Extending a Hand to West Germany’s ‘Little Nazis’

An open letter by members of the DDR’s National-Democratic Party of Germany to former officers, soldiers, and NSDAP members in West Germany

On 26 February, 1948, the Soviet Military Administration in occupied Germany issued “Order No. 35,” officially declaring an end to denazification proceedings within the Soviet zone of occupation. Less than a month later, preparatory work began under the supervision of the Soviet authorities for the establishment of a new, sanctioned political party, one which would organize Germany’s “nationally-minded” forces in support of pro-Soviet, ‘anti-fascist’ objectives: the National-Democratic Party of Germany (National-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands, NDPD). The NDPD was officially founded on 16 July 1948, and though its first chairman, Lothar Bolz, was a longtime communist, most of its founding committee and subsequent membership were made up of former Wehrmacht officers and professional soldiers, as well as ex-members of the NSDAP (‘little Nazis’, i.e. low- or mid-ranking Parteigenossen) and similar nationalist organizations. The programme eventually adopted for the party established its ideology as a form of ‘national-socialism’ shorn of the racial, militarist, and anti-Marxist qualities which had typified the worldview of the NSDAP. Instead of war, the NDPD extolled peace, and instead of elitism, it extolled democracy and anti-fascism; at the same time, nonetheless, it also openly encouraged nationalist sentiments among its membership, promoting a view of German history and culture in which certain battles and engagements of the past were venerated (the anti-Napoleonic ‘Wars of Liberation’, the 1848 revolution), and in which East Germans were encouraged to rally in patriotic defense of their “socialist Fatherland” and its Eastern Bloc “brother nations” and against the military, cultural, and financial power of the United States. The efforts of the NDPD were not just directed at winning over the “national bourgeoisie” within the Soviet zone of occupation; from the very beginning it was also hoped that the party would prove a useful vehicle of outreach to the “radical, right-wing” forces in West Germany, serving as an example of the enlightened, forgiving attitude of Soviet and German Communist authorities towards those formerly in the ‘fascist’ camp, while also providing a useful platform of communication by which pro-Soviet sympathies could be transferred to nationalists in the West. To that end, at the NDPD’s second party conference in Leipzig in June 1950, prominent members of the party were tasked with drafting an open letter to all former Wehrmacht officers, professional soldiers, and members of the NSDAP in West Germany, calling on them to unite with their brothers in the East, to clasp hands and to stand together for “collective peace” and against war and rearmament. Signed by 22 party-members (16 of whom held posts within the party), the open letter became a key propaganda tool for the NDPD in subsequent months, with members being tasked to disseminate the letter throughout both East and West and to encourage the discussion of its content. A translation of the open letter, made from the official published transcript of 1950 NDPD conference proceedings, is provided below; the statements and remarks by delegates immediately preceding and following the reading of the letter have been included to help provide additional context. 

Proceedings from the 2nd Party Conference
of the National-Democratic Party of Germany
The Proclamation of the NDPD’s
“Open Letter to Former Soldiers,
Officers, and Members of the NSDAP”  
From the stenographic transcript of the NDPD’s Leipzig Conference of 15-17 June, 1950

GÜNTHER LUDWIG – BERLIN:1

My dear party colleagues!

I have requested the floor once again in order to inform you of the following. You know that our party has campaigned and continues to campaign for equal rights for all Germans of goodwill ever since it was founded, that it makes no distinction with regards to former members of the NSDAP and former officers and professional soldiers, and that it is only natural that even today there are a fair number of all of these to be found among our delegates. As one such example, I am a former career soldier. I spoke to you as such yesterday. I was a colonel, and I also fought in Stalingrad and was a witness to the combat there, as you have heard. Under the impact of yesterday’s events, we – that is, a large number of former officers and former members of the NSDAP – met together and decided to send an open letter to West Germany. Permit me, then, to read to you this open letter:

OPEN LETTER
TO ALL FORMER MEMBERS OF THE NSDAP,
OFFICERS, AND PROFESSIONAL SOLDIERS
IN WEST GERMANY

We Germans – regardless of what we are and what we were and wherever we may reside today, whether in the West or in the East of our homeland – are all driven by a deep concern: We see borders dividing our homeland, we recognize that even our capital Berlin is split into pieces. West Germany has become the object of the deliberations and conferences of foreign generals and bankers, which leads us to fear that a new war is being prepared.

We all know what war is. We know it all too well. Our wives and our children also experienced the last one; the bombing campaign was primarily directed against residential areas. In their ruins was the end.

We Germans, irrespective of where we live, long for a peaceful life; we worry over peace, we fear for the lives of our wives and children. We know that a new war will ruin forever the efforts of our Volk to attain a new prosperity. Continue reading