Gregor Strasser (also German: Straßer, see ß) (31 May 1892 – 30 June 1934) was a German politician and prominent figure in the Nazi Party. He became a rival to Adolf Hitler, resigned from his political offices in late 1932, and was murdered in 1934, during the "Night of the Long Knives".
Early life and education
Gregor Strasser and his younger brother Otto were born into the family of a Catholic judicial officer who lived in the Upper Bavarian market town of Geisenfeld. He attended the local Gymnasium (grammar school) and after his final examinations, served an apprenticeship as a pharmacist in the Lower Bavarian village of Frontenhausen from 1910 until 1914.
In 1914 he began to study pharmacy at Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, suspending his studies in the same year to enlist as a volunteer in the German Imperial Army. Strasser served in World War I, rising to the rank of First Lieutenant, and won the Iron Cross, First and Second Class. In 1918, he resumed his studies at Friedrich-Alexander-University, Erlangen-Nuremberg. He passed his state examination in 1919 and in 1920 started work as a pharmacist in Landshut.
Paramilitary and political career
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In 1919 he and his brother Otto joined the right-wing Freikorps led by Franz Ritter von Epp. Gregor Strasser established and commanded the Sturmbataillon Niederbayern (English: Storm battalion Lower Bavaria), with young Heinrich Himmler as his adjutant. By March 1920, Strasser's Freikorps was ready to participate in the failed Kapp Putsch, whereas his brother Otto had turned to the left of the political spectrum and commanded the Rote Hundertschaft, a socialist paramilitary group, to combat this right-wing coup d'état.
In 1921, Strasser's group joined forces with Hitler's Nazi Party. His leadership qualities were soon recognized and he was soon appointed as regional head of the SA in Lower Bavaria. In November 1923, he took an active part in the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch. He was tried for high treason and in April 1924 was sentenced to one and a half years of confinement in a fortress—which was regarded as an honorable form of detention—in Landsberg Prison.
After a few weeks, Strasser was released because on 4 May 1924, he had been elected a member of the Bavarian Landtag for the Nazi-associated Völkischer Block. On 7 December 1924, Strasser won a seat in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic for the Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei ("German-Völkisch Freedom Party"). In both elections, Strasser could not run for the NSDAP, which was banned after the abortive coup. Strasser remained a member of the Reichstag until December 1932.
After the refoundation of the NSDAP by Adolf Hitler on 26 February 1925, Strasser became the first Gauleiter of Lower Bavaria and Upper Palatinate. After the partition of this Gau, he was Gauleiter of Lower Bavaria from 1 October 1928 until 1929. From 30 June 1926 until January 1928, he was the NSDAP's national leader for propaganda.
Strasser's organizational reforms
In January 1928, Strasser became leader of the NSDAP's national organisation. He reorganised the party's structure, both in its regional formation and its vertical management hierarchy. The Nazi Party became a strictly centralist organization with the party's own control machinery and high capability for propaganda. Strasser's ideas were put into effect by service regulations called Political Organization on 15 July 1932.
After 1925, Strasser's outstanding organizational skill helped the NSDAP to make a big step from a marginal South German splinter party to a nationwide mass party, appealing to the lower classes and their tendency towards socialism. Its membership increased from about 27,000 in 1925 to more than 800,000 in 1931. Strasser established the NSDAP in northern and western Germany as a strong political association which quickly attained a higher membership than Hitler's southern party section. Moreover he arranged for the foundation of the Berlin SA under Upper Silesian Nazi activist Kurt Daluege in March 1926. The party's own Foreign Organization (see NSDAP/AO) was formed on Strasser's initiative, and Dr. Hans Nieland was appointed its first leader on 1 May 1931. Together with his brother Otto, Strasser founded the Berlin Kampf-Verlag ("Combat Publishing") arm in March 1926, which published among others the programmatic weekly journal Der Nationale Sozialist ("The National Socialist") from 1926 until 1930.
The Strasser brothers ruled the Berlin party organization unchallenged and developed an independent ideological profile from the south German party wing around Adolf Hitler. They advocated—at first together with Gregor Strasser's close collaborator in Rhineland and Westphalia Joseph Goebbels—an anti-capitalist social revolutionary course for the NSDAP that at the same time was also strongly antisemitic and anti-Communist.
In 1925, Strasser founded the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Nordwest ("Working Group Northwest"), a federation of north and west German NSDAP Gauleiters under his leadership (with Goebbels as managing director); it was an instrument to enforce the sociopolitical and economic ideas of the NSDAP left wing. But on 14 February 1926, Hitler asserted himself successfully against this "National Bolshevist" faction during the Bamberg Conference. This earned Hitler absolute leadership within the NSDAP. The disbandment of the Working Group was decreed by a directive from Munich on 1 July 1926.
Conflict with Hitler and death
The programmatic and personal rivalry with Adolf Hitler worsened dramatically when Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher offered Strasser the offices of Vice-Chancellor and Prime Minister of Prussia in December 1932. Schleicher hoped to disunite the NSDAP with Strasser's help and to pull the left-wing of the Nazi Party over to his "national conservative" side, so as to prevent a revolution or takeover by Hitler. The plan failed because of Hitler's intervention, and resulted in Strasser's resignation from all party positions. According to William L. Shirer, this move upset the very foundations of the Nazi party, and could have put an end to their quest for power. Strasser was still a very powerful figure in the region in which he had built up power, and could have mobilized support in the region to turn people against the NSDAP. Instead, Strasser tired of the political struggle as well as the intense campaigning and took a restorative holiday in Italy. Hitler seized upon this opportunity to remove all Party officials loyal to Strasser. All new or continuing Party officials were required to swear an oath of loyalty to the Führer; this prevented any other influential Nazis from leading a break-away faction.
Strasser continued acting as a publicist as he did before his disempowerment. From June 1931 until its ban on 4 February 1933 he published the weekly newspaper Die Schwarze Front (named after Otto Strasser's Black Front political organisation), which made little impact on contemporaries because of its small circulation (10,000 copies).
His involvement in politics did not end completely however, and he had a minor role in von Schleicher's downfall. On 4 January the Chancellor summoned the disaffected Strasser to visit President von Hindenburg. A few days later, Strasser expressed an interest in joining Schleicher's cabinet, which would significantly weaken the Nazi party. Schleicher was assured of Strasser's defection, and bragged to a visiting Austrian minister that the problem of the Nazi Party was solved and their rise had ceased. However, for some reason, Strasser had declined to join the cabinet. Schleicher had therefore failed to win over or divide the Nazis, and coupled with a morale-boosting election campaign in Lippe, Hitler set about definitively undermining Schleicher, now knowing he did not have Strasser's help.
Strasser took no part in affairs during the Nazi takeover in 1933, and had neither a Party or government position in the new regime. In 1934, Hitler moved to eliminate all possible rivals and old enemies in and out of the Party. This purge was officially called the "Röhm-Putsch", because it was claimed that SA chief Ernst Röhm had tried to overthrow Hitler, but is better known as the "Night of the Long Knives".
On 30 June 1934, Strasser was arrested and killed on Hitler's personal order by the Berlin Gestapo. The assassins shot through a window into Strasser's cell killing him. Fritz von Tschirschky, an aide of Franz von Papen, who was also taken to Gestapo headquarters that day, claimed to be a witness to the murder. Tschirschky wrote that Strasser was murdered in an adjoining cell in the basement by an SS squad, which shot him in the temple and back of the head several times. Tschirschky could not watch the execution directly because guards were blocking the way. However, minutes later he saw guards carrying some bloody bags out. Tschirschky concluded that "the victim must have been dismembered shortly after the crime and his body parts carried outside."
- Diebow, Hans (1932/33). Gregor Strasser und der Nationalsozialismus. Berlin: Tell-Verl.
- Dixon, Joseph Murdock (1966 Phil. Diss.). Gregor Strasser and the organization of the Nazi Party, 1925-32. Stanford University.
- Geismaier, Michael (1933). Männer und Mächte: Gregor Strasser. Leipzig: Kittler.
- Goderbauer-Marchner, Gabriele (1986 thesis) (1986). Gregor Straßer und die Anfänge der NSDAP in Bayern, insbesondere in Niederbayern und Landshut (in German). Munich University.
- Kershaw, Ian (1999). Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-04671-0.
- Kissenkoetter, Udo (1975 thesis, Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf) (1978). "Gregor Strasser und die NSDAP". Schriftenreihe der Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte (in German) (Stuttgart: Dt. Verl.-Anst.) 37. ISBN 3-421-01881-2.
- Richardi, Hans-Günter (1991). Hitler und seine Hintermänner : neue Fakten zur Frühgeschichte der NSDAP. München: Süddeutscher Verl. ISBN 3-7991-6508-8.
- Shirer, William (1968). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. London: Pan. ISBN 0-330-70001-4.
- Southgate, Troy (2010). Otto Strasser: The Life and Times of a German Socialist. Black Front Press.
- Stachura, Peter D. (1978). "Der Fall Strasser: Gregor Strasser, Hitler and national socialism, 1930 - 1932". The Shaping of the Nazi State. London: Croom Helm. pp. 88–130. ISBN 0-06-496492-2.
- Stachura, Peter D. (1983). Gregor Strasser and the rise of Nazism. London: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-943027-0.
- Straßer, Bernhard (1954). Gregor und Otto Strasser : Kurze Darst. ihrer Persönlichkeit u. ihres Wollens, hrsg. zum 20. Jahrestag d. dt. Bartholomäusnacht vom 30. Juni 1934. Külsheim: Harald Stössel.
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- Literature by and about Gregor Strasser in the catalogues of British Library (see), Library of Congress (see), National Library of Germany (see)
- Strasser, Gregor; and Strasser, Otto, article from Encyclopædia Britannica, Premium Service, 2006
- John Simkin: Gregor Strasser, Spartacus Schoolnet, London
- Gregor Strasser, CBS mini-series "Hitler: The Rise of Evil", 2003, directed by Christian Duguay (born 1957 in Montreal)
- tabular curriculum vitae of Gregor Strasser on the Berlin German Historical Museum website (in German)