Thou shalt live on with us

“Typical of his S.A. foot soldiers was the young law student Horst Wessel, whose diary we now have. Aged just nineteen, he had joined the Party that autumn. ‘How I came to the National Socialists?’ he asked. ‘Out of disillusion really. My nationalist radicalism, or rather my radical nationalism had not found a home. But the Nazis, as they were already called, were radical—radical in every respect.’ Wessel had been a member of the Bismarck- and then Viking League since 1922, but these organisations had just played soldiers. Goebbels’ gau was, he soon found, different. Goebbels put the accent on socialism. ‘The rightwing parties spurned us for our socialist slant,’ wrote Wessel, ‘and they weren’t all that wrong, because National Socialists had more in common with the [communist] R.F.B. [Rote Frontkämpferbund] than with the [rightwing] Stahlhelm.’ At first he found it hard to follow the new Nazi policies. ‘But unlike earlier, I now began to think politics.’ “

The party membership card of Horst Wessel 

“Horst Wessel was one of those dedicated to the Party. ‘No sacrifice in time or money,’ he would write, ‘no danger of arrest or violence could scare me off… The Sturmabteilungen, the S.A., were the stewards, the movement’s fist against the police and the marxists. The structure itself was copied from the communists—sections instead of locals, the cell-system; our press advertising and propaganda clearly betrayed their [communist] inspiration. The vitality of this new movement was vast, best demonstrated by the defections to us from the marxist camp.’ Goebbels created an atmosphere of constant activity. ‘To Dr Göbbels alone,’ wrote Wessel, ‘goes the credit for having impinged the movement so rapidly on the Berlin public’s consciousness. The man had extraordinary talents for oratory and organisation. There was nothing he couldn’t turn his hand to. The members were devoted to him. The S.A. would have let itself be torn to pieces for him. Göbbels was like Hitler himself… He took care of the injured—he really was a first class leader, a leader with class.’ “

“Horst Wessel, soon to become commander of No.5 Sturm based on the communist-infested Alexander Platz area, was in the thick of it all. ‘March through Neukölln,’ he summarized. ‘Eight hundred against tens of thousands… We carried it off! That’s the main thing. We were the first to carry it off. Then Battle of the Pharus rooms, four hundred versus three thousand; ten badly injured, but victory. Gunfight on East Lichterfelde station, three injured but victory. Victory everywhere the S.A. goes into action : everything for the movement!… We relied only on ourselves, that was our strength.’ ‘We accomplished what no other movement had in Germany,’ wrote Wessel with bitter irony in 1929, ‘namely to unite the entire people: because they were all united against us—incredibly united.’ “

“There was one episode with the S.A. that forewarned of trouble to come with them. Hitler was in mid speech when the heavy doors burst open. Several hundred communists had arrived from Berlin under the leadership of Max Höltz, bent on staging a bloodbath. The S.A. dealt with them roughly and, their blood lust aroused, rampaged through the streets of Nuremberg afterwards leaving two dead and many injured. Hitler sent a chalk-faced Goebbels out by car to call the stormtroopers to order. Horst Wessel showed particular bravery in reining in his young toughs. Walter Stennes, his S.A. commander, later said that the Brownshirts would have taken over the city there and then had he and their national commander Franz von Pfeffer not headed off the catastrophe.”

“Horst Wessel’s No.5 Sturm launched a violent attack on the communist headquarters in Berlin-Kiez, injuring several Reds. ‘Drive the fascists out of the factories,’ the Red Flag screamed, ‘smash them wherever you meet them!’ In private Goebbels rejoiced. ‘This is a fight we’re going to see through with brute force.’Nazis and communists alike declared savage war on each other. Goebbels called the Reds ‘roaring, raging sub-humans,’ and the women worst of all—‘They scream, they shriek, they bare themselves to us quite shamelessly.’ The communists referred to him as ‘Goebbels the workers’ assassin.’

“No murder really fired the imagination of the Party so much as that, when his time came, of young Horst Wessel himself. Goebbels had considered him one of his most promising apostles although still only twenty-two. But he was a marked man. Wessel’s No.5 Sturm had angered the communist high command by recruiting freely from their ranks. More recently, according to Stennes, he had fallen in with bad company. He dropped out of his law studies and was working as a labourer. Perhaps this was no more than youthful rebellion—his late father was an evangelical pastor and freemason. Against his mother’s will he had moved into a sleazy attic room at No.62 Grosse Frankfurter Strasse with his girlfriend Erna Jänichen, whom he had rescued from the streets. That December his brother Werner had frozen to death in the mountains; Goebbels buried him with a torchlight parade routed provocatively past the communists’ Karl Liebknecht building. On the evening of January 14 the enemy squared accounts with Horst: a dozen communists and Jews beset his lodgings; Albrecht Höhler, Salomon Epstein, and another raced upstairs and hammered on his door. As Wessel, inside with Erna and another girl, opened up Höhler, a carpenter, shouted ‘Hands up!’ and discharged a nine-millimetre Parabellum pistol into his face, blowing away his jaw. Seizing papers and a gun from Wessel’s locked cupboard (his disaffected landlady, widow of a communist, had obliged them with the keys) the attackers escaped; Höhler kicked the prostrate Wessel as he ran out, yelling, ‘You know what that’s for!’ The communist HQ put a well-oiled escape plan into action for Höhler, providing refuges in two Jewish households and then funds and a forged passport to flee to Prague.

Horst Wessel clung to life in the hospital for weeks. Goebbels visited him often, and mused once that this was the stuff of a real Dostoyevsky novel— ‘The Idiot, the Workers, the Harlot, the Bourgeois Family.’

Once Wessel croaked, ‘We must go on!’ “

“Foolishly returning to Berlin, Höhler was arrested and confessed. The aftermath was a textbook example of the brilliant disinformation techniques used by Goebbels’ opponents. The defence lawyer hired by the communists, Löwenthal, started a whispering campaign to smear Wessel as Erna’s pimp. Thus he could portray Höhler’s motives as purely personal. The ‘Judenpresse’ seized on this tidbit. Communist playwright Bertolt Brecht mocked, ‘In the search for a fitting hero who really personified the movement, the National Socialists opted, after considerable deliberation, for a pimp.’ Goebbels gritted his teeth and fought back: he now had the one real martyr the movement needed. On February he had the Horst Wessel anthem, ‘Hold the Flag High,’ sung by massed choirs at the end of a Sport Palace rally. Visiting the hospital he urged him not to give up the fight to live, but the young man died sixteen days later. ‘Thou shalt live on with us,’ wrote Goebbels mawkishly after visiting the death bed, ‘and shalt partake in our victory.’ He ordained a colossal funeral parade for March 1 […] Fearing major disturbances Dr Weiss banned the parade, allowing only ten cars in the cortege and a ceremony confined to the walled Nikolai cemetery itself. Police officers confiscated the flag draping the coffin. Communists, out in force along the route, snatched the wreaths from the horse-drawn hearse and sang the Internationale. At the cemetery Goebbels found a large libel painted on the wall: A FINAL HEIL HITLER TO WESSEL THE PIMP! He swallowed his fury. As the coffin sank into the ground a thousand throats defiantly roared the anthem that bore its murdered composer’s name. In ten years, Goebbels prophesied to the S.A. men parading within the cemetery walls, in one of the finest speeches he ever delivered, that anthem would be sung by every schoolchild, by every factory worker, and by every marching soldier in Germany. A barrage of rocks came flying over the wall from the jeering mob outside. ‘They rampage,’ recorded Goebbels upon his return home: ‘And we win.’

David Irving – Goebbels – Mastermind of the Third Reich (1996)

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