Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Story of Kurt Eisner

Did you know that there was a Jewish head of a German State in early 20th century. From November 8, 1918, until February 21, 1919, the Premier of Bavaria was Kurt Eisner, a Jewish republican who had helped overthrow the 700 year old Bavarian monarchy the day before.*

Born in Berlin on May 14, 1867, Eisner was actually a professional journalist, not a politician. Between 1890 and 1917 he worked on a wide variety of newspapers, including Vorwärts, the central organ of the German socialists. Eisner was drawn to the liberal politics in reaction to living under a rigid monarchy.

In 1917, Eisner joined the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. Later that year, even as Germany was at war, he was concerned about human rights. He incited the munition workers to strike, which was considered an act of treason and for which Eisner spent nine months in jail. He was later released as part of a general amnesty.

Following World War I, Eisner led the movement to move Bavaria toward democracy. Eisner believed that the German monarchies, influenced by the culture of Prussia, were at fault for the War. In fact, while Premier, he leaked documents demonstrating Prussian culpability.

Eisner was not a Communist. The revolution he started conducted elections almost immediately, and, in fact, his Social Democratic party was defeated in January 1919, just two months into his Premiership. Tragically, on February 21, 1919, as Eisner was heading to the parliament to officially resign, he was shot in the back by Anton Graf con Arco auf Valley, an angry German nationalist and anti-Semite (which was all the more tragic as Arco auf Valley’s mother was from the Jewish Oppenheim family). Eisner’s death was just one part of the post-war political upheaval that eventually allowed Adolph Hitler to rise to power.

*Germany was a federation of smaller kingdoms.

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