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Life Arts    H4'ed 9/16/19

Grossman's A Socialist Defector: Back in the GDR - you don't know how lucky you are

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What about the FRG? A thousand judges and prosecutors picked up where they left off in 1945 after the real nasties were tried. The FRG tried to outlaw the 'Victims of nazi persecution association' as a commie front but the defense noted in the trial that all three judges were either SS, nazi, stormtroopers or Gestapo and they immediately put a stop to the trial. Forty out of 49 supreme court judges -- ditto. And some of the worst of the worst of the 'Gestapo Boys' (Globke and Gehlen) just were left in place or in US hands.***

The US rounded up and left in place the entire nazi network set up in 1933 to undermine communism and the Soviet Union, led by Reinhard Gehlen, who became the spymaster of the CIA-affiliated anti-Communist G

ehlen Organisation (1946-56) and the first president of the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND) of West Germany (1956-68). Bundeswehr camps were named for WWI&II heroes, all jingoists and the latter nazis. Green MP Petra Kelly got the notorious Condor Legion names dropped in 2005.

The US pumped money into west Berlin as a showcase, giving generous loans and property to capitalists, much like they did with Korea, similarly faced with half its people now communists. Along the still open border, cinemas with Hollywood films. Anti-fascist Germans celebrated in GDR were ignored/ spurned in the FRG. Any remembrance of the pre-war anti-fascist resistance was suppressed, as if the recent past was already ancient, forgotten history. The Communist Party was outlawed in 1956, its assets stolen by the 'democratic' state.

And in the GDR? 'New teachers', mostly still at university, were hurriedly trained to replaced 90% of the 20,000 nazi teachers in 1948. Corporal punishment at schools was abolished. Like all the socialist countries, the old pro-nazis had to prove themselves before any real authority was granted.

The GDR cleaned up the judiciary and police. Grossman recalls he saw mural portraits in police dorms of a very negroid Pushkin and Jewish Heine. Crime decreased sharply with new judges and police and was always lower than the FRG. People had faith in the authorities. Money wasn't that important. There was no incitement for 'conspicuous consumption'.

Grossman notes that the GDR did not have the tragic show trials of the early 1950s as did the other socialist countries. The effects of Stalin were muted here. Perhaps the ability of the GDR to attract the many anti-fascist Germans who suffered prison and survived, lived abroad -- Brecht, Eisler, Bloch. Despite all the handicaps, the GDR became the envy of the other socialist countries. Given a task -- build socialism -- they went about it methodically and pragmatically.

The FRG was a menacing brother, intent on doing in the younger, radical pretender to the throne. The younger brother just wanted to live in peace. Thomas Mann visited GDR for the Year of Goethe (1949) and of Schiller (1955), was called traitor and physically threatened, requiring a security guard in Stuttgart. But in Weimar, he was given a hero's welcome.

What about the GDR leaders? They were all anti-fascists, working class, courageous, intelligent. Hilde Benjamin (brother-in-law Walter Benjamin) minister of justice. First prime minister social democratic leader Otto Grotewohl, who fled Germany in 1937. Ulbricht and Honecker both imprisoned under Hitler.

They didn't want an army at all. Stalin's proposal was a neutral Germany, like Swizterland and Finland. The US rejected, of course, wanting the whole thing as a capitalist military ally.*** The GDR army appointed only nine former generals. All were prisoners in the SU who rejected Hitler, defying prisoner peer pressure, joined anti-fascist association of German officers or the national committee for a free Germany founded Moscow 1943. Others fought in Spain, the Danish resistance, deserter Kessler crossed enemy lines to surrender.

What aout dissidents? Like Cuba (and now, Venezuela), the flotsam were allowed to leave in the early years, so no big movement. The most noted writer, Christa Wolf, whose Divided Heaven (1961) created a sensation, was even briefly on the central committee, and at the 1964 plenum criticized the stress on economism, and urged east-west dialogue. But she was a loyal voice to the end. Wolf Biermann defected from Hamburg, but was a loose canon, gave a concert in Koln, defaming Honicker in 1976, and was barred from returning.

STASI? A strawman. The country was surrounded, The teeth of the FRG-US always barred. Of course they needed security. And just about everyone agreed. STASI agents were pretty low key, not at all like the fearsome FBI, CIA and now 17 agencies, last count. The revelations since 1991 are hardly shocking. Mostly used to blacken GDRers who were just being good citizens.

What about the Wall? The determination of the West to destroy the GDR, the daily hemorrhaging, required it. Grossman (and many others) had a personal interest, as he was wanted as a traitor, and could be spirited away any day without the Wall. He later looked at the 1,100 pages of FBI files on him, finding out about a second wife of an uncle that he didn't even know about. They were indeed looking for him, finally tracking him down using his Harvard Class of 49 yearbook, even including a translation of a short article in a GDR newspaper referring to him.

He did not hide. He was a good worker, a fine example for his fellow Germans of an honest, moral American, a friend of the poor, a genuine communist. A popular speaker at clubs and unions across the country, he was free to give an honest insider's view of the US, a nondissident critique of his GDR homeland. Despite its material drawbacks, Ossies saw in the flesh that their nation by definition 'superior'.

He smiles at the little things:

*In the 60s, Ossies, with their new meagre affluence, drove their Trabants to the Baltic and camped wild, more and more as nudists. This caught on and was officially sanctioned in 1968, with 60 designated beaches, most on the Baltic but also on some lakes in Mecklenburg. In the FRG, no nude beaches but lots of porn.

*He recounts the trick he played to help a British shop steward touring eastern Europe by bike soon after he arrived in 1951. The west Berlin police chase him away at dawn. He contacted Grossman and Grossman told the trade union office and they sent a car to pick up the scruffy cyclist, giving him a first class hotel room in east Berlin.

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Eric writes for Al-Ahram Weekly and PressTV. He specializes in Russian and Eurasian affairs. His "Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games", "From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization" and "Canada (more...)

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