Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The designation of Freikorps (German for "Free Corps") was originally applied to voluntary armies. The first freikorps were recruited by Frederick II of Prussia during the Seven Year's War. Other known freikorps appeared during the Napoleonic Wars and were led for example by Ludwig Adolf Wilhelm von Lützow. The freikorps were regarded as unreliable by regular armies, so that they were mainly used as sentries and for minor duties.
However, the meaning of the word has changed over time. After 1918, the term was used for the far-right paramilitary organizations that sprung up around Germany as soldiers returned in defeat from World War I. It was one of the many Weimar paramilitary groups active during that time. Many German veterans felt profoundly disconnected from civilian life, and joined the Freikorps in search of stability within a military structure. Others, angry at their sudden, apparently inexplicable defeat, joined up in an effort to put down Communist uprisings or exact some form of revenge (see Dolchstoßlegende). They received considerable support from Gustav Noske, the German Defence Minister who used them to crush the Spartakist League with enormous violence, including the murders of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg on January 15, 1919. They were also used to put down the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919.
Several Freikorps fought in the Baltic, Silesia, and Prussia after the end of World War I, sometimes with significant success even against regular troops.
They were officially 'disbanded' in 1920, although former members later backed the Kapp Putsch in March 1920 (which ended in disaster).
Some future members and, indeed, leaders of the Nazi Party were members of the Freikorps, including Ernst Röhm, future head of the Sturmabteilung or SA, and Rudolf Höß, the future Kommandant of Auschwitz.
Most Freikorps members, however, remained outsiders during the Third Reich. A frequent conversational topic amongst Freikorps veterans was, "Where was Hitler back in 1919/20, when we fought the Communists?" (in 1919-1920, Hitler had just begun his political career, as the leader of a tiny and as-yet-unknown party in Munich).
- Axis History Factbook; Freikorps section – By Marcus Wendel and contributors; site also contains an apolitical forum
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