Jürgen Kuczynski

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Jürgen Kuczynski
Jürgen Kuczynski (1997) by Guenter Prust.jpg
Jürgen Kuczynski on 10 January 1997
Jürgen Kuczynski

17 August 1904
Died6 August 1997 (1997-08-07) (aged 92)
Historical economist
Political partyKPD
Spouse(s)Marguerite Steinfeld (1904-1998)
Parent(s)Robert René Kuczynski
Berta Gradenwitz/Kuczynski

Jürgen Kuczynski (German pronunciation: [ˈjʏʁɡn̩ kuˈtʃɪnskiː]; 17 September 1904, Elberfeld – 6 August 1997, Berlin) was a German economist and communist.[1][2] He worked with the US Army during the Second World War while in exile in England, and at the same time served as a spy for the Soviet Union, passing extensive information to them. After the war, he initially returned to Germany on assignment with the US Army. He settled in East Germany, part of the Soviet Union zone of influence, and became one of its leading intellectuals.


Early years[edit]

Born in 1904 in Elberfeld (Wuppertal), Germany, Jürgen Kuczynski was the eldest of the six recorded children born into a Jewish family headed by distinguished economist and demographer Robert René Kuczynski and his wife, painter Berta (Gradenwitz) Kuczynski.[3] The children were gifted and the family was prosperous.[3]

Jürgen's sister Ursula later became a spy who worked for the Soviet Union.[4][5] She subsequently became an author, using the name Ruth Werner, by which she is often identified in the sources.

The family lived in a small villa in the Schlachtensee quarter in the south-west of Berlin. Growing up in a family of left-wing academics, as an adolescent Jürgen Kuczynski met numerous scholars and activists, including the communist leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.[6][7]


Between 1910 and 1916 Kuczynski attended a private school in Berlin-Zehlendorf, before progressing to an academic secondary school in the city. He successfully completed his schooling in 1922 and went on to study at Erlangen, Berlin and Heidelberg. His subjects included Philosophy, Statistics and Political economy. In 1926 he went as a research student to the United States, where he undertook post-graduate studies at Washington, D.C.'s Brookings Institution.[1]

Journalism and communism[edit]

He returned to Germany in 1929 and settled in Berlin. In 1930 he joined the Communist Party.[2] Between 1930 and 1933 he contributed to the party newspaper, Die Rote Fahne, in its information department and as its Economics Editor, joining the editorial board in 1931.[8] Kuczynski's written output was prodigious: the economic analyses that he produced for the newspaper were also shared directly with the Soviet ambassador.

In January 1933 the NSDAP (Nazi party) took power and lost little time in setting up a one-party state in Germany. Membership of political parties (other than of the Nazi Party) became illegal, and the ban on political parties was enforced with particular effect in respect of (former) Communist Party members. During the next few years it would also become clear that the strident anti-Semitism which had featured in Nazi rhetoric during their years in opposition would be integrated into government policy. Kuczynski was Jewish. During 1933 many German communists were arrested and imprisoned, while many others left the country to avoid the same fate. Sources indicate that as early as February/March 1933 Kuczynski and his wife discussed following his parents and four of Jürgen's five sisters in emigrating to Britain, but at this point they decided to stay in Germany and participate in anti-fascist resistance.[9] There followed nearly three years of initially legal work that became increasingly illegal as the government's post-democratic agenda was enacted.[9] Kuczynski continued to provide analytical work on economic and social developments in Germany for the benefit of Communist Party national leaderships.[9] These were made available to Soviet institutions, used in Soviet newspapers, and employed in propaganda.[9] He was also active in the Revolutionary Union Opposition (Revolutionäre Gewerkschafts Opposition) movement[1] until it was completely suppressed in 1935. The risk to Kuczynski of being arrested and having his home ransacked by government agencies was pressing and constant.[9] During this period he also traveled to Moscow in 1935.[9] Finally, in January 1936, emigration could be put off no longer[9] and he moved to Britain.[2] Recent scholarship confirms that the timing of his move to London was triggered by instructions received from Moscow.[10]

English exile[edit]

Within Britain his contribution to left wing politics included work on the magazine Labour Monthly, an organ not of the British Labour Party but of the Moscow-oriented British Communist Party.[2] His international academic reputation gained him access to British establishment figures including, according to one source,[9] the political maverick (and future prime minister) Winston Churchill. Kuczynski became a natural leader for the German Communists who had sought refuge in the UK from Naziism.[9] He maintained regular contacts with the exiled German Communist Party leadership which, during the second half of the 1930s, was based in Paris; he would meet with them there to exchange ideas.[9]

For Britain September 1939 marked the outbreak of the Second World War: Kuczynski was one of many German exiles interned as enemy aliens.[2] Internees were permitted to talk to one another and he continued his "anti-Fascist" work among his fellow internees.[9] He was released sooner than most of the Germans caught up in this exercise, following high-level USA intervention with the British authorities.[9] At some stage during his time in England, Kuczynski was recruited by the US Intelligence Services as a statistician.[11] He was also, like his eldest sister Ursula, undertaking espionage assignments for the Soviet Union.[2][9]

Klaus Fuchs, a physicist from Leipzig, was another German Communist exiles who had sought refuge in Britain. Also arrested as an enemy alien at the start of the war, Fuchs was interned on the Isle of Man and then in Canada; he was allowed to return to Britain and was released in 1941. Kuczynski and Fuchs got to know one another, and the economist persuaded the physicist to work for Soviet Intelligence. Kuczynski introduced Fuchs to his sister, who at the time was working for the Soviets under the code name "Sonya",[2] and Sonya became Fuchs's commanding officer within the Soviet intelligence hierarchy. Over the next few years, Fuchs and Sonya met regularly in Oxfordshire,[2] where she had moved in order to be closer to her (and Jürgen's) parents (also exiled from Nazi Germany). They had relocated from London at the start of the war. Fuchs was working nearby on some technical challenges associated with developing an atom bomb. The information he passed to the Soviet military via Jürgen's sister "Sonya"/Ursula is thought to have accelerated by several years the Soviets' development of atomic weaponry in their military arsenal.[12]

In June 1943 Kuczynski founded in London the Initiative Committee for the Unification of German Emigration, which led to the formation three months later, on 25 September 1943, of a British section of the Soviet-sponsored National Committee for a Free Germany.[1][13] He remained a member of the organisation's leadership till his place was taken by Kurt Hager in the summer of 1944.[14]

In mid-1944 Kuczynski was approached by Joe Gould, a colonel in the US Office for Strategic Services, to help recruit German exiles willing to parachute into Germany for surveillance work. Kuczynski referred Gould to the London branch of the German Communist Party, and German Communist exiles were chosen for the task. (He shared these details with his sister Ursula and therefore with the Soviet Union, in an episode described in Joseph E. Persico's Piercing the Reich.[10]) Based on his recent publications on the German economy, in September 1944 Kuczynski was invited to join the Strategic Bombing Survey; he was given the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the US Army.[10][1][2] He shared this analysis with Soviet intelligence.[2]

Return to Germany[edit]

At the end of the war, when Kuczynski returned to Germany it was as Lieutenant Colonel in the US army, with a mandate from the Strategic Bombing Survey to get hold of important documentation on German armaments production.[9] It was also in his capacity as a senior US officer that he personally arrested the industrialist Hermann Schmitz in Heidelberg.[9] As the Chief Executive Officer of IG Farben, Schmitz was a high-profile war-crimes suspect at the time.[15]

In terms of the zones of occupation, as a senior US officer Kuczynski was first based in the American sector of what later became widely known as West Berlin.[2] However, in July 1945 the chief of the Soviet Military Administration in the Soviet occupation zone appointed him as President of the Finance Administration in what later became known as East Germany.[9] Marshal Zhukov was a busy man, and Kuczynski learned of his appointment from the Berlin Radio station while traveling back to London.[9]

In 1947, the year in which his father died in Oxford, Kuczynski renounced his British citizenship (gained during the war). He intended to make his permanent home in Germany.[16] In 1946 he had been appointed to the teaching chair for Economic History at Berlin University. He was in charge there of the Institute for Economic History until 1956.

On 30 June 1947 he was elected as the first Chairman of the Society for the Study of Soviet Culture (forerunner of the Society for German–Soviet Friendship), reportedly warning its members, "He who hates and despises human progress as it is manifested in the Soviet Union is himself odious and contemptible."[2] Between 1949 and 1958, Kuczynski also sat as a member of the People's Chamber (Volkskammer) which was the country's national legislature.[1]

At the same time he was one of East Germany's most prominent and productive academics. During his lifetime he published approximately 4,000 pieces of writing.[2] (Sources differ over the estimated total.[17]) In 1955 he was founder and chief of the Economic History Department at the German Academy of Sciences as well as for the Institute of Economic History which was tailored to accommodate and benefit from his talents.

As he reached and then passed through the age at which many men retire he continued to occupy a range of important advisory posts and memberships. Above all he continued to write prodigiously, and to present himself, especially to younger government critics, as a cheerfully off-beat Marxist thinker. The starting point for his discovery by a new generation of readers was his book published in 1983 entitled "Dialogue with my great grandson" ("Dialog mit meinem Urenkel") [6] which was widely read in East Germany during the 1980s and for which even Kuczynski was criticised by The Party. His public lectures were very popular. As a senior member of the country's "revolutionary aristocracy" he was in the end permitted greater freedom (gently) to berate the regime than was allowed to others. He never lost the confidence of the East German leader Erich Honecker, for whom he frequently worked as a speech writer.[6] And he never lost his Marxist faith: unlike some members of the East German establishment he continued to celebrate the German Democratic Republic and to support the PDS (party) (which inherited the mantle of the SED) in his writing long after the reunification of 1989/90 had opened up the dark side of the old one-party dictatorship to wider and deeper scrutiny.[6]


Jürgen Kuczynski married the economist and translator Marguerite Steinfeld. The couple had three recorded children, Thomas, Peter and Madeleine.

Thomas, like his father, became a university lecturer and economic historian. Peter, an expert on American civilisation, worked for many years at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg.


As a scion and eldest son from a bookish family, Jürgen Kuczynski inherited many books. The collection went back to the eighteenth century, and he greatly added to it.[18] His "great grandfather's grandfather" had been an admirer of Immanuel Kant, and had purchased a number of first editions of the Königsberg philosopher's works.[18] There was also an early edition of the Communist Manifesto (actually only a pirate edition printed in 1851) which a more recent ancestor had picked up on a trip to Paris.[18] Much of the collection had been left behind (and subsequently lost in the war) when Kuczynski's father, Robert René Kuczynski, had fled to England in the early 1930s, able to rescue only 20,000 books.[18]

Nevertheless, by the time Jürgen Kuczynski died, he had accumulated a vast and valuable private library of approximately 70,000 books and journals.[18] Kuczynski's library was taken over in 2003 by the Berlin Central and Regional Library[19] and is accommodated in the library's historical collection where it is believed to take up "approximately 100 meters of shelf space".[18]

Kuczynski and Stalinism[edit]

Kuczynski was frequently identified with Stalinism during the dictator's period in power. After Stalin died, and his successor's "secret Speech" denouncing the abusive excesses of the regime became public, Kuczynski was not the only true believer to find himself invited to recant his constant support for Soviet Communism under Stalin.

But in the academic mind of Jürgen Kuczynski things could never be that simple. "Stalinism" embraced the entire body of spiritual and factual developments over a period of three decades, and outcomes were of course both positive and negative. In the 1950s and 60s Kuczynski openly rejected the newly fashionable denunciation of Stalin as a "continuation of Stalinism" ("Fortsetzung des Stalinismus"), developing a line of argument that will have appealed to the leadership of the German Democratic Republic. He was never ready to accept that it might be better to mention Stalin less frequently after the latter had fallen into deep disrepute. Viewing the world through his prism of Economic History, Kuczynski highlighted two major achievements under Stalin. Rapid industrialisation had been achieved with the creation of a vast heavy industrial sector across rural Russia, and that had been a necessary precondition for Stalin's second achievement, the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Beyond all that, Stalin had enjoyed the trust of the Soviet people. Kuczynski contended that the personality cult and the speeches provided the people and the soldiers with moral strength. Critically, he noted that Stalin had abused the trust placed in him, because he had imposed brutal dictatorship. The dictator's talents as a propagandist enabled him to impose dogmas and kill off dialectically objective controversy.

As he would recall in 1983, Stalin's purges touched Kuczynski personally in 1942 when he found himself required not merely to deliver to Hermann Duncker the news that Duncker's son had been executed, but also to convince the father that Soviet justice never made mistakes.[20] Forty years on, Kucynski said he remembered his conversation with Duncker as one that had caused him much heartache because of the way he had had to underline the infallibility of Stalin's policies "against his own better judgement".

Awards and honours[edit]

Kuczynski was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Economics,[21] though he never actually won it.

In Berlin's Weißensee quarter, proposals which date back to 2007 to rename the southern part of the Antonplatz ("Anton Square") as "Jürgen-Kuczynski-Platz"[22] have proved controversial with local residents, but proponents have not given up on the idea.[23]

Published output[edit]

Jürgen Kuczynski produced approximately 4,000 published pieces of writing[2] with some sources giving a significantly higher estimate even than that.[17][22] Some of this output was written jointly with others, and the figure appears to include his contributions to academic and other journals. His own casual estimate was that roughly 100 were books or substantial pamphlets ("etwa 100 Bücher oder stärkere Broschüren"). Mario Keßler has listed the six most important as follows:

Principal academic works[edit]

  • Geschichte der Lage der Arbeiter unter dem Kapitalismus (40 volumes)
  • Studien zur Geschichte der Gesellschaftswissenschaften (10 volumes)
  • Geschichte des Alltags des deutschen Volkes (5 volumes) ISBN 3-89438-191-4

Works intended for a wider audience[edit]

  • Jürgen Kuczynski: Dialog mit meinem Urenkel. 19 Briefe und ein Tagebuch. 2nd edition Berlin 1984
(republished in an uncensored edition in 1997, with black margin markings highlighting the sections that were excluded in previous editions)
  • Jürgen Kuczynski: Fortgesetzter Dialog mit meinem Urenkel: Fünfzig Fragen an einen unverbesserlichen Urgroßvater. Berlin 2000
  • Jürgen Kuczynski: Ein treuer Rebell. Memoiren 1994–1997. Berlin 1998

Kuczynski was also a tireless contributor to the weekly arts and politics magazine Die Weltbühne.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk. "Kuczynski, Jürgen *17.9.1904, † 6.8.1997 Wirtschaftshistoriker". Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur: Biographische Datenbanken. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n David Childs (13 August 1997). "Obituary: Professor Jurgen Kuczynski". The Independent. London. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  3. ^ a b Thomas Karny (11 May 2007). ""Sonja" – Stalins beste Spionin". Wiener Zeitung (online). Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  4. ^ Bernd-Rainer Barth; Karin Hartewig. "Werner, Ruth (eigtl.: Ursula Maria Beurton) geb. Kuczynski *15.05.1907, † 07.07.2000 Schriftstellerin, Agentin des sowjetischen Nachrichtendienstes GRU". Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur: Biographische Datenbanken. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  5. ^ Richard Norton-Taylor (11 July 2000). "Ruth Werner: Communist spy who passed the west's atomic secrets to Moscow in the cause of fighting fascism". The Guardian (online). Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d Barbara Supp (14 April 1997). "Feigheit? Nein! Viel schlimmer! Mit eleganter Selbstkritik kam der DDR-Wissenschaftler und Honecker-Berater Jürgen Kuczynski über die Wende. Nun erlebt er eine Renaissance". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  7. ^ "Gestorben Jürgen Kuczynski". Der Spiegel. 11 August 1997. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  8. ^ Mario Keßler (January 2005). "Jürgen Kuczynski – ein linientreuer Dissident?" (PDF). Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Berlin. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Michael Landmann (August 2014). "Im Dienst des Antifaschismus: Zum 110ten Geburtstag von Jürgen Kuczynski". Zeitschrift "antifa" (VVN-BdA), Berlin. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  10. ^ a b c Green, John (2017). A Political Family: The Kuczynskis, Fascism, Espionage and The Cold War. https://www.routledge.com/A-Political-Family-The-Kuczynskis-Fascism-Espionage-and-The-Cold-War/Green/p/book/9781138232327: Routledge. pp. 193–194. ISBN 9781138232327.CS1 maint: location (link)
  11. ^ Peter Rau. "Das Vermächtnis des US-Offiziers Gould: Angehörige der Bewegung "Freies Deutschland" als Kundschafter des US-Geheimdienstes OSS im Einsatz: Ein unbekanntes Kapitel aus der Geschichte des antifaschistischen Widerstandes". Verband Deutscher in der Résistance, in den Streitkräften der Antihitlerkoalition und der Bewegung "Freies Deutschland" (DRAFD) e.V., Berlin. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  12. ^ Debbie Waite (6 August 2010). "RED SONYA: The spy who lived in Kidlington". Oxford Mail. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  13. ^ Alfred Fleischhacker (Ed.): Das war unser Leben, Erinnerungen und Dokumente zur Geschichte der FDJ in Großbritannien 1939–1946. Verlag Neues Leben, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-355-01475-3, Page 221
  14. ^ Thomas Klein: Für die Einheit und Reinheit der Partei. Köln/Weimar 2002, Page 190.
  15. ^ Stefanie Plappert. "Hermann Schmitz (1881–1960)". Wollheim-Kommission der Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  16. ^ "Jürgen Kuczynski". Interviews of associates of Fuchs. FBI Records: The Vault. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  17. ^ a b Günter Kröber: Die dritte Wiedergeburt. Die Publikationen des J. K. Eine vornehmlich quantitative Analyse. Zweiter Nachtrag. In: ZeitGenosse Jürgen Kuczynski. Elefanten-Press, Berlin 1994, p. 23
  18. ^ a b c d e f Agnieszka Brockmann. "Der Kuczynski-Nachlass in der Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin" (PDF). Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin. Archived from the original on May 9, 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2015.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  19. ^ "About Us .... "The Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin (ZLB) is the largest public library in Germany...."". Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  20. ^ Jürgen Kuczynski: Dialog mit meinem Urenkel – Neunzehn Briefe und ein Tagebuch. Aufbau, Berlin / Weimar 1983, 8. Auflage 1987, ISBN 3-351-00182-7, p.77–81
  21. ^ Günther Kröber (January 2005). "J.K. und der Nobelpreis" (PDF). UTOPIE kreativ. Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Gesellschaftsanalyse und politische Bildung e. V., Berlin. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  22. ^ a b Stefan Strauß (4 December 2009). "Ein Platz für Jürgen Kuczynski Pankow ehrt Wissenschaftler". Berliner Zeitung. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  23. ^ Bernd Wähner (28 August 2014). "Sieben Jahre Diskussionen Fläche am Kreuzpfuhl soll nach Kuczynski benannt werden". Berliner Wochenblatt Verlag GmbH. Retrieved 17 January 2015.