Kurt von Schleicher

Kurt von Schleicher

Schleicher, Kurt von, 1882-1934, German general. A leading Reichswehr (army) figure after World War I, Schleicher wielded great power in the years before Adolf Hitler came to power (1933). He was war minister in the cabinet of Franz von Papen, whom he succeeded as chancellor of Germany in Dec., 1932. Trying to prevent Hitler from seizing power, Schleicher demanded authority from President Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag and to assume emergency powers. Hindenburg refused and, after Schleicher's resignation (Jan. 28, 1933), appointed Hitler chancellor. Schleicher retired from public life but was shot with his wife in Hitler's 1934 "blood purge."
(7 April 188230 June 1934) was a German general and the last Chancellor of Germany during the era of the Weimar Republic.

Biography

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 second lieutenant 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 befriended Oskar von Hindenburg. During World War I he served on the staff of Wilhelm Groener, who became Schleicher's patron.

Army service after WWI

After Schleicher's army career, during the 1920s, he moved up steadily in the Reichswehr, or 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. In this capacity, he headed up the Ministeramt or Office of the Ministerial Affairs. 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.

Schleicher became a major figure behind the scenes in the presidential cabinet government of Heinrich Brüning between 1930 and 1932, serving as an aide to General Wilhelm Groener, the Minister of Defence. Eventually, Schleicher, who established a close relationship with President Paul von Hindenburg, came into conflict with Brüning and Groener, and his intrigues were largely responsible for their fall in May 1932. By coincidence, his name translated from the German is "Sneaker" or "Creeper."

Schleicher became Minister of Defence under the new Chancellor, Franz von Papen, whom he had hand-picked. He was not as conservative as Papen, however, as evidenced in a 1932 radio address in which he bluntly announced his unambiguous opposition to either a military dictatorship or a puppet regime to be backed by military force. Eventually, Papen and Schleicher came into conflict, and when, following the November 1932 elections, the government could not maintain a working parliamentary majority, Papen was forced to resign, and Schleicher succeeded him as Chancellor of Germany.

Chancellorship

Schleicher hoped to attain a majority in the Reichstag by forming a so-called Querfront, meaning "cross-front," whereby he would unify Germany's fractious special interests around a non-parliamentary, authoritarian but participatory regime. Thus, he reached out to the Social Democratic labour unions, the Christian labour unions and the more left-wing branch of the NSDAP or Nazis, led by Gregor Strasser. Strasser, however, was already losing the internal power struggle with Hitler.

Although Schleicher made some initial progress, he was rebuffed by both sides. Meanwhile, 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 DNVP, or Deutschenationale Volkspartei (German National People's Party) 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. The President dismissed Schleicher, calling Hitler into power on 30 January 1933.

Assassination

In his last months, Schleicher was instrumental in attempts to negotiate the return of the House of Hohenzollern. Fearing this would lead to his overthrow and the collapse of his regime, Hitler had Schleicher considered a target for assassination for some time. When on 30 June 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, soon sharing the same fate. His stepdaughter was the one who found the bodies. In his speech to the Reichstag on July 13 justifying his actions Hitler denounced Schleicher for conspiring with Ernst Röhm to overthrow the government. There was a rumor that Schleicher's stepdaughter attempted, several months later, to assassinate Hitler, and was said to have been shot down on the spot. Few German people ever knew of that attempt, however.

References

  • 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, Brüning, Groener, Schleicher" pages 3-50 from Republic to Reich The Making Of The Nazi Revolution edited by Hajo Holborn, New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.
  • 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.

Schleicher's Cabinet, December 1932 - January 1933

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