A BIG WORLD IN A SMALL ONE: How World War II began in Hässleholm
Occasionally, I worry about my bad physical condition and increasing obesity. Do I keep on passing an age limit without really noticing it? Soon it will be difficult for me to bend down, it will be cumbersome to get up from an armchair, days will disappear without leaving much of a trace. I will lose my breath while climbing stairs, my skin will wrinkle, the hair fall off. It is darkening over the path. Yesterday, in search of lost youth I took a bike ride through the woods. Cycling north, along more or less overgrown forest pathways and bumpy trails.
Autumn has come, when the pouring rain comes to an end, mushrooms and dense moss emit a fresh fragrance. Mosquitoes and flies have disappeared. Birds have quieted down, apart from an occasional warning call. High up in the blue migratory birds are beckoning their fellow travellers while their sky ploughs pass by. A few days ago a flock of cranes circled above us. With sharp trumpet signals they gathered before forming a v-shaped flight group heading south towards Extramadura's marshlands.
During the last weeks' loneliness after my mother's death it seems to me that I more than usual am confronted with death and corruption. In the woods I found one abandoned barn after another. Under leaking roofs, behind doors and walls with flaking paint and plaster, they were filled with all kind of rubbish; dairy cans, rusting tools and machines, useless refrigerators and stoves, car engines, rusty pipes and rotten, wooden boards. I wondered when someone had placed a used lawnmower in there or piled up planks and bricks, abandoning them year after until their original owner had forgotten all about them, or simply died.
I entered a few abandoned cottages with decayed fire places, beds and armchairs were lying around, home for generations of forest mice and other animals. When did the last broken-down, elderly couple leave their house? The cottages could be found among stone walls that generations of poor farmers with backbreaking efforts had stacked along fields and hills, now overgrown with brushwood and forest. No one had bought the houses, the land had been added to neighbours´ possessions, or a company estate.
And here they had lived. Every metre of land that I passed by had once been familiar to someone. Someone had known all the trees, the meadows and the swamps. I recall a few lines from Theodor Thufvesson's poem about an old farm in the plains:
Here the old ones lived, here their lives floated away,
in a time long gone.
I came out of the woods and rode over meadows and hills with grazing horses and cows. Came across a well-kept farmhouse with a wooden gingerbread porch. The house reminded me of Värpatorpet, which I recently had seen in an old photo. I climbed down from the bicycle and took a photo while the owner showed up, of course he was curious about who I could have been. His name was Erling and he was approximately ten years older than me. Soon his wife, Vera, also appeared. No, this was not Värpatorpet, it lay further into the woods, a few kilometres to the north, across the meadows and after that a few hundred metres into the forest.
Erling had been born on the farm. He remembered his grandfather and told me that he, as the oldest son, had to return from America when his father had died. No, no, his grandfather had not at all had a good time over there, across the sea. For several years he had suffered from loneliness and hard work that had did not generated any savings. The farm the Erling´s grandfather had inherited did not make him a wealthy man, but its meadows and forest land hand produced enough to support Erling´s grandfather´s family. Erling´s father had also lived from the farm, though he himself had been forced to work as a hauling contractor as well, subsequently selling off the cows, pigs and sheep, while leasing the pastures to neighbouring farmers. However, now Erling could not complain; the house was sturdy built, the area beautiful and he and his Vera managed well.
- Did you see the neighbouring fields? Stunning, right? And the large dam with its several metres high water jet. It was dug and installed by my neighbour.
The wife of Erling's good friend and neighbour had won twelve million Swedish crowns at the lottery.
- Imagine that such things can happen! It's a pleasure and a joy to experience how a neighbour and friend becomes so fortunate and furthermore was to do nice things with the money.
I followed Erling's instructions and rode north. Värpatorpet was far from the main routes, by a large clear-felled area. Since I did not recognize the oblong, red-painted house, I drove past it several times. On the photo I had seen, taken by the end of the nineteenth century, the house had been white and with an exquisite porch.
However, the red house I had been passing several times was, apart from the abandoned and decayed Fasatopet, Cottage of Fear, a few hundred meters further away, the only house along the partially overgrown forest road. Accordingly, I leaned my bike against a stone wall and ventured into the brushwood behind the house and found that the porch was directed towards the yard.
It was a well-built house. Erling had told that it now was now owned by a Danish family, but as often is the case with a summer house when the owners' children have grown up and they themselves had become old while living somewhere else, the house flaunted several signs of decay. The brushwood was closing in, the paint was flaking and when I looked in through a window I could discern a stately, tiled stove, but also a worn down and randomly collected furniture. It was the kind of fitting-up that eventually takes hold of houses you do not spend your entire time in.
It was in 1880 that the new Värpatorpet had been erected. The other cottage had been further away into the woods. It had become far too small for Per and Malena Persson's growing family. Timber had been brought from the homestead´s extensive forest lands and a large, solid farm had been built. The times were brightening up for a farming family that like the Perssons owned forests with mature timber. Per Persson obtained a prepayment for his lumber and it was soon delivered to the nearby village of Bjärnum, which in 1883 received its first steam engine, which operated a sawmill and delivered the material to a successful cooper establishment. In 1890, the railway reached Bjärnum and a fairly great number of carpentry factories were established.
The first major furniture production started in 1886 when Paul Eliasson employed three carpenters. Alfred Baum, who at the age of 17 had become an apprentice by Eliasson, who his first workshop in 1896 and did in 1903 employ over twenty workers, after his furniture had begun to be carried out by rail. The new possibilities for earning an income from furniture manufacturing attracted August Pettersson and Karl Persson, who in 1895 came back from the US, with their savings from abroad they established the Pettersson & Persson Furniture Company, which from the start had ten employees, but soon expanded. Karl Gustav Lennström came to Bjärnum as a journeyman in 1903 and was then employed by Pettersson & Persson's Furniture Company. He soon became his own and in 1912 he established a workshop that attracted a large number of journeymen. In the spring of 1901, the brothers Ernst, Emil and Per Troedsson founded a furniture factory, which soon had more than 50 employees. In 1904, C. A. Hallendorf came as a journeyman to Bjärnum where he was employed by The Troedsson Brothers´ Wood Processing Factory. In 1911 he married a wealthy dowager, Augusta Olsson, and was able to launch his own furniture factory. In 1914 Hallendorf sold his factory to the American Office Furniture Factory. In 1904, Gottfrid Nilsson and Johan Bengtsson started a furniture joinery business under the name of Nilsson & Bengtsson. August Persson came to Bjärnum 1899 and got a job at The Troedsson Brothers´ Wood Processing Factory, in 1914 he started his own furniture making, which soon became successful not the least because his factory was first in Bjärnum to use electric power.
To sum up, by the beginning of the last century, a significant number of wage workers gathered in Bjärnum. Journeymen brought with them socialist ideas from different places and several carpentry workers became radicalized. On the 11th of August 1907, Bjärnum's Workers' Union was formed, though the meeting was interrupted by the Troedsson manufacturers and their "minions". The constituent assembly had to move to another venue.
In connection with the great Swedish general strike of 1909, several of Bjärnum´s entrepreneurs announced a protracted lockout and the socialist movement gained a firmer support among the workers. In connection with the Russian Revolution, more and more agitators appeared in Bjärnum. Well-known radical and writers like the socialist feminist Kata Dahlström, Zeth Höglund, communist politician, anti-militarist and journalist, Fabian Månsson from the Social Democrat Left Party and Hinke Bergren, Social Democratic Anarch-syndicalist, spoke in the People's Park, invited by the labour community, generally on the initiative of the radical print shop owner and bookbinder Atto Peto.
A close friend of Atto Peto was a Per Axel Persson who in 1864 had been born in Värpatorpet as one of Per and Malena Persson's five children. Already in Hemmeströ´s tiny village school, P.A., as he was called, had excelled as a diligent and book-loving student. He was also a musician, playing accordion, violin and organ. Several of his youth friends joined the socialist movement and, like them P.A. was upset by the vast class differences of the Swedish society; by the “wage slavery”, the limited opportunities for young peasants and workers, wide-spread alcohol abuse and a general spiritual and material misery that flourished in the backwaters of the Göinge forests. P.A. joined the temperance movement, though he hesitated about joining the socialists, instead he hitched up with a branch of the liberal movement called De Frisinnade, The Freethinkers, which mainly attracted farmers, craftsmen and workers who were already active in the radical education- and temperance movements.
Together with his more radical friends, P.A. Persson shared a vision that the creation of a more equal society best could be served by the establishment of a radical, but at the same time thoroughly locally rooted, newspaper. In 1890, they had jointly published a weekly magazine, which was very much appreciated in the village of Bjärnum. Soon they tried to establish a newspaper in the nearby town of Hässleholm, which would compete with the conservative Hessleholms Tidning, The Hessleholm Magazine. However, money was missing and when his father died and his older brother Olof 1894 emigrated to the United States, P. A. Persson reluctantly had to manage the family farm. However, he did not give up his newspaper dreams, he deforested his land and sold the timber to save money for his planned endeavour. When his savings proved to be insufficient P. A. decided to directly contact people asking them to "sign up for shares at 25 Crowns a piece so that the newspaper would not end up under single man's control." When 3,000 shares had been signed and paid for, P. A. rented out the family farm to a brother-in-law and together with the police clerk Ljunggren, paper mill owner Carl Holtze and the print shop owner Atto Peto, he launched the newspaper Norra Skåne, Northern Skåne:
... to fight abuse and irregularities, violence, injustice and tyranny, regardless of person or the social position to which he may be affiliated.
However Norra Skåne would not spread:
... petty personal gossip, libel and falsehood. Such is shone by every honourable newspaper.
During an obligatory military exercise, P.A. met the radical journalist Anders Thelin, from Northern Sweden, whom he appointed chief editor for the new newspaper. In a series of well-written and blazing articles Thelin tried to "quieten down the yelping mongrel" Hessleholms Tidning. Norra Skåne´s articles constituted a mixed dish; a serialized novel by Emile Zola, high-pitched poems, small notes about world events, radical outpourings and more or less important attractions in the immediate neighbourhood. Below we see P.A. together with Anders Thelin at Norra Skåne´s office.
Norra Skåne soon became popular in the countryside, but the economy continued to be a serious problem, particularly due to high printing costs. The paper was saved by the left leaning socialist Atto Peto. He began printing the newspaper at his printing establishmnet in Bjärnum, agreeing that bills eventually would be covered by future advertising revenues.
Despite his radicalism, P.O. soon declared that Anders Thelin's articles were somewhat too tough for the local potentates and asked him to leave his post as director and chief editor. P.O., who now had begun to be called Värpatorparen, finally took full control of Norra Skåne, both economically and editorially. The radical position that Thelin had represented would be continued, but with moderation and caution. Värpatorparen told his editorial staff: "People around here are a bit slow. You cannot force them to anything"
Hessleholms Tidning finally ended up in Norra Skåne. Värpatorparen eventually became a wealthy man. In 1919, he had a stately building erected by Hässleholm´s railway station, the absolute centre and hub of the recently founded town. Norra Skåne was equipped with a rotational press and hand-picked expertise. Although he employed a skilled editorial staff and experienced journalists, Värpatorparen remained chief editor and was until his death in 1943 the newspaper's most diligent contributor.
Like other successful people who have reached high positions more by virtue of talent than by education, Värpatorparen was quite capricious and extremely personal in his approach to people. Employees who once had won his sympathy and trust could get away with almost anything and still count to upon his full support, while those who for various reasons had fallen from his grace and ended up on his personal blacklist would face immense difficulties while trying to eliminate their name from it. Nevertheless, Värpatorparen was known to be a caring and kind person, even if he was stubbornly convinced about the fact that he always did the right thing. He wrote intricate articles, often based on shameless cuttings from editorials of other newspapers, which he "transformed and muddled up with his own original views", as his successor as chief editor formulated it after Värpatorparens´s departure.
Värpatorparen had many interests. One was aeronautics. Already in 1911 he had invited a Danish airplane pilot to perform stunts after taking off from an airstrip that Värpatorparen had financed just outside of Hässleholm. In 1920s he would, with little success, try to open Hässleholm for commercial air traffic. Värpatorparen never boarded an airplane. Below we see him with the pilot and aircraft manufacturer Enoch Thulin, who in his plan received passengers willing to pay to "see their hometown from above". In 1919, Thulin crashed to his death in his hometown, Landskrona.
Frequently Värpatorparen displayed great generosity and thoughtfulness. He financed the construction of community parks in Hässleholm and Bjärnum, as well as he ordered and paid for sculptures by renowned artists, among them the popular and expensive Axel Ebbe. As an example did Värpatorparen ask Ebbe to make an “inspiring interpretation” of a "watchful Snapphane". In the 1700- and early 1800 centuries had Göinge, the district where Hässleholm is the main town, been a border area between Denmark and Sweden. Snapphanar were part of a peasant militia fighting against the Swedish army, since they wanted to remain Danish citizens.
The brutal Swedish warfare, which included burning down entire villages and in “rebellious areas” the execution of all males above the age of sixteen, is still very much alive in local folklore. Värpatorparen´s choice of a monument proved to be quite controversial, as many, especially stout, conservative supporters of Swedish nationalism, asserted that Snapphanar had been nothing more but "bandits and thugs".
As with many other essentially autodidact persons, there always remained a shadow of inferiority in Värpatorparen´s mind. All his life he complained that: "Dad would not let me study, even though I was the best student in school." Below he is in his birthplace, Värpatorpet, celebrating his 50th birthaday.
By the end of 1918, both Hässleholm and Bjärnum were affected by world events. The “War to End all Wars” was finally over, though a fierce civil war still raged in Russia and several Swedish workers were hoping for a revolution, even if most Social Democrats advocated successive reforms and negotiations with employers and other rulers. Since October 1917, Sweden had a coalition government with Social Democrats and Liberals. Hopes for better times inspired the Left Socialists in Bjärnum. Their strong man was Edvard Roskvist. He was born in Denmark in 1889 and came in 1901 with his parents to Bjärnum. His father was a stone-mason and at the age of fifteen, while working together with his father, Roskvist lost his right eye when a stone shot hit it. He spent the rest of his life with an eye made out of glass.
In Bjärnum, the "general opinion" was that Roskvist was an inept bohemian, someone who was more interested in reading books than in honest work. He often walked by himself and was indifferent to his exterior, though over time he gained a considerable general knowledge and it was primarily wealthy villagers who derided him. Among radical joinery workers Roskvist was generally met with respect and admiration. He became the district study leader for IOGT, the in its time very influential branch of the temperance movement IOGT International, and a good friend of the radical Atto Peto, who also was close to Värpatorparen. Roskvist was employed by "Itinerant Citizen High School Courses", an organization that arranged lectures and courses in different villages. No less than the future and highly influential Swedish Academy member and peasant son Artur Lundkvist testified that it was Edvard Roskvist who once had strengthened his desire to read books.
Roskvist was on friendly terms with the young socialist Anton Nilsson from the nearby village of Norra Sandby. In 1908 Anton was one of the last Swedes to be sentenced to death by beheading (the death punishment was abolished in 1921 and the last execution took place in 1910) for a bomb attack on the ship Amalthea, which carried British scabs during a strike in the southern harbour of Malmö. One man died and 23 were injured. However, Nilsson was eventually pardoned and was in October 1917 released by the new Government. He acquired an aeronautics certificate and before enrolling as a pilot in the Russian Red Army Anton visited several workers´ communities, including the one in Bjärnum. When Stalinism grew stronger, Anton returned to Sweden in 1926, considering Stalin to be a growing menace for the revolution and the working class. He had experienced how the Soviet Union was becoming a police state where "real socialists" were persecuted and murdered.
However, in 1918, Anton Nilsson and the Soviet Union were great ideals for Edvard Roskvist and his comrades in Bjärnum. They dreamed of a violent revolution, even in Sweden. When he by the end of the year returned from a trip to Copenhagen, Roskvist carried with him a revolver. To test it, he took three of his comrades to Lake Bjärlången, just below our house where I now sit and write. In shocked surprise, Roskvist bursted out: "That's a damn little thing to have such a deafening sound!” When the comrades returned from their excursion, they devoted themselves to making up a list of those who would be brought to justice and possible execution in the villages of Bjärnum, Vankiva and Vittsjö after the revolution had been initiated under their leadership. Nevertheless, Edvard Roskvist soon realized that the revolution would be delayed. He left his revolver and the death lists for safekeeping with a trusted cousin of his, who than fifty years later handed them over to the police, who by then considered their possession to be a time-barred felony. The death lists and the revolver ended up in the in the village museum of Bjärnum.
It was Per Kåks, a retired district antiquarian, who told me about the revolver. When he heard that we owned a house in Bjärnum he praised its museum as one of the best local arts-and-crafts museums he had ever visited. That I came into contact with Kåks was due to the fact I knew his wife, a Dominican lady who before she married Kåks had been employed at the National Museum in Santo Domingo. She had met him at a conference and had asked me to bring a gift and a letter to him, a few years later they married.
Ever since Kåks told me about the revolver, I have intended to go and look for it. After my trip to Värpatorpet I cycled down to Bjärnum's museum where a lady unlocked the vault where its weapons collection was stored, but when we could not find the "revolution revolver" she called the museum director, Jonny Dolkov, who told me that it had been stolen during a break-in in 1976. However, the death lists were still kept in the archives, but Jonny declared that he was still prohibited to show them to the public. Jonny Dolkov is an enthusiastic and friendly man, deeply rooted in the local soil and with a thorough knowledge about everything related to it. He is actually a car mechanic, with an impressive collection of veteran cars and mopeds, which he have restored on his own. Unfortunately, he became allergic to solvents and had to leave his occupation behind to devote himself to Bjärnum's museum instead.
Shortly after Edvard Roskvist had fired his revolver by Lake Bjärlången, Lieutenant Ragnar Ohlson yoked his horse Maharaja to his elegant dogcart and drove down to Hässleholm´s railway station. In Malmö harbour he was going to receive an unknown guest. Ragnar Ohlsson, born in Kristianstad in 1880, was a well-known dressage rider who had won several German championships. Until 1917, he had together with his wife Mia née Kockum, born from a wealthy shipyard owning family, lived in Berlin. Later the same year Ohlson bought Hässleholmsgården, an estate just outside the recently founded town. The conservative lieutenant had no longer felt safe in Berlin, assuming that the war soon would be lost and fearing that the socialists planned a bloody revolution.
On the 21st November 1919 Ohlson received a telegram from the Finnish Embassy in Berlin, which briefly asked:
- Can you with short notice receive a high-ranked German officer as guest at your estate?
Of course, the Finnish Embassy would cover all costs for the guest's stay. Without a doubt, Ragnar Ohlson responded that he would be most pleased to serve, but when he enquired who the guest might be, the Embassy responded that his identity was far too confidential to be communicated over telephone, or telegraph. The upset Mia Ohlson wondered frightfully if it the unknown gust could not be the Kaiser himself. The Swedish press had revealed that Wilhelm II had left Germany on the tenth of November and probably was in the Netherlands. Since the Finnish Embassy in Berlin was so reluctant to convey who the high-ranking guest could be it was quite possible that it could be the deposed and fleeing German emperor. Ragnar Ohlsson shook his head in disbelief, but he was uncertain.
In the afternoon of November 27th, 1918, Lieutenant Ohlsson did in Malmö harbour welcome his mysterious guest whom he, in spite of the dark blue glasses and a shaved-away moustache, immediately recognized. The German guest had provided the Swedish authorities with a Finnish diplomatic passport, which declared:
The Finnish delegation in Berlin requests all concerned parties to allow the Finnish citizen and member of the Finnish Foreign Affairs Council, Ernst Lindström, to unrestrictedly obtain free passage and in case of need be provided with protection and assistance.
However, it was not an alleged Ernst Lindström who arrived on Swedish soil. It was no less person than General Erich Ludendorff, who until a month ago in reality had been supreme commander of the German army, as well as sovereign dictator of the German Empire, dominating both the Kaiser and the actual Commander-in-Chief, Hindenburg.
Ludendorff was born1865 in Ostpreussen, to parents who were property owners and belonged to the Junker class, though of low-ranking nobility, something that affected Ludendorff's military career. He was a skilled soldier, whose exceptional assiduity, intelligence and unmatched career hunger made him climb fast through the ranks. Ludendorff joined the General Staff in Berlin, where he worked directly under Alfred von Schlieffen, responsible for Germany's strategy for a forthcoming great war.
Several of Ludendorff's senior officers treated him with contempt. He had a reputation for being overly blunt and too nervous for being a reliable colleague. Haughty, high and mighty officers dismissed the low-ranking Junker who occasionally demonstrated a scandalous disregard or aristocracy and furthermore had made a fast-track career. As icing on the cake he had at the relatively high age of forty-five years married a significantly younger and exceptionally beautiful and unconventional lady, who was daughter of a wealthy manufacturer. She had been divorced for Ludendorff´s sake and brought four children to the estate.
In addition, Ludendorff broke against good tune among Prussian officers by engaging himself with politics and did at awkward moments express his extreme views of Germanic/Aryan excellence, deceitful Jews, Freemasons and Socialists, as well as "occult superstitions". Officers furthermore argued that Erich Ludendorff had a total lack of humour. They had difficulties in enduring his screaming and noise-making, fist-banging on tables and loud slamming of doors. He used to inundate subordinates with telegrams, hastily scribbled down orders and long-winding telephone conversations. Another irritating trait was his boundless self-esteem, demonstrated through expressions like "my victories" and "problems I have solved entirely by myself”. Nevertheless, Ludendorff's coarse personality, boldness and a great awareness that his duties had to be fulfilled without any hesitation, made him popular with the soldiers he commanded. In addition, he was a work alcoholic who occasionally did not allow himself more than an hour's sleep.
Since his chief had planned to attack France through neutral Belgium, Ludendorff had on Schlieffen's behalf long before the war broke out thoroughly investigated the Belgian countryside. The Germans were well aware of the French craving for revenge for the losses and humiliation their nation had suffered when Germany defeated them in the war 1870-71. During the first months of World War I, Ludendorff was responsible for mobilizing materials and support for the German troops that entered Belgium. When the army on August 6th marched on Liége's fortresses, its commander was killed and Ludendorff took on his own initiative over the command. His cool composure, courage and profound knowledge of Liége and its well-fortified forts, enabled him to lead the troops to a fast victory, almost without German losses. He became a hero in Germany and was sent to halt the advancing Russian troops on the eastern front.
On the railway station platform in Hanover, Ludendorff met his commander-in-chief, the impressive Paul von Beneckendorf and Hindenburg, who with short notice had been called back to active service. During his retirement, Hindenburg's uniform had become too tight and to Ludendorff's horror his commanding officer appeared in an inappropriate combination of parade- and field uniform. During their long train journey to the east, the two officers found that they fitted each other like hand in glove and they came to work close together throughout the entire war.
The tremendously popular Swedish explorer, author, artist, scientist, hero and enthusiastic Germanophile Sven Hedin had by the German Army been invited to the Eastern Front where he in March 1915 was graciously received at the Hindenburg´s headquarters in the East Prussian city of Lötzen. Hedin was immensely impressed by Hindenburg, who in spite of being so powerful, gave the impression of being a self-assured yeoman, with his feet steadily planted on the ground: "A thoroughly honest man who have pondered a lot during his sixty-eight years." With unreserved admiration, Hedin described Hindenburg as graced by:
serious, stern, severe features combined with a humble friendly gaze, a firm mouth, ascendant grey hair and a thick moustache bending upwards in a sharp arch. [...] The greatness of his endeavours will survive until the end of time, since people immediately inscribed their superheroic magnitude in their minds and their love came to surround their hero with the wonderful gleam of a fairy-tale.
However, Hedin soon realized that it was the "insightful" Ludendorff who, despite the coarse commanding accent he applied during their affable conversations, was the one who really was in command. Hedin concluded that the two friends' skilled cooperation would eventually bring Germany to victory:
The relationship between Hindenburg and his Commander-in-Chief is strikingly beautiful - only death can dissolve their faithful covenant.
The hyper active, hard-working Ludendorff complemented the majestic, calm and paternal Hindenburg, who nevertheless concealed a great measure of vacillation and, like Ludendorff, was a stock-conservative man imbued with anti-Semitic and antisocialist views.
Through their achievements at the Eastern Front, Hindenburg and Ludendorff became known as "the Rocks in the East", despite the fact that they largely followed strategies and plans prepared by two officers familiar with the Eastern Front and Russian warfare - General Hermann von François and Lieutenant Max Hoffmann, who also actively participated in the fierce fighting, though that was not something that neither Hindenburg nor Ludendorff directed much attention to - they were the "Legendary Victors at Tannenberg". In August 1916, the Kaiser appointed Hindenburg to Commander-in-Chief for all of Germany's combatting forces, and Ludendorff was ordered to solve the stalemate by the trenches of the Western Front.
The Firm Hindenburg/Ludendorff, as the double act came to be called, brought significant changes to the solidified Western Front, introducing a strict and coordinated organisation, joint planning and new ideas. The troops were equipped with more machine guns, improved and more ammunition frequent changes of personnel in the trenches, while positions and maintenance were built-up in depth. Young, capable men were promptly trained to replace losses of commanding officers, the omnipotence of the Supreme Command was weakened and made more dynamic, answering to ever-changing needs and positions, the recruitment of troops intensified. Several reforms were inspired by Ludendorff's ideas about Totaler Krieg, Total War, based on the writings of the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. By the beginning of the nineteenth century Clausewitz had claimed that war was a social issue. Every single aspect of a warring nation had to be directed towards planning and production intending to defeat the enemy. The entire population must be mobilized for war-oriented activities. It was not until the end of the 19th century that Clausewitz´s s theories gained a breakthrough among German officers and Ludendorff was one the staunchest supporters of Clausewitz´s ideas.
Ludendorff realized at an early stage that liberal England was more apt for warfare than the hierarchically ruled and rigidly generalized Germany. According to Ludendorff, everything was a struggle, fuelled by a constant aspiration for power and expansion. Accordingly, had every citizen´s mind and ability to be focused on success - towards victory over any opponent.
Ludendorff propagated for increased construction of decent housing, social assistance, gender equality, improved health - and maternity care, effective measures against sexually transmitted diseases, raising nativity and an effective support to efforts to increase agricultural production. Society must be shaped in such a way that it became as war oriented as possible. Ideas that later came to inspire men like Hitler and Goebbles and made Ludendorff to concentrate ever more power into his own hands. Totaler Krieg also meant an intensified war against "inner" enemies. For Ludendorff harmful, social elements were predominantly represented by Jews, Catholics, religious fantasists and freemasons. In order to combat such "dark forces" an efficient propaganda effort was required. Ludendorff built up a special propaganda unit within the War Ministry and requested a number of scientific inquiries to find means to strengthen the moral and militancy of the German people.
Among other things, when a scientist emphasized that humour played a major role for English soldiers and at home front Ludendorff enquired "Was ist Humor?" and ordered scientific studies of the concept. One of the results was that humorous books and magazines were distributed to German front soldiers. Ludendorff also assured that the film industry received financial support and that "resistance groups" such as the Catholic Church and socialist associations were infiltrated by the security police. A result of these measures was that the Marxist revolutionary Alexander Helphand, "Parvus", was recruited by the German secret service. Parvus, who had been a closely acquaintance of Lenin since 1900, earned a fortune by providing the Turkish army with arms and food supplies. Nevertheless, he remained a miltant socialist all through his life. In Istanbul Parvus made friends with the German ambassador Hans von Wagenheim.
Wagenheim became impressed by Parvus's opinion that a German-Austrian victory would mean the defeat of Tsarism and result in a Russian revolution. On the contrary, a French-English victory would preserve Tsarist oppression. According to Parvus, the German Government should thus cooperate with Lenin's Bolsheviks, help them overthrowing Tsarism and they would then make peace with Germaany. Parvus explained that Lenin was madder than Russia's Mensheviks and would unquestionably create chaos, take power and make a separate peace with Germany. In February 1915, Wagenheim arranged for Parvus to be invited to Berlin and a million Reichsmark was offered to him to conduct "destructive activities". When it became apparent that the German Government received good value for its expenses, another five million and then more even more millions were granted to Parvus and his machinations.
On March 25, 1917, Parvus met with Ludendorff in Bad Kreuznach where they agreed that Ludendorff would ensure that a selected group of Bolsheviks, among them Lenin, by a “sealed” train were going to be brought through Germany, Sweden and Finland to Skt. Petersburg and thus, with Churchill's words, "like pest bacilli be brought from Switzerland to Russia." On the ninth of April, Lenin departed from Zurich's station and everything happened just as it had been predicted by Parvus.
Obviously, Ludendorff did not mention this episode in his 827 sided Meine Kreigserinnerung 1914-1918, which he began writing the day after his arrival at Hässleholmsgården by the desk in the room of Ohlson's six-year-old Marit, without any help of notes, but with a large atlas in front of him. The Ohlson couple asked their guest work if he did not want to work undisturbed by their little daughter, but uncle Lindström, who was known to be fond of children, answered that a man like him, who was used to work with a war waging around him, liked to have a loveable little girl playing in the room. According to him, sensing the vicinity of a child had a calming effect on his nerves.
By the beginning of his book, the General noted, Ich blieb Herr meinen Nerven "I remain master of my nerves", but that was exactly what he had not been while the end of the war approached. He easily flared up, barely slept and occasionally got violent outbreaks of uncontrollable anger, accusing and shouting at anyone in his vicinity. He quarrelled with Hindenburg and vacillated between negotiating with or attacking the enemy. Despite his enormous work capacity and undeniable intelligence, Ludendorff committed several crucial mistakes - his support to an indiscriminate u-boat warfare brought the United States into the war. Ludendorff´s initial opposition to moving troops from the pacified Eastern Front - he wanted to retain the conquered areas within a Great German Empire – fatally weakened the Western Front. Two major, carefully planned, breakthroughs on the Western Front came to a sudden halt before Germany could gain a decisive victory. He refused to listen to "civilians" and distrusted and despised German Social Democrats. Ludendorff had advised the Kaiser to allow civilian politicians to negotiate a peace deal and thus "let them boil in their own soup", well aware of the fact that in the public eye this would absolve him and the other militarists from any guilt, even if he and other members of the high command all knew that defeat was imminent and if an agreement was not signed in due time the enemy would enter German soil. When the peace agreement had been signed, Ludendorff suddenly changed his mind and wanted to attack anew. When Hindenburg refused to support him in this, Ludendorff became furious at his old friend and ally and left his command with immediate effect.
For one month Ludendorff sat brooding in Berlin, while the Kaiser left Germany, workers and returning soldiers revolted in towns and harbours and violent accusations were directed towards him. In the end, Ludendorff went over to the Finnish Embassy. Five months earlier, the Finnish Civil War had finished with a decisive victory for the "white" side, resulting in a wanton extinction of 21,000 prisoners, from executions, starvation and diseases. Crucially for the victory of the Finnish “Whites” had been an intervention by the German Baltic Sea Division, ordered by Ludendorff. The German troops landed in the back of the “Red” fighting forces and successfully fought them down. In gratitude the Finnish Government could not refuse to ensure that the retired general received a passport to, and was guaranteed a refuge in Sweden, probably without notifying the Swedish Government.
It was a wounded and angry Ludendorff who in Hässleholm was working hard with his war memories, in which he gave rise to the so-called stab-in-the-back myth. According to the retired general it was not the German military leadership, with him in the lead, which had caused the war to be lost. It was Social Democratic politicians, supported by Communists, Jews, Catholics and Free Masons, who had ensured that the German army surrendered, despite the fact that no enemy troops had conquered a metre of German land and that German military leaders, with Ludendorff at its head, wanted to continue the fight. As we saw above, this was far from being the actual truth. Ludendorff had greatly contributed to Germany's fall. Already by the end of the war, when several of his closest associates suspected that he had become crazy from overwork, Ludendorff had ranted about how the pure-hearted hero Siegfried in the German medieval epic Nibelungen had been killed by a spear throw in the back by the evil and cunning Hagen. Similarly, the righteous Ludendorff had to surrender due to conspiratorial manoeuvrings of Socialists and Jews. The legend of the dagger stab in the back continued to obscure Ludendorff's futrue activities and eventually became a powerful inspiration for the Nazis and their struggle against Socialists and Jews.
At Hässleholmsgården, Ludendorff rose at nine o'clock, ventured on an invigorating one-hour stroll through the wintry landscape, usually alone, but sometimes in the company of Lieutenant Ohlson. Then he sat down by the desk in Marit's room and wrote intensively, while lunch and dinner were brought up to him. At seven o'clock the general came down to the parlour where he by the fire place, to the attentively listening Ohlson spouses, read aloud what he had written during the day.
Soon the small town of Hässleholm was filled with rumours about the mysterious stranger at Hässleholmsgården. A noblewoman from Malmö had spotted the German gentleman when he stepped out of one of Hässleholm´s barber shops and had become firmly convinced that it must have been the renowned General Erich Ludendorff. This piece of information reached Norra Skåne´s recently appointed assistant editor in chief, Harald Göransson, who also had been told that the malt factory owner August Svensson on December the 8th, after a hare hunt together with his sons, Sture and Per-Yngve, in a meadow behind Hässleholmsgården had met with two excitedly gesticulating men. One was Lieutenant Ohlson, while the German-speaking gentleman by his side had a striking resemblance to General Erich Ludendorff. Göransson sought up crown bailiff Stjerndahl who, at Hässleholmsgården, had checked the Finnish Legislative Chancellor Ernst Lindström´s laisssez-passer issued by the Finnish Embassy in Berlin. The journalist brought with him a newspaper clipping with Ludendorff's picture to the crown bailiff, who amazed exclaimed:
- You are right! It is General Ludendorff who is Hässleholmgården´s guest! He calls himself Ernst Lindström. But for God's sake, do not tell anyone anything about this. If you do so, we'll find ourselves in a horrible mess!
However, Göransson continued to hunt for decisive evidence. At eight o'clock in the morning he hid in the snow behind one of the trees of the avenue leading up to Hässleholmsgården. At exactly nine o'clock a big-grown man came walking from the manor, wearing a grey sports suit of wool. As the stranger approached Göransson's hideaway, the journalist rushed forth and placed himself in the middle of the road, crying out: “Guten Morgen, Herr General von Ludendorff!” The surprised German immediately answered the greeting: “Guten Morgen, mein Herr. Wünschen Sie mir etwas Besonderes? ” However, before Göransson was able to answer the question, Ludendorff had turned around and hurriedly returned to Hässleholmsgården. Out of breath, Harald Göransson rushed into Värpatorparen´s office at Norra Skåne and announced on top of his voice:
-Ludendorff is staying at Hässleholmsgården!
Värpatorparen lifted his head from his reading and answered in a calm voice:
- I know. It has no local interest.
When Göransson desperately tried to convince his boss that this was world news and that Norra Skåne was the only paper in universe in possession of this unique information.. That Norra Skåne would be the first in the world with these exciting news. Värpatorparen explained:
- If it now is true that Ludendorff is staying at Hässleholmsgården ... I cannot see the use of telling Norra Skåne´s readers that?
Göransson became speechless, but later found that Värpatorparen on his own accord had researched the matter further and on Christmas Eve Norra Skåne's owner and chief editor wrote:
A recent rumour has been circulating in Hässleholm, suggesting that the famous German Commander General Ludendorff would be staying at an estate close to the town. Upon my request, the property owner himself has declared that a personal friend of his is staying with his family. His guest´s passport and other documents have been duly reviewed and approved by the local police authorities and his name is completely different from the one that the rumour is indicating.
However, through this brief note, Värpatorparen had, quite contrary to his intention, actually focused the attention of the Swedish press and Government on the small southern town of Hässleholm, indicating that it was really the mysteriously missing General Erich Ludendorff who was hiding in Hässleholmsgården. Journalists flocked to Hässleholm, some of them coming all the way from Copenhagen and Berlin. On January 7, 1919, Dagens Nyheter, one of the big Stockholm newspapers published a long article about the General´s stay in Hässleholm, among other things observing that:
The general opinion became engaged in intensive discussions about the presence of the mysterious stranger at Hessleholmsgården, finding it surprising that the Finnish Legislative Chancellor Lindström could only speak German, not a word of Swedish. Whether the Finnish Legislative Chancellor masters the Finnish language is so far unconfirmed. In any case he would have little use of that language in Hessleholm.
Even before the news of Ludendorff's had spread throughout the nation, Hässleholm's Worker´s Union had protested against Ludendorff's presence and tried to convince the town´s authorities they had to react, claiming that the general´s stay at Hässleholmsgården was illegal and furthermore disgrace for the town and the entire district. By Christmas, the General's wife, Margarethe, had come to visit her husband. She had brought with her a large doll and a silver dish for little Marit and the Swedish Christmas celebrations had been enthralling until Frau Margarethe became sick from the stockfish and on the stairway of the manor came across an envelope that contained a handwritten note, filled with hostile invectives:
Butcher rascal!!! Villain! Mass murderer!!! Knave slob!! Go home!!! You are not worthy to thread Swedish soil. Damned Sauerkraut!!
Possibly the note may have been written by a member of Hässleholm's Worker´s Union , which on January 20th, 2018, together with similar associations from neighbouring villages marched on Hässleholmsgården under banners reading "Down with the mass murderers!" "Don´t forget the butchered children of Belgium!” and "Murderous knaves are not welcome in Hessleholm". However, Lieutenant Ohlson did manage to calm down the protesters with assurances that his guest's residence permit had been limited to the end of February and that he, as soon as it expired, would return to Germany. Nevertheless, the incensed workers had terrified Frau Mathilde, who in her memoirs wrote that the socialists had intended to burn down the manor if the “murderous” Ludendorff was not evicted at that very moment. Mathilde assumed that it was only Lieutenant Ohlson's composure that had rescued her and her husband from the fury of the rabble:
It could have happened otherwise, because Hässleholm is located by itself and to the nearest town it was at least half an hour's travel, we found ourselves in a dangerous situation.
On January 23rd, Sven Hedin received a telephone call from Hässleholm:
- Guten Tag, Herr Doctor! If Your road would pass by Hässleholm any of these upcoming days, I would love to talk to You.
- General Ludendorff, is it really You? My Excellence! Of course I am at Your service. I'm leaving tomorrow night and will be there early next morning.
Hedin packed his bags and left the following evening with the night train to Hässleholm. It was cold and snowy when the well-known explorer in the early morning darkness was by Lieutenant Ohlson´s dogcart brought to Hässleholmsgården. Ludendorff was still sleeping when when Hedin arrived, so the explorer took a nap and when he woke up, a big fire had been set between two comfortable armchairs in the intimate lounge of the ground floor. In these armchairs Hedin and Ludendorff spent all day and a long time into the evening, while the German General with a loud voice read the manuscript of his war memories. Hedin found them to be magnificent. However, when Ludendorff began to direct his anger and disappointment towards his former friend and commander, Hindenburg, Hedin objected. Could not His Excellence behave more like a gentleman towards Hindenburg? Ludendorff became furious and dashed the manuscript on the smoking table: "Well, am I forbidden to tell the truth! Can I not speak freely from my heart! "
Hedin, who was a champion of marketing, took it all with ease and advised Ludendorff, who angrily had begun to wander back forth in the room:
- Of course, but you win nothing by expressing such opinions, you hurt yourself and lose the world's sympathy. It is necessary that this paragraph is deleted, otherwise you would regret it and you would never have forgiven me if I had not been sincere enough to advise you to get rid of it. It is much more beautiful and noble to say not a word about this matter in a book intended for the whole world, and for the future as well. It reinforces your position immensely if you endure the bitterness you now feel towards the Field Marshall.
Ludendorff interrupted his angry walk and starred at Hedin, before he calmed down, sat down and continued to read. "Nun Weiter" he murmured. By the evening meal Ludendorff declared:
- How could I be angered by such honest words? They came from a friend. There´s a lot, yes a lot of bitterness in me. I have to write it out of my heart; after this has happened, it can be deleted again.
Hedin received the manuscript to hand it over to Germany's ambassador in Stockholm, so it later by courier could be brought to Ludendorff in Berlin. Hedin also saw to it that Bonniers, the biggest publishing house in Sweden, gained the exclusive world rights to Ludendorff's war memorials. They became a bestseller in Sweden, Germany and several other countries and made the author a millionaire.
Early in the morning of February 23rd it was very cold, but the ground was dry so Lieutenant Ohlson decided to bring Ludendorff with the dogcart down to the train station in Sösdala. They had decided to travel to the southerner station, since there was a risk that some socialist hooligan was pacing Hässleholm in search of the German general. As an extra security measure, Ludendorff was dressed up Frau Ohlson's fur coat and carried one of her pelt hats. A few hours later Ludendorff sat on the ferry to Sassnitz, heading to aggravating political adventures.
In 1920, Ludendorff was one of the men behind Wolfgang Kapp's Berlin coup, when the petty bureaucrat of the Ministry of Finance, supported by military Frei Corps, managed to expel the German Government from Berlin. However, when a general strike struck nation, the coup makers were forced to give up their power and Kapp fled to Södertälje in Sweden.
In November 1923, Ludendorff stood by Adolf Hitler's side during the Beer Cellar Putsch in Munich, when the Austrian corporal and his henchmen tried to overthrow the federal government of Bavaria. That time, the army struck down the Nazi criminals. Hitler ended up in prison, while Ludendorff's war record made him go unpunished. In 1925, instead of Hitler, Ludendorff participated in the general elections as a candidate for the presidency, representing the Nationalsozialistiche Freihetspartei, though he obtained only one percent of the votes, which led to a definitive break with Adolf Hitler.
That same year, Ludendorff had married his former wife Margarethen's nurse, Mathilde Spiess. The mental stress it meant to be married to Germany's war leader, the nervousness in Hässleholm and the spouse's continued commitment to the extreme right, as well as his calamitous temperament, had become too much for Margaret's sensitive psyche. Ludendorff and Margarethe divorced and his continued existence came to end in the shadow of the charismatic Mathilde Spiess and her bizarre world of ideas.
Mathilde was daughter of a severe Lutheran parson and grew up within a confined Christian environment that did not give women the space and opportunities they needed. Contrary to the will of the father she became a medical doctor, an ouspoken advocate for women's rights, founded a Spa, wrote a doctoral thesis in neurology and became assistant at Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926), a therapeutic pioneer who studied and documented various forms of mental illness. He identified and named several mental disease symptoms and part of his nomenclature is still in use. Kraepelin understood the multiple nature mental illnesses, found that they may be genetically conditioned, as well as the fact that psychotic conditions can be exacerbated by external factors, such as psychiatric drugs, but also by social factors such as unemployment, stress, divorce, political or religious zeal, etc. The latter insight led Kraepelin to consider the "Germanic psyche" as basically healthy and vigorous, but under threat from alien and harmful influences.
The latter view became of great importance to Mathilde Ludendorff who preached the excellence of the Germanic breed, but emphasized that it was under constant threat of being contaminated by Socialism, Jews, Freemasons, belief in superstitions like astrology and occult phenomena - and, above all, Christianity. She preached something she called for Germanic Gotterkenntnis, God Knowledge, a sense of God's presence conveyed by the Germanic blood, which expressed its healthiness in fertility beliefs, free sexuality between people of the same race and equal rights for men and women. This Gotterkenntnis was under threat from the corrupt influence of Judaism, which according to her had given rise not only to the contemptuous Christianity, but to Eastern religions as well, such as Buddhism. Mathilde Ludendorff claimed that Dalai Lama was a Jewish pundit and that Stalin was his puppet.
All this idiocy was spiced with Ludendorff's ideas about dagger thrust in the back and the corrupting influence of socialism on Germanic body and soul. In all their madness, the Ludendorff couple´s wild ideas appealed to a large number of Germans. Among them the influential painter Wolfgang Willrich, who made several portraits of both Hitler and Margarethe Ludendorff. In accordance with Mathilde's elevated ideas about the harmony between German soil and soul, Willrich specialized in depicting a Germanic, folkish Paradise, where Aryan men and women expressed their love and unity in fertile landscapes.
Mathilde Ludendorff's perceptions about race and religion also influenced the Nazi movement´s great ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, while Goebbles adopted Ludendorff's ideas about the Total War. The great similarities between the Nazi ideology and Ludendorff's muddled ideas, as well his often expressed contempt for Hitler in particular and Nazis in general, were probably a contributing reason to why Rosenberg and Goebbles denied their adherence to Ludendorff´s ideas and declared that the Ludendorff spouses were raving mad and forbade party-affiliated Nazis to join their association Bund für Gotterkenntnis, Federation of God Knowledge.
In view of all this insanity, it is not too far from the truth to argue that the Second World War began at Hässleholmsgården, when the bitter, defeated General Ludendorff, surrounded by threatening socialists, sat and wrote his doctored war memories, giving rise to the stab-in-the-back myth, which inspired Hitler and the Nazis, as well as Ludendorff's, over time, increasingly madcap speculations.
The war came, with all its insane destruction, now that time is gone and partly , like the wood industry and the Labor Municipality in Bjärnum.
Most sources I used for this blog entry are in Swedish, though the interested reader might be referred to Ludendorff, Erich (2015 and 2017) Ludendorff´s Own Story, August 1914 – November 1918, The Great War, volumes 1 and 2. London: Forgotten Books and Schnoor, Frank (1998) Mathilde Ludendorff und das Christentum. Eine radikale völkische Position in der Zeit der Weimarer Republik und des NS-Staates. Kiel: Deutsche Hochschulschriften.