The Teutonic Knights and Germany
For more than a thousand years a fundamental problem of Europe, the source, seat, and historic guardian of Western civilization, has been to save itself and its ideals from destruction by some temporary master of the men and resources of Asia. This statement implies no criticism of the peoples of Asia; for Europe and America have likewise produced leaders whose armies have invaded other continents.
Since the fall of the Roman Empire of the West in 476 A.D., a principal weakness of Western Europe has been a continuing lack of unity. Charlemagne (742-814) – who has crowned Emperor of the West in Rome in 800 – gave the post-Roman European world a generation of unity, and exerted influence even as far as Jerusalem, where he secured the protection of Christian pilgrims to the shrines associated with the birth, the ministry, and the crucifixion of Christ. Unfortunately, Charlemagne‘s empire was divided shortly after his death into three parts (Treaty of Verdun, 843). From two of these France and Germany derived historic boundaries – and a millennium of wars fought largely to change them!
After Charlemagne‘s time, the first significant power efforts with a continent-wide common purpose were the Crusades (1096-1291). In medieval Europe, the Church of Rome, the only existing international organization, had some of the characteristics of a league of nations, and it sponsored these mass movements of Western Europeans toward the East. In fact, it was Pope Urban II, whose great speech at Clermont, France, on November 26, 1095, initiated the surge of feeling which inspired the people of France, and of Europe in general, for the amazing adventure. The late medieval setting of the epochal speech is re-created with brilliant detail by Harold Lamb in his book, The Crusades: Iron Men and Saints (Doubleday, Doran & Co., inc., Garden City, New York, 1930, Chapters VI and VII).
The Pope crossed the Alps from schism-torn Italy and, Frenchman himself, stirred the people of France as he rode among them. In the chapel at Clermont, he first swayed the men of the church who had answered his summons to the meeting; then, surrounded by cardinals and mail-clad knights on a golden-canopied platform in a field by the church, he addressed the multitude:
You are girded knights, but you are arrogant with pride. You turn upon your brothers with fury, cutting down on the other. Is this the service of Christ? Come forward to the defense of Christ. The great Pope gave his eager audience some pertinent and inspiring texts from the recorded words of Jesus Christ:
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (The Gospel According to Saint Mattew, Chapter XVIII, Verse 20).
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name,s sake, shall receive a hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life (Saint Matthew, Chapter XIX, Verse 29).
To the words of the Saviour, the Pope added his own specific promise:
Set forth then upon the way to the Holy Sepulcher. . . and fear not. Your possessions here will be safeguarded, and you will despoil the enemy of greater treasures. Do not fear death, where Christ laid down His life for you. If any should lose their lives, even on the way thither, by sea or land, or in where Christ laid down His life for you. If any should lose their lives, even on the way thither, by sea or land, or in strife with the pagans, their sins will be requited them. I grant this to all who go, by the power vested in me by God (Harold Lamb, op.cit., P.42).
Through the long winter, men scanned their supplies, hammered out weapons and armor, and dreamed dreams of their holy mission. In the summer that followed, they “started out on what they called the voyage of God” ( Harold Lamb, op. cit., p. VII)
As they faced the East, they shouted on plains and in mountain valleys, God wills it. Back of the Crusades, there was a mixture of motives (Encyclopedia Britannica, Fourteenth Edition, Vol. VI, p. 722). The immediate goal of those who made the journey was the rescue of the tomb of Christ from the non-Christian power which then dominated Palestine. Each knight wore a cross on his outer garment and they called themselves by a Latin name Cruciati (from crux, cross), or soldiers of the cross, which is translated into English as Crusaders. Probable ecclesiastical objectives were the containment of Mohammedan power and the protection of pilgrims to the Holy Land (encyc. Brit., Vol. VI, p.722)
Inspired by the promise of an eternal home in heaven, alike for those who might perish on the way and those who might reach the Holy Sepulcher, the Crusaders could not fail. Some of them survived the multiple perils of the journey and reached Palestine, where they captured the Holy City and founded the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099).
In this land, which they popularly called Outremer or Beyond The Sea, they established the means of livelihood, built churches, and saw children and grandchildren born. The Latin Kingdom‘s weaknesses, vicissitudes, and final destruction by the warriors of Islam, who had been driven back but not destroyed, constitute a vivid chapter of history – alien, however, to the subject matter of The Iron Curtain Over America.
Many of the Crusaders became members of three military religious orders. Unlike the Latin Kingdom, these orders have survived, in one form or another, the epoch of the great adventure, and are of significant interest in the middle of the twentieth century. The Knights Hospitalers – or by their longer title, the Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem were ―instituted upon an older charitable foundation by Pope Paschal II in 1113 (Encyc. Brit. Vol. XIX, pp. 836-838).
The fraternity of the Knights Templars (Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon) was founded not as a Hospital but directly as a military order about 1119 and was installed by Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, in a building known as the ―Temple of Solomon – hence the name Templars (Encyc. Brit., Vol. XXI, pp. 920-924). Both Hospitalers and Templars are fairly well known to those who have read such historical novels as The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott.
The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem maintained its rule for nearly a hundred years, 1099-1187 (see Lamb, op.cit., and The Crusade: The World‘s Debate, by Hilaire Belloc, Cassell and Company, Ltd., London, 1937). Still longer the Crusaders held Acre on the coast of Palestine. When their position on the time of its dissolution (1306-1312) was an international military brotherhood. The Hospitalers move to the island of Rhodes, where their headquarters buildings – visited and studied by the author still stand in superb preservation facing the waters of the Inland Sea. From Rhodes, the Knights of the Hospital moved to Malta hence their later name, Knights of Malta – and held sovereignty on that famous island until 1798.
The two principal Mediterranean orders and their history, including the assumption of some of their defense functions by Venice and then by Britain, do not further concern us. It is interesting to note, however, as we take leave of the Templars and the Hospitalers, that the three Chivalric Orders of Crusaders are in some cases the direct ancestors and in other cases have afforded the inspiration, including the terminology of knighthood, for many of the important present-day social, fraternal, and philanthropic orders of Europe and America. Among these are the Knights Templar, which is claimed to be a lineal descendant of the Crusade order of similar name; the Knights of Pythias, founded in 1864; and the Knights of Columbus, founded in 1882 (quotation and dates from Webster‘s New International Dictionary, Second Edition, 1934, p. 1370).
The third body of medieval military-religious Crusaders was the Knighthood of the Teutonic Order. This organization was founded as a hospital in the winter of 1190-91 – according to tradition, on a small ship that had been pulled ashore near Acre. Its services came to be so highly regarded that in March 1198, the great men of the army and the [Latin] Kingdom raised the brethren of the German Hospital of St. Mary to the rank of an Order of Knights (Encyc. Brit., Vol. XXI, pp. 983-984).
Soon, however, the Order found that its true work lay on the Eastern frontiers of Germany (Encyc. Brit., Vol. XXI, p. 894).
Invited by a Christian Polish Prince (1226) to help against the still unconverted Prussians, a body of knights sailed down the Vistula establishing blockhouses and pushed eastward to found Koenigsberg in 1255. In 1274, a castle was established at Marienburg, and in 1309 the headquarters of the Grand Master was transferred (Encyc. Brit., Vol. XIV, p. 886) from Venice to this remote border city on the Najat River, an eastern outlet of the Vistula (The Rise of Brandenburg-Prussia to 1786, by Sidney Bradshaw Fay, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1937).
It was to the Teutonic Order that the Knight of Chaucer, edited by Clarence Griffin Child, D. C. Heath & Co., Boston, 1912, p. 150). Chaucer‘s lines (prologue to the Canterbury Tales, II., 52-53): Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne Aboven alle naciouns in Pruce tell us that this Knight occupied the seat of Grand Master, presumably at the capital, Marienburg, and presided over Knights from the various nations assembled in Puce (Prussia) to hold the pagan East at bay.
In his military-religious capacity, Chaucer‘s Knight fought for our faith in fifteen battles, including those in Lithuania and in Russia (Prologue, II., 54-63).
The Teutonic Knights soon drove eastward, or converted to Christianity, the sparsely settled native Prussian people, and assumed sovereignty over East Prussia. They encouraged the immigration of German families of farmers and artisans, and their domain on the south shore of the Baltic became a self-contained German state, outside the Holy Roman Empire.
The boundaries varied, at one time reaching the Gulf of Finland ( see Historical Atlas, by William R. Shepherd, Henry Holt, and Company, New York, 1911, maps 77, 79, 87, 99, 119). The hundred years from 1309 to 1409 were the Golden Age of the Teutonic Knights, Young nobles from all over Europe found no greater honor than to come out and fight under their banner and be Knighted by their Grand Master (Fay, op. cit., pp. 32-33).
As the years passed, the function of the Teutonic Knights as defenders, or potential defenders, of the Christian West remained unchanged.
Those who founded the Teutonic Order on the hospital ship in Palestine spoke German and from the beginning, most of the members were from the various small states into which in medieval times the German people were divided. As the Crusading spirit waned in Europe, fewer Knights were drawn from far-off lands and a correspondingly larger number were recruited from nearby German kingdoms, duchies, and other autonomies.
Meanwhile, to Brandenburg, a neighbor state to the west of the Teutonic Order domain, Emperor Sigismund was sent as ruler Frederick of Hohenzollern and five years later made him a hereditary elector. ― A new era of prosperity, good government, and princely power began with the arrival of the Hohenzollerns in Brandenburg in the summer of 1412 (Fay, op. cit., pp. 7-9).
After its Golden Age, the Teutonic Order suffered from a lack of religious motivation, since all nearby peoples including the Lithuanians had been converted. It suffered, too, from poor administration and from military reverses. To strengthen their position, especially against Poland, the Knights elected Albert of Hohenzollern, a cousin of the contemporary elector Joachim I (rule, 1499-1535), as Grand Master in 1511. Unlike Chaucer‘s Knight, a lay member who was the father of a promising son, Albert was a clerical member of the Teutonic Order. He and his elector cousin were both great-grandsons of Frederick. the first Hohenzollern elector (Fay, op. cit., Passim).
In most German states in the first quarter of the sixteenth century, things were not right, there was discontent deep in men‘s hearts, and existing powers, ecclesiastical as well as lay, abused their trust. The quoted phrases are from an essay, Luther and the Modern Mind (The Catholic World, October 1946) by Dr. Thomas P. Neill, who continues:
This was the stage on which Luther appeared when he nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door at Wittenberg on Halloween of 1517. The Catholic Church had come on sorry days, and had there been no Luther there would likely have been a successful revolt anyway. But there was a Luther.
The posting of the famous ninety-five theses by Martin Luther foreshadowed his break, complete and final by the spring of 1522, with the Church of Rome. Since the church in Germany was temporarily at a low ebb, as shown by Dr. Neill, Luther‘s controversy with its authorities won him ―the sympathy and support of a large proportion of his countrymen‖ (Encyc. Brit., Vol. XIV, p. 944).
The outcome was a new form of Christianity, known later as Protestantism, which made quick headway among North Germans and East Germans. Its adherents included many Teutonic Knights, and their German chief was interested. Still nominally a follower of the Church of Rome, Albert visited Luther at Wittenberg in 1523. ―Luther advised: Give up your vow as a monk; take a wife; abolish the order, and make yourself hereditary Duke of Prussia. (Fay, op. cit., p. 38). The advice was taken.
Thus since a large proportion of its members and its chief had embraced Protestantism, the Knighthood severed its slender tie with the Church of Rome. In the words of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. I, p. 522), ―Albert of Hohenzollern, the last Grand Master of the Teutonic Order became ―the first Duke of Prussia.
In this manner, the honorable and historic heritage of extending Christianity in the lands south of the Baltic passed from a military-religious order to a German duchy. Prussia and not the Teutonic Order now governed the strategically vital shoreland of the southeast Baltic, between the Niemen and Vital shoreland of the southeast Baltic, between the Niemen and Vistula rivers.
Proud of their origin as a charitable organization and proud of being a bulwark of Christianity, first Catholic and then Protestant, the people of Prussia, many of them descended from the lay knights, developed a strong sense of duty and loyalty. From them came also many of the generals and statesmen who helped to make Prussia great. . . (Fay, op.cit., p. 2)
This duchy of Prussia was united with Brandenburg in 1618 by the marriage of Anna, daughter, and heiress of the second Duke of Prussia, to the elector, John Sigismund (Hohenzollern). Under the latter‘s grandson, Frederick William, the Great Elector (reign, 1640-1688), Brandenburg-Prussia became second only to Austria among the member states of the Holy Roman Empire some of its territory, acquired from the Teutonic Order, extending even beyond the loose confederation and it was regarded as the head of German Protestantism (Encyc. Brit., Vol. IV, p. 33 and passim).
By an edict of the Holy Roman Emperor, the state of Brandenburg-Prussia became the kingdom of Prussia in 1701; the royal capital was Berlin, which was in the heart of the old province of Brandenburg. Under Frederick the Great (reign, 1740-1768), Prussia became one of the most highly developed nations of Europe. A century later, it was the principal component of the German Empire which the Minister-President of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck, caused to be proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles (January 18, 1871).
Prussia‘s historic function, inherited from the Teutonic Order of standing as a bastion on the Baltic approach to Europe, was never fully forgotten by the west. The Hohenzollern monarchy was the strongest Protestant power on the continent and its relations with the governments of both England and America were intimate and friendly.
The royal family of England several times married into the Prussian dynasty. Frederick William II of Brandenburg-Prussia, later to be Frederick, the first king of Prussia (see preceding paragraph) helped William of England of Orange, the archenemy of Louis XIV of France, to land in England, where he became (1688) co-sovereign with his wife, Mary Stuart, and a friend and helper of the American colonies.
It was a Prussian Baron, Frederick William von Steuben, whom General George Washington made Inspector General (May 1778), responsible for 1815 Prussian troops under Field Marshal von Bluecher helped save Wellington‘s England from Napoleon. In 1902 Prince Henry of Prussia, brother of the German Emperor, paid a state visit to the United States and received at West Point, Annapolis, Washington, and elsewhere, as royal a welcome as was ever accorded to a foreign visitor by the government of the United States.
The statue of Frederick the Great, presented in appreciation, stood in front of the main building of the Army War College in Washington during two wars between the countrymen of Frederick of Hohenzollern and the countrymen George Washington, evidence in bronze of the old Western view that fundamental relationships between peoples should survive the temporary disturbances occasioned by wars.
The friendly relationships between the United States and Germany existed not only on the governmental level but were cemented by close racial kinship. Not only is the basic bloodstream of persons of English descent very nearly identical with that of Germans; in addition, nearly a fourth of the Americans of the early twentieth century were actually of German descent (Chapter IV, below).
Thus, in the early years of the twentieth century, the American people admired Germany/ It was a strong nation, closely akin; and it was a Christian land, part Protestant and part Catholic, as America had been part Catholic since the Cavaliers leave to Virginia and the Puritans to New England. Moreover, the old land of the Teutonic Knights led the world in music, medicine, and scholarship. The terms Prussia and Prussian, Germany and German had a most favorable connotation.
Then came World War I (1914), in which Britain and France and their allies were opposed to Germany and her allies. Since the citizens of the United States admired all three nations they were stunned at the calamity of such a conflict and were slow in taking sides. Finally (1917), and to some extent because of the pressure of American zionists (Chapter III, below), we joined the Entente group. which included Britain and France.
The burden of a great war was accepted by the people, even with some enthusiasm on the Atlantic seaboard, for according to our propagandists, it was a war to end all wars. It was pointed out, too, that Britain among the world‘s great nations was closest to us in language and culture, and that France had been traditionally a friend since the Marquis of Lafayette and the Count of Rochambeau aided General Washington.
With courage fanned by the newly perfected science of propaganda, the American people threw themselves, heart and soul, into defeating Germany in the great ―war to end all wars. The blood-spilling the greatest in all history and between men of the kindred race was ended by an armistice on November 11, 1918, and the American people entertained high hopes for lasting peace. Their hopes, however, were soon to fade away.
With differing viewpoints, national and personal, and with the shackles of suddenly revealed secret agreement between co-belligerents. President Woodrow Wilson, Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Premier Georges Clemenceau of France, and Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando of Italy had much difficulty in agreeing on the terms of peace treaties (1919), The merits or shortcomings of which cannot, in consequence, be fully chalked up to any one of them.