Kurt von Schleicher
|Kurt von Schleicher|
|Chancellor of Germany|
3 December 1932 – 28 January 1933
|President||Paul von Hindenburg|
|Preceded by||Franz von Papen|
|Succeeded by||Adolf Hitler|
|Minister President of Prussia|
3 December 1932 – 28 January 1933
|Preceded by||Franz von Papen|
|Succeeded by||Franz von Papen|
|Reich Minister of Defense|
1 June 1932 – 28 January 1933
|President||Paul von Hindenburg|
Franz von Papen (1932)|
|Preceded by||Wilhelm Groener|
|Succeeded by||Werner von Blomberg|
Kurt Ferdinand Friedrich Hermann von Schleicher|
7 April 1882
Brandenburg an der Havel, German Empire
30 June 1934 (aged 52)|
Potsdam-Babelsberg, Nazi Germany
Imperial German Army|
|Years of service||1900–1932|
|Rank||General der Infanterie|
|Battles/wars||First World War|
Kurt Ferdinand Friedrich Hermann von Schleicher ( listen (help·info); 7 April 1882 – 30 June 1934) was a German general and the last Chancellor of Germany during the Weimar Republic. An important player in the German army's efforts to avoid the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles, Schleicher rose to power as a close advisor to President Paul von Hindenburg. In 1930 he was instrumental in the toppling of Hermann Müller's government and the appointment of Heinrich Brüning as Chancellor.
Beginning in 1932 he served as Minister of War in the cabinet of Franz von Papen, whom he succeeded as Chancellor on 3 December. During his brief term, Schleicher negotiated with Gregor Strasser on a possible secession of the latter from the Nazi Party but their scheme failed. Schleicher then proposed to President Hindenburg to disperse the Reichstag and rule as a de facto dictator, a course of action Hindenburg rejected. On 28 January 1933, facing a political impasse and deteriorating health, Schleicher resigned and recommended the appointment of Adolf Hitler in his stead. Seventeen months afterwards he was murdered on the orders of Hitler during the Night of the Long Knives.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Family life
- 3 First World War
- 4 Army service after First World War
- 5 Presidential government
- 6 Assassination
- 7 Schleicher's cabinet, December 1932 – January 1933
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Schleicher was born in Brandenburg an der Havel, the son of a Prussian officer and a shipowner's daughter. He entered the Prussian Army in 1900 as a Leutnant after graduating from a cadet training school. Assigned to the 3rd Foot Guards, he befriended fellow junior officers Oskar von Hindenburg and Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord. In 1909 he attended the Prussian Military Academy, where he met Franz von Papen, and subsequently joined the Railway Department of the Prussian General Staff. Schleicher soon became a protégé of his immediate superior, Wilhelm Groener.
On 28 July 1931, Schleicher married Elisabeth von Schleicher, daughter of the Prussian general Victor von Hennigs. She had previously been married to Schleicher's cousin, Bogislaw von Schleicher, whom she had divorced on 4 May 1931.
First World War
After the outbreak of the First World War, Schleicher, now a Captain, was assigned to the General Staff at the Supreme Army Command. During the Battle of Verdun he wrote a manuscript criticising war profiteering in certain industrial sectors, earning him a reputation as a liberal. Aside from a brief period as Chief of Staff of the 237th Division in 1917, Schleicher spent the entire war at Supreme Command. Following the collapse of the German war effort in late 1918, Schleicher's patron Groener was appointed Erster Generalquartiermeister and assumed de facto command of the German Army. As Groener's trusted assistant, Schleicher would become a crucial go-between of the civil and military authorities.
Army service after First World War
German Revolution and the Spartacist Uprising
After the November Revolution of 1918, the situation of the military was precarious. In December 1918 Schleicher delivered an ultimatum to Friedrich Ebert on behalf of Paul von Hindenburg demanding that the German provisional government either allow the Army to crush the Spartacus League or the Army would do that task itself.
During the ensuing talks with the German cabinet, Schleicher was able to get permission to allow the Army to return to Berlin. After the November Revolution of 1918, there were demands for the dissolution of the military that had led to such a defeat and the creation of a new military force that would be loyal to democracy, but on 23 December 1918 the Provisional government under Ebert came under attack from the radical left-wing "People's Marine Division". That day a group of Red sailors seemed set to storm and take over the Provisional government when the sailors cut all telephone lines from the chancellor's office to the War Ministry except for a secret one. When Ebert used the secret line to call the War Ministry, it was Schleicher who took the call.
Schleicher played a key role in negotiating the Ebert–Groener pact. In exchange for agreeing to send help to the government, Schleicher was able to secure Ebert's assent to the Army being allowed to maintain its political autonomy. Consequently, the military retained its traditional "state within the state" status with no effective civilian control. When Gustav Noske was appointed Defence Minister on 27 December 1918, both Groener and his protégé Schleicher established excellent working relations with the new minister.
To deal with the problem of the lack of loyal troops, Schleicher helped to found the Freikorps in early January 1919. That month the new Freikorps units were used to crush the uprising of the communist Spartacus League in Berlin. In return for the military crushing the Spartacus League, the government ended all efforts to democratize the military later that month, and never resumed the attempt. In the 1920s the military did not accept the democratic Weimar Republic as legitimate, and so the Reichswehr under the leadership of Hans von Seeckt became, even more so than under the monarchy, a "state within the state" that operated largely outside of the control of politicians. Schleicher's role for the rest of the Weimar Republic was to serve as the Reichswehr's political fixer who would ensure that the military's interests would be secured regardless of what the politicians or the public wanted.
Contacts with the Soviet Union
In the early 1920s Schleicher emerged as a leading protégé of General Hans von Seeckt, who often gave Schleicher sensitive assignments. In the spring of 1921 Seeckt created a secret group within the Reichswehr known as Sondergruppe R, whose task was to work with the Red Army in their common struggle against the international system established by the Treaty of Versailles. Schleicher was a leading member of Sondergruppe R, and it was he who worked out the arrangements with Leonid Krasin for German aid to the Soviet arms industry. In September 1921, at a secret meeting in Schleicher's apartment, the details of an arrangement were reached in which German financial and technological aid for building the Soviet arms industry were exchanged for Soviet support in helping Germany circumvent the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. Schleicher created several dummy corporations, most notably the GEFU (Gesellschaft zur Förderung gewerblicher Unternehmungen-Company for the Promotion of Industrial Enterprise) that funnelled 75 million Reichmarks into the Soviet arms industry.
The GEFU founded factories in the Soviet Union for the production of aircraft, tanks, artillery shells and poison gas. The arms contracts of GEFU in the Soviet Union ensured that Germany did not fall behind in military technology in the 1920s despite being disarmed by Versailles, and laid the covert foundations in the 1920s for the overt rearmament of the 1930s.
At the same time, a team from Sondergruppe R comprising Schleicher, Eugen Ott, Fedor von Bock and Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord formed the liaison with Major Bruno Ernst Buchrucker, who led the so-called Arbeits-Kommandos (Work Commandos), which was officially a labor group intended to assist with civilian projects, but in reality was a force of soldiers. This fiction allowed Germany to exceed the limits on troop strength set by the Versailles Treaty. Buchrucker's so-called Black Reichswehr became infamous for its practice of murdering all Germans suspected of working as informers for the Allied Control Commission, which was responsible for ensuring that Germany was in compliance with Part V of the Treaty of Versailles.
The killings perpetrated by the "Black Reichswehr" were justified under the so-called Femegerichte (secret court) system in which alleged traitors were killed after being "convicted" in secret "trials" of which the victims were unaware. These killings were ordered by officers from Sondergruppe R as the best way to neutralize the efforts of the Allied Control Commission. Regarding the Femegerichte murders, Carl von Ossietzky wrote:
"Lieutenant Schulz (charged with the murder of informers against the "Black Reichswehr") did nothing but carry out the orders given him, and that certainly Colonel von Bock, and probably Colonel von Schleicher and General Seeckt, should be sitting in the dock beside him".
Schleicher perjured himself several times under oath in court when he denied that the Reichswehr had anything to do with the "Black Reichswehr" or the murders they had committed. In a secret letter sent to the president of the German Supreme Court, which was trying a member of the Black Reichswehr for murder, Seeckt admitted that the Black Reichswehr was controlled by the Reichswehr, and claimed that the murders were justified by the struggle against Versailles, so the court should therefore acquit the defendant. Although Seeckt disliked Schleicher, he appreciated his political finesse, and came increasingly to assign Schleicher tasks dealing with politicians.
Military-political role in the Weimar Republic
Despite Seeckt's patronage, it was Schleicher who brought about the former's downfall in 1926 by leaking the fact that Seeckt had invited the former Crown Prince to attend military manoeuvres. After Seeckt's fall Schleicher became, in the words of Andreas Hillgruber, "in fact, if not in name [the] military-political head of the Reichswehr". Schleicher's triumph was also the triumph of the "modern" faction within the Reichswehr, which favored a total war ideology and wanted Germany to become a dictatorship that would wage total war upon the other nations of Europe.
During the 1920s Schleicher moved up steadily in the Reichswehr, becoming the primary liaison between the army and civilian government officials. He generally preferred to operate behind the scenes, planting stories in friendly newspapers and relying on a casual network of informers to find out what other government departments were planning. Following the hyperinflation that destroyed the German economy in 1923, the Reichswehr took over much of the administration of the country between September 1923 and February 1924, a task in which Schleicher played a prominent role and which left him with a taste for power.
The appointment of Groener as Defence Minister in January 1928 did much to advance Schleicher's career. Groener, who regarded Schleicher as his "adopted son", openly favored Schleicher and in 1928 created the Ministeramt (Office of the Ministerial Affairs) just for him. The new office officially dealt with all matters relating to joint concerns of the Army and Navy, and was tasked with liaising between the military and other departments, and between the military and politicians. Because Schleicher interpreted that mandate very broadly, the Ministeramt quickly became the means by which the Reichswehr interfered in politics. The creation of the Ministeramt formalized Schleicher's position as the chief political fixer for the Reichswehr, a role which had existed informally since 1918.
Like his patron Groener, Schleicher was alarmed by the results of the Reichstag election of 1928, in which the Social Democrats (SPD) won the largest share of the vote on a platform of scrapping the building of Panzerkreuzer A, the intended lead ship of the proposed Deutschland class of "pocket battleships" together with the entire "pocket battleship" building programme.
The anti-militaristic SPD argued during the campaign that the money intended to build the "pocket battleships" would be better spent on social programs, and the fact that they won the largest share of the vote while promising to cancel the "pocket battleship" program, which was a major issue in the 1928 election, seemed to show that a large number of Germans supported that position. Schleicher opposed the prospect of a "grand coalition" headed by the SPD's Hermann Müller, and made it clear that he preferred that the SPD be excluded from power on the grounds that their anti-militarism disqualified them from office. Schleicher took the view that the 1928 election demonstrated the chief problem with democracy, namely that it allowed people to elect politicians who carried out policies that could be detrimental to the military, such as cancelling the construction of "pocket battleships". That increased the attraction of an authoritarian government for him.
Both Groener and Schleicher had decided in the aftermath of the 1928 elections that democracy would just have to go as the Social Democrats could not be trusted with power. Groener called Schleicher "my cardinal in politics" and came to depend more and more on him in order to get favorable military budgets passed. Schleicher justified Groener's confidence by getting the naval budget for 1928 passed despite the opposition of the anti-militaristic Social Democrats, who formed the largest party in the Reichstag at the time. Schleicher prepared Groener's statements to the Cabinet and attended Cabinet meetings on a regular basis. Above all, Schleicher won the right to brief President Hindenburg on both political and military matters.
In 1929 Schleicher came into conflict with Werner von Blomberg, the chief of the Truppenamt (the disguised General Staff). That year Schleicher had started a policy of "frontier defense" (Grenzschutz), under which the Reichswehr would stockpile arms in secret depots and start training volunteers, in excess of the limits imposed by Versailles, in the eastern parts of Germany facing Poland. In order to avoid incidents with France, there was to be no policy of Grenzschutz in the western parts of Germany. As the French were due to end their occupation of the Rhineland in June 1930—five years earlier than the Treaty of Versailles had called for—Schleicher wanted no violations of Versailles that might be seen to threaten France and provide the French with a pretext for staying in the Rhineland. When Blomberg, whom Schleicher personally disliked, insisted on extending Grenzschutz to French border areas, Schleicher leaked to the press the news that Blomberg had attended armed maneuvers by volunteers in Westphalia. When Blomberg was called to Berlin by Groener to explain himself, he expected Schleicher to stick to the traditional Reichswehr policy of denying everything, and was shocked that Schleicher attacked him instead. As a result, Blomberg was demoted from command of the Truppenamt, and sent to command a division in East Prussia.
In late 1926 or early 1927 Schleicher told Hindenburg that if it was impossible to form a government headed by the German National People's Party alone, then Hindenburg should "appoint a government in which he had confidence, without consulting the parties or paying attention to their wishes", and with "the order for dissolution ready to hand, give the government every constitutional opportunity to get a majority in Parliament." This was the origin of the "presidential governments". Together with Hindenburg's son, Major Oskar von Hindenburg, Otto Meißner, and General Wilhelm Groener, Schleicher was a leading member of the Kamarilla that surrounded President von Hindenburg. It was Schleicher who came up with the idea of a presidential government based on the so-called "25/48/53 formula". Under a presidential government, the head of government (in this case, the Chancellor), is responsible to the head of state (the President), and not to a legislative body. The "25/48/53 formula" referred to the three articles of the Weimar Constitution that could make a presidential government possible:
- Article 25 allowed the President to dissolve the Reichstag.
- Article 48 allowed the President to sign into law emergency bills without the consent of the Reichstag. However the Reichstag could cancel any law passed by Article 48 by a simple majority within sixty days of its passage.
- Article 53 allowed the President to appoint the Chancellor.
Schleicher's idea was to have Hindenburg use his powers under Article 53 to appoint a man of Schleicher's choosing as Chancellor, who would rule under the provisions of Article 48. Should the Reichstag threaten to annul any laws so passed, Hindenburg could counter with the threat of dissolution. Hindenburg was unenthusiastic about these plans, but was pressured into going along with them by his son, Meißner, Groener, and Schleicher. The idea of a "presidential government" was within the letter of the Weimar Constitution, but violated its spirit as the constitution explicitly stated that Chancellor and his government were responsible to the Reichstag. Schleicher did not wish for a putsch which would abolish democracy in one blow, as that would offend the deep-settled attachment to legality held by many Germans. He instead favored a step-by-step process of destroying democracy by means within the letter of the law but not within its spirit, or alternatively at least maintaining the appearance of acting within the law. Schleicher was greatly influenced by the claims of the prominent conservative lawyer Carl Schmitt that there existed an implied authoritarian "reserve constitution" that co-existed alongside the democratic Weimar Constitution of 1919, and that anyhow the Weimar Constitution provided only for rules, not norms of governing—which Schleicher took to mean that one could undermine democracy as long as one acted within the letter of the law, or at least with the appearance of acting within the law. Schleicher was described by one journalist as having "the gift of giving whoever visits him the impression that he completely shares their opinion. Schleicher was well known for his sense of humor, his lively conversational skills, his sharp wit and his habit of abandoning his upper class aristocratic accent to speak his German with a salty working class Berlin accent, full of risqué phrases that many found either charming or vulgar.
During the course of the winter of 1929–30 Schleicher undermined the "Grand Coalition" government of Hermann Müller by means of various intrigues, with the support of Groener and Hindenburg. As early as August 1929 Schleicher had told the Zentrum political party's Heinrich Brüning that both the army and the president wished to see the end of the Müller government as soon as possible, and asked if Brüning would be willing to serve in a new government. In December 1929, Schleicher and Meißner told Brüning that once the Young Plan had been passed by the Reichstag, Hindenburg had no interest in allowing the Müller government to continue to exist, and formally requested that Brüning become the Chancellor of a "Hindenburg government" that would be a "presidential government". In January 1930, after receiving Brüning's assent to heading a presidential government, Schleicher had told Brüning that the "Hindenburg government" was to be "anti-Marxist" and "anti-parliamentarian", and under no conditions were the Social Democrats to be allowed to serve in office, even though the SPD was the largest party in the Reichstag. In March 1930 Müller's government fell, and the first presidential government headed by Heinrich Brüning came into office. The German historian Eberhard Kolb described the presidential governments that began in March 1930 as a sort of 'creeping' coup d'état, by which the government gradually become more and more authoritarian and less and less democratic, a process that culminated with the Nazi regime in 1933. Kolb wrote about the coming of presidential government in 1929–30 that:
"In light of the sources it can now be firmly stated that the fateful transition from parliamentary government to the presidential regime was well and carefully planned in advance. The protagonists, and Schleicher in particular, were not compelled by circumstances or by the hopelessness of the political situation; they acted with cool deliberation and with the intention of drastically altering the constitutional system and the balance of social forces in favor of old elites of the army, bureaucracy and big business."
Social function of the Army
Although essentially a Prussian authoritarian in his views on order, discipline, and the so-called decadence of the Weimar era, Schleicher also believed that the Army had a social function: that of an institution unifying the diverse elements in society. He was also opposed to policies such as Eastern Aid (Osthilfe) for the bankrupt East Elbian estates of his fellow Junkers. In economic policy, therefore, he was a relative moderate. By 1931 Germany's experienced military reserves were sharply dwindling, owing to Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, which had forbidden conscription, and as such, there was an entire generation that had come of age in the 1920s without going through military training. Schleicher worried that unless Germany brought back conscription soon, the military basis of German power would be destroyed forever.
In the meantime they saw the SA and other paramilitaries as the best substitute for conscription. With that goal in mind, Schleicher opened secret talks with the SA in 1931. From December 1930 onwards, Schleicher was in regular secret contact with Ernst Röhm, the leader of the SA, who soon become one of his best friends. On 2 January 1931 Schleicher changed the Defense Ministry's rules to allow National Socialists to serve in military depots and arsenals, though not as officers, combat troops or sailors. Before 1931, members of the military had been strictly forbidden to join any political parties, because the Reichswehr was supposed to be non-political. It was only National Socialists who were allowed to join the Reichswehr in Schleicher's changing of the rules; if a member of the Reichswehr joined any other political party, he would be dishonourably discharged.
In March 1931, without the knowledge of either Gröner or Adolf Hitler, Schleicher and Röhm reached a secret arrangement that in the event of a war with Poland or a Communist putsch, or both, the SA would mobilise and come under the command of Reichswehr officers in order to deal with the national emergency. In order to facilitate co-operation between the SA and the Reichswehr, Röhm organised the SA structure in a way that closely resembled that of the Reichswehr. The close friendship between Schleicher and Röhm was later in 1934 to provide a seemingly factual basis to Hitler's claim that Schleicher and Röhm had been plotting to overthrow him, thus justifying the assassination of both.
Like the rest of the Reichswehr leadership, Schleicher saw democracy as an impediment to military power, and was convinced that only a dictatorship could make Germany a great military power again. Though Schleicher sometimes claimed to be a monarchist, in reality he cared nothing for the House of Hohenzollern, and often stated: "Republic or monarchy is not the question now, but rather what should the republic look like. He was willing to accept a republic, but was deeply hostile toward the democratic Weimar republic, and much preferred a regime dominated by the military.
German historian Eberhard Kolb posits:
"...from the mid-1920s onwards the Army leaders had developed and propagated new social conceptions of a militarist kind, tending towards a fusion of the military and civilian sectors and ultimately a totalitarian military state (Wehrstaat)."
It was Schleicher's dream to create that Wehrstaat (Military State), in which the military would reorganize German society as part of the preparations for the total war that the Reichswehr wished to wage. From the second half of 1931 onwards Schleicher was the leading advocate within the German government of the Zähmungskonzept (taming concept) where the Nazis were to be "tamed" by being brought into the government, which had the additional bonus for Schleicher as helping to do away with democracy by having an anti-democratic party in office. Schleicher, a militarist to the core, greatly admired the militarism of the Nazis; and the fact that Grenzschutz was working well, especially in East Prussia where the SA was serving as an unofficial militia backing up the Reichswehr was seen as a model for future Army-Nazi co-operation. Through his friendship with Major Oskar von Hindenburg, Schleicher was able to be close to his father, President Hindenburg, and thus enjoyed the president's support in his political activities.
Schleicher became a major figure behind the scenes in the presidential cabinet government of Heinrich Brüning between 1930 and 1932, serving as an aide to General Groener, the Minister of Defense. Eventually, Schleicher, who established a close relationship with Reichspräsident (Reich President) Paul von Hindenburg, came into conflict with Brüning and Groener and his intrigues were largely responsible for their fall in May 1932.
Presidential election of 1932
During the presidential election of 1932, Schleicher grew annoyed when the SPD started to proclaim themselves as allies of the government against the Nazis. In a 15 March 1932 memo to Groener, Schleicher wrote in reference to the date of the presidential election:
"I am really looking forward to 11 April—then it will be possible to talk to this lying brood with no holds barred...After the events of the last few days, I am really glad that there is a counterweight [to the Social Democrats] in the form of the Nazis, who are not very decent chaps either and must be stomached with the greatest caution. If they did not exist, we should virtually have to invent them."
One of Schleicher's aides later recalled that Schleicher viewed the Nazis as "an essentially healthy reaction of the Volkskörper" and praised the Nazis as "the only party that could attract voters away from the radical left and already done so." Through his secret contacts with various Nazi leaders, Schleicher planned to secure Nazi support for a new right-wing presidential government of his creation, thereby destroying German democracy. Schleicher believed that once democracy was abolished, he could in turn destroy the Nazis by exploiting feuds between various Nazi leaders and by incorporating the SA into the Reichswehr. Reflecting Schleicher's reputation for deviousness and being untrustworthy, Hermann Göring joked in 1932:
"Any Chancellor who has Herr von Schleicher on his side must expect sooner or later to be sunk by the Schleicher torpedo." There was a joke current in political circles: "General von Schleicher ought really to have been an Admiral for his military genius lies in shooting underwater at his political friends."
During this period, Schleicher became increasingly convinced that the solution to all of Germany's problems was a "strong man" and that he was that strong man. British historian Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, who knew Schleicher well, remembered hearing Schleicher proclaim during a dinner in a posh restaurant in Berlin in the spring of 1932 that "What Germany needs today is a strong man" while tapping himself on the chest.
Schleicher told Hindenburg that his gruelling re-election campaign was the fault of Brüning. Schleicher claimed that Brüning could have had Hindenburg's term extended by the Reichstag, but that he chose not to in order to humiliate Hindenburg by making him appear on the same stage as Social Democratic leaders. When, in early April 1932, Brüning and Groener decided to have the SA banned following complaints from Prussia and other Lander governments, Schleicher was at first supportive, but soon changed his mind and argued against a ban. Both Schleicher and his close friend, General Kurt von Hammerstein repeatedly contended to Groener that the Reichswehr leadership did not see the banning of the SA in the best interests of the Reich.
Brüning banned the SA and the SS on 13 April 1932 on the grounds they were ones chiefly responsible for the wave of political violence afflicting Germany. Additionally, rumors had started that the SA men serving in the Grenzschutz forces were helping themselves to the weapons stored in the secret Grenzschutz arms depots, and had transferred them to their own arms depots. The SPD Prussian minister-president Otto Braun ordered a series of police raids on the SA, which confirmed that the rumors were true.
For Brüning this was the final straw, and despite all of Schleicher's vehement protests and his argument that there was nothing wrong with the SA stealing Grenzschutz weapons under the grounds that they meant only to be used against the Communists, the SA was banned as a threat to public order. The banning of the SA and SS saw an immediate and huge drop in the amount of political violence in Germany, however the ban threatened to destroy Schleicher's policy of reaching out to the Nazis, especially to his friend Röhm who was extremely angry about the ban, and as a result Schleicher decided that both Brüning and Groener had to go. On 16 April, Groener received an angry letter from Hindenburg demanding to know why the Reichsbanner, the paramilitary wing of the Social Democrats had not also been banned. This was especially the case as Hindenburg said he had solid evidence that the Reichsbanner was planning a coup. The same letter from the president was leaked and appeared that day in all the right-wing German newspapers. Groener discovered that Eugen Ott, a close protégé of Schleicher, had made the Social Democratic putsch allegations to Hindenburg and leaked the President's letter.
British historian John Wheeler-Bennett wrote that the evidence for an intended SPD putsch was "flimsy" at best, and this was just Schleicher's way of discrediting Groener in Hindenburg's eyes. Groener's friends told him that it was impossible that Ott would fabricate allegations of that sort or leak the President's letter on his own, and that he should sack Schleicher at once. Groener, however, refused to believe that his old friend had turned on him, and refused to fire Schleicher.
The Papen government
At the same time, Schleicher started rumors that General Groener was a secret Social Democrat, and made much of the fact that Groener's daughter was born less than nine months after his marriage, claiming - despite his own well-deserved reputation as a womanizer who was frequently unfaithful to his wife - that premarital sex was against the code of honour of a German officer, and that accordingly Groener was unfit to hold office. On 22 April 1932, during a secret meeting, Schleicher told the SA leader Count von Helldorf that he and the rest of the Reichswehr were opposed to the ban on the SA, and that he would do his best to have it lifted as soon as possible. Schleicher had a secret meeting with Adolf Hitler on 28 April 1932, where Hitler was informed that not only was the Army opposed to the ban on the SA, but far more importantly the Reichswehr no longer supported the Brüning government. On 7 May 1932, at another Hitler-Schleicher meeting that Joseph Goebbels called in his diary "a decisive discussion with General von Schleicher", Hitler learned that Schleicher was planning on bringing down the Brüning government later that month, and Schleicher asked for Nazi support for the government that was to replace Brüning. The German historian Eberhard Kolb wrote that "Research has placed beyond doubt the key position of Schleicher in the intrigues and in-fighting of the months before 30 January 1933." On 8 May 1932, Schleicher had a secret meeting with Hitler, during which he told him that a new presidential government would soon be appointed, and in exchange for promising to dissolve the Reichstag and lift the ban on the SA and the SS, received a promise from Hitler to support the new government. After Groener had been savaged in a Reichstag debate with the Nazis over the alleged Social Democratic putsch and Groener's lack of belief in it, Schleicher told his mentor that "he no longer enjoyed the confidence of the Army" and must resign at once. When Groener appealed to Hindenburg, the president sided with Schleicher and told Groener to resign, saying he never wanted to hear from Groener again. With that, Groener resigned as Defense and Interior Ministers. In a letter to his "adopted son", Groener expressed his view of Schleicher's conduct: "Scorn and rage boil within me because I have been deceived in you, my old friend, disciple, adopted son; my hope for the people and Fatherland." The only consolation for Groener was a message from the deposed Wilhelm II—spared from a war crimes trial by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands who gave the former Kaiser asylum—forgiving Groener for pressuring him to abdicate, as Wilhelm now knew Groener was only following Hindenburg's orders. The former Emperor had said "Tell Groener that he has my full sympathy. I always expected that this would happen."
On 22 May 1932, Schleicher's former friend and patron Groener wrote in a letter to a friend:
"Schleicher is undoubtedly the spiritus rector...Since I did not stick with him over the Nazi question, I spoilt his finely calculated game...It is not the Nazis, whom he wants to help into power, but himself, and that through Hindenburg, on whom he has through his close friend the son of Hindenburg the greatest influence...But the old man has become difficult, as could be seen over the SA ban. He, the old man dropped me without shame...and will do the same to Brüning, if he can only find a Chancellor for the Hindenburg line-latest invention against Schicklgruber [Hitler]. Schleicher trusts in his skill to lead the Nazis by the nose. He takes a lot upon himself, but dares to do so because he has Hindenburg in his pocket...Schleicher has long had the idea of ruling with the help of the Reichswehr and without the Reichstag. But his plans, which of course he now no longer reveals to me, are pretty obscure, and perhaps the Nazis are his superiors in cunning and duplicity."
On 30 May 1932, Schleicher's intrigues bore fruit when Hindenburg dismissed Brüning as Chancellor and appointed Papen as his successor. Hindenburg summoned Brüning to the presidential palace to tell him he was now dismissed as Chancellor. While Brüning broke down in tears, saying he always be a friend of the President and asking what had he done to deserve this, Hindenburg was very cold and told Brüning to get out of his sight. The British historian Edgar Feuchtwanger called Schleicher the "principal wire-puller" behind Brüning's fall.
Schleicher had chosen Papen, who was unknown to the German public, as new Chancellor because he believed he could control Papen from behind the scenes. Schleicher's first choice for his "Government of the President's Friends" had been Count Kuno von Westarp, by which means he hoped to retain Brüning — who was a close friend of Westarp — in the Cabinet. When Brüning — who was deeply hurt and angry about Schleicher's treatment of him — made it clear that he would not serve in the new government at all, Schleicher dropped Westarp. Other possible names mentioned to head the new government were Alfred Hugenberg and Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, both of whom were vetoed by Hindenburg. Schleicher finally selected his old friend Papen, an obscure figure without a power base with a reputation for superficiality. At the time of Papen's appointment, Schleicher boasted that "I'm not the soul of the cabinet, but I am perhaps its will." German historian Eberhard Kolb wrote of Schleicher's "key role" in the downfall of not only Brüning, but also the Weimar republic, for, by bringing down Brüning, Schleicher unintentionally and quite unnecessarily set off a series of events that would lead directly to the Third Reich.
Schleicher's example in bringing down the Brüning government led to a more overt politicization of the Reichswehr. From the spring of 1932 a number of officers whom Wheeler-Bennett described as "crypto-Nazis" such as Werner von Blomberg, Wilhelm Keitel, and Walther von Reichenau, all started talks on their own with the NSDAP. Schleicher's example actually served to undermine his own power, since, in part, his power had always rested on the fact that he was the only general who was allowed to talk to the politicians.
Minister of Defense
The new Chancellor, Papen, in return appointed Schleicher as Minister of Defense. The extent that Schleicher was responsible for the Papen government could be seen in that Schleicher had selected the entire cabinet himself before he even had approached Papen with the offer to be Chancellor: after Papen had accepted the offer to serve as Chancellor, Schleicher simply presented Papen with his list, and told him that this was to be his cabinet. The first act of the new government was to dissolve the Reichstag in accordance with Schleicher's "gentlemen's agreement" with Hitler on 4 June 1932. As the Nazis had done very well in Länder elections that spring in Oldenburg and Mecklenburg-Schwerin, winning nearly half of the vote in both elections, it was reasonably expected by all concerned that the dissolution of the Reichstag only two years into its four-year term would benefit the National Socialists. On 15 June 1932, the new government lifted the ban on the SA and the SS, who were secretly encouraged to indulge in as much violence as possible. Schleicher wanted as much mayhem on the streets as possible, both to discredit democracy and to provide a pretext for the new authoritarian regime he was working to create.
Besides ordering new Reichstag elections, Schleicher and Papen worked together to undermine the Social Democratic government of Prussia headed by Otto Braun. Prussia was the largest, most populous, wealthiest and most powerful of all the Länder in Germany, and Braun was a staunch democrat. As long as the Braun government remained in power in Prussia, it presented a major obstacle to Schleicher's plans for a dictatorship, hence the plans on the part of the Reich government to depose the Prussian government. To this end, Schleicher fabricated evidence that the Prussian police under Braun's orders were favoring the Communist Rotfrontkämpferbund in street clashes with the SA, which he used to get an emergency decree from Hindenburg imposing Reich control on Prussia. To facilitate his plans for a coup against the Prussian government and to avert the danger of a general strike which had defeated the Kapp Putsch of 1920, Schleicher had a series of secret meetings with trade union leaders, during which he promised them a leading role in the new authoritarian political system he was building, in return for which he received a promise that there would be no general strike in support of Braun.
In the "Rape of Prussia" on 20 July 1932, Schleicher had martial law proclaimed and called out the Reichswehr under Gerd von Rundstedt to oust the elected Prussian government, which was accomplished without a shot being fired. Using Article 48, Hindenburg named Papen the Reich Commissioner of Prussia. The SPD called for a general strike, but the union leaders—believing in Schleicher's promises—ordered their members to stay at their jobs. The "Rape of Prussia", as the coup became known, was a deeply demoralizing blow to those Germans who still believed in democracy, not only because one of the strongest pillars of democracy in Germany had been gratuitously destroyed via flagrantly illegal means, but due to the lack of resistance to the coup. After the coup of 20 July 1932, those democratic-minded Germans increasingly displayed a passive, demoralized viewpoint as a sense emerged that they were playing in a game whose rules were rigged against them. To help with advice for the new regime that he was planning to create, in the summer of 1932 Schleicher engaged the services of a group of right-wing intellectuals known as the Tatkreis, and through them got to know Gregor Strasser very well. Since the Wehrstaat that Schleicher envisioned was to be a totalitarian regime that would mobilise the economy and all sectors of society for war, Schleicher was deeply interested in Strasser's ideas about creating Nazi trade unions that would support a "national" government and win the support of the working class, who were generally regarded as the most anti-militarist section of German society In the Reichstag election of 31 July 1932, the NSDAP became the largest party as expected. In the aftermath of the election there was a widespread feeling all over Germany that Hitler was to be named the new Chancellor, and Nazis all over Germany were visibly excited at the prospect.
In August 1932, Hitler reneged on the "gentlemen's agreement" he made with Schleicher that May, and instead of supporting the Papen government demanded the Chancellorship for himself. Specifically, on 5 August 1932, Hitler and Schleicher held a secret meeting, in which Hitler demanded that he become Chancellor and the Ministries of the Interior and Justice go to Nazis; Schleicher could remain as Defense Minister. The rest of the proposed cabinet was that Goebbels was to serve as Education Minister, Goring as Air Minister, Strasser as Interior Minister, and Darré as Agricultural Minister, while Hermann Warmbold was to continue as Economics Minister, Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk as Finance Minister, and Hjalmar Schacht was to be the new president of the Reichsbank.
Schleicher was willing to accept Hitler's arrangement, but Hindenburg refused, preventing Hitler from receiving the Chancellorship in August 1932. Hindenburg told Schleicher it was his "irrevocable will" that he would never appoint Hitler Chancellor. It was at this moment that Schleicher's influence with Hindenburg started to decline. Papen himself was most offended at the way his supposed best friend Schleicher was prepared to forsake him casually, while the Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath, and the Interior Minister, Baron Wilhelm von Gayl, came out strongly against the prospect of a Hitler Chancellorship.
Due to Hindenburg's opposition, Schleicher was forced to tell Hitler that the most he could give him was the Vice-Chancellorship in the Papen government, an offer that Hitler refused. In September 1932, Papen's government was defeated on a no-confidence motion in the Reichstag, at which point the Reichstag was again dissolved. In the election of 6 November 1932, the NSDAP lost seats, but still remained the largest party. In the aftermath of the election, Hitler again demanded the Chancellorship in a presidential government while saying that Schleicher could remain as Defense Minister. On 24 November 1932, Hindenburg issued a press statement refusing Hitler the Chancellorship and saying at most he was willing to give Hitler was the Vice-Chancellorship in a government headed by Papen.
By the beginning of November, Papen had shown himself to be more assertive than Schleicher had expected; this led to a growing rift between the two. On 23 November 1932, Schleicher met with Hitler to ask him if he was willing to support a presidential government headed by himself, a sign Schleicher regarded Papen as a liability by this time. Except for the DNVP and the DVP—who between them had only 10% of the Reichstag seats—every other party in the Reichstag was opposed to the extremely unpopular Papen government, it was clearly only a matter of time before Papen was defeated on another motion of no-confidence. To solve this problem, Papen proposed declaring martial law and simply abrogating the Weimar Constitution. Schleicher brought down Papen's government on 3 December 1932, when Papen told the Cabinet that he wished to declare martial law rather than losing face after another motion of no-confidence. Schleicher released the results of a war game which showed that if martial law was declared, the Reichswehr would not be able to defeat the various paramilitary groups. With the martial law option now off the table, Papen was forced to resign and Schleicher became Chancellor. This war games study, which was done by and presented to the Cabinet by one of Schleicher's close aides General Eugen Ott, was rigged with the aim of forcing Papen to resign. A month later, when Schleicher was in the same situation as Papen, Schleicher was to tell Hindenburg that the Reichswehr could easily defeat all of the paramilitary groups and that martial law should be declared. Papen strongly suspected that Ott's war games study had been rigged by Schleicher against him, and he became consumed with hatred against his former friend who had forced him from office.
Schleicher hoped to attain a majority in the Reichstag by gaining the support of the Nazis for his government. In mid-December 1932, Schleicher told a meeting of senior military leaders that the collapse of the Nazi movement was not in the best interests of the German state.
On 21 December 1932, Schleicher told the British Ambassador, Sir Horace Rumbold, that he "would regret the collapse of the Hitler movement" because such a collapse entailed many "positive dangers", and that he saw Nazis as a useful counterweight to the Communists, whom he viewed as the major danger. Schleicher went on to tell Rumbold in regards to the Nazis that he planned "to harness the movement in service of the state". By the end of 1932, the NSDAP was running out of money, increasingly prone to in-fighting and was discouraged by the Reichstag election of November 1932 where the party had lost votes. So Schleicher took the view that the NSDAP would sooner or later have to support his government because only he could offer the Nazis power and otherwise the NSDAP would continue to disintegrate without power. Much of Schleicher's self-confidence during his time as Chancellor was due to his knowledge that the NSDAP was on the verge of bankruptcy and clearly in a process of decline, which accordingly led him to believe that Hitler needed him more than he needed Hitler. For Schleicher, the major danger was that Hitler might stick to his "all or nothing" strategy and that the Nazis might vote for a motion of no-confidence in his government before they realized that it was their fate to play the role that he had assigned to them.
To gain Nazi support while keeping himself Chancellor, Schleicher often talked of forming a so-called Querfront ("cross-front"), whereby he would unify Germany's fractious special interests around a non-parliamentary, authoritarian, but participatory regime as a way of forcing the Nazis to support his government. It was hoped that faced with the threat of the Querfront, Hitler would back down in his demand for the Chancellorship and support Schleicher's government instead.
Schleicher was never serious about creating a Querfront; he intended it to be a bluff to compel the NSDAP to support the new government. In his statements to his cabinet, Schleicher always spoke of gaining the support of the entire Nazi Reichstag delegation, and never of the sixty or so deputies associated with Strasser. The American historian Henry Ashby Turner wrote that even if Schleicher had gained the support of the sixty Nazi deputies close to Strasser, the opposition of the remaining 136 Nazi deputies, the 121 SPD deputies and the 100 Communist deputies would have still been enough to pass a vote of non-confidence in the Schleicher government; only with the support of the entire Nazi delegation could Schleicher hope to defeat a vote of non-confidence.
As part of his attempt to blackmail Hitler into supporting his government, Schleicher went through the motions of attempting to found the Querfront by reaching out to the Social Democratic labor unions, the Christian labor unions, and the economically left-wing branch of the Nazi Party, led by Gregor Strasser. At the same time, Schleicher told the French Ambassador André François-Poncet that he knew well that the Social Democrats violently disliked him for his prominent role in deposing the Braun government in July. Any concessions the SPD made to support his government would result in their voters defecting over to the Communists, so he could reasonably expect nothing but opposition from the SPD.
On 4 December 1932, Schleicher met with Strasser and offered to restore the Prussian government from Reich control and make Strasser the new Minister-President of Prussia.
Schleicher's hope was that the threat of a split within the Nazi Party, with Strasser leading his faction out of the party, would force Hitler to support the new government. At a secret meeting of the NSDAP leaders on 5 December 1932, Strasser urged the NSDAP to drop the demand for Hitler to become Chancellor and support Schleicher, in exchange for which Schleicher would give the Nazis several cabinet portfolios. In a speech, Hitler won the Nazi leaders over to continuing his "all or nothing" strategy, in which the Nazis would never support any government not headed by him. Schleicher, who was unaware of how Hitler had bested Strasser, told his Cabinet on 7 December 1932 that he would soon have the support of the Nazi deputies in the Reichstag, which together with the Zentrum and some of the smaller parties would give his presidential government a majority in the Reichstag. On 8 December 1932, Strasser resigned as head of the NSDAP's organizational department in protest against Hitler's strategy of opposing every government not headed by himself. At the same time, Schleicher let it be known to Hitler that he offered Strasser the Vice-Chancellorship. At another meeting of Nazi Party leaders, Hitler denounced Strasser and threatened suicide if more Nazi leaders followed Strasser. Hitler's speech had the desired effect and Strasser was left alone in the party. In the middle of December 1932, Schleicher planted an article in the press stating that the Chancellor was a great friend of the NSDAP, and Germany could only advance if "the greatest national freedom party" formed an alliance with "those forces which have always formed the core of the Prussian-German state", which was clearly a reference to the military under the leadership of the latter. In mid-January 1933, Schleicher told a journalist that what he wanted to do to was force the Nazis to "abandon their messianic beliefs" and accept integration into "a new extra-parliamentary front in support of an authoritarian regime."
Shortly after Schleicher became Chancellor, there occurred a trivial incident that was to have momentous consequences, when he told some joke at the expense of Major Oskar von Hindenburg, which greatly offended the humorless Hindenburg. Just what exactly the joke was has been lost to history, but the younger Hindenburg felt gravely offended and insulted. As a result, relations between Schleicher and Major von Hindenburg notably cooled afterwards. As it was his close friendship with the younger Hindenburg that gave Schleicher his privileged access to his father President von Hindenburg, this was to have major consequences, especially as Papen by contrast had been able to stay on excellent terms with both Hindenburgs.
One of the main initiatives of the Schleicher government was a public works program intended to counter the effects of the Great Depression, which was shepherded by Günther Gereke, whom Schleicher had appointed special commissioner for employment. The various public works projects—which were to give 2,000,000 unemployed Germans jobs by July 1933 and are often wrongly attributed to Hitler—were the work of the Schleicher government, which had passed the necessary legislation in January. The American historian Henry Ashby Turner wrote that if Schleicher had been able to stay in office for a few more months, then the economic benefits of the public works projects would have left Schleicher in a much stronger political position. When Schleicher learned that Papen had met with Hitler on 4 January 1933 with the aim of bringing him down, Schleicher refused to take the threat seriously as he told François-Poncet on 6 January 1933 that: "He [Papen] is frivolous. He imagined that he was going to pull off a master stroke and serve up Hitler to us on a platter. As if Hitler had not shown many times that he cannot be trusted! Now Papen is embarrassed. He fears our reproaches. I won't scold him. I'll just say to him: 'my dear Fränzchen, you've committed another blunder!"
Relations with Cabinet
Schleicher's relations with his Cabinet were poor. With two exceptions, Schleicher retained all of Papen's cabinet, which meant that much of the unpopularity of the Papen government was inherited by Schleicher's government. When one of Schleicher's aides pointed this out, Schleicher stated: "Yes, sonny boy [Kerlchen], you're completely right; but I can't do without these people at the moment, because I have no one else." Schleicher's secretive ways and open contempt for his ministers made for poor relations between the Chancellor and his cabinet. Regarding tariffs, Schleicher refused to make a firm stand. The Minister of Agriculture Magnus von Braun wanted high tariffs as a way of supporting German farmers, while the Economics Minister Hermann Warmbold was opposed to further protectionism lest it damage even more the export of German industrial goods. Schleicher refused to make a decision about where he stood about tariffs, and instead told the two ministers to resolve their dispute without involving him. Braun later was to call his time in Schleicher's government "pure torture".
Non-policy on tariffs
Schleicher's non-policy on tariffs hurt his government very badly when on 11 January 1933 the leaders of the Agricultural League launched a blistering attack on Schleicher in front of Hindenburg. The Agricultural League leaders attacked Schleicher for his failure to keep his promise to raise tariffs on food imports, and for allowing to lapse a law from the Papen government that gave farmers a grace period from foreclosure if they defaulted on their debts. The following day, on 12 January, the League released a statement to the press that attacked Schleicher as "the tool of the almighty money-bag interests of internationally oriented export industry and its satellites" and accused him of "an indifference to the impoverishment of agriculture beyond the capacity of even a purely Marxist regime." Hindenburg—who always saw himself as the patron of German farmers—was most upset about what the League leaders had told him, and summoned Schleicher at once to meet with them and him later on the afternoon of 11 January 1933 to explain to him why Schleicher was allowing German agriculture to die. During the ensuing meeting, Hindenburg took the side of the League and forced Schleicher to accede to all of its demands. Despite Schleicher giving in to Hindenburg's brow-beating, on 12 January 1933 the League released a public letter to Hindenburg asking that Schleicher be sacked at once. At the same time, Hindenburg received hundreds of letters and telegrams from Junkers who were active in the League asking for Schleicher to be dismissed as Chancellor.
Faced with intractable problems at home, Schleicher focused on foreign policy. His main interest was in winning Gleichberechtigung ("equality of status") at the World Disarmament Conference, which would do away with Part V of the Treaty of Versailles that had disarmed Germany. Reflecting his key interest in foreign policy, Schleicher made a point of cultivating the French ambassador André François-Poncet and stressing his concern with improving Franco-German relations. This was in part because Schleicher wanted to ensure French acceptance of Gleichberechtigung in order to allow Germany to rearm without fear of a French "preventative war." He also believed that improving Berlin-Paris relations would lead the French to abrogate the Franco-Polish alliance of 1921, which would allow Germany to partition Poland with the Soviet Union without having to go to war with France.
In a speech before a group of German journalists on 13 January 1933, Schleicher boasted that based on the acceptance "in principle" of Gleichberechtigung by the other powers at the World Disarmament Conference in December 1932, he planned to have by no later than the spring of 1934 a return to conscription and for Germany to have all the weapons forbidden by Versailles. In a 15 January 1933 speech on German radio, Schleicher announced that his government's main goals were in foreign policy and the principal foreign policy goals were Gleichberechtigung and the return of conscription.
On 20 January 1933, Schleicher missed one of his best chances to save his government. Wilhelm Frick—who was in charge of the Nazi Reichstag delegation when Hermann Göring was not present—suggested to the Reichstag's agenda committee that the Reichstag go into recess until the next budget could be presented, which would have been some time in the spring. Had this happened, by the time the recess ended, Schleicher would have been reaping the benefits of the public works projects that his government had begun in January, and in-fighting within the NSDAP would have worsened. Schleicher had his Chief of Staff, Erwin Planck, tell the Reichstag that the government wanted the recess to be as short as possible, which led to the recess being extended only to 31 January as Schleicher believed mistakenly that the Reichstag would not dare bring a motion of no-confidence against him as that would mean another election.
The ousted Papen now had Hindenburg's ear, and used his position to advise the President to sack Schleicher at the first chance. Papen was urging the aged President to appoint Hitler as Chancellor in a coalition with the Nationalist Deutschenationale Volkspartei (German National People's Party; DNVP) who, together with Papen, would supposedly work to rein in Hitler. Papen was holding secret meetings with both Hitler and Hindenburg, who then refused Schleicher's request for emergency powers and another dissolution of the Reichstag. Schleicher for a long time refused to take seriously the possibility that Papen was working to bring him down, as Plank speaking for Schleicher told a journalist: "Let him [Papen] talk, he's completely insignificant. No one takes him seriously. Herr von Papen is a pompous ass. This speech is the swan song of a bad loser."
The consequence of promoting the idea of presidential government where everything depended upon President Hindenburg's whims, with the Reichstag weakened, meant that when Hindenburg decided against Schleicher, he was in an extremely weak political position. The British historian Edgar Feuchtwanger wrote that presidential government meant that "The whims of the octogenarian president, the moods of Schleicher and the vanity of Papen, mattered more than the views of the Reichslandbund or RDI".
American historian Henry Ashby Turner wrote that Schleicher was very good at intrigue, but his talents were purely destructive, for as Chancellor Schleicher revealed himself to be completely inept, a classic example of the Peter principle, as Schleicher during his short time in office showed himself to be a man with "...a woeful lack of judgment and a hobbling propensity for self-delusion." Turner argued that Schleicher had always been a "backseat driver" of German politics; a man with power, but no responsibility as the Reichswehr's political fixer whom during his short time as Chancellor discovered that politics were more far complex than what he had ever imagined or was capable of dealing with. By January 1933, Schleicher's reputation as the destroyer of governments, as a man who was just happy intriguing against his friends as his enemies, and as a man who had betrayed all who had trusted him, meant he was universally distrusted and disliked by all factions, which further weakened his attempts to stay in power.
On 28 January 1933, Schleicher told his Cabinet that he needed a decree from the President to dissolve the Reichstag, or otherwise his government was likely to be defeated on a no-confidence vote when the Reichstag reconvened on 31 January. Schleicher then went to see Hindenburg to ask for the dissolution decree, and was refused. Upon his return to meet with the Cabinet, Schleicher announced his intention to resign, and signed a decree allowing for 500,000,000 marks to be spent on public works projects. It should be noted that when Schleicher learned that his government was doomed because Hindenburg refused the dissolution, Schleicher thought his successor was going to be Papen, and as such it was towards blocking that event that Schleicher devoted his energy.
On 29 January, Werner von Blomberg—who was part of the German delegation at the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva — was ordered to return to Berlin at once by President Hindenburg, who did so without informing Schleicher or the Army Commander, General Kurt von Hammerstein. Upon learning of this, Schleicher guessed correctly that the order to recall Blomberg to Berlin meant his government was doomed.
When Blomberg arrived at the railroad station in Berlin, he was met by Major von Kuntzen ordering him to report at once to the Defense Ministry on behalf of General von Hammerstein, and by Major Oskar von Hindenburg ordering him to report at once to the presidential palace. Over Kuntzen's protests, Blomberg chose to go with Hindenburg to meet his father, who swore him in as Defense Minister. Blomberg was sworn in by Hindenburg as Defense Minister so promptly and in an illegal manner (under the Weimar Constitution the president could swear in a minister only after receiving the advice of the Chancellor; Hindenburg had not consulted Chancellor Schleicher about his wish to see Blomberg replace him as Defense Minister) because in late January 1933 there were wild and untrue rumors circulating in Berlin that Schleicher was planning on staging a putsch.
To counter the alleged plans for a putsch by Schleicher, Hindenburg wanted to remove Schleicher as Defense Minister as soon as possible. The military, which until that moment had been Schleicher's strongest bastion of support, now suddenly withdrew their support. The military played a major role in January 1933 in persuading President Hindenburg to dismiss Schleicher and appoint Hitler as Chancellor.
The reason for this was that by late January 1933 it was clear that the Schleicher government could only stay in power by proclaiming martial law and by sending the Reichswehr to crush popular opposition. In doing so, the military would have to kill hundreds, if not thousands of German civilians; any regime established in this way could never expect to build the national consensus necessary to create the Wehrstaat (Defense State). The military had decided that Hitler alone was capable of peacefully creating the national consensus that would allow the creation of the Wehrstaat, and thus the military successfully brought pressure on Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor. By late January 1933 most senior officers in the Army were advising Hindenburg that Schleicher needed to go.
Support for Hitler Chancellorship
That same day, Schleicher, learning that his government was about to fall, and fearing that his rival Papen would get the Chancellorship, began to favor a Hitler Chancellorship. Knowing of Papen's by now boundless hatred for him, Schleicher knew he had no chance of becoming Defense Minister in a new Papen government, but he felt his chances of becoming the Defense Minister in a Hitler government were very good. At this time Schleicher told Meissner, "If Hitler wants to establish a dictatorship, the Army will be a dictatorship within the dictatorship" headed by himself.
Schleicher sent his close associate General Kurt von Hammerstein to meet with Hitler on 29 January, during which Hammerstein warned Hitler not to trust Papen, and promised that the Reichswehr stood behind Hitler being appointed Chancellor. Although Papen had made it clear that he would never serve in a government with Schleicher, when Hammerstein asked if Schleicher could become Defense Minister in a Hitler government, Hitler gave a positive answer.
When Hammerstein and Schleicher met later on the evening of 29 January to discuss what Hitler had said, they dispatched Werner von Alvensleben to meet Hitler, who was having dinner at the apartment of Joseph Goebbels, to seek further assurances that Schleicher could serve in a Hitler government. During his visit, Alvensleben had proclaimed very loudly that the Reichswehr would use force if any government emerged that was not to the Army's liking. When Alvensleben returned without a clear answer as to where Hitler stood about having Schleicher as Defense Minister, Hammerstein phoned Hitler to warn him that he was faced with a fait accompli, by which Hammerstein meant a Papen government without the Nazis.
Hitler misunderstood Hammerstein's remark as implying that Schleicher was about to launch a putsch to keep him out of power. In a climate of crisis, with wild rumors running rampant that Schleicher was moving troops into Berlin to depose Hindenburg, Papen convinced the President that there was not a moment to lose, and to appoint Hitler Chancellor the next day. The President dismissed Schleicher, calling Hitler into power on 30 January 1933. In the following months, the Nazis issued the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act, transforming Germany into a totalitarian dictatorship.
Henry Ashby Turner wrote about Schleicher and what he called the "myth" of the Querfront:
"That myth has accorded him the status of a failed, but well-intentioned Chancellor who strove in vain to keep power from Hitler's grasp-as virtually an anticipatory Widerstandskämper [i.e a resistance fighter against the Nazis]. Stripped of that myth, he emerges as a political incompetent who sought in vain to tame the NSDAP by offering it a subordinate role in an authoritarian regime he himself intended to head, an arrangement that would have unavoidably entailed extensive policy concessions to Nazi ideology. In his vain pursuit of that goal, Schleicher maneuvered himself into a political Sackgasse [impasse] that resulted in his fall and cleared the way for Papen's intrigues on behalf of Hitler's appointment as his successor. Taken together with his earlier part in the transfer of power from the parliament to the presidency and his complicity in the destruction of the Prussian anchor of Weimar democracy, Schleicher's pursuit as Chancellor of a partnership with the Nazis entitles him to a place high on the list of Totengräbers [gravediggers] of the republic.
By casting Schleicher in a benign, if ineffectual anti-Hitler role, Querfront theories distort the historical record in numerous ways. Most damagingly, for an understanding of the demise of the Weimar Republic, they divert attention from the sources of Schleicher's political prominence. His rise to the top of the German government was made possible only by the failure, after the revolution of 1918, to replace the old Prussian-German army with a republican defense force and the election, seven years later, of the former Field Marshal von Hindenburg as president. The resulting resurgence of military influence at the top level of politics–exercised in large measure behind the scenes by Schleicher himself–played a major role in undermining Germany's first attempt at democracy and reached its disastrous denouement during his ill-fated Chancellorship."
Schleicher's successor as Defense Minister was his arch-enemy Werner von Blomberg. One of Blomberg's first acts as Defense Minister was to carry out a purge of the officers associated with his much hated enemy Schleicher. Blomberg sacked Ferdinand von Bredow as chief of the Ministeramt and replaced him with General Walter von Reichenau, Eugen Ott was dismissed as chief of the Wehramt and exiled to Japan as military attaché, and General Wilhelm Adam was fired as chief of the Truppenamt (the disguised General Staff) and replaced with Ludwig Beck.
The British historian Sir John Wheeler-Bennett wrote about the "ruthless" way that Blomberg set about isolating and undermining the power of the Army Commander-in-Chief and close associate of Schleicher's, General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, to the point that Hammerstein finally resigned in despair in February 1934 as his powers had become more nominal than real. With Hammerstein's resignation, the entire Schleicher faction which dominated the Army since 1926 had all been removed from their positions within the High Command, and thus destroyed any remaining source of power for Schleicher. Wheeler-Bennett commented that as a military politician Blomberg was every bit the ruthless equal of Schleicher.
In January 1934, Schleicher prepared a statement to the German press that was not allowed however to appear. In his statement, Schleicher declared that he had always been a friend and an admirer of the Nazis, and that he had "consistently and persistently sought to include the Nazis in the government" since the autumn of 1930. Henry Ashby Turner noted that although this statement was written with the primary goal of regaining his old job as Defense Minister, it does suggest that Schleicher wanted to work with the Nazis instead of against them. In the spring of 1934, hearing of the growing rift between Ernst Röhm and Hitler over the role of the SA in the Nazi state, Schleicher began playing politics again.
Schleicher criticized the current Hitler cabinet, while some of Schleicher's followers—such as General Ferdinand von Bredow and Werner von Alvensleben—started passing along lists of a new Hitler Cabinet in which Schleicher would become vice-chancellor, Röhm minister of defence, Brüning foreign minister and Strasser minister of national economy. Schleicher believed that as a Reichswehr general and as a close friend of Röhm that he could successfully mediate the dispute between Röhm and the military over Röhm's demands that the SA absorb the Reichswehr, and that as such Hitler would fire Blomberg and give him back his old job as Defense Minister. Wheeler-Bennett—who knew Schleicher and his circle well—wrote that the "lack of discretion" that Bredow displayed as he went about casually showing anyone who was interested the list of the proposed cabinet was "terrifying".
In the overheated atmosphere of the spring of 1934 where it was an open secret that a rift had emerged between the SA and the military and rumors of an imminent confrontation between them were circulating, it was easy to misinterpret or deliberately misconstrue Schleicher's attempts at playing politics again as an effort to challenge Hitler's rule. Fearing this would lead to his overthrow and the collapse of his regime, Hitler had considered Schleicher a target for assassination for some time. When, from 30 June to 2 July 1934, the Night of the Long Knives occurred, Schleicher was one of the chief victims. At about 10:30 am on 30 June 1934, a car parked on the street outside of Schleicher's house, out of which emerged a group of men wearing trench coats and fedoras who proceeded to walk up to Schleicher's house. While Schleicher was talking on the phone, he heard somebody knocking at his door, and placed the phone down. Schleicher's last words, heard by his friend on the phone, were "Jawohl, ich bin General von Schleicher" ("Yes, I am General von Schleicher"), followed up by two shots. Upon hearing the shots, his wife Elisabeth von Schleicher ran forward into the front lobby, where she was gunned down as well. (She was one of only three female victims of the Night of the Long Knives.) Later on the afternoon of the same day, Schleicher's friend Bredow heard of his murder while drinking tea at the Adlon Hotel. Refusing the offer of help from the French military attaché who offered to let Bredow stay at his embassy, Bredow commented, "They have killed my chief. What is there left for me now?" before resignedly heading home, never to be seen alive by his friends again. In the evening, as Bredow answered the door, he was shot in the face at point-blank range, and as Wheeler-Bennett wrote "...in a moment he had joined his Chief".
At his funeral, Schleicher's friend von Hammerstein was offended when the SS refused to allow him to attend the service and confiscated wreaths that the mourners had brought. Hammerstein and Generalfeldmarschall August von Mackensen began trying to have Schleicher rehabilitated. The army somehow obtained Schleicher's file from the SS. Mackensen led a meeting of 400 officers that drank a toast to Schleicher, and entered his and Bredow's names into the regimental honor roll.
In his speech to the Reichstag on 13 July justifying his actions, Hitler denounced Schleicher for conspiring with Röhm to overthrow the government. Hitler alleged that both Schleicher and Röhm were traitors working in the pay of France. As Schleicher had been a good friend of André François-Poncet, and because of his reputation for intrigue, the claim that Schleicher was working for France had enough surface plausibility for most Germans to accept it, though it was not in fact true. The falsity of Hitler's claims could be seen in that François-Poncet was not declared persona non grata as normally would happen if an Ambassador were caught being involved in a coup plot against his host government. François-Poncet stayed on as French ambassador in Berlin until October 1938, which is incompatible with Hitler's claim that the Frenchman had been involved in a plot to overthrow him.
The army's support for clearing Schleicher's reputation was effective. In late 1934-early 1935, Werner von Fritsch and Werner von Blomberg, whom Hammerstein had shamed into joining his campaign, successfully pressured Hitler into rehabilitating General von Schleicher, claiming that as officers they could not stand the press attacks on Schleicher, which portrayed him as a traitor working for France. In a speech given on 3 January 1935 at the Berlin State Opera, Hitler stated that Schleicher had been shot "in error", that his murder had been ordered on the basis of false information, and that Schleicher's name was to be restored to the honor roll of his regiment.
The remarks rehabilitating Schleicher were not published in the German press, though Generalfeldmarschall von Mackensen announced Schleicher's rehabilitation at a public gathering of General Staff officers on 28 February 1935. As far as the Army was concerned, the matter of Schleicher's murder was settled. However, the Nazis continued in private to accuse Schleicher of high treason. Hermann Göring told Jan Szembek during a visit to Warsaw in January 1935 that Schleicher had urged Hitler in January 1933 to reach an understanding with France and the Soviet Union, and partition Poland with the latter, which was why Hitler had Schleicher assassinated. Hitler told the Polish Ambassador Józef Lipski on 22 May 1935 that Schleicher was "rightfully murdered, if only because he had sought to maintain the Rapallo Treaty".
Schleicher's cabinet, December 1932 – January 1933
- Kurt von Schleicher — Chancellor and Minister of Defense
- Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath – Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Franz Bracht – Minister of the Interior
- Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk – Minister of Finance
- Hermann Warmbold – Minister of Economics
- Friedrich Syrup – Minister of Labour
- Franz Gürtner (DNVP) – Minister of Justice
- Paul Freiherr Eltz von Rübenach – Minister of Posts and Transport
- Magnus von Braun (DNVP) – Minister of Food
- Günther Gereke – Reichskomissar for Employment
- Johannes Popitz – Minister without Portfolio
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Studies about the role of Schleicher in politics
- Graml, Hermann: Zwischen Stresemann und Hitler. Die Außenpolitik der Präsidialkabinette Brüning, Papen und Schleicher, 2001.
- Pyta, Wolfram: Verfassungsumbau, Staatsnotstand und Querfront. In: Ders.: Gestaltungskraft des Politischen. 1998, p. 173–197.
- Strenge, Irene: Kurt von Schleicher. Politik im Reichswehrministerium am Ende der Weimarer Republik. Duncker und Humblot, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-428-12112-0.
Works about the murder of the couple Schleicher
- Orth, Rainer: Der SD-Mann Johannes Schmidt. Der Mörder des Reichskanzlers Kurt von Schleicher? Tectum, Marburg 2012; ISBN 978-3-8288-2872-8.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kurt von Schleicher.|
- Newspaper clippings about Kurt von Schleicher in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)
| Minister of Defence
Werner von Blomberg
Franz von Papen
| Chancellor of Germany
| Prime Minister of Prussia
Franz von Papen