A Little Known Story: “First they came for the Communists…”


“First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew,
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”

~Pastor Martin Niemoller

By BJ Murphy

The rounding up of Communists after the Nazi coup of April 1933.

Many during the 1950′s that lived in the “Land of the Free” feared not the idea of Communism altogether, but the idea of what may happen to those that were found to have been a Communist. As the years increased, the paranoia against Communism decreased as if the event during the 1950′s never happened. Though, it remains a part of history that is forever remembered upon by many, and some to this day that still acts upon the mindset of those anti-Communists in the 50′s.

Such figures like Glenn Beck, a popular Fox News caster by the conservative right-wing, are ones that seem to be bringing the 50′s back, or at least the mindset that took place then, with such claims that the backing of social-justice is nothing more than the backing of “Nazi-Communism”. [1] This misleading statement has been the very slogan well-used by Beck and his followers against those who of today continue to fight for social-justice and worker’s rights under the Communist banner.

Beck’s equating of Communism with what took place during Nazi Germany is not only misleading, but is completely disregarding a sad, long, and painful past of those Communists that suffered by the hands of the Hitler-led Nazi forces.

The Nazi Coup and Coming for the Communists

On February 27, 1933, the arson attack on the Reichstag building led a full scale inquiry on who exactly was behind such an act.

This led to the arrest of a Council Communist known as Marinus van der Lubbe. Because of this arrest, Hitler took this as a “Communist conspiracy” to try and overthrow the German government. And so, because of the growing anti-Communist paranoia, Hitler urged then-President Paul von Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree to counter any attacks by the Communist Party of Germany, leading to mass arrests of Communists and those that were of the parliamentary delegates. Because of such actions, this allowed Hitler to consolidate power over the German government and allow the Nazi forces to become the leading army of Germany. [2]

Now, whether Van der Lubbe was behind the Reichstag fire or not is still open for debate. It would seem that he was most definitely part of the reason, but whether he was on his own or not is what many remain divided on. Since 1998, a law was passed that allowed the pardons of those that were convicted by the Nazi’s. Though, since 1998, Van der Lubbe was yet to have been exonerated from his “crime” committed on 1933. It wasn’t until 2008 when Van der Lubbe was finally exonerated from said “crime”. [3]

Bodies found on the Dachau death train.

Of course today, when we celebrate the destruction of the concentration camps and the survival of the Jewish people, we fail to include all those else who had survived, and those who had died within these same camps. Such people were the Communists. In March of 1933, the first camp in Germany was created in Dachau. A press statement on this development was released, stating:

“On Wednesday the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5000 persons. All Communists and – where necessary – Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated here” [4]

Because of the fear and realization of these camps in Germany a jingle came about to support both fear and realization of Dachau:

“Dear God, make me dumb, That I may not to Dachau come.” [5]

Dachau was one of the first of the Nazi concentration camps that were built in the 1930′s. Later the system was expanded, first to hold German Jews, then by the creation of Nazi extermination camps in occupied countries of the East. The poem says “First they came for the communists…” because the camps were developed in order to round up known German Communists who were seen as the most die-hard opponents of the Nazi takeover.

In Dachau, communists were ordered to grovel and beg for their lives — and renounce their beliefs in order to be released. Those who resisted were beaten and even killed. Leaders were humiliated, and key figures like Ernst Thaelman were never released, and many died in Nazi prisons. Later after 1939, when Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, captured Communist Party members were often executed. And many Soviet prisoners of war (POW) died in forced labor, starvation and diseases in the Nazi camps.

The story of those German communists seized and brutalized in 1933 is often unknown today. Take Hans Beimler for example. A staunch anti-fascist Communist who fought with the International Brigades in support of the Spanish Republic against the fascist Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War. Before he found himself in Spain fighting for Spanish liberation, he was fighting for his own liberation when he was arrested and detained in Dachau in April 1933. Though, he managed to escape the prison by strangling his SA guard and escaping in his uniform. [6]

Jack Werbe wrote a book on his personal experience within the Nazi concentration camps. He reports that in 1942, he had met a German Jewish Communist, by the name of Emil Carlebach, who had asked him to join the Buchenwald International Underground – an anti-fascist militant group. He explained Carlebach’s time in Dachau when arrested in 1933 [7], and then his later sentences as well over the years. Carlebach remained a soldier in the war against Nazi Germany, and eventually died on April 9, 2001.

Alfred Haag, although he was originally sentenced to the concentration camp Oberer Kuhberg, found himself being transferred to Dachau during the summer of 1935. Even while he was in the camp, he was defiant to the end for the oppressed, where an SS guard ordered him to bump off a subordinate prisoner, in which Haag replies, “You can’t order me something like this!” [8] He was even known within Dachau to be the one who secretly collected bread for his fellow prisoners. He was eventually caught and then transferred to the Mauthausen concentration camp. From there, he was eventually released by the sheer bravery for his liberation by his own wife. [9]

In September of 1942, Adolf Maislinger was transferred from a Gestapo prison cell in Munich to the Dachau concentration camp. Inside, he, along with his other comrades, helped supply food and supplies for fellow prisoners. He became well respected within Dachau, where a former French prisoner, Edmond Michelet, ended up writing about Maislinger in his book Freedom Road:

“I have known no better than Addie Capo [Adolf Maislinger]… This active Munich communist radiated a Franciscan clemency. Sitting in his window, he played harmonica. The slow modulation of a song by Schubert morning rocked our hope.” [10]

Though, tensions began arising in Dachau with word that the Americans were on their way to the camp. And so, led by Maislinger, plans were being developed where, no matter what, whether the guards started firing at them or not, they were going to charge at the gates of Dachau and fight for their liberation. Thankfully, before the charge was to be initiated, the Americans made it to the Dachau camp and everyone held as prisoner inside was released, including Adolf Maislinger. [11]

And then there was Yakov Dzhugashvili – the elder son of then-Premier of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin. Historians have long debated the death of Yakov, but newly examined archives have solved the mystery. According to the declassified archives, Yakov was captured in July 1941 while commanding a tank battery. He was then sent to the concentration camp in Hommelsberg, in which he stayed there from April to June in 1942 (his whereabouts between his capture to April 1942 appears to remain unknown). In March of 1943, Yakov was then sent to Sachsenhausen.

According to Russia Today, “Yakov was killed while walking around the camp. The guard asked him to return to the house, but the man only went closer to the fence and shouted to the guard, ‘Shoot!’ The guard shot him in the head.” [12]

There are many more stories that are needing to be heard, and even more that will never be heard. Millions of Communist POW’s were ridiculed, tortured, and killed within these concentration camps. Like when the Jewish people were identified with yellow stars, the Communists were identified through red stars. [13] This became nothing more, like the Jews, than a genocidal attack against the Communists. It’s been reported that, out of all Soviet POW’s that were held as prisoners, around 57% didn’t make it by the end of the war. [14]

Starvation was a well used tactic within the concentration camps against Soviet POW’s. According to a Soviet report in 1944, 43,000 captured Red Army personnel were either killed or died from diseases and starvation. [15] Although Red Cross packages were available for those starving prisoners, all allied officers were refused to share such packages to those starving. [16] And in order to rid themselves from these diseased starving prisoners, officers were ordered for all sick inmates to be shot once a week. [17]

In 1944, 43,000 captured Red Army personnel were either killed or died from diseases and starvation.

It was reported that in the Buchenwald camp, around 8,000 Soviet POW’s were executed. Of course, these executions were made solely because Soviet resistance against the Nazi regime. Rudolf Höss, the former Commandant of Auschwitz, spoke clearly on the reasoning behind the executions of Soviet prisoners, though he seemed to have been in favor for said executions in the first place:

“The reason for this action was given as follows: the Russians were murdering any German soldier who was a member of the Nazi party, especially SS members. Also, the political section of the Red Army had a standing order to cause unrest in every way in any POW camp or places where the POWs worked. If they were caught or imprisoned, they were instructed to perform acts of sabotage.” [18]

The conditions these POW’s went through was horrendous. Very little shelter was given to the prisoners, and very little food and supplies were provided as well. There were known accounts of Soviet prisoners digging up holes in the ground in order to be used as improvised shelter. Though, by the end of 1941, epidemics began emerging as the leading cause of death. In which it was said that, by October 1941, “..almost 5,000 Soviet POWs died each day.” [19]

By the end of the war, it was reported that around 3.3 – 3.5 million Communists were killed within the camps. [20] This leaves the Communists being the second largest group targeted during the Nazi Holocaust, with the Jewish people as the number one targeted group (with around 6 million dead). Though, according to the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission, if you included all those killed in the concentration camps and all those Communists killed during the war, you’ll find the statistics of all Communists killed during the Holocaust at around 8.2 million, leaving the Communists as being the number one victim by the Nazi regime. [21]

I don’t want people to get the idea that I don’t respect, nor honor all those that died during the Holocaust other than the Communists. We must all realize that it wasn’t just the Jews and Communists that were killed, but also the disabled, the Roma people (so-called Gypsies), and homosexuals. We all faced the horrors within the concentration camps. Some got away, and others weren’t so lucky.

The Dachau camp was created as a prototype for the future camps that were made. Those that died in Dachau were prototyped POW’s for the future deaths of millions more. When you see the eyes of a Jew, you see the eyes of a Communist. For we all suffered equally. Like the quote provided above by Pastor Martin Niemoller says, we may not be one of the others, but our voices for all those persecuted and oppressed should be the most important voice of all. That should be the moral that we must all abide by.

Red Love & Salutes!


[1] “Beck: Nazis and communists both backed ‘social justice'”, Media Matters, March 2, 2010.
[2] “Reichstag Fire: Nazi Germany”, Spartacus Educational.
[3] Kate Connolly, “75 years on, executed Reichstag arsonist finally wins pardon”, The Guardian, January 12, 2008.
[4] “The Dachau Gas Chambers Photograph 2”, Holocaust History.
[5] “German Reactions to Nazi Atrocities”, JSTOR.
[6] “Hans Beimler (Communist)”, Wikipedia.
[7] Werber, John. “I Join the Underground.” Saving Children: Diary of a Buchenwald Survivor and Rescuer. Transaction, 1996. 73. Print.
[8] “Alfred Haag”, Zum Beispiel Dachau.
[9] Ibid.
[10] “Adolf Maislinger”, Zum Beispiel Dachau.
[11] Ibid.
[12] “Stalin’s son was executed in Nazi camp – archives”, Russia Today, May 10, 2012.
[13] Doris Bergen, “Nazi Ideology and the Camp System”, PBS.
[14] “Nazi Persecution of Soviet Prisoners of War”, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
[15] Strods, Heinrihs (2000). “Salaspils koncentrācijas nometne (1944. gada oktobris – 1944. gada septembris”. Yearbook of the Occupation Museum of Latvia 2000: pp. 87–153.
[16] “Soviet Prisoners of War: Forgotten Nazi Victims of World War II”, History Net.
[17] Ibid.
[18] “Execution of Soviet POWs at Buchenwald”, Scrapbook Pages.
[19] “The Treatment of Soviet POWs: Starvation, Disease, and Shootings, June 1941 – January 1942”, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
[20] Ibid.
[21] A Mosaic of Victims- Non Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis. Ed. by Michael Berenbaum New York University Press 1990


4 responses »

    • Thanks Mike. I’m glad someone like you who’s known for your dedication to the struggle to appreciate what I write. Keep in touch. There’ll be plenty more articles as time goes by.

      Red Love & Salutes!

  1. Pingback: The Little Known Story: “First they came for the Communists….” « Kasama

  2. Reblogged this on The prison gates are open… and commented:

    So today marks Victory Day – the 67th anniversary of when the Soviet forces crushed the fascist imperialists of Nazi Germany during WWII. And while many of my comrades, I’m sure, are celebrating this day as a historical reminder of what’ll come to the rest of the fascists left in this world, as will I, I also wish to celebrate this day by reminding others what several Communists went through, and fought against, during that horrid time period, from when the Nazis first led a coup in 1933, to when they tried invading and conquering Soviet Russia.

    I’ll celebrate this day by linking back to an article I had written in 2010, giving remembrance to an event long never told in the history of U.S. textbooks regarding WWII; an event in which started before all the horrible stories we were told of the Nazis rounding up Jews into death camps; an event in which marked itself as a prototype for what awaited many more after. It is also an event in which spoke of red resistance against the fascists, even when Nazi Germany had the upper-hand at times:

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