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The Harden–Eulenburg affair, often simply Eulenburg affair, was the controversy surrounding a series of courts-martial and five civil trials regarding accusations of homosexual conduct, and accompanying libel trials, among prominent members of Kaiser Wilhelm II's cabinet and entourage during 1907–1909.
The affair centred on journalist Maximilian Harden's accusations of homosexual conduct between Philipp, Prince of Eulenburg-Hertefeld, and General Kuno, Graf von Moltke. Accusations and counter-accusations quickly multiplied, and the phrase "Liebenberg Round Table" came to be used for the homosexual circle around the Kaiser.
The affair received wide publicity and is often considered the biggest domestic scandal of the German Second Empire. It led to one of the first major public discussions of homosexuality in Germany, comparable to the trial of Oscar Wilde in the United Kingdom.
The incident which provoked the affair followed on the heels of a public relations gaffe by Wilhelm II. Briefly, in November 1908, Wilhelm II began a vacation at an aristocrat's estate in the Black Forest. One evening after dinner, chief of the Military Secretariat Dietrich von Hülsen-Haeseler was performing a pas seul dressed in a woman's ballet tutu when his heart failed and he died. Ottokar von Czernin, also in attendance, remarked, "In Wilhelm II, I saw a man who, for the first time in his life, with horror-stricken eyes, looked upon the world as it really was." Despite the Emperor's fears, the incident, with its implications of homosexuality at high levels, seemed successfully hushed up.
However, opponents of Germany's foreign policies found the potential scandal too useful to ignore. Wilhelm II had dismissed "Iron" Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and his Realpolitik system of treaties and agreements in 1890, replacing Bismarck's clear rule with a muddle and his foreign policies with a confrontational, expansionist Weltpolitik that was marked by a great build-up of the Imperial German Navy meant to challenge Britain. Eulenburg, who was a strong German imperialist, had some doubts about Wilhelm's navalism and became the most prominent member of Wilhelm II's entourage being promoted from being a member of the diplomatic corps to an ambassador. Like many others, Bismarck noticed that the nature of the relationship between Wilhelm II and Eulenburg could "not be confided to paper," but he, as those many others, felt that even these activities in the private sphere were not to be exposed to the public.
Harden, imperialist head of the periodical Die Zukunft, felt the same, waiting until 1902 only to personally threaten to expose Eulenburg unless he retired from his ambassadorship in Vienna; Eulenburg did so, withdrawing from public life until 1906. Harden reaffirmed his threat after Germany at the Algeciras Conference of 1906 recognized Morocco as being within the French sphere of influence, in what was for Germany a major foreign policy fiasco, and Eulenburg responded by moving to Switzerland. Between 1906 and 1907, six military officers committed suicide after blackmail, while in the preceding three years, around twenty officers were convicted by courts-martial, all for their homosexual acts. A Gardes du Corps officer was charged with homosexuality, embarrassing because the elite Corps was commanded by Lieutenant General Wilhelm Graf von Hohenau, blood relative to the kaiser. Worse than these sexual scandals, in Harden's eyes, was Eulenburg's decision to return to Germany and be admitted to the Order of the Black Eagle; he did not change his mind when Prince Friedrich Heinrich of Prussia declined to be admitted to the Order of Saint John because of his own homosexual proclivities.
Harden outed Eulenburg on April 27, 1907, confirming the identity he previously had parodied as "the Harpist" (Eulenburg), along with "Sweetie" General Kuno Graf von Moltke, in 1906. Wilhelm II, informed of the growing story, responded by requiring the resignation of three of fifteen prominent aristocrats, Hohenau, Lynar, and Moltke, listed as homosexual by the Berlin vice squad; however, the actual list, not shown to Wilhelm II, contained several hundred names.
Moltke's lawyer attempted to file criminal libel against Harden, but was dismissed and civil libel was suggested. Eulenburg denied any culpability and presented a self-accusation of violating the applicable Paragraph 175 to his district attorney who, as hoped and expected, cleared Eulenburg of all charges in July. Meanwhile Georg von Hülsen, manager of the Royal Theatre, von Stückradt, the crown prince's equerry, and Bernhard Prince von Bülow, imperial chancellor, were accused of or revealed as having homosexual tendencies or engaging in homosexual activities.
Moltke v. Harden
This trial was held from October 23 to 29, 1907.
Testifying against Moltke were his former wife of nine years, Lili von Elbe, a soldier named Bollhardt, and Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld. Elbe described the lack of conjugal relations, happening only on the first and second night of their marriage, Moltke's overly close friendship with Eulenburg, and her ignorance of homosexuality. Bollhardt described attending champagne-filled parties at Lynar's villa at which he saw both Hohenau and Moltke. Hirschfeld, based on von Elbe's comments and his courtroom observation of Moltke, testified that Moltke most certainly had a feminine side and was homosexual even if he had never committed sodomy. On October 29, the court found Moltke homosexual and Harden innocent.
However, the trial was voided on procedural grounds, and the state prosecutor decided to allow a criminal libel trial.
Bülow v. Brand
November 6, 1907.
Adolf Brand, founder of the first homosexual periodical, Der Eigene (The Unique), had printed a pamphlet which described how Bülow had been blackmailed for his sexuality and had kissed and embraced Scheefer at male gatherings hosted by Eulenburg, and thus was morally obliged to publicly oppose Paragraph 175. Brand was found guilty of libel and charged with 18 months in prison.
Harden v. Moltke
December 18–25, 1907.
Elbe, through a diagnosis of classical hysteria, and Hirschfeld, by retracting his earlier testimony, were discredited and Harden was convicted of libel and sentenced to four months imprisonment.
Harden v. Städele
April 21, 1908.
Now motivated by political goals, morals, and vengeance, Harden set out to prove Eulenburg's homosexuality by having Anton Städele publish an article claiming Harden took hush money from Eulenburg. Harden then sued his accomplice for libel, Städele was found guilty and charged a hundred mark fine, repaid by Harden. During the trial, however, Georg Riedel and Jacob Ernst testified to having sexual relations with Eulenburg. Eulenburg was charged with perjury and brought to trial on May 7, 1908. Two weeks later Harden's conviction was overturned and a second trial begun.
June 29, 1908.
After the first of 41 witnesses, including Ernst and ten witnesses who described watching Eulenburg through a keyhole in 1887, the trial was delayed because of Eulenburg's ill health. It was moved to his hospital bed but delayed again, indefinitely.
Moltke v. Harden
With little press, Harden was again convicted and fined six hundred marks plus the forty thousand marks of court costs, while Moltke was rehabilitated in the public eye.
The stress of the trials caused most participants to fall ill during 1908.
The Eulenburg affair is an example of prejudice, specifically dislike of homosexuality, being used as a means to attain certain political goals. As Eulenburg's wife later commented, "They are striking at my husband, but their target is the kaiser."
Harden later told Hirschfeld that the affair was the greatest political mistake of his life. Like many later observers,[which?] attributing the affair as the root cause of World War I and the fall of the Second Reich, inevitable without Eulenburg's moderating influence.[how?]
- Steakley, James D. (revised 1989). "Iconography of a Scandal: Political Cartoons and the Eulenburg Affair in Wilhelmin Germany", Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay & Lesbian Past (1990), Duberman, et al., eds. New York: Meridian, New American Library, Penguin Books. ISBN 0-452-01067-5.
- Hirschfeld (1933) cited in Steakley (1989).
- Norman Domeier: The Eulenburg Affair. A Cultural History of Politics in Imperial Germany (German History in Context 1), New York 2015, ISBN 978-1571139122.
- Dynes, Wayne R. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. New York and London, Garland Publishing, 1990
- Johansson, Warren and Percy, William A. Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. Harrington Park Press, 1994.
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