Shot like Robert Blum - on the Brigittenau in Vienna in 1848

9 November 1848 on the Brigittenau in Vienna, the publicist, revolutionist and member of the National Assembly Robert Blum was executed by firing squad.
“My treasured, good dear Wife, Farewell! Farewell for the time, some call for ever, but that will not be so. Bring up our – now only your children to be noble, then they will never bring shame upon their father. Sell our little property with the help of our friends. God and good men will help you. All that I feel is melting into tears, hence once again, Farewell, dear Wife! Consider our child to be a precious bequest to foster and cherish, and thus you will honour your faithful husband. Farewell, farewell! A thousand, thousand last kisses from your Robert. Vienna, November 9, 1848, morning, five o’clock, at six o’clock I shall no longer be. I had forgotten the rings. I press this last kiss for you upon the marriage ring. My seal is for Hans, my watch for Richard, the diamond stud for Ida, the chain for Alfred, as keepsakes. Distribute all the other keepsakes according to your judgement. They are coming! Farewell! Farewell!” (Robert Blum’s last letter to his wife)

Robert Blums Hinrichtung” (1849) as imagined by the German painter Carl Steffeck (1818 – 1890)

A couple of years after his summary execution, the expression “erschossen wie Robert Blum”, shot like Robert Blum, began to spread into German common parlance, denominating a state of complete exhaustion or losing at Skat, a popular meaning- and identity establishing German trick-taking card game or, generally speaking, of being in the soup. The rest of Blum’s life, his role during the Revolution of 1848, his revolutionary achievements and his death that was received as an outrage back then, had been more or less forgotten. Blum had been replaced by other icons of the failed uprising. For a while, though, he was a guiding figure of the young labour movement in the years after 1848, there was a Blum biography by the founder of the Spartacist League and later the Communist Party of Germany, Karl Liebknecht, who had declared the formation of a Freie Sozialistische Republik (Free Socialist Republic) in Berlin two hours after Philipp Scheidemann had proclaimed the Weimar Republic exactly 71 years after Blum’s execution. But, usually, the Communists dismissed Blum as far too moderate while the Conservatives perceived him as just another rioter.

Shot like Robert Blum - contemporary illustration

During the Age of Metternich, known in Germany as “Vormärz”, pre-March, Blum, coming from humble origins and being more or less self-educated, was one of the semi-professional revolutionaries who agitated against the police states of Prussia and Austria along with that of the countless minor kingdoms and principalities 
after the Congress of Vienna in 1815 that composed what was to become Germany. When the revolution came, in March 1848, Blum, one of the three presidents of the preliminary parliament at Frankfurt, was already caught between at least two stools with his demands for a scrupulously democratic nationhood of the German-speaking countries, without imposing the rule over other national identities in Schleswig-Holstein, Southern and Eastern Europe. The failure of the preliminary parliament to stop the Prussians from concluding the Malmö Treaty with Denmark over the Schleswig-Holstein question saw the disappointed Blum on the barricades of Vienna. On 28 October 1848, Habsburg’s troops under the command of Field Marshal Prince Windisch-Grätz stormed the revolutionary city. Blum, who had acted as commander of a rebel company, was arrested on November 4th.

Blum on the barricades in Vienna, 1848

Formally, Blum could still claim immunity as a member of parliament, but Windisch-Grätz’s brother-in-law, Prince Schwarzenberg, the leader of the archconservative Austrian delegates in the Frankfurt Assembly and newly appointed Minister-President of the Austrian Empire, who knew Blum and his political persuasions fairly well from parliamentary sessions, didn’t care a damn. On the evening of October 8th he had Blum condemned for armed insurrection and sentenced to be executed by firing squad on the following morning. A wave of indignation swept through democratic and liberal circles in the German-speaking countries after the news of Blum’s execution went around. Now the lines were drawn and several armed insurgencies followed over the next six months, all to be put down by Austrian and Prussian military and the revolution was over in July 1849, leaving the great questions of the day not to be decided by speeches and resolutions of majorities, but by “blood and iron”, as Bismarck phrased it 1862. As part of this rather unsavoury tradition, Blum’s execution is indeed the first of a series of events in German history that took place on November 9 and led to the date being referred to as “Schicksalstag”, the fateful day.

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