266. Telegram From the Mission at Berlin to the Embassy in Germany0

899. Ref: ourtels Bonn 878, 873, rptd Dept 937 and 931.1 Thirty-fifth plenum SEDCC actions must be viewed in perspective of general stirrings throughout Eastern European satellites following 20th Party Congress CPSU winter 1956. Charges against Schirdewan–Wollweber: specifically refer to their opportunistic interpretation results 20th Party Congress and stressed their advocacy of democratization and relaxation. Removal Schirdewan and Wollweber for reasons given ourtel 878 reveals, however, existence in top SED leadership since Oct 1956 of strong oppositional group animated by ideas emerging in wake 20th Party Congress CPSU. While in Poland oppositional elements led by Gomulka were able establish new regime committed to policies of liberalization, while in Hungary party oppositional elements were unable control course of events resulting bloody repression popular uprising by Sov Armed Forces, while in Czechoslovakia development oppositional forces nipped in bud early summer 1956 by prompt action of Nowotny and Siroky,2 fourth variant has taken place East Germany. Oppositional group was formed below surface presumably seeking an occasion bring downfall Ulbricht. Ulbricht’s successful suppression Schirdewan–Wollweber group appears mean relative terminal point of SED Party unrest in form stimulated by 20th Party Congress CPSU and Polish-Hungarian events Oct 1956.

Schirdewan and Wollweber held key positions, Schirdewan as party cadre chief and head of party intelligence service, and Wollweber until Nov 1, as Minister for State Security. Selbmann and Ziller were both top level party leaders in the economic sphere. Since charges speak frequently of “others” involved it may be assumed that strong forces within party hierarchy were involved in opposition. If this group was unable to upset Ulbricht, then it is unlikely that any oppositional forces can soon develop within SED able to bring about his downfall, particularly now that Party Secretariat has been packed by vigorous young [Page 712] Ulbricht henchmen. Also we anticipate concentrated effort remove from important positions “others” of Schirdewan–Wollweber group, both in process reorganization economy (ourtel 887 to Bonn rptd Dept 946)3 and in new party elections preliminary to 5th Party Congress July, in order fill party and government positions so far as possible with reliable Ulbricht men.

According to intelligence reports, downfall Schirdewan–Wollweber has had demoralizing effect on middle and lower party functionaries. However, we do not believe these unsettling effects will be of great moment in the near future, but expect party discipline will be maintained under tightened Ulbricht control. Opposition to Ulbricht personally and to his Stalinist policies nevertheless will presumably persist deep underground within party.

Judging by 35th plenum documents, SED leadership under Ulbricht intends intensify communization East Germany thus accelerating course which became discernible last fall. For example, increased pressure on labor, both economic and political, was forecast by Warnke (ourtel to Bonn 882 rpted Dept 942).4 Propagation atheism is to be increased. Press is to engage more actively in ideological indoctrination. New measure has been prepared by Politburo to increase party role in East German Army. Honecker reported Politburo desires to transform universities, technical academies and other schools to real Socialist-training institutions and stated “we must more strenuously link and control all forms of art and cultural expression.” Further communization may be partially achieved unless, as purged group apparently feels, policies themselves create retardism difficulties or provoke mass popular reaction. Stalinism has not so far been able to win support of East German population and is unlikely to do so in future even with greater controls and isolation from West which regime intends. Solution of domestic economic problems also unlikely through hard course. Present trend is thus likely increase tensions among all groups East German population.

Following are implications Ulbricht victory:

Prospect of negotiations regarding reunification or related issues affecting Germany becomes bleaker than ever. One charge against Schirdewan–Wollweber refers to their not wanting understand dangers resulting from illusionary desire bring about German unity at any price. This charge that they were willing compromise essential Communist features of GDR in interest reunification may indicate at least that these [Page 713] top party leaders were skeptical about intrinsic feasibility endeavor establish separate state in East Germany.
In line with current emphasis GDR sovereignty and efforts establish GDR as a real German state, Ulbricht might seek from Sovs opportunities major encroachments on Western position in Berlin. Soviets, however, are specifically able to control Ulbricht regime in these matters. Sov decisions on specific encroachments or general effort against Allied position in Berlin, e.g., by turnover authority GDR, are difficult to foresee, since they would be presumably related over-all Soviet policy considerations.
Schirdewan–Wollweber were charged with overestimating difficulties connected with further socialization GDR and dangers of Hungarian-type [revolt?] connected therewith. If Ulbricht, without restraint, presses forward with harsh measures of continued economic exploitation, with raising work norms, etc., with repressive measures against church, and with a doctrinaire Communist line objectionable to masses of population, then there may come a point when an exacerbated East German population despite its memories of June 17, 1953, might attempt rise against regime. Doubtless the Sovs would seek to forestall such a development. But Sov record in dealing with Hungarian party in a similar situation does not give one confidence that Sovs would correctly appraise situation. For these reasons hard Ulbricht course carries with it prospective danger major dimensions.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762B.00/2—1458. Confidential. Repeated to Washington, Moscow, Paris, London, Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest and pouched to POLAD USAREUR and DCSI USAFE. The source text is the Department of State copy.
  2. Telegram 878, February 9, summarized in detail Erich Honecker’s report to the plenum of the SED on the expulsion of Karl Schirdewan, Ernst Wollweber, and Fred Oelssner from the Central Committee. Telegram 873, February 7, transmitted extracts from the communiqué of the 35th plenum, February 7. (Ibid., 762B.00/2–958 and 762B.00/2–758, respectively)
  3. Antonio Novotny, President of Czechoslovakia, and Viliam Siroky, Czech Premier.
  4. Dated February 12, telegram 887 from Berlin to Bonn reported that the Volkskammer had on February 10 begun consideration of a law to reorganize the state economic apparatus. (Ibid., 762B.00/2–1258)
  5. Dated February 10, telegram 882 from Berlin to Bonn transmitted excerpts from a speech to the 35th plenum by Herbert Warnke. (Ibid., 862B.062/2–1058)