W. Rathenau abroad


Since March 2021, Aufa💯 has commemorated the anniversaries of political murder in the Germany's first republic several times. Within the context of  modern Germany's mnemonic landscape, something strange can be observed.

Four days before the third anniversary of the dictated Treaty of Versailles, a consequential series of murder in Germany was continued. In this colonially criminalised and generally stigmatised country, not only the Versailles verdict but also far-reaching cooperation with its British, British colonial and French authors provoked crimes unheard of, such as the presently (!) most famous one on June 24th, 1922.

Foreign Secretary Walther Rathenau was murdered by members of a strangling-dictate fighting undercover organisation named Consul. The unmistakable message was that any extensive cooperation with the treaty's authoritative powers and their League of Nations would be met with intimidation and worse. Willing collaborators needed to fear for their life.

In particular from the German perspective, Rathenau's tragical death has not always been the most renowned case in a Paris/Weimar/Versailles series of political murder. Ten months before his assassination in Berlin, two former navy officers murdered peace politician Matthias Erzberger who was a key figure in both the 1918 Armistice and the Versailles-treaty receptive party. On the day the disarmed and interned mariners believed the treaty would be signed, i.e. June 21, 1919, they scuttled their more than seventy vessels that had been interned in British waters since the first armistice month. From their perspective, the western dictates including the impending usurpation of Germany's navy was understood as a complete betrayal of trust. This set of unprecedented acts caused the violence that took Erzberger's and Rathenau's life.

On three occasions over the "Erzberger Jahr 2021", Aufa💯 blogposts contributed to the commemoration of this key figure's death. At the time, the murder of Rathenau's was seen as another case of terror from the far right. Though it was not before this crime that the Weimar democracy decided to counteract by creating the Republikschutzgesetz. In post-World War Two history, a mnemonic analysis of the 1921 and 1922 fatalities are pointing to a remarkable difference.

We have four points for this.

1. The interesting Deutschlandfunk Kultur / Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam (ZZF) radio series "100 Years Political Murder in Germany" is depicting Walther Rathenau, i.e. but one of these democratic politicians. While this does not necessarily mean anything more than a coincidence, something like an arbitrary choice, an unmistakable preference to the detriment of Erzberger's commemoration has developed over decades.

2. While researching on our Erzberger-anniversary posts in the Corona year 2021, I've been asking around among friends and colleagues in Germany. It appeared time and again that Mr Erzberger, the German counterpart of the British navy officers in Compiègne and the French host, was not a familiar personality. Thus, in home's cosy atmosphere, or any restaurant's, it came to telling the story from the start. It turned out that Rathenau did ring a bell. Interviewees did not rarely add that the era had been skipped at school (comment: not very plausibel, since both gentlemen belong to the very era). At least, this seems to provide some clue to the singular ZZF/Deutschlandfunk Kultur teaser image.

3. The proclamation of the Erzberger Year 2021 was made by a regional actor. In the German context this does not mean the state level, but one of sixteen federal states, i.e. a history house in Baden-Württemberg. The ZZF/Deutschlandfunk's "Rathenau-series" took off with the Erzberger centenary.

4. In 1997, the German Historical Museum invited to a splendid exhibition to the honour of Walther Rathenau. The 75th anniversary of his violent death was thus truly commemorated. As a freshly graduated historian from abroad, I visited this Berlin highlight (see catalogue 📘 picture below). As far as I know, Erzberger has never been dedicated an exhibition of equal importance. Thus Germany seems to make believe the "opening" 1921 murder was of considerably less importance.

Walther Rathenau had served for a few months as the German republic's seventh Foreign Secretary. None of Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau's (1919) successors would make it into another year of service.

Since the mid of the 2014-2019 anniversaries, the European Union drives a House of European History (2017). It managed to let go the Versailles and League of Nations centenary unnoticed. Who cares? Who else but German actors cares about the commemoration of the far-right murders in the Weimar democracy? Aufa💯 argues that the European should be reminded as much as the questioned nation state. Who likes to join us in filling the gaps in historiography and historical consciousness?

Walther Rathenau Gedenkstätte

Bad Freienwalde 🇩🇪

DHM catalogue of the 1997 exhibition (De Bourgraaf private property)
DHM catalogue of the 1997 exhibition (De Bourgraaf private property)