Rudolf Breitscheild

Rudolf Breitscheild

Rudolf Breitscheild, the son of a bookseller, was born in Cologne, Germany, on 2nd November, 1874. After studying political economy at the University of Munich and the University of Marburg he entered journalism and eventually became editor of a left-wing newspaper in Hamburg.

Breitscheild joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and was elected to the Berlin town council in 1904. Over the next few years he emerged as one of the leaders of the party.

Karl Liebknecht was the only member of the Reichstag who voted against Germany's participation in the First World War. He argued: "This war, which none of the peoples involved desired, was not started for the benefit of the German or of any other people. It is an Imperialist war, a war for capitalist domination of the world markets and for the political domination of the important countries in the interest of industrial and financial capitalism. Arising out of the armament race, it is a preventative war provoked by the German and Austrian war parties in the obscurity of semi-absolutism and of secret diplomacy."

Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, initially opposed to the idea of the country going to war. However, once the First World War had started, he ordered the SDP members in the Reichstag to support the war effort. Ebert called for a defensive, rather than an offensive war. With the formation of the Third Supreme Command, in August, 1916, Ebert's political power was undermined.

Breitscheild began questioning the policies of Ebert and in April 1917, along with other left-wing figures in the party formed the Independent Socialist Party. Other members of the ISP included Kurt Eisner, Karl Kautsky, Eduard Bernstein, Julius Leber and Rudolf Hilferding. After the German Revolution in Prussia in 1918 he briefly became Minister of the Interior in the new government. Raymond Gram Swing of the Chicago Daily News, commented: "My best friend among the new leaders was Rudolph Breitscheid, head of the Independent Socialists, a tall, narrow-shouldered man, a little stooped, who to me personified the hopes and virtues latent in the Weimar Republic."

In 1922 Breitscheild returned to the Social Democratic Party and supported the government of Hermann Muller between 1928 and 1930. With the growth of the Nazi Party Breitscheild argued for a protective alliance between the SDP and the German Communist Party (KPD).

When Adolf Hitler gained power Breitscheild was forced to flee to France and in 1938 helped to form the Central Union of German Emigrants. When the German Army invaded France in 1940 Breitscheild fled to Marseilles. However, in 1941 he was arrested by the Vichy government and handed over to the Gestapo.

Rudolf Breitscheild was sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. According to the Völkischer Beobachter, Breitscheid, along with Ernst Thälmann, was killed during an Allied air raid on 28th August, 1944. However, it is believed that Breitscheild was executed with Thälmann on 24th of that month.

Primary Sources

(1) Raymond Gram Swing, Good Evening (1964)

I renewed my association with Herr Erzberger, Philip Scheidemann, the Socialist leader, and Friedrich Ebert, later to become president. My best friend among the new leaders was Rudolph Breitscheid, head of the Independent Socialists, a tall, narrow-shouldered man, a little stooped, who to me personified the hopes and virtues latent in the Weimar Republic.

It is next to impossible for me to revive in their true perspective the memories of the new factor in world affairs I encountered in postwar Germany, the rise of the Soviet republic. Communism at that time was chiefly an important movement in Russia, with secondary importance in Germany. People generally had not yet adopted fixed reactions to it. The Soviet republic was weak and impoverished; it had had to sign the Brest Litovsk peace treaty as the only way to buy the freedom to begin establishing the new Marxist state in Russia. The beginnings had been made by the time I got back to Germany in 1920, but they were exceedingly flimsy, and Soviet power, as it now exists, was something undreamed of by most of the outside world.

Among the individuals I met in the new Germany were German Communists and representatives from the Soviet Union. The Communist revolution in Russia, as I came to know more about it and meet more of its participants, seemed to me fanatical and almost incomprehensibly doctrinaire. I was unschooled in the baffling rhetoric of dialectical materialism, though I hastily read Marx's Das Kapital in the hope of understanding it. I was sympathetic with the overthrow of Czarism and the objective of raising the political and economic level of the Russian peasantry, but that was not what most Communists talked about in my hearing.

Among the Russians of importance I met was Yuri Vladimirovich Lomonosov, who was a transportation official and had what surely was one of the most intractable tasks in post-war Russia. The railroads had been paralyzed by the war, many of the lines were torn up, and the rolling stock was virtually ruined by neglect or destruction. Lomonosov was in Germany to arrange for the repair and purchase of locomotives and freight cars. He had little money to pay for anything.

The new Germany was under the shadow of the coming reparations bill from the Allies and so was not able to lend. Lomonosov himself was an engaging and cultured man. He was not a professional Communist, and, as it turned out, he did not last long as a member of the Communist hierarchy. He was a technician who wanted to believe the best of the Bolshevik revolution, but he was not a veteran Marxist.

I had to thank him for giving me my first insight into the economic difficulties of the revolutionary regime in Moscow. A burly figure of a man, with a heavy brown beard, he was like a character out of the Russian fiction I had read. But he was kindly to me, and I saw him frequently.

Another Russian I met in Germany, and one who was to play a fateful role in Soviet history, was Karl Radek. He was the opposite of Lomonosov, a fully seasoned conspiratorial Communist who had served a brief prison term in Germany for Communist activities. Radek was a sharp-faced, bespectacled journalist and had a profound interest in what was happening everywhere. He had the talent I have encountered in one or two other Soviet journalists of being able to construct the news behind the news. He could read a communique and tell from the language that was used, or from what was said or omitted, just which faction or person in the Foreign Office of a government had prevailed over some other faction or individual. He may have been able to do this because Communist agents reporting on the differences between elements in government offices had supplied the background information. But he remembered it, and used it. It was a kind of scrutiny which I do not believe many United States diplomatic representatives applied to official statements in foreign countries. This faculty of Radek's greatly impressed me.

Later, when I returned to the United States and made the acquaintance of one or two Soviet journalists there, I discovered that their insight into American affairs that I happened to know about was sadly distorted by their Marxist doctrinal prejudices. So now I have become doubtful of the accuracy of the judgments of Karl Radek and other Soviet experts whom I wondered at in Europe. But one thing was sure: they took their journalism quite seriously. They knew that knowledge, if it was not of itself power, was essential to obtaining it.