740.0011 EW/4–1445: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Harriman) to the Secretary of State

1169. This morning’s Pravda carries an article of high importance for current Soviet attitude toward military events in Germany and the treatment of the German population in the coming period. The article is written by G. Alexandrov, who is head of the Propaganda [Page 830] Committee of All Union Communist Party and as such is responsible for the official line. The article thus bears a highly authoritative character. It consists of an attack on Ilya Ehrenburg43 for an article the latter recently wrote about Germany. Ehrenburg is attacked on the following two counts:

For treating all elements of the German population alike, for maintaining that they are all equally guilty and deserve punishment in equal measure, and for implying that the Red Army should destroy the entire population except the children. These are sharply rebutted and it is stated that the Red Army has never made it its objective—and does not now do so—to destroy the German people.
For explaining the relatively greater German resistance on the Eastern Front, as compared with the Western Front, by the fear of the German people for the revenge of the Russians as compared with their reliance on the softness of the Western Allies. On this point Alexandrov states that fear, of course, plays its part but that it is not the only or even the main reason for the German determination to hold in the east while yielding in the west. Through these tactics, Alexandrov says, the Hitlerites merely are continuing their old game of trying to sow dissension among the Allies with a view to delaying the final mortal blow of the Allied armies and to retaining by a military-political trick what they were not able to retain by armed force. Ehrenburg’s thesis that their action is governed exclusively by fear is not helpful, in Alexandrov’s view, to the proper explanation of this provocative German policy aimed at dissension among the Allies.

An open attack of this sort by someone of Alexandra’s standing on a publicist as prominent and authoritative as Ehrenburg, in connection to questions or [of] such vital current significance, must be taken as a major expression of Soviet policy. It is impossible to say with certainty what motives lie beyond it. In the Embassy’s view the most likely explanation is the following: the unexpectedly rapid advance of the armies of the Western Allies at a moment when the Red Army has been substantially immobilized on the Oder Line and the consequent conquest by Allied forces of large sections of central and even eastern Germany, has presented the Soviet propaganda machine with a new and pressing problem, namely: to explain to the Soviet public and to the world why Germany was finally toppled over by the Allies in the west and not by the Red Army who were the first to penetrate into substantial expanses of German territory. Ehrenburg, through his vehement and bloodthirsty articles, has done his utmost to provide substance to the wildest fears of the German population and he is now voicing these very fears as the reason why Germany was willing to [Page 831] yield to the west and not to the east. It is plain that the Kremlin does not wish to have to tell the Russian people that the Germans held desperately in the east while opening the front in the west because they feared something like a new barbarian invasion. It is offensive to the Russian sense of prestige, and no longer necessary or desirable for tactical considerations, that it should be officially held that all elements of the German people feared Russia more than the west. The time is coming when the Russians will have to share responsibility for the German civil population and will have to deal in one way or another, in the last analysis, with the political sentiments and reactions of the German people. They do not wish to inaugurate this period with the official thesis that they constituted so deadly a menace to all elements of the German population that the German people as a whole preferred death to Russian occupation.

As is their frequent practice, the Russians throughout the war have been advancing two conflicting theses toward Germany. One is that which has now been put forward by Alexandrov and which envisages the necessity of enlisting the confidence and hopes of large sections of the German population. This view, it will be recalled, was put forward by Stalin himself in the early months of war, and Alexandrov quotes Stalin in support of his views. The second line is that which was taken by Ehrenburg and is one of unadulterated and bloodthirsty hatred for the entire German population.

The Kremlin has permitted the impetuous and eloquent Ehrenburg to carry forward the second of these two lines during the last months of the war when it was felt necessary, for reasons of military and civilian morale, to whip up to a maximum the feelings of hatred and revenge among the Russian army and population. It has probably done this deliberately, fully conscious that the usefulness of this line would be of limited duration; and it is significant that none of the other prominent Soviet publicists and no responsible political figure in Russia has endorsed the extremist line that Ehrenburg has taken. Events in Germany have now forced the Kremlin to take early measure to clarify to the Russian people the German attitude toward the Red Army and to the German people the Russian attitude toward Germany. In these circumstances the unsoundness of Ehrenburg’s line has become clear and his ideas can no longer be tolerated.

Alexandrov’s article contains no rebuke to Ehrenburg for his incessant and highly unfair criticisms of our methods of military government in Germany.

  1. Ilya Grigoryevich Ehrenburg, prominent Soviet writer.