Some ideas only come with a good dose of audacity. On November 19, 1922, almost 200 (exclusively male) people interested in founding a Berlin local group of the mainly Upper Bavarian splinter party NSDAP gathered in the Kreuzberg restaurant "Zum Reichskanzler". But suddenly several detectives appeared to break up the meeting, because Prussia's Minister of the Interior, Carl Severing, had officially banned the NSDAP four days earlier.
But the host of the meeting, an ex-officer named Gerhard Roßbach, was by no means willing to bow. He found that the ban on the NSDAP should be respected. But he added that this prohibition applied to founding a local NSDAP group, but not to the assembly itself. Because there was no local group in Berlin up to that point, the police couldn't ban anything. In addition, no one can prevent Roßbach and his people from founding a new group.
Together with a few confidants, he withdrew briefly to an adjoining room to discuss the project; Then he came back and announced that a Berlin local group of the Greater German Workers' Party would be formed that evening. 194 men signed the membership list of the new party, including a certain Leo Schlageter. They swore an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler and a program broadly consistent with the NSDAP's "25-point program." Nevertheless, the police officers had to leave without having achieved anything, because of course they didn't have a dissolution order for the "Greater German Workers' Party" with them.
Roßbach held the keynote speech himself. However, he avoided joining the new party personally. In this way, he hoped, the new group would not be banned again so quickly. Because Gerhard Roßbach knew that he was under special surveillance.
At the beginning of November 1922, the former first lieutenant and leader of the Freikorps returned to his adopted home of Berlin from a long journey. He was intercepted on the platform and immediately taken to police headquarters. There he was told that he was being investigated for “founding secret organizations”. Interior Minister Severing had found a violation of Article 177 of the Versailles Treaty. Accordingly, "associations of any kind" were not allowed to "deal with military matters". Above all, it was forbidden to "train anyone in the use of weapons of war". But that is exactly what the groups that Roßbach had been forming in northern Germany for months were doing.
Born in 1893, Paul Wilhelm Gerhard Roßbach had taken the obvious path to becoming a career officer in the German Empire as an orphan from a middle-class background. From 1903 he went to various cadet schools, i.e. military high schools, which trained the next generation of army officers. At the age of 18 he was appointed ensign in 1911, two years later he was promoted to lieutenant and went to war as such in 1914; first on the eastern front, from 1916 on the western front.
He served as a platoon commander in a machine gun company, two-thirds of which was wiped out in Flanders in 1917. However, Roßbach could not particularly distinguish himself; casualty list no. 1889 of May 10, 1918 still listed him as a lieutenant and as "seriously wounded" on February 28: he had been shot in the chest. Only now, after almost five years, has he been promoted to lieutenant.
Shortly after the armistice on November 11, 1918, the previously inconspicuous front-line officer turned into a celebrity. Roßbach formed the Roßbach Volunteer Assault Unit in Graudenz, south of Danzig, from the remains of a machine-gun training unit that he had built up during his convalescence. Their purpose: to protect the vulnerable borders of West Prussia against Polish nationalists.
Roßbach was now a Freikorps leader - and had thus found his calling. As a motto he gave his unit the sentence "Uns der Deiwel." According to the Versailles Treaty, West Prussia went to Poland in the summer of 1919. Roßbach moved to Latvia with the 1,200 men in his Freikorps, where he fought against both the Bolsheviks and the Poles.
On January 28, 1920, the Freikorps Roßbach was officially dissolved, but its previous members remained in close contact through the "Roßbach working groups", so that they were still operational as a paramilitary association. During the Kapp putsch in March 1920 in Berlin, his unit was accepted into the Reichswehr as a Jäger battalion, and after the coup d'état failed, the legitimate Reich government sent Roßbach's men to fight against insurgent communists in the Ruhr area: Democracy had to fight against left-wing opponents with the help of right-wing opponents defend opponents.
Roßbach led his men in Upper Silesia for the last time as a closed unit in 1921. In the meantime he had developed great charisma, also because he renounced the usual behavior of officers and continued to call himself Oberleutnant a. D. named, although he actually exercised a function equivalent to that of a colonel.
During the fighting in the voting area in the extreme south-east of what was then Prussia in 1921, the Roßbach Freikorps had become politically radicalized. Its leader now confessed to the NSDAP and in August 1922 even received the official order of the "Führer" to build up the NSDAP in Prussia as extensively as possible with the help of his "Roßbach working groups". He was now something like Hitler's governor north of the Main line.
The project failed with Severing's ban on November 15; the cheekily founded “Greater German Workers' Party” remained an episode and was soon banned as well. Roßbach repeated his maneuvers again, but on March 23, 1923 he was arrested for continued violations of the Republic Protection Act. He was only released in mid-October 1923 and immediately withdrew to Munich.
Here he played a key role in the Hitler Putsch on November 8th and 9th, 1923, in that he was able to persuade the junior officers of the Reichswehr, who had been trained in Munich, to take part on the side of the NSDAP. But his charisma was only enough to mobilize the ensigns until the night of November 9th. When the failure of the coup became apparent and Roßbach's promises turned out to be untrue, the junior officers turned their backs on him.
The lieutenant a. D. fled to Austria like other putschists. When an amnesty ended the threat of criminal prosecution in 1925, he returned, but he was unable to reconnect with his "great days" as a charismatic Freikorps leader. He had turned away from the NSDAP.
At the end of June 1934 he was arrested in the course of the "Röhm Putsch" and - according to his own statements - given the alternative of being shot or having himself officially declared dead. He chose the latter and adopted a new name under which he lived inconspicuously as an insurance salesman until 1945. Five years later he published his memoirs "My way through time", which, however, was not a success. Roßbach died in Hamburg in 1967 at the age of 74.
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