In 1996, in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the modern Olympics, the German government issued a set of four stamps. One of these celebrates Alfred and Gustav Flatow, cousins, who were gold medalists in the 1896 Olympics. Alfred took the first in the parallel bars and with his cousin also won gold for the German team’s overall performance.
In 1932, Alfred Flatow registered three handguns, as decreed by the harsh gun control laws of the Weimar Republic that were drawn amid the violence and chaos of the aftermath of World War I. The Weimar Republican grew out of the ashes of the Great War. Perceived as an institution imposed by Germany’s enemies, Weimar lacked political legitimacy and was vulnerable to insurrection.
The first assault on the Republic, however, came not from the right but from the communist left. Under the leadership of Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht, the German Communists attempted to overthrow the government by armed struggle. The fragile government mobilized the Freikorps, undisciplined militias composed largely of veterans. The Freikorps brutally put down the communist insurrection and murdered its leaders. The Communists had also seized the government in Bavaria and the Freikorps succeeded in vanquishing them.
Hoping to stem further attacks on the state, the liberal Weimar Republic imposed Draconian gun control laws that made it punishable by death to carry a gun. The brutal and undisciplined Freikorps were given the task of enforcing these laws and did so with alacrity, even murdering nurses who carried firearms for protection against rape amid the post-war chaos.
The Weimar Ministry of the Interior made gun registration mandatory. The overall intention of the gun control laws was to disarm those who were making war against the state and each other. Inspired by gangster violence in Chicago, the Nazis and the Communists loaded up cars with thugs armed with Tommy guns and invaded each other’s neighborhoods.
Like most attempts at gun control, the policy failed. Neither the Nazis nor the Communists gave up their guns, but law-abiding citizens like Alfred Flatow did and bore the consequences. Although the Weimar Ministry of the Interior worked to assure registrants that their information would remain safe, this proved to be an empty promise. When the Nazis took over in 1933, the information was culled for registrants who were deemed “enemies of the state,” a euphemism for Jews, communists, and other political opponents.