Having published an extensive five-part study of Russian Freemasonry we now like to revisit our earlier topic of Freemasonry during the fascist era.

The text at the top reads: "Jews-Freemasonry" followed by; "World politics World revolution." The text at the bottom reads, "Freemasonry is an international organization beholden to Jewry with the political goal of establishing Jewish domination through worldwide revolution." The map, decorated with Masonic symbols (temple, square, and apron), shows where revolutions took place in Europe from the French Revolution in 1789 through the German Revolution in 1919. (Printed by WWII NaziGovernement)

The notion of a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy, for all its apparent virulence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, could easily have turned out to be a fad – and one marginal to the main currents of secular European ideology at that. Then the First World War and the Russian Revolution pitched much of the continent into turmoil: politics became more uncompromising and violent; nationalism more frenzied in its hatred of internal enemies and scapegoats. When the First World War ended, far-fetched, alarming schemes involving Masons and/or Jews became more compelling than ever – as demonstrated by the most notorious version of the Judeo-Masonic myth, a book that shaped it into a full-blown conspiracy theory. First published in Russia in 1905, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion purported to be a speech given at a secret meeting in which Jewish leaders set out their plans to rule the world. In reality, it more compelling than ever – as demonstrated by the most notorious version of the Judeo-Masonic myth, a book that shaped it into a full-blown conspiracy theory. First published in Russia in 1905, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion purported to be a speech given at a secret meeting in which Jewish leaders set out their plans to rule the world. In reality, it was as much a fake as Taxil’s (G.A.Jogand-Pages) Palladism, cooked up from a number of French novels in the 1890s. Freemasonry was mentioned at various points in the Protocols. Like the press, international finance, socialism, and pretty much everything else, the Craft was portrayed as a tool of the great and despicable Jewish stratagem: ‘We shall create and multiply free Masonic lodges in all the countries of the world, absorb into them all who may become or who are prominent in public activity, for in these lodges we shall find our principal intelligence office and means of influence.’

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was ignored outside Russia until translations began to appear in 1920. Thereafter, despite strong evidence that it was a fake, it became a hot topic of discussion internationally. In the United States, automobile tycoon Henry Ford was a passionate advocate and funded a vast print run – despite the fact that he was a Freemason. In Germany, the Protocols found a ready audience on the nationalist right. The most prominent believer was war hero General Erich Ludendorff. After Germany’s defeat, he entered the political arena and spread the ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth. He believed – as well he might – that defeat was not the fault of German generals. Instead, the blame lay on the home front, where the army had been undermined by a grab-all list of back-stabbers among the civilian population: the Jews were the worst, of course; but there were also politicians and profiteers, strikers and shirkers, Catholics and Communists, Marxists and – last but not least – Masons. Ludendorff had identified a lot of enemies. And all of them were now in charge of the Weimar Republic. Or so he claimed.

Adolf Hitler had been a mere corporal during the war. He greatly admired General Ludendorff, and embraced the stab-in-the-back myth wholeheartedly. There was precious little to separate the two men ideologically: both were exponents of the racist version of nationalism known as the völkisch ideology. They met for the first time in Munich in 1922. The following year, Ludendorff, wearing his military uniform and Pickelhaube (spiked helmet), took part in a Nazi Party Putsch launched from a Munich Beer Hall. It was supposed to trigger a ‘March on Berlin’ like Mussolini’s recent March on Rome. When the coup failed, the former corporal Hitler went to prison. By contrast, the former general Ludendorff was saved from a guilty verdict by his reputation.

Ludendorff, Germany’s most prominent peddler of Masonic conspiracy myths, now had the opportunity to assume leadership of the völkisch movement, Nazis included. But he fluffed it. He was falling under the spell of his lover Mathilde von Kemnitz, a nature-worshipping pagan who thought that not only capitalism, Marxism, and Freemasonry were tools of the Jew, but even Christianity. This was too much even for most Nazis. It was particularly obtuse of Ludendorff to believe that his message would cut through in Catholic Bavaria when he insisted on including the Jesuits, the Vatican and the church hierarchy in his bulky catalog of traitors. The Nazi Party fissured among squabbling factions.

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler’s stock began to rise. Despite its failure, the Putsch, and especially the rousing speech that he was allowed to give at his trial, increased his prestige. That prestige grew further when he loftily withdrew from politics during his term in the Bavarian prison of Landsberg. He devoted himself instead to drafting Mein Kampf, the memoir-manifesto that gave definitive shape to his worldview. The book showed him to be a fervent believer in the idea of a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy. The Jews, Hitler asserted, wanted to ‘tear down racial and civil barriers’ and so fought for religious tolerance. In Freemasonry they found ‘an excellent instrument’ for this purpose: ‘The governing circles and the higher strata of the political and economic bourgeoisie are brought into [the Jews’] nets by the strings of Freemasonry, and never need to suspect what is happening.’ So for Hitler, Masonry was an underhand instrument of the Jew, a means to spread liberalism, pacifism, and Jewish material interests.

When Hitler was released in December 1924, he pointedly refused a lift back to Munich in Ludendorff’s limousine. A few short weeks later, he re-launched the Nazi Party with a set-piece speech in the Bürgerbräukeller, the very beer hall where he had started his Putsch in November 1923. At eight o’clock on the evening of 27 February 1925, a Friday, an audience of 3,000 was crammed under the heavy chandeliers of the Bürgerbräukeller’s cavernous grand hall; the balconies, hung with swastika banners, also heaved with supporters; those at the back stood on barrels and chairs to catch a glimpse. Over the next two hours, Hitler summarised Mein Kampf. The German people, he argued, we're locked in a life-or-death racial struggle with the evil of Jewry. ‘The Jew’, who operated both by manipulating international finance and by stirring up Marxism-Bolshevism, was a ‘world plague and epidemic’, a parasite in the national body, a bacterium to be eliminated. Hitler was the man anointed by destiny to lead his people in a coming racial conflict that could only have one outcome: ‘either the enemy walks over our corpse, or we walk over his’.

The self-styled Führer made no mention of the Freemasons. This is curious for several reasons. Mussolini, from whom the Nazis were learning so much, had only just announced his highly successful law against the Craft. As Mein Kampf showed, Hitler was a convinced anti-Mason. The notion of a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy was hardly new or unusual in 1925; it was political bread-and-butter for his supporters. So why steer clear of the topic in the Bürgerbräukeller?

Anti-Masonry had proved so addictive a mind-set since the French Revolution partly because it contained ready-made counter-arguments to any objections. Good Masons could be dismissed as dupes, caught up in a façade erected by Grand Masters to hide their sinister plans. The repeated failure to discover nasty secrets in the Lodges did not matter, because the real danger lay in the hidden Lodges. Somehow, the true face of this evil never quite came into focus. The Masons seemed all the more cunning and pervasive as a result.

To Hitler, this strength of anti-Masonry was also a weakness: it made the enemy’s outlines too fuzzy. He needed to make the phantasmagorical threat to his equally phantasmagorical Aryan race seem real, biological. There could be no excuses, no margin of doubt, no fiddly process of sorting out the innocent from the guilty. He hated Freemasonry, but to let any attack on it clutter the call for a war on Jews would be to rob his ideology of its brutal simplicity. His political instincts trumped his fanaticism, telling him that hatred of Freemasonry was a flexible tool, to be deployed as and when it was useful to spread doubt and confusion. Hitler’s anti-Masonry exemplified his ability to combine fanaticism with pragmatism: his overarching, obsessive hatred of ‘the Jew’ allowed other components of his ideology, notably anti-Communism, to be deployed when they would be most popular and have the most impact.

So instead of talking about Freemasonry that evening at the Bürgerbräukeller, Hitler made some trenchant remarks on strategy. It was necessary to simplify things for the masses, ‘to choose only one enemy so that everyone can see that this alone is the culprit’. The single enemy he had in mind was, of course, the Jews, and the ‘Jewish Bolshevism’ that he saw as their preferred political guise. But as the Nazis in the hall were well aware, the remark about strategy, and the silence on Freemasonry, were a sideswipe at one particular man who was absent that night: Hitler’s celebrity rival, General Erich Ludendorff, whose obsession with Freemasonry made him pick on too many enemies.

After the Bürgerbräukeller speech, the Nazi leader wasted no time in executing his next move. A few days later he lured General Ludendorff into a trap by flattering him into putting his blathering ideology to the national electorate as the Nazi candidate in the presidential elections.

The result was an abrupt humiliation: Ludendorff polled only just over 1 percent, putting him well on the way to political oblivion.

The following year, Ludendorff married Mathilde von Kemnitz, and the couple dived deep into a bottomless ocean of racial mysticism and conspiratorial delusion. Mathilde would eventually come to believe that the Freemasons, and even those arch-schemers the Jews, were themselves puppets in the hands of the Dalai Lama, who pulled their strings from a laboratory in Tibet. Her husband, the former national hero, became a national embarrassment in the press. In 1927, he published his major work on the Craft, The Annihilation of Freemasonry through the Revelation of its Secrets: it claimed that Masonic rituals trained Brothers to be ‘artificial Jews’, and that the reason they wore aprons was to disguise the fact that they had been circumcised. This was barmy even by the standards of the Masonic exposé genre. But it did not stop it selling in the thousands – about 180,000 by 1940, in fact. Hitler, who by this time felt able to treat his defeated political rival with contempt, responded to the book by accusing Ludendorff of being a Mason.

It should hardly need saying that German Freemasonry could not wield remotely the kind of influence that Ludendorff and Hitler alleged.

In 1925, when Hitler gave his Bürgerbräukeller speech, there were 82,000 Masons in 632 Lodges. Masons in Germany tended to be lawyers, teachers, civil servants, businessmen, Protestant clergy and the like. But they were even more divided than their Italian Brothers: they worked under the authority of no fewer than nine different Grand Lodges – including the Hamburg Grand Lodge we visited earlier. These divisions had grown markedly worse amid the polarised politics of the 1920s. The issue of Jewish membership was the main source of the quarrel.

Contrary to what a nostalgic strain of Masonic history-writing would have us believe, most German Masons were not morally opposed to Nazism in the name of tolerance. Indeed, they were increasingly becoming supporters of the völkisch agenda. Freemasons today might want to believe that their Brotherhood stood by its values in the face of Hitler’s terror; the miserable truth of what happened proves them wrong – as the best Masonic historians have now documented with impartial rigor. The history of the Jews’ relationship with Freemasonry really begins in the late eighteenth century, when communities in various European countries made their first moves towards embracing the secular values of the Enlightenment. At the same time, European states began to give Jews more civil rights. The Lodges were a natural halfway house for Jews inclined towards assimilation, because of the tolerant attitude to race and religion expounded by Masonry’s British founding fathers. Masonic symbols also felt accessible to Jews: many of them were either non-religious (like the square and compass) or came from the Old Testament (like Solomon’s Temple).

During the nineteenth century, the process of integrating Jews into Freemasonry went in fits and starts, in different times and places. When Germany was united in 1871, the Masonic orders from the different pre-unification states, with their distinctive approaches to Jewish membership, did not merge; instead, they established an uneasy way of recognizing one another and cohabiting under a weak umbrella body. The rise of anti-Semitism and völkisch ideas towards the end of the century put that cohabitation under strain.

On one side were six Grand Lodges known as the Humanitarian Grand Lodges. Brothers who recognized the authority of the Humanitarian Grand Lodges tended to be from the center and centre-Left of the political spectrum and to be open to accepting Jews. Hamburg Grand Lodge was Humanitarian. However, a large majority of Freemasons – roughly 70 percent – came under the auspices of three Grand Lodges known collectively as the Old Prussian Grand Lodges, which were more historically prestigious. The Old Prussians were also avowedly anti-Semitic and regarded the Humanitarian Lodges as dangerous centers of ‘pacifist and cosmopolitan’ thinking. A great many Freemasons in Old Prussian Lodges sympathized with the völkisch extreme Right of the political spectrum where the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy myth found its natural home. In May 1923, an Old Prussian Lodge in Munich invited Ludendorff himself to an evening of ‘enlightenment’ for members of the public. The Lodge’s Master was of the opinion that Masonry should have a ‘racist base’, and wanted, therefore, to persuade a racist like Ludendorff that the Craft was a friend and not a foe. Ludendorff accepted the invitation while remaining steadfast in his anti-Masonic delirium.

In 1924, an Old Prussian Lodge in Regensburg adopted the Nazi swastika as its badge. From 1926 – still long before Hitler came to power – two of the three Old Prussian Grand Lodges began to consider reforming their rituals, removing suspiciously Jewish Old Testament references and substituting robustly ‘Aryan’ symbols sourced from Teutonic folklore. When the Old Prussian Grand Lodges heard accusations that they were a tool of the Jews, they proudly indicated that they did not have a single Jewish member – thereby pointing the finger at their Brothers in the more tolerant Humanitarian Lodges.

The Humanitarian Lodges responded lamely that ‘only’ about one in eight of their members was Jewish. (For what it is worth, this number was about four times larger than the proportion of Jews in the population as a whole – although Jews were more numerous among the upper-middle strata of the population from which Lodge members tended to come.) At this time, more and more Humanitarian Lodges were switching their allegiance to the anti-Semitic Old Prussian Grand Lodges. Even in many of the remaining Humanitarian Lodges, the climate became more nationalistic. Jewish Brothers understandably felt exposed; they deserted the Craft in droves in the late 1920s. By 1930 – still, three years before Hitler took power – the proportion of Jewish Freemasons in Humanitarian Lodges had fallen from one in eight to one in twenty-five.

The Nazis were now growing in popularity against the background of a calamitous economic downturn precipitated by the Wall Street Crash. While remaining focused on the Jews and their supposed Communist puppets as a national enemy, the Nazis aimed the occasional intimidating noise at the Craft. In the summer of 1931, Hitler urged Nazi Party members to photograph the Freemasons they encountered and make a record of where they lived.

In response, one Old Prussian Grand Lodge tried to open a personal channel of communication to the Nazi leadership, in the person of Hermann Göring, whose half-brother was a Mason. The aim was once again to try to save the Old Prussian Lodges by branding the Humanitarian Lodges as suspect. The attempt failed, and Göring snubbed the Masons’ emissary. Despite this setback, the Old Prussian Lodges were moving closer and closer to Hitler. In the summer of 1932, one of the Old Prussian Grand Lodges, the Grand National Lodge of Freemasons of Germany, issued a declaration that might just as well have been penned by Hitler’s campaign manager, Joseph Goebbels. ‘Our German Order is völkisch,’ it affirmed, before going on to decry the ‘slimy, murky waters’ of humanitarianism, and the ‘mixture and degeneration of all cultures, art forms, races, and peoples’. We should be clear about what was happening to German Masonry. It was not just a question of Craftsmen reflecting the climate of middle-class opinion in the country at large. In other words, they were not just spooked by Communism and hankering after more order, although that is undoubtedly part of the story. Many of them envisaged a leading role for their Brotherhood in implementing völkisch ideas. They wanted to convert Masonry’s traditional ethical mission of building better men into a program to build a purer and more aggressive Aryan race, free of Jews.


Freemasonry and Aryanisation

On 27 February 1933, exactly eight years after the Nazi rally in the Bürgerbräukeller, a Dutch bricklayer by the name of Marinus van der Lubbe gave Hitler, newly appointed as Chancellor (Prime Minister), the chance to turn his coalition government into a totalitarian regime. Unemployed and homeless, Van der Lubbe vented his frustrations by burning down the Reichstag. The Nazis dressed the incident up as the beginning of a Communist coup. On this pretext, a decree was passed that drastically curtailed civil liberties. Soon afterward, an Enabling Act amended the constitution to allow Hitler to introduce any laws he liked, without consulting the Reichstag or the President. The dictatorship had begun. The first of Nazism’s enemies to be targeted were the Communists, who fell victim to a tornado of beating, torture, and murder. Then it was the turn of the Social Democrats and trade unions to endure the wrath of Hitler’s SA: these brown-shirted ‘stormtroopers’ were a Nazi army of four hundred thousand. Makeshift penal camps, private Nazi prisons for political detainees, were set up. No law applied here: prisoners could be robbed, raped, sadistically tortured, or shot ‘while trying to escape’. The Catholic Centre Party was the last opposition party to be crushed. Then came Hitler’s coalition allies, the Nationalists.

As soon as he had incapacitated the Nazis’ political rivals, Hitler turned to anyone or anything that threatened to stand in the way of creating a Nazi society. Like clinics or lobby groups that advocated sexual health, contraception, or homosexual rights. There was a crackdown on suspected gangsters and vagrants. Local mayors were forcibly deposed; hospitals, law courts, and other public institutions invaded. Associations representing the interests of farmers, entrepreneurs, women, teachers, doctors, doctors, sportsmen, and even disabled war veterans were taken over and turned into tame emanations of the Nazi Party, with no Jews allowed. Synagogues were raided, pillaged, and burned. Jews were attacked in the street. The civil service was ‘Aryanised’, meaning that Jews lost their jobs. Jewish and politically suspect university professors were sacked. Jews were expelled from orchestras and art academies, radio stations, and cinema production companies. Where the brownshirts led, legislation followed. By the summer of 1933, Germany was a one-party state, and the path to Hitler’s racial dystopia had been traced out.

And the Freemasons? They certainly did not suffer the kind of systematic brownshirt assault endured by Hitler’s left-wing enemies and the Jewish population. Hitler had his priorities, and they were not the same as Mussolini’s had been in 1925, at the equivalent stage in the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship. The Freemasons were a long way from the top of the Nazi list. Even jazz musicians were considered a greater annoyance. Nevertheless, there were sporadic attacks during those first months – albeit nothing like as violent as in Italy. At one Düsseldorf Lodge on 6 March 1933, five uniformed stormtroopers followed by a gang of men in civvies knocked at the door and demanded to see the Lodge’s records. When asked to provide some proof of their identity, they replied, ‘Loaded pistols are our authority’ and forced their way in. They smashed the lock of the cupboard where the records were kept and began loading the papers into a waiting lorry. But they withdrew quietly when they were told that the Lodge was in mourning for a dead Brother. In August, in Landsberg, an der Warthe in Prussia, the members of one Lodge were bullied into unanimously voting to hand over all their assets to a local brownshirt unit.

An insidious threat to Freemasonry came from informers – Masons who were happy to betray their fraternal oaths to win favor with the regime. They told the Nazis all kinds of tales about the goings-on in the Lodges. Whether out of enthusiasm for Nazi ideology, or out of fear, individual Masons began to desert the Brotherhood, and the temples to fall silent. In Hamelin in Lower Saxony, one Lodge Master surprised his Brethren by appearing at a meeting in SS uniform and ordering that the Lodge be disbanded. Masonic leadership rapidly lost all confidence. As early as the spring of 1933, German Freemasonry was falling apart.

In response to the crisis, all three Old Prussian Lodges united to send a letter to Hitler on 21 March 1933 – the ‘Day of Potsdam’ when the regime mounted a national celebration to mark its seizure of power. The letter assured that the Lodges would stay true to their ‘national and Christian tradition’ and be ‘unswervingly most loyally obedient to the national government’. The hope was that they would be able to trade political loyalty for some kind of official endorsement. In early April, the Grand Masters finally succeeded in sitting around a table with Herman Göring. Things did not go as they had hoped. Göring banged his fist on the table and roared, “You damned pigs, I need to throw you and this Jew-band in a pot!...there is no room for Freemasonry in the National Socialist State.”

The endgame had begun. Sooner or later, the Nazis would follow the Italian Fascists in banning Freemasonry.

Shortly after the meeting with Göring, one of the three Old Prussian Grand Lodges adopted the swastika as its symbol. Another tried its own ingenious solution to the problem, by ceasing to be Masonic. It abandoned its old name, the ‘Grand National Lodge of Freemasons of Germany’, and became the ‘German Christian Order’; its constitution stipulated that ‘only Germans of Aryan descent’ could be members. All references to Jewish and Masonic symbolism and vocabulary were canceled from the statutes. ‘We are no longer Freemasons’, one circular announced. The other Old Prussian Grand Lodges soon united behind this move.

The Humanitarian Grand Lodges were less coordinated. Three of them, based respectively in Darmstadt, Dresden, and Leipzig, followed the Old Prussian Lodges by expelling Jews and ceasing to call themselves Masonic. Another Humanitarian Grand Lodge, the Frankfurt-based Eclectic Union, dissolved itself at around the same time, but then immediately re-formed in an Aryanised version, probably with the intention of saving its real estate from confiscation. The Grand Master of another Grand Lodge, the Bayreuth Grand Lodge of the Sun, announced on 12 April 1933 that the order was Aryanising, and politely asked Jewish Brethren to resign – thanking them in advance for their selfless gesture. Only six days later, the Grand Master decided that this was futile, and opted for the only realistic way to maintain the Masonic dignity of his order in the circumstances: he dissolved the Grand Lodge, asking all the subordinate Lodges to follow suit.

By the autumn of 1933, although it had not been officially banned by the regime, Freemasonry in Germany was a shell. The surviving former Grand Lodges, now Aryanised and reconstituted as German Christian Orders, remained subject to uncoordinated attacks and confiscations. Yet they still hoped that by kowtowing they might earn some form of state recognition. One of the reasons why this hope persisted, and why the Nazis took much longer to stamp out Freemasonry than did the Italian Fascists, was exactly the reason that Hitler had intuited back at the Bürgerbräukeller in 1925 when he chose to focus on a single enemy: deciding just who was and who was not a Freemason was a confusing business. In the eyes of the Nazis, the creation of the German Christian Orders could just be the Freemasons’ latest devious ruse. The issue did not just affect the matter of whether to ban Masonry. What about all the former Freemasons around? Many were also members of organizations that had now been incorporated into the Nazi state. So should they be expelled? Or barred from holding government jobs? Where should the line be drawn? Between the former Old Prussian Lodges and the former Humanitarian Lodges? Or between those who had given up their Masonic ways before the Nazi seizure of power, and those who had only conformed afterward? In some places, the Gestapo suspended anti-Masonic lectures because they thought they were attracting unwanted followers of the aged General Ludendorff. The confusion increased because the SA, the SS, the Gestapo, and other agencies and individuals within the Nazi state jockeyed for control of what was becoming known as the ‘Freemasonry Question’ – and therefore of the right to plunder the Lodges. For a while, in January 1934, the Führer even suspended measures against Freemasonry to ease the tussling within the Nazi movement. Loyal as ever, the former Old Prussian Grand Lodges chose to interpret this as a hopeful sign. They also saw hope in the fact that a former Freemason by the name of Hjalmar Schacht served in Hitler’s government as President of the Central Bank and then Minister of Economics.

In Hitler’s mind, the political calculation was temporarily outweighing his anti-Masonry, just as it had done in 1925. Some grassroots Masons saw more clearly that the end was nigh. Walter Plessing, like his father and grandfather before him, was a member of an Old Prussian Lodge in Lübeck on the Baltic coast. In September 1933, he resigned in order to join the Nazi Party and succeeded in becoming a stormtrooper. A few months later, when it was discovered that he had been a Mason, he was forced to leave the party. In March 1934, when he heard that he would be forced out of the SA too, he committed suicide, bequeathing all his money to Hitler. His suicide note protested at being treated as a traitor and a ‘third-class German’; neither he nor his former Lodge had any ‘connection with Jews or Jewry’.

Nazi Policy on Masons only became unequivocal after July 1934 and the Night of the Long Knives – the savage purge of the SA and other political enemies. Thereafter, the SS assumed control of the Masonic Question. In October 1934, a recent recruit to the SS intelligence agency, Adolf Eichmann, was given the first test of his administrative skills: he was told to compile a central index of Masons. Having convinced his superiors of his talents, he was moved to the SS department responsible for Jews, where he would go on to play a notorious logistical role in implementing Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘Jewish Question’.

In the spring of 1935, finally, the former Masonic organizations were told to dissolve themselves completely or be forced to do so. Either way, their assets would be confiscated. The Grand Masters agreed to this recommendation, on condition that the Craft was publicly absolved of all the accusations of disloyalty that had been made against it. No such absolution was ever granted. The self-dissolution went ahead anyway during the summer.

All of which brings us back to the mournful scene with which this story began: the final closure of the Grand Lodge in Hamburg, to the sound of weeping Brothers and of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Hamburg, long a center of a more liberal form of Masonry, was a Humanitarian Grand Lodge – one that admitted Jews, therefore. To his credit, before the Nazis assumed power, Grand Master Richard Bröse did seek to parry Hitler’s attacks. He chose transparency as his shield. In August 1931, he wrote a public letter to Hitler offering to grant open access to the Grand Lodge’s archives to any investigator mutually agreed between the two of them. Furthermore, he pledged to close the Grand Lodge down if it was found that Masonry had ever done anything against the national interest.

Bröse’s attempt was doomed. No amount of transparency can reassure a conspiracy theorist. Hitler did not reply. Instead, the task was taken up by senior Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, who dismissed Bröse’s offer as a typical Masonic deception; the Nazis regarded all Masons as traitors, he scoffed.

Once Hitler had taken power, Bröse betrayed his order’s tolerant values as fast as any other Humanitarian Grand Master. On 12 April 1933, he announced that the Grand Lodge was open only to ‘German men of Aryan descent and Christian religion’. It was in this Aryanised form that the Hamburg Grand Lodge shut down, under the eyes of the Gestapo, in the summer of 1935. Clearly, the tale of the closure of the Hamburg Grand Lodge as Masons tend to recount it omits one painful detail: the Craftsmen present in the Hamburg temple that night had already abandoned all trace of Masonic values and embraced Nazi racism in a futile attempt to ensure their survival as a Christian-only fellowship. Mozart would have turned in his grave.

No historian will ever be able to reconstruct the exact mixture of emotions that led Bröse and his Brothers to shed such copious tears on that evening in Hamburg in July 1935. Certainly a sense of loss and injustice. Fear and frustration too, most likely. It may also be that another feeling clouded their eyes as the last rites of their Brotherhood were performed: shame. The only Masonic group that voiced opposition to Hitler in the name of Masonic values was neither a Humanitarian nor an Old Prussian Lodge. The Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany was formed in 1930 when some Masons who were determined to stand against the anti-Semitic tide broke off from the Humanitarian Lodges. Virtually alone among German Masonry’s leadership, the Grand Master of the Symbolic Grand Lodge, a lawyer called Leopold Müffelmann, resisted courageously, continuing to criticize Nazism even after Hitler took power. Then on 29 March 1933, in public, he declared the dissolution of his Grand Lodge, while taking measures to ensure that it could continue to work in secret. However, within a few weeks, Müffelmann had to recognize that the situation was too dangerous. So in June 1933, at a secret meeting in Frankfurt, he and the other leaders of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany decided to transfer their base to Jerusalem, and try to survive in exile.

On 5 September, Müffelmann was betrayed by an informer and arrested in Berlin. He was interrogated by the Gestapo before being sent to the stormtroopers’ penal camp at Sonnenburg. There he was beaten and forced to do hard labor, despite having a serious heart condition. He died in August 1934 as a result of his ordeal. Müffelmann and those who shared his vision of Masonry were, it should be stressed, a tiny minority of fewer than two thousand at the peak. What is more, they were a minority that the institutions of mainstream Freemasonry, both the Old Prussian and the Humanitarian Grand Lodges, categorically refused to recognize as legitimate Masons. So as one historian has pointed out, it is misleading of Freemasons to treat the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Germany as a ‘poster child of Masonic victimization and courageous resistance’.

Grand Master Müffelmann was one of the few Masons to be persecuted as a result of his activity within the Craft. Indeed, vast ambiguity clouds most of the victims of Nazism that Freemasonry claims as its own – whether they are 80,000, or 200,000, or any other number. Take the case of Carl von Ossietzky, who was arrested within hours of the Reichstag fire. Deprived of food, he was forced into hard labor, and beaten and kicked by camp guards who yelled ‘Jewish pig’ and ‘Polish pig’ at him. (As it happened, he was neither Jewish nor Polish.) By November 1935, when he was seen by a Red Cross visitor, Ossietzky was ‘a trembling, deadly pale something, a creature that appeared to be without feeling, one eye was swollen, teeth knocked out, dragging a broken, badly healed leg … a human being who had reached the uttermost limits of what could be borne’. It is a testament to his endurance that he only finally succumbed eighteen months later, in May 1938.

Ossietzky was both a Freemason and a victim of Nazism. But he was not victimized because he was a Freemason. He was killed because he was a left-wing intellectual, a prominent journalist and critic of Nazism, and a pacifist who had reported Germany’s illegal rearmament program to the international community. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while in a concentration camp in 1936.

How many Freemasons died under the Nazi regime? The research has yet to be done. But it seems very, very unlikely that the total of Masons murdered reached as many as 200,000. That would represent a staggeringly high percentage of the total number of Masons in countries occupied by German forces in the Second World War. What is certain is that the vast majority of those who did die were not killed because they were Masons, but above all because they were Jews. Austria, which became part of the Third Reich in the Anschluss of March 1938, is probably typical. When Nazi forces marched in, there were 800 Masons in Austria. The Vienna Grand Lodge was raided and the Grand Master arrested; already ill, he died in custody. The Nazis rapidly proceeded to abolish Freemasonry in Austria as they had done in Germany. It has been calculated that between 101 and 117 Brothers were murdered before 1945. Another 13 committed suicide; 561 went into exile. But these figures only make sense when we realize that most Catholic Masons had resigned before the Germans marched in. Hundreds of them had already abandoned the Craft after 1933 because of harassment by the Catholic-Fascistic government that preceded the Nazis. Left behind in the Lodges when the Nazis arrived in 1938 were many Jews – two-thirds of that total of 800.

Although the Nazi state in Germany crushed Freemasonry, it did not persecute individual Freemasons with remotely the same lethal fanaticism as it did other groups. Mein Kampf, after all, had given non-Jewish Craftsmen an escape clause. Hitler’s memoir had said that ordinary Masons ‘never needed to suspect’ that the Jews were really in charge behind the scenes. So, in the overwhelming majority of cases, it was enough for a Brother to recant for him to dodge the jackboot and the concentration camp. Even the institutional discrimination against former Masons was lifted, as many Masons with qualifications and skills showed they could be loyal and useful members of Nazi society.

The reasons why Masons have exaggerated what they endured at Hitler’s hands are not hard to discern. The Nazis are Hollywood’s favorite bad guys. Contrasted against the pitch-black evil that they represent, the Masonic tradition seems to shine more nobly. But Masonry’s misleading memories of Nazi repression do a disservice to those who were far more ruthlessly targeted by Nazism: it is as if the Craft were trying to get a foot on the pedestal of history’s greatest victims. Perhaps more tellingly, those Masonic identity narratives draw attention away from a regime that was far more brutal and thorough in its persecution of Freemasonry than were Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany: the Spain of General Francisco Franco.



Munich: The Beer-Hall strategy I. Abrams, ‘The multinational campaign for Carl von Ossietzky’. A paper presented at the International Conference on Peace Movements in National Societies, 1919–39, held in Stadtschlaining, Austria, 25–9 September 1991, consulted at: http://www.irwinabrams.com/articles/ossietzky.html on 16/1/20: ‘a trembling, deadly pale something …’


H. Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, London, 1963. Arendt (pp. 28–9) mentions that Eichmann tried to join ‘the Freemasons’ Lodge Schlaraffia’ in Austria early in 1932 before he joined the SS. However, Schlaraffia is not a Masonic organisation, and has more frivolous aims.


M. Berenbaum (ed.), A Mosaic of Victims, Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis, New York, 1990.


D.L. Bergen, War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust, New York, 2003.


C. Campbell Thomas, Compass, Square and Swastika: Freemasonry in the Third Reich, PhD thesis, Texas A&M University, 2011. On Masonic informers, p. 76. On the 2,000 membership of Leopold Müffelmann’s strand of Masonry, p. 48. ‘Poster child of Masonic victimization and courageous resistance’, p. 17.


R.J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, London, 2003. Evans and Kershaw (below) provide a good context of Freemasons and Nazi repression.


R.J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, 1933–1939: How the Nazis Won Over the Hearts and Minds of a Nation, London, 2006. On Carl von Ossietzky, passim.


R.J. Evans, The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis Led Germany from Conquest to Disaster, London, 2008.


A. Hitler, Mein Kampf, translated by R. Manheim, London, 1992 (1943). On Freemasonry, p. 285.


A. Hitler, ‘Rede Hitlers zur Neugründung der NSDAP am 27. Februar 1925 in München’: http://www.kurt-bauer-geschichte.at/lehrveranstaltung_ws_08_09.htm. ‘Either the enemy walks over our corpse’, p. 6. On the importance of a single enemy, p. 7.


C. Hodapp, Freemasons for Dummies, Hoboken, NJ, 2013. The implausible claim of 200,000 Masons killed by the Nazis is on p. 85. It should be said that Hodapp is an engaging and fair-minded Masonic writer, and this introduction is recommended.


E. Howe, ‘The Collapse of Freemasonry in Nazi Germany, 1933–5’, AQC, 95, 1982. On sales of Ludendorff’s book, p. 26. On the attacks on Lodges in Düsseldorf and Landsberg an der Warthe, pp. 29 and 32. Suicide of Walter Plessing, p. 33.


J. Katz, Jews and Freemasons in Europe, 1723–1939, Cambridge, MA, 1970. On The Protocols, pp. 180–94. On the proportion of Jews in German German Lodges, pp. 189–90.


I. Kershaw, Hitler: 1889–1936: Hubris, London, 1998. On Hitler’s speech at the Bürgerbräukeller in 1925, pp. 266–7. Hitler accuses Ludendorff of being a Mason, p. 269. On Hjalmar Schacht, p. 356 and passim.


I. Kershaw, Hitler 1936–45: Nemesis, London, 2000.


R.S. Levy (ed.), Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, Santa Barbara, CA, 2005, vol. 2. Entry on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, pp. 567–70.


E. Ludendorff, Destruction of Freemasonry Through Revelation of Their Secrets (trans. J. Elisabeth Koester), Los Angeles, 1977.


Masonic Encyclopedia, ‘Österreich 1938–1945: 692 Freimaurer wurden Opfer des Nazi-Terrors’, which summarises research on the Nazi repression of Masonry in Austria. Österreich 1938-1945: 692 Freimaurer wurden Opfer des Nazi-Terrors – Freimaurer-Wiki


R. Melzer, ‘In the Eye of a Hurricane: German Freemasonry in the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 4 (2), 2003. For the number of Masons and Lodges in 1925, p. 114.


R. Melzer, Between Conflict and Conformity: Freemasonry during the Weimar Republic and Third Reich, Washington DC, 2014. Offers a systematic and authoritative study. May 1923, an Old Prussian Lodge invited Ludendorff, p. 85. Old Prussian Lodge in Regensburg adopted the Nazi swastika as its badge, p. 157. In 1926, two of the three Old Prussian Grand Lodges considered introducing ‘Aryan’ symbols, p. 81. Göring snubbed the Masons’ emissary, pp. 99–100. ‘Our German Order is völkisch’, quoted pp. 95–6. In Hamelin Lodge, a Master appears in SS uniform, p. 177. Letter to Hitler offers assurance that the Lodges would stay true to their ‘national and Christian tradition’, quoted p. 151. ‘You damned pigs, I need to throw you and this Jew-band in a pot!’, quoted p. 153. Lodges adopt swastika as symbol, p. 159. ‘Grand National Lodge of Freemasons of Germany’ becomes ‘German Christian Order’, p. 154. ‘We are no longer Freemasons’, quoted p. 156. Humanitarian Lodges Aryanised, pp. 162–72. Confusion and hesitancy in Nazi policy, pp. 188–91. On Adolf Eichmann, p. 188. Hamburg Grand Lodge only open to ‘German men of Aryan descent’, quoted p. 170. On Leopold Müffelmann, pp. 173–5.


S. Naftzger, ‘“Heil Ludendorff”: Erich Ludendorff and Nazism, 1925–1937’, PhD thesis, City University New York, 2002. On von Kemnitz, pp. 23–30 and passim.


R.M. Piazza, ‘Ludendorff: The Totalitarian and Völkisch Politics of a Military Specialist’, PhD thesis, Northwestern University, 1969.


L.L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, London, 1976. For the SA and its numbers, p. 304.


R. Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945, Cambridge, 2003. On Ludendorff, pp. 87–91.


C. Thomas, ‘Defining “Freemason”: Compromise, Pragmatism, and German Lodge Members in the NSDAP’, German Studies Review, 35 (3), 2012.


P. Viereck, Metapolitics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind, New York, 1961 (1941). On Mathilde von Kemnitz, p. 297.


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