From the years 1924-25 until the legislative elections which, in short, would propel the National Socialist party into the first rank, nationalist militancy was principally represented in Germany by the paramilitary groups (Wehrverbände), the heirs of the Freikorps, and the youth leagues (Bünde). Due to the economic crisis, the most radical elements of these groups and leagues would evolve towards revolutionary national socialism (the Strasser tendency) or National Bolshevism while others (that is to say the majority of the league members and leaders) would seek an accommodation with the system for a time and rally to new parties, like the German State Party (arising from the merger of the Democratic Party and the Young German Order of Artur Mahraun) and the Conservative People’s Party (formed by the Social Christians and elements coming from the extreme right DNVP), trying in vain, to make them instruments of German revival.
The members of the youth leagues were inflamed with passion for “Bündisch socialism,” a variant of the “German socialism” to which numerous socio-professional milieus and political groups in Weimar Germany rallied. “Bündisch socialism” was very close to the “soldierly socialism” professed by their elders in the paramilitary groups. In both cases, the accent of this socialism was put on the group, not only on the Bund or the militarized group, but also the Volksgemeinschaft (the Community of the People) served by Bund or group, into which it was integrated. While the “soldierly socialism” of the elders was based on the experience of the war and the comradeship of the front, the “Bündisch socialism” of the youth rested on the experiences of hikes throughout Germany, the contact with the German people, and the communitarian experience of the Bund, the comradeship experienced within the Bund. With the crisis and the increasing radicalization of the youth leagues, “Bündisch socialism” became more concrete and transformed into a national-revolutionary socialism favorable to the total or partial nationalization of the means of production, a planned economy, and German or Central European autarky.
The Hitlerian Challenge
After Hitler’s accession to power, the principal youth leagues (except the “Mendicants”, the most moderate, notably the important Deutsche Freischar) united in March 1933 into the Grossdeutsche Jugendbund under the sponsorship of Admiral von Trotha, a close associate of Reich President Hindenburg. Thus they hoped to escape the “synchronization” (Gleichschaltung), meaning dissolution and the integration of their members into the Hitler Youth. On their side, the “hardest” leagues, the most Völkisch (for which Volk was often synonymous with Rasse) and the most critical regarding Hitlerism at the same time (they judged it from a revolutionary national socialist or National Bolshevik point of view) regrouped into a Bündische Front für Wehr-, Arbeits- und Grenzdienst ( Bündische Front for the service of defense, labor, and border security), under the presidency of a “Trotskyite of National Socialism,” Dr Kleo Pleyer.
The youth leagues were, despite their desperate efforts, dissolved during the summer of 1933. Their members then entered into the Hitler Youth and especially in the cadre of the Deutsche Jungvolk (which gathered the youngest elements of the Hitler Youth) in order to continue their activities and promote the Bündisch spirit there. The others, older, (the associates of Friedrich Hielscher) entered into the SS and the Ahnenerbe (“Heritage of the Ancestors”, the sector of the SS specializing in scientific research, particularly historical and prehistoric research). Yet others (the Strasserists under the direction of Heinz Gruber) chose to enter into the Labor Front in order to accentuate its socialist orientation. Finally, Dr. Werner Haverbeck tried to regroup the youth of Bündisch spirit into an organization, Reichsbund Volkstum und Heimat, a satellite association KdF (Kraft durch Freude, “Strength Through Joy”) – this organization would soon count nearly a million members.
The Repression Begins
But under the notable pressure of Baldur von Schirach, leader of the Hitler Youth, who feared seeing his authority over the German youth contested, repression struck the former Bündisch leader from 1934 onward: some were excluded from the Hitler Jugend [Werner Lass, founder and leader of the “Freischar Schill” and the secret organization of the Eidgenoßen (Confederates)], others were arrested [Heinz Gruber, founder and leader of the Schwarze Jungmannschaft, the social-revolutionary dissidence from the Hitler Youth, which became part of Otto Strasser’s Black Front; Robert Oelbermann, founder and leader of the Nerother Wandervogel] or forced into exile [Eberhard Köbel, nicknamed “tusk”, founder and leader of the “Deutsche Jungenschaft vom 1.11.1929”, dissident movement from the important Deutsche Freischar; Fritz Borinski, social democrat and one of the leaders of the Deutsche Freischar; Hans Ebeling, founder and leader of the Jungnationaler Bund, deutsche Jungenschaft; Karl-Otto Paetel, founder and leader of the Gruppe Sozialrevolutionärer Nationalisten], others were ultimately assassinated [Karl Lämmermann, one of the leaders of the Deutsche Freischar, assassinated during the Night of the Long Knives]. Haverback’s Reichsbund was dissolved.
Despite four successive bans (in 1933, 1934, February 6th 1936, and May 13th 1937) and the mandatory incorporation of the German youth into the Hitler Youth, mandated in 1936, and applied in practice in 1939, certain leagues would continue their activities in Germany clandestinely and illegally. That was the case of:
1) The “Deutsche Jungenschaft vom 1.11.1929”, founded by “tusk”, the alias of Eberhard Köbel, in 1931, in liaison with the exiled Karl-Otto Paetel and Otto Strasser (Helmut Hirsch, member of the “d.j. 1.11” and correspondent of Strasser, condemned to death on June 4th 1937, would be hanged at Plötzensee).
2) The Nerother Wandervogel
3) The Jungnationaler-Bund, deutsche Jungenschaft, dismantled in 1937, whose leaders would be heavily condemned during the trial in Essen.
If certain leagues could survive clandestinely, with limited effective membership, new groups appeared, bands of adolescents who refused integration into the Hitler Youth and the militarization of the youth. Some of these bands imitated Western fashions and prefigured the postwar groups, others professed a moralizing Christianity and constituted the continuation of the Christian youth organizations, yet others renewed the romantic ideal of the Wandervögel. Among these new groups, the most well known was, without contest, Die Weisse Rose, in which some of the oldest belonged to youth leagues.
The Bündisch youth, and their imitators, were not the only ones to resist Hitlerian “Fascism”: we must also mention the young communists in the labor milieu and the young Catholics in the Rhineland and Bavaria. While the first relied on the clandestine infrastructure of the German Communist Party, the second sheltered themselves behind the Concordat signed between Hitler and the Pope in 1933.
The Bündisch Ideal in Exile
The Bündisch ideal, progressively smothered in Germany, was maintained abroad in exile. Otto Strasser sparked the creation of a Ring bündischer Jugend, which was integrated into his Deutsche Front gegen das Hitlersystem (German Front against the Hitlerian System). An anti-fascist magazine, controlled by the communists, emerged in Paris under the title Freie deutsche Jugend (this phrase denoted a faction of the independent youth movement between 1913 and 1923 and would denote the East German youth organization after the Second World War). Karl-Otto Paetel edited in Stockholm, then in Brussels and finally in Paris, the Schriften der jungen Nation and the Blätter des sozialistischen Nation (disseminated in Germany by the Siliava sisters, members of the “Deutsche Jungenschaft vom 1.11.1929” in Berlin). Finally in 1935, Hans Ebeling and Theo Hespers would establish the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bündischer Jugend in Belgium, which Paetel and Tusk joined, which would give rise to the Deutsche Jugendfront. This youth front was linked to Dutch, Belgian, and British groups. It was born from the desire to regroup the entire German youth opposition. But this attempt failed due to communist maneuvers and these young resistants’ lack of cohesion. Ebeling and Hespers, who were not discouraged, then published the magazine Kameradschaft (Comradeship) from 1937 to 1940.
Hans Ebeling and Theo Hespers
Ebeling and Hespers’ magazine Kameradschaft dreamed of uniting all the youth animated by the Bündisch ideal beyond the conventional political divides. Their will to struggle against the uniformity of organization introduced by the NSDAP preceded from a desire to exclude no Volksgenosse [member of the folk] from the future community being constructed. In light of the passions that animated the political scene of the era, this project and this hope was utopian, which the communists perfectly perceived. A heavy suspicion of treason would weigh on their leaders, in contact with people who actually plotted against Germany for the benefit of foreign services. The poor Hespers would pay dearly for his idealistic commitment: he would be hanged at Berlin-Plötzensee.
The magazine Kameradschaft constitutes an important testimony to the resistance of the Bündisch youth to the Hitlerian state and to its social and political project against Fascism. This German language magazine, edited in Belgium, was clandestinely disseminated in Germany. Its founders, Hans Ebeling and Theo Hespers, were both former youth league leaders in exile. The first, born in 1897 in Krefeld, had taken part in the First World War (he finished it with the rank of lieutenant), the combat of 1920 (in the Rhineland) in the ranks of the provisional Reichswehr and the resistance against the French occupation troops in the Ruhr. He joined the Jungnationaler Bund shortly after, from which he separated in 1924 to found the more activist and more radical Jungnationaler Bund, deutsche Jungenschaft, which evolved towards National Bolshevism. Starting from the end of 1929 until January 1933, Ebeling directed, with Professor Lenz, the magazine Der Vorkämpfer.
In the company of other Bündisch leaders (notably Werners Lass and Karl-Otto Paetel) Hans Ebeling participated in international meetings in Freusburg (August 1927) and in Ommen in Holland (August 1928), destined to prepare the foundation for a global league for peace. These international meetings, during which the young Bündisch leaders established contacts with the representatives of the extreme left and the colonized peoples, accelerated the radicalization of the youth leagues (note that Ebeling, Lass, and Paetel, who participated in them, consequently became figures of National Bolshevism) and would inspire Ebeling to found, with Prof. Lenz, a few months later, in January 1930, the magazine Vorkämpfer, with a ultra-nationalist, anti-capitalist (Vorkämpfer adopted elements of Marxist analysis) and anti-imperialist (and pro-Soviet) orientation.
Theo Hespers, born in 1903, joined the Catholic youth organization Quickborn at the age of 14, to which he belonged until 1927. He also participated in the passive resistance against the Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr. He then joined the Vitus-Heller-Bewegung and directed the Pfadfinderschaft Westmark, which constituted, with Ebeling’s league, Werner Lass’ Freischar Schill, and the Young Prussian League of Jupp Hoven, the “Combat Committee of the National Revolutionary Groups in the Western March” in the Rhineland.
The Vitus Heller movement to which Theo Hespers belonged was the only Christian National Bolshevik movement (the other movements of this type affected indifference to religious matters, even an aggressive atheism, or spoke in favor of a Germanic neopaganism) and actually implanted itself in the Catholic milieu (National Bolshevism was, as L. Dupeux demonstrated, a very majority “Protestant” phenomenon – unsurprising since National Bolshevism attached itself to the German protestant tradition of Arminius, Widukind, and Luther – which did not prevent the Catholic Rhineland, a frontier region receptive to German nationalist theses, from being, with Berlin and Franconia, one of the strongholds of National-Bolshevism).
The Bund, Alternative to the Parties and the Single Party
Kameradschaft wanted to be the tribune of the young opponents of Hitlerism. The Young Nationalists, Young Socialists, Young Catholics, and Young Protestants who expressed themselves in Kameradschaft affirmed themselves as Bündisch, völkisch and great German nationalists, Christians, Democrats, and Socialists at the same time.
For them, the Bund constituted a political mode, the model of a “German democracy,” founded on the Führer / Gefolgschaft pair (the charismatic Führer, in the service of the idea, freely chosen and subjected to the permanent approbation of the group, was only a first among equals here). They contrasted the Bund to the bankrupt parties of the Weimar democracy and the single party of the Hitlerian dictatorship. The Bund was also a social model founded upon comradeship (Kameradschaft) – contrasted to Hitlerian Schadenfreude – and a model of individual integration and socialization based on enthusiasm; a model of political education and even a model of the revolutionary community of combat formed by the activist German youth, enemy of Weimar and then Hitlerism.
For the collaborators of Kameradschaft, who particularly insisted on the role played by the Bund in the matter of political education and for whom the Bündisch man was the political man par excellence, entirely devoted to the service of the state and the people, the Hitlerian state appeared as a dictatorship of apolitical petty bourgeois elements (associated with a politicized Reichswehr but avoiding all political responsibility). Under the Third Reich, the political, indeed physical liquidation, of nationalist activism considered dangerous by the new masters of Germany (paramilitary groups and youth leagues) seems revelatory in this regard. Kameradschaft devoted two large articles to the judicial proceedings against the Jungnationaler Bund, deutsche Jungenschaft, and against Niekisch and the “ Eberhard comradeships.”
The völkisch nationalists took up the defense of the Volk and the Volkstum but refused the “neo-German imperialism” of the Hitlerians. In the spirit of the collaborators of Kameradschaft, völkisch nationalism attached itself to the defense of the independence and Volkstum of all peoples. They also took up the defense of the Volksgenossen, against the continuing capitalist exploitation and against the arbitrariness of the Hitlerian state; they advocated the constitution of a true Volksgemeinschaft (community of the people) unrelated to the so-called Volksgemeinschaft, product of the police state and Hitlerian mass politics; in their eyes the constitution of this “true” Volksgemeinschaft constituted a new socio-economic order (socialists), which would put an end to the class order arising from capitalism, and a spiritual reorientation (völkisch) with a Christian essence, which would combat the materialist disarray of the epoch. The “revolutionary national socialists” of Otto Strasser and the “social-revolutionary nationalists” of K.O. Paetel defended the same point of view (with the nuance that the spiritual reorientation envisioned by Paetel and his friends would be most German pagan than Christian).
Like Otto Strasser, they contrasted the greater German tradition, based on the refusal of the Austro-Prussian dualism, in which they situated themselves, to Pan-Germanism. They rejected the capitalist economy founded on profit as well as the war economy and “bureaucratic anarchy” (of Hitlerian Germany realized the symbiosis), to which they substituted a Plan (a German, then European Plan). They prefigured, in the framework of this plan, an economy destined to satisfy the needs of the people, the nationalization of key industries which would break the power of big capital, and the sharing of large landed properties, and finally the constitution of cooperatives in all domains of economic activity.
In fact, the editorship of Kameradschaft posed as the heir of two traditions:
1) The Libertarian Tradition of the Wandervogel
The tradition of the independent youth movement, notably the Free German Youth emerging during the meeting at Hohe Meißner in 1913. Against the paternal / paternalist world (Väterwelt), the youth movement affirmed its fidelity to the forefathers, the ancestors (Vorväter). Against the tutelage of institutions (school, church, family) and bourgeois society, they claimed independence and chose young leaders for themselves. Against the Wilhelmine state and bourgeois chauvinism, they affirmed their love for the Volk and their allegiance to the Volk. Against the big city, the movement proposed the Wandern, hiking across the German countryside (“the deep Germany”) in contact with the authentic German Volk. Against revealed religion, they encouraged Germanic religiosity. Against the use of tobacco and condemning alcoholism, against physical degeneration, they exalted physical strength and Nordic beauty (depicted by the artist Fidus), and practiced gymnastics and nudism.
Finally, after the test of the Great War, the youth movement lead to the emergence of youth leagues in 1924-25 arising from the merger of the dissident scout groups and the Wandervögel.
2) The “Freikorps” Tradition
The tradition of the Freikorps, which had formed the provisional Reichswehr in 1919 before becoming enemies of the Reichswehr issuing from the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles (which had reestablished the aristocratic traditions of the Imperial Army, thus putting an end to the democratization of the army, and notably the officers corps, provoked by the Great War and its consequences), and the tradition of the national-revolutionary paramilitary groups that succeeded the Freikorps, who attacked the reaction embodied by the industrialists and planters, the generals of the Reichswehr and the right wing politicians.
Despite the originality of the Hitlerian phenomenon and the originality of the magazine’s interpretation of it (an interpretation which approached the ‘theory of totalitarianism’ in certain regards), Kameradschaft reprised certain critiques against Hitlerism that had been formulated beforehand by its predecessors in the youth movement regarding Wilhelminism, and by its predecessors in the Freikorps or paramilitary groups regarding Weimar and reaction (notably the Reichswehr associated with Hitlerian power) in the Weimar era.
Links between the Bündische in exile with the French “Non-Conformists” and “Planistes”
Beyond the bond of evident shared lineage between the German Youth, the Freikorps and paramilitary groups, and Kameradschaft, one notes an astonishing relation between the ideas of the Bündisch youth, as expressed in Kameradschaft, and those of the young French Non-Conformists of the 1930s who adhered to patriotic, federalist, personalist, communitarian, planist, corporatist or syndicalist watchwords.
Contacts existed between the representatives of the German youth leagues and the French Non-Conformist groups: thus Harro Schulze-Boysen (veteran militant of the Young German Order, who would later play a first rank role in the Red Orchestra, and director of Planer, the German equivalent of the French magazine Plans, directed by Philippe Lamour), was, with Otto Abetz, one of the German delegates to the Front unique de la Jeunesse Européenne, created on the initiative of the French groups Plans and Ordre Nouveau. Consequently, Ordre Nouveau entertained close contacts with Otto Strasser, the group formed around the magazine Die Tat, and especially the magazine Der Gegner (The Adversary) – to which Louis Dupeux devoted a chapter of his thesis on National-Bolshevism – directed by Harro Schulze-Boysen and Fred Schmid, founder and leader of the Grey Corps league, a split from Deutsche Freischar.
But personal contacts alone cannot explain such a convergence: what linked the best elements of the German and French youth was a common refusal of liberalism and totalitarianism, from which they emerged, and a common aspiration to a spiritual (or if one prefers: cultural), political, and socioeconomic revolution.