[Marxism] Victor Grossman: The Story Behind "Spy Chief" Markus Wolf

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 11 18:45:44 MST 2006

(Victor Grossman is also the other of a most interesting memoir of his
own. As a young man following World War II, Grossman defected to the
German Democratic Republic where he remained for the rest of the days
of the GDR. He lives today in Germany and is politically active on the left
there as well. His memoir, which describes why he decided to defect and
what it was like to do that, is CROSSING THE RIVER: A Memoir of the
American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany (University of
Massachusetts Press, 2003. 

(U. of Michigan literary historian Alan Wald wrote one of the blurbs on
the cover. He said: "Tis work is unique and important. It is one of the
very few autobiographies by aCommunist activist of the generation of
the 1040s. Neither a 'confession" nor a vulgar apology, it is unrepentent
byt not uncritical.")

Submitted o Portside
The Story Behind "Spy Chief" Markus Wolf
Victor Grossman, Berlin

News reports on the death of Markus Wolf, espionage chief of the GDR
often called "the man without a face", rarely described the family
background which shaped this man who has often been maligned but
also, if grudgingly, admired.

His father, Friedrich Wolf (1888-1953), was an avantgarde medical
doctor whose experience as a medic in World War One helped make him a
Communist. He became most famous as a writer, in part with the play
and film "Zyankali" ("Potassium Cyanide") in 1929, a passionate call
for repeal of the murderous anti-abortion law of the day (under which
he had also been arraigned). Forced to leave Germany by the Nazis as
a Jew and Communist, he lived in exile in France, Switzerland and the
Soviet Union. In 1934 he wrote the play, "Professor Mamlock", a
fierce attack against nazi pogroms which was filmed in the USSR and
later in the GDR.

Friedrich Wolf went to fight in Spain (possibly also to leave Moscow,
then becoming dangerous due to Stalin's purges) but got no further
than Paris where, when World War Two began, he was interned in a
French concentration camp for "enemy aliens", mostly Jewish refugees,
and International Brigaders, but was finally able to escape to the
USSR. In eastern Germany after 1945 he continued to write but also
became briefly the first GDR ambassador to Poland in 1949.

His younger son Konrad, a Red Army lieutenant during the war, was one
of the best GDR film directors, creating films which, though
considered masterpieces by many experts, have only rarely been
screened in western countries. Among them are "The Happy Prince",
based on the book by St.Exupery, "Stars", on the confrontation of a
young German soldier with the deportation of Jews from Greece during
the war, "I Was Nineteen", on his experiences as a young Red Army
officer arriving in his own former homeland just before war's end,
the refilming of his father's "Professor Mamlock", "Goya" and "Solo
Sunny", on problems of young people in the GDR in its later years. He
served as President of the GDR Academy of Arts before his early death
of cancer.

His older brother Markus, after working as a journalist after 1945
(and covering the Nuremberg Trials), switched to the collection of
intelligence information from West Germany and the West in general.
His often amazing success was possible in no small measure, it has
been said, because he inspired many who worked with him with the
conviction that their conspiratorial work would help prevent World
War Three and achieve a better world, beliefs which made them willing
to take many risks. Many methods were without doubt tough and rough,
but hardly more so than those employed by "the other side"; the West
German equivalent to Wolf's network was headed by Reinhard Gehlen,
one of Hitler's chief spies, who built up an apparatus, first for the
CIA and then for the government in Bonn, using his old buddies from
the Nazi years, just as Nazi ex-generals were doing to build up the
West German army, Hitler diplomats were doing to create the West
German diplomatic corps, and other old Nazis were doing in all
sections of the government, academia, journalism and the judicial
system in West Germany. All official Federal Republic maps at that
time included not only the GDR but former German areas in Poland as
well and plans were made to follow up the maps. As a result,
relationships between the two German sides of the "Iron Curtain" and
the methods they employed were hardly easy-going.

In the final years of the GDR Marcus Wolf quit his job with the
Ministry of State Security; his sector of foreign spy work (in some
ways equivalent to the CIA) was too tainted for him with methods used
in the domestic "Stasi" program (more like the FBI) and he wanted no
further responsibility for them. He turned to writing - at first with
a book based on his late brother's plans for a film: "Troika", the
story of three young pals in pre-war Moscow, his brother Konrad,
another German exile who returned to Germany and the son of the US
correspondent Louis Fischer, and how they met again in post-war
Berlin. One had become a German war pilot, one an American officer,
and Konrad was in his Red Army uniform.

After the demise of the GDR Markus Wolf, following a brief attempted
escape, was tried and sentenced to a tough prison term. But this was
later revised and he received only two years on parole. He lived
quietly in recent times, occasionally participating in talk shows and
writing his memoirs as well as a Russian cookbook. He died on
November 8th, the anniversary of three events which all shaped the
life of his country and his family: the hopeful November Revolution
in Germany in 1919, the bloody attack on German Jews in 1938 (called
"Kristallnacht" by the Nazis) and the opening of the Berlin Wall in
1989. Despite all offers, he refused until the end to betray any of
the people who had worked with him in his days as espionage chief.

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