Thursday, March 21, 2024

The Struve Trial

Yesterday, March 20, Red Baron sat as a court reporter in a treason trial that began 175 years ago at the Baseler Hof in Freiburg. Gustav (von) Struve and Karl Blind, two key figures in the Baden Revolution, were on trial for participating in the Heckerzug in April 1848 and a putsch in September of the same year.

Click to enlarge
While Friedrich Hecker was the charismatic leader of the Baden Revolution, Gustav Struve, the author of the 13 Demands of the People, could be described as its chief ideologue.

Andreas Meckel from the Initiative zur Erinnerung an die Badische Revolution von 1848/49 (Initiative for the Remembrance of the Baden Revolution of 1848/49) staged the trial from the court records and made sure that the performance took place precisely 175 years later to the day. 

District President and hostess Bärbel Schäfer welcomes the visitors.
to the historic Basler Hof.
However, the room at the Basler Hof where the audience met was not the original location, as the building was almost completely destroyed during the bombing of Freiburg on November 24, 1944. Andreas condensed the ten days of the trial into a short process and worked out the key points clearly.

Back then, the courtroom in the Basler Hof was filled to capacity, as it was yesterday, but it was considerably smaller than the original. While the court in 1849 consisted of five judges and twelve jurors, i.e., mayors, farmers, and craftsmen, Andreas had reduced the scene's size due to the limited space available. 

With the Baden flag in the background, the presiding Judge Franz Xaver Litschgi (Olaf Creutzburg) admonishes the six jurors on his left.

To the judge's right, defense attorney Lorenz Brentano (Burkhart Wein), lawyer and regional chairman of the Baden People's Association, talks to the defendant Gustav Struve (Oliver Genzow), accused of attempted high treason.

The man who had called for a jury in his 13 Demands of the People* was now the first citizen of Baden to stand before one himself. 
  *Art.11: We demand laws worthy of free citizens and their application by juries 

The public Prosecutor Eimer (Peter Haug-Lamersdorf) reads out the indictment:

Crimes: High treason and uprising (©regiopen journals)
It needed Lars Petersen, City council and judge at the Freiburg district court,
to explain the complicated legal situation at the time 
Legally, the court was on a weak footing, as the Grand Duke of Baden's new penal code of March 6, 1845, had passed parliament but had yet to be promulgated by the government. For this reason, the "Peinliche Halsgerichtsordnung (Awkward neck court order)" of Charles V from 1532, the "Carolina"— exempted from torture interrogation and the death penalty — was also used for the trial.

Gustav clearly enjoyed speaking to the audience,
where his idea of a republic received much applause.
In his defense, Struve stated* that what he had done was justified
- by the three decades of continued undermining of constitutional conditions in Germany;
- by the unheard-of pressure with which the people had been burdened;
- by the will of the people;
- by the state of emergency in which the republican party had been placed as a result of the government's measures and
- by the purest intentions, the love for the fatherland, freedom, and rights, which had guided him in all his endeavors. 
*From Struve's memoirs: Geschichte der drei Volkserhebungen in Baden, Verlag von Jenni, Sohn, Bern 1849

As in 1849, the onlookers in the courtroom mostly stood by the defendant. When heckling got out of hand, the judge threatened to have the courtroom cleared.

Gustav went back in history and taught the audience: "What I did, I did out of full, deep conviction; I was not driven by ambition, but by the love of my country and a sense of freedom. I did it with Tell, Washington, and the heroes of the French Revolution in mind. They all resisted the tyrants of the earth following the laws of providence; even if their undertakings often failed at first, they ultimately won the victory. Egmont and Horn were executed, thousands languished in Alba's dungeons, but the victory remained with the Dutch republicans."
In contrast to today's code of criminal procedure, the jury members in Freiburg were the only ones called upon to determine the guilt of the accused, while the judges had to choose the sentence.

This led to a curious situation when the jurors answered 26 questions formulated by the court on guilt in writing with a yes or no.

Six questions concerned Struve's involvement in the April Uprising of 1848, while ten of the remaining 20 questions related to Struve's and Blind's actions during the September Uprising. For example, the jury had to decide whether the charges, such as the theft of public funds, had been proven.

No, because it happened in the course of the revolution (©regiopen journals)
After three hours of deliberation, the jury announced its answers: the questions about Struve's involvement in the Heckerzug were all answered in the negative by the jury, in some cases with the addition that it had happened during the revolution.

Of the ten questions about Struve and the September Uprising, six were answered in the negative, such as the question: Is the defendant Gustav Struve guilty of having subsequently, for the purpose of [...] introducing the republic as a form of government in Germany, entered the town of Lörrach on September 21 of the previous year with a band of armed persons [...] and proclaimed the republic as the immediately introduced form of government?

In the end, four questions were answered in the affirmative. The jury, therefore, considered it proven that Struve had arranged to join Karl Blind and others in the September 1848 uprising. Were the jurors inclined towards the defendants' liberal ideas by denying most of the other apparent facts?

After a brief interruption of the trial, prosecutor Eimer requested that the court declare Gustav Struve and Karl Blind guilty of attempted high treason and sentence them to eight years in prison.

The court considered the attempted high treason to be proven by the four charges that were considered by the jury and thus followed the prosecution's request.

The ruling (©regiopen journals)
After a further interruption, the court announced the verdict: eight years imprisonment each, including five years and four months in solitary confinement.

Struve and Blind were transferred to Rastatt on April 2, 1849, and soon moved to the prison in Bruchsal.

In the end, a big applause for the radiant author Andreas Meckel.
Then Olaf Creutzburg took his guitar and stroke up the well-known
 Die Gedanken sind frei (Thoughts are free), to which the audience sang along


Struve was indispensable as the democratic pioneer but did not cover himself in glory as a troop commander. At the time, Theodor Mögling, an active participant in the Baden Revolution, wrote to Emma Herwegh, "I am only glad that the Baden government has caught Struve. This is a real stroke of luck because Struve would have caused us even more damage. In this way, he benefits us as a martyr but can do us no harm."

Really? Struve and Blind were liberated by revolutionaries in Bruchsal on the night of May 13/14, 1849, at the beginning of the third Baden uprising.

Consult Wikipedia to read more about Struve's stay in the States.

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