Yesterday's Wehrmacht generals and officers write an appeal to the German troops. Source: waralbum.ru
First, we will touch upon the origins of the formation of an anti-fascist organization from the composition of captured Germans. There are a lot of opinions on this. Official propaganda of the Soviet period stated that the initiative came from the Communist Party of Germany and its members in the USSR. At the same time, anti-fascists carried out the decisions of the illegal pre-war Brussels (1935) and Berne (1939) conferences, in which the principle of the fight against fascism was proclaimed. Conferences, by the way, were called so for disguise - the first was held in Moscow, and Bernese in Paris. In fact, the most plausible version of the emergence of the National Committee "Free Germany" directly at the behest of Joseph Stalin. In June 1943, the leader had a telephone conversation with the Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, the head of the Main Political Administration of the Red Army, Alexander Shcherbakov:
“Comrade Shcherbakov, it’s time for the Germans to create their own anti-fascist committee on a broad basis. The time has come. Give directions and provide the necessary funds for this. ”
However, this is only a plausible assumption - there is no written documentary evidence of this.
The meeting of the constituent conference of the "National Committee" Free Germany "was held June 12-13, 1943 in Krasnogorsk, Moscow Region. The members of the committee were 25 German prisoners of war and soldiers, as well as 13 civilians - anti-fascist political emigrants. Among them was the chairman of the Communist Party of Germany, a deputy of the Reichstag, Wilhelm Pieck, and several of his fellow deputies: Edwin Guernle, Wilhelm Florin, Walter Ulbricht. The intelligentsia was also represented in the ranks of the committee: writers Willy Bredel, Johannes R. Becher and Friedrich Wolf, as well as director Baron Gustav von Wangenheim. Communist poet Erich Weinert was elected president of Free Germany at the conference. According to Major General Dr. Korfes, a former commander of the 295th Infantry Division, the anti-Nazi committee gathered
“Anti-communists and socialists, freethinkers and Christians, supporters of the center party and liberals, conservatives and democrats, professional military men, former members of the Steel Helmet and members of the assault squads who have learned from their past; they were united by love for the German people. ”
Flyers of "Free Germany". Source: warspot.ru
Together, the founding conference adopted the first manifesto of "Free Germany", which outlined the direction of the committee. The elimination of Hitler, the speedy end of the war, until the Wehrmacht lost its strength, the conclusion of a truce, the withdrawal of German troops to the old borders of the Reich and the formation of a national government - these provisions were put at the forefront. Moreover, if Hitler was overthrown by the anti-Hitler coalition, there could be no talk of any independence of the state. The Fuhrer had to be eliminated by the Germans themselves, only then could we talk about maintaining any sovereignty. The manifest, in particular, said:
"Germans! Events require us to resolve immediately. At the moment of mortal danger hanging over our country and threatening its very existence, the Free Germany National Committee was organized.
The full text of the manifesto with biting "Hitler must fall for Germany to live. For a free and independent Germany! ” by September 1943, they were immediately printed with an eight-million circulation for casting to the side of the enemy. The conference also approved the flag of “Free Germany” - a black-and-white-red tricolor, which became a recognizable element of the anti-fascist newspaper Freies Deutschland (“Free Germany”). A few months later, the Freies Deutschland im Bild supplement with drawings was released, intended for the rank and file of the German army. The publications published photos of committee members, activity reports and propaganda thematic illustrations.
It is also important to understand that the Main Political Directorate of the Red Army very clearly divided the "zones of responsibility" between its own propaganda and the activities of "Free Germany". Unlike the anti-fascist Germans, the 7th department of political administration, which was responsible for the decomposition of the enemy forces, was engaged in creating the image of the futility of further war, the inevitability of defeat, and incited to surrender. That is, Red Army specialists called on the enemy to unconditional surrender, and anti-fascist Germans advocated a mild option - the withdrawal of units and the conclusion of a world beneficial to all. There were even peculiar action programs for this case developed. So, in September of the 43rd year, more than half a million leaflets “Directive No. 1 to the troops on the eastern front” were printed, according to which a military coup was planned.
Erich Weinert, president of Free Germany, was revered after the war. Source: ru.wikipedia.org
German prisoners of war reading "Free Germany". Source: waralbum.ru
The newspaper Free Germany was distinguished by the enviable print quality. Source: images.booklooker.de
Despite some differences in the concept of propaganda activities on the fronts, the authorized activists of Free Germany worked under the supervision and in close connection with the seventh departments mentioned. By the end of June 1943, the most reliable anti-fascists arrived at the fronts to conduct “explanatory” conversations with their ex-brothers arms. And by the end of September, there were about 200 anti-fascists on the Soviet-German front - an average of one per division or army. These people were trained on the basis of the Krasnogorsk Central Anti-Fascist School and the Talitsky Anti-Fascist School. By the end of the war, the number of front-line, army and divisional commissioners, together with service personnel (printers, typesetters, proofreaders, electricians, radio mechanics) amounted to more than 2000 people.
Staged scenes from the life of the "National Committee" Free Germany ". Source: waralbum.ru
The duties of the commissioners of various ranks included the work on the decomposition of Wehrmacht troops, the conduct of anti-fascist propaganda, and the incitement of German soldiers and officers to anti-state activities. In addition, members of "Free Germany" led (under the supervision of the 7th Division and the NKVD, of course) illegal activities behind the front line and even threw sabotage groups into the German rear. However, the most ambitious and, obviously, the most effective was the production of leaflets to undermine the morale of the enemy. The emphasis in the content was placed on the front-line life of German troops, on interpersonal relations, as well as on the efficiency of the appearance of information. At the same time, in appeals to the soldiers, they directly pointed to the culprits of large losses at the front - specific colonels, majors and the like. In the publication "Militaryhistorical Magazine ”provides an example of the leaflet“ The End of the 357th Infantry Division ”compiled by corporal Rudy Scholz. He was a confidant of Free Germany on the 1st Ukrainian Front. Scholz simply and easily, without any extra sentiment and abstraction, spoke about the heavy losses of the unit, about the futility of the war, urged him not to die for the Fuhrer and organize the committee cells on the German side. The password for the transition to the Russians was: “General von Seidlitz”, which will be discussed a little later.
Such leaflets were usually delivered using mortars, aviation and balloons, and for "explanatory" conversations, the authorized committee used powerful loud-speaking installations (MSU) and trench loudspeakers (OSU). The first broadcast for 3-4 kilometers on average for 30 minutes, and the second washed brain brains at a distance of 1-2 kilometers. Often used megaphones and even simple speakers. On the one hand, they made it possible to establish almost visual contact with the Wehrmacht soldiers, and on the other, they attracted extra attention and fell under fire. The example of the activity of corporal Hans Gossen, who conducted 15 sound transmissions in German from March 1944, 1 to May 1945, 1616, shows how dense the work with the enemy in this direction was. These are approximately four thematic “broadcasts” per day.
Marshal of Hitler or Marshal of the German people?
One of the most important stages of the work of the Free Germany committee was the involvement of the Union of German Officers in the staunch anti-fascists. They organized it later than the committee, in August 1943, and led the artillery general Walter von Seidlitz-Kurzbach, who was captured by the Soviet Union even near Stalingrad. Seidlitz became the leaders of the union, largely due to hopelessness - Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus flatly refused to not only head, but even join the "Union of German Officers". And the Union needed propaganda of the Red Army to give weight to the anti-fascist movement in the eyes of officers and soldiers of the Wehrmacht. Paulus, sensing that reprisals were not waiting for him in Russia, began to behave very intractably. On September 1, 1943, he organized a petition to the Soviet leadership condemning the behavior of his former subordinates as part of the union. Under this treatise, in which the officers and generals of the union were called traitors to the homeland, another 17 high-ranking prisoners of war signed their names. This seriously upset Seidlitz’s relationship with Paulus, and the latter, at the insistence of the artillery general, was expelled to a dacha near Moscow. I must say that the field marshal had gorgeous living conditions in Soviet captivity - hearty food, cigarettes, adjutant Adam, orderly Schulte and personal cook Georges. And when the radiation nerve was inflamed at Paulus, then the leading neurosurgeon of the Ivanovo Medical Institute, Professor Kartashov, was called for the operation. And the rest of the German generals lived in the USSR very hearty, regularly alternating anti-fascist rhetoric with drunken drinks with compatriots-political emigrants. All this was part of the plan of the Soviet special services for the voluntary induction of a high-ranking prisoner of war to cooperate with anti-fascists. In early August of the 44th year, it seems, the turn of extreme measures has come. Paulus was faced with a choice: either he was Marshal of Hitler and after the victory he would be judged, like the rest of the top Reich, or he was marshal of the German people and was obliged to side with the "Union of German Officers". The effect of the work came only after the attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944 and the subsequent execution on August 8 of Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, a close friend of Paulus. After that there was an appeal to the Germans (“To the German people and prisoners of war officers and soldiers located in the USSR”), and official entry into the union, and even the recall of the ill-fated letter of 17 generals.
Captive commander of the 51st army corps of the Wehrmacht, artillery general Walter von Seidlitz-Kurzbach. Source: waralbum.ru
The second most important figure of Free Germany (the Union of German Officers joined the committee in the fall of 1943) was General von Seidlitz, who from the very beginning had big plans for his place in the new Germany. At first he tried to build his own army from prisoners of war, by analogy with the units of Vlasov. Later, upon learning that the USSR, the USA and Great Britain would achieve the complete surrender of fascist Germany, he proposed himself as president in exile, and the top of the Free Germany committee was appointed by the cabinet. They say that the direct curator of Zeidlitz, the 1st deputy head of the Directorate of Prisoners of War and Internment of the NKVD, General Nikolai Melnikov, was forced to shoot himself because of such curtsies. All Seidlitz’s initiatives did not find understanding among the Soviet leadership, and contact with former colleagues was not particularly established. In January 1944, the general participated in the psychological treatment of officers and soldiers who were surrounded by the city of Korsun-Shevchenkovsky. Seidlitz tried to persuade 10 German divisions to surrender - he wrote 49 personal letters to the military commanders, 35 times on the radio he appealed not to resist, but everything turned out to be in vain. The Germans, led by General Stemmermann, organized a breakthrough, lost a lot of soldiers, and Seidlitz himself was then sentenced to death in absentia in “Faterland”.
Seidlitz "saves" the Germans in the environment. Source: waralbum.ru
A new chapter in the committee’s activities began in 1944, when it became clear that no one would be satisfied with a simple withdrawal of troops to the borders of Germany. The rhetoric of “Free Germany” changed not without the influence of the Soviet side and consisted in calls for a massive shift to the side of the committee. Someone will say that this meant the actual surrender, but everything was somewhat different. The Germans on the eastern front were invited to lay down their arms, cross the front line, and already on the Soviet side to prepare themselves for the restoration of democracy and freedom in the new Germany.
The calls of the anti-Hitler Union of prisoners of war were not decisive, and the Führer was not overthrown by his own people until the very end of the war. Democracy in Germany had to be introduced on the bayonets of Soviet troops and allies.