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The designation of Freikorps (German for "Free Corps") was originally applied to voluntary armies formed in German lands from the middle of the 18th century onwards. After World War I the term was used for the paramilitary organizations that sprang up around Weimar Germanymarker and fought both for and against the state.

First Freikorps

The first freikorps were recruited by Frederick II of Prussia in the eighteenth century during the Seven Years' War. The freikorps were regarded as unreliable by regular armies, so that they were mainly used as sentries and for minor duties.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Freikorps were formed for the purpose of shaking off French rule in Germany. Those led by Ferdinand von Schill were decimated in the Battler of Stralsund , many of their members killed in battle or executed at Napleon's command in the aftermath. Later, Ludwig Adolf Wilhelm von Lützow, a survivior of Schill's freikorps, formed the Lützow Free Corps which took part in the German War of Liberation. The anti-Napoleonic freikorps often operated behind French lines, as a kind of commado or guerrilla force.

Throughout the Nineteenth Century, these anti-Napoleonic freikorps were greatly praised and glrorified by German Nationalists, and a heroic myth built up around their exploits. It was this myth which was invoked, in considerably different cirumstances, the aftermath of Germany's defeat in the First World War.

Post-World War I

The meaning of the word "freikorps" changed over time. After 1918, the term was used for the paramilitary organizations that sprang up around Germanymarker as soldiers returned in defeat from World War I. They were the key Weimar paramilitary groups active during that time. Many German veterans felt disconnected from civilian life, and joined a Freikorps in search of stability within a military structure. Others, angry at their sudden, apparently inexplicable defeat, joined up in an effort to put down Communist uprisings or exact some form of revenge (see Dolchstoßlegende). They received considerable support from Minister of Defense Gustav Noske, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, who used them to crush the German Revolution and the Marxist Spartacist League, including the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg on 15 January 1919. They were also used to defeat the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919.

On 5 May 1919 twelve workers (most of them members of the Social Democratic Party, SPD) were arrested and killed by members of Freikorps Lützow in Perlach near Munichmarker based on a tip from a local cleric saying they were communists. A memorial on Pfanzeltplatz in Munichmarker today commemorates this atrocity.

Freikorps also fought in the Baltic, Silesia, and Prussia after the end of World War I, sometimes with significant success.

Though officially 'disbanded' in 1920, many Freikorps attempted, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the government in the Kapp Putsch in March 1920. Their attack was halted when German citizens that were loyal to the state went on strike, cutting off many services, and making daily life so problematic that the Putsch was called off.

In 1920, Adolf Hitler had just begun his political career as the leader of the tiny and as-yet-unknown German Workers Party (soon renamed the National Socialist German Workers Party, NSDAP) in Munich. Numerous future members and leaders of the Nazi Party had served in the Freikorps, including Ernst Röhm, future head of the Sturmabteilungmarker, or SA, and Rudolf Höß, the future Kommandant of the Auschwitz concentration campmarker.

Hermann Ehrhardt, founder and leader of Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, and his deputy Commander Eberhard Kautter, leaders of the Viking League, refused to help Hitler and Erich von Ludendorff in their Beer Hall Putschmarker and conspired against them.

Relations with Hitler

Freikorps leaders symbolically gave their old battle flags to Hitler's Sturmabteilungmarker and Schutzstaffelmarker on November 9, 1933 in a huge ceremony. Historian Robert Waite claims that Hitler had many problems with the Freikorps. Many of the Freikorps had joined the SA, so when the Night of the Long Knives came, they were among those targeted for killing or arrest, including Ehrhardt and Röhm. He claims that in Hitler's "Röhm Purge" speech to the Reichstag on July 13, 1934, the third group of "pathological enemies of the state" that Hitler lists are, in fact, the Freikorps fighters. Hitler talks of the revolutionaries of 1918, who wanted permanent revolution, hated all authority, and were nihilistic.

Notable Freikorps members

Notable Freikorps

  • Volunteer Division of Horse Guards (Garde-Kavallerie-Schützendivision)

  • Freikorps Roßbach (Rossbach)

  • Marinebrigade Ehrhardt (The Second Naval Brigade)
    • participated in the Kapp Putsch of 1920
    • disbanded members eventually formed the Organisation Consul, which performed hundreds of political assassinations

  • Iron Division (Eiserne Division, related to Eiserne Brigade)

  • Freikorps Lützow
    • Occupied Munich following the revolution of April, 1919.
    • Commanded by Major Schulz

See also




  1. Morris, Justice Imperiled: The Anti-Nazi Lawyer Max Hirschberg in Weimar Germany
  2. Freikorps Lützow in the Axis History Factbook
  3. Waite, p 197
  4. Waite, pg 280-281. See also the full text of the speech at
  5. Hoess et al., pg 201
  6. Waite, pg 62
  7. Waite, pg 145
  8. Waite, pg 33-37
  9. Mueller, p 61
  10. Waite, pg 131, 132
  11. Waite, pg 140-142
  12. Waite, pg 203, 216
  13. Waite, pg 89

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