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Arnold Brecht on the Kapp Putsch in 1920 (Retrospective Account, 1966)

As part of the demobilization of the army stipulated by the Treaty of Versailles, the Allies pressed Germany to disband the Free Corps [Freikorps]. General Walther von Lüttwitz – head of Reichswehr Group Command I in Berlin, which oversaw two Reichswehr divisions as well as several Free Corps units – seized the opportunity and staged a putsch that had been planned long in advance with Wolfgang Kapp, general director of the East Prussian agricultural credit banks. On Lüttwitz’s orders, the Erhardt Naval Brigade marched on Berlin, where, on March 13, 1920, Kapp proclaimed himself both Reich Chancellor and Prussian Minister-President and appointed Lüttwitz minister and commander-in-chief of the Reichswehr. But after a general strike broke out on March 15, 1920 and the ministerial bureaucracy refused to obey the putschists’ orders, Lüttwitz and Kapp were forced to abandon their undertaking on March 17, 1920. In major industrial areas, strikes continued and were only suppressed through the deployment of troops. In order to assert their political demands, the trade unions and the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany also maintained the strike until March 22, 1920, ultimately weakening the democratic government. On the whole, the Kapp Putsch revealed the dubious loyalties of the Reichswehr.

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During the night of March 12/13 I was phoned in Steglitz at 3 a.m. from the Chancellery with the instruction that I should come to an impromptu Cabinet Meeting. When I arrived, the meeting had just ended. Ebert and the ministers were coming down the stairs from the first floor. They had received news during the night that Ehrhardt’s brigade was marching on Berlin. Two generals, sent by Noske to meet them, had brought back an ultimatum. When Noske asked the generals assembled around him to take military action, they had—with the single exception of General Reinhardt—advised against it, the reason being given by General von Seeckt: “The German army does not shoot at the German army” (Reichswehr schiesst nicht auf Reichswehr). At 7 a.m., if the ultimatum was not accepted, the rebels had said they would march in. Noske was willing to lie in waiting in the Tiergarten Park with a company and machine guns and start shooting when the rebels advanced, convinced that the whole nuisance would then be over. But the Cabinet had decided to withdraw to Dresden, so that they would not be taken prisoners and thus put out of action.

I was at first to remain behind with State Secretary Albert. Ulrich Rauscher, the government’s press chief, in leaving the building with Ebert and the ministers, handed me a call for a general strike, at the bottom of which were, in his handwriting, the names of the Social Democrat members of the government, and asked me to pass it on to the press. I did so, and went to my office room.

Meantime the day began to dawn. It was a strangely ghostlike situation. I considered what I might do. I remembered how bare the first decrees of the People’s Commissaries after the Revolution had looked without an authoritative official stamp. I therefore had all the metal stamps of the Chancellery brought to me and put them in my overcoat, in order to send them later to my brother Gustav’s apartment. At 6:30 am I phoned him. “Good morning, Gustav. I am at the Chancellery. In half an hour a putsch is going to take place. The ministers have left Berlin to organize resistance from outside. A call for a general strike has gone out. What would you do in my place during the next half hour?” He answered: “I don’t know what you can do. But I do know what I’ll do. I shall fill our bathtub with water.” He knew from previous experience that the most unpleasant aspect of a strike was the breakdown of the water supply. [ . . . ]

Another series of operetta-like situations followed. At seven three men entered the entrance hall. State Secretary Albert went to them. They asked him: “Are you the former State Secretary to the Chancellery?” He answered: “I am indeed the State Secretary to the Chancellery, not the former one, but the present one.” He recommended that they take off their hats. One of them said apologetically they had thought this was only an anteroom. Albert still advised them to take off their hats, and they did. He recognized one of them, Herr von Falkenhausen. “We know each other,” he said. There was a moment of silent consideration as to whether they ought under such circumstances to shake hands. They did not. Herr von Falkenhausen introduced the other two: Herr Kapp and Herr von Jagow, last imperial police-president of Berlin. Albert turned his back on them and went out through the garden to his residence, where we had agreed to meet later.

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