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Nils Dahl

Some memories of Walter Held


From Revolutionary History magazine, Vol.1 No.2, Summer 1988. Used by permission.

No-one knows if Held had met Trotsky before he came to Norway but Trotsky mentioned him in his Diary as ‘Our comrade in Oslo’. Held wrote a letter on 27 March l935 asking if Trotsky was to come to Norway. He was not at all keen to go. Three people took up the task of getting him to Norway. They were Walter Held, Scheflo, who was the former leader of the Communist Party, and Falk, who was the leader of Mot-Dag. I was a political and personal friend of Walter Held, who was Trotsky’s representative in Norway. In those days I was a regular reader of the German Trotskyist paper Unser Wort. I met Trotsky as soon as he had settled down in Honnefoss, which is a little town about an hour’s drive from Oslo. In those days I had a car at my disposal and took Walter Held over to see Trotsky on many occasions. Held was his pen name and he was very well acquainted with politics, and was a very good writer with a leaning towards literature, too. In 1933-34 he was allowed to use Mot-Dag’s secretariat as his forwarding address, being on good terms with Erling Falk its leader. [1] When I was working in an aeroplane firm in 1935, Held’s second wife was my secretary. It was thanks to Walter Held that I moved from the KPO [2] to Trotskyism. On the other hand, when any questions were discussed with Trotsky, Held did most of the talking.

Walter Held was one of the key people around Trotsky and the Fourth International. He went to Paris to take over the job as international secretary when Rudolf Klement, the previous secretary, was found headless in the Seine. But Held had to leave Paris and return to Oslo immediately because the Stalinists were on his tracks.

Held’s real name was Walter Heinz Epe. He was born 26 December 1910, in Remscheid in the Ruhr. He was the son of a painter-meister Epe whose wife’s maiden name was Held. One of his younger brothers is still alive in Remscheid. After he had taken his student examinations he studied at Cologne and in 193I he was recruited to the Trotskyist movement and was elected to the editorial board of Unser Wort and Permanente Revolution. Because of economic difficulties he had to take a job as an assistant to a member of the German parliament.

Into Exile

After the Reichstag fire he had to leave these jobs and Germany and he went to Czechoslovakia where he carried on with his studies. He studied law and political science. In 1934 he went to Holland. He represented the German Revolutionary Youth together with Willy Brandt and in this youth conference there were three Norwegian representatives, one from Mot-Dag, the student organisation, and one from the Labour Party which was still outside the Second International in those days. [3] They tried to set up a conference at Laren which was close to the German border. Laren had a Nazi Mayor, and they were all arrested and four of them were deported back to Germany. The rest were sent to prison in Amsterdam. There the Dutch did not know what to do with them, and they were deported to Belgium. The Belgians freed them and they carried on their conference at Lille. From there they issued a printed declaration, and this was the start of working out a programme for a Youth International. They elected a bureau. and on that bureau were Walter Held, Willy Brandt and a Norwegian representative from Mot-Dag. Mot-Dag gave them an office and a place to work from, and they produced a paper and a manifesto of the International Bureau of Youth Organisations. Held had to go to Oslo to take up a position there. He arrived in June l934 and worked in the International Bureau of Youth Organisations in the Mot-Dag office from then until August 1935 as the editor, together with Willy Brandt, both of the internal paper, Organisationsbriefe and the external one, Internationaler Jugendbulletin.

Personally Held was the sort of man who had lived a sheltered life. He was of medium size, rather weak looking. He was not tough, but he was not weak either. and he was quite athletic. He told me once that when he was a child he was called ‘Wein Heinz’ that is ‘Crybaby Heinz’. My impression is that he was quite good at standing up to the physical strain in Norway at the time when Trotsky was in danger and Held could have been kidnapped by the Russians. He had charm, he was able to win people and he spoke well and fluently in Norwegian. He was able to put a case in an editorial and he could develop theory.

What stopped Held taking over the secretariat after Klement was murdered was that Trotsky thought that Held might be killed too. I am not sure if I am right, but I understand that Klement was not so competent in the matter of publications as Held. Held in 1938 had been in the movement continually since 1931, and in addition he was a marvellous writer, and he had been involved in the preparation of the Fourth International. When he tried to go to America via Russia he intended to live by his pen. He was marvellous at picking up Norwegian. He took about a year and spoke it fluently. I remember once he produced an article that he had written for the Swedish liberal paper and the editor was impressed and wrote in the preface, ‘I do not want to translate this article into Swedish because of the excellent Norwegian the author has used’. [4] He had a job as a language teacher of German in Oslo. Held was as much an artist and literary man as a politician, and he got on well with authors at parties. When we met I was working with the publication of Mot-Dag’s paper. The organisation was rather well off and used to give a lunch meeting every day with plenty of food to their members and foreign guests, which in that period of unemployment was very welcome. These lunches resulted in much political interaction between the Mot-Dag Norwegians and the political refugees. Held’s wife’s maiden name was Synneove Rosendahl-Jensen. She had been adopted by a railwayman’s family, and it was said that her real father was a rich bourgeois. She was with another immigrant before Walter Held and when she broke with this man he tried to cut her throat, and she had a very nasty scar. They married in the late autumn of 1935. Their son’s name was Frar Roland Epe.

Walter Held recruited two important authors in Norway in 1934, Sigurd Hoel and Helga Krog, and two engineers, myself and a man called Terje Morseth, and we four were able to make contacts in all the different parts of Norway.

Held wrote a good article on the Kristallnacht. [5] He said that this showed the content of the Fascist dictatorship and what they have done to the Jews they will do to others when the time is ripe. This will be perfected for other people. He wrote a wonderful article about it in the Arbeiderbladet under the pseudonym of ‘Audi’ and this was reported to the Germans by another immigrant. Just before he disappeared I remember a lot of violent discussions about the Three Theses – these were that after Hitler occupied Europe the world would be thrown far far back. [6] Thereafter liberal moderates would have to reconstruct the labour movement. That was the Three Theses and Held was violently against them. Walter Held and all the Norwegian supporters of Trotsky disagreed strongly with Trotsky’s position on the Finnish Winter War. A protest letter was sent to the Secretariat of the Fourth International but we received no reply.

What was rather surprising was that Held was not directly attacked by the Norwegian bureaucrats in 1936 at a time when Trotsky was under great pressure and violently attacked. In the meantime, during 1935 Held had broken with the Bureau of the Youth International. I do not know whether Trotsky advised him to do so or not. Held was fairly fully occupied by writing, and he was very good at it. In spite of his being expelled from the Labour Party the editor of the main Labour Party paper, Tranmael, took his articles with pleasure. I know that this editor was very influential in the leadership of the labour movement. He stood up for Held and printed his articles. It was said that the reason Held was not deported like van Heijenoort was that he had married a Norwegian woman, but I believe that the main reason was that this editor protected him. But anyway, when Erwin Wolf and Jean van Heijenoort were arrested when Trotsky was interned, Held was not.

Held’s disappearance

After the occupation of Norway, Walter Held went immediately to Sweden where he got Norwegian citizenship. He was deprived of his German citizenship in May 1941!

I was in Stockholm when Germany attacked Russia, and so Norway and Russia became allies. Before that in the spring of 1941, being a Norwegian officer, I was supposed to go to Canada where the free Norwegian forces were to be built up. I got the Canadian visa but did not get a transit visa through Russia. Norway was only a little country and everybody in politics was more or less inter-related and acquainted with each other. I had been known as a Trotskyist in the labour movement and in the trade unions for a long time. The Communists used to say that I was a member of the axis Kristiansand-Berlin-Mexico City (Scheflo-Hitler-Trotsky). That was a way of slandering us in those days, by implying that behind us stood the Gestapo. Konrad Knudsen went to Sweden together with his wife and children. His daughter, Hjordis, got a new name because she married in Sweden. Hjordis and Knudsen got their visas and went through Russia without any difficulties, though Hjordis had been the companion of Erwin Wolf. He had been Trotsky’s secretary and had disappeared, murdered by the Stalinists in Spain.

Walter Held wondered whether he should take the chance. I remember my last discussion with him, and I strongly advised against it, and said that if they knew about me they will certainly know about you. He said that he had never been a secretary of Trotsky’s, which was strictly true. He was quite sure that sooner or later the Germans would invade Sweden and violate its neutrality. That was certainly the impression in those days, and the only way of coming out would be through Russia to America. Walter Held thought that the war-time confusion would help him to get out through Russia. It was just possible that my visa was refused for military reasons in the Stalin-Hitler Agreement period. Held was much better known as a Trotskyist in the emigre grouping in Stockholm. We discussed it and he said ‘I’ll take a chance. I think that the situation is really quite confused. I’ll take a chance.’ He made a declaration beforehand. When he did not get through, it was published in the syndicalist paper in Sweden where he declared that if he was taken and if he should confess, it would be forced. He was arrested on the railway between Moscow and Odessa. It was reported by a Norwegian who was on the train and who went on to Constantinople. Held’s wife and the child disappeared in Russia with him. Then we published his declaration. Later we got information through the Polish Bund (the Jewish organisation in Poland) that he had met Erlich and Alter in a prison cell. [7] The report in the Norwegian Foreign Office is that Alter, who was released for a short time, then went to the Norwegian Embassy in Russia and gave a report about Walter Held. This probably cost him his life. The Embassy enquired about Held and the Russians denied all knowledge of him. Then Alter was arrested again and both Alter and Erlich were shot. It was claimed that they had been in contact with foreign spies. The last that I heard was the report of a Swede who came out much later who said that Held had been interrogated by Beria in person. Then I was sent out ot Sweden by aeroplane to England. There I met Blidt who was a leader of the Bund and had this report from him. The Polish forces were sent from Russia to England. The Poles would not fight under Russian command and so they were taken out of prison and put in military formation and sent to England so that they were not under Russian command. So both I and the Poles were defending Scotland against the Germans! They told me that Held was in a concentration camp in Saratov in 1942. He may have been moved to Saratov as some things were shifted there at the end of 1941 since Moscow was too dangerous because of the German advance. Later we heard from some Jews coming out of Russia (this was not long ago) that Walter Held had probably died in 1942. [8] When Held left Stockholm he did not take his papers with him since he travelled under a false name. Some Swedes had Held’s papers at first, and I got them later.

The Norwegian authorities were not very willing to investigate and follow up this case. Since he had got Norwegian citizenship as a refugee in Stockholm Held was not regarded as really Norwegian. We pushed them on the question of Synneove and Roland. She was a tough type who might have been able to survive the life in concentration camps and exile to Siberia. We hoped that she might have been used as a teacher in some obscure village, and we tried to trace her after the war. She could have been easily identified from the scar on her throat. Our efforts only resulted in numerous rumours. That Alter and Erlich had been in the same prison as Held is certain, but the Norwegian Foreign Office told me that they did not know anything about the three for sure.

Nils Kaare Dahl
May 1988



1. A Norwegian left-wing student organisation. It is intended to publish a further article on Trotsky in Norway and the Norwegian Trotskyist movement by Nils Dahl in a future issue of Revolutionary History where there will be further details of this organisation.

2. KPO: The Communist Party Oppositionists – German Brandlerites.

3. The Norwegian Labour Party broke with the Comintern in l923 and was independent of all Internationals in 1931-35. It joined the Second International later. The third member was Kurt Forsland of the ‘Independent’ Swedish Young Communists.

4. Swedes can understand Norwegian without too much difficulty.

5. Kristallnacht November 1938 – 'The Crystal Night’ or 'Night of the Broken Glass', was when the Nazis smashed and looted Jewish shops and burnt synagogues in alleged retaliation for the shooting of a German diplomat in Paris by a young Jew in November l938. cf L.D. Trotsky, For Grynszpan: Against Fascist Pogrom Gangs and Stalinist Scoundrels, Writings of Leon Trotsky l938-39, New York 1974, pp.l91-3.

6. The Three Theses of the AK (Committee Abroad) of the IKD (German Trotskyists) were issued in l94l. They argued that the Nazi terror had thrown the whole of Europe so far back that the progressive task of the future was the reconstruction of bourgeois democracy.

7. See the references to Alter and Erlich in the Encyclopedia Judaica. At the time that they were shot there was no persecution of the Bund by the Stalinists, so the fate of these two Polish Jewish socialists was almost certainly the result of their heroic and honourable internationalism in attempting to protect a German Marxist with whom they had political differences.

8. Since Erlich and Alter were shot in December 1941 it is quite possible that this report is incorrect and that Held was murdered at the same time.
Further information about Heinz and Synneove Epe is to be found in an article written by Einhaut Lorenz of Kiel University in the Norwegian periodical of Labour History in Oslo – Tidschrift for Arbeiderberegelsens Historie, No.1/86 – under the title Our Comrade in Oslo. This draws not only on what has been published in Norway but also on the Nazi archives. Lorenz is a specialist in the Norwegian Labour Movement and Communist Party and has written books on both.


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