Horst Wessel was a member of the Nazi paramilitary group known as the SA. During the years of the Weimar Republic, extremist political parties in Germany frequently engaged in violence. Wessel and his group of SA men in Berlin often fought with local Communists. On January 14, 1930, a small group of Communists fatally shot Wessel. The group may have been motivated by personal as well as political reasons. Wessel died on February 23.
Nazi propaganda mythologized details of Wessel’s death and turned him into the party’s most famous martyr. Wessel was celebrated in several propagandistic books, films, and public ceremonies. In addition, Wessel had written lyrics to a song that became the Nazi Party anthem after his death. The Nazis used Wessel’s legend to celebrate their ideals of political violence and self-sacrifice—and to encourage others to fight and die for the Nazi movement. His death was also used to rationalize attacks on Communists and other targets of the Nazi Party.