The Freikorps was the name adopted by some right wing nationalists in Weimar Germany after World War One had ended. This was not the first time the name had been used but the term ‘Freikorps’ is most associated with the social and political dislocation that existed in the first few years of Weimar Germany.
The Freikorps was effectively a collection of groups as opposed to a cohesive whole but they all shared the same beliefs and objectives. Members of the Freikorps could be described as conservative, nationalistic, anti-Socialism/Communism and once it had been signed, anti-the Treaty of Versailles. Many members of the Freikorps had fought in World War One and had military experience. They did not believe that Germany had suffered a military defeat in World War One and members of the Freikorps were very vocal supporters of the ‘stab-in-the-back’ legend that was eventually taken up by the Nazi Party.
There were those in the new Weimar government led by Friedrich Ebert, who supported the Freikorps and used sections of it when it was useful to do so. The Freikorps was used to put down the German Revolution of 1918-1919 and it crushed the Bavarian Soviet Republic in May 1919. A Freikorps unit, the Ehrhardt Brigade, in Berlin attempted to overthrow Ebert’s government. The government fled to Stuttgart and Ehrhardt put Wolfgang Kapp in charge of the government. In fact, there was very little support for Kapp in Berlin and a general strike brought down Kapp in just two days.
Members of the Freikorps also murdered leading communists Karl Liebknicht and Rosa Luxemburg. They also attacked meetings of the Spartacists. The use of violence by the Freikorps was taken as read and many escaped major legal repercussions as a result. For example the men held responsible for murdering Luxemburg received token sentences: Otto Runge got two years in prison for “attempted manslaughter” – he hit Luxemburg with his rifle butt – while Lieutenant Kurt Vogel got four months in prison for “failing to report a corpse” despite many believing that it was Vogel who shot her in the head. During his trial it was accepted that there were doubts that it was Vogel who fired the fatal shot. Runge later received compensation from the Nazi Party for his time in prison. No one was held to account for the murder of Liebknicht. Officially he was shot while attempting to escape from arrest – though it was the Freikorps holding him and not the police.
The Freikorps officially disbanded in 1920 but many members joined the fledgling Nazi Party and became the party’s original enforcers – what was to become the SA. A former member of the Freikorps, Ernst Roehm, became head of the SA.
Heinrich Himmler was a member of the Freikorps as was
Karl Wolff, a future general in the SS,
Rudolf Hoess, the future commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau,
Reinhard Heydrich, second only to Himmler in the SS once the Nazis attained power,
Martin Bormann, Hitler’s secretary;
Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr;
Wilhelm Keitel, Field Marshal.