GHDI logo

Betty Scholem on the Chaos of Revolution (January 1919)

On December 28, 1918, the Independent Social Democratic Party [Unabhängige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands or USPD] pulled out of the Council of People’s Representatives. On January 4, 1919, the remaining members of the Council ordered the dismissal of Berlin Police Chief Emil Eichhorn, a member of the USPD’s left wing. The next day, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards [Revolutionäre Obleute] – who also belonged to the left wing of the USPD – responded with an uprising. They were joined by members of the newly founded German Communist Party [Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands or KPD]. Armed left-wing radicals occupied several newspaper offices and public buildings, and the “Revolution Committee” declared the Council of People’s Representatives dissolved. Gustav Noske (SPD), commander-in-chief of government troops, deployed republican units and the right-wing Free Corps [Freikorps] to put down the uprising. The revolt, known as either the Spartacus uprising or the January uprising, ended on January 15, 1919. That same day, KPD leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were murdered during the Free Corps’ bloody reprisals against left-wing radicals.

During the uprising, Betty Scholem, the wife of well-to-do Berlin printer Arthur Scholem, wrote the following letters to her son Gerhard (later Gershom) Scholem, who would go on to become a famous scholar of Jewish mysticism. These letters illustrate the dismay that many members of the liberal, educated middle class felt toward the chaos and disruption spawned by the revolution.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 2

Berlin, January 7, 1919

My dear child,

At the moment I cannot come up with a longer letter, but at least I can get this postcard off to you. These days are turbulent beyond belief, with constant putsches and riots. Who knows what we have yet to go through. Machine-gun fire rattles while I write!! The Spartacus people have occupied all of the newspaper offices. Your father has just told me that a regiment of the Guards has gone over to their side. In the past few days, they’ve been agitating for a general strike. Yesterday our workers walked off the job at 10:00 a.m. in order to join in the street demonstrations. This morning they all showed up, and after half an hour their spokesman, a Spartacan, again asked for a day off to demonstrate.

(January 9) The workers held a meeting after your father flatly turned them down, and the older and more rational ones, in particular those who had just returned from the front, well-nigh beat the life out of the Spartacus people. With a vote of everyone else against four (the four Spartacans in the shop), they decided against a further strike. I wrote the beginning of this letter on Tuesday afternoon. I had stayed home because I’d invited Richard and Fritz Pflaum for dinner, and wanted to show off the house all spruced up. Then suddenly the underground and the trams were shut down, and a terrible gun battle broke out on Wilhelm Strasse by the Brandenburg Gate, so that the Pflaums quite understandably feared coming. How were they to get to Grunewald and eventually return home?! [ . . . ]

On Monday, when I took a walk with Reinhold through Old Berlin to show him the Ephraim House, Nikolai Church, Kroegel, City Hall, Kloster Strasse, Marien Church, and so on, we kept coming across parades of people demonstrating. They marched in unison, of all things. And why not? They did so for the simple reason that they had all served in the military! [ . . . ]

Kisses, Mum

first page < previous   |   next > last page