July 17th in German History: Altona Bloody Sunday

The Coup of Altona Bloody Sunday | Bartered History
Police and rioters come to blows on Bloody Sunday.

As Germany slid towards Nazism, the streets of her cities were consumed by conflict between extremist parties. The two largest of these parties were the Nazi Party, and the KPD, “Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands” or German Communist Party. The two parties each called for the other’s destruction, and so their respective paramilitary arms often engaged in street battles. One of the bloodiest confrontations, nicknamed “Bloody Sunday” took place on July 17th, 1932.

In April of 1932, Fritz von Papen, the conservative Chancellor of Germany, lifted a ban on the SS and the SA, the two paramilitary wings of the Nazi Party. In reaction, members of the KPD rioted, leading to a general eruption of violent incidents in multiple cities. In the city of Altona, at the time located in the State of Prussia, a march by 7,000 Nazis was approved by Otto Eggerstedt, a social democrat. The march was to go through the worker’s district, which meant that it would go through the area with the highest frequency of communist support. Thus, on the day of the march, the 7,000 marchers were confronted by communists and in the resulting clash 18 were killed. The dead included bystanders, communists, and two members of the march. Police attempting to intervene were responsible for most of the casualties. Soon after the event, Papen launched a coup against the Social Democrat Prussian government. I will discuss that coup on July 20th.

Altona Bloody Sunday shows the general futility of relying on violence to defeat one’s political enemies. When one lacks a monopoly on the use of force, as all political parties do in democratic nations, violence can be met with violence. Thus, when a party turns to violence its targets respond in kind. Further, if it is the instigator of said violence, it becomes alienated from the general public, and often in the public’s mind loses the moral high ground. The Communist Party fought and killed Nazis, and in doing so it made itself a boogeyman that the Nazi Party used to scare the moderate population into accepting its takeover of the nation.

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