By FOIA Research
on March 5, 2021 - Last updated: November 7, 2023

Organization Consul

The "Organization Consul" (German: Organisation Consul, O.C.) was an ultra-nationalist, anti-Semitic and anticommunist terrorist organization active in Weimar Germany from 1920 to 1922. It included many former members of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, a Freikorps unit which was disbanded after the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch had failed to overthrow the Weimar government in March 1920.

Members of the secret organization committed a multitude of political murders in order to destabilize the democratic system of the young Republic. This should prepare the ground for a military coup, with the ultimate aim to re-establish monarchy as well as to undo the results of WWI, in particular the Treaty of Versailles. O.C. was responsible for the assassination of the Republic's Minister of Finance Matthias Erzberger on August 26, 1921, and of German-Jewish Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau on June 24, 1922. In response to Rathenau's murder, the "Law for the Protection of the Republic" (Republikschutzgesetz) was enacted by the Reichstag (German Parliament), resulting in the banning of the O.C. on July 21, 1922.

O.C. was part of the Black Reichswehr (Schwarze Reichswehr), a coalition of extra-legal paramilitary formations (Freikorps) during the Weimar Republic initially welcomed and promoted by the Reich government and the Reichswehr (German army) leadership. Just like the O.C.,1 the Black Reichswehr was to circumvent the military restrictions imposed by the Versailles Treaty, and deployed mainly to crush strikes and the surging left. The secret organization was dissolved in 1923 upon the failed Küstrin Putsch.2

While the "Viking League" (Bund Wiking) is deemed the direct successor of O.C., many former members also joined other organizations, such as the "National Association of German Soldiers" (Nationalverband deutscher Soldaten), or the Sturmabteilung ("Storm Department," Brownshirts, SA). Some former O.C. members would hold exalted positions in the Third Reich. Julius Schreck and Joseph Berchtold later became bodyguards of Adolf Hitler. Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha subsequently joined the Nazi Party as well as the SA,3 and became an éminence grise and important go-between during the Nazi era.4

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Marinebrigade Ehrhardt

The Organization Consul (O.C.) goes back to the Freikorps Marinebrigade Ehrhardt ("Navy Brigade Ehrhardt"), founded by Navy captain Hermann Ehrhardt (1881-1971) following the defeat of the German Empire after WWI, which was active from early 1919 until March 1920. A strong opponent of the Treaty of Versailles, Ehrhardt held staunchly monarchist views. At its height, the Ehrhardt Brigade was a force of several thousand men, which fought in north-west and central Germany, Upper Silesia, and Bavaria.

Ehrhardt was not ready to recognize the defeat of the Empire, the revolution and the new democratic rulers. But before he could start plotting against the Weimar government he saw the need to tackle the imminent threat of left riots first, with more than tacit approval by Berlin. With his Brigade he struck down riots across central Germany, and in April/May 1919 helped sack the short-lived Munich Soviet Republic (6 April 1919 - 3 May 1919). The allied Freikorps proceeded with all brutality against the insurgents, killing people at random. In June the Brigade was deployed in Berlin against a traffic strike, in August against the first Polish uprising in Upper Silesia. Towards the end of 1919, the troops were replenished with returnees from former Baltic units, so that they grew to around 4,000 men. Ehrhardt and his men spent the turn of the year 1919/20 on the Döberitz military training area near Berlin. This "rest period" was used, among other things, for political lectures, in which the Marinebrigade was further radicalized, and Ehrhardt began to help plan the “March on Berlin.”

Just like Ehrhardt, General Walther von Lüttwitz (1859-1942), since March 1919 Commander-in-Chief of the Berlin Reichswehr Group Command I, and the politician Wolfgang Kapp (1858-1922) were determined to reverse the results of the revolution. When the Reich government, under pressure from the watchful Allies, decided at the beginning of March 1920 to dissolve the Marinebrigade and other volunteer corps in fulfillment of the Versailles Peace Treaty, Ehrhardt's Brigade took precipitate action. On March 12, the Finance Minister Matthias Erzberger resigned, hated by right-wing radicals, which gave the anti-democratic movement an additional boost. Lüttwitz protested against the dissolution of the Freikorps by demanding the resignation of the Reich President and the Reich government, but was dismissed.

Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch

This resulted in the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch (also Kapp Putsch), a counterrevolutionary coup against the young Weimar Republic. The leader was General Walther von Lüttwitz, supported by Erich Ludendorff, while Wolfgang Kapp with his "National Association" (Nationale Vereinigung) only played a minor role. The Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch began on March 13, 1920, when Lüttwitz led Ehrhardt's Marinebrigade to occupy Berlin's government district.5

The attempted coup brought the Republic to the brink of a civil war and forced the social democratic members of the Reich government to flee Berlin. Most of the putschists were active Reichswehr members or former members of the Imperial Army and Navy who had reorganized themselves in paramilitary Freikorps after WWI, such as Ehrhardt's Marinebrigade, but they also comprised members of the "German National People's Party" (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP).

Kapp Putsch (March 13-17, 1920): Freikorps fighters of the Marine Brigade Erhardt, on a truck equipped with a machine gun. Note the swastikas painted on the truck and helmets. The brigade's battle song was: "Swastika on the steel helmet, black-white-red ribbon, we are called the Brigade Erhardt" (Hakenkreuz am Stahlhelm, schwarz-weiß-rotes Band, die Brigade Erhardt werden wir genannt), a clear expression of their völkisch and aggressive nationalist sentiments. See:

Charles Edward of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1884-1954)

For his counterrevolutionary efforts Ehrhardt received substantial support from Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1884-1954), who would later also become a prime Organization Consul sponsor and organizer.4 A protégé of the last German emperor, Wilhelm II (1859-1941), Charles Edward was the last reigning duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha from 1900 until 1918. A male-line grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Charles Edward was also a Prince of the United Kingdom until 1919. According to the historian Karina Urbach4 :

Carl Eduard was attracted to Ehrhardt’s brutality from the start. ... As a consequence the Duke took great political and financial risks for his new leader. He underwrote many of Ehrhardt’s operations and would later hide him from the authorities in his Austrian castle Hinterriss. Ehrhardt was also highly useful for Carl Eduard’s private agenda. In the spring of 1919 the Brigade Ehrhardt had been transferred to Thuringia. Carl Eduard hoped that Ehrhardt would eliminate the Gotha Bolsheviks as quickly as possible, so he could get his property back. Ehrhardt did not mind doing the dirty work for the Duke but he was involved in several other ‘projects’. ...

By spring 1920 it became obvious that the Freikorps had served their purpose and now posed a threat to the newly founded democracy. ... Carl Eduard had just been made the district representative of the Brigade Ehrhardt when the Minister of Defence dissolved the Brigade on 29 February 1920. The Freikorps did not take this decision well. On 13 March they marched to Berlin and tried to overthrow the government. One of the aims of this so-called Kapp-Putsch was to restore the monarchy—an idea that did not appeal to the public. Ehrhardt was one of the leaders of the putsch and employed his trademark brutality. ... Carl Eduard supported Ehrhardt financially at the time and therefore was indirectly involved. The Kapp-Putsch was incompetently planned and badly carried out. President Ebert and the government fled Berlin, yet the revolutionaries did not manage to take key government positions. A general strike ended the whole affair after four days. ... the captain was now on the run. Carl Eduard offered him refuge in Callenberg castle and on the Veste. Here Ehrhardt lived under the name ‘Neumann’ ... Along with Ehrhardt, the weapons of his Brigade were hidden in the castles. All of this was of course illegal and Carl Eduard could have faced prison for it.

Safe haven in right-wing Bavaria

While the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch of March 13, 1920, had failed in Berlin, a simultaneous right-wing coup had succeeded in Munich. Thus, in fear of retributions, many putschists of the Marinebrigade and other Freikorps fled from Berlin to Bavaria where a right-wing government under Gustav von Kahr had taken power.

In Munich, at a midnight sitting, the Bavarian socialist ministry under Johannes Hoffmann had been hustled out of office by Bavarian Civil Guards and Freikorps forces, and a right-wing coalition cabinet under Gustav von Kahr took over, after Hoffmann resigned on March 14, 1920.6 7 The coalition included far-right proponents whose influence became more and more predominant. They were backed up by several formerly liberal Bavarian journals which had been bought up by industrialists.8

Kahr's administration was essential in turning Bavaria into a "cell of order" (Ordnungszelle), giving room for all kinds of right-wing groups. He also supported separatist forces that aimed at Bavarian secession from Germany. This favorable climate continued after Kahr resigned on September 21, 1921, when the German government passed a decree for the protection of the Republic against right-wing extremists.

Following the forced disbandment of the Marinebrigade in May 1920,4 former fighters who had settled in Bavaria became subsequently involved in right-wing organizations and military associations: the "Association of former members of the 2nd and 3rd Marine Brigade" (Verein ehemaliger Angehöriger der 2. und 3. Marinebrigade); the "Association of former Storm Soldiers" (Vereinigung ehemaliger Sturmsoldaten) of Manfred von Killinger, as well as the "League of former Ehrhardt Officers" (Bund ehemaliger Ehrhardt-Offiziere) formed under Ehrhardt's deputy Captain Paul Lambert Werber.9 When the Organization Consul was formed in 1920 as a quasi-successor of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, it recruited predominantly from the membership pool of these organizations. According to Gabriele Krüger10 :

Efforts to maintain the cohesion of the brigade members began during the disbandment at the Munster camp and led to the formation of three associations. The crews were united in the "Association of former members of the 2nd and 3rd Marine Brigade," which ... saw its task mainly in the maintenance of tradition, and later was not really prominent. The "Storm Company" (Sturmkompanie), which had assumed a special position as an elite formation in the brigade, gathered under its company commander Captain Lieutenant Manfred v. Killinger in the "Association of former Storm Soldiers." From the beginning, this association was intended to actively reinstate its members "in case of greatest need," i.e. to secretly maintain the company as a combat unit. It issued printed notices and endeavored to build up an organization by grouping the members scattered over Germany into local groups, as the O. C. later undertook with increased activity. A curiosity is the planned badge of the association: a swastika with arms bent into a circle and an imperial crown in the center.

Even more than the previous, the "League of former Ehrhardt Officers" (B. e. E. O.) is to be regarded as a predecessor of the later O. C. (Organization Consul). It was founded on September 11, 1920, on the eve of the final disbandment of the Ehrhardt Brigade, in the officers' mess at the Munster camp by Corvette Captain Paul Lambert Werber, whom Ehrhardt had appointed as his deputy before his escape. Captain Lieutenant Alfred Hoffmann, Captain Lieutenant von Abendroth, Captain Lieutenant Eberhard Kautter, Lieutenant Klockner, Lieutenant Müller, and First Lieutenant Schmitz were elected to the board. Ehrhardt was informed of the founding and assumed the honorary chairmanship offered to him. The Bund was a secret association, about which the strictest silence was to be maintained in public. The news sheet of the federation could be published therefore only typewritten and in limited number, as were the statutes. The Bund saw its task as being "to record the large number of comrades who had already transferred to civilian occupations and to the "Reich Navy" (Reichsmarine)." To this end, two central offices were set up: the first, under Lieutenant Müller, was based in Munich and was the focal point for those Ehrhardt soldiers who had returned to civilian life or were housed in working communities in Bavaria. The second, established by Korvettenkapitän Werber, was headed by Kapitänleutnant Wolff von Trotha in Wilhelmshaven, who had been transferred to the Reich Navy, and endeavored to register all Ehrhardt soldiers in the Reich Navy. In view of the identity of the leading staff and the secrecy of the federation, one can justifiably see in the B. e. E.O. the nucleus of the O. C., even if Ehrhardt in his memoirs portrays the B. e. E. O. as a mere traditional club. Accordingly, the O. C., in its peculiar character as a secret society, originated directly from the Ehrhardt Brigade in the Munster camp, even if it was only expanded and given its name in the course of 1921.

Foundation of Organization Consul

The Organization Consul was founded by Ehrhardt in autumn of 1920 as a clandestine successor organization to the "Marinebrigade Ehrhardt" Freikorps. The O.C. had a front company, the "Bavarian Wood Products Company" (Bayerische Holzverwertungsgesellschaft), headquartered in Munich.11 12 Ernst Pöhner, the chief of the Bavarian police, was a major ally of the O.C. He was able to embezzle money to support the O.C., and falsify passports for members to escape trial.13  O.C. was financed i.a. through illegal arms trafficking, including with the Irish Republican Army.14 The O.C. and other paramilitary groups were initially welcomed by the Reich government and the Reichswehr leadership, which hoped to bypass the arms restrictions imposed by the Versailles Treaty that way,1 and welcomed the O.C.'s course of action against surging left agitation. According to Brian E. Crim15 :

The OC was founded by Captain Hermann Ehrhardt, a Freikorps leader, coup plotter, and popular luminary of the extreme Right. Erhardt reasoned that the only way to destroy the Weimar government was to convince the lower classes that the government was incapable of representing their interests and thus provoke another wave of revolution in Germany. Such chaos would, Erhardt believed, unite right-wing elements behind a national dictator. The OC acted to spark this revolution by systematically murdering key Weimar politicians and leftist figures. OC member and popular author Ernst von Salomon actually named the targets: "Scheidemann, Rathenau, Zeigner, Lipinski, Cohn, Ebert and all the men of November [November Revolution of 1918] must be killed. Then we shall see whether or not there are uprisings in the Red Army, the Independent Socialist party, and the Communist party." The official face of the OC was carefully constructed to meet the legal requirements for a political organization in the new democracy. ...

Founded in Bavaria, the OC enjoyed legal protection and even financial resources from a sympathetic government. Bavaria was a hot bed of right-wing extremism, and it was no secret that the government and local military units supported the efforts of the OC and dozens of other paramilitary organizations wholeheartedly. The president of Bavaria, Gustav Ritter von Kahr, openly despised the Weimar government in Berlin and identified with upstart leaders like Adolf Hitler and Hermann Ehrhardt. Munich served essentially as a secure base where radicals could plot freely against the government. Kahr even protected extremists who were wanted for crimes in other parts of Germany. He and the German military forces in Bavaria acted as state sponsors of terrorism because they provided groups like the OC and the NSDAP with political, financial, and military support. As is the case for many more recent terrorist organizations, state-sponsorship (or at the very least, benign neglect) facilitated the extremists’ terrorist acts.

The OC was a tightly organized, hierarchical organization directed by Erhardt and a handful of others comprising the "Munich Central." Below the Central were 13 "gauleiters" responsible for recruiting and supervising local cells. Cells formed wherever possible. The Weimar government estimated that the total strength of the OC was approximately 5,000 members.

Due to its origin, the O. C. was a militarily organized cadre group, the members of which were largely recruited from former (front) officers of the German Army and the Imperial Navy as well as the Freikorps. The founders used Freikorps contacts to recruit members in dozens of cities and small towns all over Germany, functioning like a regionally structured secret society. Eventually it came to have districts encompassing large swathes of the nation.16 They were particularly active in Berlin, where many of their crimes were committed. The Weimar government estimated that O.C. had about 5,000 personnel.1

About 30 full-time employees worked in the headquarters under the actual direction of Ehrhardt's chief of staff, Alfred Hoffmann. The O. C. had seven upper districts (Hamburg, Hanover, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, Dresden, Wrocław, Tübingen) with up to three sub-districts each; the establishment of planned further districts was prevented by the prohibition of the organization.

The average age of the members was between 20 and 30 years. Their motivation was nourished by anti-communist, anti-bourgeois, anti-Semitic as well as ultra-nationalist sentiments. Jews were excluded from participation, and each member had to confirm that they were of “German descent.”1 An excerpt from the mission statement reads17 :

Spiritual aims: The cultivation and dissemination of nationalist thinking; warfare against all anti-nationalists and internationalists; warfare against Jewry, Social Democracy and Leftist-radicalism; fomentation of internal unrest in order to attain the overthrow of the anti-nationalist Weimar constitution ...

Material aims: The organization of determined, nationalist-minded men ... local shock troops for breaking up meetings of an anti-nationalist nature; maintenance of arms and the preservation of military ability; the education of youth in the use of arms.

Notice: Only those men who have determination, who obey unconditionally and who are without scruples ... will be accepted. ... The organization is a secret organization.

O.C. operations in Upper Silesia

Ehrhardt oversaw a whole network of other paramilitary organizations through the O. C. In 1920, O.C. members took part in the battle for votes in Upper Silesia and, as the "Koppe assault company" (Sturmkompanie Koppe), took part in the suppression of the Third Polish Uprising in order to prevent the area from being ceded to Poland. According to the Historical Encyclopedia of Bavaria14 :

The paramilitary strength of the secret society became apparent during the 3rd Polish Uprising (May 1921), when Organization Consul members from all over the Reich came together to form their own assault company to support the "Upper Silesian Self-Defense"  (Oberschlesischer Selbstschutz) in suppressing the uprising fomented by the Polish side. Subsequently, in order to ward off further uprisings and with the financial support of the Foreign Office, the Organization Consul prepared the formation of its own regiment of 2,000 men, which was to be expanded to the strength of a division if necessary. To this end, the Organization Consul established contacts with other military associations, such as the SA, and set up a branch organization to recruit Austrian volunteers in Vienna.

O.C.'s assassination spree

At least 354 political murders were committed between 1919 and 1922, many of which are attributed to O.C.18 Besides politicians, O.C. also eliminated political dissenters, while generally the O.C. murders often took the form of a "Feme" – a secret court that rendered death penalty sentences on perceived enemies. It was named after the Femgericht courts of Medieval Germany.19 Feme, in the parlance of right-wing extremist underground movements, referred to an act of vigilante justice: the killing of "traitors" who - as group members or as outsiders - knew about weapons depots or other secrets and had reported them to the judicial authorities or threatened to do so.15 Accordingly, the statutes of O.C. stated: "Traitors fall to the Feme."20

On May 21, 1920, Hans Paasche, a retired naval officer and pacifist was shot in front of his children in his estate at Waldfrieden. In 1920, at the age of 39, he was shot by a commando of around 50 soldiers from District Command III while supposedly trying to escape. The soldiers had mounted the operation under an anonymous call with the pretense of finding a hidden weapons cache, which was never found. The shooter (the designation shooter was the lowest rank of the team) Diekmann, who fired the fatal shot, and the superior on duty, Oberleutnant Koppe, who stated that Paasche was "shot while trying to escape," were not prosecuted.21

Poster hanging over the corps of Maria Sandmayer, October 6, 1920, one of the first victims of the so-called Feme murders. Sandmayer had found a secret weapons cache. The poster reads: "You disgraceful bitch who betrayed your fatherland, you were executed by the black hand."

(Munich State Archives, GStaW at the Higher Regional Court, no. 24)

Murder of Matthias Erzberger

On August 26, 1921, the center politician (Deutsche Zentrumspartei) Matthias Erzberger, hated by the right, was murdered near Bad Griesbach in the Black Forest by Heinrich Schulz (1893-1979) and Heinrich Tillessen (1894-1984). Erzberger was targeted because he had signed the 1918 armistice.11 The police investigations quickly led to the perpetrators and ultimately to the O.C., to which the two belonged. In a Germany-wide wave of arrests, 34 O.C. members were arrested after further investigations. However, most had to be released soon, because the suspicion that the O.C., as an organization, had planned and carried out the murder of Erzberger, could not be sufficiently supported by evidence. Some of the members were nevertheless charged with membership in a secret society.22 Following the murder of Erzberger, Ehrhardt fled to Hungary before being arrested in November 1922.

The assassins initially went back to Munich. However, the investigators were able to determine their identity quickly, setting off a search warrant with pictures of the perpetrators. These left Munich on August 31, 1921. Heinrich Tillessen initially hid in the Alps, then moved on to Salzburg, Austria. In November and December 1921, both perpetrators lived under an assumed name in Budapest. A request by Germany for extradition was rejected. Equipped by his political friends in Germany with a false German passport, Tillessen went to Spain at the end of 1925. He lived for years in Madrid until his return in December 1932.

Heinrich Schulz, whose real identity was uncovered in 1924, was arrested in Hungary. As the Hungarian government refused his extradition, he was released but expelled from the country. As a result, he traveled via Italy to South-West Africa and later to Spanish Guinea, where he lived as a plantation manager from 1926 to 1932. He traveled in 1932 or 1933 to Barcelona, and returned in March or April 1933 to Germany.

Both, Schulz and Tillessen, alongside other Weimar insurrectionists, were granted amnesty by the impunity regulation from March 21, 1933, signed by Paul von Hindenburg.23

Members of the O. C. were also responsible for the attempted murder of Philipp Scheidemann on June 4, 1922, and probably also for the murder of Karl Gareis, a politician of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) on June 9, 1921.1 24

Murder of Walther Rathenau

On June 24, 1922, members of the O. C. murdered the German Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau for his political collaboration with the Soviet Union and his backing of the Versailles Treaty. O.C. received assistance with the murder by the Aufbau Organization.25 The murderers were Erwin Kern, Hermann Fischer (1896-1922) and Ernst Werner Techow (1901-1945).26

Erwin Kern (1898-1922)

Erich Kern got to know Ernst von Salomon in 1920, and, together with Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz, they formed a local O.C. group in Frankfurt am Main, which carried out arms deliveries in the Ruhr area, liberated prisoners and engaged in counter-espionage. During the fighting in the Third Polish Uprising in 1921, Kern fought with many other O.C. members in the "Koppe Storm Company" under Manfred von Killinger in Upper Silesia.

Together with Karl Tillessen, Kern tried in vain on August 10, 1921, to free the two lieutenants, Johann Boldt and Ludwig Dithmar, from the Leipzig prison, who had been convicted of war crimes in the Leipzig trials for the sinking of the English hospital ship Llandovery Castle.27 In January 1922, Kern and the Frankfurt O.C. circle succeeded in liberating Dithmar from the prison Naumburg / Saale. In March 1922, a Feme murder attempt was perpetrated against one of the drivers of the getaway car, Erwin Wagner, because Tillessen and Kern thought he was a spy. In the Gießen Feme murder Trial in 1927, Kern was assigned the main responsibility for this.28 When Heinrich Tillessen received a summons from the Munich police after the murder of Erzberger, Kern took him across the border to Austria.29 It is further believed that Kern was the third person who accompanied Hanns Hustert and Karl Oehlschläger in the assassination attempt of Philipp Scheidemann on June 4 1922. After he saw that the cyanide injection was not working, the assassination plan for Rathenau was changed.

Hermann Fischer (1896-1922)

It is not known when exactly Fischer joined the O.C. It is likely that the contact came about through his membership in the Ehrhardt Brigade. According to Ernst von Salomon, Fischer directed the operations of the O.C. in Saxony. He is said to have made weapon deliveries to Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia. On the occasion of the liberation of Ludwig Dithmar and Johann Boldt from the Naumburg / Saale prison, Fischer got to know his future fellow assassin Erwin Kern. Together with Kern and Salomon, Fischer formed an O.C. terrorist cell. According to statements made by Hamburg O.C. men, this cell was also responsible for an unexplained murder of the Jewish trader Sina Aronsfrau in Mannheim, who was found shot in May 1922.30

On June 24, 1922, Kern and Hermann Fischer killed Reich Foreign Minister Rathenau in the open rear of his car with a hand grenade and several shots from a submachine gun in Koenigsallee (Berlin-Grunewald). Ernst Werner Techow drove the car. According to a later interrogation of Karl Tillessen, the core political motive was to bring about a right-wing government by eliminating Rathenau, who had all the strings in his hand.31 In one of the largest manhunt operations that ever took place in Germany, the murderers were hunted down.32 After the attack, Kern and Fischer succeeded to flee and were sheltered by the O.C. sympathizer and castle tenant Hans Wilhelm Stein in Saaleck Castle (Saxony-Anhalt). Stein was a convicted impostor and recreational poet with anti-Semitic attitudes. In Munich, Stein tried to organize a getaway car and forged passports for the assassins.33 Two travellers from the opposite Rudelsburg discovered on July 16, 1922, light in Saaleck Castle, although the owner had announced that he was not present because of his journey. Two police officers found Fischer and Kern in the morning on July 17, 1922. When Fischer wanted to shoot at the officials, these opened fire immediately. During the exchange of fire, Kern was fatally hit by a police bullet behind a window; Fischer then committed suicide.34

After his death, Kern was temporarily one of the suspects for the unresolved murder of USPD politician Karl Gareis, who was shot in Munich on June 9, 1921.35 Corresponding references, which first appeared in 1929, are, however, incorrect, according to recent research.36

This photo shows the defendants in the Rathenau murder trial on October 13, 1922 (from left to right): Ernst von Salomon, Ernst Werner Techow, Karl Tillessen, Waldemar Niedrig, Friedrich Warnecke, Hans Gert Techow.

Ernst von Salomon (1902-1972)

Another accomplice in the Rathenau murder was the future writer Ernst von Salomon (1902-1972).

Already in 1918, in the age of 16, Ernst von Salomon had joined right-wing extremist groups.37 In December 1918, von Salomon volunteered to join the government-loyal troops of the Freikorps Maercker. With this militia he fought at the beginning of January 1919 during the Spartacus uprising in Berlin and in February 1919 took part in securing the Weimar National Assembly. He joined the Freikorps Bahrenfeld, founded in Hamburg in March 1919, which was transferred to the Reichswehr in June 1919. By way of the Hamburg Freikorps, Salomon came to join the Iron Division in the Baltic States, where he fought in Latvia under the Freikorps Captain Liebermann as a machine gunner, initially under the command of the Supreme Army Command, and later in the service of the provisional Latvian government of Ulmanis against the troops of revolutionary Russia.

After his return from the Baltic states Salomon joined he Ehrhardt Brigade, and took part in the March 1920 Kapp Putsch in Berlin. From May to June 1921, von Salomon fought with the Freikorps Wolf against insurgents in Upper Silesia. After the Ehrhardt Brigade was dissolved in 1920, Salomon became a member of the Frankfurt O.C. group under Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Von Solomon later described his O.C. membership in his controversial autobiographical work "The Questionnaire" (Der Fragebogen) from 1951, which became a bestseller.38

Von Solomon had been a close associate of the Duke of Coburg, Charles Edward, who, as a district chief, had been a key figure in the O.C. in his own right. According to Karina Urbach4 :

Carl Eduard became the district chief of this organization in Coburg and later for the whole of Thuringia. ... One of its hitmen was Ernst von Salomon who became Ehrhardt’s adjutant and the Duke’s new friend. Despite the age difference, they felt themselves kindred spirits. Like Coburg, Salomon had attended the military academy in Berlin Lichterfelde. He had only been 16 at the end of the war and since he had missed any combat, he was eager to make up for it. The Freikorps became his compensation. He fought first in Berlin, later in the Baltic and Upper Silesia. Salomon was always worried about his Jewish-sounding surname and made sure that his anti-Semitism was known. He later became a popular novelist writing rather distorted versions of the OC’s actions in the 1920s. Carl Eduard was enthusiastic about young Salomon and entrusted him with parts of his precious medal collection. Salomon’s assignment was to sell them secretly in Sweden. Such sales had become necessary to finance the growing operations of Organisation Consul. Sweden was ideal since Carl Eduard could use his good contacts to Swedish elite circles (he would later marry off one of his daughters into the Swedish royal family). Yet Sweden was only one part of the OC jigsaw; Captain Ehrhardt and Ernst von Salomon were active on a wider international stage. From spring 1921 onwards they were also involved in weapons’ deals with Hungary and Sinn Fein in Ireland. To finance the OC’s ‘political work’, meant financing political murders. Though he did not pull the trigger himself, Carl Eduard was helping to load the gun. In 1921 Organisation Consul killed the USPD-leader Karl Gareis in Munich. Since the USPD had played the decisive part in dispossessing Carl Eduard’s Gotha property, he must have seen this murder as a ‘fair’ retribution. A second ‘retribution’ came on 26 August 1921 when Finance Minister Matthias Erzberger was killed by OC members.

Hermann Fischer and Erwin Kern had carried out this assignment by throwing a grenade into Rathenau’s car that killed him instantly. Salomon and another accomplice had been their lookout men. Hermann Fischer’s family had lived in Coburg. Since Carl Eduard was the district chief of the Organisation Consul in Coburg, it is very likely that he knew Fischer. He certainly knew the lookout man Ernst von Salomon well. ... Hitler would later honour the Rathenau killers as his ‘vanguard fighters’. In 1922, Germany was still a democracy, though, and the authorities tried to unravel the OC conspiracy. In the end they only convicted some of the murderers’ accomplices. Salomon was one of them. He served five years ’imprisonment for the Rathenau murder and after his release in 1927 was immediately involved in another killing for which he was eventually pardoned by the new President of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg. The arrest and trial of his friend Salomon made Carl Eduard’s life momentarily problematic. His connections with the Organisation Consul became public and he received death threats.

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Successor organizations

During the investigation into the murder of Matthias Erzberger, the seat of the O. C. was dug up. On the basis of the Republic Protection Act (Republikschutzgesetz) passed on July 21, 1922, the O.C. was banned. But in fact, the O.C. reorganized quickly in the underground, and lived on in several successor organizations, continuing where O.C. left off. By 1924, almost 400 political opponents had been killed inright-wing extremist and National Socialist attacks by the O.C., the Viking League, the Black Reichswehr, the Sturmabteilung Rossbach, the Bavarian "Citizen Militias" (Einwohnerwehr) and their successor organizations.39 40

Nationalverband deutscher Soldaten

One of the O.C. successors, the "National Association of German Soldiers" (Nationalverband deutscher Soldaten), was founded just eleven days before O.C. was banned as a split-off from the "Association of national-minded soldiers" (Verein nationalgesinnter Soldaten, V. n. S.), which Ehrhardt's officers had tried to infiltrate, resulting in a rift between Ehrhardt and Erich Ludendorff. According to Gabriele Krüger10 :

... it was thought that within the larger framework of the V. n. S., which also included other military and Freikorps organizations, it would be possible to work towards the aspired patriotic goals, and to find in it a reservoir of men fit for military service in the event of new unrest. However, this attempt to infiltrate the V. n. S. through Ehrhardt officers failed because of the tensions within the association, which led to its split in the summer of 1922. The Ehrhardt supporters joined the "National Association of German Soldiers" newly founded on June 10, 1922, and remained hostile to the V. n. S., which showed more interest in personal networking than zest for action, which caused the split between Ehrhardt and Ludendorff that became significant in the Hitler putsch.

Neudeutscher Bund

In the absence of its leader, the O.C. already started to disintegrate before it was banned. Otto Pittinger, the leader of the moderate right-wing "Bavaria and Reich League" (Bund Bayern und Reich), took the opportunity and tried to win the Ehrhardt Group over and de-radicalize it. This is how the so-called "New German League" (Neudeutscher Bund) came into being, which tried to bundle the old fighters of the Ehrhardt Brigade.

According to the Historical Encyclopedia of Bavaria14 :

At the same time, the Offenburg public prosecutor's office was preparing to bring charges against the military head of the Organization Consul, Manfred von Killinger (1886-1944), and other members of the Munich headquarters for murder and conspiracy, the "New German Confederation" (Neudeutscher Bund) was founded in Munich as a legal successor organization. It was supposed to advance Ehrhardt's efforts to infiltrate other paramilitary groups of the German right and to gather them under his leadership, and relied in particular on the Association of Nationally Minded Soldiers (Verband national gesinnter Soldaten). A specially founded magazine, Wiking, served as the public mouthpiece of the renewed Organization Consul. At the same time, an internal political "intelligence service" was set up, which saw itself as a secret substitute for Abwehr, banned by the Allies, and successfully tried to establish links with the Reichswehr.

Hermann Ehrhardt's journal "Der Wiking" was published in Munich from June 1921 onwards on an irregular basis (interrupted by bans) presumably until mid-1921. Issue 1 of 1921. (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 4 Eph.pol. 101 y-1921/22)

Bund Wiking (1923-1928)

Ehrhardt himself, returning from exile, also joined the regroupment efforts, but was finally arrested in November 1922. From prison, Ehrhardt instructed the loyal lieutenant captain Eberhard Kautter to reorganize the "New German League." After the reform it became the "Viking League" (Bund Wiking), founded on May 2, 1923,41 which operated throughout the empire and, according to its own information, had around 10,000 members. Charles Edward of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha became once more a sponsor and valued member, and his son Johann Leopold (1906-1972) also joined.4

The League took part in the preparations for the overthrow of the Weimar government and carried out intensive military training. The declared aim of the League was the establishment of a military dictatorship and the revision of the Versailles Treaty, if necessary by way of a military coup. The young members were grouped together in the Jungwiking. Numerous leaders from other organizations, such as Stahlhelm and Wehrwolf, were represented in the Viking League, who in turn tried to keep these associations “in line.” For example, a member of the Viking League was the later National Socialist Reich health leader Leonardo Conti, who as early as 1918 had founded the anti-Semitic group of fighters "German People's League" (Deutscher Volksbund).42 The young Horst Wessel joined the group in late 1923.43 The Viking League was also affiliated with the "Olympia Sports Association" (Sportverein Olympia).44

In July 1923 Ehrhardt fled from custody to Switzerland, and returned to Bavaria on September 29, 1923. Having the support of the conservative group around General State Commissioner of Bavaria, Gustav Ritter von Kahr, Ehrhardt could go about his business with impunity. Around October 1923, when Germany was swept by yet another revolutionary wave (Hamburg Uprising etc.), Ehrhardt pulled his troops together in Coburg, Charles Edward's domain. According to Karina Urbach4 :

At this point, the radical right and the radical left came to the same conclusion. The Weimar government was about to collapse and it was time for a revolution. In Saxony and Thuringia the communists tried to trigger a ‘German October’—based on the Russian October Revolution. The radical right was more than ready for this and planning its own coup. Captain Ehrhardt was in Coburg at the time with 5,000 followers ready to march into Thuringia. With him was Carl Eduard’s eldest son Johann Leopold (Leo). The proud father reported back to Britain that his son was involved in the fight: "Leo is now back after playing at being a soldier at the Thuringian frontier. He was enrolled as volunteer in the Ehrhardt Brigade and his section had a brush with Thuringian constabulary, killing one and wounding two severely, our loss being only one badly wounded. ... So you see we were quite warlike here. The life at the frontier and the drilling has done a lot of good to Leo and made him more manly, which was most necessary." Johann Leopold (Leo) was 17 at the time and a member of the Bund Wiking which was financed by his father.

Thus, when the Hitler-Ludendorff putsch was in the making, this crossed the Viking League leaders' own coup plans, which they had hatched together with Gustav Ritter von Kahr. To that end, they intended to stir up workers by way of targeted provocation, so that they would act out, which should then provide the pretext for a coup. According to Karina Urbach4 :

In fact he [Charles Edward] and Ehrhardt had planned their own coup and Hitler’s doomed ‘solo-trip’ had upset their plans. Ehrhardt had met Gustav von Kahr, the new Bavarian state commissioner with dictatorial powers, on 6 November 1923. Kahr had told him that if there was not a parliamentary way of getting a right wing nationalist government into power in Berlin, they should think of ‘other ways’ to achieve this. He would give Ehrhardt a signal when the time was ripe. Ehrhardt had already been instructed by Kahr to organize his troops accordingly. When the Hitler putsch broke out three days later, Ehrhardt’s troops sided with Kahr against Hitler. Later Ehrhardt admitted that he himself had hoped to become the leader of the radical right instead of Hitler. That Coburg was fully supporting Ehrhardt’s plans of a putsch to achieve this becomes clear from a letter he wrote to his sister by the end of November ...

Subsequently, Ehrhardt continued with his own coup plans, but the preparations for the coup became known, and the League was banned in Prussia and other states in 1926. After the dissolution of the League at the end of April 1928, many members continued their activities in related organizations, such as the Stahlhelm or the SA.


Ehrhardt had contact with Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist movement at an early stage. When Ernst Röhm set up his Sturmabteilung ("Storm Department," Brownshirts, SA) looking for experienced men who could lead the new association, he turned to Ehrhardt. However, Ehrhardt initially wanted nothing to do with Hitler and scolded: “God, what does the idiot want again?”45 In the end, however, he was persuaded by Röhm and handed several of his men over to Hitler.

O.C. Lieutenant Hans Ulrich Klintzsch (1898-1959) took over the SA leadership of the former "gymnastics and sports department of the NSDAP" from November 1921 until May 1923. When Hermann Göring became leader of the SA in May 1923, Ehrhardt's former deputy Alfred Hoffmann eventually became his chief of staff.46 Ehrhardt, who sent Hoffmann to the SA on full pay, was very disappointed when Hoffmann then renounced the O.C. and the Bund Wiking to serve Göring and the NSDAP, and thus broke with Hoffmann. Just two months later, with the Hitler-Ludendorff putsch in the pipeline, Ehrhardt ended his connection with the Hitler movement and the SA and also withdrew some of his men.45 Around that time Hermann Göring wrote that the Viking League had "declared war against the party and the SA."47

Nonetheless, many former O.C. figures would later play a role in the Third Reich. Charles Edward joined the Nazi Party as well as the Sturmabteilung, in which he reached the position of Obergruppenführer.3 The former O.C. members Julius Schreck and Joseph Berchtold later became bodyguards of Adolf Hitler. O.C. members went on to serve in the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) and were hailed as "heroes of the national resistance" under the Nazi regime,1 although the O. C. had actually been in competition with the NSDAP. Ehrhardt had clashed several times with Adolf Hitler in Munich in the 1920s, whom he accused of breaking his word, among other things. In 1934, Ehrhardt was on the list of people to be killed by the Nazi party during the Night of the Long Knives purge, but he escaped, and was later invited back to Nazi Germany.48

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz, one of the regional leaders of the O. C., was part of the military resistance of 1938. It was intended that he should arrest Hitler in a planned putsch and, if necessary, kill him. In the Federal Republic of Germany, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz was then the head of the Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz service.


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