August Reinsdorf – The Unsuccessful Anarchist Terrorist

One of the most unsuccessful terrorists in history is the German anarchist August Reinsdorf. Reinsdorf’s first plot was to dig a tunnel under the Reichstag, plant explosives at the buildings few supports and ignite them while the Reichstag was in session. Reinsdorf made the mistake of explaining his plan in a letter dated September 1st 1880 to his associate Johann Most, a German anarchist who at the time lived in London and edited the anarchist journal Freiheit. Oskar Neumann, a spy living in London, heard of the plan and subsequently informed the Berlin police. Reinsdorf was arrested on the 14th November while carrying a long dagger near the home of the Berlin chief of police, Guido von Madai, who he likely planned to assassinate. (Carlson 1972, 285)

Despite this initial failure Reinsdorf decided to undergo a second attempt at blowing up Germany’s ruling classes. As he explained in an 1882 letter to an American comrade only the bomb could “inject the whole bourgeoisie and their slaves with total terror” and achieve “complete and utter revenge” “for all the dirty tricks and atrocities” they committed. (Quoted in Linse 1982, 210) This time Reinsdorf and his associates in the town of Elberfeld planned to use dynamite to kill Wilhelm I, alongside many other key members of the German ruling classes, at the inauguration of the Niederwald Monument on the 28th September 1883.

Due to a sprained ankle Reinsdorf was unable to go himself and two of his associates, the saddler Franz Rupsch and the compositor Emil Küchler, went in his place. The day before the event they concealed the dynamite in a drainage pipe which lay underneath the only road leading to the monument and attached a fuse that they led to a nearby tree. The next day Küchler saw the Emperor’s party approaching and gave the signal to Rupsch to ignite the fuse. The fuse, however, failed to burn as it was soaking wet after a night of heavy rain fall. Küchler had been instructed by Reinsdorf to buy a waterproof fuse but had decided to purchase the slightly cheaper normal fuse instead.

After their initial failure Rupsch and Küchler decided to make a second attempt. They moved the dynamite to the nearby town of Rüdesheim and placed the explosives against a wall of the Festhalle where an evening concert was being given. Unknown to them the hall was full of local civilians with the Emperor and his party having gone to the city of Wiesbaden. They ignited the dynamite which blew a hole in the wall of the kitchen. The explosion shattered glass and blew food and wine across the kitchen into the caterer Porsberger. The explosion was so loud that the bartender Johann Lauter was unable to hear for several hours. Fortunately, nobody was killed by the explosion. Realising their total failure Rupsch and Küchler returned to Elberfeld.

On the 29th October an explosion severely damaged the Frankfurt Police Headquarters, which was unoccupied at the time. In reaction the police, despite lacking evidence, arrested Reinsdorf in January and his associates over the course of the next few months in connection with this attack. By December Reinsdorf and his group were on trial for the attempted assassination of the Emperor in Nielderwald and the following bombing of the Festhalle in Rüdesheim, the news of the plot having been publicly announced on the 24th April 1884. It turned out that one of Reinsdorf’s associates, the weaver Carl Palm who had donated 40 marks towards Rupsch and Küchler’s travel expenses, was in fact a police spy and had been informing on the group from the very beginning.

During the trial Reinsdorf actively sought to become an anarchist martyr and went to great lengths to antagonize the jury. He claimed that “the quickest death” was best for a “hunted proletarian” like himself and that if he had ten heads he would gladly lay them all on the block for the cause of anarchism. He went so far as to exclaim that “[t]he people will one day have enough dynamite to blow up all of you and every other member of the bourgeois.” In uttering these words Reinsdorf was trying very hard to secure an execution. The reason being that he was terminally ill and would die anyway. His choice was between a slow death in a hospital bed or a quick death on the executioner’s block. As he said in his last letter to his parents, “Sick as I am, and with a prospect of long suffering, it should be looked upon as a blessing when such an existence is put to a quick death.”

On the morning of February 7th 1885 Reinsdorf and Küchler were executed, with Rupsch having had his death sentence commuted to imprisonment for life. Reinsdorf’s last words before he was decapitated were “I die for humanity, down with barbarism, long live anarchism.” The last words of Küchler, in contrast, were “I die an innocent man, my poor wife, my poor children.” As he said children his head was cut off. The execution lasted a mere fifteen minutes. (Carlson 1972, 288-301)

Although many may wish to consider Reinsdorf an anarchist martyr it should be kept in mind that his plots caused a significant amount of harm to the German socialist movement. Bismarck deliberately ensured that Reinsdorf’s assassination plot against the Emperor was revealed just as the anti-socialist laws, which banned socialists from organising, outlawed trade unions, and shut down socialist newspapers, were up for renewal. The laws were consequently extended in May 1884. (Carlson 1972, 293) Nor did Reinsdorf personally adhere to anarchist principles since he was caught raping a ten year old girl in 1881. After running away from the police and going into hiding he was eventually ruled innocent by a judge because the witnesses, the victim and her mother, were deemed to be unreliable. Reinsdorf is therefore one among many men on the left who has gotten away with sexual violence because women are not believed. (ibid, 286)


Carlson, Andrew. 1972. Anarchism in Germany, Volume 1: The Early Movement. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Linse, Ulrich. 1982. “‘Propaganda by Deed’ and ‘Direct Action’: Two Concepts of Anarchist Violence”. In Social Protest, Violence and Terror in Nineteenth and Twentieth century Europe, edited by Wolfgang J Mommson and Gerhard Hirschfeld, 201-229. London: The Macmillan Press.

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