Their neighbours in the luxury apartment block on the swanky Prinzregentenplatz in Munich knew that the couple in Flat 16 had a volatile relationship. What was less clear was the nature of that relationship. He was a lot older than her, by some fifteen years so the gossip ran, and there were hints of consanguinity too close for propriety.
However intimate or otherwise their association may have been, an escalating series of rows that summer seemed to presage disaster. Once seen dining together almost every night among the glitterati of the Munich café society, he a rising firebrand politician and she an aspiring opera singer, they were now never seen in public together and she hardly ever left the flat.
On 16 September 1931, the concierge heard a gunshot from within Flat 16. Alarmed, he rang not the police but a private number instead. Within twenty minutes Rudolf Hess had arrived, accompanied by a squad of brown-shirted thugs. The concierge had a key to the front door of the flat, but one of the bedrooms was locked from the inside so a locksmith had to be called. Thus it was, about an hour after the shot was fired, that Hess was the first on the scene of the crime.
The body of a young woman lay on the floor by her bed, and surrounded by a pool of her own blood. She had a gunshot wound to the chest and a Walther PP automatic pistol lay beside her, and she also seemed to have suffered a fractured nose. An unfinished letter lay on the antique walnut Escritoire by the window. Her name was Geli Raubal. She was twenty three years old and she wanted to be a famous singer, and she was the niece and possible lover of Adolf Hitler.
Adolf Hitler did not found the Nazi Party, nor was he a particularly early member. In fact, at the end of World War One, Hitler had no political aspirations whatsoever. His main ambition was to stay in the army, as the ‘three hots and a cot’ lifestyle looked mighty appealing when contrasted with the mass unemployment and economic devastation of post-war Germany.
In this he was successful. In 1919 he was seconded to a Military Intelligence unit, and was tasked with donning civilian drag and cruising the seedy restaurants and beer halls of Munich’s underbelly looking for political hook-ups. But instead, as is so often the case in this situation, he found true love.
He was sent to surveil the German Workers’ Party (DAP). A miniscule, no-mark outfit operating out of the Munich railway yards, the DAP had been founded in January 1919 by Anton Drexler, a railway tool fitter, and received covert funding from a wealthy local industrialist. Despite having enough cash sloshing about, the DAP was languishing. It had a membership of around fifty, and if even half of them turned out for the weekly meeting it was considered an above average attendance.
Hitler attended a DAP meeting on 12 September, 1919 when a member of the audience, a Professor Baumann, challenged the economic basis of Drexler’s anti-Semitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist platform. Hitler intervened, and so verbally trounced Baumann that the flustered academic withdrew, publicly admitting his thorough defeat.
Drexler and the rest of the panel members were so impressed by Hitler’s oratory skills that he was offered party membership on the spot. Serving soldiers in the German army were forbidden from joining political parties but Hitler received authorisation from his CO to do so, and later that week formally became DAP member No. 555. The party had cannily started their print run of blank membership cards at No. 501 to give themselves a bit of a fillip. It is also worth noting that Hitler continued to receive his army pay of twenty Marks a month until well into the next year, and so for that time at least was an Army Intelligence asset.
Hitler’s rise within the party was meteoric. With Adolf as their front man, DAP gigs started to pull in hundreds of punters instead of dozens, and by the summer of 1920 they were regularly onstage in front of six or seven thousand people. Hitler gave the party a complete makeover, renaming it the National Socialist Worker’s Party (NSDAP) and giving it a cool new brand emblem; the Swastika banner which he designed himself. The party image took on a definite Heavy Metal vibe. Out went the proletarian civilian suits and cloth caps, and in came a range of paramilitary uniforms with exciting Teutonic accessories and regalia. And, of course, the money started rolling in.
Membership soared and the party acquired its own newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter (The People’s Observer). The party also acquired a burgeoning administrative staff and suites of offices to accommodate them, and the party was also able to bankroll a growing corps of street activists and bodyguards colloquially known as the Brownshirts from the colour of their uniforms, which were surplus stocks of German colonial army gear bought as a job lot after the war. Things were definitely on the up and up for the Nazis. But then came the Beer Hall Putsch.
This inept attempt to overthrow the Bavarian Government in 1923 was a disaster, and ended with fifteen Nazis being killed by police gunfire. Hitler and other leading Nazis were charged with treason, but were given highly lenient prison sentences, and the Nazi party was driven underground. In the end Adolf barely served a year inside, but fifty two weeks is a long time in politics.
From its very beginning, the Nazi Party had two centres of gravity: Berlin and the industrial north of the country, where the membership was more working class and revolutionary, and in the south where the party had a pronounced Bourgeois tinge to its complexion and was considerably less radical. This was an internal dialectic which threatened to split the party in two.
The dissident wing of the NSDAP was headed by the Strasser brothers, Otto and Gregor, and the party’s rising young propagandist and journalist Josef Goebbels. The Strasserite platform was considerably to the left of Adolf’s. The Strassers advocated the nationalisation of banks and industry, and actively involved the party in supporting labour strikes.
They also adopted a conciliatory approach to the Communist Party. In 1924, for example, the Nazis and the Communists cooperated and coordinated a mass rent strike in the working class district of Wedding in Berlin. And the Strassers also advocated rapprochement with the Soviet Union itself.
It is interesting to speculate on the direction of travel of the NSDAP if Hitler had not been able to secure his grip on the leadership. Firstly any reasonable analysis suggests that a split within the party would have occurred. The Revolutionary Leftist elements would have coalesced behind the Strassers, and Hitler and the Bourgeois and Capitalist elements would have formed a rump in the South. Hitler would have had the money and the Strassers would have had the numbers, but neither would have had the required mass to prosper as separate parties. In short, Adolf Hitler would not have risen to power.
But if the Otto and Gregor had been able to consolidate their power and keep the Party intact, what would a Strasserite Nazi Germany have looked like? Firstly it would still have been anti-Semitic, but far less lethally so. The Strassers believed in the concept of International Jewish Finance, and all its attendant evils. There would have undoubtedly been expropriations of Jewish property and capital, and pressure on the Jewish community to emigrate. But the Final Solution would, I think, never have happened.
Anti-Semitism was rife across Europe, from France to Poland and the Baltic States, but there were no legal impediments to Jews participating fully in society or reaching high levels in the professions. It was only Hitler’s iteration of the subject that led down the line to Auschwitz and the Einsatzgruppen.
Similarly in the field of international relations and diplomacy Operation Barbarossa, and the necessary prequel in the West, was implicit in Hitler’s strategy from the start and hence World War Two was inevitable. The Strassers did not see war with Russia as an imperative, and hence would have had the option to pursue a more emollient diplomatic policy in Central Europe in the 1930’s. It is entirely possible that World War Two might therefore not have happened.
By 1931 Hitler’s grip on the leadership was still tenuous. There where by then close to a million members of the SA, and it was estimated that at least half of them were former Communists. In 1930 Left-leaning SA men had attempted to stage a palace coup at the Party Offices in Berlin, but were talked down by Goebbels. The Revolutionary wing of the Party was still a force to be reckoned with.
Hitler’s attempt to create a veneer of respectability for the NSDAP was also in trouble in the autumn of 1931. Ernst Rohm, who Hitler had just appointed as head of the SA, was a flagrant homosexual and his antics in Berlin were drawing attacks from sections of the press and the last thing Adolf needed was any more bad publicity. And then Geli shot herself.
Immediately rumours about Geli’s death began to circulate. One theory was that it was murder: Geli had a new love interest and jealous Uncle Adi could not bear to see her in the arms of another man, and that he shot her after a particularly nasty argument. Some credence can be given to this theory, as we know that Geli was planning to leave Munich and move to Vienna, and that she was corresponding with a young man there. It is also worth pointing out that the Walther pistol with which she was shot was Hitler’s own gun.
The other theory is that Hitler had made sexual demands on Geli which were so disgusting that the young lass shot herself to preserve her honour, or that she had to be silenced to prevent her escaping to Vienna and there spilling the beans about the Fuhrer’s sexual peccadilloes. According to this redaction of events these included Sado-Masochism and urolagnia.
If you don’t know what that last word means then I’m afraid you’ll have to Google it yourself, as I’m not here to pander to your grubbily prurient curiosity.
To cut a long story short, Adolf was able to lean on the State Prosecutor and Geli’s death was ruled a suicide, no criminal investigation was undertaken and the story in the media was effectively quashed. Three years later Hitler purged the NSDAP of the Revolutionary tendency in the Night of the Long Knives, which also claimed the lives of Rohm and Gregor Strasser. Otto Strasser had the perspicacity to flee abroad, he survived the war and returned to West Germany in 1950 and pursued a career in Neo-Nazi politics until his death in 1974. Geli’s death became barely a footnote in history. And the Suicide Theory of Geli’s death is generally accepted as a fact.
But there are a few things which have always puzzled me about this case. That the room was apparently locked from the inside is not a great stumbling block; Hess was the first on the scene and had ample time to assess events and concoct a story. In short Geli may or may not have locked herself in her bedroom, it depends how far you feel you can trust Rudolf Hess.
Geli’s fractured nose may or may not have been inflicted by a third party immediately before she was shot. Certainly, young women who are about to kill themselves do not routinely punch themselves in the face as a preliminary. Geli is said to have shot herself in the chest, presumably aiming for her heart. The Walther PP is a small gun, barely six inches in length but even so, if you place the muzzle against your own heart, your arm would be to some degree diagonal across your chest and the weapon would be underneath your chin. As the top half of your body jackknifes forward as the bullet penetrates your thoracic cavity, and your head moves downwards, the hand holding the gun moves sharply upwards under the force of the recoil. Geli’s broken nose is no clear indication of murder.
But there is the little matter of the unfinished note found on Geli’s writing desk. It was not a suicide note, far from it in fact. It was to a girl friend in Vienna and was cheerful in tone, making arrangements for Geli’s forthcoming trip there. But the last sentence is unfinished. It reads ‘When I come to Vienna – very soon, I hope – we will drive to Semmering Lake an(d)….’. The final word (und in German) is missing its last letter. Something made Geli break off in the middle of writing a word.
Something or somebody.
© bobo 2021
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