Germans against Germany in WWII, the NKFD and BDO

During the time of World War II hundreds of thousands of non-Germansserved in the ranks of the Wehrmacht as foreign volunteers. The full extent ofthe foreign volunteer movement during WWII is fairly well known, but what is less so is the limited attempt to create a force of Germans to fight against the Wehrmacht itself.Nowhere was this rare and limited phenomenon seen but in the epic battlebetween the Soviet and German forces on the Eastern Front between 1941 and1945.

Unlike the massive influx of foreigners into the German armed forces during theinitial stages of the Campaign in the Soviet Union, the Soviets had towork very hard to get even a few Germans to join their forces.During the early phases of the Russo-German war the initial propagandaappeals by the Soviets across the front werenot surprisingly, clumsy dogmatisms formulated by GermanCommunists in-exile like Walter Ulbricht, Wilhelm Pieck, and the Marxistpoets Erich Wienert and Johannes Becher. Under the tutelage of Department7 of the Moscow Political Central Administration of the Red Army, theyexhorted their German countrymen to lay down their arms and desert for thereason that the current conflict between theirnations was an instrument of evil “Plutocrats, Capitalists, andWar-profiteers”, and that the German Soldier was fighting a common”proletariat”, much like himself, by fighting the Red Army.It is no surprise that such politically inspired propaganda fell upondeaf ears when aimed at the then victorious troops of theWehrmacht.

Aside from their initial attempts, the Soviets also set up what was known as antifaschulen, or antifascist schools, in1941 and 1942 and allowed select Germans POWS to publish a paper known asThe Free Word,but the success of this venture changed with the results of the war.There was talk about setting up a committee in 1942, but because of theGerman summer offensive, it was dropped – morale was again quite highfor the Germans and not likely to produce volunteers for the Red Army.

The next stage in the Soviet attempt to gain a German volunteer contingent tofight alongside their forces was the creation of theNationalkomitee Freies Deutschland, or National Committee for a Free Germany – NKFD, which was formed at the Krasnogorsk POWcamp outside of Moscow on the 12th and 13th of July 1943. The NKFD consisted of 38 members, 25being soldiers and officers up to the rank of Major, the remainderwere Communist emigres from Germany. Their aimscalled upon soldiers to follow Prussian Liberal heroes such as Von Stein,Yorck and Clausewitz who in 1813 when German troops stoodon Russian soil, appealed from Russia above the heads of their leaders fora struggle for freedom.

Seeing as the Allies were unwilling to negotiate an end to WWII or prepared to make peace with the National Socialists,the NKFD claimed that the only hope for German survival was to remove Hitler and replace him with a new government which the Allies might enter into peace negotiations with. It was also stated that theywould renounce all conquests as well. The NKFD adopted the oldpre-Weimar colors which indicated it was not prepared to accept totaldefeat or unconditional surrender. The NKFD also stressed nationalistic rather than political ideals bysaying that the continuation of a war against Russia could very well leadto the complete dissolution of Germany as they knew it andthat it was their duty to desertto prevent this inevitable destruction. A manifesto of the NKFD wasproclaimed by Radio Moscow on July 20th, 1943 and printed in PRAVDA the next day which exhorted all responsible Germans to “rid themselves of Hitler andform a legitimate National government with a strong democratic order.”The Committee failed to win over many senior officers becauseGerman Generals had strong principles and they considered it treacherous tonegotiate with the enemy, even if Hitler was bringing Germanydown – Prussian militarism and nationalism were very principled indeed.

Duringthe summer of 1943, after the loss of Kursk, well known General Walther von Seydlitz entered intonegotiations with German communists and the Red Army Political branch.The result was the formation of the Bund-Deutscher-Offiziere, the German Officers League or BDO, on the 11th and 12th of September 1943, under the leadership of Seydlitz. It contained a number of officers fromthe 6.Armee, including Generalmajor Dr. Korfes, former commander of the 295.Infantrie-Division.Well-known officer, Von Paulus would join later on, all of whom enabled the BDO to make apersonal approach to the Germans at the front.

Perhaps the best-known example of the work of the BDO and the NKFD wasin the Korsun-Tcherkassy pocket on the lower Dnieper west of Kiev in early1944. It was there that five German divisions, remnants of the 5.SS Division Wiking and the Belgian Volunteer Brigade Wallonie were trapped.Seydlitz, Korfes, and other high-ranking German POW officers of the BDO weretransported to the salient by a special Soviet train equipped withloudspeakers. The Soviets showered the Germans with leaflet dropsand the BDO officers personally exhorted via loudspeaker for the frozenand bloodied troops to surrender their arms for the greater good of afree Germany. The weary Landsers and Waffen-SS troops didn’t budge.The commander of XLII.Armeekorps recorded in his diary, “Seydlitz todaysent me fifty German prisoners with letters to their commanders; inaddition, they are supposed to persuade their comrades to go over to theenemy. I cannot understand Seydlitz. Although the events at Stalingrad musthave changed him completely, I am unable to see how he can now work as asort of G-2 for Zhukov.” He later writes on the steadfastness of the troopsand the apparent ineffectual work of the BDO (he calls them NKFD)”Determination was the prevailing mood…” he writes, “…they wanted to fight their waythrough.” Manstein managed to open a corridor from the west and saved a considerablenumber of foot-borne elements of the trapped formations although most of theirheavy equipment was lost. There are no recorded instances of defections orpurposeful surrender to the Red Army as a result of the BDO and its actions in this battle.

Born of opportunism, optimism and politics, the NKFD and BDO never managed to impact the war in any true sense and never came close to bringing under the Soviet banner the likes that would, early on, flock to the German flag to fight the Soviets.