Wolfgang Leonhard

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Wolfgang Leonhard (1990)

Wolfgang Leonhard (born April 16, 1921 in Vienna as Wladimir Leonhard (since 1945 he had the first name Wolfgang ); † August 17, 2014 in Daun ) was a German historian . His communist-minded mother emigrated with him to the Soviet Union in 1935 while fleeing from the National Socialists . A year later, she was innocently arrested by Stalin's captors and sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp in Siberia. The young Wolfgang stayed in Moscow, attended boarding schools and was raised to be a communist. In 1945 he was flown to East Germany as a reliable cadre with the Ulbricht group and helped build the socialist state in the Soviet-occupied zone in Germany. He fell out with the Stalinist SED and fled to Yugoslavia. From there he went to West Germany and wrote the book The Revolution Dismisses Her Children about his experiences there in 1955 . He studied and became a professor of history in the USA. Leonhard was considered one of the leading experts on the Soviet Union, the GDR and communism . From 1968 until his death he was a member of the PEN Center Germany . He spent his old age in Manderscheid in the Eifel.


Childhood and youth in Germany and Sweden

Wolfgang Leonhard was the son of the publicist Susanne Leonhard . Susanne Leonhard's first husband, the playwright Rudolf Leonhard , acknowledged paternity, although at the time of her birth Susanne Leonhard was in a relationship with Mieczysław Broński , the Soviet ambassador in Vienna and close confidante of Lenin , and was married under Soviet law.

In 1931, after a brief episode in Berlin-Reinickendorf , mother and son moved to the left-wing Berlin artists' colony on Breitenbachplatz , their neighbor was the actor and singer Ernst Busch . Wladimir Leonhard attended the Reinickendorf Realgymnasium from 1930 to 1931 and then the Karl Marx School in Berlin-Neukölln , one of the first German comprehensive schools, which Fritz Karsen set up in the 1920s . In 1931 Leonhard joined the KPD 's children's organization , the “Young Pioneers”. Because of the critical security situation in Berlin, Leonhard visited the reform-pedagogical Landschulheim Herrlingen for a year in 1932 and was brought to a safe boarding school in Viggbyholm near Stockholm after the Nazi takeover in autumn 1933 . His mother remained illegally in Germany until early summer 1935.

Adolescent and adult years in the Soviet Union

Wolfgang Leonhard's mother visited her son in Sweden in the spring of 1935 and did not return to Germany after two warning telegrams. Sweden refused her asylum. She emigrated to Moscow via Leningrad in June 1935, together with her son Wolfgang, who was a Soviet citizen . Susanne Leonhard was arrested in autumn 1936 on the occasion of a Stalinist purge and deported to the Vorkuta labor camp for twelve years . Leonhard spent this time in "Children's Home No. 6" (a children's home for the children of German and Austrian Communists) and attended the German-speaking Karl Liebknecht School in Moscow until 1937 . After the Stalinist "purges" , the Karl Liebknecht School had to close because it was now said that schools for national minorities were no longer compatible with the official communist party line.

Leonhard switched to the 93rd school (a Russian school) in Moscow. In 1940, at the age of 19, he began studying at the Moscow State Pedagogical College for Foreign Languages . At the end of September 1941 ( after the German attack ) Leonhard was forcibly resettled as a German to the north of Kazakhstan . There he attended a teachers' institute in Karaganda between 1941 and 1942 . From the summer of 1942 Leonhard was transferred to the Comintern school in Kuschnarenkowo near Ufa ( Bashkir ASSR ), where he trained as a communist political commissar under the cover name "Wolfgang Linden" . There he met u. a. his former school friend Markus Wolf again. On June 10, 1943, Stalin dissolved the Communist International, whereupon the school was closed.

From 1943 on, Leonhard was a speaker on the radio station “Free Germany” of the National Committee for Free Germany .

Even during his time in the Soviet Union, Leonhard repeatedly had doubts about Stalinism. At the Comintern School Leonhard experienced the first grueling “ criticism and self-criticism ”.

“What would happen, however, if further critical views imposed themselves on me, which I kept to myself and wisely kept silent? Today I believe that a path began that seven years later, after heavy internal struggles, led to my breaking with Stalinism and fleeing the Soviet zone of Germany. "

- Wolfgang Leonhard 1955 in The Revolution dismisses her children on the consequences of the first "criticism and self-criticism".

Return to Germany in 1945

Wladimir Leonhard returned to Berlin on April 30, 1945 as a 24-year-old young functionary with Walter Ulbricht in the so-called Ulbricht group , where he devoted himself to building up the municipal administration in Berlin. Ulbricht had asked him at the time if he didn't have a German first name, too, and Vladimir was unfavorable for work in Germany. So he offered him Wolfgang , the first name of his alias from 1942. According to Leonhard's own memory, his job was to make the authorities look democratic, but to keep everything under tight control. Like Wolf, who returned to Berlin from the Soviet Union only a few days after Leonhard, Leonhard also initially made a career in the Communist Party of Germany and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. From July 1945 to September 1947 he worked in the agitation and propaganda department of the KPD Central Committee (from 1946 the SED Central Committee ). From 1947 to 1949 Wolfgang Leonhard taught at the SED party college Karl Marx - Faculty of History - in the Hakeburg in Kleinmachnow .

In 1949, however, Leonhard broke with Stalinism , secretly became a follower of Titoism and in March of that year fled with his girlfriend Ilse Spittmann via Prague to Yugoslavia , where he worked for Radio Belgrade .

In 1950 he moved to the Federal Republic of Germany . With Josef Schappe , the Bavarian Communist Party deviator Georg Fischer (1906-1980) and others, he founded the Independent Workers' Party of Germany , an anti-Stalinist-non-aligned, Titoist socialist party. The group existed with financial support from the Yugoslav CP until the end of 1952 and was defamed by the KPD as the "Titoist Schappe-Leonhard clique". During this time, Leonhard lived in constant fear of kidnapping by eastern secret services.

In the Federal Republic of Germany he was employed by the publishing house Kiepenheuer & Witsch in the first few years , where he was mostly only involved in cut-outs; In the evening he wrote a book in which he describes his political path from Moscow in 1935 to his escape from the Soviet occupation zone in 1949. In 1955 Leonhard published this experience under the title The Revolution Dismisses Her Children . It became by far his best-known book, and the title became a popular expression in the political milieu. In My History of the GDR (2007), Leonhard describes himself as the first Prague embassy refugee from the GDR, since his escape from the Soviet Zone to Yugoslavia led through the Prague embassy.

Teaching and research

As a result of his book publication, the publishing clerk Leonhard received an invitation from the University of Oxford . There he completed Post Graduate Studies from 1956 to 1958 at St Antony's College . From 1963 to 1964 he was a senior research fellow at the Institute for Russian Studies at Columbia University New York. From the mid-1960s, Leonhard, also known as a Sovietologist, taught as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and then until 1987 at the History Faculty of Yale University with a focus on "History of the USSR" and "History of the World Communist Movement". The future US President George W. Bush was one of his students here .

In the Federal Republic of Germany, Leonhard was also a much sought-after expert on the East, a commentator on issues relating to the Soviet Union and international communism, and developed an intensive journalistic activity; At times he was recognized as a " Kremlin astrologer ". Numerous television appearances over decades made him known to a wide public.

From July 1987 Leonhard regularly visited the Soviet Union, then Russia and some other CIS countries . From 1993 on, he was seven times as OSCE - election observers at the elections in Russia , Belarus and most recently in Ukraine . He was visiting lecturer at the universities of Michigan , Mainz , Trier , Kiel , Chemnitz and Erfurt . Leonhard remained active as an Eastern expert, publicist and lecturer into old age.


Wanda Brońska-Pampuch is his half-sister.

Wolfgang Leonhard lived in Manderscheid ( Eifel ) since 1964 . He was married to the psychologist, journalist and later SPD member of the Bundestag Elke Leonhard since 1974 in his second marriage . His son came from his first marriage to the Italian Yvonne Sgarella di Fini.

Leonhard lived surrounded by over 9000 books, mainly on his scientific life topics. A complete collection of all issues of Pravda was also part of his library . In order to be able to accommodate his books, the Leonhard couple also acquired the neighboring house in Manderscheid.

Leonhard died after a long, serious illness at the age of 93 in a hospital in Daun . He was buried in the Manderscheid community cemetery in the Bernkastel-Wittlich district . In an obituary, the publicist Ralph Giordano described Wolfgang Leonhard as his oldest and best friend.


Works (selection)

  • The revolution dismisses its children . Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 1955, ISBN 3-462-01463-3 .
  • Soviet ideology today . Together with Gustav A. Wetter . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1962, ISBN 3-596-26046-9 .
  • Kremlin without Stalin . Verlag für Politik und Wirtschaft, Cologne 1959 (3rd [modified] edition, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 1963).
  • Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev. The rise and fall of a Soviet leader . Bucher, Lucerne, Frankfurt am Main 1965.
  • The tripartite division of Marxism. Origin and development of Soviet Marxism, Maoism and reform communism . Econ, Düsseldorf 1975, ISBN 3-430-15880-X .
  • On the eve of a new revolution. The future of Soviet communism . Mosaik, Munich 1975, ISBN 3-570-02611-6 .
  • Eurocommunism. Challenge for East and West . Goldmann, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-442-11256-7 .
  • Völker hears the signals: The founding years of world communism 1919–1924 . Goldmann Sachbuch, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-442-11369-5 .
  • Dawn in the Kremlin. Challenge for East and West . Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, Stuttgart 1984, ISBN 3-421-06182-3 .
  • The short life of the GDR. Reports and comments from four decades . DVA, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-421-06586-1 .
  • The reform dismisses its fathers. The stony road to modern Russia . DVA, Stuttgart, ISBN 3-421-06674-4 .
  • Play with the fire. Russia's painful road to democracy . Lübbe Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 1998, ISBN 3-404-60457-1 .
  • Search for clues. 40 years after "The revolution releases its children" . Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2000, ISBN 3-462-02390-X .
  • November 1945: The training booklet about Friedrich Engels . In: Contributions to Marx-Engels research. New series, special volume 5. The Marx-Engels work editions in the USSR and GDR (1945–1968). Edited by Carl-Erich Vollgraf, Richard Sperl and Rolf Hecker . Argument Verlag, Hamburg 2006, pp. 83-94, ISBN 3-88619-691-7 .
  • The revolution dismisses its children . Infosat-Verlag, Daun 2006, ISBN 3-933350-07-7 (22 audio CDs; audio book).
  • The union of KPD and SPD to form the SED . Nora-Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-86557-073-9 .
  • My story of the GDR . Rowohlt, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-87134-572-2 .
  • Notes on Stalin . Rowohlt, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-87134-635-4 .
  • The left temptation. Where is the SPD headed? be.bra, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-86124-633-6 (with Elke Leonhard ).

Television (selection)

  • Wolfgang Leonhard in conversation with Dieter Zimmer , in the ZDF series Witnesses of the Century . First broadcast in two episodes on October 6th and 13th, 1993.
  • The troublemaker: Wolfgang Leonhard - young pioneer, Soviet researcher, liberal . Author: Joachim Görgen. First broadcast on July 12, 2000 on MDR (= episode 41 of the ARD series CVs , 45 min.).


Web links

Commons : Wolfgang Leonhard  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. a b Russia expert Wolfgang Leonhard is dead (ZEIT Online, August 17, 2014)
  2. ^ Wolfgang Leonhard: The revolution dismisses its children . 16th edition, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 1996, p. 280. ( ISBN 3-462-01463-3 )
  3. Germany after the War, 1945-49 , BBC2, minute 31:30
  4. ^ Anne Applebaum: History Will Judge the Complicit , The Atlantic , 2020, accessed June 9, 2020
  5. This is how Leonhard characterized it himself. In: The troublemaker: Wolfgang Leonhard - young pioneer, Soviet researcher, liberal . Author: Joachim Görgen. First broadcast on July 12, 2000 on MDR.
  6. ^ Hermann Weber : The SED and Titoism. Wolfgang Leonhard on the occasion of his 90th birthday , in: Germany Archive 4/2011, online .
  7. Peter Sturm: Becoming wise from bitter experiences. On the death of Wolfgang Leonhard . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of August 18, 2014, p. 4. online
  8. ^ Obituary Wolfgang Leonhard "The Telegraph" (engl.)
  9. WDR broadcast ZeitZeichen on April 16, 2016: April 16, 1921 - birthday of Wolfgang Leonhard , author: Christoph Vormweg. http://www1.wdr.de/radio/wdr5/sendung/zeitzeichen/wolfgang-leonhard-publizist-100 .
  10. ^ Historian Wolfgang Leonhard dies ( Memento from January 9, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  11. ^ Knerger.de: The grave of Wolfgang Leonhard
  12. Ralph Giordano: Kremlin specialty. A personal obituary for the historian Wolfgang Leonhard . In: Jüdische Allgemeine from August 21, 2014 http://www.juedische-allgemeine.de/article/view/id/20007
  13. Camouflage edition for the GDR: Stalin, Josef Wissarionowitsch. Brief biography . Berlin, Dietz Verlag