|Foreign Minister of Germany|
February 1, 1922 – June 24, 1922
|Preceded by||Joseph Wirth|
|Succeeded by||Joseph Wirth|
September 29, 1867|
Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia
|Died||June 24, 1922
Berlin, Free State of Prussia
|Political party||German Democratic Party|
|Relations||Emil Rathenau (father)|
|Profession||Industrialist, Politician, Writer|
Walther Rathenau (September 29, 1867 – June 24, 1922) was a German industrialist, politician, writer, and statesman who served as Foreign Minister of Germany during the Weimar Republic. He was assassinated on June 24, 1922, two months after the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo, 1922.
Rathenau was born in Berlin. His parents were Emil Rathenau and Mathilde (b. Nachmann). His father, Emil Rathenau was a prominent Jewish businessman and founder of the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), an electrical-engineering company.
He studied physics, chemistry, and philosophy in Berlin and Strasbourg. His German Jewish heritage and his wealth were both factors in establishing his deeply divisive reputation in German politics, at a time of antisemitism. He worked as an engineer before joining the AEG board in 1899, becoming a leading industrialist in the late German Empire and early Weimar Republic periods. Rathenau is generally acknowledged to be the basis for the German industrialist character "Arnheim" in Robert Musil's novel The Man Without Qualities.
Walther Rathenau never married. He had no children.
A strong German nationalist, Rathenau was a leading proponent of a policy of assimilation for German Jews; he argued that Jews should oppose both Zionism and socialism and fully integrate themselves into mainstream German society. This, he said, would lead to the eventual disappearance of antisemitism. As a powerful, affluent and highly visible German Jewish politician, Rathenau was hated by Germany's extreme right, despite himself being a German nationalist. In spite of his stated beliefs, he was assassinated in 1922 by right wing elements within Germany.
During World War I Rathenau held senior posts in the Raw Materials Department of the War Ministry, while becoming chairman of AEG upon his father's death in 1915. He played a leading role in putting Germany's economy on a war footing, enabling wartime Germany to continue its war effort for years despite the serious shortages of labor and raw materials that were caused by an ever-tightening naval blockade.
Rathenau was a moderate liberal in politics, and after World War I he was one of the founders of the German Democratic Party (DDP). He rejected the tide of socialist thought which swept Germany after the shock of defeat and revolution, opposing state ownership of industry and advocating greater worker participation in the management of companies. His ideas were influential in post-war governments.
In 1921, Rathenau was appointed Minister of Reconstruction, and in 1922 he became Foreign Minister. His insistence that Germany should fulfill its obligations under the Treaty of Versailles, while working for a revision of its terms, infuriated extreme German nationalists. He also angered such extremists by negotiating the Treaty of Rapallo, 1922 with the Soviet Union, although the treaty implicitly recognized secret German-Soviet collaboration, begun in 1921, which provided for the rearmament of Germany, including German aircraft manufacturing, inside the Soviet union. The leaders of the (still obscure) Nazi Party and other extreme right-wing groups falsely claimed he was part of a "Jewish-Communist conspiracy", despite his being a liberal German nationalist who had bolstered the country's recent war effort.
The British politician Robert Boothby wrote of him: "He was something that only a German Jew could simultaneously be: a prophet, a philosopher, a mystic, a writer, a statesman, an industrial magnate of the highest and greatest order, and the pioneer of what has become known as 'industrial rationalization'."
In fact, despite his desire for economic and political co-operation between Germany and the Soviet Union, Rathenau remained skeptical of the methods of the Soviets. In his Kritik der dreifachen Revolution (Critique of the triple revolution) he noted that:
- We cannot use Russia's methods, as they only and at best prove that the economy of an agrarian nation can be leveled to the ground; Russia's thoughts are not our thoughts. They are, as it is in the spirit of the Russian city intelligentsia, unphilosophical, and highly dialectic; they are passionate logic based on unverified suppositions. They assume that a single good, the destruction of the capitalist class, weighs more than all other goods, and that poverty, dictatorship, terror and the fall of civilization must be accepted to secure this one good.
- "If ten million people must die to free ten million people from the bourgeoisie" is regarded as a harsh but necessary consequence. The Russian idea is compulsory happiness, in the same sense and with the same logic as the compulsory introduction of Christianity and the Inquisition.
Assassination and aftermath
On June 24, 1922, two months after the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo which renounced German territorial claims from World War I, Rathenau was assassinated. On this Saturday morning, Rathenau had himself chauffeured from his house in Grunewald to the Foreign Office in Wilhelmstraße. During the trip his NAG-Convertible was passed by a Mercedes-Touring car with Ernst Werner Techow behind the wheel and Erwin Kern and Hermann Fischer on the backseats. Kern opened fire with a MP 18-submachine gun at close range, killing Rathenau almost instantly, while Fischer threw a hand grenade into the car before Techow quickly drove them away. Also involved in the plot were Techow's younger brother Hans Gerd Techow, future writer Ernst von Salomon, and Willi Günther (aided and abetted by seven others, some of them schoolboys). All conspirators were members of the ultra-nationalist secret Organisation Consul (O.C.). A memorial stone in the Koenigsallee in Berlin-Grunewald marks the scene of the crime.
Rathenau's assassination was but one in a row of terrorist attacks by the O.C.. Most sensational among them had been the assassination of former finance minister Matthias Erzberger in August 1921. While Fischer and Kern prepared their plot, former chancellor Philipp Scheidemann barely survived an attempt on his life by O. C. assassins on June 4, 1922. Historian Martin Sabrow points to Hermann Ehrhardt, the undisputed leader of the O.C., as the one who ordered the murders. Ehrhardt and his men believed that Rathenau's death would bring down the government and prompt the Left to act against the Weimar Republic, thereby provoking civil war, in which the O.C. would be called on for help by the Reichswehr. After an anticipated victory Ehrhardt hoped to establish an authoritarian regime or a military dictatorship. In order not to be completely delegitimized by the murder of Rathenau, Ehrhardt carefully saw to it that no connections between him and the assassins could be detected. Thus although Fischer and Kern connected with the Berlin chapter of the O.C. to use its resources, they mainly acted on their own in planning and carrying out the murderous attack.
The terrorists' hopes were in vain, however. Civil war did not come. Instead millions of Germans gathered on the streets to express their grief and to demonstrate against counter-revolutionary terrorism. When the news of Rathenau's death became known in the Reichstag, the session turned into turmoil. DNVP-politician Karl Helfferich in particular became the target of attacks, because he had just recently uttered a vitriolic attack upon Rathenau. During the official memorial ceremony the next day Chancellor Joseph Wirth from the Centre Party held a soon to be famous speech, in which, while pointing to the right side of the parliamentary floor, he used a well known formula by Philipp Scheidemann: "There is the enemy - and there is no doubt about it: This enemy is on the right!"
The crime itself was soon cleared up. Willi Günther had bragged about his participation in public. After his arrest on June 26 he confessed to the crime without holding anything back. Hans Gerd Techow was arrested the following day, Ernst Werner Techow, who was visiting his uncle, three days later. Fischer and Kern, however, remained on the loose. After a daring flight, which kept Germany in suspense for more than two weeks, they were finally spotted at the castle of Saaleck in Thuringia, whose owner was himself a secret member of the O.C.. On July 17 they were confronted by two police detectives. While waiting for reinforcerments during the stand-off one of the detectives fired at a window, unknowingly killing Kern by a bullet in the head. Fischer then took his own life.
So when in October 1922 the crime was brought to court, Ernst Werner Techow was the only defendant charged with murder. Twelve more defendants were arraigned on various charges, among them Hans Gerd Techow and Ernst von Salomon, who had spied out Rathenau's habits and kept up contact with the O.C., as well as the commander of the O.C. in Western Germany, Karl Tillessen, a brother of Erzberger's assassin Heinrich Tillessen, and his adjutant Hartmut Plaas. The prosecution left aside the political implications of the plot, but focused upon the issue of antisemitism. Ahead of his assassination Rathenau had indeed been the frequent target of vicious antisemitic attacks, and the assassins had also been members of the violently antisemitic Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund. Kern had, according to Ernst Werner Techow, argued that Rathenau had to be murdered, because he had intimate relations with Bolshevik Russia, so that he had even married off his sister with the Communist Karl Radek and that Rathenau himself had confessed to be one of the three hundred "Elders of Zion" as described in the notorious antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But the defendants vigorously denied that they had killed Rathenau, because he was Jewish. Neither was the prosecution able to fully uncover the involvement of the O.C. in the plot. Thus Tillessen and Plaas were only convicted of non-notification of a crime and sentenced to three and two years in prison, respectively. Salomon received five years imprisonment for accessory to murder. Ernst Werner Techow narrowly escaped the death penalty, because in a last-minute confession he managed to convince the court that he had only acted under the threat of death by Kern. Instead he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for accessory to murder.
For the time being the reactions upon Rathenau's assassination strengthened the Weimar Republic. The most notable reaction was the enactment of the Republikschutzgesetz (Law for the Defense of the Republic) taking effect on July 22, 1922. The Deutschlandlied was made the German national anthem. As long as the Weimar Republic existed, the date June 24 remained a day of public commemorations. In public memory Rathenau's death increasingly appeared to be a martyr-like sacrifice for democracy.
Things changed with the Nazi seizure of power. The Nazis systematically wiped out public commemoration of Rathenau by destroying monuments to him, closing the Walther-Rathenau-Museum in his former mansion, and renaming streets and schools dedicated to him. Instead a memorial plate to Kern and Fischer was solemnly unveiled at Saaleck castle in July 1933 and in October 1933 a monument was erected on the assassins' grave.
- Reflektionen (1908)
- Zur Kritik der Zeit (1912)
- Zur Mechanik des Geistes (1913)
- Von kommenden Dingen (1917)
- An Deutschlands Jugend (1918)
- Die neue Gesellschaft (1919)
- Der neue Staat (1919)
- Der Kaiser (1919)
- Kritik der dreifachen Revolution (1919)
- Was wird werden (1920, a utopian novel)
- Gesammelte Schriften (6 volumes)
- Gesammelte Reden (1924)
- Briefe (1926, 2 volumes)
- Neue Briefe (1927)
- Politische Briefe (1929)
- Fink, Carole (Summer, 1995). "The murder of Walter Rathenau". Judaism. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
- "Walther Rathenau Biography". Encyclopedia of World Biography Biography. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
- Pächter, Henry Maximilian (1982). Weimar études. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 172 et seq.
- Tom Reiss, The Orientalist, 2005, Random House. p. 181f. "Though not a convert to Christianity, Rathenau represented a Jewish apostasy more typical of his time: the conversion to Wagnerian-Teutonism."
- Angela E. Stent, Russia and Germany Reborn, 1998, Princeton. ch. 1, http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s6426.html
- Martin Sabrow (1994), Der Rathenaumord. Rekonstruktion einer Verschwörung gegen die Republik von Weimar, Munich: Oldenbourg, pp. 86–88, ISBN 978-3-486-64569-9, retrieved 27 July 2012
- Martin Sabrow (1994), Der Rathenaumord. Rekonstruktion einer Verschwörung gegen die Republik von Weimar, Munich: Oldenbourg, pp. 146–149, ISBN 978-3-486-64569-9, retrieved 27 July 2012
- Martin Sabrow (1994), Der Rathenaumord. Rekonstruktion einer Verschwörung gegen die Republik von Weimar, Munich: Oldenbourg, p. 7, ISBN 978-3-486-64569-9, retrieved 27 July 2012
- Martin Sabrow (1994), Der Rathenaumord. Rekonstruktion einer Verschwörung gegen die Republik von Weimar, Munich: Oldenbourg, pp. 149–151, ISBN 978-3-486-64569-9, retrieved 27 July 2012
- Martin Sabrow (1996), "Mord und Mythos. Das Komplott gegen Walther Rathenau 1922", in Alexander Demandt, Das Attentat in der Geschichte, Cologne: Böhlau, pp. 323–324, ISBN 978-3-412-16795-0, retrieved 27 July 2012
- Heinrich Küppers (1997), Joseph Wirth: Parlamentarier, Minister Und Kanzler Der Weimarer Republik, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, p. 189, ISBN 978-3-515-07012-6, retrieved 27 July 2012
- Martin Sabrow (1994), Der Rathenaumord. Rekonstruktion einer Verschwörung gegen die Republik von Weimar, Munich: Oldenbourg, pp. 91–103, ISBN 978-3-486-64569-9, retrieved 27 July 2012
- Martin Sabrow (1994), Der Rathenaumord. Rekonstruktion einer Verschwörung gegen die Republik von Weimar, Munich: Oldenbourg, pp. 103–112, 139–142, ISBN 978-3-486-64569-9, retrieved 27 July 2012
- Ernst von Salomon has later claimed that Kern's argument was merely pretextual. Historian Norman Cohn believes that Techow's evidence stands. Cohn, Norman (1967). Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, New York: Harper & Row, p. 145-6.
- Martin Sabrow (1999), Die verdrängte Verschwörung: der Rathenau-Mord und die deutsche Gegenrevolution, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, p. 184, ISBN 978-3-596-14302-3, retrieved 28 July 2012; Martin Sabrow (1998), "Die Macht der Erinnerungspolitik", Die Macht der Mythen: Walther Rathenau im öffentlichen Gedächtnis: sechs Essays, Berlin: Das Arsenal, pp. 75–76, ISBN 978-3-931109-11-0, retrieved 28 July 2012
- Martin Sabrow (1996), "Mord und Mythos. Das Komplott gegen Walther Rathenau 1922", in Alexander Demandt, Das Attentat in der Geschichte, Cologne: Böhlau, pp. 336–337, ISBN 978-3-412-16795-0, retrieved 27 July 2012
- Martin Sabrow (1998), "Erstes Opfer des "Dritten Reichs"?", Die Macht der Mythen: Walther Rathenau im öffentlichen Gedächtnis: sechs Essays, Berlin: Das Arsenal, pp. 90–91, ISBN 978-3-931109-11-0, retrieved 28 July 2012
- Felix, David. Walther Rathenau and the Weimar Republic, Johns Hopkins UP, 1971.
- Volkov, Shulamit. Walter Rathenau: Weimar's Fallen Statesman (Yale University Press; 2012) 240 pages; scholarly biography
- Count Harry Kessler, Berlin in Lights: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler (1918–1937) Grove Press, New York, (1999).
- Walter Rathenau: Industrialist, Banker, Intellectual, And Politician; Notes And Diaries 1907–1922. Hartmut P. von Strandmann (ed.), Hilary von Strandmann (translator). Clarendon Press, 528 pages, in English. October 1985. ISBN 978-0-19-822506-5 (hardcover – ISBN 31101985).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Walther Rathenau|
|Wikisource has the text of a 1922 Encyclopædia Britannica article about Walther Rathenau.|
- Walther-Rathenau-Gesellschaft e.V. (German)
- Speech by German President Friedrich Ebert at Rathenau's burial (German)
- Works by Walther Rathenau at Project Gutenberg
|Foreign Minister of Germany