Execution of a German Communist in Munich, 1919

Execution of a German Communist in Munich, 1919

On the reverse of this photograph was written: “Zum ewigen Andenken an den Spartakisten Krieg in München Bayern.” – As an eternal memento of the Spartacist War in Munich, Bavaria.

Some say it’s a real situation some say it’s a staged photo. It’s most likely was a staged event due to the various discrepancies in the photo. This does not look like an actual execution. They are too close to the wall to shoot without ricocheting and they’re not aiming or shouldering their guns in such a way that would indicate a readiness to fire. The guy on the far right is the biggest giveaway. His stance is all wrong for shooting, his grip on the rifle is incorrect, and he’s looking at the camera. Also the officer is looking directly into the camera. Two of the guys in the back rank appear to be unfamiliar with their Mauser 98’s. If he fires it, the guy on the right is going to hurt himself.

It looks like a propaganda photo in favor of the communist groups. Take a look at the guy who’s supposed to be executed, he got: defiant attitude, stylish clothing great hair and he’s looking way too nonchalant. German photojournalists of the early 20th century would frequently stage their photographs. In their eyes it wasn’t that they were faking, it was just that they wanted to tell a true story in the most visually compelling way.

Judging by the uniform the guys from the firing squad are Freikoprs (Free Corps), not regular army troops per se. Freikorps were paramilitary groups that first appeared in December 1918 in the wake of Germany’s defeat in World War I. Composed of ex-soldiers, unemployed youth, and other discontents and led by ex-officers and other former military personnel they proliferated all over Germany in the spring and summer of 1919. The Freikorps was used to put down the German Revolution of 1918-1919 and it crushed the Bavarian Soviet Republic in May 1919. They officially disbanded in 1920 but many members joined the fledgling Nazi Party and became the party’s original enforcers – what was to become the SA. A former member of the Freikorps, Ernst Roehm, became head of the SA.

The 1918 – 19 German communists’ attempt to establish Bavaria as a socialist state was a convoluted and bloody affair. An abridged version of the events as follows:

On Sunday, April 12, 1919, the Communist Party seized power, with Eugen Leviné as their leader. Leviné began to enact communist reforms, which included forming a “Red Army”, seizing cash and food supplies, expropriating luxurious apartments and giving them to the homeless and placing factories under the ownership and control of their workers. Leviné also had plans to abolish paper money and reform the education system, but never had time to implement them.

At the suggestion of Vladimir Lenin, Leviné took hostages from among the elite. When his troops refused to execute the hostages, Russian soldiers were sent to do it. On 30 April 1919, eight men, including the well-connected Prince Gustav of Thurn and Taxis, were accused as right-wing spies and executed. The Thule Society’s secretary, Countess Hella von Westarp, was also murdered.

Soon after, on 3 May 1919, remaining loyal elements of the German army (called the “White Guards of Capitalism” by the communists), with a force of 9,000, and Freikorps (such as the Freikorps Epp and the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt) with a force of about 30,000 men, entered Munich and defeated the communists after bitter street fighting in which over 1,000 supporters of the government were killed. About 700 men and women were arrested and summarily executed by the victorious Freikorps troops. Leviné was condemned to death for treason, and was shot by a firing squad in Stadelheim Prison.