The Limits of Rehabilitation: The 1930s Stalinist Terror and Its Legacy in Post-1953 East Germany

  • Matthew Stibbe


The Stalinist terror of the years 1936–1953 claimed millions of victims, including hundreds of German anti-fascists who had gone to the Soviet Union in the 1930s as political émigrés (Politemigranten or Ostemigranten) on the orders of the German Communist Party (KPD).1 Those who survived and later took up residence in post-war East Germany (the GDR), as opposed to the West German Federal Republic (the FRG) or West Berlin, fall into three categories. First was a very small number of KPD functionaries who had already been rehabilitated by various organs of Soviet justice and readmitted to the KPD exile group in Moscow as a result of the ‘mini-thaw’ of late 1938 to early 1940. Typically they were able to return to Germany in 1945 or shortly afterwards.2 Second, there was a handful of individuals who came back in the late 1940s, usually as a result of the direct intervention of the future GDR President Wilhelm Pieck. Among them were Werner Eberlein, son of the murdered KPD functionary Hugo Eberlein, who was repatriated in 1948 and went on to have an illustrious career in East Germany, rising to the Politburo by 1986;3 Susanne Leonhard, mother of the senior party official and Comintern school graduate Wolfgang Leonhard who later defected to the west;4 and Fridolin and Horst Seydewitz, sons of the first post-war Minister-President of the East German state of Saxony, Max Seydewitz.5


Central Committee Party Membership Soviet Authority East German State Secret Speech 
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    J. Granville, ‘Ulbricht in October 1956: Survival of the Spitzbart during Destalinization’, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 41, no. 3 (2006), pp. 477–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Matthew Stibbe 2015

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  • Matthew Stibbe

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