Primarily dedicated to the German Question of the time, it held positions on German imperialism, anti-semitism, the Polish Question, and support for German minorities in other countries. The purpose of the league was to nurture and protect the ethos of German nationality as a unifying force. By 1922, the League had grown to over 40,000 paying members. Berlin housed the central seat of the league, including its president and its executive, which was capped at a maximum of 300. Full gatherings of the league happened at the Pan-German Congress. Although numerically small, the League enjoyed a disproportionate influence on the German state through connections to the middle class, the political establishment and the media, as well as links to the 300,000 strong Agrarian League.
The organization was created in 1891 as a response to the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty. Ernst Hasse was its first president, and was succeeded by Heinrich Claß in 1908. A financial irregularity led to Claß resigning in 1917 and he was succeeded by retired Admiral Max von Grapow. The industrialist Emil Kirdorf was also a founding member.
The creation of the Pan-German League was preceded by a similar organization. In 1886, Dr. Carl Peters unofficially had created a "German League" under which many national organizations converged. However, this league fell apart when Carl Peters left Germany for Liverpool. Later, the Pan-German League was created in the wake of the Zanzibar Treaty. This treaty, signed between Great Britain and Germany, concerned territorial issues in East Africa. This treaty coupled with Bismarck's fall from power provided the impetus to form a new German nationalistic outlet. Thus league emerged to bolster the nationalist movement. Membership included an annual fee of one mark. Hasse worked to save the league, bringing it back to life by issuing the Pan face-German Leaves, which spread the ideals of pan-Germanism.
The aim of the Alldeutscher Verband was to protest against government decisions which they believed could weaken Germany. A strong element of its ideology included social Darwinism. The Verband wanted to uphold German racial hygiene and were against breeding with so-called inferior races like the Jews and Slavs. Agitation against Poles was a central focus for the Pan-German League. The agitations of the Alldeutscher Verband influenced the German government and generally supported the foreign policy developed by Otto von Bismarck.
One of the prominent members of the league was the sociologist Max Weber who, at the League's congress in 1894 argued that Germanness (Deutschtum) was the highest form of civilization. Weber left the league in 1899 because he felt it did not take a radical enough stance against Polish migrant workers in Germany. Later Weber went on to become one of the most prominent critics of German expansionism and of the Kaiser's war policies. He publicly attacked the Belgian annexation policy and unrestricted submarine warfare and later supported calls for constitutional reform, democratisation and universal suffrage.
The position of Pan-German league gradually evolved into biological racism, with belief that Germans are "superior race", and Germans need protection from mixing with other races, particularly Jews. By 1912 in the publication "If I were the Kaiser," Claß called on Germans to conquer eastern territories inhabited by "inferior" Slavs, depopulate their territories and settle German colonists there. There were also calls for expulsion of Poles living in Prussia.
The Alldeutscher Verband had an enormous influence on the German government during World War I, when they opposed democratization and were in favour of unlimited submarine war. Opponents of the Verband were called cowards. Influential figures in the Alldeutscher Verband founded the Vaterlandspartei in 1917 following the request of the majority of the German parliament to begin peace negotiations with the allies.
After World War I, the Alldeutscher Verband supported General Erich Ludendorff in his accusation against democrats and socialists that they had betrayed Germany and made the Germans lose the war. According to Ludendorff and the Verband, the army should not have been held responsible for the German defeat. Ludendorff, however, had declared that the war was lost in October 1918, before the German November Revolution. That fanciful allegation was known the "Stab-in-the-back myth" (Dolchstosslegende).
Membership in the league was overwhelmingly composed of middle- and upper-class males. Most members' occupations reflected the League's emphasis on education, property ownership and service to the state.
The League was clearly close ideologically to the Nazis and anticipated many of their basic ideas, such as the demand that the individual Germans should unconditionally submit to the national whole, represented by the state and the authorities, or the idea of expansion to the east in order to gain "Living Space" (Lebensraum). Still, the League's concrete relations with the Nazis were not always smooth. Especially, in 1932, there was moment when the Pan-German League accused the Nazits of betraying the national idea and called on their supporters to support the rival German National People's Party (DNVP). The Nazis, who came to power on the next year, did not forget that incident.
After the Nazis came to power, the Pan-Germans were for a time tolerated due to their ideological closeness, but on the eve of the Second World war were finally dissolved by Reinhard Heydrich on March 13, 1939, on the grounds that their program (namely the unification of all Germans in one Greater Germany) had been fulfilled with the Austrian Anschluss and the annexation of the Sudetenlands.
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