Freikorps

   When on 10 November 1918 General Wilhelm Groener* made his cooperative pact with Friedrich Ebert,* he did so believing that the Imperial Army (Reichsheer) would remain a viable force during the period when Ger-many s political future was being debated. He was wrong. It was soon evident that as frontline troops returned to Germany, they melted away under the impact of peace. The army s impotence was apparent on Christmas Eve when regular troops, ordered to remove radicals from the Royal Stables, dispersed and went home. It was thus with reason that when Georg Maercker* submitted a proposal on 12 December 1918 for the creation of an armed unit of volunteers, the Supreme Command (OHL) approved his blueprint for a Volunteer Rifle Corps. In late December, after the USPD withdrew from the Council of People s Rep-resentatives,* Ebert's interim cabinet faced an uncertain future. Fortified by Gus-tav Noske s* appointment as a minister charged with military affairs, the cabinet upheld OHL s plan to supplement the Reichsheer through a broad creation of Freikorps units.
   The point of the volunteers, which existed in some fashion from late 1918 until 1923, was to defend the Republic. Led by former Reichsheer officers, the volunteers can be divided into three categories. First and best known were the Freikorps, or regular volunteers. These consisted of officers and soldiers, as well as students and civilians, driven by counterrevolutionary zeal, eager for adven-ture, or simply seeking the "companionship of the trenches" and regular meals. Numbering 200,000 to 400,000 men by the spring of 1919, the 103 major Frei-korps units received little direct attention from the Reichsheer and were mili-tarily and politically unreliable. During the first half of 1919 they were used to crush both real and imagined threats throughout Germany. Next came the Aux-iliary Volunteer Units (Zeitfreiwilligenkorps), occasional soldiers who were at-tached to either army or regular Freikorps units in times of crisis. They played a key role in Berlin s* turmoil of early 1919. A third group, extant since 1914, was the Einwohnerwehr, administered by state and local governments. It is es-timated that by January 1920 Einwohnerwehr membership was twice that of the Freikorps and Auxiliary Volunteers combined. Bavaria* had the largest and most ideologically homogeneous of the Einwohnerwehr.
   Although a few Freikorps formations faithfully supported the Republic, the majority were led by untrustworthy junior officers. More important, the volun-teer forces served to brutalize and militarize German politics. Not only did hundreds of thousands of respectable citizens participate in paramilitary politics as a consequence of contact with these groups, but the organizations sentiments with respect to the Republic they were envisaged to protect were ambivalent at best and often traitorous. When in March 1920 the regime ordered its volunteers to disband in accordance with Versailles Treaty* provisions, outraged units marched on Berlin in support of the abortive Kapp* Putsch; in Bavaria the Einwohnerwehr used the crisis to successfully oust an SPD-led government— the first popularly elected regime overthrown during the Weimar era. Thereafter many units disguised themselves as Wehrverbande. Bavaria was riddled with such groups (e.g., Bund Bayern und Reich, Bund Oberland, and Reichsflagge), one of which, Hermann Ehrhardt's* notorious Organisation Consul,* mutated into a band whose principal objective was the destruction of the Republic through the assassination* of its leading citizens. Others—for example, those led by Franz von Epp,* Franz Pfeffer,* Ernst Rohm,* and Gerhard Rossbach*— voiced contempt for the Republic and were gradually drawn to the NSDAP.
   Only a few Freikorps units remained viable by the end of 1922. One, covertly sponsored until 1923 by the Reichswehr,* was Grenzschutz Ost (Eastern Border Defense), a unit devised to resist Polish aggression. But the 1923 Ruhr occu-pation* inspired a brief resurgence. Fearing German dismemberment in conse-quence of the crisis, Hans von Seeckt* and the government decided in March to use Freikorps troops as the nucleus for an illegal Black Reichswehr.* When it ventured a putsch in September, however, the Black Reichswehr was dis-banded, as was Grenzschutz Ost. Many of the troops then gravitated to the Stahlhelm,* the SA,* or other Kampfbünde. Ultimately, the Freikorps' demise was linked with conditions in Germany: a stabilized currency, a sharp drop in unemployment, increased production, and higher wages all subverted the vol-unteers. Many Kampfbünde, which survived until the end of the Republic, were organized loosely under the umbrella of the Vereinigte Vaterlandische Verbände Deutschlands* (Union of German Patriotic Associations). But with loyalties tra-versing the political spectrum, they were unable to coordinate their activities after 1924. One old volunteer remarked that "life wasn't much fun any more."
   REFERENCES:Diehl, Paramilitary Politics; Harold Gordon, Reichswehr; Salomon, Geachteten; Waite, Vanguard of Nazism.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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