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1953: East German purge begins

The East German authorities have begun a purge of senior officials accused of plotting against the state and spying for "imperialistic" powers.

Several officers, including the Christian Democratic Foreign Minister, Georg Dertinger, and a number of Jewish politicians, have either been removed or have disappeared in the past few days.

The arrests follow a similar purge in Czechoslovakia last November which led to the trial in Prague of 14 senior Communists, 11 of them Jewish, charged with espionage and treason.

Former Communist Party General Secretary Rudolf Slansky was among those convicted of plotting against the Czech Government and executed on 3 December.

Anti-Jewish feeling

The chief prosecutor at the trial claimed Slansky had had criminal contacts with Israeli agents and that these agents had been interfering in government.

Two weeks after the Prague trial it was revealed in Moscow that several doctors, some of whom are Jewish, had conspired to poison the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

The so-called Doctors' Plot coincided with a spate of anti-Zionist propaganda and was followed by a number of arrests as the ailing Soviet dictator tried to bolster his position.

Reports today from Berlin say it is not yet clear why Mr Dertinger has been detained, but he was known to be friendly with Otto Fischl, the Czech representative in East Berlin, who was one of those hanged last month.

He has always been openly supportive of the Soviet Union but as a member of the East German Christian Democratic Union he was also a supporter of a united Germany.

He has been foreign minister since the provisional East German Government was formed in September 1949.

Reports say Peter Florin, a Jewish member of the foreign ministry, has also been replaced.

It looks as if these arrests are only the beginning of a more widespread purge of political groups and organisations in East Germany.

Meanwhile in West Germany there have been mounting protests, especially among right-wing politicians, at the arrest yesterday of several leading neo-Nazis by the British.

The British High Commissioner said those detained were accused of infiltrating West German political parties and were known as the Naumann circle after Dr Werner Naumann, former State Secretary in Goebbel's Ministry of Propaganda.

In Context
The arrests in East Germany were just the beginning of a purge which extended to all political parties, trade unions, youth organisations, women's and pensioners' groups.

It followed similar purges in other Eastern Bloc countries, as the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin sought to consolidate his power behind the Iron Curtain.

Forces of the East German police raided the homes and offices of all Jewish people in the Soviet Zone and East Berlin. Many documents were confiscated and families were instructed to remain close to their homes.

Georg Dertinger was imprisoned in 1954 for espionage and treason. He was pardoned in 1964.

The number fleeing to West Berlin increased - and on 17 June 1953 there was a public uprising, which was quickly put down by Soviet tanks.

But unrest at the speed of economic recovery in the west led to a continual exodus from the east and led to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

Werner Naumann was held in custody for seven months and then released. He later tried to run for political office but was unsuccessful.

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