Volume LVAugust 2008Number 3

Freemasonry under the Swastika
By Bro. Kenneth W. Newman, Historical Interpreter, Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania

When most people hear the word Holocaust, they automatically think of the persecution and mass genocide of Europe's Jews perpetrated by the Nazis in the 1930s and '40s. This is rightfully so, as over six million Jews were systematically murdered by Hitler's regime. However, the Jews were not alone in their suffering. The Nazis and their collaborators also persecuted other groups for racial or ideological reasons. Among the earliest victims were political opponents: Communists, Socialists and Social Democrats. They then moved on to the mentally and physically disabled, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and the Freemasons. It is not common knowledge, inside or outside of Masonic circles, that the Freemasons in Europe were persecuted and murdered during the course of the Third Reich.

Adolf Hitler had a negative view of Freemasonry long before he took office as Germany's Reich Chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. He wrote disparagingly about the fraternity in his 1924 autobiography, "Mein Kampf." He believed that Freemasonry was part of an "International Jewish Conspiracy" which was led by Germany's former enemies and was responsible for every conceivable evil that afflicted the country. He was not alone in this belief. There was a culture of anti-Semitism in Germany at that time that dated back to the 1870s, but after the Weimer Republic's defeat in World War I, anti-Semitism had renewed interest.

Upon assuming power in 1933, Hitler did not ban Freemasonry outright; rather, he took a slow, methodical approach to the destruction of the Craft. One of the first measures of persecution was taken in early 1934, when Roland Freisler, State Secretary of the Reich Ministry of Justice and President of the Volksgerichtshof (People's Court), ruled that Masons who did not leave their lodges prior to Jan. 30, 1933, could not join the Nazi party. Shortly thereafter, Hermann Goering, Prussian Minister of the Interior, called upon lodges to dissolve "voluntarily," but only after his approval. At the same time, Schutzstaffel (SS) and Sturmabteilung (SA) units, under their own initiative, proceeded to commit violent acts aimed at lodges in various cities throughout Germany.

The persecution heated up in May 1934, when the Defense Ministry banned membership in lodges to all personnel (soldiers and civilian employees). Later that summer, the Gestapo started forcibly closing down many Masonic lodges and confiscating their assets, including their libraries and archives. On Oct. 28, 1934, Wilhelm Frick Reich, Minister of the Interior, issued a decree defining the lodges as "hostile to the state," and on Aug. 17, 1935, Frick ordered all remaining lodges and branches dissolved and their assets confiscated.

As the German army conquered Europe and set up occupation regimes, many Masonic lodges were forcibly dissolved. After a lodge was closed, it was ransacked for membership lists and other important library and archival materials. These materials were then sent to the appropriate Nazi office. Many of the confiscated items ended up in anti-Masonic exhibitions, part of a major Nazi propaganda campaign.

To some, the destruction of the Craft became an obsession. Reinhard Heydrich, head of the SS Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst-SD), believed that the Masons, Jews and the political clergy were the "most implacable enemies of the German race." Heydrich became so obsessed that he even created an entirely new division of the SD to specifically deal with Freemasonry, Sicherheitsdienst-Section II/111. This office later became Section VII B 1 of the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt; RSHA).

It will never be known how many Freemasons were put into concentration camps and murdered during the course of the Third Reich. This is because many of the members of the Craft who were placed in the camps were also Jews and/or associated with the German resistance or other political opposition groups.

However, Freemasonry has enjoyed a renaissance in Germany. The United Grand Lodges of Germany now have 467 lodges and over 14,000 members. German Masons now use as their symbol a little blue flower, known as das Vergissmeinnicht, the forget-me-not. This is a reminder of the countless brothers who suffered during the course of the Third Reich.

Works Cited:
  1. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "The Holocaust." Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/index.php?ModuleId=.
  2. Howe, Eric " Freemasonry in Germany, Part I" Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland. http://www.grandlodgescotland.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=104&Itemid=126
  3. Howe, Eric " Freemasonry in Germany, Part II" Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland. http://www.grandlodgescotland.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=103&Itemid=29

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