Paramilitary groups were formed throughout the Weimar Republic in the wake of Germany's defeat in World War I and the ensuing German Revolution. Some were created by political parties to help in recruiting, discipline and in preparation for seizing power. Some were created before World War I. Others were formed by individuals after the war and were called "Freikorps" (Free corps). The party affiliated groups and others were all outside government control, but the Freikorps units were under government control, supply and pay (usually through army sources).
After World War I, the German Army was restricted to 100,000 men, so there were a great number of Imperial German Army soldiers suddenly de-mobilized. Many of these men were hardened into a Frontgemeinschaft, a front-line community. It was a spirit of camaraderie that was formed due to the length and horrors of trench warfare of World War I. These paramilitary groups filled a need for many of these soldiers who suddenly lost their "family"--the army. Many of those soldiers were filled with angst, anger and frustration over the loss and horror of the war.
Paramilitary groups were quite active in the ill-fated Republic, sometimes used to seize power and other times to quell disturbances. Freikorps were used in the Baltic region in 1919 by General Rüdiger von der Goltz to protect German interests against Russia. Other Freikorps members engaged in sabotage acts against French and Belgian occupying forces in the Ruhr in 1923 by blowing up bridges. Yet other Freikorps orchestrated the Kapp Putsch and the Beer Hall Putsch. The Communists used their groups to seize power in several places in the Weimar Republic at different times, forming Räterepubliken. Other paramilitary groups were used to quell these uprisings. Freikorps events are displayed in the Weimar Timeline.
The political parties used their paramilitary groups to protect their party gatherings and to disrupt the marches and meetings of their opponents. Between 1928 and 1932, the Weimar Republic experienced a growth of political violence between these organizations euphemistically called Zusammenstösse (lit. clashes). For instance in 1930, the Nazis claimed 17 fatalities and the Communists 44 fatalities in these Zusammenstössen. Scores were injured; in 1930, 2,500 Nazis were injured and in 1932, 9,715. (1)
Freikorps were the brainchild of Major Kurt von Schleicher. The Freikorps were also called the "Black Reichswehr" (Black Army) for they were a 'secret' army outside the bounds of the Versailles Treaty. The idea was developed after the failure of an army unit to quell a small rebellion in Berlin at the Battle of the Schloss. The army unit, when confronted by a socialist group with women and children, threw down their weapons and either ran away or joined the protest group. This led Major von Schleicher to conceive an alternative to using Reichswehr units to quell "red" (socialist or communist) uprisings. He suggested to his superiors to form volunteer units recruited from the old Reichswehr and commanded by former Imperial officers under governmental control. This way the Reichswehr would avoid the stigma of having to fire on civilians and the government would be financially supporting these freikorps, leaving the Reichswehr to concentrate on training for real battle. Men who joined these units were called "Freebooters", and they often held strong right-wing and nationalist political views. The central Berlin government thought along with the central Reichswehr command that by paying and arming these 'black' soldiers, they might be able 'to tie them to the crib' and thus render them harmless.
The first organizer of a Freikorps unit was General Ludwig Maercker. His unit, the "Maercker Volunteer Rifles", were soon called to rush from city to city stamping out socialist uprisings. Because his unit was called upon to every corner of Germany, he hit upon the idea of forming Einwohnerwehren, local citizen militias to keep the peace. Later on, these groups grew into the Orgesch, (Organization Escherich) reserve militia units for the German Wehrmacht. They were under the command of Dr. Georg Escherich.
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