On the 22ndof March 1937, at seven in the morning, then preparing for a journey to Czechoslovakia, Niekisch was arrested by the Gestapo and then incarcerated. Simultaneously, a dragnet permitted the questioning of 70 other members of the Widerstand Circles, including Joseph Drexel and Karl Tröger. The archives of the movement and the correspondence of the publishing house, concealed by Drexel in a seat of an insurance company in Nuremberg, were also seized. No organ of the press would not be seized.
The proceedings only opened two years later. On January 3rd1939, Ernst Niekisch, Joseph Drexel, and Karl Tröger appeared in secret before the Volksgerichthof, presided over by Dr. Thierack. The clandestine activities of the Widerstand Circles, together with most of the texts published by Niekisch since 1933, were retained as evidence and figured in the accusation file. After a week of debate, on the 10thJanuary, Niekisch was condemned for “preparations for high treason” and violation of the law banning political parties to life in prison, the confiscation of his property, and the forfeiture of all his civil rights. His companions were also condemned to prison time: three years and six months for Drexel, one year and nine months for Tröger. The integral text of the judgment, discovered after the war at the American Documentation Center in Berlin-Dahlem, would only be published in 1978. In Switzerland, the trial was discussed at length by Adolf Grabowsky in the Nationalzeitungof Bâle. Fourteen authors were charged, including Niekisch’s wife, who would be judged starting on the 17thof February and condemned to various penalties.
Ernst Jünger, who saw Niekisch for the last time at the start of 1937 in Goslar, would write in his notebooks on the date of September 1st1945: “Ernst Niekisch is among these exceptional beings who, in the Civil War, had courage. I could not have imagined, before the events, that this courage would be astonishingly rare … I saw how one man such as Niekisch stood in his refusal to capitulate. Dead silence all around.” In prison, where he was incarcerated in particularly painful conditions, Niekisch developed a system of self discipline, that Sebastian Haffner described as “the last product, the supreme product, inspired by all of the Prussian spirit known to history.” He held conferences before an imaginary public and imposed upon himself a rigorous use of his time. “I would invent a system of physical and intellectual hygiene that I would rigorously observe,” he recounted in his memoirs, “I would stretch myself to use my time well. The first hour, I would work on philosophy, the second hour sociology, then I would reflect on a book I projected to write. After a meal, I would continue my intellectual exercise. History of literature, economic sciences, sometimes mathematics, aesthetic problems, those were the subjects on which I concentrated myself at present …” His friends, they were trying to survive. Certain ones among them, during the war, found themselves in the service of counter-espionage. Joseph Drexel, imprisoned in Amberg, then freed after having his sentence expunged, would be arrested again after the attempt of July 20thand sent to the camp in Mauthausen with the reference “R.U.” (“Rückkehr unerwünscht”, “no hope of return”). However, he would be liberated in January 1945. Karl Tröger, who enrolled in the Wehrmacht after his sentence, the penalty of prison having been converted to preventative detention, would die of a cerebral congestion due to overwork, on the 25thof March 1945 in Schmerze, in the environs of the town of Brandenburg an der Oder where his friend Niekisch was then detained.
The 30thof September 1945, Jünger wrote in his notebooks: “Gerd also taught me that Niekisch had escaped alive from prison when they began to massacre the detainees. He had become blind and near paralyzed, and would try to reconstruct his publishing house in Berlin.” Ernst Niekisch was liberated by the Red Army on the 27thof April. He left the prison of Brandenburg-Görden near blind and incapable of walking. He had since returned home on the 5thof May.
The political career of Niekisch did not end in 1945. But the man that the Russians had taken from his cell was evidently not the same man that, ten years earlier, announced the advent of the “Third Imperial Figure.” He affirmed democracy and “progressivism.” He stayed faithful to a number of his intuitions, and maybe the Soviet occupation of the Eastern part of Germany had also convinced him that the “Prussian-Bolshevik” synthesis which he had dreamed of, in part or less, had come to pass. Around August 1945, he joined the German Communist Party (KPD), and simultaneously took charge of the Volkshochschule Wilmersdorf, which found itself in the British sector where he continued to live. In Autumn he found himself in the director’s bureau of the Cultural League for the Democratic Renewal of Germany (Kulturbund zur demokratischen Erneuerung Deutschlands) and the Society of German-Soviet Friendship. We would become a member of the SED starting in April 1946. At the start of January 1946, Jünger wrote maliciously “It seems that Niekisch is completely oriented to the East right now.” The interested party responded to him not to simplify things…
in 1947, thanks to the support of the historian Alfred Meusel, Niekisch became the professor charged with contemporary political and social problems at the Humboldt University of East Berlin. He would be tenured the following year. In 1949, member of the presidium of the national council of the National Front, director of the Research Institute on Imperialism, he also sat in the People’s Chamber (Volkskammer) and he found himself closely associated with the creation of the GDR. But his independent spirit would rapidly earn him hostility, and near the end of 1949, he seemed to have encountered some difficulties expressing himself. In 1951, his Research Institute on Imperialism was brutally closed. The following year, the publication of his book entitled Europäische Bilanz, which he composed most of mentally in the course of his imprisonment and which he wrote immediately after his liberation (“I noted in four short months that which had slowly matured in eight years”), attracted violent attacks on him on the part of Wilhelm Girnus, one of the party ideologues, who accused him of utilizing Marxist terminology to spread “non-scientific” ideas marked by idealism, irrationalism, and pessimism, and who designated his book as having everything of an “American edition of Spengler!” At the start of 1953, Niekisch publicly declared that the leadership of the GDR had lost all contact with the population. After an uprising on the 17th of June, he worked with the Soviets against Walter Ulbricht, resigned from the SED and definitively returned to the West. In his memoirs, he would say, “Liberty, which was opened to myself again, revealed an impenetrable thicket of new stifling subjugation.”
This same year of 1953, Niekisch published Das Reich der niederen Dämonen. There he underlined the bankruptcy of the middle classes and their lack of moral resistance in the face of Nazism: “The bourgeoisie had the government they deserved.” Put on sale in the GDR in 1958, the book would be withdrawn from libraries there after a few weeks. Yet, Niekisch had not converted to the West! In his articles, he denounced the young Federal Republic as a “plutocracy,” taking a position in favor of neutrality and considered Adenauer to have continued the “Western” ideas of Hitler. In 1956, his text on the Figure of the “Clerk” (der Clerk), which he described as a “modern fellah” – a term apparently borrowed from Spengler – in the service of the techno-bureaucracy, raised a certain disturbance. In parallel, in his works, since Deutsche Daseinsverfehlung (1946) until the first volume of his memoirs, Niekisch rewrote his personal history and assured that it was only for tactical reasons that he frequented nationalist milieus before the war. Finally, he began, against the authorities of the Federal Republic who, under the pretext of his sympathies with the East, obstinately refused to pay the pension as a victim of Nazism as what his right, a judicial battle that would last no less than 13 years. In the judiciary proceedings, which would be obscured for some years after, Niekisch would be supported by jurists like Fabian von Schlabrendorff, and mainly by his friend Joseph Drexel, who managed after 1945 to become head of a veritable press empire in Franconia (he was notably the founder of Nürnberger Nachrichten). It was only in 1966, a few months before his death, and after the intervention of the European Commission on Human Rights, that Niekisch would finally obtain 30,000 marks of reparations and the promise of a monthly payment of 1,500 marks!
Ernst Niekisch died in Berlin, alone, the day of his 78 birthday, May 23rd 1967. His remains were cremated in the presence of Drexel, A. Paul Weber, Schlabrendorff, and Jünger, who would later say: “I assisted at his funeral. One saw the old militants there, who seemed to have all come right from the Joseph Conrad novel, The Secret Agent, some basket cases, and some old friends. It was a dismal funeral.”
Niekisch died apparently forgotten. The years following 1968, there appeared the first deep studies dedicated to him, a certain number of groups on the right and left would rediscover his thought and reclaim for themselves certain positions of his. Small journals like Neue Zeit, Rebell, Ideologie und Strategie, Der Aufbruch, Wir selbst, organizations like “Sache des Volkes” and the “Solidaristiche Volksbewegung”, militants and young theoreticians like Alexander Epstein, Klaus Herrmann, Armin Krebs, Henning Eichberg, Siegfried Bublies, Wolfgang Strauss, Marcus Bauer, etc, who affirmed themselves under various titles as the representatives of a new “national-revolutionary” current. Certainly, times had changed. The national-revolutionaries of the “second generation” affirmed democracy and did not retain the apology for Bolshevism nor the project of an alliance with Soviet Russia from Niekisch. But they did willingly support his advocacy of refusing the Western bloc, ethnopluralism, the defense of collective identities, the anti-imperialist struggle, and the cause of peoples. They reclaimed German reunification in the name of decolonization and the right of the people to guide themselves, and combated the liberal West on the basis of “national liberation” (Befreiungsnationalismus). One of their watchwords was “National identity and international solidarity.” In October 1976, young national-revolutionaries from the organization “Sache des Volkes” affixed to the house of Niekisch a commemorative plaque struck with this inscription: “We will be a revolutionary people, or we will no longer be a free people.” In 1977, Rebell and Neue Zeit gave Niekisch as an example to show that “nationalism consequently leads the antifascist struggle,” while Wolfgang Venohr declared in the magazine Wir selbst, “National liberation and anti-fascism cannot and should not be opposed.”
The influence of Niekisch was equally felt in certain tendencies of the “national left” (Bernt Engelmann, Peter Brandt, Herbert Ammon) who opposed themselves to Hans Matthias Kepplinger or Arno Klönne, and those who strove to unite nationalism, neutrality, ecology, and pacifism, and affirmed that the division of Germany was the principal factor of insecurity in Europe. The drawings of A. Paul Weber, who pursued, after the war, his career as a graphic designer in left wing milieus, were particularly popular among the Greens. And while many of the Niekisch’s books were reissued by the anarchist press ADHE, Helios publishing, of Mayence, lead by Karl-Heinz Pröhuber and Peter Bahn, published, starting in 1985, reprints of the great “classics” of National-Bolshevism. “Ernst Niekisch prepared his resurrection,” wrote Sebastian Haffner. “The historical and political works that he left had no equal in the Germany of the 20th century. For this moment, it’s something like a hidden treasure, jealously guarded by a handful of old comrades in struggle and grateful disciples. But when one opens his books … one sees sparks flow as if they were electrified.”