On 14 January 1930, Horst Wessel, a young and ambitious member of the SA was shot at close range at his home in Berlin. Although the crime was never completely solved, the murder was most likely committed by a group of communists with close ties to the city's gangland. Wessel later died from his injuries. Joseph Goebbels, whose attention had already been drawn to Wessel as a possible future Nazi leader, was the first to recognize the propaganda potential of the case. 'A young martyr for the Third Reich' he wrote in his diary on 23 February 1930 immediately after receiving the news of Wessel's death. This was the beginning of the myth-making that transformed an ordinary individual into a masculine role model for an entire generation. Two months later, thousands of people lined the streets for Wessel's funeral parade and Goebbels delivered a graveside eulogy. In the years that followed - and as Nazi power increased - Horst Wessel became the hero of the Nazi movement - with his elaborate memorial quickly becoming a site of pilgrimage.
The song Die Fahne Hoch for which Wessel had written the lyrics (and which subsequently became popularly known as the Horst Wessel Song) became the official Nazi party anthem and the Berlin district of Friedrichshain, where Wessel was murdered was renamed Horst-Wessel-Stadt in his honour. Numerous biographies and films followed. Using previously unseen material, Daniel Siemens provides a fascinating and gripping account of the background to Horst Wessel's murder and uncovers how and why the Nazis made him a political hero. He examines the Horst Wessel 'cult' which emerged in the aftermath of Wessel's death and the murders of revenge, particularly against Communists, committed by the SA and Gestapo after 1933. At the same time, the story of Horst Wessel provides a portrait of the Nazi propaganda machine at its most effective and most chilling.
Daniel Siemens is an historian of Modern Central Europe and DAAD Francis L. Carsten Lecturer in Modern German History at the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies (SSEES), University College London. He is also a faculty member of the History Department at Bielefeld University. He contributes to various daily newspapers in Germany, including the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt.
'Daniel Siemens's troubling historical study resurrects one of the 20th century's most powerful cases of memory being used to manipulate politics.'
'...an outstanding work of history.'
Roger Moorhouse, BBC History Magazine
'[a] definitive study... an exemplary piece of research...a gripping narrative of crime and punishment, as well as political history of the first order which fills in a blank space in the well-marked map of Nazi history, I cannot recommend this book too highly... If this debut is any guide, a glittering future lies ahead.'
Nigel Jones, History Today
'...a fascinating, expert dissection of a short, brutal life.'
BBC History Magazine, Book of the Year 2013
‘A brilliantly researched and highly readable account of the life and death of Horst Wessel, the today largely forgotten creator of the official anthem of National Socialism.’
Thomas Weber, author of Hitler’s First War
‘In this masterful book, Daniel Siemens tells the gripping story of how a small-time SA firebrand became a celebrated Nazi martyr. Beautifully written and assiduously researched, Siemens provides a penetrating account of political radicalism and violence in the Weimar Republic, and of terror, propaganda and popular mobilization in the Third Reich. An outstanding work of history.’
Nik Wachsmann, Birkbeck, University of London
‘It has been years since I have read a book dealing with the early Nazi years with as much interest, excitement and admiration.’
Robert M. Citino, Central European History
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co LtdHardback
Publication Date: 28 Feb 2013
Number of Pages: 320