Vanguard of Nazism is the first full history of the German Free Corps and of its contributions to the rise of Nazism. This dramatic and horrifying story sheds new light on a dark corner of the recent past, and it has an unhappy relevance to neo-Nazist tendencies in Germany today.
The newly established Weimar Republic, defenseless against the Communists, hired groups of volunteer soldiers (the Free Corps) to fight for it. These volunteers—born of the pre–World War I youth movement, nourished on the battlefields of the War, unreconciled to defeat and determined to avenge it—fought for the Republic (which they despised) from Munich to Berlin, from Düsseldorf to the Baltic. When the Republic, in fear, tried to disband them, they went underground until they reappeared in the brown shirts of the Nazis.
The savage spirit, brutal acts, and perverted ideology of the men whom Hermann Goering called “the first soldiers of the Third Reich” stand out in glaring relief in this record. The book is based on contemporary newspaper accounts and government documents, but the story it tells would hardly be credible were it not for the memoirs of the Free Corps fighters themselves, from which Robert G. L. Waite quotes liberally. With this material, Waite is able to show that the Free Corps contributed to Hitler’s Germany powerful political shock troops, labor camps, a youth movement, a well-developed Führer concept, and the basic tenets of National Socialist ideology.
The movement, half a million strong, swept Germany at a time when Hitler was an unknown political agitator. But when Hitler came to power, leaders of the Free Corps emerged as leaders of the Third Reich. Waite lists the names of these men in a valuable appendix to the book, which shows the activities of each man in both movements.
Waite emphasizes and substantiates the thesis that National Socialism really began in the months and years immediately following World War I. Aside from its importance as history, the story of these self-styled Freebooters has all the ingredients of a fantastic adventure tale: intrigues, conspiracies, quick reversals, and sudden death follow each other in dramatic succession.