Thursday, June 14, 2012

Monarchist Profile: Carl Friedrich Goerdeler

Carl Friedrich Goerdeler was another German monarchist who was a major figure in the anti-Nazi movement. If the now famous 1944 bomb plot against Hitler had succeeded, Goerdeler was expected to become chancellor of the new German government. He was born on July 31, 1884 into a conservative middle-class family of Prussian lawyers and bureaucrats in Posen (an area that is today part of Poland). He grew up in an atmosphere of close family, devout Lutheran faith and German nationalism, which included fidelity to the Prussian/Imperial German crown. He did well in school, went to university, studied law and economics, got married and had five children. During the First World War he served on the Russian front as a company officer and was particularly alarmed at the consequences for Germany of a vengeful Poland being created with Allied support. When he left the army he first entered politics by joining the right-wing DNVP (German National People’s Party) which joined the chorus of all those condemning the Versailles Treaty and for Goerdeler, given where he came from, the ceding of land to Poland was a point of particular outrage.

Nonetheless, Goerdeler was an even more committed anti-communist. When the Polish-Soviet War broke out in 1920 some dock workers in the isolated German city of Danzig wished to take advantage of the crisis by going on strike in an effort to cripple the Polish economy by shutting off imports. Goerdeler worked to stop this plan from going forward because, as much as he disliked the new Poland, he realized that the Soviets were an even greater threat and a Soviet victory over Poland would be disastrous for Germany. In 1922 he was elected mayor of Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia) and then in 1930 he was elected mayor of Leipzig, earning a reputation as a solid, determined civic official even by authorities of the Weimar Republic which he opposed. In 1931 Goerdeler was appointed Price Commissioner because of his economic expertise when Germany was going through spiraling deflation. Nonetheless, Goerdeler never wavered in his opposition to the Weimar Republic which he described as a proven failure.

More than once Goerdeler was considered as a possible Chancellor of Germany, first by General Kurt von Schleicher and later as a possible replacement for Franz von Papen. However, President Hindenburg opposed him because Goerdeler (and others in the DNVP) blamed Hindenburg for presiding over the armistice and urging the Kaiser to abdicate. In 1932 he was offered a cabinet position in the von Papen government but Goerdeler refused to have anything to do with the Weimar regime. Like many, Goerdeler originally had a favorable impression of Adolf Hitler when he and his Nazi Party first appeared on the scene, though he never joined the NSDAP. He hoped that Hitler could bridge the gap between the failed republic and a more traditional conservative government. Soon, however, he found himself increasingly at odds with the Nazi Party. As mayor of Leipzig he blocked Hitler’s Brown shirts from enforcing a boycott of Jewish businesses and he helped Jews in the city avert punitive Nazi laws against them. Goerdeler became increasingly disgusted with the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazi government.

Goerdeler worked within the law to minimize the damage of these measures but the Nazis became concerned enough to start keeping a closer eye on him. In 1934 with inflation still problematic, Hitler turned to Goerdeler and reappointed him Price Commissioner in which post he clashed with Nazi authorities over his opposition to devaluing the Reichmark. He also opposed the Nazi policy of making rearmament a priority over importing food and state control of the economy. He argued in favor of free markets and against government corruption but the Nazi Party were obviously not inclined to listen to him. Still, Goerdeler continued to make his case for closer ties with the western countries, cutting military spending, stopping state interference in the economy and the scrapping the laws that targeted Jews and controlled Churches. Naturally, the Nazi rejected his proposals completely and increasingly came to view him as an enemy of the party (which he was). When his term as mayor of Leipzig ended Goerdeler was to be offered the top spot in the financial department of the massive Krupp corporation but Hitler forced the business to drop the idea.

Goerdeler took a position at a lesser company and began to seriously devote himself to undermining and bringing down the Nazi regime which he hoped to replace with an older style Germany monarchy after the fashion of the government of Bismarck and the early German Empire. He began forming a secret circle of opponents of the Nazi regime but never relented in presenting his ideas to the government in the hope that they might see sense and change their ways. In his business capacity he traveled to many foreign countries and gave early warnings about Nazi foreign policy and tried to convince people that the Nazis were dangerous and would be the ruin of Europe. Nonetheless, as a German nationalist he did favor the return of German-populated territories to Germany but he wanted it done in a more orderly and less bellicose way. Even after the outbreak of World War II he continued to be active and considered himself the leader of “the” opposition to Hitler. Military intelligence chief Wilhelm Canaris aided him and he formed alliances with Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge, General Henning von Tresckow, General Ludwig Beck and Count von Moltke among others. Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a good friend of Goerdeler’s and although his immediate circle mostly shared his conservative views he worked with social democrats as well who wanted to see the end of Nazism in Germany.

One thing Goerdeler certainly was not though was a revolutionary and even far into the war he seemed convinced that if he could only explain things to Hitler and the Nazi high command they would have to see that he was right and reverse course. He had also spoken to foreign friends before the war and his own civilian and military contacts during the war that he hoped to see the monarchy restored. As it became clear that Hitler could not be reasoned with and would have to be removed from power by force, Goerdeler began to outline his vision for a post-Nazi Germany. He planned to have a constitutional monarchy, in somewhat the same style as Great Britain, with Prince Oskar of Prussia on the throne as the new Kaiser. Some wanted simply a complete restoration of the old German Empire but Goerdeler, though he had once wanted the same, opposed this as impractical and unlikely to be acceptable to the Allied powers. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with Goerdeler and his circle of friends on this point and the famous Colonel Claus Graf von Stauffenberg was of the opinion that it would be unrealistic to attempt any sort of return to the monarchy and that the Soviets might make better allies than the western nations.

Goerdeler at his "trial"
The anti-Nazi movement could in many ways be divided into two camps. Goerdeler was in the more traditional, wanting the monarchy restored, looking to the west and supporting free market capitalism. The other, such as many members of the Kreisau Circle, wanted a republican government, a socialist economy and looked to the east. There was also some disagreement over what to do with Hitler. Many wanted him to be assassinated at once but Goerdeler thought doing so would only make a martyr of him and reflect poorly on the plotters. Goerdeler wanted Hitler to be arrested, put on trial and then executed if found guilty (as he surely would have been). As the 1944 bomb plot was planned out, Goerdeler hoped to have Field Marshal Rommel play a prominent role in the new government but Rommel, though he stated he would accept a position in such a government, wanted nothing to do with any assassination. Instead it was decided that Colonel General Ludwig Beck would serve as President/Regent with Goerdeler as Chancellor.

Goerdeler was certain everything would work out but, just prior to the coup attempt, an order went out for his arrest and he had to go into hiding. He had only a radio to listen to in order to know if everything went as planned when the fateful day came. Of course, as we know, it did not. The bomb planted by Graf von Stauffenberg failed to kill Hitler and the attempted coup was easily suppressed by the Berlin garrison. Goerdeler managed to get out of Berlin but was arrested by the Gestapo in East Prussia. His family were sent to a concentration camp and Goerdeler, after a show trial at the People’s Court, was sentenced to death for treason. He was hanged on February 2, 1945 in Berlin, writing in his last letter, “I ask the world to accept our martyrdom as penance for the German people”.

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