The birth pangs of Nazism grew out of the death agony of the Kaiser’s Germany. Defeat in World War I and a narrow escape from Communist revolution brought not peace but five chaotic years (1918-1923) of civil war, assassination, plots, putsches and murderous mayhem to Germany. The savage world of the trenches came home with the men who refused to admit defeat and ‘who could not get the war out of their system’. It was an atmosphere in which civilised values withered, and violent extremism flourished.
In this chronicle of the paramilitary Freikorps – the freebooting armies that crushed the Red revolution, then themselves attempted to take over by armed force – historian and biographer Nigel Jones draws on little-known archives in Germany and Britain to paint a portrait of a state torn between revolution and counter revolution. Astonishingly, this is the first in-depth study of the Freikorps to appear in English for 50 years. Yet the figures who flit through its shadowy world – men like Röhm, Goering and Hitler himself – were to become frighteningly familiar just ten years after the turmoil that gave Nazism its fatal chance.