Background - Nazism and Freemasonry (part 2).
by BROTHER Eric Howe, P.M.
Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076 (E. C.)
Part II -The Collapse of Freemasonry in Nazi Germany
(Part I was published in the 1984 Year Book)
President Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Reich Chancellor on Monday, 30th January 1933. Nothing noteworthy happened as far as the Freemasons were concerned during February. On 5th March the Nazis won the last democratic general election which the Germans were to experience during Hitler's lifetime, but only had a small majority in the Reichstag. On 23rd March, however, the Reichstag passed an Enabling Act which suspended parliamentary government for four years and thereby handed Germany over to Hitler and his henchmen. The process of Gleichschaltung, meaning the integration of every conceivable activity within the framework of Nazi ideology and organisation, now began.
The Humanitarian Grand Lodges immediately realised that Freemasonry had neither a place nor a future in the Third Reich and during the next two or three weeks voluntarily signed their own death sentences. Each of them, in its own fashion, went into liquidation. There is no evidence that this happened in response to any official instruction or demand. However, no individual or organisation which was on the Nazis' long-established black list felt safe at that time.
A foretoken of the kind of treatment which the Freemasons might expect to receive had already been experienced at Dusseldorf on 6th March, the day after the general election. When the members of the "Zu den drei Verburendeten" Lodge (Old Prussian, "Three Globes") arrived at their premises for a meeting that evening they learned that five S.A. Stormtroopers in uniform and a number of civilians had just left the building. They had been received by a serving Brother who asked for evidence of their respective identities. "Loaded pistols were their authority", according to a report signed by the Grand Masters of all three Old Prussian Grand Lodges which was sent to the Prussian Ministry on the Interior on 13th March. The intruders demanded the Lodge's files, which were kept in a locked cupboard in the conference room. Since the keys were not immediately available they smashed the lock and began to remove the papers to a lorry which was waiting outside. Then the deputy Master of the Lodge arrived. "He showed them the portraits of the members of the House of Hohenzollern in the banqueting room, also the Temple, which had been prepared for a Lodge of Mourning. The intruders then bared their heads and behaved decorously, explaining that they did not want to disturb the mourning ceremony."
The three Old Prussian Grand Lodges now began a long drawn-out and, indeed, hopeless battle for survival - not in any conventional Masonic context, but as "German Christian Orders". The story of their negotiations with the authorities highlights their predicament. The Old Prussians were willing, even anxious to support the regime, but now, as the three Grand Masters observed in their written protest at what had been allowed to happen at Dusseldorf, "We have the impression that we are without legal redress and are being treated as second-class citizens."
The story of how one of the three Old Prussian Grand Lodges dealt with a painfully difficult situation during the years 1933-35 can be reconstructed from the surviving "Three Globes" documents in Grand Lodge Library. After February 1933 this Grand Lodge mainly acted in close liaison with the "Friendship" Grand Lodge so this story is to some extent the latter's. We know very little about the affairs of the "Landesloge" which, as so often in the past, acted independently.
The first important document of the 1933 series is a copy of a letter to the Prussian Ministry of the Interior dated 6th March and signed by all three Grand Masters: Dr Karl Habicht (Three Globes), who was a Protestant clergyman; Lieut.-Col. Kurt von Heeringen (Landesloge) and Oskar Feistkorn (Friendship). They jointly protested about a recent article in Der Angnff which stated that "the Jew Karl Marx had been a Freemason and the Communist leaders were Jews and Freemasons". Publications of this kind, they wrote, would lead the general public to suppose that all Freemasons, including Grand Officers of the Old Prussian Grand Lodges, were Marxists and hence "enemies of the people". They asked for protection. Scores of similar articles had been published in the past and it is unlikely that any of them had resulted in a letter of complaint to the Prussian Ministry of the Interior. The Grand Masters, however, were beginning to be extremely nervous because there was already evidence that the new regime would not scruple to use terror when it suited its purpose.
Four days later, on 10th March, Grand Master Habicht and all or most of the national directorate of "The Globes" resigned their offices on the grounds that they no longer possessed the confidence of the Daughter Lodges. At this time Habicht completely severed his connection with Freemasonry.
On 24th March the three Grand Masters - Habicht was just about to depart - signed yet another joint letter to the Prussian Ministry of the Interior. The substance of this lengthy communication was to be repeated in similar documents during the following months. The Grand Masters referred to their respective Orders' lengthy relationship with the Prussian state. It was their urgent duty, they wrote, to ensure that their security and honour would be assured and protected by the authorities. It had unfortunately not yet occurred to the Grand Masters that it was now in some respects a waste of time to address such letters to the Prussian Ministry of the Interior. Firstly the Ministry was no longer master of its own house in Prussia and secondly the rule of law was already ceasing to operate in Germany. The Grand Masters optimistically asked for the speedy renewal of the Protection (i.e. patronage) formerly accorded to the Old Prussian Grand Lodges and which had lapsed with the abdication of the Hohenzollern dynasty in 1918. The Ministry was reminded that "a species of Freemasonry has arisen in Germany which is not only opposed to our conception of patriotism, but also to our Christian viewpoint and our opposition to all kinds of internationalism".
After these lengthy preliminaries the Grand Masters at last revealed what was really worrying them. Their members were now being denied admission to certain professional and other organisations because they were branded as Freemasons, no account whatever being taken of their Christian and patriotic attitudes. Indeed, even livelihoods were being threatened because these good Germans were being indifferently lumped together with Jews and Marxists.
There is no evidence that any of the three Old Prussian Grand Masters was able to talk to one of the leading Nazi satraps until 7th April, when Lieut. Col. von Heeringen (Landesloge) had an interview with General Goering, who was the provisional Prussian Minister of the Interior. Very soon after his meeting with Goering, Von Heeringen must have tele-phoned or sent a note to Dr Otto Bordes, a Berlin dentist who had succeeded Karl Habicht as Grand Master of the Three Globes, because a brief circular letter was mailed to the Three Globes Daughter Lodges the same day.
This document merely revealed that Goering had declared himself incompetent to settle or regulate the status or future of the Old Prussian Grand Lodges. However, he had offered to raise the matter at a Reich Cabinet meeting later that day. It is unlikely that the Grand Masters were aware that the Reich Cabinet was not even as effective as a rubber stamp. The power already lay elsewhere.Whether or not the Reich Cabinet ever discussed the [affinity] of the Old Prussian Lodges is unimportant. Von Heeringen listened to Goering and took the hint. When he visited Bordes on the following Monday morning (10th April) some dramatic decisions had already been taken at the Eisenacherstrasse premises of the Landesloge. Whatever remained there of the old Masonic tradition had been summarily thrown out of the window and a complete break had been made with a past which went back to the eighteenth century.
The Mother Lodge's circular letter of Tuesday, 11th April, is an extremely revealing document. Apart from the fact that it enables us to pinpoint the date of Freemasonry's final demise in Germany, it suggests that von Heeringen and Bordes were frightened men. It can only have been fear which persuaded von Heeringen that there was no time left for lengthy consultation within the Landesloge or negotiations outside it. Reading between the lines we can infer that Goering had said: "If you don't close down Freemasonry, we'll do it for you!" There was already a smell of terror in the air in Germany and immediate capitulation was undoubtedly the only sensible solution. It was therefore a question of trying to save whatever could be preserved from the prospective wreck.
According to the Three Globes' circular letter Goering had told von Heeringen that there was no place for Freemasonry in a National Socialist state. "The Landesloge had come to the necessary conclusions. It had ceased to exist as a Masonic Order and would now continue as the 'German Christian Order of Templars'. It would necessarily break off all relations with Freemasonry. . . . If Minister Goering's intentions meet with general approval in the Reich Cabinet, it is inconceivable that our Grand Lodge [i.e. the Three Globes] can
continue to exist as a Freemasons' Lodge. We know that the National Socialists raise the following conditions:
- The disappearance of the words Freemason and Lodge.
- The severance of all international connections.
- The abolition of the Secrets and the Old Testament components in the Ritual."
The Mother Lodge was as quick to take the hint as the Landesloge had been. Its circular of 11th April informed the Daughter Lodges that it had been decided to tell the authorities that the Grand National Mother Lodge of the Three Globes had abandoned its old and venerable title and now wished to be known as the National Christian Order of Frederick the Great. (Almost simultaneously the Grand Lodge of Prussia called "Friendship" became the German Christian Order of Friendship.) The Lodges were instructed to abandon all ritual work during the next two weeks and to organise social gatherings instead.
Bordes had an interview with an unidentified "National Socialist Fuhrer" on Wednesday, 12th April. The purpose of this meeting was to discover, if possible, whether even the successor organisation would be banned. "This does not appear to be the case or our contact would have known about it," Bordes reported. "Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler has reserved the final decision about Freemasonry for himself."
All and sundry were quickly told about the Mother Lodge's course of action, e.g. Dr Frick, the Reich Minister of the Interior, Dr Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister, and the Party Headquarters at Munich. The Daughter Lodges received an urgent message to the effect that:
- We are no longer Freemasons. Brethren are to tell this to outsiders immediately.
- The secrets are no longer to be preserved. This does not mean that outsiders are to be admitted to our work and for the time being only authoritative Party or State functionaries can be shown our rituals and participate in our work when it is resumed.
A letter to the Party headquarters, also dated 12th April 1933, claimed that the majority of the Order's members were in complete sympathy with the aims of the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Thus, in view of all the measures that had been taken: "We therefore believe that there is no extrinsic reason to deny Party membership to our people. We are not Freemasons! Make the way free for 20,000 patriotic men who feel the call to collaborate in the building of the National Socialist state."2
A draft of the Mother Lodge's new constitution had been submitted to the Prussian Ministry of the Interior for approval. On 19th April Bordes had to inform the Daughter Lodges, which were now known as Order Groups, that he had been instructed that until the new constitution had been sanctioned the Order must use its old title (Grand Mother Lodge, etc.) for all correspondence with Party and government offices. This was regrettable because it advertised the old Masonic connection which was now best forgotten.
Bordes and Feistkorn (Grand Master of the German Christian Order of Friendship) continued to talk to such senior Party functionaries as were prepared to listen to them. Early in May they went to Munich and visited the Brown House (Nazi Party H.Q.) where they conferred with "an influential person". On 10th May they jointly reported that while the Party was in principle willing to recognise the "patriotic character" of the former Old Prussian Obediences, it was still refusing to admit former Freemasons who were members of the new "Christian Orders". Next there was a statement which reveals the nature of one of their most urgent worries: "The Reich government and the Reich Chancellor have given repeated assurances that officials (i.e. civil servants and local government officials) whose attitude is firmly anchored to patriotic principles and who do not belong to the Party, need fear neither political pressure (to persuade them to join the Party) nor that their careers will be prejudiced."
In the spring of 1933 the Party authorities at Munich were taking the view that in spite of all protestations to the contrary all former Freemasons were to be regarded as "unreliable". The Grand Masters on the other hand, clearly supposed that as long as the Reich government did not actually ban the new Christian Orders the latter were relatively safe. They can hardly be blamed for falling to realise at this early stage in the history of the Third Reich that the Party already represented a parallel "administration" or the extent to which an increasingly large and inefficient Party bureaucracy was duplicating the work and functions of government departments.
In the face of so much misunderstanding the three Grand Masters decided to appeal for justice to the Fuhrer himself. A document was discussed and drafted but Lieut-Col. von Heeringen (Landesloge) finally refused to sign it. His argument was that silence was probably the best policy and that as long as the Reich government did nothing the three Orders were no doubt tolerably secure. He was also of the opinion that if and when matters came to a head Dr Frick, the Minister of the Interior, would not act contrary to the views of the Party. Bordes and Feistkorn persisted in their intention to petition the Fuhrer to intervene in their favour. Yet another wordy document was composed and dispatched. It is sufficient to quote one brief extract from it.
Together with the whole German people we have suffered under the terrible "war guilt lie" which the Versailles Treaty imposed upon us. The Brethren of the German Christian Orders have fought against this defamation. It is now our lot that the very Party whose aims we share will banish us for the rest of our lives from the ranks of good Germans, and deny us the opportunity to prove that the reasons for this are groundless.
The Grand Masters were not far wrong when they concluded on 21st June that "the great danger for us is not that the regime will banish us but that the Party will destroy us, because if our members are prevented from joining Party organisations they will resign from the Order." In default of Party membership many erstwhile Old Prussian Freemasons were now trying to join the Party's subsidiary organisations. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes there were objections. In any case the position was to remain confused for months on end.
The weeks passed by and there was no reply to the Grand Masters' letter to the Fuhrer. Bordes informed his Daughter Lodges on 8th August that there had recently been "trespassing on the premises of our Order Groups and dastardly attacks on our members, even physical threats". Once again it had been necessary to ask the Prussian Ministry of the Interior for protection but the attacks continued. A telegram was sent to the Fuhrer on 4th August requesting him to intervene. Another telegram was sent to President Hindenburg. There is no evidence that either was ever acknowledged.
Towards the end of August there were newspaper reports stating that members of the former "Johannes zum Schwarzen Adler" Lodge at Landsberg Warthe had decided by a majority vote to transfer their premises to a local S.A. (Stormtroopers) unit. Bordes circulated a denial on 1st September and revealed that the S.A. had used threats to obtain possession. The Grand Master warned the Order Groups that similar attempts to alienate property would no doubt be made elsewhere.
The two Grand Masters' joint report of 16th October 1933 reveals that the Secret State Police (i.e. Gestapo) had recently been active at Konigsberg, where as many as twenty officials spent six days reading every conceivable document, including mail which had not yet been opened, at the rooms of the Landesloge's "Totenkopf und Phoenix" Lodge.
A fortnight later Bordes reported that he had tried to arrange an interview with Hitler but had been rebuffed. Nor was it possible to arrange for any written communication to be submitted to him.
The position in January 1934, a year after the Nazis came to power, was that the three German Christian Orders had at least survived. In spite of all their protestations of loyalty to the National Socialist regime and its ideology they were tolerated, but no more. If the Orders remained more or less unmolested it was because, in spite of their former Masonic background, neither the Party nor the State found it necessary to take any precipitate action. Thus the Orders were allowed to continue to exist, although always in a state of insecurity.
In the meantime their membership was steadily declining and a number of Lodges wanted to dissolve themselves. In Germany the legal status and powers of societies and associations were far more sharply defined than they are in England. The Lodges were not autonomous but constitutionally and legally subject to the authority of their respective Grand Lodges. The situation was dramatically changed on 4th January 1934 when Wilhelm Grauert, a Secretary of State in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, signed a decree which made it possible for the Daughter Lodges to act unilaterally as their own executioners. This decree greatly weakened the already very insecure status of the Grand Lodges.
In the preamble to this document Grauert stated that without it being necessary for him to decide whether or not the Orders were statsfeindlich, i.e. hostile to the State or regime, in view of their former Masonic connections there was no good reason why the Orders and their Lodges should survive. Thus it was necessary for him to take into account the fact that some Lodges wanted to close down. Seven brief paragraphs outlined the necessary procedure. The Grand Lodges were to be kept informed, but there was no question of a Lodge applying to its Grand Lodge for permission to liquidate its affairs. In the past when a Lodge closed down its Grand Lodge acted as trustee for its assets. Now, however, the Lodges were free to dispose of funds resulting from the sale of buildings, etc., provided they complied with the usual legal provisions. Finally, should the membership of a Lodge fall below seven, Grauert reserved the right to order it to go into liquidation.
The text of Grauert's decree was the more anxiously discussed because it did not reveal whether or not yet more Draconian measures would be taken against the three Orders. There was probably a lot of activity behind the scenes because twice during the next few weeks Bordes informed his members that they should on no account dissolve their Lodges because the present negotiations with the authorities would soon lead to an entirely satisfactory settlement.
On 8th January 1934, four days after Grauert signed his decree, the Party at long last clarified the situation of former Freemasons. Those who had joined before 30th January 1933 would be allowed to remain as rank and file members but would have to accept a lifelong ban on promotion. Newcomers who had joined after 30th January must resign immediately.
This led to a distressing incident at Lubeck where Walter Plessing, a young lawyer who, like his father and grandfather, had been a member of the "Zum Ftainorn" Lodge there, made his own tragic protest. Plessing had resigned from his Lodge on 1st September 1933 in order to join the Party. He also managed to get himself accepted for the S.A. (i.e. Sturm Abteilung, the Party's brown-shirted private army). Now required to resign from both the Party and the S.A. he committed suicide on 16th March 1934, having first made a will in which he bequeathed the whole of his modest fortune (about £10,000) to his Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. The will contained a lengthy justification for his decision to terminate his life.
By what right can we who are alive be branded as traitors when the names of thousands of Freemasons are recorded in the annals of German history? - .. The three Old Prussian Grand Lodges and particularly my former lodge, the "Zum Fullhorn" at Lubeck, which I joined as the third generation of my family, have no connection whatever with Jews or Jewry. Their basis is Christ and the Bible. As long as the Bible is not banned, nor Christ burned at the stake as a traitor, we cannot be punished for a ritual which has been transmitted unaltered from one generation to the next for more than a century. . . . We can perhaps be accused of not having taken cognisance of National Socialism in good time, but this reproach also applies to 64 million Germans. Why, then, are we excluded from the Party as traitors when all (former) Social Democrats and other "Internationalists" are accepted and tolerated? This cannot be reconciled with human justice.... The fact, as I learned today, that not only the Party but also the supreme command of the S.A. means to expel us - and only us - proves that we are to be treated as third class Germans.
While the manner of Plessing's protest was exceptional, a few other documents in the collection indicate the extent to which former "Old Prussian" Freemasons resented not only the Party's slurs on their patriotism but also their exclusion from the task of building the Third Reich.
In the spring of 1934 it was still difficult for the three Grand Masters to realise the extent to which the rule of law had already begun to break down in Germany. In Mecklenburg, for example, the Gauleiter was busy organising unilateral action against the former Lodges without reference to any "authority" in Berlin. The Grand Masters' joint letter to the Reich Minister of Justice of 16th April reveals that S.A. stormtroopers wearing civilian clothes were literally invading Lodge premises in order "to protect them from the enraged population". In the past their protests had been addressed to the Prussian Ministry of the Interior but by now they were probably aware that they could not expect very much help from this source. They were mistaken if they believed that the Minister of Justice could do anything for them.
The three Grand Masters continued to plead their Orders' cause with undiminished energy during the summer of 1934. There was one common theme in many of their letters to various ministries and Party offices: "We are not Freemasons, nor have we ever been Freemasons in the commonly accepted sense of the word. "This particular argument was disregarded. Thus in a speech delivered at Essen on 5th August, Dr Frick, the Reich Minister of the Interior, declared: "It is inappropriate that a secret society with obscure aims should continue to exist in the Third Reich. It is high time that the Freemasons' Lodges should disappear in Germany just as they have disappeared in Italy. If this is not realised in Masonic circles, I will soon help them in this direction. "4
The Grand Masters did not take the hint. The reason for their inactivity is easy to understand. While all the Orders' usual activities could obviously be terminated without further ado, what was to be done with the three palatial Grand Lodge buildings, each with its elaborately-equipped Temples, banqueting rooms, library, archives and so on? Next, if the plunge were taken in the direction of total liquidation, which would in any case be an enormously complicated business, any particular decision was likely to be overruled by Germany's capricious new masters.
The final blow was at last delivered in May 1935 when the Reich and Prussian Ministry of the Interior ordered the immediate dissolution of the three Orders. There was to be no question of delay or negotiation. Each of the Grand Lodges was ordered to hold a general meeting at which the Grand Master would simply announce the Ministry's decision. Nor was there to be any subsequent discussion.
Gestapo officials were present at the meetings held on 16th June and 7th and 14th July 1935 when the Mother Lodge, "Friendship" and the "Landesloge" were formally dissolved. The last vestiges of the Masonic Order in Germany now disappeared.The Germans, however, were not to be allowed to forget the "Masonic peril". Almost immediately there was a new and virulent wave of anti-Masonic literature in which all the old accusations and fabrications were repeated. Former Lodge premises at Berlin, Hanover, Nuremberg,
Dusseldorf and Erlangen were converted into elaborate anti-Masonic museums. The one at Erlangen attracted more than 150,000 visitors during the first year of its existence.At this point my story must be brought to an end. There is, however, probably more than sufficient material for two further papers which could respectively deal with the post-1935 anti-Masonic campaign in Germany and Freemasonry's fate in the countries occupied by Germany during the Second World War. The story of how the Swiss Freemasons helped their Brethren in France and Italy during the 1940-44 period has not yet been told in English. Nor can I deal here with the long drawn-out success of financial liquidation which continued in Berlin until 1940.'
LIKE A PHOENIX.
One of the most fascinating chapters in Brother Manfred Steffens' Freimaurer in Deutchland, 1964, describes how Freemasonry came to life again in Germany after the Second World War. In May 1945 the country lay in ruins, but soon small and isolated groups of Freemasons were meeting. Thus at Hamburg on 26th May 1945, hardly three weeks after Germany's unconditional surrender, nine members of the "Absalom zu den drei Nesseln" Lodge, which was the oldest in Germany, met for a preliminary discussion and a week later assembled again to reconstitute the Lodge.
Once again at Hamburg, but a year later, there is a record of Brothers Schroder and Rohden fabricating hoodwinks, of Brother Wetter devising a tracing board, of Brother Haubrich bringing with him a pair of downtrodden shoes, and of Brother Unterharck providing a Square. During the winter months the Brethren were asked to bring one or two briquettes of coal or a log of wood for the stove.
The Craft's revival in post-war Germany was beset with countless difficulties. Once again there is a story which must one day be recorded in English. Here it is only necessary to mention that the United Grand Lodge of England played an important role as accoucheur at the birth of the United Grand Lodges of Germany - Brotherhood of German Free-masons, which was constituted on 17th May 1958. There was now the national representation which had so unfortunately been absent in the past. Finally, German Freemasonry and German Brethren were happily restored to that wider Masonic Brotherhood from which time and circumstances had so long separated them.
(Reproduced by permission of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076 (E.C))
- The affairs of the individual Humanitarian Grand Lodges during January and March 1933 are by no means adequately documented. I have therefore decided merely to offer the brief statement printed above.
- The '20,000 patriotic men" can only have referred to the members of the former Old Prussian Obediences. There were about 57,000 Old Prussian Freemasons in 1925, hence there had clearly been a formidable loss of members during the past few years. It is also probable that there had been a flood of very recent resignations.
- The membership of the Old Prussian lodges came from a far smaller cross-section of the population than would have been the case in England. A rough check of the professions of about a hundred leading members Masters, Deputy Masters and Secretaries) of thirty Old Prussian lodges in 1925 reveals a preponderance of local government officers and professional men, i.e. physicians,. lawyers, architects, etc. (41 percent). University and in particular grammar school (Gymnasium) teachers were strongly represented (15 percent). Banking. trade and industry accounted for 3l percent. A provisional inference is that Adolf Hitler would not have been a Freemason inGermany.
- Quoted in Heinrich Blume, Das poiltsche Gesicht Freimaurerei,1936.
- For the latter see Manfred Steffens, Freimaurer in Deutchland, 1964, pp. 387ff.