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A Dangerous Dead Man

When two enemies face each other and one kills the other, the victor’s situation usually improves. How ever if the loser becomes a martyr, the victor is then forced to deal with an invincible and supernatural foe. Such is the case of Albert Leo Schlageter. Schlageter was a patriotic young man who served his German “Vaterland” honorably throughout the First World War and earned both the First and Second Class Iron Crosses. After WWI he joined the Freikorp von Medem and by spring of 1919 was fighting Bolsheviks in the Baltic region under the command of General Graf von der Goltz. Next Schlageter was with the Freikorp von Petersdorf and in August of 1919 he was part of the Freikorps mutiny led by Major Joseph Bischoff of the Iron Division which resulted in the formation of the German Legion under the command of Russian Prince Pawel Awaloff-Bermont. By the spring of 1920 after the Red victories in the Baltic, Schlageter’s unit was part of the Third Marine Brigade Loewenfeld in the Ruhr where they put down a communist insurgency. In 1921 he was in Silesia defending German interests before the plebiscite which the Germans won. After the plebiscite the fighting continued against the resulting Third Polish Insurrection which was defeated at the battle of Annaberg in May 1921. Less than two years later the French occupied the Ruhr in January of 1923. Schlageter and his Freikorp comrades formed a guerilla style resistance carrying out acts of sabotage which included blowing up a bridge near Calum on March 15, 1923. Two weeks later Schlageter was arrested by the French. He was given a show trial on May 10, 1923 and a public execution May 25, 1923. Albert Leo Schlageter became an instant martyr to the right wing and the nationalists including the Nazi Party which he had recently joined. After the initial burial the body was removed for a hero’s burial. The cross country procession and funeral was a grand event with lots of military units , flags and many thousands of mourners from beginning to end. The Nazis made the most of it and in time made Schlageter a national hero. Had the French simply caught him red handed and shot him in a street skirmish the name Schlageter would probably not be remembered today; but as a martyr who knows how much his death helped advance the Nazi cause. Illustrated below is the second type (of three types) Schlageter Honor Badge established in 1933 and awarded until some time in 1936 to Freikorp veterans. The design features Schlageter’s grave marker, a huge cross flanked with bars reflecting the Freikorp battle credits of the original recipient.

About Fred Borgmann

Retired from KP after nearly 31 years as new issues editor and the Standard Catalogs.
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