National Committee for a Free Germany
With the German invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, German prisoners of war began to fall into Soviet hands. Several attempts to establish an anti-Nazi organization from those POWs were made with little success since most of them still believed in the final victory of the Wehrmacht.
With the German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad, the number of German POWs rose and their belief in a victorious Germany was damaged, hence they were more open to the idea of a membership in an anti-Nazi organization.
At the beginning of June, 1943, Alfred Kunella and Rudolf Herrnstadt started to write the manifesto of the Committee, in which historical Prussian figures who allied with Imperial Russia against Napoleon, were depicted as exemplary Germans, e.g. vom Stein, Arndt, Clausewitz and Yorck. The National Committee for a Free Germany (NKFD) was founded in Krasnogorsk, near Moscow on 12 July 1943; its president was the exiled German communist writer Erich Weinert with his deputies Lieutenant Heinrich Graf von Einsiedel and Major Karl Hetz. Its leadership consisted of 38 members, including 28 Wehrmacht POWs and 10 exiled communists.
League of German Officers
After several failed attempts to recruit officers into the NKFD, it was suggested by Lieutenant-Colonel (German: Oberstleutnant) Alfred Brette that a special organization for officers be set up so that they would not have to come in contact with Communists and common soldiers.
Two months after the founding of the NKFD, the League of German Officers (German: Bund Deutscher Offiziere, or BDO) was founded; its leader was General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach. The main task of the BDO was to deliver propaganda aimed at the German armed forces. A number of officers held as Soviet prisoners of war eventually joined the BDO, the most prominent of them being Field-Marshal (German: Generalfeldmarschall) Friedrich Paulus, the commander of the Sixth Army captured at the Battle of Stalingrad. The BDO later merged with the NKFD.
Although the NKFD operated in the Soviet Union and consisted partly of communists, it used conservative symbols and ideology. For example, the old flag colors of Imperial Germany (Black - White - Red) were used instead of the Weimar German (Black - Red - Gold), as the Imperial colors were expected to be more popular among officers and soldiers of the conservative Heer. The stated goal of the NKFD organisation was a return to the pre-war borders of 1937, the opening of negotiations for peace, and the deposing and punishment of the Nazi leadership. It also called for the preservation of the power of the Wehrmacht. The NKFD believed that German civilians and soldiers had to place the interests of the German nation above those of their Nazi leaders.
As the war progressed and it became increasingly clear that an anti-Nazi putsch would not occur, the NKFD's ideological line became more leftist until it became identical to that of the KPD.
The NKFD and BDO activity focused on propaganda. They had their own newspaper and radio station. They sent leaflets to the German soldiers at the front and the POWs in the Soviet camps. As an example of such activities Soviet Major Lev Kopelev describes the joint psychological warfare at Grudziądz in March 1945 by Soviet Red Army and members of the NKFD. General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach offered to raise an anti-Hitler army from the NKFD and BDO members to fight against their own country, but the Soviets did not accept this offer.
Some NKFD members were attached to front line Soviets units to interrogate German POWs and spread propaganda to the Germans units that the Soviets were fighting against. Other NKFD members fought behind the German lines alongside Soviet partisan units.
Towards the very end of the war so-called "Seydlitz-Troops" were sent to the German lines in uniform with orders to blend in with the defenders and spread confusion. Some rejoined their former comrades and others followed their orders. Many were caught and executed.
Freies Deutschland was the weekly newspaper of the NKFD, published from 1943 to 1945.
After the defeat of Nazi Germany, NKFD members mostly returned to the Soviet occupation zone in Germany and had a key role in building the German Democratic Republic. Some BDO members had a key role in building the National People's Army, while others (like Seydlitz), were imprisoned as POW again.
- Anton Ackermann
- Wilhelm Adam
- Johannes R. Becher
- Gerhard Bechly
- Willi Bredel
- Heinrich Graf von Einsiedel
- Peter Gingold
- Alfred Kurella
- Arno von Lenski
- Wolfgang Leonhard
- Vincenz Müller
- Friedrich Paulus
- Wilhelm Pieck
- Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach
- Walter Ulbricht
- Gustav von Wangenheim
- Erich Weinert
- Otto Winzer
- Friedrich Wolf
- Markus Wolf
Notes and references
- Political Affairs By Earl Browder, Trade Union Unity League (U.S.), Herbert Aptheker , Communist Party of the United States of America, Gus Hall Published 1927 New Century Publishers Communism Original from the University of California Digitized Feb 7, 2007
- The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, By Norman M. Naimark Published 1995 Harvard University Press Communism and culture/ Germany (East) 586 pages ISBN 0674784057
- names according to Leonid Reschin: General von Seydlitz in sowj. Haft 1943-1955, p. 57, ISBN 3-8289-0389-4
- The manifesto in German
- Lev Kopelev, To Be Preserved Forever ("Хранить вечно"), 1976