Ernst Thalmann

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Ernst Thälmann as a candidate in the 1932 presidential election .

Ernst Johannes Fritz Thälmann (born April 16, 1886 in Hamburg ; † probably August 18, 1944 in Buchenwald concentration camp ) was a German politician in the Weimar Republic . From 1925 until his arrest in 1933 he was chairman of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), which he represented in the Reichstag from 1924 to 1933 and for which he ran in the presidential elections of 1925 and 1932 . From 1925 until the ban in 1929, Thälmann led the Red Front Fighter League (RFB), which appeared as a paramilitary protection and defense organization of the KPD, especially in street fights with political opponents and the police.

He completed the restructuring of the KPD as a new type of party, as provided for in the statutes of the Communist International . Based on the Soviet social fascism , the Communist Party, which is increasingly under his leadership fought Stalinised , the SPD as the main political enemy within the Weimar Republic.

He was arrested on March 3, 1933, two days before the Reichstag elections in March 1933 and a few days after the Reichstag fire . Thälmann was shot in August 1944, after more than eleven years of solitary confinement , presumably on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler .

In the GDR , Thälmann's memory was officially cultivated and at the same time politically instrumentalized.

Childhood and youth

School education and employment

Thälmann attended elementary school from 1893 to 1900. In retrospect, he later described history , natural history , folklore , arithmetic , gymnastics and sports as his favorite subjects. On the other hand, he didn't like religion . In 1895 his parents opened a small vegetable, coal and wagon shop in Hamburg-Eilbek . He had to help out in this business after school. He did his homework early in the morning before class started. He later described his experiences in his parents' business as follows:

“When customers were shopping in the store, I noticed the social differences in people's life. For the working-class women, misery, need and sometimes hunger with their children and low purchases, for the well-to-do customers larger purchases, etc. "

- Ernst Thälmann : Abridged curriculum vitae

Despite this burden, Thälmann was a good student who enjoyed learning a lot. His wish to become a teacher or learn a trade was not fulfilled because his parents refused to finance him. He therefore had to continue working in his father's small business, which, according to his own statements, caused him great distress. Because of the early “toiling” in his parents' business, there were many arguments with his parents. Thälmann wanted real wages for his work and not just pocket money. That is why he looked for a job as an “unskilled” in the port. At the age of ten Thälmann came into contact with the port workers during the Hamburg port workers' strike from November 1896 to February 1897. The labor dispute was fierce by everyone involved. In 1936 he wrote to his daughter from prison that “the great dock workers' strike in Hamburg before the war [...] was the first socio-political struggle”, “that had forever been imprinted on [...] (his) heart”. The (socio) political content of the port workers' talks is said to have shaped him very much.

At the beginning of 1902 he left his parents' house in a dispute and was first placed in a homeless shelter , later in a basement apartment. From 1904 he went to sea as a stoker on the freighter America , including the USA . Here he worked for a short time as a farm laborer near New York in 1910. In the years up to the First World War , Thälmann acted as a consistent champion for the interests of the Hamburg port workers. From 1913 to 1914 he worked as a coachman for a laundry.

Military service

At the beginning of 1915 he was called up for military service with the artillery and came to the Western Front , where he fought as a gunner until the end of the war . Twice he was wounded in hospitals in Cologne and Bayreuth . He himself stated that he took part in the following battles and skirmishes: Battle of Champagne (1915-1916), Battle of the Somme (1916), Battle of the Aisne , Battle of Soissons , Battle of Cambrai (1917) and Battle of Arras .

Thälmann received several awards during the war:


Thälmann's father, Johannes Thälmann ( called Jan ; * April 11, 1857; † October 31, 1933), was born in Weddern in Holstein and worked there as a farmhand . Thälmann's mother, Maria-Magdalene (née Kohpeiss ; * November 8th, 1857; † March 9th, 1927), was born in Kirchwerder in the four countries as the daughter of a carpenter . The wedding took place in Hamburg in 1884. Johannes Thälmann initially earned his living there as a haulage coach.

The parents were non-party. Unlike the father, the mother was deeply religious. After the birth of their son Ernst, the parents took over a cellar on Alten Wall 68 in Hamburg's old town, between the port and town hall. Frieda, Ernst Thälmann's sister, was born on April 4, 1887 († July 8, 1967 in Hamburg). In March 1892, Thälmann's parents were sentenced to two years in prison for stolen goods because they had bought stolen goods or taken them in payment for debts. Thälmann and his younger sister Frieda were separated and given to different families for care . The parents were released early from prison (the mother in May and the father in October 1893). His parents' crime was still used 36 years later in the election campaign against Ernst Thälmann. For the political opponents it was convenient that the father had already been a "convict".

A few days before starting his military service, he married Rosa Koch on January 13, 1915 . The daughter Irma Thalmann emerged from this marriage .

In a more recent book there is a reference that Irma is "not the only descendant of her father". However, no further information is given there.

Political career

Early years

Acting in SPD and USPD

Ernst Thälmann: Locarno - The new war pact . Speech by Thälmann, member of the Reichstag, at the session of the German Reichstag on November 24, 1925
Result of the first ballot for the presidential election in 1925
Result of the second ballot for the presidential election in 1925
Ernst Thälmann and Maurice Thorez : Paris - Berlin. Our fight against the imperialist war, against Versailles. For Social and National Liberation , 1932

Thälmann became a member of the SPD on May 15, 1903 . On February 1, 1904, he joined the Central Association of Trade, Transport and Traffic Workers in Germany , where he was promoted to chairman of the carters department . In 1913 he supported a demand by Rosa Luxemburg for a mass strike as a means of action by the SPD to enforce political demands. In October 1918, Thälmann deserted together with four soldiers who were friends, by not returning to the front from home leave, and joined the USPD at the end of 1918 .

In Hamburg he took part in the establishment of the Hamburg Workers 'and Soldiers' Council . From March 1919 he was chairman of the USPD in Hamburg and a member of the Hamburg parliament . At the same time he worked as an emergency worker in the Hamburg city park, then he found a well-paid job at the employment office. Here he rose to the position of inspector . At the end of November 1920, the left wing of the USPD, which had a large number of members, joined the Communist International (Comintern) and thus united with its German section, the KPD . This then operated for the next two years under the alternative name United Communist Party of Germany (VKPD) . Thälmann was the main proponent of this association in Hamburg. At his instigation, 98 percent of the members of the Hamburg USPD joined the KPD.

Transfer to the KPD

In December he was elected to the central committee of the KPD. From 1921 on, Thälmann was close to the left wing of the party and became the leading figure of the Hamburg party left. On March 29, 1921, he was dismissed from the employment office without notice because of his political activities after having absent from his job without permission. He had followed a call by the KPD to join the March campaign . In the summer of 1921, Thälmann went to the III. Congress of the Comintern to Moscow and met Lenin there. On June 17, 1922, a right-wing radical assassination attempt on his apartment by the so-called " Warnecke explosive column " was carried out in order to murder Thälmann. Members of the nationalist organization Consul threw a hand grenade into his apartment on the ground floor in Hamburg's Siemssenstrasse 4. His wife and daughter were unharmed. Thalmann himself came home later.

Hamburg uprising

Thälmann was a participant and one of the organizers of the Hamburg uprising from October 23 to 25, 1923. The uprising failed and Thälmann had to go into hiding for a while. Later he ruled in the Berlin edition of the party organ Die Rote Fahne :

“Our party as a whole was still far too immature to prevent these leadership mistakes. In the autumn of 1923 the revolution failed due to the lack of one of its most important prerequisites: the existence of a Bolshevik party. "

- Ernst Thälmann : Red flag

The failure of the uprising was mainly accused of the former KPD chairman and “deviants” Heinrich Brandler and August Thalheimer . The lack of Bolshevization was to blame for the defeat. Georgi Dimitrov came to a similar conclusion after the failed “ September anti-fascist uprising ” in Bulgaria in 1923.

Party leader

From February 1924 he was deputy chairman and from May a member of the Reichstag of the KPD. Under his leadership, the party rejected Rosa Luxemburg's criticism of Leninism as Luxemburgism , which was evident in the uncritical solidarity with Stalin. The development of the Bolshevik Party in the Soviet Union, which concentrated more on Stalin and his separate interpretation of communism, also made itself felt under him in the KPD. Thälmann held the post in the Reichstag until the end of the Weimar Republic . In the summer of 1924 he was elected to the Executive Committee at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern and a short time later to the Presidium. On February 1, 1925, he became chairman of the Red Front Fighter League and on September 1 of that year chairman of the KPD, succeeding Ruth Fischer , who a short time later was expelled from the KPD as an “ultra-left deviator”. Thälmann also ran for the office of Reich President in the 1925 presidential election . Although he only got seven percent of the vote in the first ballot, he upheld his candidacy for the second ballot. In this context, Thälmann was accused that the candidate of the bourgeois parties, Wilhelm Marx (45.3 percent), missed his election result of 6.4 percent and enabled the victory of the monarchist Paul von Hindenburg with 48.3 percent. In October 1926, Thälmann supported the port workers' strike in Hamburg. He saw this as an expression of solidarity with an English miners' strike that had lasted since May 1st and had a (positive) effect on the economy of companies in the Port of Hamburg . Thälmann's intention was to stop this "strike breaker business" from Hamburg. On March 22, 1927, Ernst Thälmann took part in a demonstration in Berlin , where he was injured by a grazing saber blow over the right eye. In 1928 Thälmann went to the VI. Congress of the Comintern in Moscow to Leningrad , where he was made an honorary member of the crew of the cruiser Aurora .

Wittorf affair

When returning from VI. At the World Congress, Thälmann Wilhelm Florin reported on the embezzlement of party funds amounting to at least 1,500 marks by the Political Secretary of the KPD district of Wasserkante, John Wittorf . On this occasion, he admitted that he had known about the embezzlement since May, but that he had kept it quiet in order to avert damage to the party in the 1928 Reichstag election . Wittorf had held his position in the Wasserkante district since 1927, had been a member of the Central Committee since the 11th party congress and a newly elected member of the Reichstag since May 1928. Willy Presche , Ludwig Ries and John Schehr had become aware of the embezzlement and asked Thälmann to talk to Wittorf. He was able to convince Wittorf to issue promissory notes and use them to repay the party's money.

On the evening of September 26, 1928 , the party's central committee expelled Wittorf from Hamburg from the party and removed him from all political offices. The party rights - the Compromisers - even demanded Thälmann's exclusion from the party. In accordance with the statutes, the latter requested a discussion in the Executive Committee of the Communist International (EKKI) and acknowledged his mistakes in the Wittorf affair . At the end of the Central Committee meeting, a public party discussion was focused by placing a text on Thälmann's misconduct in the party organ, Die Rote Fahne . The print shop considered not to print the text. Thälmann was relieved of all his offices. Further applications were the exclusion of Presche, Ries and Schehr that Thalmann to the embezzlement Wittorfs pointed, the convening of a special party, the transformation of the Central Committee with the inclusion of Heinrich Brandler and August Thalheimer in party work and the setting of incitement against the rights in the party. Attempts were made to take advantage of the affair to carry out a coup within the party and to revise the resolutions of the 11th party congress in Essen. There were protests within the party and the Red Flag .

The EKKI reinstated Thälmann in his party functions on October 6th after Stalin's intervention . Stalin condemned the formation of factions within the KPD, which Lenin had already done in his work What to do? criticized and which was banned by the member parties of the KI, although the brochure concentrated on the special role of the parties in the tsarist system of the time, since legal party work seemed impossible. In addition, the resolutions of the Essen party congress were confirmed by the EKKI, Wittorf's exclusion and Thälmann's faulty attitude confirmed. The EKKI Presidium had a telegram that Otto Kuusinen had received on October 5th . In it, 25 members of the German Central Committee distanced themselves from its resolution against Thälmann, which was passed on September 26th. Philipp Dengel , who as secretary of the Central Committee held the chair with Thälmann and also voted for his removal, was not confirmed again at the subsequent party congress of the KPD and was only a simple member of the Central Committee. Thalmann now had the sole chairmanship of the party. Heinrich Brandler, who had been in honorary exile in Moscow until then , returned with Thalheimer and founded the KPD-O as a communist opponent , whereupon all those involved were expelled from the KPD.

In the following weeks the resolution of the EKKI was discussed and put to a vote in the KPD districts in meetings of the district leaderships and party workers' conferences. The internal party vote resulted in a dominant majority in the party . The affair and its echo in public harmed the KPD in its campaign for a referendum against the desired armored ship building of the SPD government, which it had previously fought in the opposition.

Fight against the SPD

Ballot for the 1932 presidential election
81 years later: In 2013, in Weimar, the campaign “Vote Thälmann” for the KPD candidate for the presidential election in
1932 is still legible on a house facade.
Inscription on the Ziegenhals sports shop about the illegal meeting in February 1933

At the 12th party congress of the KPD from June 9 to 15, 1929 in Berlin-Wedding , Thälmann went on a clear course of confrontation with the SPD in view of the events of the Blutmai that had previously occurred there. In addition to domestic political engagement, he also campaigned for foreign policy and national issues, in particular he criticized the National Socialists, who did not vote for the motions of the KPD, which demanded a withdrawal from the League of Nations and an elimination of the reparations burden. So he wrote in a letter in the Neue Deutsche Bauernzeitung No. 4 from 1931 : “The National Socialist and German national fraudsters promised you a fight to tear up the Young Plan , remove the reparations burdens, leave the League of Nations, but they did not even dare in the Reichstag for the Communist motion to stop reparations payments to vote to leave the League of Nations. ”In the letter he also emphasizes his national intentions with“ Forward to national and social liberation! ”On March 13, 1932, he ran alongside Adolf Hitler and Theodor Duesterberg (who, however withdrew his candidacy after the first round of voting ) for the office of Reich President against Hindenburg and achieved 13.2 percent of the vote in the first ballot and 10.1 percent in the second. The KPD's motto was: "Whoever votes Hindenburg votes Hitler, whoever votes Hitler chooses war." Shortly afterwards, he propagated an " anti-fascist action " as a " united front from below", excluding the SPD, against the growing Nazi regime. Guide. This procedure corresponded to the social fascism thesis of the Comintern. The destruction of the SPD remained a central goal of the KPD. The anti-fascist action also served to "expose" their leaders as traitors to the working class. After the Reichstag elections in November 1932 , in which the NSDAP recorded a sharp drop in votes, the National Socialists seemed to be on a decline. In return, Thälmann intensified the KPD's struggle against social democracy.

When power was transferred to the NSDAP on January 30, 1933 , Thälmann proposed a general strike to the SPD to overthrow Hitler, but that never happened. On February 7 of this year took place at the Sports House Ziegenhals in King Wusterhausen one from the Central Committee convened meeting of political secretaries, ZK-instructors and department heads of the Communist Party instead. At the meeting prepared by Herbert Wehner , Thälmann spoke for the last time to leading KPD functionaries about the upcoming Reichstag election on March 5, 1933 .

Arrest, imprisonment and murder

Arrest in Berlin

On the afternoon of March 3, 1933, Thälmann and his personal secretary Werner Hirsch were arrested by eight officers from Police Station 121 in the apartment of the married couple Hans and Martha Kluczynski in Berlin-Charlottenburg (Lützower Strasse 9, today Alt-Lietzow 11). This was preceded by a targeted denunciation by Hermann Hilliges, garden neighbor of the Kluczynskis in Gatow . In the days before, however, at least four other people had passed on their knowledge of the Kluczynski-Thälmann connection to the police. Thälmann had occasionally used the accommodation in Lützower Strasse for a number of years and has now been back since January 1933; it was not one of the six illegal quarters that the M-Apparat had prepared for Thälmann, but it was not known to the police. Thälmann had chaired a meeting of the Politburo on February 27 in a pub in Lichtenberger Gudrunstrasse and was informed on his return about the fire in the Reichstag and the sudden mass arrests of communist functionaries. In the next few days he did not leave the apartment and was only in contact with the rest of the party leadership through intermediaries. The statement, occasionally found in the older literature, that Thalmann, at the urging of leading comrades, consented to go into exile on March 5, is doubted by more recent research. For March 3, Thälmann planned to move to one of the prepared illegal quarters, a forester's house near Wendisch Buchholz . While packing the suitcase, he was surprised by the police. Thälmann's arrest was unlawful because his immunity, guaranteed by Article 40a of the Reich Constitution as a member of the Committee for Safeguarding the Rights of Representation of the People, had not been lifted by the Reichstag Fire Ordinance. It was not until March 6 that a Berlin public prosecutor issued an arrest warrant - which was also formally illegal - "in the interests of public safety", which was then simply backdated.

Some inconsistencies in connection with the arrest of Thälmann, which made the KPD very unsettling, were the subject of internal party investigations after 1933. One of these anomalies was, for example, that Thälmann, despite the open persecution of the party, had used one and the same apartment, which was not intended for such a situation, for weeks, but above all the astonishing fact that neither the building nor the apartment itself was secured by members of the party self-protection was. As a result, after a few hours, Erich Birkenhauer , Thälmann's political secretary, and Alfred Kattner , the personal courier of the party leader, ran into the arms of the police. In the internal KPD investigations, especially Hans Kippenberger fell into the twilight, who as head of the M apparatus was responsible for the security of the party leader and with a view to the events of March 3rd also expressly took over (“a catastrophe and a shame before the whole international "so Kippenberger). In the following years, however, there were repeated attempts to cover up and mutual suspicions of the indirectly and directly involved people, which were fueled by targeted disinformation measures and, above all, by further arrests of the Gestapo . He had succeeded in "turning around" Kattner while in custody and with his help arresting Thälmann's successor John Schehr on November 9, 1933 and Hermann Dünow , who had replaced Kippenberger, on December 18 . Kattner, to whom the Gestapo had also assigned a major role in the planned trial against Thälmann, was shot on February 1, 1934 in Nowawes by Hans Schwarz , an employee of the M apparatus. Birkenhauer, whom Thälmann had blamed for delaying his change of quarters and thus for his arrest, and Kippenberger were executed in exile in the Soviet Union , Hirsch was killed in Soviet custody.

The National Socialist judiciary initially planned to bring Thälmann to a high treason trial. For this purpose, she collected intensely incriminating material that was supposed to prove the KPD's alleged "coup intent". At the end of May 1933, Thälmann's “ protective custody ” was lifted and formal pre-trial detention was ordered. In this context he was transferred from the police headquarters at Alexanderplatz to the Moabit remand prison. This change of location thwarted the first of a series of different concrete plans to liberate Thälmann.

Thälmann was interrogated several times in 1933 and 1934 by the Gestapo at their headquarters on Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse and was also mistreated in the process. He was knocked out of four teeth during an interrogation on January 8, and then an interrogator beat him with a hippopotamus whip . On January 19, Hermann Göring sought out the battered Thälmann and ordered him to be transferred back to the Moabit remand prison. The interrogation protocols that were created during this phase have not yet been found and are considered lost. Thälmann meanwhile remained without legal counsel for a long time; the Jewish lawyer Friedrich Roetter, who had taken care of him, was shortly expelled from the legal profession and himself imprisoned. In 1934 the lawyers Fritz Ludwig (an NSDAP member) and Helmut R. Külz took over the defense of Thälmann. Thälmann trusted above all Ludwig, who smuggled receipts from the cell or newspapers and books into the cell for him and forwarded the indictment declared as a secret Reich case to supporters abroad. A large part of the covert communication between Thälmann and the KPD leadership took place via the lawyers - and also via Rosa Thälmann. In consideration of foreign countries, but above all because the prosecution's intention to provide evidence was clearly not legally stable and a disaster comparable to the Reichstag fire trial should be avoided, the authorities involved agreed in the course of 1935 to refrain from "judicial settlement" of Thälmann to take. On November 1, 1935, the Second Senate of the People's Court lifted pre- trial detention (without discontinuing the proceedings as such) and at the same time transferred Thälmann to the Gestapo as a “ protective prisoner ”.

In 1935/36 the international protest movement against Thälmann's imprisonment reached a climax. On his 50th birthday on April 16, 1936, he received congratulations from all over the world, including Maxim Gorki , Heinrich Mann , Martin Andersen Nexø and Romain Rolland . In the same year the Spanish Civil War began . The XI. The international brigade and a battalion subdivided into it named themselves after Ernst Thälmann.

Prison and penitentiary

Ernst Thälmann - Letters and Memories - Dietz Verlag Berlin 1986 (GDR) - Offizin Andersen Nexö Leipzig

In 1937 Thälmann was transferred from Berlin to the Hanover judicial prison as a "protective prisoner". Here he was later given a larger cell in which he could receive visitors. This was an excuse to wiretap him in the cell. However, the information about the secret eavesdropping was leaked to him. In order to be able to "chat" freely, he and his visitors used small writing boards and chalk.

When Germany and the Soviet Union had improved their relations in 1939 ( Hitler-Stalin Pact ), Stalin evidently did not advocate Thälmann's release. After his family was liberated by the Red Army , the relatives even learned that Thälmann's rival Walter Ulbricht had ignored all of their requests and had not taken a position in favor of Thälmann's liberation.

At the beginning of 1944, Ernst Thälmann wrote in Bautzen his answer, still preserved today, to the letters of a fellow prisoner.

Murder in Buchenwald

The exact circumstances of Thälmann's death are unclear and controversial in research to this day.

One possible course of events is that on August 17, 1944, Thälmann was brought from the Bautzen prison to the Buchenwald concentration camp by two Gestapo officers , where he was shot on the orders of Adolf Hitler without trial . This could have happened early in the morning of August 18 in a boiler room near the crematorium and his body could have been cremated immediately afterwards. For example, witnesses report that on the afternoon of August 17, an order was given to light an incinerator and the ashes were dark after the cremation, which could be attributed to a cremation with clothes.

The Buchenwald prisoner Walter Hummelsheim described another version in 1945: Thälmann was only shot four or five days after the bombing of the camp on August 24, 1944, together with nine other communists, in the camp's stables . Those murdered there were never included in the official camp lists. The Polish prisoner Marian Zgoda is said to have directly observed the crime - hidden behind a heap of slag. Zgoda testified before the Krefeld district court that he had heard that one of the shooters had answered in the affirmative when asked by another whether the person who had been shot was Thälmann. According to this statement, one of the alleged perpetrators was SS-Stabsscharführer Wolfgang Otto . After several years of proceedings, Otto was acquitted in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1988. Even the oberscharführer Werner Berger and obersturmführer Erich Gust be associated with the murder of Thalmann.

According to recent research, it is also possible that he was killed by the Buchenwald professional criminal and Kapo Müller, or even murdered in Bautzen. Another version says that the murder order demanded absolute secrecy, which is why the camp commandant in Buchenwald did not appoint an SS firing squad, but instead ordered the transport command that Thälmann had brought to shoot him on the spot.

It is certain that on September 16, the party organ of the NSDAP, the Völkischer Beobachter , untruthfully distributed the report that Thälmann and the former chairman of the SPD parliamentary group Rudolf Breitscheid were killed in an Allied bombing raid on Buchenwald on August 24th:

“Killed by terror bombs!
During a terror attack on the area around Weimar on August 28, 1944, the concentration camp was also hit by numerous explosive bombs. Among the prisoners who died in the process are the former members of the Reichstag, Breitscheid and Thälmann. "

- Volkish observer


Memorial plaque on the Karl-Liebknecht-Haus in Berlin
Ernst Thälmann Monument by Lew Kerbel in Berlin's Ernst Thälmann Park
Ernst Thälmann Monument in Weimar
Memorial plaque on the residential building in Hamburg-Eppendorf , Tarpenbekstr. 66, now a memorial
The memorial plaque in the courtyard of the crematorium of the former Buchenwald concentration camp, 1953
Ernst Thälmann monument in Werdau 2009 (initially stored in the museum since 2012)
Ernst Thälmann commemorative coin of the GDR
Ernst Thälmann memorial plaque in Greiz 2015
Trường THPT Ernst Thälmann (Ernst Thälmann High School) in District 1 (Ho Chi Minh City)
Stumbling block for Ernst Thälmann

Since 1992 one of the 96 memorial plaques in the Berlin district of Tiergarten on the corner of Scheidemannstrasse and Platz der Republik has been commemorating Thälmann in memory of members of the Reichstag who were murdered by the National Socialists .

In addition to naming units of the International Brigades (see Thälmann Battalion ) after Ernst Thälmann while he was still alive, the " Pioneer Organization Ernst Thälmann " was founded in 1948 in the Soviet occupation zone and officially given this name in 1952. Pioneers of the older age groups (around ten to 14 years old) were called "Thälmann pioneers".

Many labor collectives, schools, roads (see Ernst-Thälmann-Straße ), squares, places and settlements, sports stadiums and facilities in the GDR , such as one of the best known examples of VEB SKET ( S chwermaschinenbau k ombinat E rnst T hälmann) or Officers college of the land forces of the NVA , also bore his name. The Ernst-Thälmann-Insel in the Cuban Bay of Pigs was also named after him. On November 30, 1949, Berlin's Wilhelmplatz was ceremoniously renamed Thälmannplatz. The adjacent underground station was also named Thälmannplatz . In the 1980s, the Ernst-Thälmann-Park was laid out in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg , and a large Ernst-Thälmann monument by the Soviet sculptor Lew Kerbel was erected. There are also other Ernst Thälmann monuments. Even today, 613 streets and squares in Germany are reminiscent of Ernst Thälmann.

Hamburg named a street after Thälmann. In 1956 the street was given the name Budapester Straße as a sign of the bloody suppression of the popular uprising in Hungary by the Soviet Union . The private "Ernst Thälmann Memorial" has existed in Hamburg since 1969 in his house on Ernst-Thälmann-Platz in Hamburg-Eppendorf, which was named after him in 1985 .

In the Rhineland-Palatinate city of Worms , however, the street name "Thälmannring" lasted until 1961, when it was converted into a contemporary "Berliner Ring".

There was also the now demolished Ernst Thälmann memorial Sporthaus Ziegenhals near Berlin. There it was propagated that Thälmann had offered the SPD in his Ziegenhals speech in 1933 an “anti-fascist action” as a united front against German fascism. Another Thälmann memorial is located in Kleistpark Frankfurt (Oder) .

In Dresden there is an Ernst Thälmann memorial in the Strehlen district.

In the memorial of the socialists in Berlin's Friedrichsfelde central cemetery, there is an inscription for Thälmann in the central roundabout, with which he is symbolically honored. These do not mark his tomb.

Since July 24, 2009, a stumbling block has been reminding of Ernst Thälmann in front of his last house on Tarpenbekstrasse in Hamburg-Eppendorf .

On June 8, 2012, stumbling blocks were laid in front of the Hamburg City Hall for the murdered members of the Hamburg Parliament, including another for Ernst Thälmann.

On February 20, 2018, stumbling blocks for Ernst, Rosa and Irma Thälmann were laid in Singen . Irma Thälmann married her childhood friend Heinrich Vester in June 1940 . She lived with him from December 1941 at Rielasinger Strasse 180, where she was arrested on April 15, 1944 and taken to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Rosa Thälmann also lived with her daughter in Singen for a few months.

His name was borne by three training ships from the GST naval school "August Lütgens" Greifswald-Wieck : The largest GST yacht with 150 m² sail area, the sea cruiser "Ernst Thälmann", later called "Ernst Schneller", the former MLR of the "Habicht" type and Rescue ship "R-11" of the Volksmarine , which was then used from 1968 to 1977 as the GST motor training ship "Ernst Thälmann" (I) after reconstruction, and the modern successor to the ship, the MSR "Anklam" of the Volksmarine, which is known as the MSS "Ernst Thälmann" (II) sailed as a training ship from 1977 to 1989 and was sold to Denmark in 1990. In addition, the former Danish inspection ship Hvidbjørnen , which was in Rostock for repairs in 1945, was taken over by the See People's Police in 1952 as the flagship and training ship Ernst Thälmann . After the conversion of the VP-See into the Volksmarine in 1956, it drove there until 1961 and was renamed Albin Köbis shortly before its decommissioning . It ended up as a target training ship in 1965, where it was sunk in the Baltic Sea.

While thousands of Germans commemorated Ernst Thälmann during the GDR era, on his 125th birthday in 2011 in Hamburg only just under 100 guests came together. Egon Krenz as guest of honor paid tribute to Thälmann's performance with the words "He remained a fighter, true to himself and his cause, until his death" and at the same time complained that Thälmann's services were no longer recognized. On that day, “greetings in solidarity and fighting” came from Moscow from the Ukrainian Union of Soviet Officers.

Locations named after Thälmann:

In addition, Thälmann is the namesake for the Thälmann Mountains in the Antarctic.


Thälmann was already sharply criticized by the left during his lifetime. The KPD leadership at the time was critical of the Hamburg uprising under his leadership. During his time as head of the KPD, Thälmann subjected the German communists to the hegemony of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union . Supporters of an independent course were ousted from the party.

Clara Zetkin , who in April 1925 with her polemic against Thälmann's predecessor Ruth Fischer before the Executive Committee of the Comintern helped bring him to the top of the party, characterized the KPD under Thälmann in September 1927 as “weak and incompetent”, characterized by “formation small cliques, personal intrigues, working against each other ”. She attests to a seemingly helpless Thälmann that he "... is ignorant and theoretically untrained, has been increased into uncritical self-deception and self-delusion that borders on megalomania and lacks self-control ..."

The KPD's strategy during the Weimar Republic of seeing the SPD as a main enemy is often seen as a weakening of the anti-fascist forces. A leading communism researcher like Hermann Weber is also critical: "Thälmann has to be said, with all due respect for his steadfastness in Hitler's dungeon, that he was just a provincial politician with demagogic talent." Klaus Schroeder , head of the SED State Research Association Freie Universität Berlin , states in the article Why we shouldn't honor Thälmann that the "KPD leader was an opponent of democracy".

The historian Götz Aly criticizes Thälmann's role in the Hamburg uprising , in which 14 police officers, 24 insurgents and 61 uninvolved citizens died. Aly Thälmann further criticizes the support of the social fascism theory with which he declared the SPD to be the main enemy and thus promoted the downfall of the Weimar Republic .


Cinematic reception

Musical reception


  • Locarno, the new war pact. Speech at the session of the German Reichstag on November 24, 1925 . Association of International Publishing Houses , Berlin 1925, DNB  577974084 .
  • The struggle for trade union unity and the German working class. Presentation and closing remarks at the 10th party congress of the KPD . Association of International Publishing Houses, Berlin 1925, DNB  577974076 .
  • For the united proletarian front. Speech . Association of International Publishing Houses , Berlin 1927, DNB  57797405X .
  • Wedding against Magdeburg (revolutionary liberation struggle or capitalist slavery) . Internationaler Arbeiter-Verlag, Berlin 1929, DNB  576662453 .
  • The conquest of the majority of the working class. Report by Comrade Thälmann on the meeting of the extended presidium of the EKKJ . Internationaler Arbeiter-Verlag, Berlin 1930, DNB  577974068 .
  • Forward under the Comintern banner. Speech at the meeting of the Central Committee of the KPD on May 14, 1931 . Internationaler Arbeiter-Verlag, Berlin 1931, DNB  576662437 .
  • People's revolution over Germany. Speech at the plenum of the Central Committee of the KPD . Internationaler Arbeiter-Verlag, Berlin 1931, DNB  576662429 .
  • Catastrophe or socialism? Ernst Thälmann's call to fight against the emergency ordinances . Internationaler Arbeiter-Verlag, Berlin 1931, DNB  576662380 .
  • Combat speeches and essays . Publishing Cooperative of Foreign Workers, Moscow 1931, DNB  576662372 .
  • The situation in Germany and the task of the Communist Party of Germany. 11th plenary session of the ECCI . Hoym, Hamburg 1931, DNB  576662399 .
  • How do we create the Red United Front? Thälmann's answers to 21 questions from SPD workers! Verlag Antifaschistische Organization, Berlin 1932, DNB  576662461 .
  • What does the anti-fascist action want? Schneller, Berlin 1932, DNB  576662445 .
  • Paris – Berlin - Our fight against the imperialist war, against Versailles. For social and national liberation . Schneller, Berlin 1932, DNB  576662402 (with Maurice Thores).
  • In the struggle against the fascist dictatorship - speech and closing words by Comrade Ernst Thalmann at the party conference of the KPD . KPD, Berlin 1932, DNB  576662364 .
  • The revolutionary way out and the KPD. Speech at the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the KPD on February 19, 1932 in Berlin . Internationaler Arbeiter-Verlag, Berlin 1932, DNB  576662321 .
  • Working youth in the fight against fascism and imperialist war. (Speech at the plenary session of the Central Committee of the KJVD) . 1932, DNB  576662356 .
  • For the united proletarian front. Speech . 1933, DNB  576662348 .

Published posthumously :

  • Reply to letters from a fellow prisoner . Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1961, DNB  455032408 .
  • Ernst Thälmann and the youth policy of the KPD . Young World Publishing House, Berlin 1984, DNB  871369486 .
  • Ernst Thälmann: On the question of power. Speeches, articles and letters 1920–1935 . Publishing house Dietz, Berlin 1982, DNB  830417443 .
  • Letters - memories . Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1986.
  • Fills the unions with the spirit of class struggle . Verlag Tribüne, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-7303-0008-3 .
  • The masses mobilize “before the imperialists light the torch!” Ernst Thälmann on the struggle for peace. A documentation . Party college Karl Marx, Berlin 1988, DNB  891033750 .
  • To Stalin. Letters from prison from 1939 to 1941 . Karl Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-320-01927-9 .


GDR literature

  • Willi Bredel , Michael Tschesno-Hell : Ernst Thälmann. Leader in its class. Literary scenario. Henschel, Berlin 1955.
  • Institute for Marxism-Leninism at the Central Committee of the SED. Author collective: Ernst Thälmann. A biography. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1979, ISBN 3-88012-394-2 .
  • Peter Przybylski : Thälmann's murderous matter. Military publishing house of the German Democratic Republic, Berlin 1986.

Selected literature (since 1996)

Web links

Commons : Ernst Thälmann  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Ernst Thälmann  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Reproduction of the birth certificate ( memento from August 19, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF) on
  2. database of German members of parliament, accessed on October 4, 2011.
  3. a b Notes from Heinrich Himmler , Reichsführer SS, from a meeting with Adolf Hitler in the Wolfsschanze , August 14, 1944 in exhibition case 4/31 in the former effects room of the Buchenwald concentration camp: “12. Thälmann is to be executed ”.
  4. Ernst Thälmann in the online version of the edition files of the Reich Chancellery. Weimar Republic
  5. a b c d e f Institute for Marxism-Leninism at the Central Committee of the SED (collective of authors): Ernst Thälmann. A biography. Dietz, Berlin 1980.
  6. a b c d e f g h i Ernst Thälmann: Abridged curriculum vitae, impromptu, stylistically therefore not entirely perfect. 1935, In: Institute for Marxism-Leninism at the Central Committee of the SED (Hrsg.): Ernst Thälmann: Letters - memories. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1986.
  7. Hamburg address book for 1894. 1894, accessed on July 1, 2017 .
  8. ^ Hamburg address book for 1895, street directory. 1895, Retrieved July 1, 2017 .
  9. ^ Library of German fighters for socialism: Ernst Thälmann - Letters from prison to his relatives. Retrieved October 4, 2011.
  10. ^ Extract from the German lists of losses (Preuss. 672) of October 30, 1916, p. 15924 ( ).
  12. Ernst Thälmann Letters and Memories. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1986 (GDR), 1st edition of Offizin Andersen Nexö Leipzig, p. 63.
  13. Hamburg address book for 1887. 1887, accessed on July 1, 2017 .
  14. Hamburg address book for 1887, street directory. 1887, Retrieved July 1, 2017 .
  15. Hamburg Correspondent and Hamburg Stock Exchange Hall. Morning edition, March 5, 1892.
  16. Thilo Gabelmann: Thälmann never fell. Berlin 1996, p. 218.
  17. ^ Susanne Eckelmann: Ernst Thälmann. Tabular curriculum vitae in the LeMO ( DHM and HdG )
  18. Ernst Thälmann Memorial, Hamburg: - Tour - 05: Chairman of the USPD Hamburg
  19. ^ Norman LaPorte : The Rise of Ernst Thälmann and the Hamburg Left, 1921-1923. In: Ralf Hoffrogge, Norman LaPorte (ed.): Weimar Communism as Mass Movement 1918-1933. Lawrence & Wishart, London 2017, pp. 45-65.
  20. ^ Norbert Fischer, Hanna Vollmer-Heitmann: The Chronicle of Hamburg . Chronik Verlag, Dortmund 1991, ISBN 3-611-00194-5 , p. 415 .
  21. ^ Ernst Thälmann: Die Lehren des Hamburger Aufstandes, October 23, 1925. In: Selected speeches and writings in two volumes. Volume 1, Verlag Marxistische Blätter, Frankfurt am Main 1976, p. 69 ff.
  22. ^ Georgi Dimitrov: Reichstag fire trial. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1953: “I and my party weren't really Bolsheviks back then. That is why we did not understand how to successfully organize and carry out this historical popular uprising under the leadership of the proletariat. "
  23. ^ The Wittorf Affair in 1928 . In: Junge Welt , September 27, 2003, documented in: The Wittorf Affair 1928 (Thälmann - KPD) ( Memento from July 26, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on October 4, 2011.
  24. a b c Eberhard Czichon, Heinz Dobrawa, Heinz Marohn: Thälmann. A report. Wiljo Heinen Publishing House, Berlin 2010.
  25. Thalmann. A report: Documentation on the "Wittorf Affair" - the party coup of the Brandler people in 1928. ( Memento of March 27, 2012 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on October 4, 2011.
  26. Volker Ullrich: Stalins loyal vassals - The Thälmann Affair 1928: A key episode in the history of communism. In: The time . No. 21/2003.
  27. Hermann Weber: The Change of German Communism - The Stalinization of the KPD in the Weimar Republic. Volume 2. Frankfurt am Main 1969, p. 94 f.
  28. ^ German Historical Museum: The Panzerkreuzerbau. Retrieved October 4, 2011.
  29. Ernst Thälmann shows the working farmers the way out. In: New German farmers newspaper. No. 4 from 1931.
  30. Eberhard Czichon, Heinz Marohn: Thälmann. A report. Berlin 2010, Volume 1, p. 683.
  31. Ronald Sassning : Thälmann, Wehner, Kattner, Mielke. Difficult truths. In: UTOPIE Kreativ. No. 114, April 2000, pp. 362-375, pp. 364 f.
  32. ^ Czichon, Marohn: Thälmann. A report. Volume 2, p. 717.
  33. ^ Czichon, Marohn: Thälmann. A report. Volume 1, p. 682 f.
  34. ^ Czichon, Marohn: Thälmann. A report. Volume 1, p. 683.
  35. ^ Czichon, Marohn: Thälmann. A report. Volume 2, p. 718.
  36. Quoted from Sassning: Thälmann, Wehner, Kattner, Mielke. Difficult truths. P. 371.
  37. ^ Czichon, Marohn: Thälmann. A report. Volume 2, p. 718 and Sassning: Thälmann, Wehner, Kattner, Mielke. Difficult truths. P. 370.
  38. ^ Czichon, Marohn: Thälmann. A report. Volume 2, p. 733.
  39. ^ Sassning: Thälmann, Wehner, Kattner, Mielke. Difficult truths. P. 368 f.
  40. ^ Czichon, Marohn: Thälmann. A report. Volume 2, p. 722.
  41. ^ Czichon, Marohn: Thälmann. A report. Volume 2, p. 731 f.
  42. See Stefan König: Vom Dienst am Recht. Lawyers as criminal defense attorneys under National Socialism. Berlin / New York 1987, p. 82 ff.
  43. Quoted from König: On the service of justice. P. 84.
  44. Regina Scheer: In the shadow of the monument. In: Berliner Zeitung . August 14, 2004.
  45. According to research by the historian Egon Grübel, Thälmann's correspondent was by no means a young comrade, but a young robbery named Hans-Joachim Lehmann, who may even have been penalized by the Gestapo . Lehmann disappeared without a trace after revealing himself to the SED leadership and Thälmann's family. His letters were edited 'beyond recognition'. See Peter Monteath (ed.): Ernst Thälmann - Mensch und Mythos. Rodopi, Amsterdam (Atlanta) 2000.
  46. The first publication of the complete and unedited letter can be found in Czichon, Marohn, Heinen (ed.): But I believe in the triumph of truth. Berlin 2011.
  47. a b Pleasant music when shot in the neck . In: Der Spiegel . No. 20 , 1986 ( online ).
  48. Reiner Orth: Walter Hummelsheim and the resistance against National Socialism. In: District Bernkastel-Wittlich: District yearbook Bernkastel-Wittlich for the year 2011. 2010, p. 336.
  49. Falco Werkentin: Political criminal justice in the Ulbricht era. Berlin 1995, p. 203 ff.
  50. ^ Völkischer Beobachter. North German edition (Berlin), September 16, 1944.
  51. ^ Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs : Wilhelmstrasse 49. A Berlin house with a history. (PDF; 5.9 MB) pp. 24 and 25. Accessed on June 28, 2012.
  52. ^ Renaming of Wilhelmplatz in Thälmannplatz. Photo from the Federal Archives.
  53. Street names: The GDR is alive. January 17, 2019, accessed on March 11, 2019 (German).
  54. Memorials in Hamburg ( Memento from 9 September 2016 in the Internet Archive ), information from the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial on the Ernst Thälmann Memorial Hamburg /
  55. Aral-BV city map from 1955, city plan No. 2 (Worms) on
  56. SPD agreed. In: New Germany . May 12, 1961, p. 2 , accessed on July 24, 2019 (message on page 2).
  57. 200 friends said goodbye to Thälmann's daughter. In: Berliner Morgenpost . January 9, 2001.
  58. stumbling blocks for DEFINITIVE murdered MdHB inscriptions Rathaus Hamburg. (PDF; 16 kB) at:
  59. The story lives next door. In: Südkurier . February 9, 2018 ( ).
  60. Stumbling blocks laid for the Thälmann family - Justice Minister Maas rejects Gedeon's criticism
  61. "On, on to the fight ..." - birthday party for Ernst Thälmann in Hamburg with critical notes on the zeitgeist. In: Neues Deutschland , April 18, 2011 ( ).
  62. Ulla Plener (Ed.): Clara Zetkin in her time - New facts, findings, evaluations. (PDF; 1.2 MB) p. 135.
  63. Klaus Schroeder: Why we shouldn't honor Thälmann. In: Der Tagesspiegel . May 3, 2012 ( ).
  64. Götz Aly: Renovation, but then everyone! In: Berliner Zeitung . November 27, 2018 ( ).
  65. From my childhood | Retrieved May 12, 2020 .
  66. Ernst Thälmann | Retrieved May 12, 2020 .