Kurt Schumacher


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(b. Kulm, 13 Oct. 1895; d. Bonn, 20 Aug. 1952)

German; leader of SPD 1946–52 Many Germans felt ill at ease with Schumacher because he seemed to personify the valour and the suffering of the few anti-Nazi resisters, in contrast to the complacency and cowardice of the many fellow-travellers. He had lost an arm in the 1914–18 war fighting for the Kaiser, and a leg as a result of his incarceration in a Nazi concentration camp. Because he was well known and on the verge of death, he was released in 1943, but it seemed to be sheer will power and sense of mission which kept him alive until 1952. He wanted to build up the SPD as the majority party to constitute a bulwark against political extremism, and he wanted to keep Germany united in a democratic Europe. The Allies found him a difficult man to deal with as he opposed the idea of the collective guilt of the Germans and the expulsion of millions from their homes as German territories were transferred to the Soviet Union and Poland.

The Social Democrats had the best record as consistent democrats of any of the German parties. The Communists already banned, they alone had voted against Hitler's ‘Enabling Act’ in the Reichstag in 1933. The Communists had stood for a Soviet Germany, the SPD for a democratic Germany. Schumacher and his colleagues had warned that Hitler would bring about another war. They had been proved correct and they expected to be rewarded for their courage and vision when Germany was returned to democracy. They were to be disappointed. In the East many of their bastions were under Soviet control; there democratic elections could not be held. In the West the confessional structure of the voters was against them being more Catholic than Germany as a whole. Moreover, Adenauer's Christian Democrats were ready to embrace integration with their neighbours, hoping that German reunification would come later. Schumacher urged that such integration should come after German unity had been restored. Strongly backed by the Catholic Church and the Americans, Adenauer led his Christian Democrats to victory in 1949 and again in 1953 by which time Schumacher was dead. The jovial Rhinelander beat the austere Prussian.

Schumacher was born in Prussia beyond the Oder-Neisse line, and his home town became part of Poland after 1945. He grew up in a comfortable middle-class environment which was shattered by the outbreak of war in 1914. He volunteered for service but his wounds resulted in his discharge from the army in 1915. He took up the study of law and economics. His war experiences led him to side with the revolution in 1918. He joined the SPD and worked as a journalist for the party. By 1924 he was elected to the Württemberg parliament and in 1930 to the Reichstag. On a famous occasion in 1932 he interrupted Goebbels, shouting, ‘The entire National Socialist agitation is a constant appeal to the swine in man.’ He became a marked man and was arrested in 1933. He was released from Dachau in 1943 only to be rearrested after the July 1944 plot against Hitler. Released again, he was marked down for execution as the Allied advance in Germany continued. He went into hiding until the arrival of the British in Hanover. He immediately got to work building up the SPD and was elected chairman in 1946.


Subjects: Politics.

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