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Hellmuth von Gerlach on Leading Antisemites and their Agitation (1880s)

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Stöcker was not an entertaining conversationalist à la Prince Bülow, but rather a storyteller of fascinating appeal, sometimes of drastic coarseness, always of seemingly boundless candor. We felt as though we were in on every conceivable behind-the-scenes secret. Nothing flatters a young person more, however, than believing that he has been taken into the confidence of a great public figure. As the editor of his daily newspaper Das Volk [The People], as chairman of the Christian Socialist Party in Berlin’s 6th [electoral] district, as the architect of his election victories, I had dealings with him every couple of days. He regarded me as a useful instrument, as I often heard from friends throughout the country, who reported Stöcker’s flattering remarks about me. My vanity was fuelled to an alarming extent when I learned about a conversation [between Stöcker] and my great uncle Philipp Kühne in Wanzleben. The latter had mocked me, saying “he is a moralizer who is trying to save the world, and cuckoo at that.” Upon hearing that, Stöcker replied, “If he is any bird at all, then he must be an eagle.”

I clung to Stöcker in boundless devotion. What tied me to him especially was the immoderateness of the attacks leveled against him precisely in those instances in which he was, according to my knowledge of the facts, entirely right.

For instance, there was the affair with the “funeral pyre letter” [Scheiterhaufenbrief], which the entire leftist press portrayed as the abyss of depravity. It was a letter in which Stöcker explained to his friend von Hammerstein* that he was to edit the Kreuzzeitung in such a way as to alienate the young Kaiser [Emperor] from Bismarck, turn him away from the policy of the Conservative-National Liberal Kartell inaugurated in 1887, and sell him on a purely rightist policy. Certainly, it was impossible to harmonize the letter with the biblical commandment, “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”** After all, however, it was merely the recommendation of a particular tactic, and without tactics, politics is not possible at all. The letter was certainly not defamatory.

What incensed me above all, however, was that Stöcker was maligned as a “perjury pastor,” because he had sworn in a lawsuit he had never seen a man who, as it turned out, had once confronted Stöcker in a public meeting. Of course, the oath was objectively false. But to use that against Stöcker in such a subjective way seemed malicious to me. Anyone who has spoken at hundreds of meetings knows how easily secondary discussion topics can evade one’s memory.

The things that gradually caused me to doubt Stöcker and that subsequently drove me into open opposition to him were altogether different matters. He was a demagogue, albeit a demagogue of great importance, but nevertheless prepared to put the rabble-rousing effect above the subject matter itself. He had founded his new party, the Christian Social Workers’ Party, to snatch workers away from Social Democracy. His eloquence failed among the proletarian masses, but it kindled enthusiasm among the proletarianized middle classes. To be precise, it was his critical comments about the Jews, initially made in passing, that found particular resonance among these craftsmen and small shopkeepers, whereas his social remarks usually went over people’s heads.

Realizing this, he tried a different tack. Antisemitism occupied an increasingly large part of his speeches, without his ever being able to specify what he actually wished to see done to the Jews.

* Baron Wilhelm von Hammerstein-Schwartow, chief editor of the Neue Preußische (Kreuz-) Zeitung after 1881 and a fellow antisemite – ed.
** Matthew 5:37, quoted from the King James Version of the Bible – trans.

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