Martin Spahn

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Martin Spahn

Johann Martin Adolf Spahn (born March 7, 1875 in Marienburg ; † May 12, 1945 in Seewalchen am Attersee ) was a German historian , politician ( center , DNVP , NSDAP ) and publicist . In the Weimar Republic he changed from a reform Catholic to a national-conservative right-wing Catholic and finally to a National Socialist . In June 1933 he was involved in dissolving the DNVP in favor of the NSDAP.


Martin Spahn, eldest son of the later chairman of the parliamentary group of the Center Peter Spahn , studied history at the Universities of Bonn , where he attended the K.St.V. Arminia joined, Berlin with the Protestant Max Lenz and Innsbruck with the Catholic papal historian Ludwig von Pastor . He received his doctorate at the age of 21 and completed his habilitation two years later with a thesis on Johannes Cochläus . In 1901 he became an associate professor of history at the University of Bonn and in the autumn of the same year he was offered a position at the University of Strasbourg . The appointment of a 26-year-old, also a Catholic, was also an unusual process during this period. His assumption of the professorship for modern history led to months of public discussion in the so-called "Spahn case" . In 1920 he received a professorship for modern history at the newly founded University of Cologne . In the same year, with the support of anti-democratic right-wing conservative circles, he founded the Berlin Political College in Spandau for national political training and education work , which was intended to be a counter-foundation to the democratically oriented German University of Politics . In addition to his professorship in Cologne, he headed the Berlin college.

Political activity

Spahn was a member of the Strasbourg municipal council from 1908 to 1918, and for the center since 1912. From 1910 to 1912 he was a member of the Reichstag for this Catholic party. Spahn is counted among the Reform Catholics who, after the Kulturkampf, in contrast to the Ultramontanes, sought to join the Catholics in the Protestant empire in the scientific and cultural field. To this end, Spahn published a series of articles in the Catholic cultural magazine Hochland . In 1921 Spahn moved to the anti-democratic, nationalist and anti-Semitic DNVP , for which he was a member of the Reichstag from 1924 to 1933. At the same time he joined the young conservative Berlin June Club and became one of the main speakers at the regular training weeks of ethnically oriented German University ring . Spahn also established numerous relationships with financiers from industry such as Alfred Hugenberg , Hugo Stinnes and Albert Vögler . According to Ulrich Herbert , the völkisch-radical course of the Deutscher Hochschulring was to a large extent due to Spahn, who was highly regarded by the Volkisch students.

In the early 1930s, Spahn worked to ensure that Catholicism accepted the National Socialists. This also included that, as a member of Askania, he ensured that the incompatibility decision for members of the KV with membership in the NSDAP was overridden. After the seizure of power by Hitler and the Nazi party, he entered on June 12, 1933, the NSDAP in, for which he held until the war ended in the Reichstag was sitting. The reason he gave was that he could not put himself under two guides and that Hugenberg only needed the DNVP as a "back support" anyway.

At the end of the 1930s, Spahn appeared as the head of an “Institute for Spatial Policy” in Cologne, which accompanied National Socialist research on the West and the future conquest of Belgian and French territories by Germany as part of the national struggle for propaganda.

The "Spahn case"

Martin Spahn became famous in a spectacular way in 1901 through the so-called "Spahn case". It was the most prominent climax of the academic culture war of the time , the public discussion about the relationship between state and church, as well as the relationship between a self-confident state and an autonomous science. When the Reich leadership set up a second chair for history at the University of Strasbourg and wanted to appoint a Catholic with Martin Spahn, there was a storm of indignation from the liberal Protestant camp. The Berlin ancient historian Theodor Mommsen started a campaign in newspaper articles because he saw the freedom of science in danger. Spahn's appointment through the immediate intervention of Kaiser Wilhelm II met with an exceptionally strong response in the press. The "Spahn case" led to months of disputes about the lack of preconditions for science. Scientific, denominational and party-political arguments mixed up.

Mommsen had argued in the Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten in November 1901 that a Catholic scientist could not achieve the goal of “science without preconditions” because he was denominational. This declaration was essentially initiated by the Munich economist Lujo Brentano , who initiated a protest by all liberal Protestant professors against Spahn's appointment. Mommsen's position in the name of unconditional science has become famous. He received letters of approval from almost all German universities, although these had already been sent as pre-printed forms. Brentano and Mommsen were primarily concerned, however, with maintaining the status quo : Protestant supremacy at German universities. Central politician Georg Hertling also responded in a newspaper article for the reform Catholic side . For him, science without preconditions was an illusory postulate that could not exist because of the social character of a scientist. Furthermore, for Hertling there was no contradiction between belief and knowledge, between divine revelation and scientific research. He also defended himself against Mommsen's implicit accusation that Catholic scholars were untruthful.

But behind Spahn's appointment there were also political motives of the Reich leadership: They wanted to set up their own Catholic theological faculty at the University of Strasbourg in order to bring under their control the training of Catholic theologians, which was previously carried out by the episcopal seminary. In order to moderate the Vatican in the negotiations for the faculty, the appointment of Catholic professors to the Strasbourg University was necessary, judged the responsible official in the Prussian Ministry of Education , Friedrich Althoff . Spahn is a moderate Catholic and therefore the right candidate for the new position. Externally, however, Althoff justified his motivation for calling a Catholic with the fact that he wanted to meet the demands for equal participation of Catholics in higher education. With 80 percent Catholic population in Alsace , it cannot be that not a single one of the 20 professors in the Philosophical Faculty is Catholic. The Strasbourg University felt that the Berlin-determined appointment procedure had left it out, but it was unsuccessful in trying to defend itself against Spahn's appeal.

The discussion about the "Spahn case" subsided after a few months. Mommsen's and Brentano's attempt had been seen through and was particularly disadvantageous for Mommsen. As a result, after secret negotiations between Hertling and the Curia in 1903, the Vatican approved the establishment of a Catholic theological faculty in Strasbourg. In the Spahn case, the Reich leadership aimed at integrating German Catholics, albeit in order to be able to exercise control over them. Mommsen and Brentano, as representatives of the liberal professorships, were interested in maintaining the status quo and thus not in integrating Catholics into the Reich. Reform Catholicism around Hertling finally wanted Catholics to be integrated in the field of science in order to improve their position in the empire as a whole.


  • The great powers. Guidelines of their history, standards of their being. Publishing house Ullstein & Co, Berlin 1918.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Erich Nickel: October 24, 1920: The foundation of the German University of Politics . In: Berlin monthly magazine ( Luisenstädtischer Bildungsverein ) . Issue 6, 2000, ISSN  0944-5560 , p. 104 ( ).
  2. Ulrich Herbert: "Generation of Objectivity". The Volkish student movement in Germany in the early twenties. In: civilization and barbarism. Detlef Peukert in memory, ed. v. Frank Bajohr u. a., Hamburg 1991, p. 123f
  3. ^ Joachim Lilla , Martin Döring, Andreas Schulz: extras in uniform. The members of the Reichstag 1933–1945. A biographical manual. Including the national and national socialist members of the Reichstag from May 1924. Droste, Düsseldorf 2004, ISBN 3-7700-5254-4 , pp. 625–626.
  4. ^ Anton Ritthaler : A stage on Hitler's path to undivided power. Hugenberg's resignation as Reich Minister . (PDF; 1.4 MB) In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte . 8th vol., 2nd issue, April 1960, pp. 193-219.
  5. Mommsen's correspondence with Friedrich Althoff, Lujo Brentano and Gustav Schmoller on this complex is published by: Stefan Rebenich : Theodor Mommsen and Adolf Harnack. Science and politics in Berlin at the end of the 19th century. de Gruyter, Berlin a. a. 1997, ISBN 3-11-015079-4 (also: Mannheim, Univ., Habil.-Schr., 1994/95).