Between August 1939 and June 1941, Germany and the USSR had the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. During this time, many USSR-oriented communist parties in Europe and North America were (forced to be) rather pro-German or at least opposed to a war against Germany. From Wikipedia:

The CPUSA dropped its boycott of Nazi goods, spread the slogans "The Yanks Are Not Coming" and "Hands Off", set up a "perpetual peace vigil" across the street from the White House and announced that Roosevelt was the head of the "war party of the American bourgeoisie". By April 1940, the CPUSA Daily Worker's line seemed not so much antiwar as simply pro-German. A pamphlet stated the Jews had just as much to fear from Britain and France as they did Germany. In August 1940, after NKVD agent Ramón Mercader killed Leon Trotsky with an ice axe, Browder perpetuated Moscow's fiction that the killer, who had been dating one of Trotsky's secretaries, was a disillusioned follower.

In allegiance to the Soviet Union, the party changed this policy again after Adolf Hitler broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by attacking the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

Also the German KPD underground communist party welcomed the pact:

„Der Nichtangriffspakt entlarvt die Hetze des Naziregimes über die angebliche ‚Einkreisung‘ Deutschlands. […] Das deutsche Volk begrüßt den Nichtangriffspakt zwischen der Sowjetunion und Deutschland, weil es den Frieden will […] weil es nicht wie das Bündnis Hitlers und Mussolinis und den japanischen Militaristen ein Instrument des Krieges und der imperialistischen Vergewaltigung anderer Völker, sondern ein Pakt zur Wahrung des Friedens zwischen Deutschland und der Sowjetunion ist.“

which essentially means that the KPD claimed that the German people welcome the pact. So the KPD welcomed the pact. But did this reduce the anti-nazi resistance of the KPD, and was there any change in the oppression of the KPD by the German state?

  • The second quotation cannot be construed as giving any support to the Nazis.
    – fdb
    Nov 5, 2015 at 19:23

3 Answers 3


It is not surprising that you ask about this topic for it is a very little studied phase of the complicated relationship between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. As you mentioned, many communists were gravely troubled by the rapprochement between Hitler and Stalin, leading to widespread disaffection in many of the Western Communist Parties. I would highly commend to you Roger Moorehouse’s “The Devils’ Alliance” (Hitler’s Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941; 2014) as one of the few references dealing with the 22 month pre-Barbarosa collaboration between these ideological enemies.

Prior to the Ribbentrop Molotov pact, the KPD had been “… outlawed since the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, it had been forced underground, its members subject to arrest and persecution, and given only limited succour via the often tortuous lines of communication with their superiors Moscow. The fate of its leader, Ernst Thalmann, was indicative of how far the party had fallen. Once the giant of the political scene who had contested the presidency in 1925 and 1932, Thalmann was arrested by the Gestapo barely a month after Hitler came to power. Kept in solitary confinement, he was repeatedly questioned, abused and beaten-losing 4 teeth in one interrogation-but never granted the dignity of a trial. He simply disappeared, shunted between a succession of prisons and concentration camps from which he would never reemerge.”

“By 1939, the German Communists have been reduced to an underground fringe movement, isolated and largely swimming against the tide of public opinion, with its lines of command fractured, compromised and unreliable. Little wonder that the Nazi Soviet Pact was viewed with utter bewilderment in German Communists circles. Officially, at least, it was greeted as potential lifeline with the party announcing its approval of the pact as a “blow for peace” and expressing the hope that further, similar pacts would follow. Some Communists went further, speculating that the pact would signal an end to the persecution with the expectation that they would soon be able to hold their meetings without hindrance and that Thalmann and other prisoners would be released.”

From the tenor of your question, it appears that you reasonably suspect that this situation might have changed for the better, at least from the Communists’ point of view. After all the “line emanating from Moscow… came perilously close to advocating a political truce with Nazism, with communist energies instead to be focused on attacking the Western Powers as the true enemies of world revolution.” From Moscow, Walter Ulbricht, who later achieved considerable success in East German politics, “… blamed the war squarely on capitalism and “big business”, and branded British imperialism as more reactionary and more dangerous than Nazi imperialism, indeed as the “most reactionary force in the world”. Similarly, Izvestia ridiculed the West’s “war on Hitlerism” while the KPD’s official newspaper explained the rapid conquest of France and the Low Countries as the result of “the baleful politics of the ruling classes in England and France and their social democratic lackeys…”

However, Hitler was not to be mollified, his hatred of Communism never flagged, and “the Gestapo’s attention had scarcely lessened…” while most Communists lapsed into inaction with confiscations of communist leaflets declining from a monthly average of 1000 prior to the pact down to 82 by spring of 1940 and arrests of communists, declining from over 950 in 1937 to a mere 70 in April 1940; so that in June 1940 the SS could “no longer speak of organized resistance from Communist and Marxist circles”.

Accordingly, it seems that the short answer to your question is that the Nazi state brutally suppressed the KPD from the moment they acquired power, this continued through the 22 months of the pact, and that the only reason for the decline in arrests and confiscations of literature during the 22 months of the pact was the utter passivity of the KPD in that time frame leading “… one prominent historian of the period… [to describe]… the German Communists of that era as ‘the most shameful of Hitler’s accomplices’”.

  • Very interesting answer!
    – gerrit
    Nov 13, 2015 at 10:28

In a now-deleted answer @Alex has correctly pointed out that Stalin handed over to the Nazis many German communists who had sought asylum in the USSR.

Other users have asked to name some people who have been handed over. Well, for example:

Some more names and details are given here and here.

All in all, it seems that about 500 communists were handed over by the USSR more or less directly to the care of the Gestapo (or 1000, it is possible that 500 refers to a first large tranche, I haven't got time to research it more fully right now).


After Germany was defeated in World War 1 the Red Army attempted to invade and conquer Poland. Russia was defeated in this as well so Germany and Russia actually became close allies in the 1920's and 1930's. Its important to note Stalin was Georgian and even though the "Russian side" lost to the "German side" during the Spanish Civil War of 1936 this experience gave Stalin a deep mistrust of Catholicism...and therefore everything Polish. Since the National Socialists were a "new Religion" in many ways the two sides had a lot in common...seeing conspiracies everywhere for example.

The irony that neither could see the conspiracy of the other is rather odd though. Certainly changing borders in the Ostland is a lesson everyone has forgotten yet again.

Will another 40 million have to die or will it be 400 million this go around? Who knows.

Its not like they have gravemarkers out that way. Just millions...and millions...and millions...of dead people.

  • I'm aware of Poland attacking Russia but not the reverse. Could you please add some sources?
    – gerrit
    Jun 24, 2016 at 16:19
  • 1
    Just Google "battle of Warsaw 1920." Poland was to the Right of Hitler in the 20's and 30'sarc Jun 24, 2016 at 16:33
  • 1
    I wasn't aware of that war. Wikipedia seems to suggest the Poles started. Nevertheless, it's frankly quite far from the question on KPD under Nazi Germany.
    – gerrit
    Jun 24, 2016 at 16:38

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