The Ambassador in Germany (Sackett) to the Secretary of State

No. 1863

Sir: With reference to my despatch No. 1854 of August 2, 1932, particularly to that portion concerning political clashes in Germany and the activities of the Nazis in connection therewith, I have the honor to report that since the Reichstag elections of July 31, members of the National Socialist Party have perpetrated acts of atrocious violence at various places throughout the Reich from East Prussia to Bavaria. These political disorders have been of daily occurrence and are too numerous for accurate compilation, but the semi-official Wolff’s Telegraphisches Buero reported, between August 1 and August 8, nineteen instances of terrorism resulting in deaths and serious damage to property.

The worst outbreak occurred at Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia where, early on August 1, a few hours after the results of the elections had been made known and almost immediately following the initiation of the Government’s ten days’ political truce (from August 1 to August 11—Constitution Day), the Nazis produced a veritable reign of terror. Excited to partisan fury, apparently by their failure to obtain a parliamentary majority in the elections, and incensed by the murder of one of their members on the eve of the elections, persons now known to have been members of the SA and SS (Nazi offensive and defensive organizations) stoned shop-windows, burned gasoline stations after ringing false alarms to divert [Page 307] the fire brigades from these fires, attempted to destroy democratic or socialist newspaper offices by fire and sought out prominent members of the Socialist and Communist parties who were murdered or assaulted in their dwellings, some whilst they were in bed. In this manner the local Communist leader and Town Councillor was assassinated; the former head of the administrative district, Dr. von Bahrfelt, a member of the People’s Party who was known to have incurred the enmity of the Nazis and was in consequence recently relieved of his office by the Chancellor was shot, as was the editor-in-chief of the socialist Koenigsberger Volkszeitung, and a leader of the Jewish community at Konigsberg was attacked. Shots were fired into the house of a Communist Reichstag deputy, one of them wounding a little girl.

Disorders were reported at other places in East Prussia as well as elsewhere throughout the Reich, and although at first they might have been thought to be sporadic incidents, as fuller details became known, they established the fact that the same methods were being followed everywhere, and made it clear that a premeditated plan of terrorism was being pursued. It should be observed that this premeditated terrorism of last week, with its incendiary bombs and well planned personal attacks on individuals, has little in common with the former seemingly spontaneous street brawls.

While in the majority of instances the perpetrators of these acts of violence have evaded arrest, the fact that the persons involved in the outrages in East Prussia and Schleswig-Holstein were Nazis, and the similarity of the various occurrences—invariably perpetrated against persons of Left political thought or Jews—strongly implicated the Nazis. Also, reports from places where Nazis were arrested or their premises searched after minor disturbances, as well as from those places where serious occurrences have taken place, are to the effect that these persons generally were armed, and stores of arms and ammunitions, including machine guns, have been found. At Hofgeismar, near Cassel, the police discovered a Nazi truck converted into a military armored car.

It is difficult to see how this present course of terrorism can be stemmed save by most energetic measures on the part of the Government which is now virtually obliged to show whether it can maintain order impartially over all political factions or if it again must make concessions to Herr Hitler. Since the appointment of a Reich commissioner for Prussia (see despatch No. 1841 of July 25)29 a number of police and civil officers are reported to have been relieved simply [Page 308] because they were objectionable to the Nazis. This procedure undoubtedly must tend to undermine the morale and the efficiency of a service. A glaring example of this was witnessed during the troubles at Konigsberg, whence a certain Major of Police had recently been transferred following a complaint against him by Hitler. It appears that this police officer had refused to permit SA and SS formations to line the streets and to form cordons on the occasion of Hitler’s recent visit to that city. The latter protested by telegram to President von Hindenberg and to the Chancellor, and the officer was transferred.

If in fact the morale of the police should become lowered by such examples to the extent of rendering them inefficient, Hitler would then undoubtedly seek to justify acts of terror of his followers on the ground of self-defence against Left partisans—which argument he already has invoked—and demand the policing of Prussia, if not of the Reich, by his “private army”. In fact the Reich Minister of the Interior has already held a conference with the Minister-Presidents of the Nazi States of Oldenburg and Mecklenburg-Schwerin and the Minister of the Interior of the Nazi State of Braunschweig with the reported object of discussing the possibility of recruiting extra or emergency police from the ranks of Hitler’s Brown Army.

Although urged by all elements in the country, except the extreme Right, to take vigorous measures to check the wave of terrorism, the Cabinet has been loath to take concrete steps, and this has increased popular uneasiness and given rise to the easily comprehensible suspicion that the Government would go to great lengths to avoid action which would lead to direct collision with the Nazis. Although high officials, including Dr. Bracht, the Acting Reich Commissioner (see despatch No. 1841 of July 25, page 4) have announced that the Government would repress with impartial severity disturbances of public law and order, from whatever direction they might come, the Government has not yet overtly gone beyond the field of threats. However, the Cabinet is known to be considering measures to combat this outbreak of excesses, which are understood to be similar to those prescribed in the decree of July 20 (see telegram No. 150 of July 21)31—and since revoked (see despatch No. 1846 of July 27, page 12)31—and to envisage more rigorous penalties for political crimes, together with the creation of special Summary Courts empowered to inflict the death penalty.

August 11, 1932.

Since the above was written, on the night of August 9, the Government finally issued three decrees to combat political excesses in the [Page 309] Reich the penal measures of which resemble in substance those of the decree “concerning the re-establishment of public security and order in Berlin and the Province of Brandenburg” promulgated with Chancellor Von Papen’s appointment as Reich Commissioner for Prussia (see despatch No. 1839 of July 25, 1932).32

Of these three decrees two are presidential and one executive, signed by the Chancellor and the Minister of Justice.

The first presidential decree, on the basis of Article 48 of the Constitution, provides death sentence for offences normally punishable by a term in the penitentiary and commitment to a penitentiary for offences normally punishable by imprisonment. The second presidential decree extends until August 31 the political truce which was in effect during the first ten days of this month, thereby prohibiting all political meetings until the end of the month. The executive decree institutes summary civilian courts in the Prussian districts where acts of terrorism have been committed recently.

Translations of these three decrees will be transmitted to the Department in a subsequent despatch.

Respectfully yours,

Frederic M. Sackett
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