Galbraith, JK.



Nitze, Paul H

Tucker, R.


Interview with Wolfgang Leonhard


Q: In 1948 you were obviously not involved in the propaganda section any more, you were otherwise located. Where exactly where you during the period ofthe blockade and the airlift?

A: I was since September 1947 in the high party Academy of the Socialist Unity Party Karl Marx, which was first in Lebenwalde, abouit 40 miles east of Berlin, and since January 1948 we moved to Kleine Machnot which is very near Zellendorf, meaning the Western sectors. In fact about 500 metres, the Western sector ended, 500 metres into Kleine Machno, and there was the high party academy and there I was a professor for the history of the working class movement. And so I witnessed the period of the airlift, from June 1948 till spring 1949 in Kleine Machno where I was professor, and over weekends I lived in (Panku) in north Berlin.

Q: Presumably the sight and sound of aircraft flying overhead must have caused you to think what was going on. Was this the case?

A: Yes, of course, my friends and I, for us the Berlin blockade and the airlift was not the number one question. It was relatively unimportant, because our one question was Yugoslavia. In June 1948, Stalin excluded Yugoslavia from the Socialist Communist camp, and if the Yugoslavs would survive, this was the main problem which secretly all of us discussed because we hoped for a better alternative. But one couldn't quite not be aware that every minute, I think later even every 45 seconds airplanes from the West came over Kleine Machno, over the high party academy, in order to land in Templehof, or I think already beginning in the (name), but primarily Templehof. And so we watched them, and the leader of the history department, Erich Parterna, with this 45 seconds they came, we were sitting around, the teachers of the history department and of others, he said, 'oh, the Americans understand historical materialism better than we.' And so we were looking, 'the historical materialism better than we?' Yeah, they understand that you have to have a basis of food and help before you can begin party education. And before you can get influence. The Americans understand historical materialism. This was the only discussion I ever heard on the airlift during the nine months.

Q: We have spoken to several Soviet officials who were in Karlshorst at the time, and their concern was they might be bombed. Was this a feeling that perhaps this airlift could spill over into actual hostilities?

A:We never discussed that. There was never - neither the - in the official discussion on current affairs, nor in our private conversations, there was any time this discussion. So this must be an internal Soviet affair, but not in the Socialist Unity Party.

Q: There was of course at the same time a struggle fopower inside the Berlin Magistraat, in whichobviously SED was very strongly involved and strongly committed. Did you ever discuss that development?

A: Yes. During during the Berlin blockade the Berlin magistraat, the Berlin power body of the city council, broke down and there was then set up a Western Berlin magistraat in the Rathof Schoenenberg and an Eastern one somewhere in the centre region under Soviet occupation, and that of course we not only we discussed, but we were even ordered to demonstrate and shout in favour of the new democratic magistraat from the Soviet side and the trick of course was that the Soviets were able to convince Friedrich Ebert, the Social Democrat, the son of the former Chancellor of the Weimar Republic to go over to their side. So it was called the Ebert magistraat and that was the thing. So this we participated but at that time I was already oppositional and my main thoughts were not about the airlift and the magistraat, my main thoughts were how on earth can I prepare my escape to Yugoslavia?

Q: You mentioned that you spoke quietly about Tito and Yugoslavia, was there a fear that open discussion could lead to arrest?

A: Yes. Undoubtedly. The hatred of the official Stalinists against Tito was so incredible, it was a different kind of hatred. Against the former allies, now the Western Imperialists, it was the kind of traditional, conventional hatred. But Tito, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia refusing to obey Stalin, this was a special kind of hatred. It was a special kind of hatred, somewhat similar like in the '30s against Trotsky. It was the renegade, the traitor. And I was on the side of this renegade and traitor, but about that it was impossible to discuss.

Q: Were there many others like you who felt that way about Tito?

A: Yes. Many others, I couldn't say, but inside the Stalinist party structure there were always among the more educated, among the more thoughtful officials, people who secretly were longing for reforms and changes. Sometimes even in their thoughts preparing such reforms. Sometimes, although it was very dangerous, making notes about such reforms, and of course hoping that somewhere in the world an alternative would be successful. And 1948 it was Tito. Later things went wrong even there, but 1948 it was a symbol of hope. 1956 Imre Nagy in Hungary, and of course 1968 Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia. So it shows that even among the highest Party officials there were secret people who secretly thought about changes, reforms in a way of liberalisation and democratisation. And in '48 I was so fed up with the regime in East Germany, I knew this would be Stalinism on German soil, all my hopes of 1945 were gone, and there was only one way, to go to the alternative, to go to Belgrade. So on the 12th of March 1949 I left, escaped from the high party school, escaped, went to the border of Czechoslovakia, secretly crossed the border of Czechoslovakia, had then Czech friends and Yugoslav friends and in a very, very dangerous escape which took me 13 days I at last arrived on the 25th of March 1949 in Belgrade. Meaning I escaped when I was 28 years, in 1949, and I sometimes think about that because other people stayed till 1989, so I at least went 40 years earlier.

Q: What would have happened if you'd been caught trying to get away?

A: Oh, execution. Because I was a high ranking official. I was the first high ranking official escaping from East Germany who was trained in Moscow, in the Soviet Union. And if you are a Soviet-trained high official and then escape, this is a life danger.

Q: There was some evidence of purges going on in the Party at the time when you left, was there any sort of - the beginnings of the spread of, the sort of, the apparatus of power from the Soviet Union into the Party in terms of purging Party members by the time you left?

A: Yes. It was exactly the period where the purges began, where the trials, show trials were prepared, the mass arrests, the mass expulsion from the Party for so-called anti-Party activity or anti-Soviet activity, and all of that I knew from the Soviet Union under Stalin. So when that began to happen in East Germany I knew exactly where it would end. It would imply the Stalinist system in East Germany, and I said no place for that. Once is enough. And so I escaped.