Schwede Franz

Publié le par Roger Cousin

Franz Reinhold Schwede (5 March 1888 - 19 October 1960) was a Nazi German politician, Lord Mayor of Coburg and Gauleiter of Pomerania. An early supporter of Adolf Hitler in Coburg, Schwede used intimidation and propaganda to help elect the first Nazi-majority local government in Germany. 

Franz SchwedeFranz Schwede

Franz Schwede

This contributed to a personality cult surrounding Schwede and he became known as "Franz Schwede-Coburg". During World War II he ordered secret executions of the infirm and mass deportations of Jews. He also played a key role in abandoning the Pomeranian civilian population to the advancing Red Army, while escaping their fate himself. In 1945 he was captured by the British Army and in 1948 he was tried and convicted of war crimes.

Franz Schwede was born in the small town of Drawöhnen near Memel, East Prussia (now Dreverna near Klaipėda, Lithuania) in 1888, when it was part of the German Empire. He trained as a millwright and in 1907 joined the Imperial German Navy as a machinist. By the end of the First World War he had risen to the rank of technical deck officer. After the Scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow in 1919, Schwede wound up in British custody as a prisoner of war. Upon his release he joined the German Army in 1920, but was discharged after the 100,000-man limit imposed by the Versailles Treaty was reached in 1921. He then took a job as operations manager at a sawmill in Sankt Andreasberg, Lower Saxony before being hired as foreman at the Coburg Municipal Works in March 1922. During this period, Schwede became active in the Deutschvölkischer Schutz und Trutzbund, a "völkisch" anti-Semitic organization.

In October 1922 Schwede co-founded a Nazi Party Branch Office (German: NSDAP Ortsgruppe) in Coburg, a historic city in northeastern Bavaria. One year later he became local Party chairman, by which time it had about 800 members. Under Schwede's guidance, anti-Semitic demonstrations and street battles instigated by the Sturmabteilung became commonplace in the city. Following the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch, the NSDAP was temporarily banned in 1924. The National Socialist Freedom Movement became its front organization and during the 1924 Coburg city council elections the Nazis managed to get 14.3% of the vote. This entitled them to 3 seats on the council and Schwede took one of them.

After the NSDAP ban lifted in 1926, Schwede founded Der Weckruf ("The Wake-Up Call"), the first National Socialist propaganda newspaper at the local level in Germany. Here he ran an extra-parliamentary opposition with lurid articles about alleged "scandals" designed to destabilize the political system of the Weimar Republic. In 1928, the paper began a slander and harassment campaign against Abraham Friedmann, the jewish General Director of the Coburg meat company Großmann AG. Friedmann was initially successful in fighting these attacks and managed to get the city council to fire Schwede from his job at the Municipal Works in 1929. The outraged Nazis demanded Schwede's immediate reinstatement and when the city refused a petition began circulating to dissolve the City Council. On 5 May 1929 the recall passed with 67% of the vote. In the ensuing re-election campaign, which included public speeches in Coburg by Adolf Hitler himself, the Nazi's won 43.1% of the popular vote and 13 of the 25 seats on the city council in June 1929. This was the first instance where the NSDAP held an absolute majority in a local government in Germany.

At the newly-elected Council's opening session, Schwede was promptly rehired to the Municipal Works. He then managed to get himself elected, after the fifth try, as third deputy mayor (Bürgermeister) on 28 August 1930, becoming the first Nazi to reach such a position. Early in 1931 he was elected second Bürgermeister and, on 16 November 1931, first Bürgermeister. Coburg became the first city in Germany to see the swastika flag raised on a public building, City Hall, which occurred on 18 January 1931 two years before Hitler came to power. Schwede also got the city to grant Hitler an honorary citizenship on 16 October 1932, also the first to do so. All this created a cult of personality around Schwede, a highlight of which was the 1933 dedication of Coburg City Hall's new bell, bearing the rhyming inscription Zu Adolf Hitler ruf ich dich, Franz Schwede-Glocke heiße ich (roughly translated "To Adolf Hitler I call, I am called the Franz Schwede Bell").

Following the Nazi Seizure of Power in January 1933, Schwede was directly appointed as Coburg's Lord Mayor (Oberbürgermeister). In March 1933, a terror campaign was launched against Jews and opponents of the Nazis under his leadership. By the end of April, 152 people had been arrested and harshly mistreated while in "protective custody", many in Schwede's presence. In 1939 Coburg was officially granted the title "First National Socialist City in Germany" (German: Erste nationalsozialistische Stadt Deutschlands). Schwede was also made an honorary citizen of Coburg, as Hitler had been, and was awarded use of the suffix "Coburg" in his name.

In 1934 Schwede's political career rose further. He had already won election to a seat in the Bavarian Landtag in 1930 and in the Reichstag since 1933. On 1 July 1934, he was appointed district president of Lower Bavaria/Upper Palatinate. Around the same time the existing Gauleiter of the Prussian Province of Pomerania, Wilhelm Karpenstein, ran afoul of NSDAP headquarters and was arrested during the Night of the Long Knives. Schwede's loyalty was rewarded when Hitler appointed him to the powerful Gauleiter position in Pomerania on 21 July 1934 and made him Oberpräsident one week later. Schwede moved to Stettin, forced 23 of the 27 District Kreisleiters out of office, and replaced Karpenstein's staff with loyal friends from Coburg, including: Arno Fischer as state building surveyor, Kuno Popp as Gau propaganda leader and regional representative of the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Alfred Seidler as Gau treasurer, Johannes Künzel as a regional representative of the German Labor Front, Emil Mazuw as SS-Stabsführer of SS District XIII Pomerania, and Werner Faber as Lord Mayor of Stettin.

In 1937 Schwede was promoted to SA-Gruppenführer and in 1938 to SA-Obergruppenführer. That same year, he became Chairman of the Reich League of Former Professional Soldiers (German: Reichstreubundes ehemaliger Berufssoldaten). During 1938-39, the German Pomeranian province was enlarged. Most of Grenzmark Posen-West Prussia and two counties in Brandenburg were made a district, further expanding the area he controlled. During the Reichskristallnacht on 9 November 1939, Schwede oversaw the destruction of the Pomeranian synagogues. The next day, all male Stettin Jews were deported to Oranienburg concentration camp and kept there for several weeks in order to increase the level of terror.

At the outbreak of World War II, Hitler gave the Gaulieters increased power over their regions and Schwede was appointed Reich Defense Commissar (German: Reichsverteidigungskommissar) for Defense District II. Civil administration and important industrial sectors were now subject to his direct control. Starting in October 1939, Schwede – or "Nero" as the Pomeranians nicknamed him – used this position to sweep Pomerania with an iron broom. He worked closely with the SS to make way for the resettlement of ethnic Germans arriving from the Baltic States. After learning of the Aktion T4 program, he immediately ordered the evacuation of psychiatric hospitals and nursing homes in Treptow, Ueckermünde, Lauenburg, Meseritz-Obrawalde and Stralsund. Patients were transported to Neustadt in Westpreußen to be shot by SS-Kommando Eimann or murdered by Sonderkommando Lange in gas vans. On February 12 and 13, 1940, the remaining 1,000 to 1,300 Pomeranian Jews, regardless of sex, age and health, were deported from Stettin and Schneidemühl to the Lublin-Lipowa Reservation that had been set up following the Nisko Plan, to their ultimate demise.

In 1943 Pomerania became a target of allied air raids and throughout 1944 and early 1945 Stettin's industrial and residential areas were hit. Despite this, the province was regarded as "safe" compared to other parts of the Third Reich and it became a shelter for evacuees from hard hit Berlin and the industrial areas of western Germany. Pomerania finally turned into a battlefield on 26 January 1945, when Red Army tanks entered the province near Schneidemühl during the East Pomeranian Offensive. Schwede believed in victory up until the very end, so evacuation orders for the civilian population were issued either too late or not at all. He even ordered authorities to repel any flight attempts as "defeatist". However, even as the Soviets advanced, he managed to get himself onto a ship out of Sassnitz on 4 March 1945 in time to escape towards the direction of Schleswig-Holstein. The official post-war West German Schieder commission estimated civilian losses in Schwede's province at 440,000 dead.

On 13 May 1945, Schwede was captured by the British Army and once again ended up in custody as a prisoner of war. Interned until 1947, he was tried for war crimes in a Bielefeld court and on 25 November 1948 sentenced to nine years in prison for membership in the SS-Führerkorps. On April 7, 1951 a court in Coburg sentenced him to another ten years' imprisonment on 52 counts of abuse of power and grievous bodily harm that he participated in during the terrors of March, 1933. His sentence was commuted to probation on 24 January 1956 on grounds of ill health and he died four years later at the age of 72 in Coburg.

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