Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History


Walter Held

Dear Comrades,

Readers may be interested to learn of further developments in, and information on, the Held affair that we have been able to discover (see Revolutionary History, Volume 1 no.2, pp.7-17; Volume 1 no.4, pp.39-43; and Volume 2 no.2, pp.34-42). Much of this information comes from Nils Dahl.

There is a campaign in West Germany, though now rather overtaken by events, to rehabilitate the KPD victims of Stalin. In International Viewpoint, no.145, July 1988, an appeal for the rehabilitation of German Communists is mentioned with the following signatories: Lev Kopelev, Jakob Moneta (USFI), Peter van Oertzen (SPD), Professor Hermann Weber and Winifred Wolf. They approached the Soviet Ambassador in West Germany. Ulrich Briefs from the Green Party also participated in a press conference with Professor Weber. Weber is a most respected and competent academic, who has written the standard history of the KPD to which Broué refers very respectfully in the latter’s monumental work on the German Revolution. Van Oertzen has written important material on the German revolutionary movement, and in the past has had articles published in International Socialism (old series), and was later, in the 1970s, though no longer, the Minister for Cultural Affairs in Lower Saxony. Moneta is a German veteran of our movement whom I met at the Wuppertal Symposium. The full appeal is in International Viewpoint, no.137, 21 March 1988.

As part of this campaign, a book in German by Professor Hermann Weber (Weisse Flecken in der Geschichte. Die KPD-Opfer der Stalinischen Säuberungen und ihre Rehabilitierung (Blank Spots in History: the KPD Martyrs of Stalin’s Purges and their Rehabilitation), second edition, Frankfurt 1990), which contains potted biographies of the many German Communists murdered by Stalin, has the following entry on Walter Held (Heinz Epe):

Epe, Heinz. Born 25 December 1910 in Remscheid. 1928-29 studied in Cologne and Vienna. Trotskyist. Under the name of Walter Held leader of the International Youth Secretariat of the International Left Opposition. 1933 emigrated to Czechoslovakia, France, Norway and, during the war, Sweden. He published in October 1938 in Unser Wort an article, Stalin’s German victims and the Popular Front, in which he already referred to the murder of Neumann, Remmele, Schubert, Hirsch, Süsskind, Birkenhauer, Haus, Halle, Carola Neher among others. The attitude of the Communists and the Popular Front to the fate of these martyrs to Stalin he called “the saddest and most infamous chapter in this blood-stained tragedy”. Attempting to fly to the USA by going through the USSR in May 1941, he was arrested in the Soviet Union. He was tried for “counter-revolutionary pro-Trotskyist activity”, sentenced to death and shot on 28 October 1942. (On 16 January 1989 rehabilitated by the Soviet judicial authorities.) His wife and child are missing. (Biography, E. Lorenz entry on Heinz Epe, in Widerstand und Verfolgung in Remscheid, (Resistance and Repression in Remscheid), Wuppertal, 1986, Bd.2, S.16ff.)

Nils Dahl comments that the book’s subtitle, The KPD Martyrs [Opfer] of Stalin’s Purges, is misleading so far as Held is concerned. Held always regarded the leaders of that party as his political enemies, and he was never a member of it. Thus, in the context of the book, it would seem than Epe was a Communist Party supporter when it is said that Epe was chairman of the International Youth Secretariat. Epe worked with that body in 1934 until the summer of 1935, when he broke with it, as he felt that the Secretariat had gone soft on Stalinism. (The word ‘Opfer’ can be translated as ‘victim’ rather than ‘martyr’.)

Dahl states that, according to Weber’s perception, Epe seems to be one of the hundreds, or maybe thousands, of Germans who had been a Communist in Germany and were later executed in Russia for political crimes – the crime being that they were influenced by the ideas and events of 1917-24. But the cases of these people show that they were broken men, broken by Stalin and the politics of the KPD, without having any clear idea of what was happening. They had capitulated to Stalin from 1927 onwards. Epe, even after being interrogated by Beria himself, was never broken. Whether or not it is intentional, by assimilating Epe with these others, he ceases to represent a coherent, critical point of view and platform – that of Trotskyism.

The attitude expressed here is that common among the ‘soft ex-Stalinists’ as they move to Social Democracy: that the working class revolutionary project was never, and will never be, a real option. It was (and is) all delusion. Thus the Trotskyism of the unbroken Held is a reproach to them. Not merely do they admit that they were wrong, but they have to emphasise every other Marxist was wrong too: “We are so sorry. You were victims, we were victims, there is no difference between us except obscure exegetical interpretations of Marxism which are all nonsense anyway. We will try to rehabilitate Held in common with all our comrades.” Dahl concludes that they seek to devalue our tradition, and even in their death throes try to suffocate revolutionary Marxism under the pretext of doing us a favour.

This information also contradicts that seen by Dahl in 1988 in the Norwegian Foreign Office archives for 1956, where it is stated that all three members of the family died of natural causes at different times in 1942. In a letter to me, Harrison Salisbury confirms that the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told him that they were informed in January 1956 that Epe had died on 28 December 1942, his wife on 31 August 1942, and his son Ivar Ronald on 4 September 1941 (just a couple of months after they were sent into the prison system). The date for Epe’s death which Weber has got is 28 October 1942, so it seems likely that one of these is a misprint. Perhaps more significant are the comments of the Norwegian Legation officer, Lunde, in a letter of 31 October 1941, where he refers to information that the child is in an NKVD kindergarten. This is two months after Ivar Ronald is supposed to have died, according to the letter from Harrison Salisbury. It seems probable that this is yet another misprint and that the lad perished a year later, four days after his mother in September 1942. Could it be that, as a very remote possibility, he did survive and was brought up as an NKVD janissary?

The information in Weber’s book that Epe was rehabilitated last year seems incorrect. It came from Willy Brandt, but the Novosti Press Agency has no record of it, and Brandt’s private office now tell me that they appear to have been misinformed.

Horst Lauscher, one of the team publishing the Trotzki-Schriften writes that the campaign for the rehabilitation of the German victims of Stalin was started on the initiative of the USFI in Germany, and that he helped Weber on the Held entry.

Finally, Albert Glotzer has written to us to say that he has discussed with Harrison Salisbury the question of whether Held had ever at any time worked for the New York Times (see Salisbury’s letter in Revolutionary History, Volume 1 no.4), and that he assured Salisbury that Held had never done so, but that the Times gave him a reference to help him obtain an American visa.

Readers may rest assured that we will continue to press away on this matter and will keep them informed.

Ted Crawford

Updated by ETOL: 18.7.2003