The Role of History in the DDR

In: East Central Europe
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  • 1 1(The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.

Abstract

When Walter Ulbricht and other Communist Party leaders returned to Germany from their Soviet exile in April, 1945, they brought with them not only blueprints for the administration and rehabilitation of Germany and for her gradual conversion to socialism,1 but also detailed plans for the Marxist reinterpretation of German history and for the teaching of this revised history in German schools and universities. Work on these plans had been underway for more than a year; it was based on earlier studies designed to refute Nazi conceptions of Germany's past. Similarly, it could draw on efforts to implement the popular-front strategy of the preceding decade, pointing out to non-Marxists that the communist-sponsored anti-fascist popular front (Volksfront) was deeply rooted in German history. This concern with history had gathered further momentum in connection with efforts to denazify German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union. To gain their support for the "National Committee 'Free Germany'," the Volksfront organization set up in the USSR in July, 1943, the communist leaders sought to convince these men that the goals of the Committee accorded with some of the noblest traditions of Germany's past. On this basis outlines were compiled for a new approach to German history, emphasizing the democratic progressive strands of that history. Similarly texts were drawn up to explain the inevitability of the defeat of reactionary Nazism and imperialism at the hands of the forces of progress as represented above all by the Soviet Union. The nation was thus to be led on to the path of peace and progress, but with the ultimate socialist goal barely mentioned. Preparations also were made to train at once teachers who could offer this type of instruction.2

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