Stalin, the Priest and the Donkeys

In the market of Tseva, a small village near Zestafoni in Georgia, the local priest was minding his own business. He was greeted by young man who was obviously not a local.

‘I am Koba from Gori’, said the young man. ‘May I request some private business?’

‘What do you mean?’ Said Father Kasiane Gachechiladze.

‘I need to get to Chiatura, over the mountains, and I have heard that you have some donkeys’, said the young man.

A little nervously, the priest looked up and noticed that another man was standing guard in the bazaar. He recognised him as a member of the local Red Battle Squad. With no police in the area, the Red Squads were in control. Seeing the priest’s anxiety, Koba asked after his family, mentioning the names of his wife, parents, and children.

‘I would like to offer you fifty roubles for your troubles’, said Koba.

The priest thought for a moment and said, ‘Deal’.

‘Let’s go for a drink, to celebrate’, said Koba.

As they were toasting each other’s health, the future of Georgia, and their respective families, Koba said: ‘They will let you know when I am coming’. He waved his hand towards a number of other Red Guards. ‘Father, don’t be late. I must make the journey to Chiatura and back in a day. After all, we are both still young’.

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So it was that a priest met ‘The Priest’ – the nickname for one who would later be known as Joseph Stalin. The nickname was no accident, for Koba – his personal name – had studied for the priesthood too, leaving the Spiritual Seminary in Tiflis on the eve of sitting his final examinations. As he left the seminary, he passed from one faith to another. Or rather, he realised the continuity between the two faiths.

Within a couple days, Father Gachechiladze received the word, and ‘The Priest’ met him with two comrades. They loaded the donkeys with pieces of a printing press, money, and ammunition. ‘The Priest’ wanted a safe passage for his cargo, far from the prying eyes of the police, who often searched the trains looking for socialists.

Stalin in Georgia 03

On the trek over the mountains, the priest and Stalin talked. Stalin recited poetry, from the Georgian classics and from his own compositions.

‘Some of my poems have even been published’, confessed Stalin after one of recitals in the clear mountain air.

They drew closer, both of them singing songs as they clambered up to the mountain pass. Stalin rested his head on the priest’s lap when they rested. The young priest found him restrained, serious and decent. Stalin even recited the traditional blessing over their meals.

‘You see, I still remember it’, exulted ‘The Priest’.

‘You’d have made a great priest’, said the Father Gachechiladze.

‘I the cobbler’s son did very well against the offspring of nobles’, said Koba. Stalin had indeed topped his class at the Tiflis Seminary.

Too soon did they arrive in Chiatura. Stalin took the saddle- bags and returned with them empty.

‘At least I can use them as pillows on the train home’, said ‘The Priest’.

They parted, never to meet again.

Stalin as priest 01

A Sign of Intelligence: Stalin in Siberia

A sign of intelligence is the ability to make the most of the situation in which you find yourself.

This old piece of advice came to mind as I followed none other than Joseph Stalin to his second Siberian exile. In 1913 he was arrested by the Okhrana and sent for some years to the northern Siberian territory of Turukhansk – a vast area of taiga, winters of nine months, and minimum temperatures of -60 degrees. Initially, he stayed near the capital, Monastyrskoe, on the Yenisei River, which flows northward into the Kara Sea. The consummate escape artist was well-known to the Okhrana, and they were tipped off regarding yet another planned attempt.

Stalin in Siberia 01

Joseph was promptly sent 180 versts (almost 200 km) further north, to the hamlet of Kureika on the Arctic Circle. Here 67 residents, made up of three inter-related families, lived in eight communal huts. Joseph – Osip to the locals – was allocated a corner in one of them. Existence was a struggle, to say the least. When Joseph had to visit the outhouse during one of the long nights, he made sure to take his rifle with him. A shot or two was needed to keep the wolves at bay. The inhabitants looked longingly southward, down the Yenisei River, for this was the only means of getting out the village. In winter, one would use a sleigh pulled by reindeer dogs (and surrounding by the howling of wolves), while in the brief summer, river boats were hauled along by dog teams. In between, the ‘bad roads season’ meant no-one could move.

Stalin in Siberia 12a

But others made this part of the world their real home: the Evenki (Tungus) and Ostyak peoples. Semi-nomadic fishers and herders of reindeer, they had creatively combined some elements of Russian Orthodoxy with their shamanistic practices – ‘shaman’ is itself an Evenki word. As one who had studied theology for many years, Joseph was intrigued by the way they held to beliefs in the spirits that inhabited the vast regions of Siberia. He would visit them, staying all night at their parties, and they would do the same to him. At other times, the company tended to be peaceful. When they visited, they would sit down for an hour or more in complete silence and then say, ‘Goodbye, we’ve got to go’. Joseph took to them.

Stalin in Siberia 07

With a compliant companion-guard – Merzliakov – in the later years Joseph was able to roam freely with the Evenki and Ostyak. Initially, they brought him fish and reindeer meet, but soon they taught him to catch his own. A close companion, Martin Peterin, showed him how to make a fishing-line and cut a hole in the ice of the Yenisei River. Soon he had learnt the skills of hauling in sturgeon and sea-salmon. His skills became such that even the locals were impressed. ‘Thou ist possessed by the Word’, they said.

Stalin in Siberia 17a

Yet the fishing was not simply a matter of sitting quietly by the ice-hole on a sunny day. The Arctic is an unforgiving world. On one occasion, he was returning with a group of Ostyak comrades from a successful fishing trip. A blizzard blew up suddenly and separated him from the others. What to do? Abandon the heavy load of fish and speed up to catch his friends, or hang onto the fish and trudge on? There was little choice, for the fish would provide weeks of food. He stumped on, until figures loomed up in the snow. He yelled to get their attention, but they scooted away. Finally, a hut appeared with a light shining. He crashed in and his comrades said, ‘Is that you Osip?’

‘Of course it’s me. Why didn’t you wait when I called?’ He said

‘We thought you were a demon spirit’, one of them said. ‘You were covered in ice and snow’.

‘As you can see’, said Stalin. ‘I’m not a wood spirit’. He slept for eighteen hours after the ordeal.

On this occasion, Joseph was lucky. Losing a man on a fishing trip was not uncommon. On another such expedition, thirty men had gone out but only twenty-nine returned in the evening. When Joseph asked where the missing man was, they said, ‘Oh, he remained out there’.

‘What do you mean “out there”?’ Joseph asked.

‘He’s drowned’, said one of them.

‘Drowned?’ Said Joseph.

‘Why should we have pity for men’, said the other. ‘We can always make more of them, but a horse, try to make a horse!’

Many years later, Stalin would still eat fish the way he had learnt in Siberia. With little salt and with temperatures well below zero, they would pile the fish in the outhouse, stacking them up like wood. When hungry, they broke off flakes and let them melt their mouths.

Stalin in Siberia 09

But the hunting he loved most, especially its solitude. Dressed from head to foot in reindeer skins and fur, he would head out on a sled hauled by reindeer. Of course, reindeer meat was one of the staples, but arctic hare, partridge and ducks also added to the stock. In summer, he took to a boat, hauled by dogs upstream and rowed downstream. Indeed, in the last summer of his exile (1916), he disappeared for some months. The fact that his young girlfriend, Lidia, was pregnant was perhaps an added incentive. Yet the main reason was common to all the Evenki and Ostyak: a long winter in crowded and reeking accommodation would lead to an almost insatiable desire to be out in the wide world of Siberia. Joseph was off too.

No-one quite knew where he had gone, although his amiable guard had an idea: ‘It’s an empty (uninhabited) place, this Polovinka. Just sand. Where was he fishing? There was nobody else there’.

Stalin in Siberia 11a

He was indeed on Polovinka, a remote island downstream on the Yenisei. He built a small hut with birch bark. The only others on the island were the few members of the Dubikova family, who had their own birch shelter. Occasionally he visited, and shared a meal of grilled sterlet. Otherwise, he was on his own. He fished for himself, tended his hut, went on long hikes around the island. Above all, he learnt to be comfortable and content with his own company – an invaluable skill.

As Molotov put it much later, ‘A little bit of Siberia remained lodged in Stalin for the rest of his life’.

Stalin in Siberia 15a

The Art of the Moscow Metro

They say communism has disappeared in Russia, wiped out by the ‘victory’ of capitalism. Indeed, news reports around the world in the wake of 1989 suggested that all the statues of Lenin were toppled, that all communist symbols were erased, that soviet-era buildings were bull-dozed. The truth is far from such gloating misreporting. If you happen to be in Moscow, take a couple of days to explore the place. I mean not merely the Moscow above ground, but the one that also exists below the surface, in the tunnels and galleries and lines of the metro system. And take your time. Look up and about, check the names, expect surprises around the next corner. This is exactly what we did for a few days in late 2013. Lenin and the revolution are still everywhere.

Moscow metro

The first moment in a new metro system is of course the patient perusal of the map. Multi-coloured lines weave in and out of each other, with stations indicated in … Cyrillic. If you need a basic comparative alphabet, in Russian and Roman letters, then deciphering the place names may take you some time. If you know a little classical Greek and Hebrew, you are a step closer, for the ancient monks who first produced the Cyrillic script drew on such sources to come up with that script. But if you can actually read Cyrillic, then you are a step ahead.


What turns up? A whole string of names recall communism and the Russian Revolution: Marksistskaya, Proletarskaya, Barrikadnaya, Oktyabrskaya, Ploshchad Revolyustii, Komsomolskaya – that is, Marxist, Proletariat, Barricade, October, Square of the Revolution, and Comsomol (Communist International). Of course, we should not forget Leninsky Prospekty and Biblioteka imeni Lenina (no translation needed). Now the metro stations begin to add name to name, with martyrs like Baumanskaya and Dmitrovskaya, or cultural heroes such as Mayakovskaya, Pushkinskaya, Turgenevskaya. A veritable map of the revolution, is it not? But my favourites would have to be the celebrations of technological innovation, the great vision of science and socialism uniting for the future. Here are Elektrozavodskaya, Tekstilshchiki, and yes, even Dinamo.


The metro map is merely the beginning, for once we descend the long escalator to the metro platform (it happens to be Mayakovskaya), we step out into what feels like an underground art gallery. Forget seedy, gum-bespattered and urine-drenched, this is simply a place of awe. Above a glistening tiled floor, patterned in simple square shapes, runs a series of arches, carefully arranged, almost as far as the eye can see. Arches too are to the sides, braced by columns around which you step to catch the metro. And within each set of four arches is a domed roof, dominated by a circular arrangement of lights, hexagonal shapes, and – if you take the time to look closely – a series of alternating red stars and hammers and sickles.

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Each one is placed above one of the lights, illuminated from below. Clearly, this station was constructed with quality materials, an architect’s and artist’s delight. It invites one to pause from the rush of catching the next metro train, relax the shoulders, slow the breath, and look out and upwards. As we do, we begin to notice yet further features.

Within each ring of lights is a ceramic image, constructed from tiny pieces of coloured tile. Here in Mayakovskaya, the theme is flight, with birds in one (a fluttering banner with the red star close by), a ski jumper in another, and a heavy bomber escorted by fighter jets in another. Of course, the highlight is the red flag with planes in formation to spell out CCCP in yet another dome.

Moscow metro 02a

This is but one metro station. Others beckon, drawing our gaze on each change of metro lines. At Komsomolskaya too are vaulted ceiling, arches and columns. Now the artwork in the arched ceilings presents none other than Lenin at iconic moments. Here he is addressing the crowds from the rostrum in Red Square, the chin of history pointing the way forward.


There soldiers (men and woman) march in gleeful victory bearing a red flag with Lenin’s bust emblazoned upon it.


And when one turns a quiet corner, one may meet him in person. If so, nod a smiling greeting and ask how he feels after all these years.

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Or in Ploshchad Revolyustii, statues from various parts of working and cultural life support the columns themselves. Intimate is the experience, for a metro traveller must pass close by at least a couple of such statues in order to catch one of the trains.

Moscow metro 01a

Or Sverdlov Square (now Teatralnaya Ploshchad, or Theatre Square) station, which features porcelain bas-reliefs of pairs of male and female folk dancers from seven of the ethnic groups of the Soviet Union. Or the bas-reliefs at the Dinamo Stadium sports complex, which celebrate physical fitness, beauty, and sporting achievement of the new soviet person. Or in Belorusskaya, agricultural plenty, sporting achievements, and the union of the republics sit side by side with women in traditional costumes weaving a banner for the new CCCP.


So it goes on, in station after station. Paintings, ceramics, glistening marble, extraordinary chandeliers, stained glass, symbols, statues – tastefully wrought, carefully produced, with a view to the overall effect. The materials used came from the far corners of the Soviet Union, such as iron from Siberian Kuznetsk, timber from northern Russia, cement from the Volga region and the northern Caucasus, bitumen from Baku, and marble and granite from quarries in Karelia, the Crimea, the Caucasus, and the Urals. Here Lazar Kaganovich oversaw a project he urged to completion regardless of the cost; Abram Dansky wrought his magic with new technologies of light; while architects like Leonid Poliakov and Ivan Fomin were given free rein to draw upon both Russian traditions and the new possibilities unleashed under communism. They sought to design distinctive landmarks – at each stop.


From where does this architectural masterpiece originate? The Russian love of celebrating life? The desire to make everyday life a memorable experience? Perhaps, but their primary source is none other than Stalin himself. Although serious planning began soon after the Russian Revolution of 1917, it really came to fruition only during Stalin’s time. He and those around him were keenly to explore what the production of space would look like under the emerging communist order. The metro system turned out to very much a part of that production of space, with its distinctive feel that is still there today. So he instructed that the metro should reveal both radiance (svet) and a radiant future (svetloe budushchee). Not only was all this achieved through the labour of ordinary people, but it was also a showpiece for Western eyes. This is what the technological and artistic possibilities unleashed by communism can achieve – especially when capitalism was stumbling severely during the Great Depression. It is worth noting that would simply not have been possible without the massive mobilisation and industrialisation that took place as a result of the Five Year Plans. It is a testament to such an experience that even the metro stations being built now, in another significant expansion, are as grand as the efforts involved in those first stations built in the 1930s.

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Inconvenient Truths: On the Origins of East and West Germany

East Germany, the former DDR, was a grey, repressed place. Or so the narrative of the victors would have you believe, a narrative peddled in an unceasing ideological war that continues unabated. The standard of living was low, there was no industry or initiative, people were not free, all they wanted to do was escape. And the reason was that Stalin imposed communism on an unwilling population, as part of his campaign for world domination. Suspicious of this official account, I decided to dig a little deeper into the history of east and west.

Origins of the Two Germanies


How and why were the two Germanies divided after the Second World War? Was it because of Stalin’s aggressive policy to put under the Soviet yoke as much of Europe as possible? Was it a defensive act on the part of the occupying powers in western Germany against communist world domination, all of which was embodied in the ‘Berlin blockade’ of 1948-49?

Not quite. Let us go back to the Potsdam and Yalta conferences, where Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt had agreed to three key items in post-war Europe:

1. The four Ds: disarmament, demilitarisation, denazification and democratisation of Germany.

2. Reparations, vital for the USSR’s recovery.

3. German unity.

Stalin had even agreed to three occupation zones, with each symbolically represented in Berlin, despite it being deep in the Soviet zone. (How the French ever managed to get a toe in was beyond many, since they had embraced the Nazis a little too enthusiastically.) This was despite the fact that the USSR had exerted by far the major effort and lost the most in winning the war.

How did these three items fare after the end of the war?

1. The four Ds. Only in the eastern, Soviet sector was there any significant progress on these items. The occupying forces in the western areas were too keen to rearm Germany, which already began by the early 1950s. They found ‘ex-’ Nazis willing participants in the anti-communist struggle, and they fostered pliant governments. Of course, Stalin too favoured a government sympathetic to the USSR’s concerns, but he believed this would happen through popular groundswell.

2. Reparations. Soon enough, the occupying forces in the western zones reneged on the earlier agreements. The last thing the Anglo-Americans wanted was for significant resources, technology and money going to the USSR, so they stalled and blocked reparations from the west of Germany.

3. Unity. In contrast to the standard narrative, Stalin favoured political unity, the Anglo-Americans did not – this is perfectly clear from the increasingly rancorous discussions over what was to be done with Germany. Whenever Stalin or Molotov or other Soviet representatives pushed for a unified German government, the Anglo-Americans countered by arguing that the economic situation had to be addressed first. In other words, they wanted to axe reparations and keep Germany divided.

Why? The Americans and British could see that communist parties were becoming extremely popular, not only in Germany but across Europe. For his part, Stalin hoped that this ‘new democratic’ wave would continue in a united Germany and lead to a government favourably disposed to the USSR. In March 1948, Stalin urged the east German communists to draft a constitution for the whole of Germany as a beginning point for discussion with western politicians. He was even prepared for a non-socialist government as long as it was ‘democratic and peace-loving’. Yet he was realistic enough to see that the Americans in particular would not agree since it would threaten their desire to control western Europe. On that point he was correct: the Anglo-Americans were certainly not interested in such a united Germany, for then it would risk falling out of their control. So they preferred a divided Germany.

Events unfolded. In June 1948, the UK, France and USA issued a communiqué stating their intention to form a western German state. A few days later a new currency was introduced in the western zones. By the end of June, Stalin ordered restrictions on access to West Berlin. Despite all the western propaganda concerning the ‘Berlin blockade’, it was not a blockade. Air access was permitted the whole time, for the purpose of supplies. Stalin’s reason for the restrictions was simple: he wanted to get the former allies back to the negotiating table. As soon as they agreed, the restrictions were lifted in May 1949.

Despite clear Soviet desires for unity, the fours Ds and reparations, the Anglo-Americans were simply buying time. By this time NATO had been formed. In September 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany was declared and the first formal meetings of government held. The east had no option but to respond, reluctantly, with its own state soon afterwards.

Representing the Wall

A little more than a decade later the wall went up, reinforcing the perception of vast divide. Its remains were not far from where I lived in the east. A few sections stand still, perhaps preserved from the wrecking balls at the last moment because someone in the west realised their tourist and propaganda potential. The Mauerpark, with its museum, plaques and tastefully sprinkled sculptures of wall-parts, or the ‘East-Side Gallery’, a collection of murals along the River Spree, or the tackiness of ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ – they all work a little too hard to assert that life in the east was grey and grim and deathly. The ‘wall of shame’, Willi Brandt – the West German chancellor – called it. For Winston Churchill it was the clearest marker of the ‘iron curtain’.

At first sight, the finality of the wall’s fall is marked by a double-row of bricks – cutting across roads, footpaths and intersections – that traces the path of the former wall. Bronze plaques appear regularly, at least through the city: ‘Berliner Mauer, 1961-1989’. Contained, interpreted, neatly packaged – all in order to present the perspective of the supposed ‘winners’. Yet at nearly every point along the former wall, one finds more ambiguous dimensions of a memory and a project that cannot so easily be contained in this fashion.

Soon enough, in my search some facts emerged from the mists of that narrative. First, the wall does not cut the city in ‘half’, between a communist east and a capitalist west. Rather, the centre of Berlin is mostly in the east, with the suburban rump of the western part left to the occupying American, British and French forces after the Second World War – a deal to which Stalin had graciously agreed even though the Red Army had captured Berlin.

Second, it actually circles the whole of west Berlin, covering some 155 kilometres that includes canals, lakes, villages, fields and vast forests. Far from the grainy pictures purveyed by the ‘official’ history of the wall, towards the south-west it skirts the holiday playground of the Wannsee. Here inland beaches where nudists still frolic in summer – for nudism was fostered in the DDR – sit cheek by jowl with extensive forests and their tracks. I can imagine the pleasure of the builders as they cut through the areas where mansions of the rich and famous are found, isolating some – in the western part – from the water and thereby their source of value, and turning others – on the eastern side and beside the water – into places for all to visit on holidays, subsidised by the government.

But who did the wall seek to stop? In western mythology it was the whole population of the DDR, desperate as they were to flee to the land flowing with milk and honey. According to this story, a good number had already left the DDR due to communist ‘repression’, so the wall was built to prevent more – neglecting the facts that most of the border had no wall at all and that many of those who did leave had connections with the Nazis. But let us look more closely and see precisely who was preventing whom from crossing over in the early days of the two Germanies.

Since I have already traced the origins of the two countries, let me begin in 1950, when Konrad Adenauer was chancellor of West Germany, with massive army bases manned by American, British, French and many other troops. In that year the Korean War was underway and rabid McCarthyism was dominating not only US politics but all those parts of the world now under its imperial sway. So Adenauer proposed a combined European force with a German contingent, which would be sent to attack the communists in the east. With hardly time to draw a breath, after the Second World War, West Germany was on the path to rearmament. Back home, the West German government announced a new decree concerning ‘Anti-Democratic Activities by Public Employees’ – a McCarthyist code for anyone who was vaguely left. Actually, anyone who was not openly and vocally anti-communist was subjected to defamation and discrimination. For example, the Roman Catholic writer, Reinhold Schneider, wrote a couple of articles urging public debate on rearmament and the need to come to an understanding with East Germany. Given the repression of public debate in the West, he published them in East Germany. After that ‘mistake’, most West German avenues for Schneider to express his views were closed to him. Newspapers, magazines and radio refused to deal with him.

Further, the police were deployed to prevent West Germans from making contact with the East. In 1950, the police arrested more than 10,000 young West Germans at the border. They were returning from a meeting in East Berlin and were held at the border for over 24 hours until they agreed to register their names and undergo a ‘health’ examination. The following year, in May, the police arrested another large group, again over 10,000, which was returning from a ‘Meeting on Germany’ in East Berlin. This group refused to register their names, so they were held under arrest for more than 48 hours. Another event was on the calendar later in the year, the ‘Third Youth and Student World Peace Festival’ (5-9 August). The West German government ordered the police to close the border, which was at this time open and through which free passage was possible. And in May of 1952, a member of the Free German Youth was shot dead by police during a banned protest in Essen.

So the movement was very much from the west to the east, especially by young people seeking a way forward for a united Germany. The western powers were less than keen on the idea, so they did their best to block such movement. Not a story that is told in the lead-up to the wall’s construction.

But what is the wall actually like? My initial impression of the sections left standing was, ‘How low it is and how thin!’ Western representations of the wall presented it as a massive fortification, towering to the heavens. But the reality was less than the political spin. It was barely two metres high and perhaps 20 cm thick, a rather flimsy construction really. I was therefore surprised at the foundations that had been too difficult to remove, that were now used as the basis for other constructions. In quiet corners I encountered unexpected slabs of concrete, a twisted piece of cement reinforcement, a run of foundation blocks that proved too much to remove. In some cases, the line of bricks and concrete at ground level merged into a newer wall that had been built – behind an apartment block, a warehouse on the outskirts, a house that needed some sturdy grounding. Solid foundations it would seem, which can still be used in order to build again. Perhaps that effort at socialism was not so fragile after all, its foundations running deeper than one might have expected.

Denazification (Entnazifizierung)?

The wall’s real name is as telling as it is little known: the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall, the Anti-Fascist Security Rampart. Was this merely hyperbole in the face of western aggression? Was it really a screen to keep east Germans out of the western rump of Berlin? Or was there some truth in the name? In order to find an answer, we need to revisit I some more detail one of the four D’s, denazification, since it has become a hot issue once again.

Spend a little time in Berlin and one of the standard lines you hear trotted out these days is that East Germany never went through a proper process of ‘denazification’ (Entnazifizierung), unlike the good people in the West. Instead, goes the narrative, nearly all the ex-Nazis in the east simply joined the new communist government, which explains the ‘totalitarian regime’, the dreaded Stasi and now the supposed burgeoning of neo-Nazi groups in the east.

The problem with this convenient story is that it ignores a rather inconvenient fact: communism was and is implacably anti-fascist. Stalin’s victory over Hitler’s Germany (for which the western front was a diversionary tactic of limited success) was explicitly celebrated as a victory over fascism. As soon as the war over, virtually all the Nazis in the east were arrested, banned from any involvement whatsoever and put in ‘re-education camps’. And in good old Stalinist fashion, a goodly number of them were granted an early funeral.

Meanwhile in the western occupation zones, the Americans made a show of denazification, with a massive censorship program that spent most of its time censoring criticism of the occupation. At the same time, the Americans shipped out most of the Third Reich’s leading nuclear scientists, ‘intelligence’ officers and whatnot, in order to bolster their anti-communist struggle. Not a few of them were awarded prestigious US medals. The British and French didn’t even bother with the show of denazification. They wanted people to run the civil service and since a significant number of the intelligentsia and the civil service had been Nazis not long before, they were simply reappointed. The British and French made some token arrests of a few elite members of the Nazi party.

But even the Americans gave up on their efforts by the early 1950s, under pressure from Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. In one measure after another, ‘former’ Nazis were released from prisons and pardoned. Those pardoned included Nazis responsible for dragging people off to prison, for shootings, executions, causing bodily injury and so on. Above all, ‘article 31’ removed restrictions on persons ‘incriminated’ with the Third Reich, since they had suffered so much since the end of the war. In an early example of anti-discrimination laws, they were given preferential treatment for government, educational, medical and many other positions. Thus, whenever a vacancy occurred, the committee was instructed to check with a list provided by the Ministry of the Interior to see whether someone with this past was available so that he or she could be given preferential treatment for the post ahead of better qualified candidates. Once in positions of influence, these ‘ex-’Nazis worked hard to ensure their buddies gained posts elsewhere. Why? The new enemy was communism and who better to fight the good fight against communism than unreconstructed fascists.

No wonder it was called the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall.