Touring Munich, Taking Surprising Notes at the National Socialist Documentation Centre

The Art in Architecture Project at the National Socialist Documentation Centre in Munich, Germany. PHOTO: Orla Connolly/NS Documentation Centre

A few years ago, I was in Munich and at one point paid a visit to the National Socialist (NS) Documentation Centre. Obviously, this is an enormous topic, so this article focuses on my notes of the peacetime period between 1933 and 1938 in Bavaria, which was the birthplace the Hitlerian movement.

The following video clip shows the Munich Konigplatz-Ehrentempel-Fuhrerbau complex, the site of the white modern cubed documentation center then and now.

Evident at the center’s display was the fact that for 14 years before coming to power in 1933, the NS had been embroiled in an epic political, cultural and social struggle with various leftist factions, including anarcho-communists or anti-fa of the kind showing up in the current year. There were also political opponents among the faux-democracy elements, typically Social Democrats. The Centre did an incredible job of providing the historical background and documents of the 1918-1933 situation in Munich.

My focus during my visit was on how the NS dealt with political opponents upon coming to power. All source material presented here is from the Centre. On March 9-10, 1933, the NS seized control of the police and key parts of the judiciary in Munich. However, in the initial takeover, only 4.5% of Munich’s civil servants were fired. Munich’s government at that point was already right-leaning with some NS in place through earlier democratic processes.

It wasn’t until July 1934 that a larger firing in the Munich civil service was conducted, removing 83 civil servants and 250 city employees. This was mostly a standard spoils system move to reward and replace with loyal NS.

Consisting of 10% of the public service of Germany, Jews at 0.8% of the population were 1250% over-represented. But dismissals were slow to develop even there, with some occurring beginning in July, 1934. The Nuremberg law required Jewish officials to retire as of December 31, 1935. This clean sweep was almost three years after the NS assumed power. In the event that such officials served at the front in the Great War, either for Germany or for her allies, they would receive their full pension.

Roughly half of Munich’s 7000 Jews left the country without interference between 1933-1939. During the war years most of the remainder were interned in Thereseinstadt in Bohemia. Many in turn died in the typhus epidemic that overtook that city (Jewish Telegraph Agency) in 1945 as supplies ran out and conditions badly deteriorated at the end of the war. The documentation for this outcome comes from the Centre.

The camp commander gives a speech to prisoners about to be released as part of the pardoning action of Christmas 1933.

During the Munich takeover between March and April 1933, the Gestapo detained and interrogated a list of around a thousand individuals — this in a city of over 800,000 that just experienced a decade and a half of political and social strife and conflict.

As the NS consolidated power, a hundred Social Democrats and 492 Communist opponents were sent to Dachau as political prisoners. Detainment was short lived and there was a large release of these prisoners at Christmastime 1933.

Adolf Hitler in these early years made numerous conciliatory appeals to leftists, and some would point out that the NS had major leftist influences. In fact from a reading of Hitler’s Traitor: Martin Bormann and the Defeat of the Reich – Louis Kilzer, one of Hitler’s failings was not being diligent and paranoid enough about dealing with treason in his staff, military and organization. He ended up surrounded by enemy agents.

There were placards at the Center of a number of NS opponents that I examined closely to gauge their fates. I then followed up online to get their stories. The results were revealing and not at all what I expected.

A number of them left Germany undisturbed before and after the March-April “interviews.” The case of communist agitator Karl Stulzel was illustrative. He was roughed up in his March 9 talk with the Gestapo, released, detained several more times at later dates and died of natural causes in Munich in 1944.

Thomas Wimmer, a red-leaning anti-NS Social Democrat who went on to become the mayor of Munich from 1948 to 1960, seemed to mostly be subjected to regular visitations with police or Gestapo throughout the entire 1933-45 period. He was never detained.

The case of Viktoria Hodl was even more revealing. Hodl was a Communist member of the Bavaria Landtag (legislature). Starting in 1933, she was imprisoned at Munich’s Stadelheim for three years for sedition. Upon release, she plotted against and resisted the regime until 1944, when she was finally arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. Incredibly, Hodl survived the entire NS period.

Karl Vossler was a professor of linguistics in Munich. He was adamantly anti-NS and tried to openly lobby on behalf of his Jewish colleagues. He wasn’t removed from his position until October 1937 and was never arrested or detained.

There were a dozen or so revenge type killings in 1934 at Dachau. One Erich (Maher- ? my handwriting illegible here) was a notorious anarcho-communist suspected of having NS blood on his hands. Also there was Fritz Gerlich, who published slurs and compromising sex scandals about NS leaders in the Weimar period.

Franz Stenzer was a high ranking Weimar Bavarian official and an influential communist. After the NS came to power he was arrested for organizing an underground resistance. He was killed in Dachau in what the NS maintained was an escape attempt. The narrative today was that he was murdered in cold blood. Allied occupation officials conducted an investigation, but nothing came of it.

There was a chart that showed conviction charges for Dachau imprisonment in this earlier period in question and 95% were for communism, sedition and treason. Dachau in 1933-1937 had a capacity of 5000, but rarely had over 3000 inmates.

Suggesting there was rule of law, the first Commandant of Dachau Hilmar Wäckerle was charged with murder and other abuses at the camp and dismissed.

The prison at Stadelheim-Munich had only seven executions between 1933-1936 versus hundreds in the war years. All the earlier executions were for capital not political offenses.

In contrast the Red Terror in the immediate years after the Bolshevik takeovers in Russia and Hungary (1919) and post-war occupied Eastern Europe involved sweeps and executions of millions.

As the Holocaust Museum states, Jews were not interned at Dachau during this period just for being Jewish: “During the early years relatively few Jews were interned in Dachau, and then usually because they belonged to one of the above groups.”

Of course, the Documentation Centre provided the particulars about various disorganized public boycotts and harassments against Jews and their businesses. Although it was obvious regime change would take place under NS rule, the context was poorly presented. In particular was the worldwide boycott of German goods declared by world Jewish organizations (and against the counsel of German-Jewish organizations) as soon as the NS were in power on March 24, 1933. This new hit on Germany’s economy opened the way for the more radical anti-Semites to demonstrate to the average German that Jews operated as a hostile power.

Subsequent “individual actions” (harassments) against Jews prompted the NS leadership to issue cease-and-desist decrees on Aug. 20, 1935.

The decree of Adolf Hitler on 20 August 1935

Individual actions [against Jews] by members of the NSDAP, its subordinate offices and organizations must cease at once. Whoever hereafter participates in individual actions against Jews, or encourages the same, will be treated in the future as a provocateur, a rebel, and enemy of the State.

The Heinrich Himmler Order on 20 August 1935

  1. I strictly forbid any member of the SS from under­taking individual action against Jews.
  2. As in every issue, the solution of the Jewish question is the concern of the Führer and not of individuals.
  3. Actions contrary to this order, even to the slightest degree, will be punishment with dismissal from the SS.

As I worked my way through the Documentation Centre, there were references to oppression and imprisonment for “asocial” offenses. NS used the term “asocial” a lot as part of their population conditioning. They also used the term “member of the community in good standing” (aka “good German”). In reality, this is little more than an old-school carrots-and-stick social credit system.

And then fully expecting mass abuse I came across the numbers: 183 “asocials” were sent to Dachau between 1933-1938. My jaw dropped when we learned that most of these “asocials” were convicted of abusing and defrauding the generous NS social benefit system. This system had a work requirement condition to qualify. NS was very big on pitching in and contributing via labor of some sort. Those who cheated this requirement were called “work shy.” In other words: welfare frauds. How Nazi of them to crack down.

There was mention of oppression (the centre’s words) of the Catholic Church. But then the actual details: The largest imprisonment of Catholic clergy involved an intensive NS investigation in 1936-37 into pedophilia at Catholic boarding schools and religious houses. Between May 1936 and July 1937 there were 270 prosecutions of monks and priests for sex crimes involving minors.

During the period in question there were small numbers of homosexuals sent to Dachau under the sodomy laws. In reality these were political opponents. The NS had been opposed by groups and organizations of so called “effeminate homosexuals” in the conflict years. Sodomy laws were used as a pretense. NS leadership was far more concerned about homosexual ingroups or cliques developing within their own ranks and capturing whole departments. This was a factor in the Night of the Long Knives purge of SA leader Ernest Roehm in 1934 and his homosexual entourage.

The leading gay activist at the time was the notorious “researcher” and pornographer Adolf Brand. Nearly all of his materials were confiscated, but he was never arrested or imprisoned.(Ooosterhuis and Kennedy). He and his wife were killed by an Allied bomb on 2 February 1945.

There was little interest in pursuing “ordinary” non-political homosexuals. Jewish homosexual Gad Beck, Director of Berlin’s Jewish Adult Education Center, also challenges “gay” dogma on the degree to which homosexuals were persecuted in Germany. In his book, An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin, Beck claims “There was no problem being a homosexual Jew. “Everyone turned a blind eye to whatever we boys were up to with each other”.

The actor Gustaf Grundgens whose homosexual affairs were as notorious as those of Roehm’s was appointed director of the State Theater. On October 29, 1937, Heinrich Himmler advised that actors and other artists could be arrested for Paragraph 175 offenses only with his personal consent, unless the police caught them in flagrante.

Winter Watch takeaway: Given the reputation of the Nazis for terror and retribution, the fates of their mortal enemies in the peace years was far more benign than I would have ever anticipated before looking over the Documentation Centre. The method used was more about intimidation, persuasion and public pillaring aka cancel culture and social credits- than bloodshed.

For example, 1,500 people were convicted between 1933-1939 of the misdemeanor of “perfidy,” or trash talking the regime or German life. The punishment in the peace years was little more than embarrassment, humiliation and getting your name (aka doxxing) in the newspaper. We see this “shut it down” perfidy charge and doxxing all the time in the modern world being applied against those who don’t toe the line and narrative of certain groups. There is nothing new under the sun.

This softer form of NS gave way to much more brutality and repression under the severe pressure of total war and existential survival. Just as we have also documented with the Allied war crimes [see The Non-Existent Trial of British War Criminal and Monster Frederick Lindemann, Winston Churchill and the 1943 Starvation of 4 Million in Bengal,” and “The Necessity of Dropping A-Bombs on Japan Was Another Evil Deception the gloves came off.

The tenor and NS policy at the documentation tour starkly changed once the war with Soviet Union began in 1941. The real lesson of war on a large scale is that the worst and most brutal criminal elements of all sides emerge. The NS hardly had a monopoly.

9 Comments on Touring Munich, Taking Surprising Notes at the National Socialist Documentation Centre

  1. It was Franklin Roosevelt, not Adolf Hitler, who was the persecutor of homosexuals. Prisoner #1 at FDR’s new Soviet-style supermax prison at Alcatraz was Frank Lucas Bolt. Bolt’s only crime? Sex with another man.
    Previously, FDR had been forced to resign from his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy for his continued, vicious persecution of homosexuals. This ‘Great Queer Hunt’ was the worst example of homosexual persecution in the history of any civilized nation.

    The Germans? Only 21,000 prisoners in the entire country as of October 1939. That’s criminals, politicals, ALL prisoners in the aggregate. America today? 2,100,000 prisoners. That’s 100 TIMES AS MANY as Germany had in late 1939.

  2. Even as young as junior high school I had my suspicions about the situation in Europe, before and during WWIl. I even remember asking a teacher why we spent so much time talking about the situation vs. talking about war and genocide in Russia, Asia and Africa. Were those other genocides not important enough to discuss? Why the emphasis on the situation in Germany from 1933-1945? Once I realized it was a spell it opened up an entirely new world for me.

  3. You are certainly correct in claiming that the history of the Nationalist Socialist movement is far more interesting than the cardboard cut-out version that was imposed post 1945.

    As far as “NS had major leftist influences”, there probably were instances of betrayal and “treason” – but it goes well beyond that: there were well established “leftist” and “rightest” camps within the movement well before Jan 1933. The “leftists” based mostly in the SA insisted on the hard revolutionary goals of the movement (the NS always understood themselves as a revolutionary movement) and were aghast at Hitler’s accommodation with the industrial oligarchs in Jan 33 and subsequently began rumblings of a “second revolution” (the first being the seizure of power in January) – and that led to the night of the long knives in June 1934 when the issue was decided and which established as well, the primacy of the SS over the SA.

  4. I appreciate both the context and content of this article. For those wishing to research deeper into this particular subject, the policing policies of The Third Reich, I highly suggest David Irving’s “The Real Himmler”.

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