Gessler, Otto

(1875-1955)
   politician; served as Defense Minister during 1920-1928. Born to a farming family in Ludwigsburg, he studied law before turning to city administration. He was elected Burgermeister of Regensburg in 1910 and was Nuremberg's Oberburgermeister during 1913-1919. His prudent wartime administration delivered both Nuremberg and Franconia from much of the chaos, including council rule, that marked the postwar era. A liberal in the mold of Friedrich Naumann,* he helped found the DDP and surrendered his Nuremberg office in October 1919 to become Reconstruction Minister under Gustav Bauer.* When Gustav Noske* resigned as Defense Minister in the wake of the Kapp* Putsch, Gessler accepted the portfolio, a key appointment. He retained the ministry through thirteen cabinet changes between March 1920 and January 1928.
   Working closely with General Hans von Seeckt,* Gessler was integral to revitalizing the army. In the crisis months of 1923 he maintained a middle course between Friedrich Ebert* and Gustav Stresemann* on the one hand and the Reichswehr* on the other. But over time his relationship with Seeckt soured until, in October 1926, he dismissed the general when it became public that he had approved Prinz Wilhelm von Hohenzollern's participation in a military ex-ercise. His attempt to shift political issues from the Army Command to the Defense Ministry by creating a subordinate army department (Wehrmacht-Abteilung) backfired when the new department's head, Kurt von Schleicher,* chose to act independently of the Ministry by dealing directly with President Hindenburg.*
   In 1927, when the DDP withdrew its support from Wilhelm Marx's* cabinet, Gessler resigned from the Party rather than relinquish his portfolio. But his unconstitutional financial activities—the release of false budgets to the Reichs-tag,* secret rearmament in violation of the Versailles Treaty,* and the laundering of funds through the Phoebus Film Company—finally forced his resignation. He later declined Heinrich Brüning's* offer to become Interior Minister. He was a private citizen during the Third Reich and spent seven months in the Ravens-brück concentration camp following the July 1944 attempt on Hitler's life. In 1950-1952 he was President of the German Red Cross.
   Gessler said and did many things for which republicans censured him. Deem-ing the Reichswehr Germany's only guarantee of unity, he was a formidable defender of military prerogatives, even resorting to falsehood when necessary. Writing in the 1950s about Weimar's pacifists, he lamented that the Republic "had not exterminated these big-city sewer weeds Sumpfbluten root and branch" (Deak). But he rendered the Republic vital assistance when he helped it navigate through the crises of 1923, and when he forced Seeckt's resignation.
   REFERENCES:Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon;Deak, Weimar Germany's Left-Wing Intellectuals; Eyck, History of the Weimar Republic; Harold Gordon, Reichswehr; NDB, vol. 6.

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

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