A critique of an essay by Alex de Jong in Jacobin magazine, August 2021.
In August 2021, the social-democratic magazine Jacobin published an article by Dutch writer Alex de Jong titled “Stalin Handed Hundreds of Communist Over to Hitler”. The assertion in the article’s title is false. De Jong’s article, and other articles and books that make this claim, all commit the following three cardinal errors:
They assume that persons declared “rehabilitated” by the Khrushchev and Gorbachev regimes in the former USSR were in fact innocent of the crimes for which they were punished.
Many or most of the Germans and Austrians deported from the USSR to Germany between 1937 and 1941 were declared “rehabilitated.” However, in reality this does not at all mean that they were innocent of the charges against them. Anticommunist researcher Marc Junge notes:
...rehabilitation in the Soviet Union remained an arbitrary political and administrative act, which was primarily determined by the political expediency of the measures, but not by the correctness of criminal law. (Junge, Bucharins Rehabilitierung, Berlin, 1999, p. 266)In Chapter 11 of my 2011 book Khrushchev Lied, I studied the rehabilitation reports that had been published by 2003. I showed that none of them contains any evidence that the person “rehabilitated” was innocent. It was politically convenient for Gorbachev (and earlier for Khrushchev) to claim that many persons convicted of serious crimes during the “Stalin period” were falsely convicted. But Gorbachev’s men did not make public the investigative files that included the evidence against the defendants or – in the case of the Germans and Austrians – even the “rehabilitation” reports.
In 2010, my colleague Vladimir L. Bobrov and I published an article on the “rehabilitation” of Nikolai Bukharin, who had been convicted of participation in the Right-Trotskyist conspiracy and executed in March 1938. There we showed that in 1988 “the Soviet Supreme Court deliberately lied about a document they cited as evidence in “rehabilitating” Bukharin. That document, finally published in 2006, in fact provides more evidence of Bukharin’s guilt!
To date we have no evidence that any of these people were innocent of the charges of which they were convicted. In those cases where we have any evidence at all, it points towards their guilt.
Books and articles that claim that the Germans deported to Germany were innocent all assume that the conspiracies of which they were claimed to be guilty were bogus – did not exist.
Naturally, if no such conspiracies existed, then those convicted of participation in them, including the Germans, must be innocent. This too was claimed by Khrushchev’s and Gorbachev’s men. However, evidence from former Soviet archives shows that such conspiracies did indeed exist and were dangerous and widespread.
The investigations and trials of the period 1936-1938 broke up serious conspiracies by Trotskyists, followers of Grigory Zinoviev, military leaders, and others. The image of a “witch hunt” served the interest of anticommunists and those who, like Leon Trotsky, denied his own conspiracy and his collaboration with the Germans, Japanese, domestic fascists, and his own clandestine followers against the Stalin regime.
Failure to use the NKVD investigation files on the defendants of the 1930s
These have been available to researchers for some years. These files normally include interrogations, confession statements, face-to-face confrontations between accusers, the investigators’ report, the prosecution’s indictment, and transcripts of the trial.
No claim that a given person is innocent or guilty can have any validity unless this, the evidence, has been studied. Neither de Jong nor his sources have studied investigation files on even one of these figures. I have obtained NKVD investigation files on a number of prominent oppositionists. One of them is Osip Pyatnitsky, leader of the Comintern until 1935, arrested in 1937, convicted and executed in 1938. De Jong could have done likewise.
Heinz Neumann had been a leader of the “left” – i.e., the anti-Stalin, anti-Soviet — opposition in the German Communist Party. De Jong claims that the charges against him and his wife, Margarete Buber-Neumann, were “trumped up.” This is false. The only evidence we have concerning the charges against Neumann – for example, in Osip Pyatnitsky’s confession statements, points towards Neumann’s guilt.
One of the women imprisoned and then deported to Germany with Buber-Neumann was Betty Ol’berg. She was the wife of Valentin Ol’berg who, at the 1936 Moscow Trial, confessed to travelling to the USSR to assassinate Stalin on instructions from Trotsky. We now have a great deal of evidence from the Soviet archives that corroborates Valentin Ol’berg’s confession.
One confession statement by Betty Ol’berg was published in 2013. In it, she admits that she and her husband had bought fake Honduran passports with the aid of both the Gestapo and of Trotsky’s son, Leon Sedov. Valentin Ol’berg was executed, but his wife was not – possibly because she cooperated with the prosecution.
Like similar articles, de Jong’s claims that the deported Germans and Austrians were (with a few exceptions) communists. This too is false. Conviction of a serious crime entailed expulsion from the communist movement. In addition, some of those deported had been expelled from their own parties as oppositionists. For the Soviets, therefore, none of them was communists when they were deported.
De Jong writes: “It is thus difficult to be sure how many people suffered the same fate as [Margarete] Buber-Neumann. A conservative estimate is that over six hundred were deported or expelled.”
Where does de Jong get this number? He cites the 1990 book by anticommunist historian Hans Schafranek, Zwischen NKWD und Gestapo. Schafranek concludes that there could not have been more than 300.
De Jong notes that Buber-Neumann called the deportations “Stalin’s gift to Hitler.” However, de Jong does not tell his readers that a careful study by the anticommunist German socialist Wilhelm Mensing concluded that this was not so.
• No “500 bitter opponents of Hitler” were deported to Germany. A little over 300 persons were deported. The Nazi regime did not punish most of those deported.
• The deportations of 1939-1941 were not aimed at communists
• There is no indication that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-aggression Pact was the motivation for the deportations.
• There is no evidence that those deported from the USSR to Germany in 1939-1941 were persecuted there. On the contrary, there is evidence that some of them, including former communists, were not molested.
Mensing also reveals that many of those deported had been convicted of one crime or another.
De Jong discusses Austrian communist Fritz Koritschoner but does not even know the charges against him. Schafranek, de Jong’s main source here, does not know either. Here, as elsewhere, de Jong simply assumes that “rehabilitation” means innocence – and it does not.
Concerning Austrian socialist Georg Bonner, de Jong writes:
A group of twenty-five deportees transferred in December 1939 included ten Schutzbündler. One of them was Georg Bogner. He had fought during the February 1934 uprising in his hometown of Attnang-Puchheim before fleeing to the Soviet Union. The Soviet secret police arrested Bogner in 1938. By late December 1939, he was in the custody of the German intelligence service, the Sicherheitsdienst, in Warsaw.
De Jong fails to add that Bogner, arrested on March 25, 1938, was not put on trial until December 14, 1939 – plenty of time for an investigation.
Bogner’s Austrian comrades had their doubts about him long before the Soviets arrested him. An anticommunist German page on Bogner states:
The Schutzbund [Protection League] collective noted that Bogner had joined a fascist organization in 1934. De Jong fails to mention this.
About Ernst Fabisch, de Jong writes:
Fabisch had joined the Communist Party of Germany (Opposition), or KPO, when he was nineteen. Led by Heinrich Brandler and August Thalheimer, the KPO was a communist current that formed part of the so-called “Right Opposition” in the movement, associated with Soviet politicians such as Nikolai Bukharin, Stalin’s last major rival. It rejected the KPD’s sectarian hostility toward Social Democrats and other socialists and argued for unity against fascism.
This is all wrong. By the 1930s, Bukharin was no “rival” of Stalin’s. Moreover, we have a great deal of evidence of Bukharin’s guilt from the former Soviet archives. As for “unity against fascism,” that had already been the Comintern and Soviet position for more than two years by the time Fabisch was arrested by the NKVD on July 29, 1937.
According to the only information I can find about him Fabisch was charged with “counterrevolutionary activity” and “membership in an armed group.” The German Wikipedia page says Fabisch was convicted of “membership in the Brandler group.” This group, expelled from the German Communist Party in 1929, was part of the international Right Opposition, which attacked the Stalin leadership of the USSR.
On November 15, 1937 (Schafranek, 136, has November 17) Fabisch was first sentenced to a term in a labor camp, and on January 5, 1938, sentenced to deportation as an undesirable foreigner.
De Jong writes: “As historian Hermann Weber pointed out, out of forty-three top leaders of the KPD, more died in the custody of the Soviet secret police than were killed by the Nazis.”
Who were they? Why doesn’t de Jong mention even one of them? In fact, Weber seems to have copied this list from one issued by Gorbachev’s men on August 3, 1989, which contains no investigation and no evidence.
De Jong writes: “Stalin disbanded the Polish Communist Party in 1938 …” This too is false.
On November 28, 1937, Comintern leader Georgi Dimitrov sent Stalin a draft resolution by the Comintern Executive Committee proposing the dissolution of the Polish Communist Party along with the reasons for it. On it in Stalin’s handwriting is the note “This dissolution is about two years late.”
Even then, the dissolution did not take place until August 16, 1938, and not by any order of Stalin but by a vote of the Comintern Executive Committee. (Dimitrov and Stalin, 1934-1943, 26-32) Therefore, Stalin did not order it – or it would have happened two to three years earlier! More evidence that Stalin was not a dictator – something the C.I.A reported in the early 1950s.
Neither Buber-Neumann nor any of the others deported to Germany by the Soviets were communists at the time they were repatriated to Germany. All had been convicted of some serious, but not capital, crime. Conviction would have meant expulsion from the communist party, if they had not quit or been expelled earlier.
In discussing the case of Hugo Eberlein, de Jong fails to mention that he appears in a summary of investigative materials concerning Comintern figures sent to Stalin by the NKVD on April 20, 1938, where some of his confessions are summarized. This document is even available on the Internet.
Soviet sources state that on July 30, 1941, Eberlein was convicted of “participation in an anti-Soviet Right-Trotskyite organization,” for which he was sentenced to execution. Eberlein had been in the anti-Thaelmann opposition in the German Communist Party.
De Jong writes: “Buber-Neumann, Fabisch, Bogner, Eberlein, and many others were victims of a witch hunt. Their ultimate fate depended on arbitrary bureaucratic decisions.”
This is a deliberate falsification, since de Jong had no way of knowing this. In every instance where I can find any evidence at all, the defendant received a trial after an extensive investigation.
For the past few years, NKVD investigative files from the 1930s have been available to researchers. But de Jong doesn’t care about evidence! However, if you don’t care about evidence, you don’t care about the truth.
De Jong is ignorant of Soviet history of this period. He writes:
The impulse behind the deportations was primarily internal to the Soviet system. Stalin’s purges had begun as an attack on a well-defined group of people: communists who were seen as potential supporters of the opposition. Over time, the use of torture and other forms of pressure to coerce suspects into naming names combined with a generalized atmosphere of paranoia and distrust and the bureaucratic imperative of arrest quotas to widen the number of targets inexorably.
This too is all wrong. The arrests and trials of conspirators were not “attacks” on anyone. They were investigations of conspiracies against Stalin and the Soviet leadership, and prosecutions of the conspirators. Today we have a great deal of evidence against these conspirators from former Soviet archives.
Only persons actually suspected of conspiracy, not “potential supporters of the opposition,” were put on trial. The Soviet government did not authorize “arrest quotas” but instead set “limits” – maximum, not minimum numbers — of arrests.
The late Stephen Cohen, whose work I have criticized elsewhere, concluded in a 2003 article that Nikolai Bukharin was not tortured. However, torture and phony charges were indeed used by Nikolai Yezhov, head (People’s Commissar) of the NKVD from August 1936 until November 1938. Yezhov and his men killed more than six hundred thousand Soviet citizens, the vast majority of whom must have been innocent of any crime. Documents from former Soviet archives have shown that Yezhov had his own dangerous conspiracy against the Soviet state. (see Furr, Yezhov vs Stalin, 2016)
Yezhov was persuaded to resign – evidently with some difficulty, according to historian Yuri Zhukov — in November 1938, and was replaced by Lavrentii Beria. Beginning in December 1938, the massive crimes of Yezhov and his men were investigated and uncovered, and the guilty parties tried and convicted.
There is no reason to doubt that Eberlein’s letter to his wife Charlotte is genuine. In it, he describes his brutal treatment at the hands of Yezhov’s NKVD men. Mikhail Shreider, a former NKVD man under arrest, wrote in his memoir that in prison he had met Hugo Eberlein, who had been badly beaten.
Later, Shreider met Lavrentii Beria, who had replaced Nikolai Yezhov as head of the NKVD. When Beria heard from Shreider about Eberlein’s torture by Yezhov’s men, he expressed surprise and disbelief but promised an investigation. (NKVD Iznutri 136; 168) There is no reason Shreider would fabricate a story that made Beria look good.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
De Jong seriously distorts the nature of the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the USSR, often called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and, by anticommunists, the “Hitler-Stalin Pact.”
The Pact did not “divide the territory of the Baltic states and Poland between” Germany and the USSR. It designated Eastern Poland as a Soviet “sphere of influence.” This meant that a shrunken state of Poland could exist there, hostile to Nazi Germany and a buffer between the German army and the Soviet border.
The USSR did not “attack” Poland. The Polish government had fled the country without appointing a government-in-exile. Since by international law a state must have a government, the Germans informed the Soviets that there was no more state of Poland. That meant that to the Germans the secret protocol concerning a Soviet “sphere of influence” in Eastern Poland was no longer valid. Had the Red Army not occupied Eastern Poland, German forces could have rolled up to the pre-1939 Soviet border.
This area — “Eastern Poland” – was in reality Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine. It had been seized by imperialist Poland in the 1919-1921 war from a weakened Soviet Russia. Therefore, in 1939 the USSR regained the territories it had lost in 1921.
The Polish government fled Poland into internment in Romania on September 17, 1939, the same day the Red Army entered Western Belorussia. September 17 is now a holiday – “Unification Day” – in Belarus.
De Jong claims that the USSR’s deportation of these Germans and Austrians was “a shocking betrayal,” and that Stalin “shamefully broke the promise” of the “right of asylum.” As we have shown, the persons repatriated to Germany had been convicted of serious crimes, while those who had once been communists no longer were.
De Jong claims that “Our own understanding of socialism should keep its promises and have human dignity at its core.” I would suggest, however, that the litany of falsehoods and omissions in de Jong’s essay suggest something else.
Socialists, communists, and all those who work for a better world free of capitalist exploitation and war, should “seek the truth from facts” and seek the facts from evidence. If de Jong had stuck to the evidence that has long been available – about the German and Austrian deportees, about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, about the opposition conspiracies against the Stalin government in the USSR – he could never have written this essay.
Instead of relying on evidence, de Jong has taken demonstrably fraudulent claims of professional anticommunists at face value. The result is yet more falsehoods, to poison the minds of people today who want to learn from the successes, as well as from the failures, of the communist movement of the past.
Grover Furr, Bloomfield, NJ.
 Ruth Stoljarowa, Wladislaw Hedeler: «Deine Liebe zu unserer Sache hat dir wenig Freude und viel Leid gebracht.» Die junge Kommunistin Charlotte Scheckenreuter als Mitarbeiterin und Frau Hugo Eberleins in den 1930er-Jahren, aufgezeichnet nach den Akten in Moskauer Archiven, [Your love for our cause has brought you little joy and much suffering.” The young Communist Charlotte Scheckenreuter as a co-worker and wife of Hugo Eberlein in the 1930s, recorded according to the files in Moscow archives] in: Jahrbuch für Forschungen zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, I (2008), 31 ff.