Thursday, 31 January 2013

The "Mössingen General Strike"

 This curious story caught my eye this morning.  

Yesterday - 30th January - was the 80th anniversary of Hitler's so-called "seizure of power", and the day involved much memorializing and a good deal more soul-searching about the fragility of democracy and the need for vigilance...

Of course, the "seizure of power" was really nothing of the sort.  Hitler was merely given his opportunity on that day, because he was elevated to the German Chancellorship by the country's elites in the hope that they might be able to control him and - through him - govern Germany. He did not need asking twice.  He took them for all they were worth and swiftly showed them who controlled whom.  But, though the 30th January was feted in Nazi Germany as the "day of the seizure of power" - of the "Machtergreifung" as the German version has it - it was just the beginning of that process in which Hitler's power was secured and extended and the dictatorship was built - it was in fact to be a process that would last around 18 months until August of 1934.  

So, 30th January as a turning point is a bit of a red herring, historically speaking.  But the day's significance to contemporaries was still considerable, as this following story demonstrates.

On the afternoon of 30th January - as news of Hitler's appointment spread - a group of communists and socialists in the small town of Mössingen in south-western Germany decided to organise a protest of their own.  As preparations continued for calling a strike for the following day a demonstration began that evening in which locals cried "Hitler means War!" and "Perish Hitler!" - a corruption of the Nazi slogan "Juda verrecke" or "Perish Juda". 

The following day - the 31st - protests continued along the same lines, and a strike was called of local workers.  At around 2pm, some 600 workers were already out in protest, their numbers swelling as the workmen from other factories were called out.  

By early evening, the authorities seem to have decided that the workers of Mössingen had had their fun and a group of police armed with rubber truncheons broke up the demonstration and sent the protesters fleeing over the surrounding fields. 

In the aftermath - 98 strikers were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace.  A smaller number of ringleaders were singled out for harsher treatment, with some being imprisoned and at least one being sent to the concentration camp at Dachau, (which opened in March).  

After that, the story of the "Mössingen General Strike" disappeared.  The Nazis did not want any blemish on their narrative of a grateful nation welcoming the Führer to its bosom.  Post-war history also forgot about Mössingen, a small town caught up in the maelstrom of events.  Yet, the strike at Mössingen, for all its modest origins, was the only strike organised in Germany in direct protest at Hitler's appointment - and for that fact alone, it deserves to be better known. 

This small tale tells us that Germany did not "go gently" into the Nazi night.  At least some of its citizens saw clearly the danger that Hitler portended - even on the day of his appointment - and were prepared to act . 


Keir said...

Thank you for this. This post is remarkably timely, as the Machtergreifung was the subject of my Grade 12 class this afternoon.

Lutz Oppermann said...

Thanks for this post, very interesting, never heard before.

We Germans (public) have a strange relationship to the resistance against Hitler. He was committed by the military, like Stauffenberg, he will solemnly remembered (June 20), when he starts from the left, of Communists, then he is silent.

We find it difficult to handle. Across the Channel, you Brits seem easier and with a more free look to this issues, thanks!