Kurt von Schleicher (, 7 April 1882 30 June 1934) was a German general and the last Chancellor of Germany during the era of the Weimar Republic. Seventeen months after his resignation, he was assassinated by order of his successor, Adolf Hitler, in the Night of the Long Knives.
Schleicher was born in Brandenburg an der Havel, the son of a Prussian officer and a shipowner s daughter. He entered the German Army in 1900 as a Leutnant after graduating from a cadet training school. In his early years, Schleicher made two friendships which later were to play an important role in his life. As a cadet, Schleicher befriended Franz von Papen, and later on as an officer in the Third Guards Regiment, he befriended Oskar von Hindenburg. During World War I, he served on the staff of Wilhelm Groener, who became Schleicher s patron. In December 1918, Schleicher delivered an ultimatum to Friedrich Ebert on behalf of Paul von Hindenburg demanding that the German provisional government either allow the Army to crush the Spartacus League or the Army would do that task themselves. During the ensuing talks with the German cabinet, Schleicher was able to get permission to allow the Army to return to Berlin. On December 23, 1918, a group of Red sailors seemed set to storm and take over the Provisional government when the sailors cut all telephone lines from the Chancellor s office to the War Ministry except for a secret one. When Ebert used the secret line to call the War Ministry, it was Schleicher who took the call. In exchange for agreeing to send help to the government, Schleicher was able to secure Ebert s assent to the Army being allowed to maintain its political autonomy. When Gustav Noske was appointed Defence Minister on December 27, 1918, both Groener and his prot g Schleicher established excellent working relations with the new minister. To deal with the problem of the lack of loyal troops, Schleicher helped to found the Freikorps in early January 1919.
Army service after World War I
General von Schleicher in uniform, 1932
In the early 1920s, Schleicher had emerged as a leading prot g of General Hans von Seeckt, who often gave Schleicher sensitive assignments. In the spring of 1921, Seeckt created a secret group within the Reichswehr known as Sondergruppe R whose task was to work with the Red Army in their common struggle against the international system established by the Treaty of Versailles. Schleicher was a leading member of Sondergruppe R, and it was he who worked out the arrangements with Leonid Krasin for German aid to the Soviet arms industry. In September 1921, at a secret meeting in Schleicher s apartment, the details of an arrangement were reached in which German financial and technological aid for building the Soviet arms industry were exchanged for Soviet support in helping Germany circumvent the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. Schleicher created several dummy corporations, most notably the GEFU (Gesellschaft zur F rderung gewerblicher Unternehmungen-Company for the promotion of industrial enterprise) that funnelled 75 million Reichmarks into the Soviet arms industry. The GEFU founded factories in the Soviet Union for the production of aircraft, tanks, artillery shells and poison gas. The arms contracts of GEFU in the Soviet Union ensured that Germany did not fall behind in military technology in the 1920s despite being disarmed by Versailles, and laid the covert foundations in the 1920s for the overt rearmament of the 1930s.
At the same time, a team from Sondergruppe R comprising Schleicher, Eugen Ott, Fedor von Bock and Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord formed the liaison with Major Bruno Ernst Buchrucker, who led the so-called Arbeits-Kommandos (Work Commandos), which officially was a labor group intended to assist with civilian projects, but in reality were thinly disguised soldiers that allowed Germany to exceed the limits on troop strength set by Versailles. Buchrucker s so-called "Black Reichswehr" became infamous for its practice of murdering all those Germans whom it was suspected were working as informers for the Allied Control Commission, which was responsible for ensuring that Germany was in compliance with Part V of the Treaty of Versailles. The killings perpetrated by the "Black Reichswehr were justifed under the so-called Femegerichte (secret court) system in which alleged traitors were killed after being "convicted" in secret "trials" that the victim was unaware of. These killings were ordered by officers from Sondergruppe R as the best way to neutralize the efforts of the Allied Control Commission. Regarding the Femegerichte murders, Carl von Ossietzky wrote:
"Lieutenant Schulz (charged with the murder of informers against the "Black Reichswehr") did nothing but carry out the orders given him, and that certainly Colonel von Bock, and probably Colonel von Schleicher and General Seeckt, should be sitting in the dock beside him".
Several times Schleicher perjured himself in court when he denied that the Reichswehr had anything to do with the "Black Reichswehr" or the murders they had committed. In a secret letter sent to the President of the German Supreme Court, which was trying a member of the Black Reichswehr for murder, Seeckt admitted that the Black Reichswehr was controlled by the Reichswehr, and claimed that the murders were justified by the struggle against Versailles, so the court should acquit the defendant. Following the hyper-inflation that destroyed the German economy in 1923, between September 1923-February 1924 the Reichswehr took over much of the administration of the country, a task that Schleicher played a prominent role in, and which left him with a taste for power. Though Seeckt disliked Schleicher, he appreciated his political finesse and came to increasingly assign Schleicher tasks dealing with politicians
Despite Seeckt s patronage, it was Schleicher who brought about his downfall in 1926 by leaking that Seeckt had invited the former Crown Prince to attend military manoeuvres. After Seeckt s fall, Schleicher became, in the words of Andreas Hillgruber "in fact, if not in name", the "military-political head of the Reichswehr". Schleicher s triumph was also the triumph of the "modern" faction within the Reichswehr who favored a total war ideology and wanted Germany to become a dicatorship that would wage total war upon the other nations of Europe.
During the 1920s, he moved up steadily in the Reichswehr, the German army, becoming the primary liaison between the Army and civilian government officials. He generally preferred to operate behind the scenes, planting stories in friendly newspapers and relying on a casual network of informers to find out what other government departments were planning. The appointment of Groener as Defence Minister in January 1928 did much to advance Schleicher s career. Groener, who regarded Schleicher as his "adopted son", openly favored Schleicher and created the Ministeramt (Office of the Ministerial Affairs) in 1928 just for him. The new office concerned all matters relating to joint concerns of the Army and Navy, and was tasked with the liaison between the military and other departments and between the military and politicians. Groener called Schleicher "my cardinal in politics" and came to depend more and more on Schleicher to get favorable military budgets passed. Schleicher justified Groener s confidence by getting the naval budget for 1929 passed despite the opposition of the anti-militarist Social Democrats, who formed the largest party in the Reichstag at the time. Schleicher prepared Groener s statements to the Cabinet and attended Cabinet meetings on a regular basis. Above all, Schleicher won the right to brief President Hindenburg on both political and military matters.
In late 1926-early 1927, Schleicher told Hindenburg that if it was impossible to form a government headed by the German National People s Party alone, then Hindenburg should "appoint a government in which he had confidence, without consulting the parties or paying attention to their wishes" and with "the order for dissolution ready to hand, give the government every constitutional opportunity to a majority in Parliament". This was the origin of the "presidential governments". Together with Major Oskar von Hindenburg, Otto Mei ner, and General Wilhelm Groener, Schleicher was a leading member of the Kamarilla that surrounded President von Hindenburg. It was Schleicher who came up with the idea of a presidential government based on the so-called "25/48/53 formula". Under a presidential government, the head of government (in this case, the chancellor), is responsible to the head of state (president), and not to a legislative body. The "25/48/53 formula" referred to the three articles of the Constitution that could make a presidential government possible:
- Article 25 allowed the President to dissolve the Reichstag.
Article 48 allowed the President to sign into law emergency bills without the consent of the Reichstag. However, the Reichstag could cancel any law passed by Article 48 by a simple majority within 60 days of its passage.
- Article 53 allowed the President to appoint the Chancellor.
Schleicher s idea was to have Hindenburg use his powers under Article 53 to appoint a man of Schleicher s choosing as chancellor, who would rule under the provisions of Article 48. Should the Reichstag threaten to annul any laws so passed, Hindenburg could counter with the threat of dissolution. Hindenburg was unenthusiastic about these plans, but was pressured into going along with them by his son along with Mei ner, Groener and Schleicher. During the course of the winter of 1929-30, Schleicher, through various intrigues, undermined the "Grand Coalition" government of Hermann M ller with the support of Groener and Hindenburg. In March 1930, M ller s government fell and the first presidential government headed by Heinrich Br ning came into office.
Social function of Army
Although essentially a Prussian authoritarian in his views on order, discipline and the so-called decadence of the Weimar era, Schleicher also believed that the Army had a social function; that of an institution unifying the diverse elements in society. Interestingly, he was also opposed to policies such as Eastern Aid (Osthilfe) for the bankrupt East Elbian estates of his fellow Junkers. In economic policy, therefore, he was a relative moderate. By 1931, Germany s restrictions of experienced military reserves were coming to an end owing to Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, which had forbade conscription Schleicher worried that unless Germany brought back conscription soon, the military basis of German power would be destroyed forever. For this reason, Schleicher and the rest of the Reichswehr leadership were determined that Germany must put an end to Versailles in the near-future. In the meantime, they saw the SA and other right-wing paramilitary groups as the best substitute for conscription. With that goal in mind, Schleicher opened secret talks with the SA in 1931. Like the rest of the Reichswehr leadership, Schleicher saw democracy as an impediment to military power, and was convinced that only a dictatorship could make Germany a great military power again. Though Schleicher sometimes claimed to be a monarchist, in reality he cared nothing for the House of Hohenzollern, and often stated: "Republic or monarchy is not the question now, but rather what should the republic look like". He was willing to accept a republic, but was deeply hostile toward the democratic Weimar republic, and much preferred a regime dominated by the military. The German historian Eberhard Kolb wrote that:
...from the mid-1920s onwards the Army leaders had developed and propagated new social conceptions of a militarist kind, tending towards a fusion of the military and civilian sectors and ultimately a totalitarian military state (Wehrstaat) .
It was Schleicher s dream to create that Wehrstaat (Military State), in which the military would reorganize German society as part of the preparations for the total war that the Reichswehr wished to wage.
Schleicher became a major figure behind the scenes in the presidential cabinet government of Heinrich Br ning between 1930 and 1932, serving as an aide to General Groener, the Minister of Defence. Eventually, Schleicher, who established a close relationship with Reichspr sident (Reich President) Paul von Hindenburg, came into conflict with Br ning and Groener and his intrigues were largely responsible for their fall in May 1932.
Presidential election of 1932
During the presidential election of 1932, Schleicher grew annoyed when the SPD started to proclaim themselves as allies of the government against the Nazis. In a March 15, 1932 memo to Groener, Schleicher wrote in reference to the date of the presidential election:
"I am really looking forward to 11 April-then it will be possible to talk to this lying brood with no holds barred...After the events of the last few days, I am really glad that there is a counterweight [to the Social Democrats] in the form of the Nazis, who are not very decent chaps either and must be stomached with the greatest caution. If they did not exist, we should virtually have to invent them".
Through his secret contacts with various Nazi leaders, Schleicher planned to secure Nazi support for a new right-wing presidential government of his creation, thereby destroying German democracy. Schleicher believed that once democracy was abolished, he could in turn destroy the Nazis by exploiting feuds between various Nazi leaders and by incorporating the SA into the Reichswehr. Reflecting Schleicher s reputation for deviousness and being untrustworthy, Hermann G ring joked in 1932:
"Any Chancellor who has Herr von Schleicher on his side must expect sooner or later to be sunk by the Schleicher torpedo, there was a joke current in political circles-"General von Schleicher ought really to have been an Admiral for his military genius lies in shooting under water at his political friends"".
During this period, Schleicher became increasingly convinced that the solution to all of Germany s problems was a "strong man" and that he was that strong man. The British historian Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, who knew Schleicher well, remembered hearing Schleicher proclaim during a dinner in a posh restaurant in Berlin in the spring of 1932 that "What Germany needs today is a strong man" while tapping himself on the chest.
Schleicher told Hindenburg that his gruelling re-election campaign was the fault of Br ning. Schleicher claimed that Br ning could have had Hindenburg s term extended by the Reichstag, but chose not to in order to humiliate Hindenburg by making him appear on the same stage as Social Democratic leaders. When in early April 1932, Br ning and Groner decided to have the SA banned following complaints from Prussia and other Lander governments, Schleicher was at first supportive, but soon changed his mind and argued against a ban. Both Schleicher and his close friend, General Kurt von Hammerstein repeatedly contended to Groener that the Reichswehr leadership did not see the banning of the SA in the best interests of the Reich
In April 1932, Br ning banned the SA and the SS. On April 16th, Groener received an angry letter from Hindenburg demanding to know why the Reichsbanner, the paramilitary wing of the Social Democrats had not also been banned. This was especially the case as Hindenburg said he had solid evidence that the Reichsbanner was planning a coup. The same letter from the President was leaked and appeared that day in all the right-wing German newspapers. Groener discovered that Eugen Ott, a close prot g of Schleicher, had leaked the Social Democratic putsch allegations, as well as the letter. The British historian John Wheeler-Bennett wrote that the evidence for a SPD putsch was "flimsy" at best, and this was just Schleicher s way of discrediting Groener in Hindenburg s eyes. Groener s friends told him that it was impossible that Ott would fabricate allegations of that sort or leak the President s letter on his own, and that he should sack Schleicher at once. Groener, however, refused to believe that his old friend had turned on him, and refused to fire Schleicher.
Rumors about Groener
At the same time, Schleicher started rumors that Groener was a secret Social Democrat, and made much of the fact that Groener s daughter was born less than nine months after his marriage. On April 22, 1932, during a secret meeting, Schleicher told the SA leader Count von Helldorf that he and the rest of the Reichswehr were opposed to the ban on the SA, and that he would do his best to have it lifted as soon as possible. On May 8, 1932, Schleicher had a secret meeting with Hitler, during which he told him that a new presidential government would soon be appointed, and in exchange for promising to dissolve the Reichstag and lift the ban on the SA and the SS, received a promise from Hitler to support the new government. After Groener had been savaged in a Reichstag debate with the Nazis over the alleged Social Democratic putsch and Groener s lack of belief in it, Schleicher told his mentor that "he no longer enjoyed the confidence of the Army" and must resign at once. With that, Groener resigned as Defence and Interior Ministers. On May 30, 1932, Schleicher s intrigues bore fruit when Hindenburg sacked Br ning as Chancellor and appointed as his successor Franz von Papen. Schleicher had chosen von Papen, who was unknown to the German public, as new Chancellor because he believed he could control Papen from behind the scenes. Schleicher s first choice for his "Government of the President s Friends" had been Count Kuno von Westarp, by which means he hoped to retain Br ning who was a close friend of Westarp in the Cabinet. When Br ning who was deeply hurt and angry about Schleicher s treatment of him made it clear that he would not serve in the new government at all, Schleicher dropped Westarp. Other possible names mentioned to head the new government were Alfred Hugenberg and Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, both of whom were vetoed by Hindenburg. Schleicher finally chose Papen because he was an old friend of Schleicher s, because of his reputation for being superficial, and because he was an obscure figure. At the time of Papen s appointment, Schleicher boasted that "I m not the soul of the cabinet, but I am perhaps its will" The German historian Eberhard Kolb wrote of Schleicher s "key role" in the downfall of not only Br ning, but also the Weimar republic, for by bringing down Br ning Schleicher unintentionally and quite unnecessarily set off a series of events that would to led directly to the Third Reich.
Schleicher s example in bringing down the Br ning government led to a more overt politicization of the Reichswehr. Starting in the spring of 1932, a number of officers whom the British historian John Wheeler-Bennett described as "crypto-Nazis" such as Werner von Blomberg, Wilhelm Keitel and Walther von Reichenau all started talks on their own with the NSDAP. Without realizing it, Schleicher s example served to undermine his own power, since in part his power had always rested on the fact that he was the only general who was allowed to talk to the politicians.
Minister of Defense
The new Chancellor, Franz von Papen, in return hand-picked Schleicher as Minister of Defence. The first act of the new government was to dissolve the Reichstag in accordance with Schleicher s "gentlemen s agreement" with Hitler on June 4, 1932. On June 15, 1932, the new government lifted the ban on the SA and the SS, who were secretly encouraged to indulge in as much violence as possible. Schleicher wanted as much mayhem on the streets as possible both to discredit democracy and to provide a pretext for the new authoritarian regime he was working to create. Besides ordering new elections, Schleicher and Papen worked together to undermine the Social Democratic government of Prussia headed by Otto Braun. To this end, Schleicher fabricated evidence that the Prussian police under Braun's orders were favoring the Communist Rotfrontk mpferbund in street clashes with the SA, which he used to get an emergency decree from Hindenburg imposing Reich control on Prussia. To facilitate his plans for a coup against the Prussian government and to avert the danger of a general strike which had defeated the Kapp Putsch of 1920, Schleicher had a series of secret meetings with trade union leaders, during which he promised them a leading role in the new authoritarian political system he was building, in return for which he received a promise that there would be no general strike in support of Braun. In the Rape of Prussia on July 20, 1932, Schleicher had martial law proclaimed and called out the Reichswehr under Gerd von Rundstedt to oust the elected Prussian government, which was accomplished without a shot being fired. Using Article 48, Hindenburg named Papen the Reich Commissioner of Prussia. The SPD called for a general strike, but the union leaders believing in Schleicher s promises ordered their members to stay at their jobs. In the Reichstag election of July 31, 1932, the NSDAP became the largest party.
In August 1932, Hitler reneged on the "gentlemen s agreement" he made with Schleicher that May, and instead of supporting the Papen government demanded the Chancellorship for himself. On August 5, 1932, Hitler and Schleicher held a secret meeting, in which Hitler demanded that he become Chancellor and the Ministries of the Interior and Justice go to Nazis; Schleicher could remain as Defence Minister. Schleicher was willing to accept Hitler s arrangement, but Hindenburg refused, preventing Hitler from receiving the Chancellorship in August 1932. It was at this moment that Schleicher s influence with Hindenburg started to decline. Due to Hindenburg s opposition, Schleicher was forced to tell Hitler that the most he could give was the Vice-Chancellorship, an offer that Hitler refused. In September 1932, Papen s government was defeated on a no-confidence motion in the Reichstag, at which point the Reichstag was again dissolved. In the election of November 6, 1932, the NSDAP lost seats, but still remained the largest party. By the beginning of November, Papen had shown himself to be more assertive than Schleicher had expected; this led to a growing rift between the two. When the government could no longer maintain a working parliamentary majority, Papen was forced to resign, and Schleicher succeeded him as Chancellor. Schleicher brought down Papen s government on December 3, 1932, when Papen told the Cabinet that he wished to declare martial law. Schleicher then released the results of a war game which showed that if martial law was declared then the Reichswehr would not be able to defeat the various paramilitary groups.
Schleicher (right) with von Papen
Schleicher hoped to attain a majority in the Reichstag by gaining the support of the Nazis for his government. To gain Nazi support while keeping himself Chancellor, Schleicher often talked of forming a so-called Querfront ("cross-front"), whereby he would unify Germany s fractious special interests around a non-parliamentary, authoritarian but participatory regime as a way of forcing the Nazis to support his government. It was hoped that faced with the threat of the Querfront, Hitler would back down in his demand for the Chancellorship and support Schleicher's government instead. Schleicher was never serious about creating a Querfront, which intended to be a bluff to compel the NSDAP to support the new government. As part of his attempt to blackmail Hitler into supporting his government, Schleicher went through the motions of attempting to found the Querfront by reaching out to the Social Democratic labour unions, the Christian labor unions and the left-wing branch of the Nazi Party, led by Gregor Strasser. On December 4, 1932, Schleicher met with Strasser, and offered to restore the Prussian government from Reich control and make Strasser the new minister-president of Prussia. Schleicher s hope was that the threat of a split within the Nazi Party with Strasser leading his faction out of the party would force Hitler to support the new government. At a secret meeting of the NSDAP leaders on December 5, 1932, Strasser urged the NSDAP to drop the demand for Hitler to become Chancellor and support Schleicher in exchange for which Schleicher would give the Nazis several cabinet portfolios. In a speech, Hitler won the Nazi leaders over to continuing his strategy, in which the Nazis would never support any government not headed by himself. Schleicher, who was unaware of how Hitler had bested Strasser, told his Cabinet on December 7, 1932 that he would soon have the support the Nazi deputies in the Reichstag, which together with the Zentrum and some of the smaller parties would give his presidential government a majority in the Reichstag. On December 8, 1932, Strasser resigned as head of the NSDAP s organizational department in protest against Hitler s strategy of opposing every government not headed by himself. At the same time, Schleicher let it be known to Hitler that he offered Strasser the Vice-Chancellorship. At another meeting of Nazi Party leaders, Hitler denounced Strasser and threatened suicide if more Nazi leaders followed Strasser. Hitler s speech had the desired effect and Strasser was left alone in the party.
One of the main initiatives of the Schleicher government was a public works program intended to counter the effects of the Great Depression, which was shepherded by G nther Gereke, whom Schleicher had appointed special commissioner for employment. The various public works projects which were to give 2,000,000 unemployed Germans jobs by July 1933 and are often wrongly attributed to Hitler were the work of the Schleicher government, which had passed the necessary legislation in January. The American historian Henry Ashby Turner wrote that if Schleicher had been able to stay in office for a few more months, then the economic benefits of the public works projects would had left Schleicher in a much stronger political position.
Relations with Cabinet
Schleicher s relations with his Cabinet were poor. With two exceptions, Schleicher retained all of Papen s cabinet, which meant that much of the unpopularity of the Papen government was inherited by Schleicher s government. When one of Schleicher s aides pointed this out, Schleicher stated: "Yes, sonny boy [Kerlchen], you're completely right; but I can't do without these people at the moment, because I have no one else". Schleicher s secretive ways, and open contempt for his ministers made for poor relations between the Chancellor and his Cabinet. Regarding tariffs, Schleicher refused to make a firm stand. The Minister of Agriculture Magnus von Braun wanted high tariffs as a way of supporting German farmers while the Economics Minister Hermann Warmbold was opposed to further protectionism lest it damage even more the export of German industrial goods. Schleicher refused to make a decision about where he stood about tariffs, and instead told the two ministers to resolve their dispute without involving him. Braun later was to call his time in Schleicher s government "pure torture".
Non-policy on tariffs
Schleicher s non-policy on tariffs hurt his government very badly when on January 11, 1933 the leaders of the Agrarian League launched a blistering attack on Schleicher in front of Hindenburg. The Agrarian League leaders attacked Schleicher for his failure to keep his promise to raise tariffs on imports of food from abroad, and for allowing to lapse a law from the Papen government that gave farmers a grace period from foreclosure if they defaulted on their debts. On the same day, the Agrarian League released a statement to the press that attacked Schleicher as "the tool of the almighty money-bag interests of internationally oriented export industry and its satellites" and accused Schleicher of "an indifference to the impoverishment of agriculture beyond the capacity of even a purely Marxist regime". Hindenburg who always saw himself as the patron of German farmers was most upset about what the Agrarian League leaders had told him, and summoned Schleicher at once to meet with him and the Agrarian League leaders later on the afternoon of January 11, 1933 to explain to him why Schleicher was allowing German agriculture to die. During the ensuing meeting, Hindenburg took the side of the Agrarian League and forced Schleicher to give in to all the League's demands. Despite Schleicher giving in to Hindenburg s brow-beating, on January 12, 1933 the League released a public letter to Hindenburg asking that Schleicher be sacked at once. At the same time, Hindenburg received hundreds of letters and telegrams from Junkers who were active in the League asking for Schleicher to be dismissed as Chancellor.
Faced with intractable problems at home, Schleicher focused on foreign policy. His main interest was in winning gleichberechtigung ("equality of armaments"), that is doing away with Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, which had disarmed Germany. In a speech before a group of German journalists on January 13, 1933, Schleicher boasted about how based how the acceptance "in principle" of gleichberechtigung by the other powers at the World Disarmament Conference in December 1932 that he planned to have by no later than the spring of 1934 a return to conscription and to Germany having all the weapons forbidden by Versailles. In a January 15, 1933 speech, Schleicher announced that his main foreign policy goals were gleichberechtigung and conscription.
On January 20, 1933, Schleicher missed one of his best chances to save his government. Wilhelm Frick who was in charge of the Nazi Reichstag delegration when Hermann G ring was not present suggested to the Reichstag s agenda committee that the Reichstag go into recess until the next budget could be presented, which would have been been some time in the spring. Had this happened, by the time the recess ended, Schleicher would had been reaping the benefits of the public works projects that his government had begun in January, and in-fighting within the NSDAP would had worsened. Instead, Schleicher had his Chief of Staff, Erwin Planck tell the Reichstag that the government wanted the recess to be short as possible, which led to the recess be extended only to January 31.
The ousted Papen now had Hindenburg's ear, because the latter was beginning to have misgivings about Schleicher s "cryptoparliamentarianism" and willingness to work with the SPD, which the old President despised. Papen was urging the aged President to appoint Hitler as Chancellor in a coalition with the Nationalist Deutschenationale Volkspartei (German National People s Party; DNVP) who, together with Papen, would supposedly be in a position to moderate Nazi excesses. Unbeknownst to Schleicher, Papen was holding secret meetings with both Hitler and Hindenburg, who then refused Schleicher s request for emergency powers and another dissolution of the Reichstag. On January 28, 1933, Schleicher told his Cabinet that he needed a decree from the President to dissolve the Reichstag, or otherwise his government was likely to be defeated on a no-confidence vote when the Reichstag reconvened on January 31. Schleicher then went to see Hindenburg to ask for the dissolution decree, and was refused. Upon his return to meet with the Cabinet, Schleicher announced his intention to resign, and signed a decree allowing for 500,000,000 marks to be spent on public works projects. It should be noted that when Schleicher learned that his government was doomed because Hindenburg refused the dissolution, Schleicher thought his successor was going to be Papen, and as such it was towards blocking that event that Schleicher devoted his energy.
On January 29, Werner von Blomberg who was part of the German delegation at the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva was ordered to return to Berlin at once by President Hindenburg, who did so without informing Schleicher or the Army Commander, General Kurt von Hammerstein. Upon learning of this, Schleicher guessed correctly that the order to recall Blomberg to Berlin meant his government was doomed. When Blomberg arrived at the railroad station in Berlin, he was met by Major von Kuntzen ordering him to report at once to the Defence Ministry on behalf of General von Hammerstein, and by Major Oskar von Hindenburg ordering him to report at once to the Presidential palace. Over Kuntzen's protests, Blomberg chose to go with Hindenburg to meet his father, who swore him in as Defence Minister.
Support for Hitler Chancellorship
That same day, Schleicher, learning that his government was about to fall, and fearing that his rival Papen would get the Chancellorship, began to favor a Hitler Chancellorship. Knowing of Papen s by now boundless hatred for him, Schleicher knew he had no chance of becoming Defense Minister in a new Papen government, but he felt his chances of becoming the Defense Minister in a Hitler government were very good. At this time, Schleicher told Meissner, "If Hitler wants to establish a dictatorship, the Army will be a dictatorship within the dictatorship" headed by himself. Schleicher sent his close associate General Kurt von Hammerstein to meet with Hitler on January 29, during which Hammerstein warned Hitler not to trust Papen, and promised that the Reichswehr stood behind Hitler being appointed Chancellor. Through Papen had made it clear that he would never serve in a government with Schleicher, when Hamerstein asked if Schleicher could become Defense Minister in a Hitler government, Hitler gave a positive answer. When Hammmerstein and Schleicher met later on the evening of January 29 to discuss what Hitler had said, they dispatched Werner von Alvensleben to meet Hitler, who was having dinner at the apartment of Joseph Goebbels, to seek further assurances that Schleicher could serve in a Hitler government. During his visit, Alvensleben had proclaimed very loudly that the Reichswehr would use force if any government emerged that was not to the Army s liking. When Alvensleben returned without a clear answer as to where Hitler stood about having Schleicher as Defense Minister, Hammerstein phoned Hitler to warn him that he was faced with a fait accompli, by which Hammerstein meant a Papen government without the Nazis. Hitler however misunderstood Hammerstein s remark as implying that Schleicher was about to launch a putsch to keep him out of power. In a climate of crisis, with wild rumours running rampant that Schleicher was moving troops into Berlin to depose Hindenburg, Papen convinced the President that there was not a moment to lose, and to appoint Hitler chancellor the next day. The President dismissed Schleicher, calling Hitler into power on January 30, 1933. In the following months, the Nazis issued the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act, transforming Germany into a totalitarian dictatorship.
In the spring of 1934, hearing of the growing rift between Ernst R hm and Hitler over the role of the SA in the Nazi state, Schleicher began playing politics again. Schleicher criticized the current Hitler cabinet, while some of Schleicher s followers such as General Ferdinand von Bredow and Werner von Alvensleben started passing along lists of a new Hitler Cabinet in which Schleicher would become Vice-Chancellor, R hm Minister of Defence, Br ning Foreign Minister and Strasser Minister of National Economy. The British historian Sir John Wheeler-Bennett who knew Schleicher and his circle well wrote that the "lack of discretion" that Bredow displayed as he went about showing anyone who was interested the list of the proposed cabinet was "terrifying". Fearing this would lead to his overthrow and the collapse of his regime, Hitler had considered Schleicher a target for assassination for some time. When, on June 30, 1934, the Night of the Long Knives occurred, Schleicher was one of the chief victims. While in his house, he was gunned down; hearing the shots, his wife came into the room, whereupon she was also shot.
At his funeral, Schleicher s good friend General Kurt von Hammerstein was much offended when the SS refused to allow him to attend the service and confiscated the wreaths that the mourners had brought. Hammerstein together with Generalfeldmarshall August von Mackensen launched a campaign to have Schleicher rehabilitated. In his speech to the Reichstag on July 13 justifying his actions, Hitler denounced Schleicher for conspiring with R hm to overthrow the government. Hitler alleged that both Schleicher and R hm were traitors working in the pay of France. Since Schleicher was a good friend of Andr Fran ois-Poncet, and because of his reputation for intrigue, the claim that Schleicher was working for France had enough surface plausibility for most Germans to accept it, though it was not in fact true. The falsity of Hitler s claims could be seen in that Fran ois-Poncet was not declared persona non grata as normally would happen if an Ambassador were caught being involved in a coup plot against his host government. In late 1934-early 1935, Werner von Fritsch and Werner von Blomberg, whom Hammerstein had shamed into joining his campaign, successfully pressured Hitler into rehabilitating General von Schleicher, claiming that as officers they could not stand the press attacks on Schleicher, which portrayed him as a traitor working for France. In a speech given on January 3, 1935 at the Berlin State Opera, Hitler stated that Schleicher had been shot "in error", that his murder had been ordered on the basis of false information, and that Schleicher s name was to be restored to the honor roll of his regiment. The remarks rehabilitating Schleicher were not published in the German press, through Generalfeldmarshall von Mackensen announced Schleicher s rehabilitation at a public gathering of General Staff officers on February 28, 1935. As far as the Army was concerned, the matter of Schleicher s murder was settled. However, the Nazis continued in private to accuse Schleicher of high treason. Hermann G ring told Jan Szembek during a visit to Warsaw in January 1935 that Schleicher had urged Hitler in January 1933 to reach an understanding with France and the Soviet Union, and partition Poland with the latter, and that was why Hitler had Schleicher killed. Hitler told the Polish Ambassador J zef Lipski on May 22, 1935 that Schleicher was "rightfully murdered, if only because he had sought to maintain the Rapallo Treaty".
Schleicher's Cabinet, December 1932 - January 1933
Bracher, Karl Dietrich Die Aufloesung der Weimarer Republik; eine Studie zum Problem des Machtverfalls in der Demokratie Villingen: Schwarzwald, Ring-Verlag, 1971.
- Eschenburg, Theodor "The Role of the Personality in the Crisis of the Weimar Republic: Hindenburg, Br ning, Groener, Schleicher" pages 3 50 from Republic to Reich The Making Of The Nazi Revolution edited by Hajo Holborn, New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.
- Kolb, Eberhard The Weimar Republic London: Routledge, 2005
Turner, Henry Ashby Hitler's thirty days to power: January 1933, Reading, Mass. : Addison-Wesley, 1996.
Wheeler-Bennett, Sir John The Nemesis of Power: German Army in Politics, 1918 - 1945 New York: Palgrave Macmillan Publishing Company, 2005.
- Hayes, Peter ""A Question Mark with Epaulettes"? Kurt von Schleicher and Weimar Politics" pages 35 65 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 52, Issue #1, March 1980.
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