In the Eye of a Hurricane

German Freemasonry in the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich

Ralf Melzer

This article provides information on the conditions German Freemasons faced after Germany’s defeat in the First World War. For example, they came under attack by various nationalistic elements during the Weimar years, when the Masons were accused of being unpatriotic. These assaults occurred despite the fact that most German Masonic lodges were anti-Semitic and not places of liberalism or reform. But, because German Masons were not unified within their own practices of Masonry, they could rarely respond in a unified manner and, thus, with effectiveness when they were challenged. The article then relates how the Fraternity came under further attack when Adolf Hitler became German Chancellor. Wishing to survive and play a role in the Third Reich, German Masonry tried to accommodate and conform with the Nazi Party’s racist ideology. In this, German Masonry was ultimately unsuccessful, and all but a few of its lodges were unable to withstand the pressure and were ‘voluntarily’ dissolved or forcibly closed. The article then discusses anti-Masonic actions taken by Germany throughout Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War and how the Fraternity was brought back to Germany after the war’s end.

Most Germans experienced Germany’s defeat in the First World War and its political and social consequences as deeply humiliating, especially since most of the public had not been informed of the actual military situation until after the armistice. The nobility, the nationalistically disposed bourgeoisie, the German army, political moderates and members of the extreme political right-wing all complained about the loss of Germany’s role as a world power. As a consequence, they would not accept the post-war order as a political basis for the governing of Germany and its people. The responsibility for the war, the defeat and the peace terms were blamed on the opponents of the war and on those politicians who favoured the democratic process. German Freemasons were directly affected by the political developments and the national trauma in two ways. Even though most of them mourned the loss of the monarchy as much as other Germans, they were socially isolated and increasingly cut off from their own social milieus by the use of anti-Masonic propaganda that accused Freemasons of participation in a ‘Jewish-Masonic worldwide conspiracy’. Although the theory of a worldwide conspiracy, in which Freemasons served as the Jew’s ‘tools’, developed late in Germany, it was all the more effective. In 1919, after Kaiser Wilhelm II’s abdication and the beginning of the Weimar Republic, the clerical and anti-Semitic nationalists’ aggressive battle against Freemasonry reached its first climax with the publication of Friedrich Wichtl’s book, Weltfreimaurerei—Weltrevolution—Weltrepublik (World Freemasonry—World Revolution—World Republic).1 The more Masons and Masonic organisations tried to convince their enemies of the Masons’ own ‘nationalistic reliability’, the angrier the attacks against them became. The multitude of German Masonic systems and lodges mattered very little, if at all, to German nationalists. In fact, the extraordinary heterogeneity of German lodges prevented German Freemasons from being unanimous in their protests against the hostility and the forces that confronted them.

Despite these issues and the poverty that many brethren suffered from, many new lodges were founded in Germany after the First World War. The number of German Masons and Masonic lodges grew continuously until 1925, at which point more than 82,000 Masons were members of 632 lodges.2 Although German lodges were considered ‘places of coalition for like-minded people, beyond political disagreement and economic misery’,30 and, as such, attracted many new members even after the mid-1920s, they never had the unifying force or the social standing of lodges in Great Britain or the United States. On the one hand, this can undoubtedly be explained by the growing anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic atmosphere and by the general political polarisation that was then occurring in Germany. On the other hand, there were internal reasons: there were no fewer than eight established Grand Lodges during the Weimar years, nine after 1924.

In Germany, Masonry was established and divided into two great parts: the Old Prussian Grand Lodges, which, for the most part, deliberately excluded Jews from membership and whose members were mostly part of the German nationalist milieu, and the Humanitarian Grand Lodges, whose members could usually be counted as members of political parties that were in the middle-Left of the political spectrum.

The Old Prussian Grand Lodges consisted of:

This latter Grand Lodge also called itself the Freimaurerorden (Freemasons’ Order, or FO). It worked the Swedish System and, therefore, followed an exclusive and explicitly Christian form of Freemasonry, even more so than the other Old Prussian Grand Lodges. Consequently, it never accepted the Old Charges.

The Humanitarian Grand Lodges consisted of:

Besides the nine regular established Grand Lodges (three of which were Old Prussian and six of which were Humanitarian), there were two other lodges that considered themselves to be Grand Lodges in their own right. These were the irregular Freimaurerbund zur aufgehenden Sonne (Freemasons Union of the Rising Sun, or FzaS, 1907), which, because it was irregular, was not accepted by the other German Grand Lodges and thus did not affiliate as either an Old Prussian or a Humanitarian Grand Lodge; and the Symbolische Großloge von Deutschland (Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany, or SGL, 1930), whose regularity was questioned because of its Lichteinbringung (initiation, literally ‘bringing to light’) by the Supreme Council for Germany of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR) that had been founded only a short time before.4

In short, there was a considerable differentiation between the Grand Lodges themselves in inner-Masonic affairs and within the political spectrum as well. This diversity has been underestimated and discounted for far too long by both Masonic and outside academic researchers.5

Beginning around 1920, more and more Humanitarian lodges left their Grand Lodges and joined the Old Prussians, a phenomenon which expressed the time period’s ‘political radicalisation and polarisation’.6 Not a single declaration of belief in the Weimar Republic can be found in the Masonic journals Am rauhen Stein (On the Rough Stone) of the Grand Lodge of Friendship, and the Bundesblatt (Federal Paper) of the Grand National Mother Lodge.7 Instead, the Fatherland was mysticised in contrast to the political reality, and the journals postulated a ‘national self-contemplation’.8 Most members of the Old Prussian Lodges and even some members of the few dogmatic Humanitarian lodges did not find the central elements of the Nazi Party’s ideology to be contradictory to their Masonic beliefs. Instead, they found the ideology to be rather complementary to their own understanding of Freemasonry. Before the Nazis came to power, the president of the Verein deutscher Freimaurer (German Freemason Association), Diedrich Bischoff, even suggested an inspiration of the Third Reich based on or through Masonic idealism.9

In 1922, membership in Old Prussian lodges consisted of about 47,000 brethren, which was approximately 70 per cent of the 67,000 German men who were then Freemasons and members of regular lodges in Germany.10 Although there were Humanitarian Grand Lodges in Prussian territory, and despite the fact that there were many more Humanitarian Grand Lodges than Old Prussian Grand Lodges, there were far more members of Old Prussian lodges than Humanitarian lodges. This was because the Old Prussians were the oldest Grand Lodges in Germany and because they had secured royal patronage from the beginning. Nevertheless, despite their predominance, on 27 May 1922, the Old Prussian Grand Lodges withdrew from the Deutscher Großlogenbund (German Union of Grand Lodges, 1872), an umbrella organisation that had covered all of Germany’s Masons. The Old Prussians accused the Humanitarian lodges of causing the quarrel by their ‘pacifistic and cosmopolitan’ views. In addition, they felt offended by the Humanitarians because of the Old Prussians’ disapproving attitude towards Jews. They also felt that the German Union of Grand Lodges prevented them from teaching Germany ‘patriotism, national feeling and public spirit’ and from giving new heart to the German nation. They also felt that they were hindered in their efforts to support ‘the nation’s religiousness’.11

Henceforth, internal Masonic debate was carried out mainly with ideological arguments. The Old Prussians’ withdrawal was also indicative of their isolation from liberal Grand Lodges in other countries, such as the Swiss Grand Lodge Alpina or the Austrian Großloge von Wien (Grand Lodge of Vienna), and their choice not to engage in brotherly relations with them. A few years later, Felix Witt-Hoë, one of the leading officials of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Germany, wrote that his Grand Lodge had ‘not been attacked by anyone as strongly as by the Allgemeine Wiener Freimaurer-Zeitung [Universal Masonic Newspaper of Vienna, the organ of the Grand Lodge of Vienna], for about 40 years’. Witt-Hoë also noted that he ‘regularly kept a record of these infamous Jewish attacks on our Christian principles, our tradition, our national views and the love of our country’.12 After a period of a more-or-less straining juxtaposition, the break-up of the German Union of Grand Lodges began a time when lodges openly split from each other.

In a time period when the bourgeoisie was establishing itself more and more as the political élite, German Freemasons began to ask what was their reforming, progressive function. In France and on the Iberian Peninsula, some Grand Lodges decided against self-isolation and opted for a policy of openness, and tried, for example, to support the emancipation of the proletariat. Most German lodges, however, kept their problematic ‘unpolitical’ attitude. In consequence, German Freemasonry, apart from a few ‘labour lodges’, never played a role in the history of the German labour movement.

Beginning around 1926, the Grand National Mother Lodge and the Grand National Lodge of Freemasons of Germany showed clear signs that they wanted to separate themselves from Freemasonry’s Jewish and Old Testament traditions. To depart from and lessen Jewish influences, they wanted to change the rituals into so-called ‘Aryan’ ones. Religious motives may have been the primary reason for them to erase Jewish symbolism, but the discussion of racial issues also increased within lodges. While none of the Masonic Grand Bodies officially adopted racial categories before 1933, certain forces, such as the Wetzlarer Ring (Ring of Wetzlar) and the Bielefelder Ring (Ring of Bielefeld), which were formed in the mid-1920s, demanded to do just that. These groups, amalgamations of Old Prussian subordinate lodges from different parts of Germany, did not feel sufficiently represented and criticised the leadership of the Grand Lodges in Berlin for not being concerned enough with national issues.

Unimpressed by these efforts, German nationalists, especially Erich Ludendorff, the former chief of the German Army’s General Staff in the First World War, continued their assault on Freemasonry. Ludendorff’s most repulsive attack on the Fraternity was probably Vernichtung der Freimaurerei durch Enthüllung ihrer Geheimnisse (Exterminating Freemasonry by Uncovering its Secrets).13 In it, he distorted and falsified the rituals of the Grand National Lodge of Freemasons of Germany and, among other things, elaborated about an alleged ‘training’ that made Freemasons become ‘artificial’ Jews. This defamatory piece of writing made all of the nine regular Grand Lodges in Germany agree with each other. On 15 September 1927, the Grand Masters published a declaration that rejected Ludendorff’s depiction of Freemasonry and described it as an ‘incitement to the German nation’ and ‘misleading to the masses’.14 This was the only time when all of the German Grand Lodges would unite to counter an accusation of their nationalist enemies.

Meanwhile, Germany’s foreign minister, Gustav Stresemann, became a preferred target of German nationalists. It was generally known that he was a Freemason; in 1923, he joined a Berlin lodge, Friedrich der Große (Frederick the Great), which was a subordinate lodge of the Grand National Mother Lodge. In 1926, while in Geneva, he clearly used Masonic vocabulary in a speech about Germany’s admission to the League of Nations.15 The anti-democratic Right used his speech as an opportunity to agitate against the alleged use of ‘secret Masonic signs’ that the speech had contained. The nationalists also accused Stresemann of supporting ‘subversive’ endeavours, and they stigmatised him as a ‘lodge politician’. Not even Stresemann’s own Grand Lodge took the offensive to reject these defamatory statements, and Stresemann’s own considerable international reputation was not enough to defend him against any attacks of having a perceived pro-Masonic bias. On 23 January 1927, Stresemann approached his Grand Master, Karl Habicht, to ask whether he (Stresemann) could ‘relentlessly’ answer in a non-offensive fashion a letter of congratulations that the Swiss Grand Lodge Alpina had sent to him. In its New Year’s greeting, Alpina had thanked the previous year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner for ‘the great work of peace’ that he had started ‘together with [France’s foreign minister] Br.[Aristide] Briand [a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize with Stresemann] on helvetian [Swiss] ground’. Stresemann wrote to Habicht that he had to be ‘a little careful with these things since they can easily be used against me and the whole lodge movement’. Habicht’s opinion was unambigous; because Alpina had ‘not yet found it necessary to compensate for the injustice that German Freemasonry suffered during the war’, the Grand Master advised him to not answer the letter and to consider the matter finished. He explained further, ‘If you answer, the Grand Lodge Alpina will most certainly make use of it and publish your answer. And that would all be grist for our enemies’ mill’.16

Socially, the established German lodges consisted mostly of men who were in the middle and wealthier classes, especially civil servants, self-sufficient businessmen, those in commercial, independent and academic professions, teachers and protestant clergymen — primarily members of the new middle class from a largely urban milieu. The lower middle classes only contributed a small number of lodge members. Intellectual and artistically inclined individuals were more strongly attracted to the Freemasons Union of the Rising Sun and the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany. Their members mostly belonged to the left-wing bourgeoisie and/or a social-democratic sphere, and they were often marked by a specifically international and pacifist attitude. It was this small group that held on to the idea of a worldwide chain of brethren who were united against any hostility and who interpreted the League of Nations as a political expression of this concept. The only Masonic institution that supported this basic position until 1930 was the first of these two German Grand Lodges, which had been constituted itself as a Masonic reform Grand Lodge. Two of its most well-known members were the writer Kurt Tucholsky and the journalist Carl von Ossietzky. In 1936, while he was jailed in a Nazi concentration camp, Ossietzky was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the previous year.

Despite their cosmopolitan world view, the brothers in the Freemasons Union of the Rising Sun were restricted in their work on an international level because of a problem with Masonic regularity. For years, the question of this Grand Lodge’s membership in the Association Maçonnique Internationale (International Masonic Association) was discussed and argued over without resolution. As a result, a group of this Grand Lodge’s members (who had individually either been in regularly established lodges or who had already belonged to lodges under the Grande Loge de France) participated in the 1930 founding of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany. Others who helped in the founding of this new Grand Lodge came from regular Humanitarian lodges or were German members of the Grand Lodge of Vienna. The man who had the most formative influence on the new Grand Lodge, however, was its Grand Master, Leo Müffelmann.17 He had taken a very active part in German Freemasonry. At first, he started out as a member of various subordinate lodges of the Grand Lodge of Hamburg. He later moved on to the Grand Lodge of the Sun, as he had always been isolated in the Grand Lodge of Hamburg because of his international outlook. From 11–15 September 1926, Müffelmann took part in a conference in Belgrade which was organised by the International Masonic Association and that had as its subject the realisation of peace. While there, he exchanged a brotherly kiss with Arthur Groussier, the Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France. This gesture, which was met with general approval by the congress delegates, led to a storm of protest within Germany, and even his own lodge made accusations. In reaction, Müffelmann joined Labor Lodge in Vienna.

While other German lodges cut ties with the Symbolic Grand Lodge, it nevertheless succeeded unexpectedly soon in strengthening its inner structures, gaining an international reputation and receiving acknowledgments from Masonic organisations outside of Germany. Members and officials of this Grand Lodge had an especially close relationship with the Grand Lodge of France, a clear expression of their affinity for a Freemasonry that was politically committed and Romanesque (that is, French-influenced, anti-clerical and belonging to the political Left). In January 1932, they formed a friendly relationship with the Grand Orient of France as well. The reconciliation between France and Germany was a matter of concern for Masonic organisations in both countries. With that in mind, the Symbolic Grand Lodge tried to support the exchange of young people from both countries. European concerns were also present in the subjects drawn up for the Masonic year 1932–3 — ‘the term of Masonic tolerance and its limits’ and ‘the formation of Europe’. And every subordinate lodge of the Symbolic Grand Lodge was required to discuss at least one of the two subjects. The Grand Lodge of France also worked on European subjects; it included a criticism of the status quo as well as ‘suggestions on what would be created’.18 The German Grand Lodge used its magazine, Die Alten Pflichten (The Old Charges), to improve its image and as a forum where ideas and plans for a ‘social programme for Freemasonry’ were drawn up and discussed.19 On 30 January 1933, all of this came to an abrupt end.

The German historian Heinrich August Winkler said that contemporaries would probably resolve or address the Weimar Republic’s flaws differently from how historians do now or will many centuries later. Winkler wrote, ‘For most Germans who experienced the years between 1918 and 1933 consciously, it was [the Treaty of] Versailles that cast a shadow on the fourteen years of the first republic, not the German empire’.20 However, the picture was not complete unless one included the old, functional élites who constantly tried to make political capital out of the widespread rejection of the Treaty of Versailles and to stir up latent resentments. In such a social climate, socio-political impulses that were initiated by individual Masonic organisations and/or attempts to support an honorable and equitable policy of peace in Europe had no chance of succeeding. In addition, these approaches were often treated with hostility and counteracted by those German Grand Lodges that were nationally inclined and whose ways of thinking were closely attached to categories of ‘arch enmity’.

The historical role that German Freemasonry had on the political power play of the Weimar Republic was based on the ability of German nationalist and anti-Semitic propaganda to be projected upon it. Its importance as an individual social factor was very limited, as it lacked a common intellectual basis.21 The first German democracy had a shortage of democratically inclined individuals, and its final collapse on 30 January 1933 was also a failure of German Freemasonry. Most German Freemasons had not succeeded in finding a constructive role for themselves in Weimar’s democracy. When Adolf Hitler was appointed German Chancellor on 30 January 1933, the German Grand Lodges were deeply estranged from each other, yet they were well aware they were facing an uncertain future. From the start, the Nazis were very clear about their hostility towards any Freemasonry. In Mein Kampf, Hitler claimed that ‘the Jew’ used Freemasonry as an ‘excellent instrument’, as the Fraternity was ‘completely under his [the Jews’] spell’.22 Anti-Masonry had long been integrated in an anti-Semitic context and, moreover, the rejection of Freemasonry was part of a cultural code in which anti-Masonic, anti-Jewish, anti-democratic and anti-liberal views coincided.23

The internationally inclined group in German Freemasonry did not see how it could continue under a dictatorship. The Freemasons Union of the Rising Sun and the German division of the Allgemeine Freimaurerliga (Universal Masonic League) dissolved. By order of the Supreme Council, on 31 March 1933, the Scottish Rite in Germany was ‘put to sleep’. That is, it withdrew from Germany without formally dissolving. The Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany had done the same thing three days earlier. This Grand Lodge’s subordinate lodges outside of Germany, those in Saarbrücken and Jerusalem, however, were deliberately exempted from this procedure. In June 1933, at a secret meeting in Frankfurt am Main, Grand Master Leo Müffelmann and some of his close companions decided to move the Symbolic Grand Lodge to Palestine. The Symbolische Großloge von Deutschland im Exil (Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany in Exile) was constituted on 17 November 1933, when British authorities gave the needed permission. The place of exile was undoubtedly determined by the existence of two lodges in Jerusalem, Quelle Siloah and Ari. Later, when Jewish emigration to Palestine increased, the German lodges in exile became Masonic homes for many refugees.

Most German Freemasons reacted to Hitler’s assumption of power quite differently. The Grand National Lodge of Freemasons of Germany, the Grand National Mother Lodge and the Grand Lodge of Friendship immediately tried to appease the Nazis so that they could express their ideologically motivated belief that Freemasons had a right to play an adequate role in the Third Reich. They all tried to assert themselves against the Nazi Party’s generally hostile attitude towards Freemasonry. On 7 April 1933, Herman Göring, then Nazi Minister of the Interior and Commander of the Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police, or Gestapo), met with the Grand Master of the Grand National Lodge of Freemasons of Germany. On that day, they passed a law regarding that Grand Lodge’s rearrangement which read as follows:

  1. The order will return to its original shape. From today on, the term ‘Große Landesloge der Freimaurer von Deutschland’ which was taken on in the 18th century will no longer be valid. The order will henceforth have the name that corresponds with its nature: ‘Deutsch-Christlicher Orden (Gral [added by hand]) der Tempelritter’ (German Christian Order (of the Grail) of the Knights Templar). . .24

  2. With this decision, the order has ceased to be a Masonic corporation.25

When the Grand National Mother Lodge was informed of this three days later, it immediately made an analogous decision and called itself the Nationaler Christlicher Orden Friedrich der Große (National Christian Order of Frederick the Great). The Grand Lodge of Friendship also acted accordingly, and began to call itself the Deutsch-Christlicher Orden zur Freundschaft (the German Christian Order of Friendship). On 23 April, the rules of the German Christian Order of the Knights Templar were decided upon, and they included the following:

§1. The Deutsch-Christlicher Orden is a corporation of free German men built up on a national basis

§2. The order’s objective is to create pioneers dedicated to Christian belief and to the German national philosophy of life

§4. As a consequence of the German and Christian character of the order, only Germans of Aryan origin who have been baptised as Christians can become members.26

To show that it was detaching itself from Masonic tradition, this order revised internal expressions and salutations, the titles of officials and some formalities. The term ‘Freemason’ was partly replaced by the term Ordensjünger (Disciple of the Order); lodges were to be called convents; its circular correspondence was called the Ordensblatt (Paper of the Order; the magazine of the new National Christian Order of Frederick the Great was also to be called this); and the cover of the Paper was decorated with the cross of the order instead of a six-sided star that had also been a symbol for the Allmächtiger Baumeister aller Welten (Almighty Architect of the Universe). In short, the Masonic tradition was abandoned merely as a formal exterior that had been used for a while (that is, since the eighteenth century).

With the creation of the German Christian Orders came several alterations to the rituals and symbols, something that had long been demanded by nationally oriented Old Prussian and even some Humanitarian lodges. The Old Prussian Lodges now stopped using Hebrew expressions and replaced elements of the Old Testament with Germanic legends and the mythology of the Holy Grail. While the saga of Baldur (the ‘radiant’ Germanic god) replaced the legend of Hiram, the pillars Jachin and Boaz in Solomon’s temple were simply renamed Licht and Volk.27 The floor covering that served as a working tool in the National Christian Order of Frederick the Great no longer showed Solomon’s temple but a representation of Strassburg’s cathedral. The German Christian Order of the Knights Templar also showed it was determined to carry through with Nazi racial doctrine, on 6 September 1933, by tightening the regulations that it had enacted on 23 April. In a statement to all of the order’s sections, a new ordinance was justified by ‘the racial issue which has gained general acceptance with the victory of the national revolution and which is of fateful importance for our nation’. This ordinance read as follows:

  1. Brothers who are not of Aryan descent are to be honorably dismissed from the order immediately

  2. Persons with Aryan descent are in this ordinance defined as persons whose parents and grandparents were Aryans.

  3. For brothers whose wives are Jewish, point 1 will be in force.28

The same guidelines were to be used for the admission of new members. The other German-Christian Orders also took the so-called ‘Berufsbeamtentumgesetz’ (Civil Service Law) as an example when introducing the ‘Arierparagraph’ (Aryan Paragraph; that is, language limiting membership and/or privileges to Aryans only), thus forcing all brothers without ‘German descent’ to leave.

The Old Prussian Lodges’ battle to continue to exist lasted until spring 1935. At that time, the Prussian State Department of the Interior, as well as the Reich’s Department of the Interior, repeatedly told them in no uncertain terms to dissolve. On 22 March 1935, the three Grand Masters were forced to attend a meeting with the Gestapo. There, to prevent the state from its using instruments of power, they finally declared that they were willing to ‘voluntarily work toward the dissolving of their organisation’ (their subordinate lodges followed in also formally deciding to dissolve). Before they dissolved, the Grand Lodges expressed a desire to be ‘cleansed from the accusations that had been made against them in public’,29 and, during the general meetings that led up to the lodges’ dissolution, decisions were made based on this hope. Even after July 1935, when the corresponding dissolution ceremonies took place, the public ‘vindication’ never happened.

In July and August 1935, the Grand Lodge of Hamburg, the Grand National Lodge of Saxony and the German Chain of Brotherhood, which by this time had all united, introduced the Aryan Paragraph and changed into ‘orders’, also dissolved ‘voluntarily’, as the Nazi state had suggested. Even the small Grand Lodge of Darmstadt had reorganised itself on a national basis, but it, too, surrendered, on 29 April 1933. In 1933, the Grand Lodge of the Sun and the Eclectic Union also dissolved. They created successor organisations that used the Aryan Paragraph also, but they were short-lived. Their main purpose was to save the lodges’ real estate, property, stocks and other fortunes in an attempt that was destined to fail.

During 1933, the first ‘wild’ attacks on Masonic institutions occurred. The perpetrators were mostly members of the Sturmabteilung (Stormtroopers, or SA), who acted either spontaneously or under the order of local authorities. Several local lodges were forcibly closed and declared ‘hostile to the state’ with a reference to the ‘Reichstagsbrandverordnung’ (the Reichstag Fire Decree).30 As a result, the Masons’ property was confiscated. By August 1935, all Masonic organisations had either been prohibited or were forced to dissolve ‘voluntarily’. Lodge halls were vandalised, lodge archives were seized and many Freemasons were dismissed from the civil service or transferred from powerful positions due to the so-called Civil Service Law. Unlike the lodges that had been forcibly closed, those that chose to dissolve were not declared ‘hostile to the state’. As a result, their property was not confiscated according to the Reichstag Fire Decree, but was instead liquidated. This still meant, of course, that their property was not at their free disposal. In addition, the Masons’ liquid resources were controlled by the office of the Gestapo responsible for the supervision of the lodges. The money was used to cover the costs of the closing of the lodges and the transfer of their property, including expenses incurred by taking possession of the lodges’ stocks. For Masonic real estate that was sold or disposed of, only a symbolic sum was paid, if at all, to the former Masons. Every sale depended on the Gestapo’s consent, and the Gestapo often refused its authorisation; this meant the property was then passed on to the state or directly to the Nazi Party.

Leo Müffelmann was arrested on 5 September 1933; he was released three months later due to the personal intervention of the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction, John Henry Cowles, who had approached the German Embassy in Washington, DC. In spring 1934, Müffelmann traveled to Palestine to attend the consecration of the third subordinate lodge of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany in Exile, which took place on 24 April 1934. It was Libanon Lodge, working in Hungarian, and which would relocate to Haifa in 1938. During his visit, Müffelmann was elected Grand Master ad vitam. On 29 August 1934, Müffelmann died, primarily because of the mistreatment he had suffered in Nazi custody in the concentration camp of Sonnenburg. In May 1935, yet another lodge would be founded under the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany in Exile, in Tel Aviv; in memory of the former Grand Master, it was called Müffelmann zur Treue (Out of Loyalty to Müffelmann).

Many former Freemasons in Germany tried to keep in contact with each other, despite a ban against them doing so. They regularly arranged meetings, under the pretext of playing skat, for example. These meetings helped to preserve the framework of the lodges, even though they were not ritual meetings. Further, the meetings sometimes took place under the eyes of the Gestapo, although not everyone who joined these circles was a resistance fighter. For those involved in underground activities, however, Masonic contacts and structures proved very helpful for engaging in clandestine activities. Several members of the Robinsohn-Strassmann circle, a liberal resistance movement, were Freemasons, and most of them came from the lodges of the Freemasons Union of the Rising Sun and the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany. Presently in the United States, there is a strong belief that the edelweiss (or blue forget-me-not) served as a secret means to identify those German Freemasons who were then living under the Nazis. However, there are no sources to prove that this was true. The use of the edelweiss for this purpose in individual cases cannot be ruled out, but it is rather unlikely that this occurred on a large scale.

Having crushed all important Masonic structures, the Nazi regime had two main goals concerning Freemasonry. The first aim was to fight the so-called ‘Masonic spirit’ and to eliminate the supposedly subversive influence that Masonic lodges had on the state and on society. This meant that the Nazi Party made sure its laws and ideologies were strictly enforced and followed; former Freemasons and their activities were watched; and it promulgated extremely confusing guidelines on how former Freemasons were to be employed in the civil service and in the Nazi Party. The second goal was to continue using the myth of a ‘Jewish-Masonic conspiracy’ for propaganda purposes. Restrictions that were imposed on former Freemasons in the Third Reich were loosened somewhat in 1938 when Hitler granted a partial amnesty concerning hiring in the sphere related to the Nazi Party. This did not indicate an altogether new judgement on the ‘Masonic issue’, however. In a circular directive, the Nazi Ministry of Interior transferred the regulation to the state on 6 June 1939, and it claimed that it did this by ‘taking into account the Führer’s and the Reichskanzler’s [Reich Chancellor’s] order of April 27, 1938, concerning amnesty for the Party’s jurisdiction’. The crucial part of the regulation said that Masons who never reached a rank higher than the Third Degree and/or those who were not in a position of leadership or an officer in their lodge should ‘not be put at a disadvantage because of their lodge membership’. However, this amnesty applied only to those who had left their lodges and joined the Nazi Party before 30 January 1933. Anyone who had not done so could not ‘be voted an official executive or work as an official in charge of personnel’ in the Nazi Party.31

From 1937 on, the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service, or SD) developed a new technocratic method that was not less ideological but was intended to be objective, in a pseudo-scientific way. In the Third Reich, there was an ideological consensus about Freemasonry, which postulated a belief that Masonic lodges were used as ‘tools’ by Jews. Because of that, it did not matter much that leading Nazi politicians had differences of opinion and varying levels of interest in Freemasonry and/or that rival parts of the Nazi Party did not agree completely on the importance of the ‘Masonic issue’. Their claim of totality kept the Nazi Party from tolerating lodges, especially as all lodges were stigmatised as ‘overly national’, Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the Schutzstaffel (Protective Squad, or SS), picked up on the idea of an order, which some Freemasons had referred to Freemasonry as, for the SS.

Another reason why the ‘Masonic issue’ was of such central importance to the Nazis was that they directly linked it ideologically to anti-Semitism, and they also used it as an agent for agitation. Beginning with the annexation of Austria in 1938, the persecution of Freemasons increased. By the beginning of the Second World War, almost five million copies of the ‘NSDAP letter of political instruction against Freemasonry’ had been published. In Nazi Germany, a former Freemason was not usually personally persecuted, unless he was also a Jew or did not act in conformity with the Nazi system. In countries occupied by Nazi Germany, however, being a member of a Masonic lodge could mean a direct risk to life and limb.32 The Gestapo and Security Service departments in charge of Freemasonry became accustomed to the subject matter, and they followed the same routine every time: lodges were prohibited and closed; furnishings and archives were confiscated and examined for possible future use; and Freemasons were removed from public life. After a list of a lodge’s members was evaluated, most of the time raids and arrests followed. In the archives of the Grand Orient in Paris, German forces found materials that had been brought to Paris from Spain for safekeeping after Francisco Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War. There were also anti-Masonic exhibitions in Nazi-occupied Europe, as there had been in Germany earlier, and the Nazis often used former Masonic lodges to house these exhibitions.

Jewish and Masonic cultural possessions, libraries and archives were looted on a large scale. In 1942, Alfred Rosenberg, whom Adolf Hitler had instructed to ‘intellectually fight Jews and Freemasons’, succeeded in getting permission to seize these kinds of material. Rosenberg’s orders also explicitly said that the ‘methodical intellectual fight’ against Jews and Freemasons was ‘necessary to win the war’, and he was ordered to carry out this fight ‘in agreement with the chief of the Wehrmacht’s [German military’s] headquarters’.33 Nazi propaganda said that Freemasons would stir up the ‘bomb terror’ against Germany. Further, ‘Jews, Freemasons, and other enemies of National Socialism allied with them [Jews and Freemasons]’ were declared to be ‘the originators of the war against the [German] Reich’.34 Nazi Germany’s propaganda also made much of the fact that US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Freemason.

There can be no doubt that Freemasons — especially those who lived in countries occupied by Nazi Germany — became victims of the Nazi regime of terror, yet the history of German Freemasonry and the Nazis is not only one of persecution but also one of conflict and conformity. It was the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany that ‘preserved the light of German Freemasonry in exile’,35 although it had been condemned by most of those in the German Masonic establishment. German Freemasons today are in debt to this Grand Lodge, for it preserved an uninterrupted history of more than 250 years. On 19 June 1949, when West Germany’s post-war Freemasonry, the Vereinigte Großloge der Alten und Angenommenen Maurer (United Grand Lodge of Ancient and Accepted Masons) was founded in a solemn ceremony in Frankfurt am Main’s Paulskirche (Paul’s Church), Masonic light was returned to Germany from its exile in Jerusalem.36

The vast majority of German Freemasons, especially the responsible leaders among them, had fooled themselves into believing that the Nazis might let the newly founded German Christian Orders continue to exist. Not only did they bring themselves into line, in a rash obedience, but they also implicated themselves by using racist categories. The way German Freemasons reacted to National Socialism reached from opposition to a consequent offering of their services. In this respect, Germany’s Freemasonry represented certain collective intellectual and social tendencies in Germany’s middle class in the first half of the twentieth century. As such, the lodges and their members were not cut off from the ‘profane’, the outside world — they were always a part of it.


This article, which was translated from the German by Julia Karnahl and edited for publication by Aaron T. Kornblum, was first published in Heredom (The Scottish Rite Research Society, Washington, DC) 10 (2002), p.203ff. Research for this article was supported by the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies while the author was a Joyce & Arthur Schechter Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Source: Ralf Melzer (2003) In the eye of a hurricane: German Freemasonry in the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 4:2, 113-132.

  1. Friedrich Wichtl, Weltfreimaurerei—Weltrevolution—Weltrepublik: Eine Untersuchung über Ursprung und Endziele des Weltkrieges (München: 1919). ↩︎

  2. Numbers from C. van Dalen’s Kalender für Freimaurer, 1926 (Leipzig: Verlag Bruno Zechel), p.94. ↩︎

  3. Renate Endler and Elisabeth Schwarze, Die Freimaurerbestände im Geheimen Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, vol.1, Großlogen und Protektor: Friemaurerische Stiftungen und Vereinigungen (Frankfurt am Main: Helmut Reinalter, 1994), p.37. ↩︎

  4. Apart from the Symbolic Grand Lodge, the regular German lodges did not acknowledge the Scottish Rite. That was the reason why the Supreme Council, 33°, SJ, USA refused to recognise the German Scottish Rite. Grand Commander John Henry Cowles made it a requirement that, in order for the usual ties of friendship to be made, at least one of the established German Grand Lodges had to allow their members to play a part in the Scottish Rite. See Cowles’s correspondence from the years 1930–31, Archives of the Supreme Council, 33°, SJ, Washington, DC. Especially from 1930 on, the magazine of the Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction, The New Age, regularly featured articles about political developments in Germany and the differences among German Freemasons. ↩︎

  5. See Ralf Melzer, Freimaurerei im Spannungsfeld von voelkischer Bewegung und Nationalsozialismus: Forschungs- und Literaturbericht, in Zeitschrift für Internationale Freimaurer-Forschung (Wien: Böhlau Verlag, 1999), p.73ff. ↩︎

  6. Helmut Neuberger, Freimaurerei und Nationalsozialismus, vol.1 (Hamburg: Bauhüttenverlag, 1980), p.244. ↩︎

  7. See Wolfgang Fenner and Joachim Schmitt-Sasse, ‘Die Freimaurer als “nationale Kraft” vor 1933’, in Weimars Ende: Prognossen und Diagnosen in der deutschen Literatur und politischen Publizistik 1930–1933 (Frankfurt am Main: Thomas Koebner, 1982), p.223ff. ↩︎

  8. Ibid., p.238. ↩︎

  9. See Diedrich Bischoff, Nationalsozialismus und Freimaurerei (1931), p.10f. ↩︎

  10. Numbers from C. van Dalen’s Kalender für Freimaurer, 1923–24 (Leipzig: Verlag Bruno Zechel), passim. ↩︎

  11. See Eugen Lennhoff and Oskar Posner, Internationales Freimaurerlexikon (Zürich, Leipzig and Wien: Amalthea Verlag, 1932), col.347. ↩︎

  12. Felix Witt-Hoë, 12 November 1927, Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Freimaurer, 5.1.3., 4398. ↩︎

  13. Erich Ludendorff, Vernichtung der Freimaurerei durch Enthüllung ihrer Geheimnisse (München: 1927). ↩︎

  14. See Lennhoff and Posner (note 11), col.964. ↩︎

  15. Ibid., col.1519f.: ‘The divine builder of the earth has not created mankind as a uniform whole. He gave the peoples different bloodstreams, he gave them their mother tongue as a shrine for their souls, he gave them countries with different kinds of nature as a home. But it can not be the intent of a divine world order that mankind use their national best performances against each other and set back the collective development of culture again and again’. ↩︎

  16. Correspondence in Reel 59, RG-15.007M (Records of the Reichssicherheits-hauptamt, from the Institute of National Memory, Main Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against the Polish Nation, Warsaw), United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives, Washington, DC. ↩︎

  17. Dr Leo[pold] Müffelmann (1881–1934) was the son of Dr Ludwig Müffelmann, a journalist and a prominent Freemason. In 1913, he became a member of the Berlin lodge Humanitas. Hjalmar Schacht, who later became president of the Reichsbank and Nazi minister of trade and commerce, vouched for him. Ludwig Müffelmann had been the Worshipful Master in his lodge. ↩︎

  18. See a circular by SGL-official Hans Lachmund, 24 October 1932, Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Freimaurer, 5.1.11., 52. See also Die Alten Pflichten (Journal of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany), vol.1, 3rd annual set (October 1932), p.12. ↩︎

  19. See Gustav Slekow, ‘Schafft ein soziales Programm der Freimaurerei’, Die Alten Pflichten, vol.3, 1st annual set (December 1930), p.19f.; Friedrich Mart, ‘Materielles und geistiges Sein: Zur Frage eines sozialen Programms der Freimaurerei’, Die Alten Pflichten, vol.4, 1st annual set (January 1931), p.28f. Some issues of the Die Alte Pflichten can be found in the Archives of the Supreme Council, 33°, SJ, Washington, DC. ↩︎

  20. Heinrich August Winkler, Weimar 1918–1933: Die Geschichte der ersten deutschen Demokratie (München: C.H. Beck Verlag, 1993), p.602. ↩︎

  21. See Ralf Melzer, Konflikt und Anpassung: Freimaurerei in der Weimarer Republik und im ‘Dritten Reich’ (Wien: Braumüller Verlag, 1999). ↩︎

  22. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 29th edn. (München: 1933), p.345. ↩︎

  23. One month before the Nazi takeover, John Henry Cowles, Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, A&ASR, Southern Jurisdiction, learned on a trip through Germany that, ‘Hitler has announced his opposition to Freemasonry, and I think has even claimed that Freemasonry and the Jesuits are in league to hurt the country — a most absurd proposition; and yet . . . quite a number of Masons voted for him . . .’. William L. Fox, Lodge of the Double-Headed Eagle (Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 1997), p.234. ↩︎

  24. The intended addition ‘(Gral) der Tempelritter’ was left out. ↩︎

  25. Archives of the Große Landesloge der Freimaurer von Deutschland, Berlin. ↩︎

  26. Published in the Ordensblatt (May 1933), p.153. ↩︎

  27. The word Volk is roughly translated as Folk, but under the Nazis, this word was intended to contain certain racial, anti-semitic, cultural and nationalistic undertones. ↩︎

  28. Archives of the Große Landesloge der Freimaurer von Deutschland, Berlin. ↩︎

  29. Report of the meeting from 22 March 1935, in the Gestapo’s office, drawn up by the Gestapo department II 1 B 2, Archives of the Große Landesloge der Freimaurer von Deutschland, Berlin. ↩︎

  30. The Reichstag Fire Decree was passed on 28 February 1933, following the fire in the Reichstag in Berlin. The decree abolished basic elements of the rule of law and abrogated basic rights in Germany, including those of privacy, freedoms of opinion, assembly and association; and the guarantee of private property. This decree helped form the legal basis for the Nazi dictatorship and much that followed. ↩︎

  31. Circular directive by Germany’s Ministry of the Interior, 6 June 1939, MBIRuPrMdI (Ministerialblatt des Reichs und Preussischen Ministeriums des Innes), no.24, 1939, col.1258ff., col.1259 here. Exceptions were possible if a so-called ‘proceeding of grace’ had permitted them. ↩︎

  32. In a letter dated 21 March 2001, Veljko Varicak, Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of Slovenia, wrote to the Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction that his father and his uncle had been arrested in Zagreb for being lodge members and put in a concentration camp. Almost all Freemasons in Zagreb were imprisoned by German troops immediately after its occupation. With his letter, Varicak sent a copy of a list of all lodge members in Zagreb which included the names of his father and uncle. The list had been sent to the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, department VI D, by the local department on 8 January 1941. Today, it can be found in the archives of the Slovenian Ministry of the Interior. Documents in Archives of the Supreme Council, 33°, SJ, Washington, DC. ↩︎

  33. Führererlaß, 1 March 1942, NG 5142 Nürnberger Akten, Institut für Zeitgeschichte, München. ↩︎

  34. Ibid. ↩︎

  35. Heinz D. Bar-Levi, Nathan Fischer, Efraim F. Wagner (publishers), Zur Quelle Siloah No. 26 im Orient Jerusalem (Jerusalem: 1991), p.10. ↩︎

  36. After 19 November 1949, the five subsidiary lodges of the Symbolic Lodge of Germany in Exile that were in the former British mandate of Palestine had the status of a district lodge of the Grand Lodge of Israel, which had itself come from the National Grand Lodge of Palestine in 1948. This way, the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany in Exile formed a nucleus of Israeli Freemasonry within which freedom of speech and rituals existed. After four former lodges that had been part of the Grand Lodge of Scotland joined the Grand Lodge of Israel and after it had been acknowledged by England, the Grand Lodge of Israel was renamed the Grand Lodge of the State of Israel. At the same time, the special status of the former German lodges in exile as ‘District Lodge No.1’ was removed. Instead, there was now a written agreement which defined their rights as a minority. ↩︎

Source: Ralf Melzer (2003) In the eye of a hurricane: German Freemasonry in the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 4:2, 113-132.