Peter Staudenmaier: Anschlag auf Rudolf Steiner?
Steiners disrupted lecture in Munich, May 1922
Here is some of the background to the 1922 incident. Anthroposophists today sometimes claim, in standard conspiracist fashion, that it was an assassination attempt, and they often add that Steiner ceased his public appearances in Germany after this event. Those claims are inaccurate. What actually happened at Steiner's well-attended lecture on May 15, 1922 at the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Munich was much less dramatic. According to eyewitness accounts by anthroposophists present at the time, a small group in the audience who were hostile toward anthroposophy interrupted the lecture with noise, turning out the lights, and similar tactics. Not only was there was no attempt on Steiner's life, he was not physically attacked, and the major disruptions did not take place until after he had left the stage.
Anthroposophist descriptions of the incident provide conflicting accounts of the perpetrators, with some blaming unidentified nationalist ruffians, some blaming Nazi agitators, others the Thule Society, and still others the Ludendorffers. The latter possibility seems most likely. There is no indication in the historical sources that Nazis were involved. The hotel where Steiner gave his lecture was an important gathering place for the far-right milieu in Munich at the time.
Even the more sensationalist of the ex post facto anthroposophist accounts do not support the current anthroposophical myths about this incident. Guenther Wachsmuth’s biography of Steiner, for example, describes the event as an attempt by “a few hotheads, who had been confused by the usual untrue propaganda of our opponents, to disrupt the lectures with noise, turning out the lights, even personal threats to the speaker – methods which had become typical in that period of political chaos. It was only because he was protected by brave friends, especially Dr. Noll and Dr. Büchenbacher, that Rudolf Steiner was kept safe from physical attack by these nasty fellows at his Munich lecture on May 15.” (1) Wachsmuth says nothing about an attempted assassination, and does not associate Steiner’s antagonists with the Nazis.
Anthroposophist Uwe Werner's account is milder still: “On May 15, 1922, followers of Ludendorff planned to disrupt a lecture by Steiner in the Munich hotel Vier Jahreszeiten and provoke a melee. But Munich anthroposophists became aware of the plans beforehand and were able to react. Steiner was able to finish his lecture, and only afterwards was there a physical confrontation, in which the anthroposophists prevailed.” (2) Werner makes no mention of an assassination attempt or of the Nazis.
Anthroposophist Christoph Lindenberg’s massive biography of Steiner provides a thorough account of the incident. Here is how his description reads, in Frank Smith's translation:
"On May 11 1922 Steiner started on the second lecture tour organized by Wolff and Sachs of nine German Cities. After lectures in Leipzig, Berlin and Breslau he was to speak in Munich on May 15th. Even before departure from Dornach it was known that something was brewing in Munich. Some local publications had begun to write against Steiner, saying that they hoped there were German men who would prevent this gentleman from setting foot in Munich. As Rudolf Steiner arrived in Munich he was advised by Hans Buchenbacher about the security arrangements. A group of anthroposophical friends had rushed to Munich in order to literally stand in front of Steiner. The lecture company had contracted boxers and wrestlers to be present in disguise. The lecture began in a tense atmosphere. When the lights suddenly went out during the lecture and only a lamp on the stenographer’s desk still worked, Steiner continued to speak clearly and calmly. After a short while the lights were put on again and only after the lecture was over and Steiner came onto the stage again to thank the audience for the applause, a storm of stink-bombs and whistles broke out. The anthroposophical friends protected Steiner, who was able to reach a backroom unharmed. Then a battle began in the lecture hall, the boxers and wrestlers entered into action, a few people were hurt and finally the anthroposophists gained the upper hand. The demonstrators marched through Maximilianstrasse singing “Siegreich woll’n wir Frankreich schlagen” (Victoriously we want to defeat France). Next morning Rudolf Steiner left Munich earlier than planned by train.”(3)
Lindenberg says absolutely nothing about Nazis, or even Ludendorffers or indeed any völkisch agitators, much less about an assassination attempt.
From a historical perspective, the most useful sources on this incident come from contemporaries of the event itself. One pertinent example is the memoir by anthroposophist Elisabeth Klein, who was not only present at the 1922 event but was on stage with Steiner. Klein’s thorough description says nothing about any attempted assassination or about Nazis or even right-wingers, merely reporting that a “hostile group” tried to “disrupt the lecture” (4).
The comprehensive contemporary report published in the anthroposophist press ten days after the event provides a similarly tame description of the circumstances: Paul Baumann, “Dr. Rudolf Steiners Vortrag in München,” published in the anthroposophist newspaper Dreigliederung des sozialen Organismus, May 25, 1922, 4-5. Baumann, a prominent anthroposophist, does not mention the Nazis and says nothing at all about an assassination attempt or even an attempted physical attack on Steiner himself.
One the basis of this broad range of evidence, there are no grounds for characterizing the 1922 incident as an attempted assassination, or anything similar, and there is no reason to attribute responsibility to the Nazis. At worst, it was an effort by nationalist agitators to disturb Steiner's presentation, provoke a fight, and create chaos. Steiner continued his public lectures in Germany.
The current myths about the event circulating among anthroposophists today are very similar to anthroposophical myths about Steiner's stance in World War I, about the 'social threefolding' movement, about early anthroposophist attitudes toward nationalism, and a variety of other topics. In each of these cases, anthroposophists today would do well to re-examine their inherited myths and re-acquaint themselves with the historical background of their founder's life.
1. Günther Wachsmuth, Rudolf Steiners Erdenleben und Wirken, Dornach 1964, 470
2. Uwe Werner, Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, Munich 1999, p. 8
3. Lindenberg, Rudolf Steiner: Eine Biographie, 769-70
4. Elisabeth Klein, Begegnungen, Freiburg 1978, pp. 45-46