Dietrich Klagges (German pronunciation: [ˈdiːtʁɪç ˈklaɡəs]) (1 February 1891 in Herringsen, now part of Bad Sassendorf – 12 November 1971 in Bad Harzburg) was a National Socialist politician and from 1933 to 1945 the appointed premier (Ministerpräsident) of the now abolished Free State of Brunswick. He also went by the pseudonym Rudolf Berg.
Youth and early career development
Klagges was the youngest of a forest ranger's seven children. He underwent training as a Volksschule teacher at the teaching seminary at Soest and worked as such beginning in 1911 in Harpen near Bochum. During the First World War he was badly wounded and therefore discharged from army service by 1916. In 1918 he joined the German National People's Party and stayed with the party until 1924. After the First World War he became a Realschule teacher in Wilster in Holstein. After leaving the German National People's Party, Klagge was for a short time a member of the extreme rightwing German Nationalist Freedom Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei), which had been founded late in 1922. He soon left it, eventually joining the NSDAP in 1925. From 1926 until 1930 he worked as a deputy headmaster at a middle school in Benneckenstein (now in Saxony-Anhalt), where from 1928 to 1930 he also served as the local Nazi Ortsgruppe leader. Because of his membership in the Party, he was dismissed from the Prussian school service and furthermore stripped of his pension. In the same year he first rose to prominence in Braunschweig, where he busied himself as a Nazi propaganda speechmaker.
From 1921 on, Klagges was busy writing völkisch, antidemocratic, and anti-Semitic writings which appeared in right-wing newspapers and the like. He wrote for example for Die völkische Schule or Deutschlands Erneuerung and was himself the publisher of the magazine Nordlicht. His partly theological publications were moulded by radical religious racism.
Political office in Braunschweig
In the municipal elections in the state of Braunschweig on 1 March 1931, the Nazi party against expectation emerged as the third strongest party (10 seats) behind the SPD and KPD (18 seats between them).
Appointment to a government office
On 1 January 1931 Klagges was appointed Regierungsrat (a lower rank government official) in the Education Ministry by Anton Franzen, the Interior and Education Minister of the Braunschweig Free State and a fellow member of the NSDAP. After long political quarrels and intrigues, however, Franzen had to step down only a few months later owing to favouritism for a fellow party member. Franz Groh, chairman of the NSDAP faction, also had to step down; this triggered an internal political crisis in the Free State, threatening a coalition breakdown.
Election to State Minister
Owing to the imminent crisis in the Free State, Adolf Hitler intervened in the matter and gave the German National People's Party an ultimatum, which in the end led to Klagges's being elected by the Braunschweig Landtag (the state parliament) to State Minister for the Interior and Education, thereby also becoming a member of the Braunschweig State Government, on 15 September 1931. Shortly thereafter, in 1932, Klagges also became a member of the Reichstag. Already in 1931, two years before the Nazis seized power, came professional bans, through Klagges's actions, against Social Democrats and Jews, which struck, among others, many teaching staff at the Braunschweig Technical College.
Naturalizing Adolf Hitler
The City of Braunschweig unfairly bears the stigma of having been responsible for the former Austrian citizen – and since 1925, at his own instigation, stateless person – Adolf Hitler's getting fast-tracked by political scheming into a job on 25 February 1932. He was a Regierungsrat (low-rank government official) at the Braunschweig State Culture and Surveying Office, stationed as a staff member of the Braunschweig legation in Berlin. This had the effect of granting Hitler German citizenship. The city itself, however, played no role in his naturalization; rather, it was Free State's, in whose name this deed was done by the State Minister for the Interior and Education, namely NSDAP member Dietrich Klagges.
Unlike in the City of Braunschweig, by 1930, the National Socialists were already quite politically influential in the Braunschweig Free State. For Hitler, appointment to a government office in Braunschweig was the only opportunity to obtain German citizenship, since the Free State was the only state in the Weimar Republic with Nazis in government who could influence and control the "Führer's" naturalization.
For this reason, the Free State's government – or more precisely its State Minister, Klagges – was given the direct request by the NSDAP party leadership for Hitler's naturalization. Joseph Goebbels referred to the matter in his diary on 4 February 1932: The intention is to appoint the Führer an associate professor.
Klagges first tried to procure for Hitler an associate professorship in the made-up discipline of "Politics and Organic Sociology" at the Braunschweig Technical College. This plan soon leaked out to the public and then failed miserably in the face of opposition from, among others, the technical college's own leadership and educators themselves. (The now-renamed University of Braunschweig did not want someone who had never finished school.) The plan had to be dropped.
Without meaning to, Klagges had given the Nazi Party the very thing that they had wanted to avoid at all costs: their intentions had now been made public and Hitler had become a target of ridicule. Moreover, Hitler's reputation had been damaged – and not only in Braunschweig – and Klagges would later get the "bill" for it.
There followed yet another attempt to get Hitler a government job, this time by Dr. Wessels, a German People's Party (DVP) Member of the Reichstag, who suggested that a post be procured for Hitler in the Braunschweig Legation at the Reichsrat in Berlin.
This second try met with success in the end: On 25 February 1932, Hitler was successfully sworn in, making Hitler a citizen of Braunschweig, and thus of Germany. At the same time he won the right to stand as a candidate in the 1932 Reich presidential election.
In the Braunschweigische Landeszeitung newspaper, Klagges declared a short time later:
- "If our participation in the government in Braunschweig had had no further success than procuring citizenship for our Führer Adolf Hitler, then this fact alone is enough to prove the necessity of our participation in the government."
Obviously, Hitler's job at the legation did not last long. On 16 February 1933 the new Reichskanzler requested in a short telegram discharge from the Braunschweig State Service, which was promptly granted "effective immediately".
Break between Hitler and Klagges
Hitler's naturalization was supposed to be dealt with quickly and above all, inconspicuously, without the public getting any knowledge of it. However, with Klagges's clumsy way of doing things, the whole business grew into a farce for the later "Führer", since the first attempt failed miserably, and publicly. Only on the second try was the coup successful.
Hitler never forgave Klagges this public exposure and personal humiliation and settled the score with him on 17 July 1935 on his last visit to Braunschweig, which resulted in Klagges's de facto disempowerment. Henceforth, Klagges was to submit all plans to Reichsstatthalter Wilhelm Loeper in Dessau as well as Reichsminister Hanns Kerrl for approval, thereby being degraded to provincial politician and thrust off the stage of higher NSDAP politics. It is also likely that Klagges had only Hermann Göring's pull in these matters to thank for not being dismissed by Hitler on the spot (which did not last much beyond 1940 anyway).
The Braunschweig Free State after the Nazis' seizure of power
Almost immediately after 30 January 1933 came acts of terror in Braunschweig against those who disagreed with the National Socialist, followed by more such acts as the year wore on.
Appointment as Premier of the Braunschweig Free State
On 6 May 1933, Klagges was appointed Ministerpräsident of the Braunschweig Free State by Reichsstatthalter Wilhelm Loeper. Klagges's clearly formulated goal was the creation of a National Socialist model province. Only a few days later, the first book burnings took place in Braunschweig at the Schlossplatz.
National Socialist model province
Klagges's plans for a National Socialist model province entailed the goal of further keeping Braunschweig as independent as possible from Berlin's overlordship so that he could go on running his little "Reich" as he deemed fit, doing whatever he liked to do. Klagges would not hear of his province being integrated into Prussia – as this would have put an end to the faction that he led – despite Hitler's assurances that Braunschweig would still be a cultural centre, and not merely part of a new "Reichsgau Hannover". The province was also to remain in place after the foreseen war. To hold onto – and broaden – his own power, Klagges next tried to bring into being a new Gau – one that would also be independent of Hanover. It would include not only the Braunschweig but also the Regierungsbezirk of Lüneburg and Hildesheim and would be called "Gau Ostfalen". Its capital would be Braunschweig and the Gauleiter would be, of course, himself. Klagges found support for his idea among Braunschweig educators, from the middle class, the chamber of commerce, and even the Protestant Church.
To this end, Klagges undertook a number of things to strengthen Braunschweig's political and economic position in Germany: As of June 1933, a new suburb of Braunschweig, the "Dietrich Klagges Garden City" (Gartenstadt Dietrich Klagges) was built. Furthermore, he brought many important Nazi institutions to the city, such as the Academy for Youth Leadership (Akademie für Jugendführung), the German Research Centre for Aviation (Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt), the Führer School for German Trades and Crafts (Führerschule des deutschen Handwerks), the Regional Führer School of the Hitler Youth (Gebietsführerschule der Hitler-Jugend), the Luftwaffe Command 2, the Reich Hunting Lodge (Reichsjägerhof, intended to impress passionate hunter Göring), the SS Ensigns' School (SS-Junkerschule), the SS Upper Division "Middle", and also the Bernhard Rust College for Teacher Training.
Klagges also further developed Braunschweig's infrastructure by connecting it to the newly built Autobahn and the Mittellandkanal. In the end, thanks to Klagges, Braunschweig also became a centre of the National Socialist armament industry, since important industrial hubs were growing right nearby, namely the Reichswerke Hermann Göring in Salzgitter (on whose board of directors Klagges was as of 1937), and the Volkswagen Works in Fallersleben (now part of Wolfsburg).
Persecuting political dissenters
What follows is a few examples of how and by what means Dietrich Klagges persecuted politically undesirable persons (or had them persecuted), sometimes to death (see also "Klagge trials" below).
The Rieseberg Murders
A short time after the Nazis' seizure of power, the first acts of terror were seen in both the City and Province of Braunschweig in which the so-called "Hilfspolizei" ("Auxiliary Police") stood out. This force was directly answerable to Klagges and consisted of SA, SS and "Stahlhelm" men. Their actions were aimed mainly at members of various labour organizations, the SPD, the KPD, and also against Jews. They were carried out with extraordinary brutality. Klagges was therefore responsible for at least 25 Nazi régime opponents' deaths. The murder of eleven communists and labour organisers in Rieseberg (about 15 miles east of Braunschweig) by members of the SS on 4 July 1933 was the most important of these events. There was to have been a judicial inquiry into the circumstances of the arrestees' deaths, but Klagges assisted in blocking and suppressing it.
Lawyer and SPD member Ernst Böhme (1892–1968) was from 1929 until 1933 the democratically elected Mayor of the City of Braunschweig.
After the National Socialists had risen to power, however, he found himself the target of growing repressive measures and ever greater persecution by Klagges, who on 13 March 1933 ordered Böhme's ouster and had him taken to the disused AOK Building, which was being used by the Nazis as a "protective custody" prison, as they called it. Böhme had the dedication of former Braunschweig Ministerpräsident Heinrich Jasper (who had likewise been persecuted by Klagges) to thank for the return of his freedom a short time later.
Shortly thereafter, however, Böhme was once again arrested and this time taken to the SPD's own, but now disused, Volksfreundhaus where he was mishandled. He was forced to sign a document declaring that he had given up his mandate. After he was let go, Böhme left Braunschweig and came back only in 1945.
On 1 June 1945, Ernst Böhme was given back his mayoralty by the United States military administration. He stayed on as mayor until 17 December 1948.
Lawyer and SPD member Heinrich Jasper (1875–1945) was, among other things, a city councillor since 1903, an SPD factional chairman in Braunschweig's Landtag, member of the Weimar National Assembly as well as Braunschweig State Minister between 1919 and 1930 and several times the Braunschweig Free State's premier.
Jasper was, at Klagges's instigation, taken into "protective custody" on false pretenses on 17 March 1933, and taken to the AOK Building, where he was severely beaten in an attempt to force him to resign his political mandate, which Jasper, however, would not do. He was next taken to the Volksfreundhaus where he faced further mishandling until his temporary release on 19 April.
On 26 June 1933, Jasper was once again arrested and taken to Dachau concentration camp, from which he was released in 1939 under circumstances that have yet to be explained. Jasper then returned to Braunschweig where he was placed under constant surveillance and had to report daily to the Gestapo.
The failed attempt on Hitler's life at the Wolf's Lair in East Prussia on 20 July 1944 furnished another pretense on which to arrest Jasper yet again on 22 August 1944. After spending time in various concentration camps, he ended up at Bergen-Belsen where he is believed to have died on 19 February 1945 of typhus.
August Merges (1870–1945) belonged to various leftwing parties, was one of the leaders of the November Revolution in Braunschweig and was President of the Socialist Republic of Braunschweig. After 1933 he moved out of active party work and joined the resistance against the Nazi régime.
In April 1935, he was arrested together with other resistance fighters and severely beaten. He was sentenced for high treason but was released early, in 1937, for medical reasons. On Klagges's instructions he was arrested once more and taken into "protective custody".
After Merges had once more been set free, he was nevertheless repeatedly picked up by the Gestapo and detained for a short time. He died as a result of mishandling suffered at the Gestapo's hands.
Forced labour and concentration camps
Beginning on 21 January 1941, Klagges started having Braunschweig's Jews deported to the concentration camps. In 1944, there were 91,000 forced labourers in the Watenstedt-Salzgitter, Braunschweig and Helmstedt area. This was far and away the highest density at labour camps anywhere in the Reich. Indeed, a great number of the people killed in the massive air raid on 15 October 1944 were forced labourers and camp inmates. When US troops occupied Braunschweig on 12 April 1945, there were still 61,000 prisoners in the camps.
War's end and postwar developments
On 12 April 1945, Klagges was taken prisoner by the American troops thronging into Braunschweig, and in 1946, a military court in Bielefeld sentenced him to six years in labour prison (Zuchthaus) for crimes committed in his function as SS Gruppenführer (the highest rank that he reached in the SS, in 1942, was actually Obergruppenführer; he was furthermore "Honorary Leader" of the 49th SS Standard).
The Klagges Trials
The new General Prosecutor Fritz Bauer, who had come to Braunschweig in 1950, and who was later active in the 1960s, likewise as a prosecutor, in the Auschwitz Trials, contributed to a great extent to getting Klagges sentenced in a normal criminal trial on 4 April 1950 to a life term in labour prison for crimes committed by him as Braunschweig State Minister and Premier, including, among others, the Rieseberg murders.
The Bundesgerichtshof (a federal court), however, overturned this sentence in 1952. In a second trial in which it could be proved that Klagges had taken part in murders, torture, false imprisonment, and so on, and that he had planned (by himself or with others) these deeds, his prison term was reduced to 15 years.
In his defence, Klagges put it to the court that he had known nothing about all that, as he had only worked from a desk and he was deceived by his underlings as to the true extent of the Nazi terror that was being perpetrated.
In 1955, Klagges's wife applied for her husband's early release from prison without further probationary conditions. This first application was rejected, as was another one made the next year. In 1957, however, Klagges was released after having served about 80% of his prison term, and moved with his wife to Bad Harzburg, where he busied himself mainly with editing rightwing writings and maintaining contacts with neo-Nazi groups in Lower Saxony until his death in 1971.
- Der Glaube (1926)
- Kampf dem Marxismus (1930)
- Die Weltwirtschaftskrise (1930)
- Reichtum und soziale Gerechtigkeit: Grundfragen einer nationalsozialistischen Volkswirtschaftslehre (1933)
- Geschichtsunterricht als nationalpolitische Erziehung (1936)
- An alle Völker der Erde: Die Zukunft der Nationen (1972)
- "He wants to remain king of an enlarged Braunschweig" (entry in Goebbels's diary from 5 February 1941 about Klagges)
- "The hundreds of thousands of foreigners, above all Jews, were impartially acknowledged as having equal rights … Behind everything stood the parasitic Jews' will … to rule the world." (from Klagges's book Geschichtsunterricht als nationalpolitische Erziehung)
- Richard Bein: Im deutschen Land marschieren wir. Freistaat Braunschweig 1930–1945. Braunschweig 1984
- Braunschweiger Zeitung (publisher): "Wie braun war Braunschweig? Hitler und der Freistaat Braunschweig" Braunschweig 2003
- Horst-Rüdiger Jarck, Günter Scheel (publishers): Braunschweigisches Biographisches Lexikon. 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Hanover 1996
- Horst-Rüdiger Jarck, Gerhard Schildt (publishers): Braunschweigische Landesgeschichte. Jahrtausendrückblick einer Region, Braunschweig 2000, ISBN 3-930292-28-9
- Helmut Kramer (publisher): Braunschweig unterm Hakenkreuz. Braunschweig 1981
- Karl-Joachim Krause: Braunschweig zwischen Krieg und Frieden. Die Ereignisse vor und nach der Kapitulation der Stadt am 12. April 1945. Braunschweig 1994
- Hans Johann Reinowski: Terror in Braunschweig. Aus dem ersten Quartal der Hitlerherrschaft. Bericht herausgegeben von der Kommission zur Untersuchung der Lage der politischen Gefangenen. Zurich 1933
- Ernst-August Roloff: Braunschweig und der Staat von Weimar. Politik, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft 1918-1933. In: Braunschweiger Werkstücke, Band 31, Braunschweig 1964
- Ernst-August Roloff: Bürgertum und Nationalsozialismus 1930-1933. Braunschweigs Weg ins Dritte Reich. Hanover 1961
- Gunhild Ruben: Bitte mich als Untermieter bei Ihnen anzumelden – Hitler und Braunschweig 1932–1935. Norderstedt 2004
- cited by: Manfred Seidenfuß: Geschichtsdidaktik(er) im Griff des Nationalsozialismus?, p. 161, footnote 2
- Roloff. Bürgertum und Nationalsozialismus 1930-1933: Braunschweigs Weg ins Dritte Reich. p. 96.
- Works by or about Dietrich Klagges at Internet Archive
- Dietrich Klagges in the German National Library catalogue
- Biography of Klagges
- Newspaper clippings about Dietrich Klagges in the 20th Century Press Archives of the ZBW
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