restricted access Albert Leo Schlageter: First Soldier of the Third Reich or Catholic War Hero?


The author examines the efforts of Germany's Catholic fraternities to stake their claim to the legacy of Albert Leo Schlageter. The centrality of the Schlageter mythology to Nazism is well reported. After his execution by French occupation authorities in the Rhineland on May 26, 1923, Schlageter would be celebrated by the Nazi party at the time and later as "The First Soldier of the Third Reich." Less well known is the attempt of Germany's Catholic fraternities to lay their claim to the fallen Schlageter, who had at one time been a member of Germany's largest Catholic fraternity. In their publications and memorials, Catholic fraternity brethren insisted that Schlageter be celebrated as a Catholic hero. They conversely denied any connection between their fallen fraternity brother and Nazism, no doubt aware that, through the Weimar period, their episcopal authorities had prohibited Catholics from belonging to the Nazi party or any affiliate organizations. How Germany's Catholic fraternities attempted to accommodate their Schlageter legacy to a changed state of affairs when Adolf Hitler came to power in early 1933 reveals much about the broader dilemmas faced by Germany's Catholics at this time.