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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hitler’s Rival: Ernst Thälmann in Myth and Memory (University Press of Kentucky), by Russell Lemmons

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Ernst Thälmann ran against Hitler in Germany’s 1932 presidential election. Neither man won, but after Hitler seized power, the communist Thälmann was arrested and eventually murdered at Buchenwald. Ironically, as Russell Lemmons shows in his fascinating study in political mythmaking, Thälmann, a dedicated Stalinist, was only a pawn in Stalin’s game. The Soviet leader could have negotiated his release but preferred him in prison, resenting his popularity while using his confinement for propaganda value. After Stalin installed a communist regime in East Germany, Thälmann became the St. Peter of that new country’s surrogate religion—a martyr whose inspirational example failed to shore up support for a regime that failed its citizens. Lemmons concludes with the controversy over East Berlin’s mammoth Thälmann Monument. The wrangling over whether to demolish or preserve the 50-ton bronze behemoth is an object lesson in postmodern democratic gridlock. (David Luhrssen)