As Berlin police chief, Emil Eichhorn was supposed to protect democracy. In fact, he promoted the radical leftist forces that declared war on the young republic. January 1919, the situation escalated.
The police to ensure security and order, not spread insecurity and disorder. But exactly the latter did the police in Berlin around the turn of the year 1918/19. To be more precise: the police headquarters, the defiant “red castle” on Alexanderplatz , which was for decades quite rightly regarded as a fortress of the Hohenzollern dynasty by the workers’ movement.
Already at the Christmas battles for the Hohenzollern Castle and the neighboring Marstall, the “police security force”, a paramilitary armed militia consisting of left-wing ex-soldiers, set up by reigning police chief Emil Eichhorn , sided with the mutinous People’s Navy division.
In addition, the USPD politician, who had accidentally slipped into the role of chief of police of the Reich capital on November 9, 1918 , openly led his party party political: The radical wing of the workers’ movement got all support, all other political forces or even obstructed. The SPD Party bulletin ” Forward ” on New Year’s Day was only mildly pointed : “Every day Eichhorn stays in office for a longer period of time means a threat to public safety.”
When on January 3, 1919, the USPD ministers in the Prussian government resigned in protest at the suppression of the mutiny on Christmas, Eichhorn was the last independent in an important position in Berlin. Indeed, the chief of police made no secret of his convictions – he favored the attachment of all the left to the Bolshevik Spartacist League founded by Karl Liebknecht.
It was a grotesque situation: The police chief appointed by the interim government supported the very group that demanded to abolish this transitional government. Eichhorn was not impressed by criticism of his administration. When he was summoned by the Prussian Prime Minister and Interior Minister Paul Hirsch , an SPD man, Eichhorn withdrew and announced that he would comment on the allegations in writing.
He bluntly replied that he did not recognize the Ministry of the Interior as superior, but only the workers ‘and soldiers’ councils. When asked how he stood by the National Assembly, the Independent replied bluntly that his political view was none of the ministry’s concern. Hirsch could not let go of the political official Eichhorn.
On Saturday, January 4, 1919, the unruly police chief was formally released; However, the announcement was made shortly, which had to provoke him. The Central Council and the Greater Berlin Board of Directors confirmed the dismissal. Only the head of the Revolutionary Obleute, Richard Müller , and Ernst Daumig , the leader of the left USPD wing, voted against.
The decision was published immediately, which further fueled the mood. Eichhorn still did not think about giving in and assured himself of the backing of his party. The board of the Berlin USPD and the Revolutionary Obleute called the replacement a “vile attack against the revolutionary working class” and called for the following Sunday for a demonstration.
When the newly appointed police chief Eugen Ernst appeared in the praesidium on Alexanderplatz and asked Eichhorn to hand over his office, the deposed revolutionary refused. An eyewitness recalled having heard: “The new people’s state, which I build!” Ernst had to retire, because soldiers and excited demonstrators assisted Eichhorn. A disaster.
Here was Gustav Noske , a few days ago in the Council of People’s Representatives responsible for the military and internal security, still urged his party colleague Eugen Ernst to go only if accompanied by loyal troops to police headquarters. Anything else would undermine the authority of the state. That was exactly what had happened.
But on 4 January 1919 Noske could not intervene, because he was busy elsewhere: With Friedrich Ebert, the chairman of the Council of People’s Deputies, the transitional government on Reich level, he visited in Zossen near Berlin troops. The soldiers were curious about the politicians; Above all, they wanted to see how their superiors responded to the two Social Democrats.
Major General Georg Maercker paid homage to the People’s Deputies as a matter of course, but did not hide his monarchical outlook. He said that man like Noske with a firm political stance “could not possibly enjoy political chameleons.” The social democrat, in turn, knew that without reliable military power, the government would become a plaything for radical groups.
The response to a Volunteers’ Volunteers Act had remained low, although it met all the criteria of the new era – the volunteers committed themselves by shaking hands with the socialist-democratic republic and elected their leaders themselves.
But the soldiers of the field army, who had returned from the front, were for the most part not interested in another service at home. Instead of providing order and security, they wanted to go home. So Noske was convenient that Maercker had formed with a large part of the teams of his 214th Division, the Freikorps “Landjäger”, 5000 men strong. They did not see themselves as a paramilitary unit, but as part of the Reichsheer – not democratic, but at least loyal to the incumbent government.
In the meantime, the KPD , which had just been founded a few days earlier, had realized that the row over the chief of police was a perfect opportunity for escalation. The personality of Emil Eichhorn was indifferent to her; his dismissal corresponded rather to their conviction that no linker could cooperate with the SPD. But the process could be used excellently to hinder or even prevent the planned for 19 January 1919 election for the first National Assembly. That’s exactly what the KPD wanted, because it did not go to the poll, where they could expect only a few votes anyway.
So on January 5, 1919 , the readers of the KPD sheet ” Rote Fahne ” were shown how allegedly insidious Ebert and Philipp Scheidemann, the other chairman of the SPD, had forced the USPD man Eichhorn out of office. But it is not just about him: the workers themselves were supposed to be “taken for the last remnant of the revolutionary achievements”.
The demagogic move, which ignored all the progress of the preceding months, caught on: Several tens of thousands of Berliners came to the demonstration. Eichhorn himself took the floor in the Germania halls on Chausseestrasse in the late afternoon and proclaimed: “I have received my office from the revolution, and I will only give it back to the revolution!” Afterwards the “Revolutionary Committee” met for the first time Dozens leftist radicals, including Eichhorn and the Spartakus leader Karl Liebknecht and Wilhelm Pieck, co-founder of the KPD and Spartakus official.
At the same time, 500 to 600 left-wing militants, almost all from the immediate vicinity of the KPD, occupied key positions in Berlin’s city center. They stormed not only the editors of the Vorwärts, but also the buildings of the news agency Wolff Telegraph Bureau and the bourgeois publishers Mosse, Ullstein and Scherl in the Berlin newspaper district. The Spartacist revolt had begun.