The 13 July, 1943 Manifesto of the National Committee for a Free Germany, a pro-Russian national liberation front established among German POWs by Soviet authorities
Over 13-14 July, 1943, an organization known as the ‘National Committee for a Free Germany’ (Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland, NKFD) was inaugurated with the ratification of a newly-written manifesto signed by its 38 founding members. The NKFD was the initiative of German communists then in exile in the Soviet Union, KPD functionaries who were seeking to spread pro-Soviet ideals among German POWs with the hope of fostering an anti-Hitler resistance that would spread among the active Wehrmacht. While the NKFD (and its later adjunct, the League of German Officers, BDO) was the brainchild of communist agitation, the organization was not at first presented as explicitly Marxist-Leninist in orientation. Instead its aesthetic was national-patriotic, hearkening back to a pre-NS nationalism with its use of the former black-white-red standard and its veneration of old Prussian military figures and traditions. The Committee’s founding Manifesto, which I have translated below, made this conservative orientation explicit, demanding not a socialist Germany but instead a “free” Germany with a free economy, a “strong, democratic state power” in the tradition of liberal reformers like Baron vom Stein. This was during a point of the War, after all, when the Soviet government was still willing to negotiate a separate peace with Germany, even willing to commit to a return to the Reich’s 1937 borders, so long as the negotiations occurred with a non-Hitlerian government (Stalin was no doubt aware, as were the British, that there was a conservative opposition among the Wehrmacht’s officer ranks with a strong desire to overthrow the NSDAP). Despite its vigorous promotion among German POWs, however, the NKFD and BDO never became the nucleus of an organized nationalist resistance among the German armed forces. As the likelihood of a conservative revolt lessened over time, NKFD newspapers and radio broadcasts grew increasingly Marxist in orientation as a result. At the end of the War many former members of the Committee ended up in East Germany, helping to build the Volksarmee, the National Democratic Party, and the Working Community of Former Officers.
Manifesto for the National Committee for a Free Germany
to the Wehrmacht and to the German People
First published 13 July, 1943
Events demand a prompt decision from us Germans. In this hour of extreme peril for Germany’s continued existence and future the National Committee for a “Free Germany” has been formed.
The National Committee is comprised of: workers and writers, soldiers and officers, trade unionists and politicians, men of all political and ideological tendencies who, a year before, would not have considered such an alliance possible.
The National Committee conveys the thoughts and will of millions of Germans at the front and in the homeland [Heimat], those for whom the fate of their Fatherland lies close to their hearts.
The National Committee considers itself justified and obligated in speaking on behalf of the German Volk in this hour of destiny, clearly and unsparingly, as the situation requires.
Hitler leads Germany to its downfall.
At the Fronts:
The defeats over the last 7 months are without precedent in German history: Stalingrad, the Don, the Caucasus, Libya, Tunis. Hitler alone bears responsibility for these defeats. He is still at the head of the Wehrmacht and the Reich. Bogged down over thousands of kilometers of front-line, the German armies stand far off from their homeland, supported by allies whose combat value and reliability were suspect from the beginning, exposed to the blows of a coalition that is growing stronger from week to week. The armies of England and America are at the gates of Europe. Presently Germany will have to fight on all sides at the same time. The weakened German Wehrmacht, increasingly closely encircled by superior opponents, will not and cannot withstand in the long run. The day of collapse is approaching.
In the Homeland:
Germany itself has today become a theater of war. Cities, industrial centres and shipyards are destroyed in increasing numbers. Our mothers, wives, and children lose their homes and belongings. The free peasantry is disenfranchised. Total mobilization ruins the artisan and the tradesman and depletes the remaining healthy power of the working Volk.
For years Hitler has been preparing this war of conquest without concern for the will of the Volk. Hitler has isolated Germany politically. He recklessly challenged the three greatest powers in the world and united them in relentless struggle against the Hitler-regime. He has made all of Europe the enemy of the German Volk and has sullied their honor. Thus is he responsible for the hatred which surrounds Germany today.
No external enemy has ever plunged us Germans so deeply into misfortune as has Hitler. The facts prove it: the War is lost. Germany can only keep it dragging on at the cost of immeasurable sacrifice and deprivation. The continuation of a hopeless war would mean the end of the nation.
But Germany must not perish! The question now is whether the Fatherland is to be or not to be.
If the German Volk continue to allow themselves to be spinelessly and passively led into disaster, then each passing day of the War will not only make them weaker and more impotent, but also more guilty. Then Hitler will only be overthrown through the weapons of the Allies. That would be the end of our national freedom and of our state, that would mean the dismemberment of our Fatherland. And for that we could not charge anyone but ourselves.
However, if the German Volk pluck up their courage in time and demonstrate through their actions that they want to be a free people who are determined to liberate Germany from Hitler, then they win the right to determine their prospective destiny for themselves and for their voices to be heard throughout the world. That is the only way to salvage the continued existence, freedom, and honor of the German nation.
The German Volk need and want peace without delay. But nobody makes peace with Hitler. Nobody will even negotiate with him. Therefore the formation of a truly German government is the most pressing task of our people. Only it would enjoy the confidence of the Volk and of its erstwhile enemies. Only it can bring peace.
Such a government must be strong and have at its disposal the necessary means of power to render harmless the enemies of the Volk, Hitler and his patrons and cronies; to ruthlessly do away with terror and corruption; to establish a firm order and to represent Germany with dignity to the outside world. It can only emerge out of the struggle for freedom of all social classes [Volksschichten], supported by combat groups uniting together to overthrow Hitler. The forces in the army loyal to Volk and Fatherland must therefore play a decisive role.
Such a government must immediately terminate the War, return the German troops to the borders of the Reich, and initiate peace talks while renouncing all conquered territories. In this way peace will be achieved and Germany will be led back into the community of equal nations. Only it creates the possibility for the German people to freely demonstrate their national will in peace and to shape their sovereign state order.
The goal is: a Free Germany.
A strong, democratic state power that has nothing in common with the impotence of the Weimar regime, a democracy that ruthlessly nips in the bud every attempt to revive conspiracies against the civil liberties of the Volk or against the European peace.
The complete abolition of all legislation based upon folk- and race-hatred, of all institutions of the Hitler-regime that discredit our people. Repeal of all punitive laws of the Hitler era directed against freedom and human dignity.
The restoration and expansion of all political rights and social benefits of producers, and of every freedom of expression, the press, organization, conscience, and religion.
Freedom of the economy, trade, and industry. Securing the right to work and to legitimately acquired property; returning those possessions plundered by the National Socialist ruling powers to their owners; confiscation of the assets of war-criminals and war-profiteers; the exchange of goods with other countries as the healthy foundation for a secure national prosperity. Immediate liberation and restitution for all victims of the Hitler-regime.
A just, pitiless tribunal for war-criminals, for the ringleaders and their backers and helpers who plunged Germany into disaster, guilt and shame. Amnesty, however, for all Hitler-supporters who renounced Hitler in a timely manner through their actions and who affiliated with the movement for a Free Germany.
Forwards, Germans, to the struggle for a Free Germany!
We know: sacrifices are inevitable. But the more determined the fight against Hitler becomes, the more minimal they will be. The sacrifices in the struggle for Germany’s liberation will be a thousand times fewer than the sacrifices required for the War’s continuation.
German soldiers and officers on all fronts!
You have the weapons! Stay under arms! Make your way boldly under conscientious leaders, those who are one with you in the struggle against Hitler, towards your homeland and to peace.
Productive men and women in the homeland!
You are the majority! Make your impact through organization! Form combat groups in the factories, in the villages, in labor camps, in the universities, everywhere you congregate! Follow Hitler no longer! Do not allow yourselves to continue to be misused in helping to prolong the War! Struggle with every means, each in his own way, through your place in civic state- and economic-life!
We have a great example in our history. A hundred and thirty years ago, when German troops still stood as enemies upon Russian soil, the best Germans, from Stein, Arndt, Clausewitz, Yorck and others, turned away from Russia and called over the heads of the treasonous ruling powers to the conscience of the German Volk, calling upon them to fight for freedom.1 Like them we will employ all of our strength and also our lives, doing everything that will extend the struggle for freedom of our Volk and expedite the fall of Hitler.
The struggle for a Free Germany requires courage, drive and determination. Courage above all. Time is pressing, swift action is necessary. Those who continue on with Hitler out of fear, cowardice, or blind obedience act cravenly and help drive Germany into national catastrophe. But those who raise the demands of the nation above the commands of the “Führer”, who dedicate life and honor for their Volk, they act courageously and help deliver the Fatherland from its deepest disgrace.
For Volk and Fatherland! Against Hitler and his War!
For immediate peace!
For the deliverance of the German Volk!
For a free, independent Germany!
1. A reference to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Napoleon had previously invaded Prussia and forced it into a military alliance, a humiliating blow to Prussian nationalists. His invasion of Russia led many Prussians into seeking alliance or accommodation with Russia, leading to the foundation of a Russian-German Legion to enable Prussians to fight in the Tsar’s armies. The Legion contained numerous Prussian (as well as French and Belgian) prisoners and deserters, as well as idealists who hoped that alliance with Russia would help shake Prussia from the Napoleonic yoke. Baron vom Stein, poet Ernst Arndt, military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, and General Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg all either fought in the Legion or openly supported making common cause with Russia against Napoleon. The authors of the Manifesto are here drawing historical parallels with these figures and their actions and those of the NKFD, trying to convince readers that to side with the USSR against their own government would make them no less patriotic than these heroic figures from German history.
I have heard of many instances of Pro-soviet sentiments among Nazi and Wehrmacht officials. Examples would include Ribbentrop and Schulenberg, and that leads one to wonder if such examples are isolated or if residuals of the vaguely pro soviet attitude of some national socialists during the 20’s continued on, or if these sentiments were disconnected from the nazi party whatsoever, and had more connection to the original reichswher officer corp, or perhaps some mix of the two.
A mixture of both, I think. Pro-Soviet sentiment in the NSDAP either came from lingering National Bolshevist sympathy, or (more commonly imo) from a strong sense of anti-Westernism which viewed an alliance with the USSR as an effective means of displacing the power of the UK and France. Realpolitik played into things also.
In the Wehrmacht things were probably a little different. There was a long history of military orientation towards Russia in Germany, going back to the Napoleonic era, something which this piece of propaganda plays on. That tradition merged with the immediate situation post-WWI, in which both Germany and Russia were left isolated and crippled by the War, and helped foster the perception in the German military that alliance with Russia could help Germany regain its position as a continental power. That line of thinking is what helped motivate the Rapallo Treaty. Historian F.L. Carsten’s book The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933 quotes Hans von Seeckt on this, from 1920: