The Patriotic Associations (Die Vaterländischen Verbände)

WeltbühneReader

My experience

by Carl Mertens (first published anonymously in 1925)

Justification: Why I am speaking out now

Having been a member of nationalist para-military organizations for several years, I have had ample opportunity to become acquainted with the hideous face of the secret organizations. I can no longer follow the racial hate, egoism and bestiality of these ‘idealists’. It was only with the greatest caution that I was able to withdraw from the ranks of the fanatics, because with the help of the spectre of the feme[1], they force disillusioned members who want to turn to more peaceful, constitutional activities, to remain loyal.

Anyone who believes that some of that which follows concerns events which are already well behind us, has not yet understood the expanding reach and power of the landsknecht[2] nationalism. Anyone who cannot see its pernicious effects, can continue to wander through his fatherland with his eyes closed, but I tell him: these forces are still digging the grave of the German people today!

I joined the patriotic movement out of genuine enthusiasm for the ideal of the national idea. What I found there was a swamp of the most base attitudes and wretched passions, an atmosphere which was a mixture of the lust for blood and cynicism. Appalled by it, I tried to escape.

When I recount my personal experience here, it is not to appeal to the pure feelings of the para-military, or the sense of responsibility of the middle classes in general, as the recruiting depot of the chronically discontent. That seems to me to be hopeless. I do it so that the German people, and in particular the working classes, get a clear impression of the people who feel called upon to be their Führer. And above all, I hope to be able to wash myself clean of the unconscious guilt of my long association with these people.

I dedicate my writing to all fathers and mothers, but in particular the educators and trainers of youth, the high school teachers who gaze proudly on the black, white and red[3] cockade on the caps of their pupils. May they be aware of their responsibility.

  1. The Feme

The patriotic associations, which are anything but loyal to the constitution, have their secrets. Weapon depots must be hidden, nocturnal manoevers must be performed, and then, of course, there is the coup d’etat which they are all preparing. Of course, only the most loyal and most radical know about it, but they nevertheless fear betrayal. No law protects their murderous weapons from theft, confiscation and re-sale. In these watchful times, one is prepared to pay a lot for the odd ‘war souvenir’. On the other hand, they are often uncomfortable with genuine idealists, because they are likely to to be put off by the methods with which the associations desecrate the cause. So they try to keep their people together by fear of feme justice. Everyone is terrified of their own organization, of rejection, emigration, settlement, or plantation, as they call it in their private jargon. The ‘settlement’ committees are the strongest tie which keeps the members together. This invisible hand grips the throats of every landsknecht.

Even the slightest mistrust of a superior, the slightest misunderstanding is enough to to provoke the lowering beast to strike. I have often seen how members yearned to escape, but were paralyzed by fear. Only a few managed to get away, and even they were never again able to relax. Followed by the Medusa gaze of white death, life became a burden to them. The members of these circles think that they can fight for the freedom of the German people with the brute force and despotism of the middle ages, and the attitude, “They can hate me if they like, as long as they fear me.” As well as such murders for self-protection, there are assassinations, which, however, are planned so long ahead that it can always be proven that the assassin left his organization years ago.

As a novice to such tightly run organizations, I was unaware of its own private system of justice. One evening, I went to join my crowd, and immediately noticed a state of nervous excitement. They were standing around in groups, whispering. The commanding officer raced up, his crude mercenary’s features grinning derisively, but revealing a little nervous fear. He regarded the squad furtively. “Who is it?” The anxious question trembled through the ranks of the usually cheerful and fresh lads. Nobody dared to speak, for fear of being the one himself. What’s going on? The strange tension overcame me as well. What’s going on? Then it is revealed, and fear tickles my throat as well. For the first time, I have the sensation of being the victim of a confused patriotism. For the first time, I want to escape from the chains in which I am entangled.

What was going on? X was there, emerging from the night like a fearsome, unexpected judge and avenger. He sits behind the desk, drinking. Phosphorously luminous eyes under a wide, low brow, red wrinkles around the lips, violence in the broad fists.Everyone knows that he is one of the best. He settles accounts. That is why fear is gripping at their throats. It is the white death. He speaks of eight men. Eight nameless ones, children who have disappeared, perhaps just because they felt homesick at the wrong moment, because they no longer wanted to serve the soiled black, white and red flag, or just because they knew too much.

I met the white death again, soon afterwards. It was midday. Jokes were giving flavour to the thin soup at the officers’ table. Next to me was sitting petty officer Y, a failed doctor who had been thrown off the tracks by alcohol and the thirst for adventure. He picked up a newspaper and flicked through its pages absently. Suddenly his hand shook, and his pale lips formed the terrible words, “I was there!” Shaking, his hand pointed to a big headline, “Murder.” A body has been found in a shallow grave, in a wood near Börwalde. The police are looking for the murderer. Then Y told the tale, with the fear of vengeance in his flickering eyes. “We drove there in the car, and led him into the woods. Z knocked him to the ground with his fist, then there was a shot. He was quickly buried, and we drove away quickly. Then we realized that we had left an army coat next to the grave. It will betray us.”

He ordered beer and spirits and drank himself into oblivion, to forget. Who was the victim? Someone with no name, who had been tempted from his home by the recruiting drum. He wanted to fight, spill his blood and die, for black, white and red flags, for someone he didn’t know. The white death, his own friend, tore his throat out. I had thought that Y was a great guy. From then on, I knew that I had to fear the murderer in the best of friends.

I don’t know any further details about another murder by the German national Cheka[4], whose victim was fished out of a ditch near Küstrin, sown in a sack and decomposed, but I suspect a connection between this discovery and a story which was going round in a national association in August and September 1923. According to it, a feme member had been locked in a cellar of the magazine in Küstrin with a ‘traitor’, whose name I do not know. There, the murderer strangled his victim, and got rid of the body.

A, a big butcher of a man, was quartered in my room for a time. One evening he told me the following story. “The day before yesterday, at Zoo station, I read a wanted poster. A body had been found in the Döberitzer Sands, a Lieutenant Sand, who had been missing for weeks. I could have killed myself laughing. A wanted poster for me, and there was a copper dozing ten yards away.” He neighed woodenly in recollection of his cold-bloodedness. “If they had just recognized you!” “Bah!” he clicked his fingers, “it was nothing, just one of lots I have done.”

That night I came to hate the patriotic murder associations, and those who were behind them. But I knew that it would not be easy to get away from those who refer to a human life as ‘nothing’. The white death stood behind me with a swastika on his helmet, a black, white and red flag in his bony fist, and a broad knife between his teeth. That is why it took months before I could risk showing the dangers of their bloody activities to those who considered the patriotic associations to be only playing at soldiers. The more powerful they become, the more quickly the German people is heading for its downfall, its cultural demise. They want to save us from a bloodbath like that in Moscow, but they are themselves preparing a more terrible one: civil war caused by murder.

It is a year and a half since these unpunished crimes of the national Cheka. The black, white and red movement has become even more violent in the meantime, and the sabaton[5] of the military-service-mad landsknechts clatters more ruthlessly through the streets. Has the white death become tired? On the contrary, he is still making his bloody, remorselessly way today, just like then, until he has turned everyone into patriotic murderers, and he can cool his fever on the defenceless workers.

Postscript

These revelations from inside the patriotic associations are so terrible that some may be inclined to consider them to be the product of a wild desire to cause a sensation. For this reason, I want to emphasize that I am prepared to make these accusations under oath. The courts have already taken action in one case, and I presented my information when I was questioned. The other murders were also mentioned and discussed on this occasion. I expect that press releases about a new feme trial will shortly confirm these assertions.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehmic_court#Modern_use_of_the_term

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landsknecht

[3] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwarz-Wei%C3%9F-Rot#Weimarer_Republik. No English page. The colours of the German nationalists.

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheka.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabaton

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