The Feme murders (German: Fememorde [ˈfeːməmɔʁdə]) were extrajudicial killings that took place during the early years of the Weimar Republic. They were carried out primarily by far-right groups against individuals, often their own members, who were thought to have betrayed them.

Due to their secretive nature, it is not known how many were killed in the Feme murders, which are most often considered a distinct category from political assassinations. The number may have been in the hundreds,[1] although one source reports just 23 between 1920 and 1923 in Bavaria and the eastern states of East Prussia, Pomerania, Mecklenburg, Brandenburg and Upper Silesia.[2] In spite of a number of investigations into the murders, few of the perpetrators were ever identified or prosecuted. The Feme murders had largely ended by 1924.

Origin of the term


Fememord (from Middle High German vëme, meaning "punishment", and mord meaning "murder"), refers to an act of vigilante justice by a political group: the killing of "traitors" who knew about the group's secrets and had reported them to authorities or threatened to do so. The name alludes to the secretive Vehmic court system of the Middle Ages, which had authority to ordain capital punishment.

In the politically heated turmoil of the early Weimar Republic, the media frequently used the term Fememord to refer to right-wing political killings by groups such as the Organisation Consul, e.g. the murder of Jewish politicians Kurt Eisner and Walther Rathenau and other politicians including Matthias Erzberger. In 1926, the 27th Reichstag commission officially differentiated political assassinations from Feme murders. Assassinations were by definition carried out against political opponents, whereas the commission defined Feme murders as "Attacks on human life on the basis of an organisation's or individual member's conspiracy against members and former members as well as against outsiders because of behaviour they consider treacherous or harmful to the community".[3] The meaning can also be seen in the phrase "Verräter verfallen der Feme!" ("Traitors fall to the Feme!"), which was in the statutes of the Organisation Consul[2] and often used in mass media reports regarding violent acts of vengeance among the German right. [4][5][6]

Official responses


The first to attempt to study the phenomenon systematically and for all of Germany was the Jewish statistician Emil Julius Gumbel, who in 1929 published Verräter verfallen der Feme!“ Opfer – Mörder – Richter (1919–1929) ("Traitors fall to the Feme!" – Victims – Murderers – Judges (1919–1929)).[7]

While the Weimar judiciary rigorously prosecuted leftists involved in the German revolution of 1918–1919 and in the political activities of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, police and judicial investigations of the Feme crimes were slow, and the murderers, if they were identified, often received lesser sentences or acquittals. Some military officers such as Paul Schulz of the Black Reichswehr were convicted and imprisoned before an amnesty for the Feme murders was declared in 1930, but Germans who exposed the killings were tried and convicted for insulting the military establishment for their role in doing so, even when their allegations against the military were true.[8]

The deficiencies in law enforcement were matters of concern for several parliaments during the Weimar period. In 1920, the Bavarian Landtag set up its own investigative committee to look into the situation after former Reichswehr soldier Hans Dobner was unsuccessfully targeted when he attempted to sell information on a weapons cache to the authorities.[9] In 1924, the Landtag of Prussia set up a "Political Murders" investigative committee, and two years later instituted a second. In November 1925, the journal Die Weltbühne published an unattributed article by Carl Mertens, a German officer and pacifist, about the Feme murders of more than twenty members of right-wing groups.[10] In January 1926, at the request of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), an investigative committee of the Reichstag was set up under the name "Feme Organizations and Feme Murders" to investigate the crimes and their political environment within parties, the Reichswehr and the judiciary.[11] The project was hindered from the beginning by the right wing-majority in the Reichstag, the Bavarian judicial authorities' refusal to cooperate,[12] and not least by the indecisiveness of the SPD itself.[13]



Nearly all of the Feme murders occurred during the turbulent early years of the Weimar Republic. A peak was reached in 1923 when hyperinflation, Allied occupation of the Ruhr and numerous putsch and separatist efforts shook Germany. Within the Black Reichswehr, First Lieutenant Paul Schulz commanded a special unit that killed those who were seen as having betrayed the country by leaking military secrets.[14]

The following is a selected list of victims:

  • July 1920: Willi Schmidt, a member of Freikorps Roßbach, was shot by Edmund Heines and other members of the Freikorps in a forest in the Greifenhagen district of Pomerania after being suspected of trying to reveal a weapons cache to the authorities.[15]
  • 6 October 1920: Maria Sandmayer (b. 1901), a maid, was found strangled in Forstenrieder Park in Munich. She was murdered after she tried to report a weapons cache of the Bavarian Citizens' Defense.[16]
  • 4 March 1921: Hans Hartung (b. 1897), a waiter, was shot and his body recovered from the Zusam River near Zusmarshausen in Bavaria. He was murdered after he tried to blackmail the Bavarian Citizens' Defense for his silence about their activities.[9]
  • 5 June 1921: Josef Nowak, St. Annaberg in Silesia, was seized on 4 June 1921 on suspicion of espionage in favour of the Polish side in the Silesian Uprisings. He was driven through his village by eight members of the Upper Silesian Self-Defense Force, beaten with sidearms and rifle butts, and then, along with three others who were also accused of treason, driven to the basalt quarry near St. Annaberg and beaten and shot to death. The bodies were buried under stone rubble and found a few days later by their relatives. Nowak had merely said that he thought that the fighting between Germans and Poles in Upper Silesia was a senseless civil war.[17]
Franz Pfeffer von Salomon, founder of the “Freikorps von Pfeffer” which was actively involved in Feme murders.
  • 1921: Alfons Hentschel: Lieutenant, platoon leader in the Freikorps company commanded by Captain von Mauritz, behind whom in reality the Freikorps leader Franz Pfeffer von Salomon was hiding. As an inconvenient accessory, Hentschel was shot in the back during a patrol in a cornfield on the orders of Mauritz (i.e., Pfeffer).[18]
  • 1921: Sigulla, a man from the Oppeln district in Upper Silesia. While he was drinking at a pub in Plinkenau with members of Freikorps Roßbach, a rumour arose that he was a deserter from the Freikorps and a Polish spy. The suspicions were reported to a Freikorps Oberland lieutenant named Seppl, who detained Sigulla and led him into a nearby forest where Sigulla's body was later found with his throat cut. Seppl was arrested but released from custody after the withdrawal of the Entente troops from Upper Silesia.[17]
  • February 1923: Karl Baur (1901–1923), a student, was shot dead in Munich by members of the radical right-wing Blücher League to prevent him from betraying plans for a coup.[9]
  • 4 June 1923: Erich Pannier, a member of the Black Reichswehr in Döberitz in Brandenburg, was killed by Black Reichswehr members after he "deserted" from the Black Reichswehr.
  • July 1923: Walter Wilms, sergeant, was deliberately made drunk by officers after he was suspected of spying for the Communists and then shot in a car outside Rathenow in Brandenburg and thrown into the Havel River.[19]


  1. ^ Kimmel, Elke (8 December 2021). "100 Jahre politischer Mord in Deutschland: "Verrätern" droht der Tod" [100 years of Political Murder in Germany: "Traitors" Threatened with Death]. Deutschlandfunk Kultur (in German). Retrieved 13 July 2024.
  2. ^ a b Hofmann, Ulrike Claudia (23 September 2021). "Fememorde" [Feme Murders]. Historisches Lexikon Bayerns (in German). Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  3. ^ Herrmann, Gerd-Ulrich. "Im Namen der Feme – Morde von Küstrin" [In the Name of Feme – Murders of Küstrin]. Küstrin - Die Stadt an Oder und Warthe (in German). Retrieved 14 July 2024.
  4. ^ Gumbel, Emil Julius (1919). "Verräter verfallen der Feme": Opfer, Mörder, Richter, 1919-1929, Berlin: Malik-Verlag
  5. ^ Tucholsky, Kurt (1930). E. J. Gumbel, Berthold Jacob, Ernst Falck, "Verräter verfallen der Feme", Die Weltbühne (contemporary review of Gumbel's above book by Kurt Tucholsky)
  6. ^ Hofmann, Ulrike C. (2000). "Verräter verfallen der Feme!" Fememorde in Bayern in den zwanziger Jahren, Cologne: Böhlau
  7. ^ "Emil Julius Gumbel (1891–1966)". Moses Mendelssohn Zentrum. Retrieved 13 July 2024.
  8. ^ Gay, Peter (2001). Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 21. ISBN 0-393-32239-4.
  9. ^ a b c Hofmann, Ulrike Claudia. "Fememorde. Die bayerischen Fälle" [Feme Murders. The Bavarian Cases]. Historischen Lexikon Bayerns (in German).
  10. ^ "Fememorde". Internet Archive, Die Weltbühne (in German). 17 November 1925. pp. 750–756.
  11. ^ "Reichstagsprotokolle". Verhandlungen des Deutschen Reichstags (in German). 23 January 1926.
  12. ^ "Reichstagsprotocolle". Verhandlungen des Deutschen Reichstags (in German). 11 November 1926.
  13. ^ Winkler, Heinrich August (2016). Geschichte des Westens. Die Zeit der Weltkriege 1914–1945 [History of the West. Era of the World Wars 1914–1945] (in German) (3rd ed.). Munich: C.H. Beck. ISBN 978-3-406-59236-2.
  14. ^ Brenner, Arthur D. (2002). "Feme Murder: Paramilitary 'Self-Justice' in Weimar Germany," in Bruce D. Campbell and Arthur D. Brenner (eds.), Death Squads in Global Perspective: Murder with Deniability. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 70. ISBN 0-312-21365-4.
  15. ^ "Zeitungsausschnitte über den Fememordprozess gegen Edmund Heines in Stettin, Bd. 5" [Newspaper clips about the Feme murder trial against Edmund Heines in Stettin, vol. 5]. Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (in German). Retrieved 14 July 2024.
  16. ^ Hoser, Paul. "Maria Sandmayer (25.2.1901 Odelzhausen – 6.10.1920 München)". nsdoku münchen (in German). Retrieved 14 July 2024.
  17. ^ a b Sauer, Bernhard (2006). ""Verräter waren bei uns in Mengen erschossen worden." Die Fememorde in Oberschlesien 1921" ["Traitors Were Shot en Masse in Our Country." The Fememorde in Upper Silesia 1921.] (PDF). Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft (in German). 7/8.
  18. ^ Sauer, Bernhard. ""Verräter waren bei uns in Mengen erschossen worden."" ["Traitors were shot in large numbers here."] (PDF). (in German). pp. 6–7. Retrieved 14 July 2024.
  19. ^ Schild, Wolfgang (1988). "Berühmte Berliner Kriminalprozesse der Zwanziger Jahre" [Famous Berlin Criminal Trials of the Twenties]. In Ebel, Friedrich; Randelzhofer, Albrecht (eds.). Rechtsentwicklungen in Berlin. Acht Vorträge, gehalten anläßlich der 750-Jahrfeier Berlins [Legal Developments in Berlin. Eight lectures held on the occasion of Berlin's 750th anniversary] (in German). Berlin / New York: De Gruyter. pp. 140 ff. ISBN 978-3-11-090784-1.