The coupe d’etat which only brought losers. The Kapp-Putsch in Berlin and its lost remembrance.

Kapp-Putsch, Berlin (March 1920). © BundesarchivDeze update verschijnt in het Nederlands op de site van Jonge Historici Schrijven Geschiedenis.

During the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) have been various attempts to throw over the young democracy. The most famous of these attempts has been the Kapp-Putsch in 1920. By then, various para-militaric Freikorps (Free Corpses) took over the control for four days. The legal government fled from Berlin to Stutgart the overthrow temporarily succeeded, though it was overthrown again before it stabilised. Due to a mass-strike which was initiated by the social democratic government, the Putsch failed by the 17th of March. What happened more and how is this act remembered?

The first years of the Weimar Republic were extremely violent – one can even say that the First World War didn’t end for many of its German soldiers. Of huge importance in this violence were the Freikorps (Free Corps), which were basically para-military armies which could be used for political purposes. Within Weimar Germany, 250.000 men were employed in these organisations. Most of these Freikorps were formed by veterans from WWI which generally had right-wing sympathies. Fed by the ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth, they felt that the Weimar Republic was an illegal overthrow of the monarchy. Nevertheless, the ‘behated’ SPD (social democratic party) made use of these Freikorps in the battle against communist and socialist uprises, which made the para-military soldiers aware of their powerful position. They were not afraid to use this power when this Treaty of Versailles dictated German army to reduce from 350.000 men till 100.000. Various officers who would have lost their position decided to throw over the young democracy. Among the officers were general Walther von Lüttwitz and Hermann Ehrhardt. In the night of 12 on 13 March 1920, the Brigade Ehrhardt with its 5000 soldiers invaded Berlin. They took over the power without any resistance in the ministerial quarter around the Wilhelmstraße. The head of the Reichswehr (German army) Hans von Seeckt did not make an effort to knock down the uprise. Von Seeckt’s answer on the command to knock down the strike became famous: “Reichswehr schießt nicht auf Reichswehr”. In the meanwhile, it came to a proclemation of a new government – with the rightist civil servant Wolfgang Kapp as the Reichskansler (Chancellor).

Demonstration against the Kapp-Putsch, March 1920

Nevertheless, various powerfull elites didn’t acknowledge this government. The social democratic officials in exile launched a labour strike on the 13th or March. Various social democratic and communist labour unions striked, as did the Deutscher Beamtenbund (German Civil Service Federation). With its 12 million strikers, it has been the biggest strike within the German history. The U-Bahn and S-Bahn striked, the production in fabrics were put on a hold and all the houses in Berlin were without gas, water and light. Kapp’s government did not have any plan developed for knocking down the strike and were basically without chance. Kapp fled to Sweden at the 17th of March, when the coupe clearly failed. Ehrhardt still had the command of his soldiers. The order was definetly restored by the 21st of March again. Somewhat more than a week after the attempt started – the Weimar Republic seemed to be save.

Street fights during the Kapp-Putsch, March 1920

The restoration of the coupe was bloody, though it were not Ehrhardt and his soldiers who had to fear for their lifes. Socialists and communists made an effort to continue the strike into a new socialist revolution – especially in the Ruhrgebiet, the industrial area in western Germany. When the German army restored the power, it clearly opposed this attempt. In Berlin-Köpenick developed the restoration of the power in a persecution of left-wing strikers, which became known as the Köpenicker Blutsonntag (Köpenick’s bloody Sunday). Here, Alexander Futran lead the well organised resistance against Ehrhardt’s troups. Although he had the intention to assign the power to the legal government, he and four strikers were accused by the Reichswehr for the possesion of illegal weapons on the 21st of March. They were executed after a military court the same day. That Futran was a left-wing intellectual from jewish descent contributed to the lack of any judicial defence. After the executions it came to a battle in which their left-wing comrades fought against the Reichswehr soldiers and their supporters. Another 14 strikers died, as well as a soldier and three students who fought on the Weimar Republic’s side.

The initiators of the Kapp-Putsch did not seem to be persecuted that actively at all. Many of the coupe’s organisators moved to Bavaria, where Ehrhardt founded the Organisation Consul. This organisation killed various democratic key-figures, of which the assasination of Walter Rathenau became the most famous crime. In this Bavarian climate, Hitler found the ‘right’ contacts to organise a coupe in November 1923. This Bierkellerputsch failed, but became a memorial day ten years later – when Hitler and the extreme-right threw over Weimar’s democracy after all.

Memorial stone for Alexander Futran, Futranplatz (Berlin-Köpenick, January 2013). No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser

Directly after the attempt to throw over the Republic – the decision was made to develop a sculpture in Weimar. The monument was erected at the first of May 1922. As expected, this monument was behated by the nazi’s – also for the progressive design which was made by Martin Gropius. The nazi’s demolished the monument in 1936 – but it came to a restoration 10 years later. In the meanwhile, the nazi’s even build a memorial in Essen, for the fallen soldiers who tried to overthrow the regime. The victims of the Köpenicker Blutsonntag were given a memorial stone at Friedhof Adlershof. The ashes or Alexander Futran were placed at the Sozialistenfriedhof. The Köpenicker Blutsonntag was remembered yearly till 1933, when nazi’s destroyed the memorial stone. In 1947 – a square in GDR’s Berlin-Köpenick changed its name to Futranplatz. At the station of Berlin-Grünau, it came to a memorial stone in honour of men who fell during the knock down of the Kapp-Putsch. Other memorial stones are erected in the previous western sector, at Schöneberg’s Kaiser-Wilhelm-Platz. At this square, five civilians were shot during the strike – on 15 March 1920. When the coupe failed three days later, the mass wanted to revenche these victims and went to the square again. After one resigning soldier died, the rest fought their way out of the previous Rathaus where they were situated – shooting another six strikers. Three of these civilians are given a grave at the Friedhof Eythstraße.

By the looks of it, the Kapp-Putsch brought more losers than winners. The government showed how weak their democracy was, being in exile without even one second of being defended – and being saved by a general strike. The organisors of the Kapp-Putsch and their soldiers were losers because they failed and were behated. The strikers might have been the winners of this historical tale – although the strike ended in confusion and bitterness the restoration of the power already. The Kapp-Putsch is basically remembered in Weimar, while the strike is mostly remembered in the RuhrgebietRemarkably, there is no central monument for the civil victims of the Kapp-Putsch in Berlin, nor for the strike which saved the democracy. In Berlin is the tale only remembered by small initiatives dating back to the period of the Cold War. Probably, a history with too many losing sides will lose its place in history itself.

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One thought on “The coupe d’etat which only brought losers. The Kapp-Putsch in Berlin and its lost remembrance.

  1. Pingback: Marinus van der Lubbe (1909-1934) and his Reichstag Fire. | Historical tales about the capital of the 20th century

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