Staging Antifascism: The Brown Book

Staging Antifascism: The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror by Anson Rabinbach

The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror, published in Paris in August 1933, was more than a book. It was a staged event and the center of an international campaign that convinced much of the world that the Nazis had conspired to burn the Reichstag as the pretext to establishing a dictator- ship. The campaign around the Brown Book and the trial of Georgi Dimitrov and the other defendants in Leipzig from September to December 1933 was so skillfully managed that it persuaded many observers outside Germany as well as reputable historians until the 1960s that the fi re was the work of a Nazi conspiracy.1 Not until 1959–60, when the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel published a fi ve-part series based on the research of the nonacademic historian Fritz Tobias, were the Brown Book’s falsifi cations and misrepre- sentations exposed. A few years later most professional historians were per- suaded that Tobias’s research was sound—the Brown Book had been discred- ited (at least in the Federal Republic of Germany), and the thesis of a “lone” arsonist widely accepted. During the past three decades a number of chal- lenges to the details presented in Tobias’s research have been mounted, though New German Critique 103, Vol. 35, No. 1, Spring 2008 DOI 10.1215/0094033X-2007-021 © 2008 by New German Critique, Inc. 97 1. In his biography of Hitler, Konrad Heiden wrote, “It may be assumed that the incendiaries were close to the National Socialists, but their identity and methods have remained unknown” (Der Fuehrer: Hitler’s Rise to Power, trans. Ralph Manheim [Boston: Houghton Miffl in, 1944], 559). 98 Staging Antifascism most have not withstood the scrutiny of experts.2 Today a dwindling number of dedicated researchers still maintain that Tobias was engaged in a cover- up, though no credible evidence of conspiracy or of links between the arsonist Marinus van der Lubbe, a disaffected Dutch council communist, and the Nazis has ever emerged. Much of the controversy has been forensic: it concerns ques- tions about van der Lubbe’s movements on the night of the fi re, the time line of events, the chemical evidence, the speed of the fi re pattern, inconsistencies in Tobias’s book, and contradictions in the voluminous trial testimony.3 Over the years the reputations of numerous witnesses and the historians engaged in the controversy have been besmirched, sometimes leading to legal battles. Though the amount of detail covering each of these aspects is overwhelming to non- experts, the actual evidence of conspiracy is scant; the newest proponents of what might be called the Nazi “complicity theory” have, despite their fi erce invective and charges of manipulation and distortion, brought little to light that would alter dramatically the consensus that van der Lubbe acted alone.4 In the German Democratic Republic (GDR), to be sure, the Brown Book remained the standard account of “Nazi fascism” throughout its forty-year history.5 What is ultimately at stake in the seemingly never-ending controversy is the ques- 2. See, e.g., the controversy during the 1980s around the work of the Luxembourg Commission: Walther Hofer et al., Der Reichstagsbrand—eine wissenschaftliche Dokumentation (Freiburg: Ahri- man, 1992). For a critical response see Uwe Backes et al., Reichstagsbrand: Aufklärung einer histo- rischen Legende (Munich: Piper, 1986). 3. The most recent phase of the controversy concerns trial documents found in Moscow and preserved as Fond 551 in the Bundesarchiv in Berlin. Though these fi les do contain materials pre- viously unknown to historians and offer a more complex picture of the investigation conducted by the police, the Gestapo, and the court, they do not present evidence of conspiracy or offer an alter- native to previous explanations. 4. An unconvincing effort to resuscitate the conspiracy thesis, despite its useful clarifi cation of a number of issues, is Alexander Bahar and Wilfried Kugel, Der Reichstagsbrand: Wie Geschichte gemacht wird (Berlin: Edition q, 2001). Of interest is the story of Hans Schneider’s hitherto unpub- lished and allegedly suppressed book, contained in Dieter Deiseroth, Hersch Fischler, and Wolf-Dieter Narr, Neues vom Reichstagsbrand? Eine Dokumentation: Ein Versäumnis der deutschen Geschichts- schreibung (Berlin: BWV Berliner-Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2004), 53–180. Schneider’s manuscript reveals several weaknesses in Tobias’s study, most important the lack of a complete trial transcript. 5. See Klaus Sohl, “Enstehung und Verbreitung des Braunbuchs über Reichstagsbrand und Hitler- terror 1933/1934,” Jahrbuch für Geschichte 21 (1980): 289–327. Despite its affi rmative stance toward the Brown Book, Sohl’s article is the fi rst serious study of its impact. See also Klaus-Dieter Krohn, “Propaganda als Widerstand: Das Braunbuch-Kampagne zum Reichstagsbrand 1933,” in Exilfor- schung: Ein internationales Jahrbuch, vol. 15 (Munich: Text und Kritik, 1997), 10–32. The Brown Book appeared as World Committee for the Victims of German Fascism and Dudley Leigh Aman Marley, eds., Braunbuch über Reichstagsbrand und Hitler-Terror (Basel: Universum, 1933). Here- after cited as BB. In 1980 the Brown Book was reprinted in a facsimile edition by the Akademie- Verlag, Berlin (GDR). This edition is subsequently cited as Braunbuch (1980). Anson Rabinbach 99 tion of whether the end of democracy was the result of a planned and well- organized conspiracy or whether a historical “accident” or unplanned event gave the Nazis the pretext to establish nonparliamentary rule in Germany. As Hans Mommsen noted in 1964, behind the controversy stood the larger issue of the nature of the National Socialist seizure of power: was the dictatorship the result of a political crime or simply an opportune event?6 During the night of February 27, 1933, the main assembly hall of the Reichstag in Berlin was set ablaze and largely destroyed. Police and fi remen arriving at the scene found van der Lubbe, who confessed to being the arson- ist. Nazi leaders, including Hermann Göring and subsequently Joseph Goeb- bels, Adolf Hitler, and Franz von Papen, arrived while the building was still burning. Göring immediately called the fi re a communist plot, a signal for the insurrection. Hitler told Papen, “This is a God-given signal, Herr Vice – Chancellor! If this fi re, as I believe, is the work of the Communists, then we must crush out this murderous pest with an iron fi st.”7 Within hours President Paul von Hindenberg signed an emergency decree “for the protection of people and state” that put an end to civil liberties, including freedom of speech, asso- ciation, the press, and privacy; the autonomy of the federal states; and the right to counsel and appeal. The regime unleashed a massive campaign of repres- sion directed fi rst and foremost against communists, as well as leading Social Democrats and opponents of the regime like the publicist Carl von Ossiet zky. Thousands were arrested in the weeks that followed. In addition to van der Lubbe, four persons were charged with conspiracy to commit arson: the chief of the communist delegation in the Reichstag, Ernst Torgler (who surrendered to police), and three Bulgarian communists, Georgi Dimitrov, Vassili Tanev, and Blagoi Popov, who were arrested several days later, on March 9. Appar- ently, German police were initially unaware that Dimitrov was the head of the West European Bureau of the Comintern. At the end of August, a group of communist exiles and writers who had fl ed to Paris in the wake of the fi re published a book discussing its origins and laying bare the elements of a counterconspiracy. The Brown Book, it can be argued, created the prism through which most of the world saw Nazism for more than a generation. It was a compelling tale of ruthless and diaboli- cal Nazis bent on eliminating all their political rivals and using the fi re as a 6. Hans Mommsen, “Der Reichstagsbrand und seine politischen Folgen,” Vierteljahresheft für Zeitgeschichte 12 (1964): 351–413. 7. Rudolf Diels, Lucifer Ante Portas: Zwischen Severing und Heydrich (Zurich: Interverlag, 1949), 194. Cited in Ian Kershaw, Hitler: 1889–1936: Hubris (London: Lane, 1998), 458. 100 Staging Antifascism pretext to eliminate the communists and terrorize the population on the eve of the March 5 elections. The central character is the hapless “tool” van der Lubbe, described as “ein kleiner, halbblinder lustknabe” (a small, half-blind love slave) whose name appears on a list of lovers of the notorious SA leader Ernst Röhm (Braunbuch [1980], 62). The Brown Book charged that although van der Lubbe claimed to have acted alone, the “true arsonists” were Goeb- bels, who planned the conspiracy, and Göring, who directed his SA accom- plices to use a secret underground passage to enter the Reichstag from his adjacent presidential residence (Göring had been president of the Reichstag since the Nazi takeover of the Prussian government in 1932). Göring and Goebbels wanted the fi re to appear as the work of international communism, hence the arrest of Torgler and the “three Bulgarians.” Further evidence of conspiracy was suppressed by murder and terror. Among those silenced were Georg Bell, a mysterious SA man and former secretary of Röhm’s who had allegedly arranged liaisons with young men for him; a popular Berlin clair- voyant named Erik Jan Hanussen, who allegedly had foreknowledge of the plan; and Ernst Oberfohren, president of the German Nationalists in the Reichstag, who allegedly left a “memorandum,” found after his mysterious suicide, revealing details of the plot. The Reichstag fi re, which occurred just days before the fi rst election faced by the new government, was, it concluded, the well-planned culmination of the terror that the murderous, degenerate Nazis used to secure control over Germany. The book and the campaign that accompanied it was the creation of Willi Münzenberg, the renowned international communist impresario and Reichstag deputy who earned the title “Red Hugenberg” for his organizational empire, which included the International Workers Aid (IAH), numerous dailies and weeklies, journals, and the highly successful illustrated weekly Arbeiter- Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ), with a circulation of nearly half a million.8 His 8. On Münzenberg see Babette Gross, Willi Münzenberg: Eine politische Biographie (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1967); Stephen Koch, Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas against the West (New York: Free Press, 1994); Sean McMeekin, The Red Millionaire: A Political Biography of Willi Münzenberg, Moscow’s Secret Propaganda Tsar in the West (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005); Harald Wessel, Münzenbergs Ende: Ein deutscher Kom- munist im Widerstand gegen Hitler und Stalin: Die Jahre 1933 bis 1940 (Berlin: Dietz, 1991); Helmut Gruber, “Willi Münzenberg’s German Communist Propaganda Empire, 1921–1933,” Journal of Modern History 39 (1966): 278–97; “Willi Münzenberg, Propagandist for and against the Comin- tern,” International Review of Social History 10 (1965): 188–210; Willi Münzenberg, 1899–1940: Un homme contre: Colloque International Aix-en-Provence, Actes, 26–29 mars 1992 (Aix-en-Provence: Bibliothèque Méjane, 1993); and Gerhard Paul, “Lernprozeß mit tödlichem Ausgang: Willi Münzen- bergs Abkehr vom Stalinismus: Politische Aspekte des Exils,” Exilforschung 8 (1990): 9–28. Anson Rabinbach 101 premise was that the fi re could only be a political crime, and—since only the National Socialists could benefi t—“it must be premeditated, supported, and perpetrated by leading National Socialist functionaries.”9 In March and April the communist Reichstag fraction had already declared that it was prepared to prove in court that “Minister Göring and Chancellor Hitler are guilty in the act of incendiarism in the Reichstag.”10 Münzenberg seized the opportunity with characteristic skill and dramaturgical fl air. He knew that “there was no more effective propaganda than an event that propagandized itself.”11 In the same month he founded the World Committee for the Relief of the Victims of Ger- man Fascism and at least a dozen other organizations worldwide to orchestrate an international campaign closely coordinated with the Worker’s Anti-Fascist Congress, held at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on June 5, 1933. The Brown Book became a best seller. It was translated into twenty-four languages and published in more than fi fty-fi ve editions. The Münzenberg organization claimed (and its fi les show) that a half million copies were in circulation by 1935, though it is likely that this fi gure is infl ated.12 There were also fi ve illegal editions, and various “camoufl aged” and “miniature” copies hidden in Schiller’s Wallenstein and Goethe’s Hermann und Dorothea were smuggled into Germany by a well-coordinated system of underground couri- ers that even the Gestapo admitted “functioned very well.”13 Gimbels depart- ment store in New York featured it in its advertising. Long after he broke with the communists, Arthur Koestler, who had worked closely with Münzenberg at that time, could still claim that it “probably had the strongest political impact of any pamphlet since Tom Paine’s Common Sense.”14 More signifi cant still was the impact of the Brown Book on the conduct of the trial that began in mid-September in the Leipzig Supreme Court. From the fi rst day to the close of the trial, on December 31, when the court’s president, 9. Otto Katz, Der Kampf um ein Buch: Wie im Dritten Reich gegen das Braunbuch gekämpft und gelogen wurde, ed. World Committee for the Victims of German Fascism (Paris: Carrefour, 1934), 6. 10. Inprekorr, March 17, 1933, 310; April 7, 1933, 358. 11. Bruno Frei, Der Papiersäbel: Autobiographie (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1972), 25. 12. Figures for the Editions du Carrefour claim fi ve hundred thousand worldwide; see Archives Nationales, Paris (hereafter cited as AN), Cote F7 15130. Eight thousand copies were published in French, and it can be surmised that at least twice that many appeared in German. International translations tended to be smaller, though the English edition went through six printings of twenty- fi ve thousand. See also McMeekin, Red Millionaire, 361. 13. ZstAP, Deutsche Arbeitsfront, Zentralbüro, 16, Bl. 38, cited in Sohl, “Enstehung und Ver- breitung,” 305. See also Sohl, 325; and AN, Cote F7 15130. 14. Arthur Koestler, The Invisible Writing: The Second Volume of an Autobiography, 1932–1940 (New York: Stein and Day, 1984), 243. 102 Staging Antifascism Karl Werner, delivered a summation explicitly to refute the Brown Book’s claim that only the Nazis could have benefi ted from the fi re, the book remained an “active presence” in the courtroom. Scores of witnesses, including Göring, Goebbels, and SA chief Edmund Heines, were called solely to challenge its allegations. The entire court—judges, attorneys, assistants, and defendants— traveled from Leipzig to Berlin to watch van der Lubbe describe his pathway during the fi re, demonstrate how he had set the curtains ablaze, and explain how he had entered the building by climbing an exterior wall. Goebbels him- self called the Brown Book “the sixth defendant.”15 The Brown Book presented a picture of Nazism that was to become all too familiar: it artfully exploited the early mistakes of the new Nazi regime, offering a dramatic and highly sexualized interpretation of events. It simul- taneously fi lled two urgent political and emotional needs, explaining how, without mentioning the utter impotence of the KPD (Kommunistische Par- tei Deutschlands, or German Communist Party) or the unpreparedness of its leaders, the Nazis drove the party out of existence and its leaders into exile or prison. The explanation ignored the Nazis’ popularity and electoral successes and emphasized conspiracy, blackmail, brutality, pathology, and sexual devi- ance. The image of “Nazi fascism” that emerged from the Brown Book and the Reichstag fi re campaign no longer rested on the Marxist dogma of inevitable proletarian victory or on capitalist string pulling but on heroic and innocent victims of degenerate homosexuals and morphine-addicted fanatics. The new face of communist antifascism was a conspiracy narrative or, one might more accurately say, a counterconspiracy narrative. If the Nazis had accused the communists of planning the fi re as “das Fanal,” the signal for an insurrection, Münzenberg and Katz fl eshed out a counterconspiracy of Nazi intrigues to perpetrate a well-planned gamble to destroy democracy and elim- inate their enemies from the scene. Douglas Reed, one of the few skeptical voices, who covered the trial for the London Times, remarked at the time that there was only a “pigeonhole of credulity” for a (Nazi) conspiracy.16 What purpose, then, did these confl icting narratives of conspiracy serve? Conspiracy theories have been famously called a “paranoid style” of politics, representing a pathological version of reality by substituting purported transparency and connectivity for truth. Critics of the “paranoid theory” of conspiracy politics, like Timothy Melley, have suggested that the term paranoid substitutes a pathologizing explanation for what is in fact a form of “agency panic,” a cri- 15. [Otto Katz] World Committee for the Victims of German Fascism, Der Kampf um ein Buch, 5. 16. Douglas Reed, The Burning of the Reichstag (New York: Covici Friede, 1934), 9. Anson Rabinbach 103 sis of diminished human agency in specifi c historical situations.17 Conspiracy theories are constructed out of the conviction that there are no accidents in history; that everything is connected, intended, meaningful, and ultimately explainable; in other words, that human beings are being manipulated behind their backs. They are a kind of Hegelianism or Marxism of the little man and woman; in that respect there is little difference between conspiracy theory and theory itself. Without subscribing to the view that the bracketing of the “real” by conspiracy thinking is itself only a crude version of a more generalized radical ontological uncertainty, I would agree that the Reichstag fi re case, with its antithetical conspiracy narratives, does in fact reveal a historical moment of profound diminished agency, certainly on the left, in the 1930s. William E. Dodd, U.S. ambassador to Germany, reported that “nobody believes the offi – cial version of setting fi re to the Reichstag.”18 Documents from the Central Party Archive in Moscow, available since 1991, cast new light on the role of Münzenberg and his lieutenant Otto Katz in producing the Brown Book and staging the campaign and the sensational countertrial composed of internationally recognized jurists that Münzenberg organized in London just days before the Leipzig trial. In April, Münzenberg vetted his plans for the campaign with the political secretariat of the Comin- tern Executive in Moscow, under the auspices of the chief of the Propaganda Section, Béla Kun, and Politburo member Ossip Piatnitsky.19 An internal Com- intern memorandum underscored the importance of “conducting a campaign that made use of modern propaganda techniques, avoided obsolete methods,” and put its “main emphasis on the mobilization of ‘public opinion.’” During late July and early August 1933 Münzenberg traveled to Moscow to fi nalize plans.20 However, Moscow’s enthusiasm and the resources put at his disposal 17. Timothy Melley, Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), 7–16. 18. Report of William E. Dodd, March 8, 1933 (top secret), in Yuri Dyakov and T. S. Bushueva, The Red Army and the Wehrmacht: How the Soviets Militarized Germany, 1922–33, and Paved the Way for Fascism: From the Secret Archives of the Former Soviet Union (Amherst, NY: Pro- metheus, 1995), 288. 19. This material is located in the papers of the Comintern (Communist International), housed in the Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Sotsial’no-Politicheskoi Istorii, Federal’noe Arkhivnoe Agentstvo Rossii (Ros. 1917–1940) (Russian Center for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Modern History in Moscow; hereafter cited as RGASPI), Fond 495.60.242a, April 3, 1933. The Brown Book was fi rst mentioned in early April in a Münzenberg publication as a documentary collec- tion on Nazi crimes to be published under the aegis of Münzenberg’s German Relief Committee of the Central Committee of the IAH in Amsterdam (see Sohl, “Enstehung und Verbreitung,” 292). 20. Gross, Willi Münzenberg, 262. 104 Staging Antifascism should not be exaggerated. The campaign was as much directed at Comintern leaders and the more skeptical Soviets to persuade them that European antifas- cism was a viable political option. Until then, antifascism was not a concept widely embraced by the Comintern or by national communist parties. In 1928 Stalin coined the term social fascism to describe the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or German Social Democratic Party) as the main enemy of communism, indeed as what he called the moderate wing of fascism.21 For communists, the term fascism was characterized by elasticity and imprecision, encompassing capitalism, social democracy, liberalism, imperialism, and ulti- mately all those who stood outside their own camp. Communist antifascism not only abused the term fascism but turned it into a term of abuse to mean all noncommunists. Before 1933 campaigns were orchestrated for specifi c purposes, like the famous Amsterdam Congress (which actually took place in Paris) against Imperialist War, provoked by the Japanese attack on Manchuria in the fall of 1931. Held between August 27 and August 29, 1932, it focused on anti-imperialism rather than antifascism and was organized by Münzenberg and the writers Romain Rolland and Henri Barbusse to generate a broad move- ment uniting progressive and left-wing groups, including communists and dis- affected socialists. In the months after the fi re Stalin did not alter his implacable belief that Germany might still remain a reliable ally despite the advent of Hitler. Until the end of 1933 Soviet military leaders still hoped to maintain their long-standing (since the Rapallo Treaty of 1921) relations between the Red Army and the Reichswehr, including reciprocal military contacts and projects. In March, German foreign minister Konstantin von Neurath assured Soviet foreign min- ister Maxim Litvinov that there would be no change in relations with the Soviet Union, a point affi rmed by Hitler when he called the fi ght against German com- munism an “internal affair.”22 In July, Reichswehr Minister Werner von Blomberg spoke to a group of German and Soviet offi cers of a “common interest” of long standing.23 But Soviet diplomats also warned that “never before had our relations been main- tained in such a diffi cult general political atmosphere as now” and called on the German government to “immediately, with an iron hand, put an end to 21. See Hermann Remmele, “Die Lage in Deutschland um die Jahreswende,” Die rote Fahne, January 1, 1932, 2. 22. Edward Hallett Carr, Twilight of the Comintern, 1930–1935 (New York: Pantheon, 1983), 87, 95. 23. Diary of Kinchuk, July 8, 1933, in Dyakov and Bushueva, Red Army and the Wehrmacht, 304. Anson Rabinbach 105 all these excesses” if good relations were to be maintained.24 Only in Sep- tember 1933 did the German attaché in Moscow report that “there exists a very strong trend in Russia to leave us and become good friends of France. This strong trend is represented in the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs by Litvinov.”25 Consequently, the Comintern’s fi nancial support for the anti-Nazi enter- prise was meager. Moscow’s tepid attitude toward exile antifascism was evi- dent when, on the eve of the trial, Kun complained bitterly to Piatnitsky that the agitation campaign they had begun in April was beginning to unravel, that he lacked even a room for the project, and that there was no technical support whatsoever, making the work “not only diffi cult but in many cases impossible.”26 Despite these obstacles, the campaign to save the four communists— though not the accused arsonist van der Lubbe—represented the fi rst stirrings of the exile antifascist movement that the Comintern would only later regard as a model for all popular front enterprises. Münzenberg’s style, his confabula- tion of organizations, commissions, and prominent public fi gures, was already in place during the 1920s (Sacco and Vanzetti, Scottsboro).27 What was new, as the historian François Furet noted, was that Münzenberg, with his genius for propaganda, now faced Goebbels “in a head-to-head match, and in so doing, invented the new face of Stalinism: anti-Fascist Communism.”28 In his role as the Comintern’s public face in Europe, Münzenberg enjoyed a greater measure of independence and freedom of action in the international fi eld than the Ger- man party did. He carefully negotiated the narrow line between sectarianism and fraternization with the “class enemy” with the skill of a tightrope walker. “Münzenberg’s prestige and self-esteem necessarily became involved in the success of the front as a front, rather than in the success of the front as an instrument in building the party.”29 24. Nicholai Krestnitsky, “Journal Entry: Reception of Von Dirksen and Harmann,” April 3, 1933, in Dyakov and Bushueva, Red Army and the Wehrmacht, 293. 25. Letters of Dr. von Twardowsky, counselor of the German Embassy in Moscow, Septem- ber 19, 1933, in Dyakov and Bushueva, Red Army and the Wehrmacht, 307. 26. RGASPI, Fond 495.60.242a, Kun to Piatnitsky, September 2, 1933. See also Gross, Willi Münzenberg, 262. 27. For Münzenberg’s Scottsboro campaign see James A. Miller, Susan D. Pennybacker, and Eve Rosenhaft, “Mother Ada Wright and the International Campaign to Free the Scottsboro Boys, 1931–34,” American Historical Review 106 (2001): 387–430. 28. François Furet, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Cen- tury, trans. Deborah Furet (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 216. 29. Gruber, “Willi Münzenberg’s German Communist Propaganda Empire,” 289. 106 Staging Antifascism The day-to-day organizer of the World Committee (nominally headed by Albert Einstein, though without his consent) and the master of the Brown Book campaign was Otto Katz, who operated under several noms de guerre. A German-speaking Czech Jew, the linguistically gifted and dandyish Katz was equally at home in Prague, Berlin, Moscow, Paris, Hollywood, Madrid, and Mexico City, to name just some of the stations on his itinerary.30 In 1946 he was called back to Prague to be foreign commentator of the party daily, Rude Pravo. In November 1952 he was accused of participating in a Trotskyite- Titoist-Zionist conspiracy and convicted of treason and espionage during the notorious Slansky trial in Prague. He was hanged along with eleven other vic- tims on December 3, 1952. The author of more than a dozen books, though few published under his own name, Katz had worked for Münzenberg’s IAH in Moscow in the 1920s and was widely reputed (by both the FBI and his for- mer coworkers) to be a Soviet agent (though no direct evidence of his having worked for the NKVD [Narodny Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, or People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs] has yet emerged).31 Confl icting versions of the authorship of the Brown Book circulated for years, in large part the result of the political paths subsequently taken by its multiple authors. Katz remained a communist, organizing antifascist cam- paigns in Hollywood, running the Agence Presse Espagne during the Span- ish Civil War, and working for the Komitee Freies Deutschland in Mexico. Münzenberg died under mysterious circumstances after his release from a French internment camp in October 1940. Koestler, Gustav Regler, and Alfred Kantorowicz became notorious “renegades” and repudiated their old com- rades, though not the Brown Book. Alexander Abusch, who later became a functionary of the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, or Social- ist Unity Party of Germany), disparaged the ex-communists as bohemian intel- lectuals and “late-communists.” So intense was the rivalry between Abusch and Katz over the Brown Book’s authorship that it became a source of fric- tion when both were in Mexican exile in the 1940s and, as their GDR Stasi fi les reveal, was still a sore point during the anticosmopolitan purges of the 1950s, when Abusch was briefl y relieved of his posts in the GDR and Katz was arrested in Prague.32 Abusch noted that Katz or “[André] ‘Simone’ had very 30. Anson Rabinbach, “Otto Katz: Man on Ice,” in Jüdische Geschichte als allgemeine Geschichte: Festschrift für Dan Diner zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. Yfaat Weiss and Raphael Gross (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2006), 325–52. 31. This claim was made by Gustav Regler and is repeated by Koch, Double Lives, 342n23. 32. On June 10, 1950, Abusch, then a prominent SED politician in the GDR, was interrogated in connection to the Noel Field affair. He was also interrogated during the Slansky trial by the Anson Rabinbach 107 many petty-bourgeois, typically intellectual characteristics.” Katz acknowl- edged that Abusch was his coeditor but pridefully insisted to his interrogator in Prague—up to the moment that he was executed—that “it was due to my efforts that the Brown Book was completed.”33 Many things contributed to the Brown Book’s commercial success, not least its extraordinary jacket design by the photomontagist John Heartfi eld. Years later Abusch recalled that we were working in a frenzied rush, in a race to keep up with events, begin- ning the Brown Book at the beginning of August and preparing it simulta- neously in several countries. The German edition came out fi rst, and by the time the trial against Dimitrov and the others began, it had appeared in eighteen languages and was becoming a worldwide sensation in the move- ment at that time. . . . We said right away, already in May, that there was only one person who could create the dust jacket for the explosive Brown Book, and that was John Heartfi eld. And he created that famous dust jacket of the burning Reichstag.34 “Göring, der Henker des Dritten Reichs” (“Göring, the Executioner of the Third Reich”) was produced in August and contained six elements: (1) the burning Reichstag (the image was used in his fi rst photomontage for the AIZ in Prague, “Durch Licht zur Nacht” [“Through the Light to Night”], which appeared in May 1933 depicting Goebbels and the book burning); (2) the con- torted screaming face of Göring; (3) a soldier’s torso, arms cut off at the elbow, to which Heartfi eld pasted two oversized arms to suggest an apelike demeanor; (4) a drawing of an ax; (5) the apron, its edges blended with the rest of the photomontage, the pattern and the folds painted and the blood splatters added; (6) the Reichstag facade, where there is a loss of focus and a cropping of the relief “Dem deutschen Volk” (“To the German People”) (fi g. 1). Göring’s uni- form is printed in reverse with the telltale armband on the right arm. The blood splatters are painted on his apron. In a subsequent version that appeared in the exile AIZ in September, Heartfi eld added Göring’s Maltese cross, which reads “Pour le Profi te” (for profi t), a parody of the “Blue Max,” Germany’s highest Party Control Commission about the Brown Book and his contacts with Katz during their Mexican exile. See Mario Kessler, Die SED und die Juden—zwischen Repression und Toleranz: Politische Entwicklungen bis 1967 (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1995), 84. 33. Berlin Bundesbeauftrage für Staatsicherkeit, Stasi, Zentralarchiv BstU, 5079/56/I 00089, Auszug aus dem Protokoll André Simone [Otto Katz], June 12, 1952. 34. Archiv der Akademie der Künste, Berlin, John-Heartfi eld-Archiv, interview with Alexan- der Abusch, June 17, 1976. 108 Staging Antifascism military order, Pour le Mérite, created by Frederick the Great in 1740 (fi g. 2). Göring had in fact received the distinction for having fl own with Baron von Richthofen during World War I, making the insult all the more barbed. Heart- fi eld had already caused a scandal by using the same parody in his 1931 photo- montage of a jackal wearing the Pour le Profi te, “Krieg und Leichen—die letzte Hoffnung der Reichen” (“War and Corpses: The Last Hope of the Wealthy”). He also added the title “Göring, the Executioner of the Third Reich” as well as the ironic comment that “Göring’s face is taken from an original photograph and has not been retouched.” But while the face is indeed untouched, his bul- bous neck was obviously enhanced and even more greatly exaggerated with the addition of a protruding boil in the second version. “Göring, the Execu- tioner of the Third Reich,” is also a vivid example of the bestialization that Heartfi eld had also used to great effect in “The Last Hope of the Wealthy.” The back cover is a bloody corpse splayed against a swastika, an image that directly responds to a Nazi photomontage that appeared on the cover of the Illustrierte Beobachter on November 19, 1932—a technique borrowed by the Nazis from Figure 1. John Heartfi eld, original jacket of The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror. Akademie der Künste, Berlin Figure 2. John Heartfi eld, “Göring, the Executioner of the Third Reich,” AIZ, September 14, 1933 110 Staging Antifascism Heartfi eld himself—of an SA man, “Und fragt ihr die Stimmen, die ihr zählt, die meine hat den Kampf gewahlt” (“And If You Ask the Votes That Count, Mine Has Chosen Battle”). Heartfi eld was the pioneer of political photomontage in the Weimar Republic, the most highly regarded artist belonging to the KPD and the one most often imitated by his opponents. A dadaist who turned to communism during the November revolution, Heartfi eld and his brother, the publisher Wie- land Herzfelde, were personally given their party membership books by Rosa Luxemburg on the last day of December 1918, just weeks before she was mur- dered on January 15, 1919. Heartfi eld remained a loyal party member until his death in the GDR in 1968. In the 1920s his “dialectical montages” were regarded, as he put it, as a “truly revolutionary weapon in the class struggle.” They included many book jackets done for Münzenberg and the party publish- ing house, including the famous dust jacket for Kurt Tucholsky’s Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles (1929), which won him admirers among left-wing art- ists in Germany and an invitation to the Soviet Union, where he spent part of 1931–32, contributing to the volume Soviet Union in Construction on Soviet photomontagists. Compared with his politically withering and satirical photo- montages, however, his Soviet efforts were affi rmative and lacking in critical bite. From its inception, Heartfi eld was the leading photomontagist for Mün- zenberg’s famous AIZ, founded in 1925 to produce a left-wing alternative to the popular illustrated photo-weeklies of the bourgeois press, like the Berliner Illustrierte-Zeitung and the Münchner Illustrierte-Presse. After he fl ed Ger- many for Prague in April 1933, Heartfi eld began his most intensive period of activity for the AIZ. His photomontages appeared almost weekly. Some were produced as miniaturized versions smuggled into Germany camoufl aged as tea packets. Yet whereas the Weimar AIZ had reached nearly a half million readers, the Prague edition never exceeded printings of twelve thousand. Censored by the Czech government, it was distributed mostly in Switzerland, Alsace-Lorraine, and Austria, countries whose reading public did not closely follow events in Germany. Heartfi eld’s photomontages combined journalistic reportage, photo- graphic caricature, and persuasive graphics with the shock effect of dada montage. He recontextualized texts and images through metamorphosis, hybridization, anthropomorphism, and inversion of scale to achieve what Mikhail Bakhtin called “grotesque realism,” a genre that opposes to “high art” and literature mockery, parody, and any other form of discourse that “brings down to earth” the high and the mighty. His photomontages magni- fi ed hypocrisy, inverted hierarchies of authority, diminished and degraded Anson Rabinbach 111 the enemy.35 As Sabine Kriebel has shown, Heartfi eld’s dada montages reg- istered the shock and disjointedness of modern life through fragmentation and disjunction, whereas during the 1930s he inverted the original montage principle by substituting what Kriebel calls “sutured” photomontages, which “suppress the seams and ruptures of their manufacture” to “propagate fi ctions of causal wholeness.”36 The medical term suture refers to the production of an “illusionism” that aims at visual seamlessness. Heartfi eld’s “dialectical montages” exploited the political discourse of deception to create a “seem- ingly transparent” picture of the world through irony, puns, degradation, and distortion. Yet Heartfi eld’s reality was more often than not itself an illusion promoted by the Comintern, which in turn propagated a fi ction of fascism either as degeneration—Göring’s primate physiognomy—or as a conspiracy of capitalism.37 Heartfi eld’s cover design was the visual analogue to the content of the Brown Book, which brought together disparate elements of terror, capitalist conspiracy, sexual anomaly and degeneracy, morphine addiction, and so forth to create a composite image of National Socialism’s “inner reality.” Like its jacket, the composition of the Brown Book was a montage, an artful suture of investigative journalism, communist tract, and a modern polit-thriller that belongs in all of its major components to the genre of the detective novel. Factually correct elements, like accusations from the Nazi press and vivid examples of Nazi terror, are woven together with falsifi cations, conjecture, and inventions unique to the Brown Book. As Koestler recalled, “All this was based on isolated scraps of information, deduction, guesswork, and brazen bluff.”38 A good detective story, the Brown Book stages an epic struggle between the ingenuous and preternaturally developed investigator (the book itself) and the cleverly irrational criminal, in this case, the unscrupulous, and fundamen- tally depraved (morphine-addicted) Göring. Operating from the principle “Cui bono?” the Brown Book establishes motive and then builds the three key ele- ments of the conspiracy: (1) the plan conceived by Goebbels, above all the means of access—the underground passage, so iconic that a piece of it now adorns the lobby of the new Reichstag in Berlin—by which the conspirators, 35. On Heartfi eld’s technique see David Evans, John Heartfi eld, AIZ: Arbeiter-Illustrierte- Zeitung, Volks Illustrierte, 1930–38 (New York: Kent, 1992), 15–19. 36. Sabine Kriebel, “Revolutionary Beauty: John Heartfi eld, Political Photomontage, and the Crisis of the European Left, 1929–1938” (PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2003). 37. Interview with Abusch. See also Karl Bömer, Das Dritte Reich im Spiegel der Weltpresse (Leipzig: Armanen, 1934), 46. 38. Koestler, Invisible Writing, 243. 112 Staging Antifascism led by Heines, were able to set the fi re undetected; (2) the murdered wit- nesses, especially Bell and the author of the “Oberfohren Memorandum”— presumably a communist forgery—who were eliminated to evade detection; and (3) the crucial link between the arsonist and the conspirators: van der Lubbe’s homosexuality. Building on the notorious sexual scandal around Röhm, the Brown Book makes the sensational claim that there was a direct line from the homo- sexual madman van der Lubbe to the SA, and to Bell, an adventurer and con- fi dence man who was mysteriously murdered in Austria in April 1933. Bell, allegedly “Röhm’s pimp,” supposedly maintained a list of the young men he procured for Röhm to compromise the Nazi Party. The “list,” which was among the documents confi scated when Bell was murdered near Kufstein in Austria, was identifi ed by a certain “W.S.” as containing a certain Christian name “Rinus” and in parentheses a Dutch name, beginning with “van der . . .” (BB, 57). The Brown Book’s characterization of van der Lubbe as a homosex- ual prostitute serving the Nazis is its most dubious and most pivotal assertion, one that has no basis in the evidence presented about the defendant to the police, to the court, or in the facts of his well-researched biography.39 The Left’s portrayal of the Nazis as a band of degenerate homosexu- als bent on misusing young SA “proles for unethical homosexual purposes” antedates the Reichstag fi re and the Nazi seizure of power. In 1931 and 1932 Röhm’s homosexuality stood at the center of a well-organized campaign, which reached a high point with the publication of his private correspondence with a leading German homosexual-rights activist, Karl Günther Heimsoth, as a brochure, in the left-wing Munich Welt am Montag and in the Social Demo- cratic Münch ner Post, thereby revealing that Röhm was homosexual and strongly favored the repeal of the notorious antihomosexual Paragraph 175. The scandal known as the Röhm affair was precipitated, on the one hand, by the Left’s presumption of an “inner identifi cation” between homosexual- ity and fascism and, on the other, by the relative openness that the idea of a virile, homo phile, male-hero cult enjoyed in some circles on the extreme right—including the National Socialists—until 1934.40 At the same time, the 39. Martin Schouten, Marinus Van Der Lubbe: Eine Biographie, trans. Helga Marx and Rosi Wiegmann (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Neue Kritik, 1999), 101. 40. Alexander Zinn, Die soziale Konstruktion des homosexuellen Nationalsozialisten: Zu Genese und Etablierung eines Stereotyps (Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1997), 106–8; Susanne Zur Nieden, “Aufstieg und Fall des virilen Männerbundes,” in Homosexualität und Staatsräson: Männlichkeit, Homophobie und Politik in Deutschland, 1900–1945, ed. Susanne Zur Nieden (Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2005), 151. Anson Rabinbach 113 41. See Harry Oosterhuis, “The ‘Jews’ of the Antifascist Left: Homosexuality and Socialist Resistance to Nazism,” Journal of Homosexuality 29 (1995): 227–57. 42. Marinus van der Lubbe und der Reichstagsbrand, trans. Josh van Soer (Hamburg: Nauti- lus, 1983). 43. Roodboek (Amsterdam: Intern. Utgeversbedrijf, 1933). 44. Andrew Hewitt, Political Inversions: Homosexuality, Fascism, and the Modernist Imagi- nary (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), 20–24. criminalization of homosexuality in the Soviet Union in 1933 made the anti- homosexual denunciations of the Röhm affair an acceptable political tactic for the communists.41 In a leap of psychoanalytic fancy, the Brown Book claimed that van der Lubbe’s behavior was “so typically homosexual that Freud has called it the homosexual ‘Parsifal-complex’” (BB, 57). The Brown Book’s evidence for his homosexuality was his shyness and awkwardness around women. Conse- quently, he “sought his love in the ranks of the schoolboys and older comrades” (BB, 46). Though the Brown Book observed that van der Lubbe possessed so powerful a physical upper body—and had twice planned to swim the English Channel for prize money—that his colleagues nicknamed him “Dempsey” (after the American boxer), it consistently represented him as a feminized man: “Van der Lubbe is in his whole essence homosexual. His character is feminine, his reserve and shyness in front of women is established by the testimony of many, his need for closeness and tenderness from men is notorious” (BB, 52).42 After the publication of the Brown Book, van der Lubbe’s Dutch com- rades vehemently protested its defamations in a “Red Book” (Roodboek) and collected numerous testimonials.43 Nevertheless, the communist characteriza- tion of van der Lubbe as homosexual not only linked him to the conspiracy but created a highly eroticized linkage between homosexuality and fascism, what Andrew Hewitt has called “homo-fascism.”44 Coding fascism as homosexual created the image of a regime driven by a lethal combination of calculation and degeneracy, rationality and depravity, the obverse of the new proletarian virilism deemed necessary for the antifascist struggle. It was also aligned with the charge that van der Lubbe’s “vain and self-aggrandizing” personality accounted for his failure to develop the necessary class consciousness to be a “real” communist, with his susceptibility to the petit bourgeois and degenerate world of the Nazis. Van der Lubbe was the “tool,” whose character is consti- tuted by his position between the sexes and the classes, making him “obedient and pliable to the will of the arsonists.” He was what the second Brown Book (1934) called an “embryo fascist.” 114 Staging Antifascism 45. The members of the commission included Denis Nowell Pritt (Great Britain), Arthur Gar- fi eld Hays (United States), Georg Branting (Sweden), Vincent Moro Giafferi and Gaston Bergery (France), Valdt Hvidt (Denmark), Betsy Bakker-Nort (Holland), and Pierre Vermeylen (Belgium). On the countertrial see Arthur Jay Klinghoffer and Judith Apter Klinghoffer, International Citi- zens’ Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 11–50. 46. Vincent Moro Giafferi, Göring, l’incendiaire c’est toi! La vérité sur l’incendie du Reich- stag (Paris: Comité aux Aide Anse Victimes du Fascisme, 1933). See Arthur Garfi eld Hays, City Lawyer: The Autobiography of a Law Practice (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1942), 341. 47. Hays, City Lawyer, 384–87. Once the Brown Book appeared, the campaign turned its sights to Lon- don, where it planned to stage an international tribunal—a countertrial—just days before the actual trial was scheduled to begin in Leipzig. A distinguished panel of jurists—the International Commission of Legal Inquiry into the Reichstag Fire—consisted of eight prominent lawyers from seven countries who would hear testimony and act as judges in the case.45 Katz, who main- tained his incognito as an Austrian journalist named Rudolf Breda, did not exactly hide the fact that the tribunal was a Münzenberg enterprise, though most of the commission lawyers considered it their obligation to render a sound judgment regardless of any external pressures. Just days before the tribunal was to open, its independence was compromised by the French member Moro Giafferi, who on September 11 addressed a tumultuous meeting at the Salle Wagram in Paris, where he publicly denounced Göring “the assassin, the incen- diary!” creating a “near riot” of fi fteen thousand people.46 The Nazi press denounced the Commission of Inquiry and the London tribunal “comic opera,” while the Leipzig court treated its proceedings with extreme seriousness and even permitted Torgler’s court-appointed lawyer, Alfons Sack, to attend. Sack in turn invited all the commission members to attend the Leipzig trial, an invitation accepted only by the American Arthur Garfi eld Hays, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who was of Jewish origin. Hays (named for three presidents) made his reputa- tion in 1925 as Clarence Darrow’s assistant and the defense team strategist for the famous “Monkey Trial” of the Tennessee teacher John Scopes. Hays was a tireless defender of unpopular causes like the Sacco and Vanzetti and Scottsboro cases and a cagey trial lawyer who authored two novels, Let Free- dom Ring and Trial by Prejudice, as well as an autobiography.47 On April 15, 1933, the ACLU in New York received a letter in which the Paris Aid Com- mittee explained that it was about to launch a countertrial: “At this trial we will produce our documents and proofs concerning the origins of the Reich- stag fi re, and the unheard of methods used by [sic] gang of unscrupulous Anson Rabinbach 115 48. Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University, ACLU Archives, 1920–1950, vol. 599: International Civil Liberties, Paris 5/2/1933 (hereafter cited as ACLU Archives). 49. ACLU Archives, vol. 599, cable from Paris, May 11, 1933. 50. ACLU Archives, vol. 599, Julius Rosenthal to Roger W. Baldwin, July 28, 1933. 51. Alfons Sack, Der Reichstagsbrand Prozess (Berlin: Ullstein, 1934), 112. provocateurs.”48 The letter requested that the ACLU fi nd out, through its direc- tor, Roger Baldwin, “whether Clarence Darrow, Frank Walsch, or any other prominent American jurists would be willing to take part.” Apparently sens- ing that they were not just exaggerating when they predicted that a “case of international scope is being built up, comparable to that of the Dreyfus case in France,” Baldwin complied, sending an invitation to a dozen prominent jurists, including the deans of the Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Washington, and New York University and University of Chicago law schools. Nevertheless, none but his close associate Hays was enticed by the prospect, though on May 11 the com- mittee cabled, “urgently expecting a notice concerning the participation of Hays and Darrow in the Tribunal.”49 Baldwin was obviously concerned enough about the “integrity of the Executive Committee of the International Com- mittee” to solicit assurances from the American Committee against Fascist Oppression in Germany that there was no political “discrimination” in the aid given to victims of the Nazi regime.50 In the end, only the indefatigable Hays agreed to attend, sailing from New York in mid-September. What ensued was a complex interplay between the London tribunal and the Leipzig trial. Sack, a committed supporter of the Nazi revolution and at the same time a staunch believer in the inviolability of the German Rechtsstaat, passionately believed in Torgler’s innocence and integrity. As he explained, “I never wavered in my conviction that the Supreme Court would render a judg- ment that was anything but objective according to the most rigorous stan- dards.” Even though he considered the commission a “new instrument for defamation against the hated Nazi Germany,” Sack took its declarations that it possessed extensive material proving the innocence of the accused seriously and fl ew to Paris in the hope of discovering new evidence. He was greeted by the results of the campaign at the height of its effervescence: “Numerous news- papers carried, in part on the front page, column-long articles, which in con- tent essentially repeated the views of the Brown Book.”51 On September 8 Sack arrived in Paris, where he met with the Swedish lawyer Georg Branting (son of the socialist leader Hjalmar Branting) in an extraordinary fi ve-hour session in the Hotel de Bourgogne et Montana, also attended by Katz, posing as Breda (along with an American lawyer named Leo 116 Staging Antifascism 52. The meeting was described in detail by Sack in his memoir. Katz’s twelve-page version has recently come to light, providing a unique opportunity to view the same event from the standpoint of both key participants. See Sack, Der Reichstagsbrand Prozess, 111–15; RGASPI, Fond 495.60.244a, September 8, 1933. All subsequent quotations from the meeting are from this docu- ment. See also Gross, Willi Münzenberg, 264. 53. Sack, Der Reichstagsbrand Prozess, 112. 54. RGASPI, Fond 495.60.244a, September 14, 1933. The second Brown Book appeared in 1934 under the title Braunbuch II, Dimitrov contra Goering, Enthüllungen über die wahren Brandstifter (Paris: Carrefour, 1934). Hereafter cited as Brown Book II. Gallagher).52 Since we have Sack’s memoir and Katz’s notes, we can almost eavesdrop on the confrontation between the Nazi lawyer Sack and the Brown Book author. Sack was genuinely astonished that his interlocutors could dis- trust the objectivity of the high court. He was incredulous that they believed he was not free to fully defend Torgler and that they thought he had to fear for his life if he presented all the evidence on Torgler’s behalf. Katz, for his part, was equally surprised by Sack’s candor about the case and by his appar- ent intention to defend Torgler in a criminal case whatever the consequences. A game of cat and mouse ensued, with Sack requesting detailed evidence vindicating his client (his movements on the days leading up to the fi re) and Branting and Katz trying to ferret out details of the still secret indictment or of the preliminary investigation in Leipzig. In the presence of its author—whether Sack knew Katz’s true identity is not certain—Sack systematically attacked all the elements of the Brown Book, for example, requesting notarized evidence for specifi c instances of testimony, especially the witnesses tying van der Lubbe to Bell’s “list.” Though Sack admitted that he considered it “possible” that van der Lubbe was a homosexual, he challenged the commission to produce a single witness who could directly say that van der Lubbe had slept with Röhm. Sack warned that conducting a political defense would only reduce his ability to do his job: defend- ing his client and nothing more. Even Katz, whose narrative of the events evaporated under Sack’s skilled queries, seemed relieved when Sack agreed with him that van der Lubbe was an individualistic terrorist who wanted to accomplish something “great.”53 On September 14, 1933, Münzenberg sent Kun a jubilant telegram: “Today’s opening of the premiere of our fi lm was a huge success. The entire Paris and English press is full of it. The press is overwhelmingly large and the whole affair an unprecedented success.”54 The fi lm was of course the counter- trial held in distinguished rooms rented from the British Law Society on the Strand. As Sack, who arrived in London from Berlin on that very evening, observed, though it was arranged to look like a courtroom, it was actually Anson Rabinbach 117 55. Sack, Der Reichstagsbrand Prozess, 116. 56. Hays, City Lawyer, 343. 57. ACLU Archives, vol. 600, no. 184, November 11, 1934, 5–9. 58. Gross, Willi Münzenberg, 263. 59. “Trial of a Trial,” Time, September 25, 1933. designed entirely for its effect on the press.55 Hays observed that the London tribunal was “a pretrial of a trial, involving German justice and the Nazi Party.”56 It is interesting to read Hays’s fi rst account of his experience on his return: Before the trial in Germany a committee of inquiry was constituted by invit- ing lawyers from various countries to come to London to hold hearings and bear witness in order to investigate the responsibility for the fi re. The thought was that this would focus and dramatize public opinion, and it has had that effect. Nine lawyers from eight different countries acted as judges. We recog- nized our lack of power and authority that we would have no right to subpoena witnesses and that cross examination would not be conducted by anybody who desired to present a different point of view. None of us was Communist and none Nazi. We had no purpose except to hear the case objectively.57 The countertrial brought the propaganda duel between Münzenberg and Goebbels to fever pitch. The Nazi press fulminated at the “traitor” Mün- zenberg, attributing the popularity of the Brown Book and the countertrial to the fact that Willi (who was not Jewish) was “endowed with a truly Jewish business spirit.”58 Münzenberg produced sensational reports of the London proceedings in special editions of his Gegen-Angriff, a host of brochures, and above all provocative cartoons and caricatures depicting the Nazi lead- ers as the puppet masters of the impending Leipzig trial or touting the power of the Brown Book (fi g. 3). Though the countertrial was a Münzenberg enterprise, it could not be staged entirely according to script. In his opening address to the tribunal, Sir Stafford Cripps, a left-wing Labour MP, declared: “It has been suggested that the fi re was a scheme put forward by the National Socialists themselves. In view of the worldwide importance of the trial to take place at Leipzig, and of its political surroundings, the committee feels that some means should be adopted for bringing together the evidence available outside Germany and for bringing it before the world for criticism and enlightenment.”59 Cripps distanced himself from the conclusions of the Brown Book, emphasizing the indepen- dence of the London commission from both its version of events as well as from the accusations put forward by the Leipzig prosecutor’s offi ce. Among the witnesses was Paul Hertz, secretary to the Social Democratic Party in Figure 3. “Weighed and found wanting” Anson Rabinbach 119 60. Ibid. 61. Fritz Tobias, Der Reichstagsbrand: Legende und Wirklichkeit (Rastatt/Baden: Grote, 1962), 74. 62. Sack, Der Reichstagsbrand Prozess, 117. 63. ACLU Archives, vol. 600, nos. 184–87, November 11, 1934, 5–9. the Reichstag, who claimed that the incendiaries could not have entered the Reichstag except through a tunnel leading from the offi cial residence of the Reichstag president Göring. The onetime police president of Berlin testifi ed that fi fteen hundred arresting warrants were ready for use immediately after the fi re. The Liberal editor Georg Bernhard and Social Democratic chair- man Rudolf Breitscheid testifi ed that the Nazis were the only party that could have benefi ted from the fi re, that communists would have set it only if “the party executive had gone mad.”60 A key Dutch witness, the notorious “Herr W.S.,” the alleged source for the link between van der Lubbe and the Nazis, could produce no documents and admitted that the notorious Bell “list” con- tained only Christian names with the exception of “Marinus van der,” “ini- tials, and . . . ubbe (underneath Holland).”61 The most important witnesses called to ascertain Lubbe’s alleged homosexuality had not seen Lubbe for years, and those associates of Lubbe who had, as Sack observed, “long ago refuted the legend of his homosexuality” were not called at all.62 The dramatic appearance of witnesses who testified either anony- mously or in disguise seemed contrived. Despite these efforts to create sen- sation, the conclusions of the London commission were far more sober and carefully formulated than those of the Brown Book. First, van der Lubbe was declared an opponent and not a member of the Dutch Communist Party and showed “no trace” of a connection to the communists. Consequently, the four communist defendants should not be found guilty of conspiracy. Sec- ond, van der Lubbe could not have acted alone. Third, it was “highly proba- ble” that the arsonists used the underground passage from Göring’s residence to gain access to the Reichstag. Only the Nazis could claim any advantage from the fi re. Therefore, the commission concluded, “grave grounds exist for suspecting that the Reichstag was set on fi re by, or on behalf of, leading per- sonalities of the National Socialist Party.” In short, the bare bones of the Brown Book were upheld without giving credence to its more dubious propo- sitions and questionable assertions. In a speech on November 11 at New York’s Hotel Astor, broadcast on WNBC radio, Hays eloquently summed up the result of his trip.63 He was convinced that the four communists were innocent of the conspiracy charge. He was also convinced that van der Lubbe, “a Dutch worker with terroristic ideas” who was not a communist, set the fi re. Moreover, he was certain that 120 Staging Antifascism 64. ACLU Archives, vol. 600, no. 186, November 11, 1934, 7. 65. Hays Papers, Princeton University, Box 33, Folder 1, “Famous Trials of the Last Decade,” 8. 66. RGASPI, Fond 495.60.244a, October 4, 1933. 67. Denis Nowell Pritt, Der Reichstagsbrand: Die Arbeit der Londoner Untersuchungsaus- schusses (Berlin: GDR Kongress-Verlag, 1959), 14. 68. Tobias, Der Reichstagsbrand, 95, 624. the communists had no conceivable motive for the crime, since it was common knowledge that any provocation of that sort would have been a pretext to out- law the Communist Party. There was no evidence and no basis for the Nazi claim that the fi re was to have been a “signal” for a communist insurrection. Yet Hays underscored the fact that the conclusion of the countertrial that the fi re was perpetrated by or on behalf of Nazi leaders was “tentative” and that “we were quite ready to revise in the event the trial at Leipzig showed that we were wrong.”64 Hays wrote after his return to the United States that he was still unsure about the London verdict: “I would say that either Van der Lubbe set the fi re alone, or that he had accomplices among the Nazis. He certainly had no accomplices among the Communists. But I have never been certain that he did not do it alone, or that the Nazis were his accomplices.”65 Though the campaign considered the countertrial a triumph, the Comin- tern was not entirely persuaded of its usefulness. A confi dential “political” report to the Executive Committee noted that “by and large it went well . . . but it gave a platform to prominent Social Democratic leaders like [Rudolf] Breit- scheid and [Paul] Herz,” who were “completely superfl uous,” allowing the SPD “to derive a great advantage from the trial at the last moment.”66 Such characteristically Münzenberg touches made the countertrial into a suspi- ciously “popular front” enterprise. H. G. Wells, who attended the trial’s fi rst day, left complaining that he had never in his life “experienced such a boring theater,” to which Denis Nowell Pritt responded that he could not imagine a higher compliment, “given our decision to maintain a sober and unpolitical atmosphere for the proceedings.”67 There could be no doubt that from a propaganda standpoint the coun- tertrial and the campaign had turned the glare of publicity on Leipzig. From the outset of the trial, the Nazi leaders were trapped in the legal machinery of late Weimar justice, enduring rather than controlling a public trial lasting two months. Hitler would have preferred a brief trial and said that the agita- tion stirred up by the foreign press against the German government was dan- gerous. “The yelling would stop,” he said, “if the perpetrators were hanged right away.”68 The public outcry that the Leipzig court was conducting a “political” trial also weighed on the German attorneys and judges who tried Anson Rabinbach 121 69. Ibid., 313. 70. Joseph Goebbels, Elke Fröhlich, and the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Munich), Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels (Munich: Saur, 2006), pt. 1, vol. 2/III (October 1932–March 1934), 306, 310. to preserve a semblance of legality and legitimacy. Though the regime tried to exert pressure on the court, it was neither fully independent nor an instru- ment of the National Socialists. Several judges were apparently sympathetic to the regime, and Goebbels received the not terribly reassuring message from the court examining magistrate Paul Vogt that he would ensure that “the Communists would be convicted as perpetrators.”69 Yet the countertrial, and even more dramatically the Brown Book campaign, introduced an element of risk into a trial that was still conducted according to the rules of evidence and the principles of German jurisprudence. Portraying the court as a Nazi show trial diminished expectations for acquittal and was at cross-purposes with the criminal defense of the four communists, a fact already obvious to Hays, who arrived in Leipzig from Lon- don to witness the trial. (Hays was surely the only Jew in the Leipzig court- room.) If, as the defense (especially Sack) insisted, an acquittal was almost assured, propaganda attacking the court jeopardized the outcome. If, on the other hand, it was—as Katz apparently believed—a political trial that would lead to a conviction, the best outcome was a propaganda victory. The question of how to calibrate the political and criminal elements of the case was, as Comintern documents reveal, the major concern of the campaign on the eve of the trial. Once the trial began, things changed dramatically. Dimitrov refused to cooperate with his court-appointed lawyer, Paul Teichert, and conducted a defense, as he put it, worthy of a communist leader. He defended both com- munism and his own innocence. He easily discredited the key witness against him and was defi ant and relentless in his questioning of prosecutors, eyewit- nesses, and hostile testimony from Nazi leaders brought to refute the claims of the Brown Book. Especially his verbal duel with Göring, who was reduced to shouting epithets and whom Dimitrov famously asked, “Are my questions making you afraid, Minister President?” made him into what the campaign called the “conquering Lion” (Brown Book II, 136). In his diary Goebbels registered his dismay: “Göring as witness in the Reichstag trial. But he only gave a popular lecture about Communism. And then he insulted Dimitrov. Inept staging [keine Regie].” About his own appearance he was more gener- ous: “An entirely great day. I was in the best form. . . . Dimitrov and Torgler were miserably besmirched. There was nothing left of them.”70 122 Staging Antifascism 71. Vladimir Paperny, Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- versity Press, 2002), 44, 45. Figures for the postcards: National Library of Russia, Print Department. 72. Reed, Burning of the Reichstag, 87. 73. Report of the Commission of Inquiry, quoted in The Reichstag Fire Trial: The Second Brown Book of the Hitler Terror, ed. World Committee for the Relief of the Victims of German Fascism (London: Lane, 1934), 290. Dimitrov’s triumph over Göring was instantly turned into a media event. Brochures and fl y sheets appeared immediately, and a second Brown Book titled Dimitrov against Göring sported on its jacket another Heartfi eld photomontage—reproduced hundredfold—depicting the monumentally enlarged Dimitrov towering over a diminutive Göring sputtering epithets like “Red tramp, criminal, scum swindler, to the gallows!” In his photomontage Heart- fi eld rearranged images of the courtroom, the defendant, and Göring, radically altering their position and the scale, and inverting the courtroom hierarchy (prisoner vs. witness) (fi g. 4). Dimitrov’s vertical monumentality for this photo- montage, which was reproduced ten thousandfold as postcards distributed throughout the Soviet Union and Europe well into the 1970s, corresponds to the antihorizontal imagery favored by the Stalinist aesthetics of the period.71 The campaign underscored the contrast between the “hero” Dimi trov and the “puzzle” van der Lubbe. The latter appeared (at the opening of the trial) to have completely collapsed: “He walked as if he were asleep. His head was bowed. The expression on his face was set; his eyes unseeing, his head bent over his chest” (Brown Book II, 159). Photographs of van der Lubbe in his striped pajamas, head bowed and staring blankly, were widely disseminated, a striking contrast with the rather well-built man arrested on the night of the fi re. The Times’ Reed wrote: “‘A mental defi cient,’ said some; a ‘consummate actor,’ said others. At one point Dimitrov pointed to van der Lubbe: This stu- pid tool, this miserable Faust is here, but Mephistopheles has vanished.” Reed added: “Did Faust know? Or was he not even the tool of others, but a poor and tattered vagrant on the high road of life?”72 Van der Lubbe’s demeanor and apparent physical and mental collapse were pressed into the service of the Brown Book’s conjecture that he was an “embryo fascist,” a man whose “personal weaknesses rendered him easy to be exploited by unscrupulous persons for their own ends and marked him out as a tool for others.”73 It turned the working-class council communist into a déclassé vagabond, the abject communist archetype of the proto-Nazi whose very body betrayed his locus on the extreme edge of the social and moral geography of the political. The fi gure of the embryo fascist superimposed the Freudian narrative of an archaic, inchoate, chthonic psyche onto the Marxist template of the murky divide between bourgeois and proletariat, personal and social Figure 4. John Heartfi eld, “The Judge and the Judged.” Postcard, ca. 1934. Russian National Library, Saint Petersburg 124 Staging Antifascism 74. Schouten, Van der Lubbe, 105. 75. New York Herald, December 23, 1933. 76. Cited in Kessings Archiv der Gegenwart (Vienna) (Bonn: Stegler, 1933), 1067. 77. Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels, pt. 1, vol. 2/III (October 1932–March 1934), 306, 310. 78. Quoted in Wessel, Münzenbergs Ende, 41, 42. pathology. Van der Lubbe’s Dutch biographer, Martin Schouten, suggests that he became indifferent to the trial because his act that by his own admission lasted exactly “ten minutes” had dissolved in months of conjecture, false testi- mony, and irrelevant facts, which, as van der Lubbe himself said at a stunning moment during the trial, “had nothing to do with it.”74 He had indeed become a “hapless tool,” not of the Nazis but of both of his enemies simultaneously— the Nazis and the communists. If the campaign turned van der Lubbe into the “puzzle,” Dimitrov was the “miracle.” His closing speech ended with an unplanned theatrical fl ourish. As he recited Galileo’s famous line “The earth doth move all the same!” the presiding judge ordered the bailiffs to remove Dimitrov from the courtroom. He was carried out of the courtroom while intoning the words “The wheel of history is moving onward, towards a Soviet Europe, towards a World of Soviet Republics” (Brown Book II, 154). Münzen- berg could not have dreamed up a better fi nale. On December 23, 1933, the court pronounced van der Lubbe guilty of high treason (he was executed on January 10, 1934) but acquitted Torgler, Dimitrov, Popov, and Tanev. Though it exonerated these four defendants, charged with conspiracy, Supreme Court president Wilhelm Bünger still pro- claimed that “Germany had been snatched back at the last moment from the abyss into which Communist leaders were trying to plunge the country.”75 The offi cial Nazi Press Bureau called the verdict an outrage “to the German nation’s sense of justice.” “This wrongful verdict,” it added, “makes abundantly clear before the eyes of the whole nation the necessity for a radical reform of our judicial system, which still in many ways follows the Liberal idea that has been set aside as foreign to our race.” The Völkischer Beobachter was even more blunt, predicting that “National Socialist Germany will know how to draw the consequences from the Leipzig verdict.”76 An outraged Goeb- bels reacted: “Lubbe death. All others, even Torgler, acquitted. That’s what happens to a revolution when you put it in the hands of jurists. This court must disappear. Bring on the court for the Protection of the German Volk.”77 A jubilant Münzenberg called the acquittal the “fi rst defeat of the Hitler regime” and “a great and irrevocable triumph of communism.”78 The acquittal gave not only Dimitrov but international communism an unexpected gift: the halo of innocence. As Koestler noted, “In the public mind, Dimitrov’s acquit- Anson Rabinbach 125 79. Koestler, Invisible Writing, 245. 80. See Werner Schäfer, Konzentrationslager Oranienburg: Das Anti-Braunbuch über das erste deutsche KZ (Berlin: Buch- und Tiefdruck-Gesellschaft, 1934). 81. Manès Sperber, Until My Eyes Are Closed with Shards (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1994), 93. tal became synonymous with the acquittal of Communism in general from the charge of conspiracy and violence. Communist terror was an invention of the Nazis to discredit their main opponents; in reality, the Communists were hon- est defenders of freedom and democracy. Dimitrov became the symbol of that brave and respectable type of modern liberal, the ‘anti-fascist.’”79 Dimitrov also became something that had eluded European communism since its incep- tion: a genuinely popular “democratic” hero. He became the emblem of the new face of antifascist communism in the mid-1930s, no longer insular, illicit, clan- destine, and proletarian but virile, virtuous, and democratic. This new face of antifascism was identifi ed with Dimitrov. With Dimitrov’s ascendancy to the symbolic leadership of the worldwide antifascist movement—soon followed by Stalin’s decision to make him head of the Comintern—the style of interna- tional antifascism changed dramatically from the dour proletarian comrade (kumpel) in his workers’ Mütze (as, for example, Ernst Thälmann) to the well- dressed, articulate, and cultivated European capable of quoting Goethe and Lenin in the same breath. The transformation of the image of communism at Leipzig was part of a massive alteration in the self-representation of European and Soviet communism at the same moment: from the avant-garde to Stalinist humanism, from the visual to the literary, from the rhetoric of the revolution- ary vanguard to the rhetoric of the people and the nation. The symbolic victory in Leipzig masked the much more massive defeat of German communism nine months earlier. The Brown Book provided some of the fi rst details of the Nazi terror, of the concentration camps, and of the persecution of the Jews. Its list of the camps and its descriptions of the condi- tions, rations, torture, and murders provoked the regime to acknowledge the existence of concentration camps and to provide a public justifi cation for them in an “Anti–Brown Book.”80 As Manès Sperber points out, “The reason Mün- zenberg’s organizations—and all other associations and movements that were openly or secretly directed by the Communists—attracted so many adherents was that the speeches and actions of the Fascists, particularly the Nazis now in power, made a growing number of people fear for their freedom and their per- sonal dignity.”81 The conspiracy theory woven by the Brown Book was in many respects the mirror image of the communist conspiracy that Nazi leaders believed in from the outset. At the same time, the Brown Book’s image of a 126 Staging Antifascism 82. George L. Mosse, Confronting History: A Memoir (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), 106. regime without popular support resting on the machinations of social outcasts, morphine addicts, and homosexuals created the communist myth of fascism, which, as George L. Mosse observed, might have come from the repertory of the National Socialists themselves.82 This is not to equate Nazism and antifas- cism but to argue for a more complex reading of the borrowings and dynamic interplay of these two political enemies. More serious than any of Münzen- berg’s deceptions was the self-deception that terror and not popular support was the main source of the regime’s success. By organizing an international campaign that depicted the Nazis as conspirators and terrorists, Münzenberg underestimated the capacity of the Nazis for even more cynical and criminal acts than those that followed the burning of the Reichstag.

Published on March 4, 2009 at 9:19 am  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: