Have you ever heard of Albrecht von Graefe?
I’m not talking about his famous father of the same name, the revered ophthalmologist,
nor his grandfather, the surgeon Karl Ferdinand von Gräfe,
a radical innovator in reconstructive plastic surgery in early 19th century Germany so beloved by Emperor Francis I of Austria
that he had a medal designed in 1829 to acknowledge practitioners of military medical service.
No, the man under discussion was a much more relevant figure to our assumptions about the world today.
There Albrecht stands in 1924, second from the left, surrounded by a number of fellow politicians, including better known figures such as Konrad Henlien (on the far right),
and Ernest Rohm (next to von Graefe on the far left).
All of these men (except von Graefe) were recent additions to the Reichstag, members of the newly formed National Socialist Freedom Party, a conspiratorial political movement formed as a result of the failed German coup attempt known to history as “The Beer Hall Putsch.
This was an armed insurrection quickly broken up by the police. Four officers and fourteen insurrectionists from the German Party and several other fringe right-wing nationalist movements were killed.
The much better organized National Socialist Freedom party took advantage of the public outrage, combined with the growing resentment among the struggling lower and middle classes. They targeted those who were being economically crushed by the restrictions placed on Germany by the Versailles treaty, the uneducated workers who didn’t trust anything any more.
The Freedom Party turned to politics, given instruction by up-and-coming political force Adolph Hitler,
about the ways to achieve power through legal means, recruiting the young into a new world order, and exploiting the weaknesses of Democracy in order to destroy it.
- Democracy, the deceitful theory that the Jew would insinuate — namely, that all men are created equal.
And so in the elections of May of 1924, through some slick campaigning appealing to the emotions of the people, peppering their rhetoric with conspiracy theories about the secret plans of the Communists and the Jews, the movement had breeched the capital and sat down.
Communism was referred to by von Graefe as
- Jewish Dark Arts corrupting people so they can take over the world,
- Lying Jewish press
for the decline of Germany, and offering vague solutions on how the nation could rise again through an undefined revolution.
(Key: 1: number of votes; 2: percentage of house; 3: number of members; 4: +/-)
Social Democratic Party
German National People’s Party
Communist Party of Germany
German People’s Party
National Socialist Freedom Movement
The eventual Nazis are the brown in the grid above. These were the first members of the movement elected to federal office, their aggressive theories frequently undermining the leadership parties, and promoting their radical ideology on a much larger platform. Their famous party leader, being talked about both pro and con in the press everyday, was writing Mein Kampf in prison while his ground troops shouted mistrust for everything, promoting ideas that angry and unhappy people latched onto.
By the time Hitler left prison in 1925 his audience was significantly larger, and his talents as a speaker began to draw massive audiences (Hitler once boasted about his ability to fill stadiums, while then Chancellor Paul von Hindenburg
- couldn’t even fill a town hall.)
A focus on Albrecht von Graefe provides a background to the rise of the Nazi Party into national politics, even before Hitler was taken seriously by anyone.
von Graefe was first elected to the Reichstag in 1912, serving until 1918 as a member of the German Conservative Party, a large group prior to and during World War I. He had been a member of a number of committees, voting always along party lines, and would sometimes give angry speeches denouncing anyone in opposition to his new philosophy, flying under the radar of the still vast majority who were taking none of this seriously.
In 1920 von Graefe joined a new party, the German National People’s Party, which was a stronger, better funded organization in direct contact with the young Adolph Hitler. Hitler was then the chief propagandist for the ideologically affiliated German Worker’s Party, which would change its name a year later following Hitler’s election to leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party. For the first time they were publicly called Nazis.
It was his year between a seat in the parliament, 1919, that von Graefe made a significant national name for himself, feeding off the fame of his family name, and publishing a series of letters in a number of widely read, politically sympathetic newspapers, stating outright his anti-Semetic and otherwise racialist views. Some of these writings were sneering, violent, cynical attacks on his enemies, mostly adaptations of ideas culled from The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion:
- It is the Jews who use the law as it stands to manipulate and undermine our rise to German National Unity. They, sitting on the high courts, those who hate Germany with all their hearts, use the “knotty points of the lexicon of . . . justification” to make “cases where they pronounce judgments” which are “abnormally audacious and unjust.” They seek to confuse the people, to impose doubts on the very meaning of justice, perverting our laws, attacking our children by trying to raise them into their monstrous vision of a Jewish dominated future!
The words in quotes are directly from the Protocols, a theme from the book rearranged to encompass modern concerns, and a finger-pointing campaign, approved by Hitler, to make as many people as possible blame the Jews for all their, and the nation’s, problems. The vast readership and continuing arguments on what Hitler was saying made von Graefe into a celebrity, a public personality that everyone had an opinion on.
Left-wing newspapers took up counterattacks on von Graefe’s
- poisonous words,
most notably by Gustav Stresemann,
a prominent liberal who would in 1923 briefly serve as Chancellor of Germany, then later as the foreign minister. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926 for brokering a reconciliation between Germany and France.
Of course Stresemann was inconsistent throughout his political life, declared during World War I, as he served with the National Liberal Party, on the Armenian genocide of 1916
- Armenian reduction 1–1 ½ million.
Additionally he called for the dismissal of German ambassador Paul Wolff Metternich
- being too sympathetic to Armenians.
Nevertheless, Stresemann wrote in response to von Graefe’s attacks
- It is a fool’s errand to divide our nation further than it already is. Opposing nationalistic parties serve only the purpose of making us weaker and making the enemies of Germany stronger.
Albrecht responded with even more venom, attacking Stresemann’s Jewish wife Kate (nee Kleefeld) and calling Gustav
- A traitor to the people.
Once von Graefe returned to the Reichstag, among Stresemann’s first acts was to censor him and strip him of his committee assignments. This act, which ultimately failed, the chaotic parliament at the time having no idea who to believe, served to inflame the far right wing base, which was growing spectacularly, people frustrated by the stagnation of the world. Protests clogged the streets of Berlin, rarely mentioning the name of the figure who ignited their rage (von Graefe was a terrible public speaker), and rallying around Adolph Hitler, a much more enthusiastic, inspiring, and charming individual; a man promising action.
It was left to von Graefe, and his slowly growing cadre of like-minded nationalists in the Reichstag, to set the groundwork for the rise of National Socialism, and the coming of revolution (referred to by a number followers as “The Storm”).
They swore allegiance to the new religion, and embraced their righteous purity to save the glorious German nation.
By the time of the Beer Hall Putsch enough people throughout Germany, and many in the surrounding European nations, were ready to fall on their knees and pray to a new God. The grounds of suspicion and hatred infected everything people once believed, a nagging fear long since planted that all they thought they knew was being controlled by wicked outsiders.
The legend of 11/8–11/9/23 became a ground zero myth as time went on, as Hitler ascended to total power. These dates became stuck in people’s minds, the first failed revolution against the liars and cheats who had always run the nation. It was politics that controlled everything was explained to them — the Jewish idea of electoral government. It could be used against them, against all enemies. It was the way to assure that the world could be wiped clean of the parasites spreading their Socialist disease.
Albrecht von Graefe never officially joined the National Socialist Party. After attempts to absorb the Nazis into his newly formed Völkisch Freedom Party failed, because Adolph Hitler said no from prison, he was invited to sit on the leadership committee of a multi-party alliance known as The National Socialist Freedom Movement.
He didn’t last long. When the house seats for the party declined in 1924, his painfully dull bureaucratic public declarations allowed this uninspiring figure to be easily made a scapegoat — ”it’s his fault!” someone must have said. “Now we have to start over again, with newer, stronger leadership!”
The far right wing representation in the Reichstag dropped significantly, the National Socialists falling from thirty-two to fourteen members. On the whole the Communists were gaining, a terrifying threat for those on the right. Suddenly “socialists” replaced “Jews” in declarations on who the enemy was (although the words “Jewish Socialism” remained in vogue.)
von Graefe resumed the leadership of the Freedom Party, deciding that Adolph Hitler was the problem with the movement. The Freedom Party was now being promoted as a “rational alternative to the National Socialists.” von Graefe focusing his attack on the term “Socialist” in their title, hoping to paint the Nazis as no different than the Communists.
This blew up in their faces, the rise of National Socialism consuming Germany in these brutal years before the start of the Great Depression. People were looking for an alternative to the Communists, seeing the bold declarations of Hitler as an entertaining and full throated ideology that offered similar programs of economic equality, while pinpointing the specific causes of their misery. The Nazis made notions of good and evil very clear to the masses.
In 1927 von Graefe was giving a droning speech in a well attended hall, the crowd scattered with Nazi hecklers shouting over him. He kept trying to remind them that without him there would be no Adolph Hitler, just
- a loudmouth shouting for blood in the streets.
Within seconds of these words an explosive device was thrown onto the stage, detonating nearby. Albrecht was scarred and burned with shrapnel, ending the rally. This attack was claimed by Adalbert Gimbel,
a low-level Nazi administrator from Frankfurt, who was not arrested, then publicly stated at a Nazi rally a few weeks later that his attack was
- A strike against the traitors trying to silence our Fuhrer.
Hitler responded to what he was told von Graefe said (modified by his minions to cause the greatest offense to the petty, thin-skinned man). He wrote in the Nazi Party press organ Völkischer Beobachter
- I was once the drummer and will be the same in the future; but I shall drum only for Germany, and not for you and your likes, so help me God.
Albrecht von Graefe resigned his seat in the Reichstag shortly thereafter, wandering around Germany under constant threat, and learning to hide his face and wear disguises. His supporters increasingly turned away, dazzled or terrified by the shining new light of Hitler. Sure, they didn’t agree with everything, but they were unified in their hatred of the way things had always been. They were screaming for revolution, raging for the rise of a new Reich that two-faced failures like von Graefe had lied about what he could bring.
von Graefe began to notice, travelling more openly, that among the young, those uneducated children of uneducated parents stomping and storming around the streets in uniforms, attacking anyone who didn’t greet them with “Hail Hitler!”, that the views among these children did not resemble the quieter revolution he and his fellow travelers had planned. He no longer recognized his Germany, his
- once great nation corrupted by selfishness, greed, and allegiance to a charlatan.
He went out less and less, living a bleak life, his finances destroyed by the stock market collapse. He huddled in a hole in the wall apartment, sniffling and flinching at every sound he heard in the street. He once wrote to one of his old friends, also in hiding,
- After all of our great plans and dreams, and our fight against socialism and the Jews, one cannot help but laugh at the irony that we are living no differently than Russian serfs.
And Albrecht von Graefe, the first elected German politician of his era to publicly declare ideas that soon evolved into the Nazi Party, died at the age of sixty-five on April 18, 1933 (with no cause listed on his death certificate). This was just three weeks after Adolph Hitler purged the German government of all opposition, and filled every seat with groveling loyalists of his choosing.