One has just been sent out as a biblical dove, has found nothing green, and slips back
into the darkness of the ark -- Kafka

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Walter Rathenau (1867 - 1922)

From The World of Yesterday:
On that day, I was already in Westerland. Hundreds of vacationists were bathing gaily in the surf. Again, as on the day when the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was announced, a band played to carefree people when, like white petrels, the newsboys stormed over the boardwalk. "Walter Rathenau assassinated." A panic broke out and the tremor spread through the whole Reich. Abruptly the mark  plunged down, never to stop until it had reached the fantastic figures of madness, the millions, the billions and trillions. Now the real witches' sabbath of inflation started, against which our Austrian inflation with its absurd enough ratio of 15,000 old to 1 on new currency had been shabby child's play.
***


 Walther Rathenau (September 29, 1867 – June 24, 1922) was a German Jewish industrialist, politician, writer, and statesman who served as Foreign Minister of Germany during the Weimar Republic. He was assassinated on June 24, 1922, two months after the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo, 1922.


Family

Rathenau was born in Berlin, the son of a daughter of Benjamin Liebermann and Emil Rathenau, a prominent Jewish businessman and founder of the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), an electrical-engineering company.

He studied physics, chemistry, and philosophy in Berlin and Strasbourg. His German Jewish heritage and his wealth[1] were both factors in establishing his deeply divisive reputation in German politics, at a time of anti-Semitism. He worked as an engineer before joining the AEG board in 1899, becoming a leading industrialist in the late German Empire and early Weimar Republic periods.[2] Rathenau is generally acknowledged to be the basis for the German industrialist character "Arnheim" in Robert Musil's novel The Man Without Qualities.[3]


Assassination

On June 24, 1922, two months after the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo, 1922, Rathenau was assassinated in a plot led by two ultra-nationalist army officers, Erwin Kern and Hermann Fischer. Also involved were Ernst Verner Techow, Hans G. Techow and Wille Guenther (aided and abetted by seven others, some of them schoolboys) linked to Organisation Consul.[6] On that morning, he was driving from his house to Wilhelmstraße, as he did daily (and predictably). During the trip his car was passed by another in which three armed men were sitting. They simultaneously shot at the minister with machine guns, and threw a hand grenade into the car before quickly driving away. A memorial stone in the Koenigsallee in Berlin-Grunewald marks the scene of the crime. Rathenau was fervently mourned in Germany, with flags officially at half mast, although this was not compulsory. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, they declared Rathenau's assassins to be national heroes and designated June 24 as a holiday of celebration. One of the participant assassins was the future writer Ernst von Salomon, who had provided the car but was not present at the shooting. The main assassins, Kern and Fischer, committed suicide when surrounded by the police in the turret of Saaleck castle, near Koesen. The final main assassin, Ernst Werner Techow, who drove the car, was captured and sentenced to 15 years in prison. At his trial he claimed that he had acted under duress, as Kern threatened to kill him when he tried to withdraw from the murder plot.[7] Upon his release from prison for good behavior in 1927, he volunteered for the French Foreign Legion. During the Second World War he helped save hundreds of Jews in Marseilles, apparently as an attempt at penance for his crime.[8]

Some believe that Rathenau's assassination may have significantly influenced the long-term political, economic, and social development of Europe (or was the result of such development, particularly the development of leftward-trending parties, class consciousness, nationalistic feelings, and antisemitism). It was certainly an early sign of the instability and violence which were eventually to permeate and destroy the Weimar Republic. The British writer Morgan Philips Price wrote:[citation needed]
In June 1922 Walter Rathenau, a big Jewish industrialist and progressive economist, was assassinated by gangsters of the extreme Right who were the heart and soul of the Freikorps. I was present at the memorial service in the Reichstag and noted an extraordinary outburst of enthusiasm among the workers of Berlin, as expressed in their trade union leaders and socialist parties, for the Republic and for President Ebert. The rank and file of the Majority Social Democrats were now thoroughly aroused...first Communists, then Socialists, and now a big industrialist were murdered for having Liberal views and, in the last case, for being a Jew. The situation in Germany was becoming more and more sinister.
Others, such as historian Erich Eyck,[9] argue that the murder of Rathenau may have been the singular event that set into motion the period of extreme hyperinflation in Germany during 1922–23:
"But as great as was the impact of Rathenau’s death upon German domestic politics, it left an even greater mark upon the economic scene. Now the tumble of the mark could not be stopped. The dollar, still under 350 on the day of the murder, climbed to 670 by the end of July, to 2000 in August, and to 4500 by the end of October."[10]
Albert Einstein later commented that he was "greatly disturbed" by Rathenau's assassination, since he saw it as early proof of an immense anti-pacifist and anti-semitic presence in Germany.[11]
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