The post-conflict odyssey of German communist veterans of the Spanish Civil War, 1939-1989
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In early February of 1939, hundreds of German communists counted among the international volunteers who suffered a crushing rout in what proved their final campaign on behalf of the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War. In the wake of this defeat, which seemed to cast doubt on the viability of their politics, these German communists embarked on an odyssey that would test their political mettle not only in the immediate aftermath of their forced exodus from Spain but also for decades to come. Initially, they underwent a troubling change of context as they transitioned from political militancy in Spain to the disempowering context of internment in France. After their patron state, the Soviet Union, signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany on August 23, 1939, these longtime antifascists struggled in their everyday lives as internees to negotiate concomitant changes in their politics that stemmed from this unforeseen shift in global political constellations. For many veterans who settled in the German Democratic Republic in the postwar years, the difficulties associated with these troubled times came back to haunt them by providing persons who scrutinized their past political conduct with grounds for questioning their allegiance to the very cause to which they long strived so desperately to remain unswervingly loyal. Many scholars examining the German communist veterans during these periods have argued that their actions were driven primarily by dogmatic adherence to the politics of the Communist Party. Yet in so arguing, these scholars have failed to recognize the political difficulties the veterans faced and the means of ideological negotiation to which they resorted to preserve their Party loyalty at these critical historical junctures. Through a micro-historical investigation of ego documents emerging from various periods following their defeat in Spain, I argue that, rather than originating in blind obedience, the veterans' political conduct was driven by their efforts to grapple with the shortcomings they perceived in the politics they espoused.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Internment during the prewar era -- Internment during the wartime era -- The meaning of internment during the postwar era -- Conclusion