Separatists in the Rhineland

Rumor had it that the French government was planning to annex the Rhineland. To many Rhinelanders this was a real danger, and as early as November 10, 1918, one day before the armistice, the „Kölner Volkszeitung,“ an organ of he Catholic Center Party, launched a campaign for a Rhineland republic within the framework of the German Reich. Lottie did not believe that a neutral Rhenish buffer state alone could solve all the problems. Belgium’s neutrality had not protected it from being invaded and devastated.

With its close geographic and cultural proximity to Western Europe, a strong Rhenish state within the German Reich could bring together France and Belgium and the eastern parts of Germany – but only if the former enemies would find a way to cooperate again, and that would occur only in the far distance, if ever.

Already on November 10, 1918, the day after the proclamation of the republic, some Center Party Politicians suggested seceding the Rhineland from Berlin. Back then, many people feared that the Rhineland would be annexed by France, and that the revolution in Berlin and other big cities would lead to a Socialist overthrow as in Russia. Today historians agree that the danger of a Bolshevik revolution was over-estimated, but back then people were in a state of shock and could not know. Moreover, many Catholic Rhinelanders resented the dominance of Protestant Prussia and her Junkers, the Kulturkampf of the Bismarck era was not forgotten, and finally they insisted on the Rhinelanders’ right to self-determination within a federate state.

Many of these thoughts were expressed by Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), since 1917 mayor of Cologne. On February 1, 1919, he spoke on an assembly of Rhenish delegates to the National Assembly in Weimar, to the Prussian State Assembly and mayors from the occupied territories. If Prussia was broken up and her Western provinces were joined into a “West German Republic”, he said, the might of the old, “belligerent cast” (in German: “kriegslüsterne Kaste”) that had dominated Prussia would be broken. Since then, Adenauer has been a highly controversial man. Yet, we have to listen carefully. Adenauer spoke of seceding the Rhineland from Prussia, not from Germany – what he wanted was a West German federate state within Germany, as we have today the federal states Northrhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Brandenbug and Berlin. Separating the Rhineland from Germany against the law or even making it a part of France was not option for him.

Others did not think the same way. A group around the former attorney Dr. Hans Adam Dorten (1880-1963) in Wiesbaden, Hesse, did not shy away from unlawful actions. On June 1, 1919, Dorten and his followers occupied the Government building in Wiesbaden, supported by the French occupation troops. Dorten proclaimed the Rhenish Republik within the German Empire. Yet, strikes and mass demonstrations against him forced them to withdraw already four days later, under French protection again.

Rhenish Republic and the “Battle of the Seven Mountains”

As the situation in the occupied Rhineland deteriorated more and more, the separatist groups became more radical. On August 15, 1923, several groups joined forces in the “Vereinigten Rheinischen Bewegung” under chairman Franz Josef Matthes. In October, the separatists launched their attacks in the cities of Aachen, Bonn and Coblenz, here the “Rhenish Republic” was proclaimed. At the end of October, separatists raided Königswinter, Bad Honnef and the other villages around. The separatists often drove into the villages nearby to “requisition” goods, or, seen through the eyes to the people, to steal them. The villages formed self defense groups. On November 15/16, 1923, an armed fight close to Aegidienberg broke out, in which at least 14 separatists and 2 locals died. There is a monument in Aegidienberg-Hoevel to remind us of that day.

On October 25, the separatists “raided” Königswinter, as the local newspapers reported. That choice of words is understandable: a group of mostly non-locals marched into town, occupied the city hall by force of arms, and plagued the people – and all that under protection of the French soldiers.

It may be hard to believe that Rhineland separatists were beaten out of the villages and cities, even killed, by Rhenish citizens. The separatists failed because they were not supported by the citizens themselves. The citizens didn’t feel liberated by the separatists, but threatened by them, and the citizens didn’t believe in the separatists’ patriotic conviction, especially in light of the fact that the separatists were supported, at least tolerated by French military.

Moreover, the “official” representatives of the “Rhenish Republic” were not in a position to care for their people without “requisitions”, and most worrisome of all, keep criminal elements out of their movement.

Finally France and Great Britain agreed to put an end to separatist movements, so the remaining separatists went into exile, and on December 28 the “Rhenish Republic” was officially done away with.

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