Interview with Wolfgand Leonhard

Q: It's the 2nd of May and you're about to make a journey returning to Berlin, tell me about it.

A: So each of us had a car, again with a Red Flag, so we could go everywhere, and it was 25 miles, we approached Berlin. And the nearer we came to Berlin the more ruins we saw. The more we saw the war, because Bochmuller was an isolated place. And so we came through Isfelder and Lichtenburg, we saw flames, smoke, ruins. German soldiers looking with dazing eyes around, who seemed not to understand what on earth is going on. Because on the 2nd of May the last troops in Berlin capitulated. Russian Soviet soldiers drunk, very often drunk. After the 1st of May victory happy, rushing around on bicycles. Queues of people, long queues in the little places where you could get water. They were very people - place where they - where you got a little water. Of course no electricity, nothing existed. And then already the first women under the supervision of the Soviet soldiers making things in order. Hundreds of women had to clean the streets, so, under Soviet supervision. And then the most strange flags out of the windows. White flags, as a sign, we surrender. Sometimes red flags, which is very rarely mentioned but it's historically true. Greetings to the Soviet army. And sometimes very careful people had a white flag and a red flag. The capitulation and the greeting. And you had the same on the sleeves, you always saw people with a white armband. I capitulate, I don't do anything any more. And sometimes red, I'm happy that the Soviet troops are there. And so it wasa very strange feed, it was like hell. The smoke, the fire, the ruins, the people in - hungry, tattered clothes, trying to go somewhere and don't know where to go, what to do.But at the same time it was hopeful. The war's at an end. It starts now new. And even the German population were, god (....) ah, at last it's finished. So it was a horror and a hope, simultaneously.

Q: What was your task, what were you going to do, what were you in Berlin for and what were you going to do in these next few weeks?

A: The first day we were not told. We're just told each of you goes in one of the 20 districts of Berlin. So each of us went to the districts. One district, just to look and try to do something. And the evening of the 2nd of May we returned 25 miles to Bochmuller (cough) and had our first meeting, and there Ulbricht said what our real task should be, and the real task would be to build up new anti-fascist democratic (german) how on earth is that? (german) ...

Q: What was the task that you were given by Ulbricht?

A: On the 2nd of May it was, the first task was given, in all 20 Berlin districts build up new district councils, new democratic district authorities, administrations. And primarily the 12 Western sectors. Because in 12 - the 12 Western sectors soon the allies will come. And so you have to build them political correctly. The mayor of each district, with the exception of hand workers' regions should be a bourgeois. A bourgeois democrat helpfully with the Dr title. Who's ready to work with us.The many communal problems, water, electricity, traffic, well, let's take Social Democrats, they understand these practical small problems quite well. And the health, we need anti-fascist doctors without Party, no Party members. So we all looked, and then we need - we need a priest. A priest. Yes, for each of the 20 districts a committee for church problems,we need a real priest there. And ah, yes, and then our comrades. At last, he said, we only need the vice mayor, the mayor is if the official one, but we have the vice mayor. The man for personnel, who puts in personnel, changes personnel. The man for education. And our comrade's a very trusted one, we should already prepare for building up the police. And so we were flabbergasted, we - only three or four comrades and everybody else is social democrats and bourgeois democrats and so on. So one of us asked and said - but it must look democtratic, but we must have everything in our hands. Clear? Yes, clear. So that's what we did, in the next 10 days went to all the districts of Berlin, each of us got one district, all of us in the Western sectors, because we said the Soviet sector can come later. So I got Wehrmarsdorf one of the most prestigious sectors of West Berlin, and there I was, 24 years, coming from Moscow, a Communist, and had to look for a bourgeois, a bourgeois democrat who's ready to work with us and who has a doctor title. It was very difficult, on the 3rd of May bourgeois democrats were hiding and not going around the streets waiting for Communists to Pieck them up. No, so they were hiding. But at last I got one. And then all to the plans, the second man is then of course a Communist and the education man is a Communist, economy is a social democrat, exactly according to the list. And when I had ready the list, it took me three days, I went to the Commandant and showed him my paper write everything, how are your proposals, I gave them and he signed and we proposed a drink to the health of the bourgeois democratic mayor of Berlin Wermersdorf.

Q: How was it going to be possible then, with only three or four Party members, to control this, in quotes, democratic setup?

A: The idea was at the beginning to cooperate. There should be a long term anti-fascist democratic cooperation. And gradually, gradually to build up the The Party, making the best organised party,the most militant party, the most active party. And gradually increase the influence on the other parties and gradually take over the whole situation. But not at once.

Q: Effectly you're going in to set up a supposedly democratic administration so that when the Western allies come in they will work with that administration. But in fact it is an administration geared to respond to the wishes of the Soviet Union. Is that a correct interpretation?

A: I think so, yes. So I still remember, in June, it's not May now, we're speaking much later, Ulbricht said tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in four or five days, the Western allies, at that time the term was no imperialist but Western allies, are coming. And everything is in order. There will be a documensigned by tSoviet Union and the Western allies that all our administrations which we have set up will remain in power. And I remember, I was 24 years old, educated in the Soviet Union, knowing who Ulbricht was, but I said oh, that's too much. I don't believe that the Western allies will be so friendly that they will sign our administration and give them the right to stay in power. But Ulbricht was right. On the next day after they came there was an inter-allied commandatura and the first order of the inter-allied commandatura stated that all official institutions which had been created since May 1945 will remain in duty. So I said, Ulbricht was right and there we had the 20 district offices, who were - all the key positions were always Communist. A minority, but the key positions. And he was proved to be right. And the same was, we also had since the 17th of May the Berlin magistrat, for the whole of Berlin. And it was set up exactly the same, a few bourgeois, many social democrats, but only the vice mayor, the man for education, the man for personnel, the man for police, were Communists. And so it looked all very good indeed, but the key positions were (Comisand.)

Q: Tell me then, you've done the four - you've done your first task, you've effectively performed your job, you've seen the district you were sent to, there's a suitable people in each post. What was the next task that you were given?

A: The next task first was of course the local administration, then the Berlin administration, and everything changed on the 4th of June. On the 4th of June 1945 suddenly Ulbricht disappeared, and you didn't know where and what. Only years later we heard that he went to Moscow and in Moscow on the same day was invited to the Soviet Politburo and Stalin personally. And Stalin gave him a new order. The order was immediately set up the Communist Party. Immediately set up a Communist Party and help to create a Social Democratic Party, a Catholic Party and a Liberal Party and set up then an anti-fascist Democratic United Front, and also fulfil this summer already, make all the preparations, maybe autumn, land reform. The confiscation of the feudal landowners and the division of the land in the hands of the peasants. So Ulbrich was there, Ackermann, much more intelligent, more capable, he wrote the programme. You needed a programmatic statement. And on the 9th of May 9th of June '45, the group returned and literally in a few hours we got a newspaper, I was one of the three to prepare the first issue of the Party newspaper, and immediately everything was prepared for constituting the Communist Party. And on the 10th you had the famous Marshal Zhukov order stating that anti-fascist democratic parties are permitted, and literally six hours later the radio announced that the Communist Party is - the first one is organising. And so after the organisation of the Communist Party we had to go in all the different districts and make foundation conferences, of the future Communist Party. And I was at that time very optimistic because in the official statement it was said the Communist Party has no intention to introduce the Soviet system of the Soviet Union in Germany. No intention whatsoever. And the Communist Party is in favour of a parliamentary democratic republic with all rights and freedoms for the population. And I must admit, sadly but true, I believed it. I believed that, and I was really hoping that an anti-fascist democratic period would start in Germany. This was the biggest mistake of my life, to believe that. And I can only say I was not the only one. There were millions of other people who also believed that.

Q: Why - difficult, I appreciate, and coming from totally different culture it's difficult for me to - almost even to ask the question. But why would you believe that when the whole of Marxist-Leninist thought to that period of time, all of Lenin's diktats, totally against any idea of bourgeois democracy, what made you think that it was even conceivable that this would be the way to go? You'd spent years yourself offering a different line.

A: Yes, I give you first, which I understood much later, a psychological argument which I didn't know what psychology was at that time. And that is if you are in a very long, very difficult period of life, like 10 years under Stalin, you can only endure it if you have some hope. So the idea of hopes, maybe illusions, is ingrained in long periods of a dictatorship. Long periods of dictatorship make people hope for change, because that's the only hope they have in life. They can only survive that way. And secondly we were already prepared, already in the Communist International polischool in 1942-43 it was said this is a historical change, never a war against fascism on a worldwide scale did ever happen. We are in a long endurant alliance with Britain, America, France and other democratic countries. To build up a democracy is the main aim and will remain the main aim for a long time. And in spring 1945 when we had our 12 informational lectures in Moscow, we were told this is not the time of socialism. We have to fight any Communists, political badly educated, who begins to speak about socialism. Socialism is not the task of Germany. We need a long historical period of an anti-fascist bourgeois democratic system. Now, being prepared that way -

(runs out)