THE THE HARDEN–EULENBURG AFFAIR, WHICH MAY HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE RISE OF HITLER
A breathtaking historical novel that recreates the intimate milieu around Kaiser Wilhelm II, German emperor, from 1907 through the 1930s, a period of great human suffering and destruction and also of enormous freedom and creativity, a time when the remnants and artifices of the old word still mattered, and yet when art and the social sciences were pirouetting with successive revolutions in thought and style.
Set in a time when many men in the upper classes in Europe were gay, but could not be so publicly, <i>Jews Queers Germans</i> revolves around three men: Prince Philipp von Eulenburg, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s closest friend, who becomes the subject of a notorious 1907 trial for homosexuality; Magnus Hirschfeld, a famed, Jewish sexologist who gives testimony at the trial; and Count Harry Kessler, a leading proponent of modernism, and the keeper of a famous set of diaries which lay out in intimate detail the major social, artistic and political events of the day and allude as well to his own homosexuality. The central theme here is the gay life of a very upper crust intellectual milieu that had a real impact on the major political upheavals that would shape the modern world forever after.
The Harden–Eulenburg affair, often simply Eulenburg affair, was the controversy in Germany surrounding a series of courts-martial and five civil trials regarding accusations of homosexual conduct, and accompanying libel trials, among prominent members of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s cabinet and entourage during 1907–1909.
The affair centred on journalist Maximilian Harden’s accusations of homosexual conduct between the kaiser’s close friend Philipp, Prince of Eulenburg-Hertefeld, and General Kuno, Graf von Moltke. Accusations and counter-accusations quickly multiplied, and the phrase “Liebenberg Round Table” came to be used for the homosexual circle around the Kaiser.
The affair received wide publicity and is often considered the biggest domestic scandal of the German Second Empire. It led to one of the first major public discussions of homosexuality in Germany, comparable to the trial of Oscar Wilde in the United Kingdom.
The incident which provoked the affair followed on the heels of a public relations gaffe by Wilhelm II. Briefly, in November 1908, Wilhelm II began a vacation at an aristocrat’s estate in the Black Forest. One evening after dinner, chief of the Military Secretariat Dietrich von Hülsen-Haeseler was performing a pas seul dressed in a woman’s ballet tutu when his heart failed and he died. Ottokar von Czernin, also in attendance, remarked, “In Wilhelm II, I saw a man who, for the first time in his life, with horror-stricken eyes, looked upon the world as it really was.” Despite the Emperor’s fears, the incident, with its implications of homosexuality at high levels, seemed successfully hushed up.
However, opponents of Germany’s foreign policies found the potential scandal too useful to ignore. Wilhelm II had dismissed “Iron” Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and his Realpolitik system of treaties and agreements in 1890, replacing Bismarck’s clear rule with a muddle and his foreign policies with a confrontational, expansionist Weltpolitik. The anti-imperialist Eulenburg became the most prominent member of Wilhelm II’s entourage being promoted from being a member of the diplomatic corps to an ambassador. Like many others, Bismarck noticed that the nature of the relationship between Wilhelm II and Eulenburg could “not be confided to paper,” but he, as those many others, felt that even these activities in the private sphere were not to be exposed to the public. Beyond that, the Auswärtiges Amt suffered what the British historian John C. G. Röhl called a “culture of intrigue” with German diplomats forever forming factions to plot against one another. The two dominant factions in the early 20th century were the Bülow-Eulenburg clique, headed by Bernhard von Bülow and his close friend Eulenburg, who were rapidly eclipsing the faction headed by Friedrich von Holstein, the powerful director of the Political Department at the Auswärtiges Amt. Holstein had known Eulenburg since June 1886 and had once been his ally when the two had plotted against Bismarck in 1889-1890, but starting around 1894, Eulenburg and Holstein had started to come into conflict with each other. The close friendship between Eulenburg and the Kaiser meant that Holstein tended to lose his arguments with Eulenburg. As a trump card to destroy his rival Eulenburg, Holstein had contacted Harden to inform him that Eulenburg was a homosexual.
Harden, imperialist head of the periodical Die Zukunft, felt the same about the direction of German foreign policy, waiting until 1902 only to personally threaten to expose Eulenburg unless he retired from his ambassadorship in Vienna; Eulenburg did so, withdrawing from public life until 1906. Harden reaffirmed his threat after Germany at the Algeciras Conference of 1906 recognized Morocco as being within the French sphere of influence, in what was for Germany a major foreign policy fiasco, and Eulenburg responded by moving to Switzerland. In May 1906, Holstein sent Eulenburg an extremely insulting and rude letter alongside a challenge to fight a duel to the death. After Eulenburg declined to fight the duel, Holstein decided to destroy Eulenburg by attacking him in his Achilles heel, namely by exposing his homosexuality.
Between 1906 and 1907, six military officers committed suicide after blackmail, while in the preceding three years, around twenty officers were convicted by courts-martial, all for their homosexual acts. A Gardes du Corps officer was charged with homosexuality, embarrassing because the elite Corps was commanded by Lieutenant General Wilhelm Graf von Hohenau, blood relative to the kaiser. Worse than these sexual scandals, in Harden’s eyes, was Eulenburg’s decision to return to Germany and be admitted to the Order of the Black Eagle; he did not change his mind when Prince Friedrich Heinrich of Prussia declined to be admitted to the Order of Saint John because of his own homosexual proclivities.
Harden outed Eulenburg on April 27, 1907, confirming the identity he previously had parodied as “the Harpist” (Eulenburg), along with “Sweetie” General Kuno Graf von Moltke, in 1906. Wilhelm II, informed of the growing story, responded by requiring the resignation of three of fifteen prominent aristocrats, Hohenau, Lynar, and Moltke, listed as homosexual by the Berlin vice squad; however, the actual list, not shown to Wilhelm II, contained several hundred names.
Moltke’s lawyer attempted to file criminal libel against Harden, but was dismissed and civil libel was suggested. Eulenburg denied any culpability and presented a self-accusation of violating the applicable Paragraph 175 to his district attorney who, as hoped and expected, cleared Eulenburg of all charges in July. Meanwhile, Georg von Hülsen [de], manager of the Royal Theatre, von Stückradt, the crown prince’s equerry, and Bernhard Prince von Bülow, imperial chancellor, were accused of or revealed as having homosexual tendencies or engaging in homosexual activities.
Moltke v. Harden
This trial was held from October 23 to 29, 1907.
Testifying against Moltke were Elbe, his former wife of nine years, a soldier named Bollhardt, and Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld. Elbe described the lack of conjugal relations, happening only on the first and second night of their marriage, Moltke’s overly close friendship with Eulenburg with whom he was always spending too much time, and her ignorance of homosexuality. Elbe’s testimony was sensational for the time and attracted much media attention as she spoke openly of her sexual needs and how difficult it was for her to be married to a man like Moltke who had no sexual interest in her, causing her to attack him several times in desperation. At the time, Germany had a very conservative culture where the existence of female sexuality was never spoken of in public, and Elbe’s testimony was noteworthy for the first time where the subject of female sexuality was addressed in Germany. The revelation that his young wife had attacked General von Moltke without him defending himself was seen at the time as confirming that Moltke was not manly, as the expectation was that a Prussian officer and a “real man” would have beaten his wife if she struck him, which in turn confirmed the belief that Moltke was gay. Moltke’s lawyers counterattacked using the subject of Elbe’s sexuality, arguing that any woman who spoke openly of her sexuality was a deranged “hysterical nymphomaniac” who could not be trusted. Bollhardt described attending champagne-filled parties at Lynar’s villa at which he saw both Hohenau and Moltke. Hirschfeld, a prominent German sexologist who was himself homosexual, had observed the trial and testified that Moltke most certainly had a feminine side and was homosexual even if he had never committed sodomy. On October 29, the court found Moltke homosexual and Harden innocent of libel.
However, the trial was voided on procedural grounds, and the state prosecutor decided to allow a criminal libel trial.
Bülow v. Brand
Cartoon satirising Bülow published October 1907 in Kladderadatsch. Title “On the maligning of Bülow”, caption “Good Mohrchen, you would never be such a bad dog!”.
November 6, 1907.
Adolf Brand, founder of the first homosexual periodical, Der Eigene (The Unique), had printed a pamphlet which described how Bülow had been blackmailed for his sexuality and had kissed and embraced Scheefer at male gatherings hosted by Eulenburg, and thus was morally obliged to publicly oppose Paragraph 175. Brand was found guilty of libel and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Harden v. Moltke
December 18–25, 1907.
Elbe, through a diagnosis of classical hysteria, and Hirschfeld, by retracting his earlier testimony, were discredited and Harden was convicted of libel and sentenced to four months imprisonment.
Harden v. Städele
April 21, 1908.
Now motivated by political goals, morals, and vengeance, Harden set out to prove Eulenburg’s homosexuality by having Anton Städele publish an article claiming Harden took hush money from Eulenburg. Harden then sued his accomplice for libel, Städele was found guilty and charged a hundred mark fine, repaid by Harden. During the trial, however, Georg Riedel and Jacob Ernst testified to having h?ad sexual relations with Eulenburg. Eulenburg was charged with perjury and brought to trial on May 7, 1908. Two weeks later Harden’s conviction was overturned and a second trial begun.
June 29, 1908.
After the first of 41 witnesses, including Ernst and ten witnesses who described watching Eulenburg through a keyhole in 1887, the trial was delayed because of Eulenburg’s ill health. It was moved to his hospital bed but delayed again, indefinitely.
Moltke v. Harden
With little press, Harden was again convicted and fined six hundred marks plus the forty thousand marks of court costs, while Moltke was rehabilitated in the public eye.
The stress of the trials caused most participants to fall ill during 1908.
The Eulenburg affair has been held up as one example of homosexuality being used as a means to attain certain political goals. As Eulenburg’s wife later commented, “They are striking at my husband, but their target is the kaiser.”
Harden later told Hirschfeld that the affair was the greatest political mistake of his life. Like many later observers,[which?] attributing the affair as the root cause of World War I and the fall of the Second Reich, inevitable without Eulenburg’s moderating influence.
The Friedrich Wend zu Eulenburg family under the National Socialist regime
As a monarchist, Eulenburg was a member of and involved with the conservative German National People’s Party (DNVP). He soon realised, however, that the influence of the large landowners could only be maintained if they had broad basis of support amongst the masses. He saw in the Nazi Party (NSDAP), that had already
outdistanced the DNVP during the 1930 elections, a political force that could secure this broad popular consent. He therefore met with Adolf Hitler in 1931 in order to address the interests of the big landowners…