In Babylon Berlin S01E07 Gereon Rath attends a party at Bruno's appartment which includes many veterans from the Great War, including Major General Seegers. It seems to be a commemoration of the war and their fallen comrades with a very ritualistic character. And at the end they collectively exclaim the known slogan

Wer hat uns verraten? Sozialdemokraten!

(Who betrayed us? Social democrats!)

However, I always thought this classic mantra is primarily a slogan of the political Left, especially back in inter-war times, criticizing the social democrats for betraying the "left cause", similar to terms like "Arbeiterverräter" (worker betrayers). It seems to go back to both the supposed enabling of the war by the SPD, as well as their alleged hindrance of a full socialist revolution after the war when forming the Weimar Republic.

However, the attendees of Bruno Wolter's party seem all but left-wing. They speak of the war with honour and include people like Major General Seegers, who afterall is heading a conservative conspiracy for reinstating the Empire (and who speaks some strongly revisionist dialogue later at the table). Now the political Right sure didn't lack in "betrayal" attitudes towards the social democrats and the Weimar Republic either (most prominently the Dolchstoßlegende), but to see that specific slogan used in that context at that time felt a little out of place to me.

So, how accurate was the usage of that slogan from a predominantly right-wing viewpoint at that time? Am I just seeing it too narrow and the term was always used from both the Left and the Right? Or has it only evolved into a general criticism of the SPD much later and the writers took some creative freedom here and/or mixed up the "betrayal myths" of the Left and Right a little? Or am I misinterpreting the attitude at Wolter's party and it was a largely apolitical gathering (however, the slogan still has a strong plolicital connotation nevertheless and was exclaimed quite ritualistically)?


TL;DR The usage of that slogan by right-wing during the Weimarer Republik seems to be accurate, but the exact year of first usage by the right-wings is hard to track.

While the slogan was initialised by the political extreme left, it seems the political right later adopted it, too. According to this site there was an NSDAP campaign slogan:

Wer hat uns verraten - Die Sozialdemokraten. Wer macht uns frei - Die Hitlerpartei!
(Who betrayed us - The social democrats. Who sets us free - The Hitler party!)

Unfortunately the site doesn't mention the exact year of this campaign, so I can not tell, whether adoption of that slogan had happend already in 1929, when Babylon Berlin in set.

Such a re-using of phrases, symbols or songs by opposite political wings is not unique. A well-known example is the song "Der kleine Trompeter", with lyrics that were politically neutral in 1915, then rephrased to left-wing lyrics in 1925, and rephrased again in the 1930s to right-wing lyrics.

It might be worth to note that in 1929, when Babylon Berlin in set, the SPD was the largest party in the Reichstag (and therefore a welcome target for both, the left and the right wings). One might forget this, since many books and movies about that time focus on the conflicts between the far-left and the far-right, or only one of the extremes.

As you've written already, the reasons for accusing the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) of betrayal would be different. While the far right, nationalists and monarchists usually referred to signing the armistice of 11 November 1918 and to signing the treaty of Versailles, the far left usually referred to the SPD's agreement to financing the first world war and their opposition during the revolution of 1918/19.

When trying to track down the origin of that slogan, sources agree that it was firstly used by the extreme left (USPD and/or Communist party), so your assumptions seems to be correct. However, I found conflicting information, when exactly and why it was first used, either

  • at 1914 as response to the "Burgfriedenspolitik" of the SPD and their agreement to war credits or
  • at 1918/19 as response to the role of the SPD and/or some of their politicians during the German Revolution of 1918–19 (see here, for example)

I guess tracking down the real origin/first usage and/or author of that slogan could lead to a good question for History.SE, but might be too much for an answer to your question.

  • 2
    The more I think of it... I might ask on history.SE the next days.
    – Arsak
    Jan 8 '19 at 18:54
  • 2
    Good idea. I thought it could have worked as a more general question about the evolution of that phrase and its usage on History (or Politics?), too. It might still inform the answer on this question further. But thanks already for a start on tracking it down.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jan 8 '19 at 20:02
  • 1
    @NapoleonWilson It's been bugging me too much - here's the question on History, feel free to improve it :)
    – Arsak
    Jan 8 '19 at 20:09
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    I don't know if you noticed already, but your History question garnered some interesting answers, some of whose information might be worth adding into this answer, be it just with a few short sentences and a link to the question. Especially LangLangC's answer seems quite definite about the widespread adoption of the slogan from all sides of the political spectrum by the time of the show's setting.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jan 13 '19 at 0:23

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