Galbraith, JK.



Nitze, Paul H

Tucker, R.


Interview with Wolfgang Leonhard


Q: You're in Berlin, sir, you've been given the task of helping to build up a Communist Party within a democratic framework, which means you've got to attract people to your point of view, you've got to make people feel friendly towards the Soviet Union and a long term thing. How was that work, that propaganda work, helped or hindered by the behaviour and actions of Soviet troops in Berlin towards the population?

A: To a very high degree. From the very beginning I was in the propaganda department, called Agitprop, agitation and propaganda department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Since the 10th of July we have the huge building, the Central Committee building in the Wallstrasse, and propaganda was my task. And this was very difficult. There was in the very beginning, in May '45, no strong anti-Soviet feeling, strangely enough. Overall you heard the strange sentence, 'the American and British, they bombarded us, at night, our civilians, the Russians were our enemy but on the battlefield, they didn't bomb us.' So there was an opinion they are even better than the West. But this I heard only in the first half of May. Every day it changed to the worse of the Soviet Union and to the better of the Western allies, primarily due to the behaviour of the Soviet troops. They behaved so brutal often took away all the watches, took away the bicycles without asking. Not all of them, there were some very nice. There were some officers trying to stop this vandalism. But the behaviour of the Soviet soldiers has drastically changed the attitude of the Berlin population, and when on the 3rd of July the Western troops came in their jeeps they were hailed as liberators. So in a few weeks' time the behaviour of the Soviet soldiers had changed it to this dimension.

Q: Did that carry on, I'm thinking, for example, of the work that you're doing, you have Red Army and Soviet officials stripping the country with things for reparations, did that help? How was that seen? Did you see that going on yourself? Did that affect your relations?

A: Yes, the second, the first aspect was the behaviour of Soviet troops and the second aspect were the immediate taking away of machines. Demontage was the term. To demontage the factories, with great promises, we take once away then we keep you in peace. We are not going to pay - you don't need to pay reparations all your lives, we just take the machines away and then you see how you manage. And so the taking away of the machines was a very bad blow too. So the - this was the second thing which harmed both the image of the Soviet Union as well as the image of the Communist Party of Germany.

Q: Now you've set up these, in quotes, democratic adminstrations which are, within it are contby people in the Par. At the same time you've got the denazification programme going on. And also here's at the same time, not merely were nazis being kidnapped and taken away, there actually began the abduction of opposition politicians, Social Democrats and things like that. Were you aware of this going on and how did you feel about that?

A: Er, well the term 'denazification' we hardly heard in the Soviet zone. This is a typical Western term and the idea that you set up questionnaires with I think 158 questions, and however you answer them you are little nazi or a bigger nazi or medium nazi. I mean, this is Western-style thinking. This didn't exist. I know perfectly well that high ranking nazis immediately after May '45, if they are ready to cooperate with the Soviet army, immediately got in high positions. So for the Soviet side, if somebody was a nazi or not was a question of, how can we use it? And the most often use was we have your documents about you, we can bring you to prison, 10 years, we send you 10 years to Siberia, and you have a second chance, you sign that you work with us, and if you work with us, you can live in peace, even more we can promote you. And so thousands of former higher nazis were immediately becoming informers of the NKVD, of the Soviet state security service. And quite a lot them were promoted and so, this we knew and this was kind of a little - a bitter feeling, a bitter feeling. Like you had bitter feelings, but I still thought at that time, on the long run, these transition questions of the Soviet occupation will disappear, the Soviet occupation will not last long. Like most people we thought at that time 2-3-4 years maybe, and then there will be an independent parliamentary democratic way to socialism in Germany.

Q: You said that you knew that the NKVD was willing to use former nazis, that the apparatus was growing. What was your own awareness or understanding of the way in which the NKVD was asking? How was it functioning within Berlin at that time? Were you aware of what it was up to?

A: I was, of course only aware of very little details.I was not aware that at Buchenvald, the former nazi camp turned to be a Soviet. About all of that I was not aware. But I was aware that the NKVD is around, but I still had the hope that they will behave a little bit different from the way I had seen them in the Soviet Union before. For me, my only comparison was always the Soviet Union under Stalin. And comparable to the Soviet Union under Stalin 1935-45, 45--46-47 in Germany was wonderful. It was much less terror than which I had witnessed the 10 years before in the Soviet Union.

Q: How soon were you aware of splits developing between the allies, and how did that show itself to you?

A: Very little. Because we very rarely spoke about the Western allies. Very little. I remember in May Ulbricht told us, 'anybody who makes anti-British or anti-American utterances, make notes and give it over to our Soviet friends, and immediately refute those. Nobody is allowed to make an anti-British or anti-American utterance. It's the nazis who want to split the great alliance and we have to fight that.' So I was very happy about that. In June there was a play by - by Heigh, Julia Heigh, and the last part was changed, and the last part changed but Anton Ackermann. It said the nazis would split, the nazis here, they want to say something against the Americans and British, in their zones they want to say something against the Soviets.We have to watch out and annihilate anybody who wants to split the alliance. So the first weeks I was under the illusion and hope that this is a very serious long term cooperation. And only this kept the hope somehow, and I got a little bit strange when the atom bomb was dropped. And it was a strange feeling that suddenly the West should have nuclear weapons and thereby military superiority. But this was only very short, because already the next day or two days later the famous interview with Stalin came and Stalin said well, it's nothing special. These are small technical advancements in weaponry which has no significance whatsoever. And that was Stalin, so I mean, that we had to believe. So therefore even the atomic bomb played in our thinking a very small role indeed. So I would say the real beginning of anti-Western feelings was much later, was 1947. After summer 1947 at the Paris conference when Molotov with 80 - delegation of 80 Soviet high officials left the conference where the Marshall Plan was discussed and the Soviet Union rejected the Marshall Plan and left the conference, from that day onwards, summer '47, each day more and more there was the anti-Western propaganda, and instead of our Western allies, from the period '45 and '46, it was now the Western Imperialists.

Q: Were you aware before that conference of the existence of the Marshall Plan? Was there hope within the German Communist movement that maybe Germany could be part of the Marshall Plan?

A: We never discussed that. It's one of the strangest thing and most difficult for understanding of later historians, and even for such a film, that Communists discuss very little foreign policy. So - they are so much dedicated to their own Party work and we had after all the setting up of the local administration, the setting up of the Berlin administration, then the land reform, this - which took seven months of our time from summer '45 to spring '46 we had only the whole activity was the land reform. Plus the merging of the Social Democrats and Communists and the foundation of the Socialist Unity Party in April 1946. These were the things which we were ingrained with and not Marshall Plan, this or that.