had been with Hitler from the very earliest days. He was arrested with Hitler after the Beer Hall Putsch and assisted Hitler with writing Mein Kampf. He was an ardent student of astrology, and other occult sciences. He was a signer of the Nuremburg laws that severely curtailed the rights of Jews in
Sebottendorff, the leader of the Thule society, was known as an adept at astrology, alchemy divining rods and other occult practices and it was his belief that the Jews were really in control of the Freemasonic lodges that probably led to their eventual seizure and closure when the Nazi’s took power. Indeed, the whole idea of brotherhood that typified freemasonic beliefs was at odds with what the Thulists believed. Indeed Sebottendorff went so far as to say that ‘equality is death’. Thus, freemasons were also singled out by the Nazi’s. He spread his propaganda through Der Münchener Beobachter a newspaper that he purchased because he needed an avenue with which to spread his profane doctrine.
As conditions in
Members of these groups were not averse to using terrorism to gain their political aims and to put it as briefly as possible, the Thulists wanted to bring together all the anti-Semitic forces in Germany into forceful political action, both legal (elections) and illegal (terrorism).
The common theme of the more successful occult groups has always been to hold economic views in keeping with the politics and interests of the wealthier classes. In so doing wealthy patrons and converts can help finance the movement and give it an air of legitimacy. This was violently demonstrated when Hitler betrayed the
Of note here is the fact that Rudolf Hess had been with Hitler from the very earliest days. He was arrested with Hitler after the Beer Hall Putsch and assisted Hitler with writing Mein Kampf. He was an ardent student of astrology, and other occult sciences. He was a signer of the Nuremburg laws that severely curtailed the rights of Jews in