E. Germany Ran Antisemitic Campaign in West in ’60s

Marc Fisher,
Washington Post,
February 28, 1993

Spies for Communist East Germany staged antisemitic attacks in West Germany in the 1960s to foment internal unrest in West Germany and discredit Bonn among its Western allies, according to documents from the archives of the East German Stasi secret police.

Records of the Stasi and East Germany’s Politburo reveal that the Communist government used its agents in the West to enlist – often unwittingly – Western leftist groups, Jews, intellectuals and vestigial Nazi sympathizers in a campaign designed to persuade Washington, London and other Western power centers that West Germany remained a hotbed of racism and revanchism.

In 1961, as the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was getting underway in Israel, the East German Politburo ordered a secret campaign to convince the world that “revanchism and racial hate have once again found a place in West Germany.” The Stasi arranged for East German Jews and intellectuals to send telegrams and hold press conferences in an effort to draw President John F. Kennedy’s attention to a wave of anti-Jewish incidents in West Germany.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, synagogues, cemeteries and other Jewish sites in West Germany were smeared with swastikas and other Nazi symbols, leading British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and other Western leaders to question publicly whether West Germany had made a sufficient effort to separate itself from the then-fresh horrors of the Nazi period.

The Stasi documents, found in the archives of the former East German State Security Ministry by Munich historian Michael Wolffsohn, show that many of those antisemitic attacks were organized and supported by Communist agents.

“There is no doubt that in the 1960s as now, there were Nazis who were unreconstructed, unchangeable and evil,” Wolffsohn said. “But without the help of East Germany, these Nazis were incapable of a national, coordinated campaign. That was true of right-wing extremist criminals in the 1980s as well.”

“The East German Communists used anything they could against West Germany, including the legitimate fears by Western countries and Jews that a new Nazism could be growing in West Germany,” the historian said. “There is... evidence that the East Germans continued to use antisemitism as a tool against West Germany in the 1970s and perhaps right up until 1989,” when the Berlin Wall was dismantled.

At the start of the Eichmann trial, the Stasi mounted “Action J,” in which Communist funds were funneled to the West’s small German Imperial Party for a public campaign to defend Eichmann “and justify the need for exterminating the Jews through a wave of antisemitic activities,” he said. The Stasi found former Nazi SS officers in the West who were only too glad to take on the pro-Eichmann public relations drive.

The Stasi was determined to make it look as if West Germany’s former Nazis were outraged by the sight of one of their former leaders facing the death penalty in Jerusalem. Stasi documents show that the Communists organized anonymous chain letters in which “Veterans of the Waffen-SS” who were really East German operatives called on West Germany’s World War II veterans to join in a public “struggle against Jewish Bolshevism.”

At the same time, the Stasi sent antisemitic letters purportedly signed by West German antisemites to West German Jews, who, as the Communist operatives expected, immediately publicized the threats, adding to the public impression of surging anti-Jewish sentiment.

A Politburo document includes an official proposal for a model antisemitic letter to be sent to West German Jews. “Apparently you Jews have not yet understood that you are to disappear from Germany,” the threat letters said. “You Jew pig. We forgot to gas you.”

The Stasi left little to chance. In the event that West German Jews did not react publicly to the mail threats, the Stasi prepared and distributed letters in which West German Jews supposedly announced they had decided to leave West Germany for fear of a rebirth of Nazi terror.

Throughout its four decades of existence as a separate country, Communist East Germany billed itself as an anti-fascist alternative to a West Germany that had failed to confront its Nazi past. Communist propaganda repeated that it was the West, not the East, that allowed judges, industrialists and politicians who had supported Adolf Hitler to keep prominent positions.

But in addition to its official anti-fascism, East Germany practiced an official anti-Israel policy, the details of which are only now emerging from the massive Stasi archives.

Records show that East Germany, which refused to recognize Israel, provided extensive material and propaganda support to Arab countries in the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel. A June 7, 1967, secret Politburo decision documents East Germany’s offer of unspecified “military replacement parts” to Egypt and Syria.

At the same time, the Politburo ordered the Stasi’s agitation department to collect and publish anti-Israeli statements from East German Jews. Later that month, the Politburo, which had long resisted Israeli requests for reparations payments similar to those made by West Germany to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, decided to demand that Israel pay reparations to Arab countries.

In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, letters signed by East German Communist Party leader Erich Honecker show, East Germany supplied Syria with 75,000 grenades, 30,000 mines, 62 tanks and 12 fighter jets.

Whether the East German Stasi had played a role in the 1960 wave of antisemitic attacks was the subject of contemporary debate in West German police and intelligence circles. Wolffsohn said then-West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s government had strong evidence even in the early ’60s that the anti-Jewish attacks were a Communist operation. But Wolffsohn said the West Germans kept their conclusions to themselves for fear of being dismissed as paranoid and defensive by their allies in Washington and London.

Wolffsohn said former Stasi agents, many of whom remain in close contact in informal social groups in eastern Germany, may be supporting the current wave of neo-Nazi violence in revenge for the dismantling of their institution. “There can be no denial of the very depressing fact that the general German public has been willing since 1991 to accept these acts against foreigners,” he said. “But it is still reasonable to suspect that former Stasi officials are continuing their efforts to undermine the German image abroad.”