Thälmann Battalion

Last updated

The Thälmann Battalion was a battalion of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. [1] [2] It was named after the imprisoned German communist leader Ernst Thälmann [3] (born 16 April 1886, executed 18 August 1944) [4] and included approximately 1,500 people, mainly Germans, Austrians, Swiss and Scandinavians. The battalion fought in the defence of Madrid. [5] Amongst the commanders of the battalion were the German writer, historian and World War I officer Ludwig Renn (later Chief of Staff of the XI International Brigade) [6] [7] and Prussian World War I officer Hans Kahle, later promoted to lead the Republican 45th division for a time. [8] The battalion, like the International Brigades in general, also attracted its share of intellectuals, such as the well-known writer Willi Bredel who became its commissar. [6] [9]

Contents

Spanish Civil War German Volunteers

The German-speaking battalions [10] were one of the first and eventually largest groups that formed in the International Brigades, coalescing out of the 'Thälmann Centuria' of the early war days. [11] Most of the Germans volunteering were working-class people, "members of the Weimar Republic's 'lost generation', who had never known stability or regular employment", [12] and to many, the simple arrival in Spain (through the French blockade) to join the fight on the Republic's side was their first victory after years of losing their political struggle at home. [13] In their home countries of Germany and Austria, fascism had already conquered, giving their foreign struggle a special grim context. As Robert G. Colodny writes in The International Brigades:

"The history of the Germans in Spain...is the history of strong men who proved and overproved their courage and endurance, their resistance to pessimism and despair. It is the story of men who died or were broken physically in doing this. They brought to the International Brigades an offensive spirit, a bitter desperate courage at rare intervals in war priceless, essential, but always costly. They set an early example of what shock troops could be like. They tried to do the impossible, and paid for it. And during the early days in Aragon, in the futile fighting around Huesca, at Tardienta, the Germans, in countless bayonet charges against fortified positions, took their objectives, buried their dead, and waited with a caged restlessness for the next day's orders." [11]

John Cornford, an English communist and poet, echoed these thoughts, describing the Germans as:

"...the finest people in some ways I have ever met. In a way they have lost everything, have been through enough to break most people, and remain strong and cheerful and humorous. If anything is revolutionary it is these comrades." [14]

Ernest Hemingway, the American writer, described them as follows:

"They had nearly all had military training or had fought in the war. They were all anti-Nazis. Most of them were Communists and they marched like the Reichswehr. They also sang songs that would break your heart and the last of them died on the Muela of Teruel, which was a position they sold as dearly as any position was sold in any war." [15]

Until December 1936 the battalion boasted a significant British contingent, including Winston Churchill's nephew, Esmond Romilly, however many of them were killed fighting to defend Madrid in the early months of the war. [16]

Flag of the International Brigades Flag of the International Brigades.svg
Flag of the International Brigades

Ernest Hemingway went even further in his admiration, calling them representative of the "true Germany" and contrasting them unfavourably with the Germans fighting on the other side in the Legion Condor. [17] The respect with which the Germans were accorded - by the others in the International Brigades, as well as by the Republican populace [18] - lifted their spirits as well. Many of them had been stripped of their nationality by the Nazis, and had spent years underground or in exile, and the war gave them the opportunity to reclaim an anti-fascist identity, their vision of a better Germany. [17] For many it was also a time of either communist re-affirmation or political enlightenment (the largest block of all volunteers in the International Brigades was communist or had been recruited by communists). [19]

However, the German volunteers were not above human faults and despair - especially as the war dragged on, and got increasingly difficult for the Republican side, which lacked the plentiful supplies and superior organisation of their Nationalist opponents. Records show that about one tenth of the volunteers eventually found themselves imprisoned at least for a certain duration for crimes like desertion, breaking discipline, or for political reasons as the Stalinist tendency in the Brigades increased (usually being accused of Trotskyism). Infighting between anarchists and communists, eventually resulting in outright battles with several hundred dead and the purging of rival communist groups like the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), also further poisoned the atmosphere as Francisco Franco's victory came closer. [20] The Thälmann Battalion was memorialized in the song " Die Thälmann-Kolonne " (also known as "Spaniens Himmel", "Spain's Sky") by Gudrun Kabisch and Paul Dessau (writing pseudonymously as Paul Ernst and Peter Daniel, respectively), famously recorded by Ernst Busch.

World War II Partisan Battalion in the Former Yugoslavia

On Aug. 8, 1943, a Thälmann Battalion was founded in West Slavonia as an ethnic German unit within Tito's Partisan army in the former Yugoslavia. It was composed mainly of German Army (Wehrmacht) deserters and local ethnic Germans (Shwoveh) led by Commander Hans Pichler (a former fighter in the Spanish civil war) and Johann Mucker (Muker), a Shwovish Communist in the interwar period, as political commissar. Mucker's son was killed by Ustashe on March 13, 1942 and later earned the honor of "People's Hero" after the war. The battalion comprised roughly 200 men and was refreshed from Shwovish recruits from Croatia and the Serbian Banat. It remained a separate unit with its own Germanic Black, red, and gold insignia. It is said that Tito ordered that it not be engaged in combat against German Army units (the Partisans also fought Italian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Croatian forces.) In the end it was nearly destroyed in an engagement against heavily armored units at Mikleus (near Slatina) in November 1943, but continued to exist with some replacements. It was used often for its propaganda value. It adopted its own version of the Spanish Civil War song "Die Thälmann-Kolonne".

See also

Related Research Articles

International Brigades paramilitary supporting the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War

The International Brigades were military units set up by the Communist International to assist the Popular Front government of the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. The organization existed for two years, from 1936 until 1938. It is estimated that during the entire war, between 40,000 and 59,000 members served in the International Brigades, including 15,000 who died in combat.

Walter Ulbricht German communist politician

Walter Ernst Paul Ulbricht was a German communist politician. Ulbricht played a leading role in the creation of the Weimar-era Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and later in the early development and establishment of the German Democratic Republic in East Germany. As the First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party from 1950 to 1971, he was the chief decision maker in East Germany. From President Wilhelm Pieck's death in 1960 on, he was also the East German head of state until his own death in 1973.

Lincoln Battalion Battalion of volunteers from United States of America that served at the Spanish Civil War.

The Lincoln Battalion was the 17th battalion of the XV International Brigade, a mixed brigade of the International Brigades also known as Abraham Lincoln Brigade. It was organized by the Communist International with great care to conceal or minimize the communist character of the enterprise. Attractive names were deliberately chosen for the International Brigades, such as "Garibaldi" in Italy or "Abraham Lincoln" in the United States. The Lincoln Brigade was formed by a group of volunteers from the United States who served in the Spanish Civil War as soldiers, technicians, medical personnel and aviators fighting for Spanish Republican forces against the forces of General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist faction. The Lincoln Brigade integrated white and black volunteers on an equal basis. Of the approximately 3,015 volunteers from the US, 681 were killed in action or died of wounds or sickness.

Free German Youth East German political youth organization

The Free German Youth, also known as the FDJ, is a youth movement in Germany. Formerly it was the official youth movement of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.

Ernst Busch (actor) German actor

Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Busch was a German singer and actor.

Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation East German youth organization

The Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation, consisting of the Young Pioneers and the Thälmann Pioneers, was a youth organisation of schoolchildren aged 6 to 14, in East Germany. They were named after Ernst Thälmann, the former leader of the Communist Party of Germany who was executed at the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Connolly Column

The Connolly Column is a phrase retroactively applied to a group of Irish republican socialist volunteers who fought for the Second Spanish Republic in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. They were named after James Connolly, the executed leader of the Irish Citizen Army. They were a company-strength unit of the American Lincoln Battalion of the XV International Brigade, formed from Irishmen who were earlier part of the British Battalion of the same Brigade.

The British Battalion (1936–1938) was the 16th battalion of the XV International Brigade, one of the mixed brigades of the International Brigades, during the Spanish Civil War.

Jarama Valley (song) song

"Jarama Valley" also known as "El Valle del Jarama" is a song from the Second Spanish Republic. Referring to the Spanish Civil War Battle of Jarama the song uses the tune of Red River Valley.

Hans Beimler (communist) German politician (1895-1936)

Hans Beimler was a trade unionist, Communist-Party official, deputy in the 1933 Reichstag, an outspoken opponent of the Nazis and a volunteer in the international brigades fighting for the Spanish Republic.

International Brigades order of battle

The International Brigades (IB) were volunteer military units of foreigners who fought on the side of the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. The number of combatant volunteers has been estimated at between 32,000–35,000, though with no more than about 20,000 active at any one time. A further 10,000 people probably participated in non-combatant roles and about 3,000–5,000 foreigners were members of CNT or POUM. They came from a claimed "53 nations" to fight against the Spanish Nationalist forces led by General Francisco Franco and assisted by German and Italian forces.

XII International Brigade Military unit

The XII International Brigade was mustered on 7 November 1936 at Albacete, Spain. It was formerly named the Garibaldi Brigade, after the most famous and inspiring leader in the Italian Independence Wars, General Giuseppe Garibaldi.

XI International Brigade military unit of Second Spanish Republic

The XI International Brigade fought for the Spanish Second Republic in the Spanish Civil War.

Jewish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War refers to Jews who joined International Brigades and fought in the Spanish Civil War, which erupted on July 17, 1936 and ended on April 1, 1939.

Willi Bredel was a German writer and president of the DDR Academy of Arts, Berlin. Born in Hamburg, he was a pioneer of socialist realist literature.

Thälmann may refer to:

Bodo Uhse German politician and writer (1904-1963)

Bodo Uhse was a German writer, journalist and political activist. He was recognised as one of the most prominent authors in East Germany.

Anti-fascism Opposition to fascist ideologies, groups and individuals

Anti-fascism is a political movement in opposition to fascist ideologies, groups and individuals that began in a few European countries in the 1920s and eventually spread to other countries around the world. It was at its most significant shortly before and during World War II, where the Axis powers were opposed by many countries forming the Allies of World War II and dozens of resistance movements worldwide. Anti-fascism has been an element of movements across the political spectrum and holding many different political positions such as anarchism, communism, pacifism, republicanism, social democracy, socialism and syndicalism, also including some centrist, conservative, liberal and nationalist viewpoints.

Freiheit (song) single

"Freiheit", also known as "Spaniens Himmel" or "Die Thälmann-Kolonne", is a song written in 1936 by Gudrun Kabisch and Paul Dessau, German anti-fascists. The song was written for the International Brigades but later became a popular standard in Germany and in American communist and folk music communities. The title translates as "Freedom" in English.

References

  1. "Die Internationalen Brigaden im Spanischen Bürgerkrieg". www.andalusien360.de. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  2. "Die Internationalen Brigaden". dhm.de. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  3. Börrnert, René (2004). Wie Ernst Thälmann treu und kühn!: das Thälmann-Bild der SED im Erziehungsalltag der DDR (in German). Julius Klinkhardt. ISBN   978-3-7815-1321-1.
  4. mdr.de. "Der Mann, den sie "Teddy" nannten - Thälmann im Porträt | MDR.DE". www.mdr.de (in German). Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  5. Johnson, Gaynor (26 March 2009). The International Context of the Spanish Civil War. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN   978-1-4438-0943-6.
  6. 1 2 Antifascism and Memory in East Germany - Remembering the International Brigades 1945-1989 Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine - McLellan, Josie; Oxford Historical Monographs, Page 31
  7. "Ludwig Renn". bundesstiftung-aufarbeitung.de. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  8. "Feeble Palliative" - Time , Monday 6 June 1938
  9. Müller, Reinhard (23 March 2018). Die Säuberung: Moskau 1936: Stenogramm einer geschlossenen Parteiversammlung (in German). Rowohlt Repertoire. ISBN   978-3-688-10954-8.
  10. There were several other German-language battalions (note that their organisation also changed several times)
  11. 1 2 The International Brigades Archived 27 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine - Colodny, Robert G. Accessed 2008-05-12.
  12. Antifascism and Memory in East Germany - Remembering the International Brigades 1945-1989 Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine - McLellan, Josie; Oxford Historical Monographs, Page 17
  13. Antifascism and Memory in East Germany - Remembering the International Brigades 1945-1989 Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine - McLellan, Josie; Oxford Historical Monographs, Page 14
  14. Antifascism and Memory in East Germany - Remembering the International Brigades 1945-1989 Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine - McLellan, Josie; Oxford Historical Monographs, Page 27
  15. Arthur H. Landis (1967). The Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Citadel Press. p. xvi.
  16. Boadilla by Esmond Romilly, The Clapton Press Limited, London, 2018 ISBN   978-1999654306
  17. 1 2 Antifascism and Memory in East Germany - Remembering the International Brigades 1945-1989 Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine - McLellan, Josie; Oxford Historical Monographs, Page 28
  18. Antifascism and Memory in East Germany - Remembering the International Brigades 1945-1989 Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine - McLellan, Josie; Oxford Historical Monographs, Page 30
  19. Antifascism and Memory in East Germany - Remembering the International Brigades 1945-1989 Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine - McLellan, Josie; Oxford Historical Monographs, Page 29
  20. Antifascism and Memory in East Germany - Remembering the International Brigades 1945-1989 Archived 26 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine - McLellan, Josie; Oxford Historical Monographs, Page 38-40