Mühsam - Biography - Arrest and Death

Arrest and Death

Mühsam was arrested on charges unknown in the early morning hours of 28 February 1933, within a few hours after the Reichstag fire in Berlin. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, labelled him as one of "those Jewish subversives." It is alleged that Mühsam was planning to flee to Switzerland within the next day. Over the next seventeen months, he would be imprisoned in the concentration camps at Sonnenburg, Brandenburg and finally, Oranienburg.

Marinus van der Lubbe, an alleged Communist agitator, was arrested and blamed for the fire, and his association with Communist organizations led Adolf Hitler to declare a state of emergency, encouraging aging president Paul von Hindenburg to sign the Reichstag Fire Decree, abolishing most of the human rights provisions of the Weimar Republic's constitution (1919). Hitler used the state of emergency to justify the arrests of large numbers of German intellectuals labelled as communists, socialists, and anarchists in both retaliation for the attack and to silence opposition for his increasing suppression of civil liberties.

Communist, Socialist, and Anarchist publications decried the arrests of these intellectuals, several of which led an international effort demanding the release of Mühsam, conveying reports of his treatment and enumerating the various barbarous acts of torture and repeated beatings at the hands of prison guards and officers.

"After breaking his teeth with musket blows; stamping a swastika on his scalp with a red-hot brand; subjecting him to tortures which caused him to be taken into a hospital, even now the fascist hyenas of the Sonninburg concentration camp continue their beastly attacks upon this defenseless man. The last news are really atrocious: the Nazi forced our comrade to dig his own grave and then with a simulated execution made him go through the agony of a doomed man. Although his body has been reduced to a mass of bleeding and tumefied flesh, his spirit is still very high: when his traducers tried to force him to sing the Horst-Wessel-Lied (the Nazi's anthem) he defied their anger by singing the Internationale."

It was even alleged that the camp's guards had even ripped out pieces of Mühsam's beard in order to make him look more like the caricatures of orthodox Jews seen in anti-semitic newspapers and tracts.

On 2 February 1934, Mühsam was transferred to the concentration camp at Oranienburg. The beatings and torture continued, until finally on the night of 9 July 1934, Mühsam was tortured and murdered by the guards, his battered corpse found hanging in a latrine the next morning.

An official Nazi report dated 11 July stated that Erich Mühsam committed suicide, hanging himself while in "protective custody" at Oranienburg. However, a report from Prague on 20 July 1934 in the New York Times stated otherwise

"His widow declared this evening that, when she was first allowed to visit her husband after his arrest, his face was so swollen by beating that she could not recognise him. He was assigned to the task of cleaning toilets and staircases and Storm Troopers amused themselves by spitting in his face, she added. On July 8th, last, she saw him for the last time alive. Despite the tortures he had undergone for fifteen months, she declared, he was cheerful, and she knew at once when his "suicide" was reported to her three days later that it was untrue. When she told the police that they had "murdered" him, she asserted they shrugged their shoulders and laughed. A post mortem examination was refused, according to Frau Mühsam, but Storm Troopers, incensed with their new commanders, showed her the body which bore unmistakable signs of strangulation, with the back of the skull shattered as if Herr Mühsam had been dragged across the parade ground."

After the death, publications would accuse Theodor Eicke, the former commander of the concentration camp at Dachau, as the murderer, aided by two Sturmabteilung (Storm Troopers) officers identified as Ehrath and Konstantin Werner. It was alleged that he was tortured and beaten until he lost consciousness, followed by an injection that killed him, and that Mühsam's body was taken to a latrine in the rear of the building and hung on a rafter so as to create the impression that Mühsam had committed suicide.

Read more about this topic:  Mühsam, Biography

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