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Hitler's Rival

Ernst Th?lmann in Myth and Memory

Russel Lemmons

Publication Year: 2013

Throughout the 1920s, German politician and activist Ernst Th?lmann (1886--1944) was the leader of the largest Communist Party organization outside the Soviet Union. Th?lmann was the most prominent left-wing politician in the country's 1932 election and ran third in the presidential race after Hitler and von Hindenberg. After the Nazi Party's victory in that contest, he was imprisoned and held in solitary confinement for eleven years before being executed at Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944 under the F?hrer's direct orders.

Hitler's Rival examines how the Communist Party gradually transformed Th?lmann into a fallen mythic hero, building a cult that became one of their most important propaganda tools in central Europe. Author Russel Lemmons analyzes the party intelligentsia's methods, demonstrating how they used various media to manipulate public memory and exploring the surprising ways in which they incorporated Christian themes into their messages. Examining the facts as well as the propaganda, this unique volume separates the intriguing true biography of the cult figure from the fantastic myth that was created around him.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Cover, Title Page

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pp. 1-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. vii-9


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pp. ix-11

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pp. 1-16

Myths have always played in important role in legitimizing politics, and among these myths is that of the fallen hero. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey promote cults of romanticized heroes—such as Achilles and Hector—who died so that...

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1. "Heil Moskau!"

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pp. 17-62

Whenever biographers wanted to depict Ernst Thälmann as having had an exemplary proletarian upbringing, they had to invent one.1 Neither of his parents came from a working-class background. His father, Jan, was born in the town of Weddern...

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2. "Ernst Thalmann Must Be Won Like a Battle!"

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pp. 63-109

Ernst Thälmann spent the remainder of his life, more than eleven years, in prison, much of his time consumed in preparation for a trial that would never occur. Although he was accused of the most serious political...

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3. "We Are Building upon the Foundations Created by Ernst Thalmann"

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pp. 111-155

By midsummer of 1944, Ernst Thälmann had outlived his usefulness to the Nazi regime. At this point, it was clear to any objective observer that Germany was losing the war and that a negotiated peace with the Allies was impossible...

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4. "A Great National Deed"

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pp. 157-185

Thälmann’s life was the topic of several East German feature films and television movies, the most important being director Kurt Maetzig’s two epics...

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5. "Out of Your Sacrificial Death Grows Our Socialist Deed"

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pp. 187-233

If the GDR’s state-controlled antifascist religion had a central shrine, it was Buchenwald Concentration Camp. The camp, located on the heights of the Ettersberg overlooking Weimar, a city known as the “Athens of...

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6. "We Can Look Forward to a Happy Future"

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pp. 235-276

Having recognized that the future of revolutionary socialism depended on it, Germany’s Marxist political parties had long made concerted efforts to organize and mobilize the country’s working-class youth. As early as December...

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7. "Ernst Thalmann Is Still among Us"

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pp. 277-310

Because the governing SED based its legitimacy on the legacy of antifascism, presented as a dramatic narrative that took the form of myth, the study of contemporary history from a Marxist–Leninist perspective played...

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8. "Not All Who Have Died Are Dead"

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pp. 311-355

In hindsight, it is clear that by end of the 1970s the German Democratic Republic was in a state of decline. The heady, idealistic days of the regime’s first decade were long gone, and the Berlin Wall remained a blight on the landscape...

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9. "Imprisoned, Murdered, Besmirched"

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pp. 357-372

Throughout their history, the Germans have repeatedly found themselves trying to come to terms with their past, and the period following the collapse of the SED state was no exception.1 After all, over more than forty years...

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pp. 373-378

The debate concerning the fate of the Ernst Thälmann National Monument was the product of an ideological struggle lasting more than seven decades. In the aftermath of the Great War, a conflict characterized by unprecedented...

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pp. 379-380

This book has been a long time in the making, and, as a result, I have incurred a long list of debts, both professional and personal. Regarding the former, I must begin by thanking David Bathrick, who first suggested that the Ernst...


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pp. 381-418


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pp. 419-428

E-ISBN-13: 9780813140926
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813140902

Page Count: 438
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 845250243
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Hitler's Rival

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Thälmann, Ernst, 1886-1944.
  • Communists -- Germany -- Biography.
  • Communism -- Germany -- History -- 20th century.
  • Germany -- Politics and government -- 1918-1933.
  • Socialism -- Germany -- History -- 20th century.
  • National socialism.
  • Propaganda, Communist -- Germany (East).
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