Tue, 05 Dec 2023

Karl Albrecht sincerely believed in Communist ideals. This, however, did not prevent him from later serving Hitler faithfully and loyally.

"We, German Socialists, are your genuine friends! Our great leader, Adolf Hitler, is bringing liberation to your homeland! Thousands of German workers and peasants have already given their lives for your freedom!" So wrote one of the most prominent propagandists of the Third Reich, Karl Albrecht, in a 1942 pamphlet, titled "Is this a socialist state?", distributed in the occupied territories.

It is astonishing that 10 years earlier the same person had been one of the most senior Soviet officials, in charge of the entire forestry industry of the USSR. How did this drastic turnaround come about?

A devoted Communist

Karl Albrecht (born Löw) joined the Communists immediately after the end of World War I. In 1923, unable to find a place for himself amid the deep crisis that had engulfed Germany, he heeded the advice of his party comrades and went to Soviet Russia, which welcomed foreign specialists.

Karl Albrecht.

Karl Albrecht.

Archive photo

Albrecht, who had failed to finish his studies in forestry management, enrolled at the Agricultural Institute in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Neither his incomplete education, his limited work experience, nor his lack of command of the Russian language prevented the incredibly industrious and ambitious German, who knew how to make useful contacts, from making a dizzying career: Within a few years he rose from being an ordinary forestry engineer to heading the forestry and wood-processing industry section of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate.

Albrecht was responsible for exercising state control over one of the most profitable sectors of Soviet industry. He supervised forestry inspections in different parts of the country and reported the results directly to senior state officials .

In 1930 he made working visits to Scandinavia and Germany, from where he returned full of new ideas regarding the modernization of the Soviet forestry industry. In his opinion, a major hindrance to increasing its efficiency was the use of the labor of prisoners and deportees, whose brutal exploitation he constantly criticized.

Karl Albrecht was so open in expressing his disapproval of the management methods in the sector he supervised that he made many enemies among his high-ranking colleagues. The family of famous German Communist Clara Zetkin, with whom Albrecht was very friendly, once advised him to be more careful lest he himself be sent to Siberia one day.

Mikhail Prishvin/State Literature Museum/russiainphoto.ru

As time went on, Albrecht started thinking more and more about leaving the USSR. During a trip to the Far East in March 1932 he approached the German consulate in Vladivostok to inquire about returning home, and was arrested soon thereafter by the Soviet special services as a German spy.

After a year and a half in prison, Karl Albrecht was pardoned and released. "To our astonishment, Albrecht appeared at the Embassy one day in 1934, asking to be repatriated with his Russian wife and child," wrote the German diplomat, Hans von Herwarth, in his book "Against Two Evils". "He said that his own work had led to nothing but frustration, that he could not comprehend the purges, and that he was fed up with the Soviet Union and wanted to return home, in spite of the fact that the National Socialists were in charge." (Hans von Herwarth, with S. Frederick Starr, Against Two Evils. New York: Rawson, Wade, 1981, p. 68)

At the service of the Third Reich

At home, however, the former senior Soviet official failed to find a land of milk and honey waiting for him. Albrecht's only source of income was a small disability pension for the health impairment he had suffered in World War I.

Karl sought employment in Turkey without success. In desperation, he was ready to seek permission to return to the Soviet Union when Joseph Goebbels's Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda contacted him out of the blue. Albrecht was recruited into the Anti-Komintern organization, which was coordinating an anti-Soviet propaganda campaign.

Cover of

Cover of "Socialism Betrayed. Ten Years as a Senior State Official in the Soviet Union."

The forestry specialist, with his experience of living in the USSR for many years, and his close familiarity with the way Soviet society was organized and functioned, was a valuable find for Nazi propagandists. He began to broadcast extensively on the radio and embarked on writing his main life's work - the book "Socialism Betrayed. Ten Years as a Senior State Official in the Soviet Union."

In the book, published in 1938, the author directed swingeing criticism at Stalin, "Judeo-Bolshevik dictators" and the political and economic system created by them. By the end of World War II, the print run of this, one of the principal propaganda works in the history of the Third Reich, topped two million in sales.

Karl Albrecht worked for the Propaganda Ministry until 1942, but his headstrong nature surfaced here as well. Following rows with the leadership, he was transferred to the Todt Organization, which conducted construction work in occupied territories and extensively used the labor of prisoners-of-war for this purpose.

Seeing the Red Army's rapidly mounting resistance, Albrecht sought to bring about a change of attitude towards the populations of the occupied territories, and also towards the Ostarbeiter slave workers being deported to the Reich. He argued that it was necessary to work with the Russians and to act not as a chastising hand, but as a "guiding and directing force" for them, while improving their living conditions in order to increase their productivity. At the former forestry specialist's initiative, enterprises designed to provide an example of what he believed to be the proper use of Soviet prisoners-of-war were set up.

German prisoners captured by the American soldiers in the streets of Aachen.

German prisoners captured by the American soldiers in the streets of Aachen.

Keystone/Getty Images

Albrecht's habit of openly voicing views that did not always coincide with the general party line did not allow him to stay in one place for long. In 1944 Karl found himself in the Waffen-SS, where he was engaged in propaganda work among prisoners-of-war and Eastern volunteers. In the final days of the war he was promoted to the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer and given command of a battalion, with which he subsequently surrendered to the Americans.

The former-Soviet-official-turned-Nazi-functionary was released two years later. He managed to avoid more serious consequences thanks to his "efforts in defense of the Russian people". Karl Albrecht settled in West Germany and continued to be involved in anti-Communist propaganda until practically the last years of his life.

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