|Born||16 April 1886|
Hamburg, German Empire
|Died||18 August 1944 58) (aged|
Buchenwald concentration camp, Nazi Germany
|Occupation||Leader of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD)|
|Years of service||1915–1918|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
Ernst Thälmann (16 April 1886 – 18 August 1944) was a German communist politician, and leader of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) from 1925 to 1933.
A committed Stalinist, Thälmann played a major role during the political instability of the Weimar Republic, especially in its final years, when the KPD explicitly sought to overthrow the liberal democracy of the republic. Under his leadership the KPD became intimately associated with the government of the Soviet Union and the policies of Joseph Stalin, and from 1928 the party was largely controlled and funded by Stalin's government. The KPD under Thälmann's leadership regarded the Social Democratic Party (SPD) as its main adversary and the party adopted the position that the social democrats were "social fascists."
Thälmann was also leader of the paramilitary Roter Frontkämpferbund (which was banned as extremist by the governing social democrats in 1929). In 1932 he established Antifaschistische Aktion or Antifa, which concentrated its attacks on the recently formed social democratic paramilitary organization Iron Front. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1933 and held in solitary confinement for eleven years; for political reasons, Stalin did not seek his release when he entered into the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Germany, and Thälmann's party rival Walter Ulbricht ignored requests to plead on his behalf. Many of Thälmann's closest associates who had emigrated to the Soviet Union were executed during the Great Purge of the 1930s. Thälmann was shot on Adolf Hitler's personal orders in Buchenwald in 1944.
Ernst Thälmann's parents, Johannes Thälmann (called 'Jan'; 11 April 1857, Weddern (Holstein – 31 October 1933), a farmworker, and Mary-Magdalene (née Kohpeiss; 8 November 1857, Kirchwerder – 9 March 1927) married in 1884 in Hamburg. Ernst's parents had no party affiliation; in contrast to his father, his mother was deeply religious.
After Ernst's birth, his parents took over a pub near the Port of Hamburg. On 4 April 1887, his sister Frieda was born (died 8 July 1967 in Hamburg). In March 1892, Thälmann's parents were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, because they had fenced stolen goods or had taken them for debt payment.Ernst and Frieda were placed in separate foster families. Thälmann's parents were released early; his mother in May, and his father in October 1893. His parents' offense was used 36 years later in the campaign against Ernst Thälmann.
From 1893 to 1900, Thälmann attended elementary school. He later described history, natural history, folklore, mathematics, gymnastics and sports as his favorite subjects. However, he did not like religion.In the mid-1890s, his parents opened a vegetable, coal and wagon shop in Eilbek, a suburb of Hamburg. The young Ernst worked in the business after school and did his schoolwork in the morning before classes started. Despite this burden, Thälmann was a good student who enjoyed learning. He wanted to become a teacher or to learn a trade, but his parents refused to lend him financial support. He had to continue working in his parents' business, causing much sorrow and conflict with his parents. Therefore, he sought a job as an unskilled worker in the port. Here the ten-year-old Thälmann came in contact with the port workers on strike from November 1896 till February 1897 in the bitter labor dispute known as the Hamburg Docker's Strike 1896/97.
At the beginning of 1902, he left home. He first he lived in an emergency shelter, later in a basement apartment, and in 1904 he was fireman on the steam-powered freight ship AMERIKA which also traveled to the USA. He was a Social Democratic Party member during 1903. On 1 February 1904, he joined the Central Union of Trade, transport and traffic workers of Germany and ascended to the chairman of the 'Department carters'. In 1913, he supported a call of Rosa Luxemburg for a mass strike as a means of action of the SPD to enforce political demands. From 1913 to 1914, he worked for a laundry as a coachman.
In January 1915, one day before he was called up for military service in World War I, he married Rosa Koch. He was posted to the artillery on the western front, where he stayed till the end of the war, on personal account taking part in the Battle of Champagne (1915–1916), the Battle of the Somme (1916), the Battle of Arras (1917), the Second Battle of the Aisne (1917), the Battle of Cambrai (1917) (1917), and the Battle of Soissons (1918).For his service, Thälmann received the Iron cross Second Class, the Hanseatic Cross and Wound Badge (twice).
Towards the end of 1917, he became a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD). In late October 1918, while on home leave from the front, Thälmann deserted together with four fellow soldiers. On 9 November 1918, he wrote in his diary on the Western Front, "...did a bunk from the Front with 4 comrades at 2 o'clock."[ citation needed ]
After his desertion, he was active in the German Revolution in Hamburg that began on 29th October 1918. From March 1919, he was chairman of the USPD in Hamburg, a member of the Hamburg Parliament, and worked as a relief worker in the Hamburg city park before taking up a well-paying job at the employment office. There, he rose to the rank of Inspector.
When the USPD split over the question whether to join the Communist International (Comintern), Thälmann sided with the pro-Communist faction which merged with the KPD in November 1920 3rd Congress of the Comintern in Moscow and met Vladimir Lenin personally. In June 1922, terrorists from the ultranationalist group Organisation Consul threw a hand grenade into his ground floor flat, but the assassination attempt failed and he survived.[ citation needed ], and in the following December Thälmann was elected to the KPD's Central Committee. In March 1921 he was fired from his job at the employment office due to his political activities. That summer Thälmann was a representative of the KPD to the
Thälmann helped to organise the Hamburg Uprising of October 1923-- it failed, however, and Thälmann was forced to go in hiding. After Lenin's death in late January 1924, Thälmann visited Moscow and maintained a guard of honour at his bier. From February 1924 he was deputy chairman of the KPD and, from May, a Reichstag member. At the 5th Congress of the Comintern in July 1924 he was elected to the Comintern executive committee and a short time later to its steering committee. In February 1925 he became chairman of the KPD's paramilitary organisation, the Roter Frontkämpferbund (RFB) (although this organisation was banned as an extremist organisation by the governing social democrats in 1929, after the events of Blutmai ("Bloody May", see below)). In October 1925 Thälmann became chairman of the KPD and thus a candidate for the German Presidency. Thälmann's candidacy in the second round of the presidential election split the centre-left vote, ensuring that the conservative Paul von Hindenburg defeated the Centre Party's Wilhelm Marx.
In October 1926 Thälmann supported the dockers' strike in his home town of Hamburg. He saw this as an act of solidarity with the British miners' strike which had started on 1 May, although that strike had been profitable for the Hamburg Docks as an alternative supplier of coal. In 1928 during the Wittorf affair he was ousted from the party central committee for trying to cover up embezzlement by John Wittorf, a party official and protégé (and a close friend) of Thälmann. However, Stalin intervened and had Thälmann reinstated, signalling the beginning of a purge and completing the "Stalinization" of the KPD.
During World War I and the Weimar Republic, the KPD competed for leadership of the working class with the more moderate Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), particularly after the latter supported German involvement in the War. At the 12th party congress of the KPD in June 1929 in Berlin-Wedding, Thälmann adopted a policy of confrontation with the SPD.This followed the events of "Bloody May", in which 32 people were killed by the police in an attempt to suppress demonstrations which had been banned by the Interior Minister, Carl Severing, a Social Democrat.
Thälmann's KPD thus fought the SPD as its main political enemy, acting according to the Comintern policy which declared Social Democrats to be "social fascists". This made it difficult for the two leftist parties to work together against the emergence of Adolf Hitler.The KPD under Thälmann declared that "fighting fascism means fighting the SPD just as much as it means fighting Hitler and the parties of Brüning." Thälmann declared in December 1931 that "some Nazi trees must not be allowed to overshadow a forest" of social democrats. By 1927, Karl Kilbom, the Comintern representative to Germany, had started to combat this ultra-leftist tendency within the German Communist Party, but found Stalin machinating against his efforts.
In March 1932, Thälmann was once again a candidate for the German Presidency, against the incumbent Paul von Hindenburg and Hitler. The KPD's slogan was "A vote for Hindenburg is a vote for Hitler; a vote for Hitler is a vote for war." Thälmann returned as a candidate in the second round of the election, as it was permitted by the German electoral law, but his vote count lessened from 4,983,000 (13.2%), in the first round, to 3,707,000 (10.2%).
After the National Socialists came to power in January 1933, Thälmann proposed, to no avail, that the SPD and KPD should organise a general strike to topple National Socialist rule together. In February 1933, a Central Committee meeting of the then already banned KPD took place at the "Sporthaus Ziegenhals" in Königs Wusterhausen, near Berlin, where Thälmann had called for the violent overthrow of Hitler's government. (The Comintern's guidelines on social democracy as “social fascism” remained in force until 1935 when the Comintern officially switched to endorsing a “popular front” of socialists, liberals and even conservatives against the Nazi threat -- an attempt to win over the leftist elements of the Nazi Party, especially the SA, who largely came from a working-class background and supported socialist economic policies. By that time, however, Hitler and the National Socialists had risen to power and the KPD had been largely destroyed.)
After the Reichstag Fire on 27th of February, 1933, the Nazi Party targeted members of the KPD and other left-wing opponents of the regime in a new wave of violence and arrests; although having gone underground yet again, Thälmann was arrested and imprisoned together with his personal secretary Werner Hirsch on the 3rd of March, 1933.
On the afternoon of the 3rd of March, 1933, eight officers of Police Station 121 arrested Thälmann at his self-appointed safehouse, the home of Hans and Martha Kluczynski in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Although the main police informant was a neighbor of the Kluczynskis, Hermann Hilliges,at least four other people informed the police of the connection between the Kluczynskis and Thälmann in the days before the latter's arrest). Thälmann had used the Kluczynskis' home occasionally for several years, but started fully residing there in January 1933. Although it wasn't among the six illegal residences that the military-political apparatus of the KPD had prepared for Thälmann, it was not considered known to the police.
During imprisonment, Thälmann managed to smuggle out detailed descriptions of his treatment in writing: "They ordered me to take off my pants and then two men grabbed me by the back of the neck and placed me across a footstool. A uniformed Gestapo officer with a whip of hippopotamus hide in his hand then beat my buttocks with measured strokes. Driven wild with pain I repeatedly screamed at the top of my lungs. Then they held my mouth shut for a while and hit me in the face, and with a whip across the chest and back. I then collapsed, rolled on the floor, always kept my face down and no longer replied to any of their questions."
After the German–Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and Germany's invasion of Poland of 1939 -- and despite Thälmann's loyalty to Stalin during his time leading the KPD -- Moscow pragmatically removed a slogan for the 1939 International Youth Day which read in part, "Long live Comrade Thälmann!" and replaced it with, "Long live the wise foreign policy of the Soviet Union, guided by Comrade Stalin's instructions."As it turned out, Thälmann's long-time party rival Walter Ulbricht had ignored several requests for help from Thälmann's family when the thawing in German–Soviet relations could have made a release possible, preferring to let Thälmann remain imprisoned. Fellow German Communist, Wilhelm Pieck had managed to escape to the Soviet Union and in July 1936 he issued a statement calling for the release of Thälmann: "If we succeeded in raising a tremendous storm of protest throughout the world, it will be possible to break down the prison walls and as in the case of Dimitrov, deliver Thälmann from the clutches of the Fascist hangmen. The fact that Ernst Thälmann has got to spend his fiftieth birthday in the gaols of Hitler-Fascism is an urgent reminder to all the anti-Fascists of the whole world that they must intensify to the utmost their campaign for the release of Thälmann and the many thousands of imprisoned victims of the White Terror." However, these attempts at raising publicity for his plight were in vain; during the 1930s, numerous German communists who had been close to Thälmann had been murdered in Stalin's camps.
Thälmann spent over eleven years in solitary confinement. In August 1944, he was transferred from Bautzen prison to Buchenwald concentration camp, where he was shot on the 18th August on the personal order of Adolf Hitler.His body was immediately cremated. Shortly after, the National Socialists claimed in an announcement that, together with Rudolf Breitscheid, Thälmann had died in an Allied bombing attack on 23 August.
During the Spanish Civil War, several units of German republican volunteers (most notably the Thälmann Battalion of the International Brigades) were named in his honour.During World War II, Yugoslavia's leader Tito organized a company of Danube Swabians and Wehrmacht defectors as the Ernst Thälmann Company to fight the German enemy.
In 1935, the former town of Ostheim in Ukraine was renamed Telmanove (Donetsk Oblast).
After 1945, Thälmann and other leading communists who had been murdered, such as Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, were widely honoured in East Germany, with many schools, streets, factories and the like named after them. Many of these names were changed after German reunification, but streets and squares named after Thälmann remain in Berlin, Hamburg, Greifswald and Frankfurt an der Oder. The East German pioneer organisation was named the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation in his memory.Members pledged that "Ernst Thälmann is my role model ... I promise to learn to work and fight [struggle] as Ernst Thälmann teaches".
In the 1950s, a two-part East German film, Ernst Thälmann , was produced.In 1972, Cuba named a small island, Cayo Ernesto Thaelmann, after him.
One of the main traffic arteries of Soviet Riga was named Ernsta Tēlmaņa iela after him on completion in 1981; however, soon after Latvia had regained independence in 1991 it was renamed Kārļa Ulmaņa gatve, after pre-WWII prime minister Kārlis Ulmanis.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the secondary school THPT Ernst Thalmann (Ten Lơ Man) was named after him.
The British Communist composer and activist Cornelius Cardew named his Thälmann Variations for piano in Thälmann's memory.
The VEB Ernst Thälmann Waffenfabrik, an East German weapons factory in Suhl (formerly Simson), was named after Thälmann (until 1990).
The Communist Party of Germany was a major political party in the Weimar Republic between 1918 and 1933, an underground resistance movement in Nazi Germany, and a minor party in West Germany in the postwar period until it was banned in 1956.
The Communist Party of Germany (Opposition), generally abbreviated as KPO or KPD(O), was a communist opposition organisation established at the end of 1928 and maintaining its existence until 1939 or 1940. After the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party to power in January 1933, the KPO existed only as an illegal and underground organization. The group initially sought to modify, later to replace, the mainstream Communist Party of Germany (KPD) headed by Ernst Thälmann. The KPO was the first national section affiliated to the International Communist Opposition (ICO).
Social fascism was a theory supported by the Communist International (Comintern) and affiliated communist parties in the early 1930s that held that social democracy was a variant of fascism because it stood in the way of a dictatorship of the proletariat, in addition to a shared corporatist economic model.
Ernst Thälmann is an East German film in two parts about the life of Ernst Thälmann, leader of the Communist Party of Germany during much of the Weimar Republic, directed by Kurt Maetzig and starring Günther Simon in the title role. The first part, Ernst Thälmann - Sohn seiner Klasse, was released in 1954. It was followed by the 1955 sequel. Ernst Thälmann - Führer seiner Klasse.
Antifaschistische Aktion, commonly known under its abbreviation Antifa, was a militant anti-fascist organisation in the Weimar Republic started by members of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) that existed from 1932 to 1933. It was primarily active as a KPD campaign during the 1932 German federal elections and was described by the KPD as a "red united front under the leadership of the only anti-fascist party, the KPD". Under the leadership of the committed Stalinist Ernst Thälmann, the KPD viewed fascism primarily as the final stage of capitalism rather than as a specific movement or group and therefore applied the term to all other parties. The front focused largely on attacking the KPD's main adversary, the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Germany, whom they referred to as social fascists and regarded as the "main pillar of the dictatorship of Capital".
The Hamburg Uprising was an insurrection during the Weimar Republic in Germany. It was started on 23 October 1923 by one of the most militant sections of the Hamburg district Communist Party (KPD), the KP Wasserkante. Rebels stormed 24 police stations, 17 in Hamburg and seven in Schleswig-Holstein Province in Prussia. From a military point of view, the attempt was futile and over within three days. Without support from the rest of Germany and the Soviet Union, the communist insurgency disintegrated. Some 100 people died during the uprising. The exact details of the rebellion, as well as the assessment of its impact, are controversial to this day.
Heinrich Brandler was a German communist trade unionist, politician, revolutionary activist, and political writer. Brandler is best remembered as the head of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) during the party's ill-fated "March Action" of 1921 and aborted uprising of 1923, for which he was held responsible by the Communist International. Expelled from the Communist Party in December 1928, Brandler went on to become co-founder of the Communist Party of Germany Opposition, the first national section of the so-called International Right Opposition.
The Conciliator faction was an opposition group within the Communist Party of Germany during the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. In East Germany, after World War II, the German word for conciliator, Versöhnler, became a term for anti-Marxist political tendencies.
The Wittorf affair was an embezzlement scandal in Germany in 1928. John Wittorf, an official of the Communist Party (KPD), was a close friend and protégé of party chairman Ernst Thälmann. Thälmann tried to cover up the embezzlement, for which he was ousted from the central committee. Joseph Stalin intervened and had Thälmann reinstated, signaling the beginning of a purge and completing the Stalinization of the KPD.
Wilhelm Koenen was a communist and an East German politician. He was married to Emmy Damerius-Koenen and was the father of Heinrich Koenen and Johanna Koenen.
Heinz Neumann was a German politician from the Communist Party (KPD) and a journalist. He was a member of the Comintern, editor in chief of the party newspaper Die Rote Fahne and a member of the Reichstag.
Paul Merker was an activist member of Germany's Communist Party who later became a politician and a top official of East Germany's ruling SED .
Wilhelm Florin was a German Communist Party (KPD) politician and a campaigner in opposition to National Socialism.
Margarete "Grete" Fuchs-Keilson was a German politician and official in the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED).
Albert Schreiner was a historian of Germany.
Hermann Remmele was a German socialist politician of the SPD, USPD and KPD. During exile in Moscow he carried the code name Herzen.
Hermann Schubert was a German activist and politician (KPD). In 1924 he sat, briefly, as a member of the national parliament (Reichstag).
The Three Arrows is a social-democratic political symbol associated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany, used in the late history of the Weimar Republic. First conceived for the social democrat-dominated Iron Front as a symbol of the social democratic resistance against Nazism in 1932, it became an official symbol of the Social Democratic Party during the parliamentary elections the same year, representing the resistance against Nazism, communism and reactionary conservatism.
Antifa is a political movement in Germany composed of multiple far-left, autonomous, militant anti-fascist action groups and individuals who describe themselves as anti-fascist. According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the Federal Agency for Civic Education, the use of the epithet fascist against opponents and the understanding of capitalism as a form of fascism are central to the movement. The antifa movement has existed in different eras and incarnations. The original organisation called antifa was Antifaschistische Aktion, literally Anti-Fascist Action and abbreviated to Antifa. It was set up by the then-Stalinist Communist Party of Germany (KPD) during the late history of the Weimar Republic. After the forced dissolution in the wake of the Machtergreifung in 1933, the movement went underground. In the postwar era, the historical Antifa inspired a variety of different movements, groups and individuals in Germany as well as other countries which widely adopted variants of its aesthetics and some of its tactics. Known as the wider antifa movement, the modern antifa groups have no direct organisational connection to the historical Antifa.
John Schehr was a German political activist who became a Communist Party politician and ultimately, chairman (leader) of the party, following the arrest on 3 March 1933 of Ernst Thälmann. By this time the country was very rapidly being transformed into a one-party dictatorship, meaning that the party John Schehr led was outlawed, with those members of the leadership team who had not escaped abroad now living "underground" (unregistered) and in hiding. Schehr was nevertheless arrested on 13 November 1933 and taken to a Berlin concentration camp. He died when he was one of four men shot by Gestapo officials, reportedly "while escaping" during an overnight transport, following arrest.
Wie aber steht es hinsichtlich der Beurteilung des Hamburger Wahlergebnisses? Trotz des Wahlerfolges gab es dort erhebliche Mängel und Schwächen, die festgestellt und kritisiert wurden. Aber dort gelang uns immerhin, in die festeste Hochburg der deutschen Sozialdemokratie eine Bresche zu schlagen, wenn auch ein stärkerer Einbruch noch nicht gelang. Dort gelang es uns, aus den Reihen der sozialdemokratischen Arbeiterschaft Zehntausende für den Kommunismus zu gewinnen. Für jeden Kommunisten, der den Grundsatz anerkannte, daß unser Hauptstoß gegen die Sozialdemokratie gerichtet sein muß, mußte deshalb unser Erfolg gegenüber der SPD der entscheidende Gradmesser für die gesamte Beurteilung des Wahlausgangs sein. Wenn es richtig war, daß der Kampf gegen den Faschismus in allererster Linie Kampf gegen die SPD ist und sein muß, dann bedeutele der Erfolg gegenüber der Hamburger Sozialdemokratie eben auch einen Erfolg gegenüber dem Faschismus. Und doch gab es solche Stimmungen, die vor den nationalsozialistischen Bäumen den sozialdemokratischen Wald nicht sehen wollten. Weil die Nationalsozialisten auch in Hamburg einen beträchtlichen Wahlerfolg erzielen konnten, unterschätzten diese Genossen die Bedeutung unseres Kampfes gegen den Sozialfaschismus, die Bedeutung unseres Erfolges gegenüber der SPD. Darin drückten sich unzweifelhaft Merkmale eines Abweichens von der politischen Linie aus, die uns verpflichtet, den Hauptstoß gegen die SPD zu richten.