Purge or Purgatory: How the Flight of Three Veteran Communists Affected East German Politics during the Ulbricbht Era




McKay, Jennifer

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University of Guelph


Studies focusing on East German communism have largely centred on the political tactics, ideology and organization of the Socialist Unity Party (SED). Only a handful of studies have focused exclusively on the role of veteran communists. Veteran communists in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) held great influence and authority. Subsequently, they were rewarded for their pre-1945 revolutionary efforts and their loyalty to the party and its strain of Marxist-Leninist ideology was almost always unwavering, even when faced with political purges. Since very few veteran communists chose to flee the regime when faced with persecution, West German media sources sensationalized the stories of the ones who did – and often mocked them for their loss of faith in the communist movement. This thesis examines the lives of three high-profile veteran communists who fled the GDR during the Ulbricht era and how the SED responded to the outburst of negative publicity being showcased in the West. Through the examination of the literary scholar Alfred Kantorowicz, the renowned Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch, and the journalist Heinz Brandt, we are able to see how the East German leadership used a variety of tactics to try to minimize the damage caused by their decision to flee. After the propaganda coup surrounding the flight of Kantorowicz, the SED held back in its attack on Bloch in fear that his departure would have a similar effect. Ulbricht therefore granted Bloch just enough academic leniency to keep him on East German soil. Once Bloch did flee the GDR in the spring of 1961, the SED responded by kidnapping Brandt, who was used as a scapegoat to vindicate East Germany’s position as a socialist state. Brandt was promised his freedom if he publicly admitted that his departure was a “mistake.” However, Brandt refused to cooperate with the SED, drawing even more negative media attention in Germany and abroad, culminating in disapproval from both communists and non-communists worldwide.



East Germany, Communism, Walter Ulbricht