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:
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.
We know how war is waged, what it devours and what it spoils. A new war – it will bear no comparison with the last war, it will be even more terrible, it will completely destroy our homeland, it will affect us all without distinction, both you and us. In the name of everything which we hold dear, we Germans must prevent a new war, and we can prevent it.
After the First World War, the majority of us still did not understand how and why wars are made. And because we understood this too late, that is why everything repeated itself even more terribly, even more momentously.
The Second World War made us realize how wars are made: through the despicable abuse of national sentiment and love for one’s homeland.
The course of two world wars has demonstrated to us that a Volk’s happiness cannot be bought through war. Hence why we turn in particular today to all of those who, during the last war, took to the battlefield out of misguided love for their Fatherland, only to end up standing deeply disappointed before the ruins of their German homeland.
We turn to you in the firm belief that you have the same concerns and the same thoughts about Germany. That you of all people can render our Fatherland a special service – this is certain. A great responsibility lies with you.
In West Germany – as our relatives and acquaintances from over there tell us and write to us – a misconception is being nurtured among the population that only through a new war can Germany once again become a great and unified state. You over there, and we over here, must all stand together in order that our Volk are spared this third war, in order that the conviction is anchored in our Volk that only through the advocacy of peace can Germany become a great and unified state and achieve its national rebirth.
Out of such national responsibility we have resolved to give our approval to the call by all peace-loving people for the banning of the atomic bomb. Like all Germans who fear for our common homeland and for our collective peace, we too are of the opinion that the government which is the first to use atomic weapons against any country commits a crime against humanity and must be considered a war criminal.
We are waiting for your approval!
We extend a hand to you, you there and we here – we all are Germans. We stood together with you on the wrong front and devoted years of our lives to a bad cause, the war which destroyed Germany. This time we wish to stand together with you on the right front and serve a good cause: Germany and peace!
We reach out to you! Give us your hand!
The following among our party colleagues have signed this open letter, whose names I will now read:
Wilhelm Adam, Dresden, former colonel und 1st adjutant of the 6th Army.
Günter Aßmann, Chemnitz, former colonel und quartermaster-general of the German army mission in Romania.
Dr. Ernst-Julius Bergfeld, Stralsund, former member of the NSDAP.
Theophil Beust, Langensalza, former training instructor of the NSDAP.
Siegfried Dallmann, Berlin, former executive district student leader [of the NSDAP] in Thuringia.
Horst Dressler-Andress, Erfurt, former president of the Reich Chamber of Broadcasting.
Otto Eismann, Suhl, former master sergeant of the Air Intelligence Agency z. b. V. 16.
Egbert von Frankenberg und Proschlitz, Erfurt, former major and commodore of the fighter squadron 51 ‘Edelweiss’.
Dr. Karl Geißler, Berlin, former SA-man.
Dr. Horst Gössinger, Rudolstadt, former social-activity-leader in the Hitler Youth.
Franz Hahn, Cottbus, former block-assistant of the NSDAP.
Klaus-Werner Jacobs, Erfurt, former captain, 1st General Staff officer of the Korpsgruppe Bork.
Dr. Otto Korfes, Potsdam, former major-general and commander of the 295th Infantry Division.
Arno von Leski, Berlin, former major-general and commander of the 24th Panzer Division.
Dr. Richard Markert, Berlin, former lord mayor of Bremen.
Johannes Müller, Dresden, former department head in the DAF, Berlin.
Vincenz Müller, Berlin, former lieutenant-general, eventually leader of the 4th Army.
Arthur Pommerenke, Schwerin, former non-commissioned officer and officer cadet in the 16th Panzer Division.
Ernst Raab, Meiningen, former captain and division commander in the 19th Army, Driving Department 445.
Helmut Schaefer, Berlin, former captain and battalion commander in the Panzergrenadier Regiment 114.
Hans Theodor Rochlitz, former first sergeant of Medical Company 1/1.
Wilhelm Wolfgram, Schwerin, former staff sergeant in Infantry Division 203.
Dear party colleagues!
I believe that we can and must wholeheartedly support the concerns of those men who once belonged to the NSDAP or who used to be professional soldiers, and who now, with this open letter, wish to serve our collective struggle for peace. For this reason, I propose that here we pass a resolution. If you are in agreement with this, then I ask of you, once the resolution which I have just drafted has been read, to signal your agreement with your delegate card. The resolution shall read:
“The second party conference of the National-Democratic Party of Germany welcomes and endorses the open letter to all former members of the NSDAP, officers, and professional soldiers in West Germany. It recommends that all former members of the NSDAP, officers, and professional soldiers in the German Democratic Republic – whether they are in the ranks of the National-Democratic Party of Germany today or not – affix their signature to this open letter and send it to their former comrades who presently live in West Germany. Our party conference appeals to them in the hope that they will clasp the hand which is honestly offered them.” (Applause)
If you are in agreement with this resolution, then I ask that you show your card. Thankyou. Cross-check. Abstentions? The resolution was passed unanimously. (Loud applause)
We will now take a ten-minute break to facilitate the distribution of the drafting committee’s materials, that is, the printed draft resolutions.
(After the break)
Dear party colleagues!
Our party conference is nearing its conclusion. I request that the chairmen of the drafting committee and the electoral committee stand by.
Before giving up the floor, I would like to point out that a wide range of delegates to the party conference have expressed their desire to also sign the ‘Open Letter’ submitted to the conference, thereby taking on the responsibility of ensuring that the letter is delivered to the West of our homeland. Over the next few days, the regional associations, district associations, and local branches of our party will busy themselves persuading all former professional soldiers and members of the NSDAP – both inside and outside of our party – to collect signatures for this letter and its dispatch. We will do this in an organized manner, thereby amplifying the impact of this step.
Now, I wish to ascertain whether all the necessary documents are in your hands. These are: the draft resolution on the political director’s report, the draft resolution on the chairman’s paper, the draft decision on the deputy chairman’s paper. First in order, we will hear the draft resolution on the political director’s report. Fellow party-member Dallmann has the floor on the drafting committee’s report…
1. Günther Ludwig (b.1899 – d.1971) was, as he states, a former officer in the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht. Ludwig was taken prisoner at Stalingrad in 1943 and while in captivity joined the National Committee for a Free Germany (NKFD), a pro-Russian propaganda initiative established by the Soviets for the purpose of ‘curing’ German POWs of their loyalties to Hitler and National Socialism. After the war’s end, Ludwig ended up involved in the East German Volkspolizei and Volksarmee, and was also a leading functionary of the NDPD, helping to co-found the party branch in Thuringia, while also at various points acting as a leading party-member in Mecklenburg and Berlin. The “Berlin” besides Ludwig’s name in the transcript here indicates the NDPD branch which he was representing at the party conference.
2. Lothar Bolz (b.1903 – d.1986) was a former communist rather than a nationalist, having joined the Communist Party of Germany in 1929. He spent the National Socialist era in exile in the USSR, working in the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute in Moscow, and in 1943 he helped co-found the NKFD. Bolz’s position as a longtime communist made him trustworthy to the Soviet occupation authorities, while his experience at working with (and converting) German-nationalist POWs in the NKFD meant that he was close to the ideological objectives of the NDPD; as such, he was made chairman of the National-Democratic Party when it was founded in 1948. Bolz would remain NDPD chairman until 1972, when he was replaced by Heinrich Homann, who unlike Bolz had previously been an NSDAP member. Bolz at various points held various high-ranking positions in the East German government, including serving as Foreign Minister from 1953 to 1965.