1929: Nazis in the Antechamber

ARD, also known as Channel One, is the main state-run broadcaster in Germany. On 7 October it will start showing the third season of Babylon Berlin. In order to prepare the German audience for the third season, ARD has put together a 44-minute documentary which highlights the true political and financial circumstances of the time. Not only is it informative, but it sheds light on a company and person that even Germans who know their own history quite well were not aware of: Alfred Hugenberg and the Hugenberg-Konzern (Hugenberg Corporation).

“… Alfred Hugenberg, who is, among other things, head of Universum-Film-AG (UfA) and the most powerful publisher in the republic, who has bought an empire with the money he earned from the heavy armaments industries. His main enemy: Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann, who is fighting with great persistence with the victorious powers for compromises in the Young Plan – for a peaceful future for Germany in a united Europe.”

Hugenberg has newspapers and magazines that are owned outright (Scherl-Verlag), and newspapers in which he is a shareholder (Zeitungen unter Beteiligung). His monopoly of the news market is even greater than that of Rupert Murdoch (Note: Babylon Berlin is shown on what used to be Murdoch’s Sky TV, bought by Comcast in 2018). Like Murdoch, Hugenberg also owns a powerful film studio, the largest film studio in Germany, the UFA, which will not only make classics by Fritz Lang and Josef von Sternberg, but will also produce films which awaken nationalist emotions in the masses who have hitherto been faithful communists and socialists, a working class that knows in its gut that it must oppose the oligarchs, and yet, is so easily hypnotized by the simple stories of great German Emperors and kings and heroes that are put on the screen and seem to erase the humiliating defeat suffered by Germany in 1918.

“Hugenberg grieves for the monarchy and fights Stresemann. In return, he also allied himself with the Nazis, made pacts with Adolf Hitler and the Berlin Regional Director Joseph Goebbels. Their goal is a referendum against the Young Plan. In October 1929, Stresemann dies of a heart attack. The democratic parties mourn, Hugenberg and Goebbels rub their hands with glee. When the world economic crisis also reaches Germany and puts Berliners in shock, the anti-democrats see the end of the Weimar Republic coming.”

This is how ARD begins to prepare us for the upcoming season of Babylon Berlin which, if you have not had the chance to see from the beginning, I strongly urge you to do. In my opinion it’s the first really well-produced and directed German series that also has a strong political message which resonates in our time. As happened back in 1929 when the Nazis were in the antechamber of power, so today is the AfD in the antechamber, legitimately elected in many of the poorest districts in Germany, getting serious recognition by the media outlets owned by oligarchs as well as by the state-owned media, and supported by big money from some known and some dark and unknown sources.

De-Nazification was always just a half-hearted process after WW2. It had to look like it was happening in the eyes of the world, but what really happened was that some of the big fish were put on trial, a few of them executed, a few took their own lives, but many more of the big fish were just thrown back into the water, swam away into their familiar hunting and breeding pools and continued to run the industrial and political empires that they ran prior to and during the war.

Nazis or no Nazis, big money people always seem to escape punishment, even if, like Hugenberg, they enable the rise of terrorist monsters like Hitler and Goebbels, or Trump Inc. as have Murdoch and the Trump enablers.

Hugenberg, besides his media empire, was also the head of a political party that sat in the Reichstag, the DNVP, German National People’s Party.

It all began with an organization called the Alldeutsche Verband, the All-German Association that was started in 1891 with the help of, yes, you guessed it, Alfred Hugenberg. It was influential before WW1 and after the defeat in 1918:

“Its approximately 40,000 members belonged to various political parties. Although the number of members was never very large, the All-German Association, not least with the help of its Alldeutsche Blätter (All-German Paper), unleashed lively nationalist and anti-liberal propaganda, and in the process had a considerable opinion-forming effect until the end of World War I.”

Heinrich Claß (Note: the ß has been mostly replaced with “ss” in modern German), the head of the All-German Association demanded the establishment of a “national dictatorship” and – with strong anti-Semitic references – the repression of “foreign nationalism”. Besides all this, in 1924 he was also suspected of taking part in a plot to murder Hans von Seeckt, the head of the armed forces. There is a trial, but nothing comes of it. In 1926 he is once again before the courts because he is suspected of plotting a coup. Of course nothing comes of this either. And later, during the NSDAP domination of the Reichstag from 1933 to 1945, he is seated with the Nazis as a powerless “guest,” like his friend and accomplice Alfred Hugenberg. Neither of these men are considered to be instigators by the allies after the war. In the eyes of allied justice these super-rich enablers are only “followers” who lost their way. They survived the war and died at home in the 1950s.

Sitting L to R: Hermann Göring, Reich Commissioner for Aviation and the Prussian Ministry of the Interior; Adolf Hitler, Reich Chancellor; Franz von Papen, Vice Chancellor. Standing L to R: Franz Seldte, Minister of Labor; Dr. Dr. Günther Gereke; Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, Reich Minister of Finance; Wilhelm Frick, Reich Minister of the Interior; Werner von Blomberg, Reich Minister of Armed Forces; Alfred Hugenberg, Minister of Economics and Food. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H28422 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Both of these men, Claß and Hugenberg, started their campaigns for a “pure” Germany early in their careers. Claß started soon after he passed his exams to become a lawyer, in 1894, as a founding member of the Deutschbundes (German Federation), which propagated a “pure Germanism” by excluding ethnic minorities. Under a pseudonym he writes a best-selling history of Germany which goes into a 19th printing, all the way through to the end of the Nazi regime.

Sound and Fury

When films with sound arrived in Germany, there was a huge push-back from journalists, critics and filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin, who wrote articles about how films with sound will ruin the international character of films that conquered the world through facial expression and movement. They were certain films would now become chained through language to national markets and thus lose their power, bringing an end to the industry. But The Singing Fool with Al Jolsen arrives and breaks all box office records. It looks like the future of sound film is secure – if there is plenty of music to be heard! But there is someone who recognizes the potential of films with sound, Hugenberg’s friend and advisor Joseph Goebbels. In his diary for 2 September 1929 Goebbels wrote: “I was surprised at the exceptionally advanced technology of films with sound. … We have to recognize the future possibilities here.” And recognize the possibilities he did.

Again, in his diary entry for 3 September 1929 Goebbels writes: “This Fall a series of decisions will be made. … The war has begun!” Just the other day as he was being interviewed by Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon declared that the war would begin on 3 November.

Here a transcript of a segment of that interview:

Steve Bannon: … Or here’s what’s going to happen. Donald Trump is going to win the vote on the only day that matters. That’s November 3rd. He’s going to win the real election in the way we’ve done it with secret ballots, with people going into a booth and voting for president of the United States, OK, by that evening, he will be the winner. And what they’re going to do is that between the lawfare they’ve got with eight hundred attorneys under Eric Holder, the mob they’ve got with Antifa and the radical elements of Black Lives Matter, but most importantly, the digital muscle of Facebook and Twitter, they’re going to sit there and they’re gonna not declare Trump the winner.

Tucker Carlson: Huh. And then maybe the real contest begins. Steve Bannon, I’m glad that you came on. Thank you very much.

Steve Bannon: That’s when the war starts.

Tucker Carlson: I’m beginning to think that’s true.

Goebbels knew a war against the enemies of his party was coming. And he was going to use every means at his disposal to make sure his party and his ideas won out. He understood the techniques of propaganda so well that he was able to use them effectively to propel a minority party into the Reichstag and then maneuver it into a position to take over the government, with no small help from the anti-democratic forces led by the likes of Hugenberg and Claß.

Goebbels and his propaganda machine was so effective that it has lasted into today, with TV, social media and even popular bands leading the charge. Old Nazi propaganda films that now have a cult following among the new generation of American fascists are the films of Leni Riefenstahl. Her first major propaganda film entitled Sieg des Glaubens (Victory of Faith) portrays the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) in an aesthetically pleasing documentary. Her biggest international hit, which still resonates today with advertisers and political propagandists everywhere is Triumph of the Will, which won a Gold Medal at the Venice Film Festival in 1935. Day of Freedom – Our Armed Forces also won her a prize, and two films about the Olympics held in Berlin in 1936 earned her a gold medal from the International Olympic Committee. Despite his official support for her film work, she has a tense relationship with the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels is skeptical about her friendship with Hitler. There is some obvious jealousy for her skill as a propagandist, and animosity because of her personal relationship with the man Goebbels is in love with.

Leni Riefenstahl, who also escaped justice in Nuremberg, went on to have an unhindered post-WW2 career, even being accredited as a photographer for the 1972 Olympic games in Munich where, as you might remember, there was a terror attack and a botched rescue which cost a number of innocent lives. Eventually Leni even gets an Emmy for a film about her life story and lives out her life in peace and fame until 2003.

You must, by now, have understood that if you are super-rich or super-famous, and you are able to ally yourself with anti-democratic forces who live by the gun and maybe even die by the gun, your chances to prosper and survive will be almost certain, even after a huge defeat like WW2 or the fall of the Confederate States of America. Oh there might be a few sacrificial lambs sent to the slaughter after the fires are spent in order to make it look like justice is being carried out, but somehow or another the rich and famous will continue with their lives hardly disturbed by the temporary bump in the road to their happy and prosperous future.

Follow the link to the original words and an English translation to The Song of the Class Enemy “Das Lied vom Klassenfeind”, which was written by Bertolt Brecht in 1930 (then set to music by Rolf Lukowksy and sung by Ernst Busch). Bertolt Brecht was a German Marxist playwright and poet who devoted much of his work to opposing Nazism. The  Song of the Class Enemy was written in that context. Here is the link to the song in German: Ernst Busch – Das Lied vom Klassenfeind:



Danny Antonelli lives in Hamburg, Germany.