Background: The great Nazi myth was that of the Kampfzeit, the period from 1918-1933 when the Nazi Party struggled for power. The party’s early followers were presented almost as the apostles of the Christian tradition, the first to follow the new faith. One of the most fondly remembered experiences was the Saalschlacht, the meeting hall battle in which the outnumbered Nazis fought to defend their meeting from the onslaught of their enemies. This account of such a battle in 1930 is taken from a book on the rise of the Nazi Party in Hamburg, a stronghold of the Marxists. Note that some of the Marxists are portrayed as honest fighters for a misguided cause, others as mere rabble.
The source: Hermann Okraß, “Hamburg bleibt rot“. Das Ende einer Parole (Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1934, pp. 201-207.
A Meeting Hall Battle in Hamburg
The Winterhude-North unit plans an election meeting on 19 August, to be held in the “Am Stadtpark” pub. The speaker will be Party Comrade Reinke. Sturm 11 [of the S. A.] will guard the meeting.
The day before the meeting, Sturmführer Meisert gets a call from Troop leader Gebert of Uhlenhorst-Winterhude. He reports that there is a rumor that the Red Marines will come to this meeting.
The rumor has surfaced a number of times already. Every part of the city, every unit, has heard the rumor before their meetings. The S.A. has stopped worrying. The necessary measures are taken nonetheless. One troop at the meeting, two in reserve. The neighboring Sturm 6 and the SS are informed. The message is acknowledged and alarm-readiness is guaranteed. The SS is always in readiness, and Sturm 6 is exercising that night. A runner will be at Sturm headquarters at Bonde and wait for the signal.
The meeting is packed. 200 people are there. There are two units in the meeting hall, and a group of the S.A. in the pub area outside the hall. Everything is quiet. No sign of the Red Marines. Are they coming or aren’t they?
It is 9 p.m.
Outside the street resounds with the sounds of a hundred men in columns. The sound echoes. The door flies open. A giant strides through. “Red Front!” “Heil Hitler!”
The Red Marines have arrived!
One after the other enters the hall. A long chain. They talk little, say little. Tall chaps. Fists of iron. Splendid men. The best of the Hamburg Communist Party. Idealists, as the astonished men of the S.A. can see. The best blood of the German working class. No rabble. No mob. Workers!
Protected by the Red Marines, the rabble follows. The Red Marines themselves shove them out of the hall. They want nothing to do with these boys of the working class rabble. But a bunch of them remain.
The leader of the Red Marines surveys the hall. He directs his men to their seats. Fifty men seat themselves among the audience. The rest head for a corner. Next to the speaker’s platform. They have brought along a discussion speaker. [It was common to have a question period after a speech, at which opposition party speakers could make extended remarks].
The troop leader telephones. He gives the order. No need for haste, since a discussion speaker is present. All will be quiet until the discussion period.
The tread of Troops 1 and 3 of Sturm 11 resound through the evening. The last men come from their jobs. The Red Marines are there!
It is the decisive hour.
The telephone rings at SS headquarters. At Bonde, too. The SS head over in cars. The men of Troop 6 can’t afford a car. First they must change clothes. Then they march. They have a long way to go, but they want to be there when the Storm Troops meet the Red Marines.
The brigade leader and doctor are notified. They are there in minutes. Brigade Leader Ellerhusen and Brigade Doctor Lauerbach.
About 60 men are at the brigade leader’s disposal in the pub. He outlines the situation with the other leaders, Meisert and Krohn. They make their plan. Then they relax and play skat.
Reinke is still speaking. Now he finishes.
A break. A deep breath goes through the hall and through the pub where the S.A. and SS are gathered.
Discussion. The Communist steps up. A nasty, black-haired sort.
The meeting chairman asks: “Do you support the slogan “Clobber the Fascists wherever you meet them?” [This was a common Communist slogan.]
The Communist says nothing. The stillness is thick. Heavy.
The Communist still says nothing. One hears the crowd breathing.
The door between the hall and the pub opens. Claus Krohn, the troop leader, stands in the doorway. Behind the Red Marines. Behind him are the SS men. 16 of them.
Heads turn. They look at the troop leader. At the SS men. The Red Marines sense their opponents. “That’s how they look. The SS is here, too.”
The troop leader’s voice thunders: “Say yes or no! Yes or no!”
He is silent.
Slowly, the leader of the Red Marines rises. He is a head taller than his men. He lifts a beer glass. It flies through the air. Toward the chairman’s table. He sees it coming. Moves his head. The glass breaks against the wall.
Back to the meeting!
Once again everyone takes a deep breath. The whole Red Marine company stands together. Bangs and crashes. Ten, twenty chairs are broken. They become weapons. Before they can spring into action, the S.A. is there, attacking the opponents over the chairs and tables, over people’s heads. A storm breaks loose.
A cry rings through the hall: “Long live Adolf Hitler!”
Battle is joined.
Now comes as violent a meeting hall battle as anyone ever saw. 100 against 60. The Commune, the Red Marines, would win if if they were not hopelessly trapped in a corner. The S.A. is in front of them, the SS to their side. An open window behind them.
The fight is hard and desperate. Crashes and bangs. Shouts fill the hall. The “decent citizens” flee through the door. Only a white-bearded old man, a splendid chap, joins the ranks of the S.A. He strikes blow after blow. Finally his cane breaks. Then he grabs a chair leg. Red blood sticks to his white beard. Next to him are young S.A. men.
The Red Marines stand their ground. But they can’t do anything. They are crowded into a corner and only the front row can fight. But they fight as men who are fighting for an idea whether it is a good one or a bad one makes no difference at the moment. The front row of the Red Marines stands firm. They hold until they are beaten to the floor.
The second row stands firm, then the third. They lie on top of each other. As they fall they strike a last blow against he who felled them. They fall to the ground. Red Marines, Storm Troopers, SS men. The battle goes on over their bodies. On and on.
Here an S.A. man falls to his knees, taking a Communist with him. There one of Moscow’s legionnaires falls under the heel of a comrade. Blood flows in streams.
One idea faces another idea.
The mob howls outside. They hear through the window what is going on inside. The Red Marines stand firm. Despite the open window behind them. The Hitler people have to bring down every one of them. Each one. Outside the mob howls.
An S.A. unit holds the door to the outside. They bolt it. Large stones and bricks from a nearby construction site fly against it. The desperate little unit braces the collapsing door.
Suddenly there is a loud knocking. Open up! Medics!
The door is opened. Worker medics come in.
A Communist dog, the last of the mob, not one of the Red Marines, sees the open door. He races towards it. Soon he’ll be there. The unit leader blocks his way. The Communist draws a knife. It glitters on its way toward the body of the unit leader. S.A. man Nebel, a worker, throws himself in front of his leader an academic and takes the knife in his own body. He sinks to the ground. With a single blow, the unit leader decks the Communist dog. A water bottle breaks. The bottle neck, sharp and pointed, cuts the falling man’s chin. He screams and collapses. Worker medics carry him out. Seconds later, Nebel is treated by the brigade doctor.
Inside the battle continues.
It is over.
The leader of the Red Marines, covered with blood, sees that the battle is lost. He gives up. His men fought like lions. Scarcely twenty of the hundred are unwounded. The others lie groaning on the floor. Between broken chairs, shattered tables, between glass and blood and dust. One next to the other.
The S.A. and SS are bleeding too. But they had the better idea, and therefore the stronger will, the greater strength, the wilder courage.
A whistle blows. The signal for the Red Marines to retreat.
They escape through the window. Chased by the S.A. and the SS.
The battle is over. The decision is clear.
The worker medics carry the wounded out. No Nazi hinders them.
A policeman stands in the hall. He shouts: “I close the meeting!”
He fails to see that he is standing in a pool of blood.
The roar outside grows louder. Sturm 6 arrives. Minutes too late. They clear the streets of the mob.
Then they sit beside the River Elser Sturm 11 of the S.A. and Sturm 11 of the SS and talk about the hard battle.
The S.A. marches away. Ambulances race off. Brigade Leader Ellerhusen stands at the head of the S.A., Brigade Leader Krohn at the head of the SS. “S.A., SS, march!”
It is time to sleep. Still, a song rises up: “Clear the streets for the brown battalions, clear the streets for the Storm Trooper...” Windows open. Those Nazis again. Always making noise.
The next day the newspapers write about an “election battle in Winterhude.”
An election battle?
A decisive battle was fought.
But the scribblers of the middle class and Social Democratic newspapers could not know that.
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