Bolshevik Writers: Georgi Dimitrov

Dimitrov vs. Göbbels


Interview with Representatives of the Soviet and Foreign Press1)


Comrade Dimitrov told us how he was set free. 'We are, of course, a little worn out,' he explained. 'Today, at 5 o'clock in the morning, we were all of a sudden awakened by Prussian State Secret Police officials with the order: 'Get up and pack'. Without any explanation of why, where and what for. At the last minute they explained to us that we were being expelled from Germany and would be sent by plane today to the Soviet frontier. Our request to call a representative of the Soviet Legation was of no avail. We supposed that our, the Soviet Legation, had not been informed about this, so to say, pleasant expulsion. From information coming from Berlin 1 understand that the Soviet Legation did not know that today we should be sent by plane from Berlin directly to Moscow.

'The first thing we wish to say - is to express our boundless and wholehearted gratitude to the international proletariat, to the broad masses of working people in all countries, to the honest intelligentsia, which all fought for our release. Our gratitude, naturally, is in the first place extended to the proletariat, the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union - our socialist state. 1 can state with full conviction that we would not have been free today in Moscow had it not been for the international campaign mobilized against German fascism. The fascists wanted even at the last moment to keep us, to take vengeance on us and destroy us physically and spiritually on various pretexts. The great fiasco of the Reichstag fire trial had to be compensated by wreaking vengeance on us.

'Unfortunately I and my comrades learned rather late about this campaign abroad and throughout the world. We were isolated, got no information from our people and could not get any even from our relatives. We were strictly isolated. It is only now, after our stay here for several hours, that in conversing with our comrades we learned a lot about what had been going on around us. I am deeply convinced that this campaign has helped to save hundreds and thousands of revolutionary workers. Not only we four, the three Bulgarians and Torgler, have been saved, but hundreds and thousands of responsible comrades who were to be destroyed, as Goering publicly declared in his depositions as a witness. This campaign deprived the fascists of the possibility of organizing a new provocation, in order to use it to destroy the leading cadres of the German revolutionary proletariat.

'I think that our comrades and friends abroad do not have an exact idea of the significance of this international campaign, in this respect, just as we were unable to assess the significance of this campaign on the outside for our own liberation.

'What 1, as an accused, repeatedly declared before the Court and which today, February 27, the anniversary of the Reichstag fire, must resound throughout the world, should be stated over again - that the Reichstag fire was the work of German fascism, which used the unfortunate Lubbe as its tool. The real organizers and instigators undoubtedly occupy governmental posts in Germany. These facts have indeed become obvious not only abroad. I think that in Germany, this huge and multifarious prison, the broad masses and even those who at first believed that the Communists had set the Reichstag on fire today no longer believe it. On the contrary, I have many indications that quite a few National Socialists know and are convinced, that the burning of the Reichstag was the work of the National Socialist leadership, which they feel as a disgrace for the National Socialist Party.

'The trial was meant to be a means of rehabilitating the real incendiaries of the Reichstag. But as the real Reichstag incendiaries could not be brought before the Court, that had to be done with others, casually arrested, as it were substitute- incendiaries. That was Torgler, those were we, the Bulgarian Communists. I am convinced that if the rulers of Germany had known beforehand what the outcome of the trial would be, they would surely not have implicated us, the Bulgarians. They cooked a broth, the taste of which subsequently was not to their liking. I once told this to the prosecutor, Dr. Werner. We were acquitted, not because we were innocent, but because there was no other way out as a result of the foreign campaign, the mobilization abroad, as a result of the revelations before the Court itself. The fascist 'Court' was unable to sentence us. The way the trial went, that was out of the question.

'Acquitted but not set free! Acquitted but kept in prison. Dragged from prison to prison, the farther, the worse our imprisonment. Early in February we were transferred to the Berlin prison of the Prussian Secret State Police. What a prison that is - I would like the fascist butchers of the German proletariat to be detained in the cells of these catacombs.... It was the small ward for special cases, for such political Communist prisoners who were subjected to a special regime. Compared with this ward, even Moabit is a sanatorium, paradise. The cells are underground, no sun comes in. Inside, of course, it is humid, because the cells are built in the ground. If one is kept in those catacombs for a few months, he will turn, I am convinced, into a living corpse and an invalid for life.

'It is no secret to us why this is done. When one enters, there and is weak, in a few days or weeks he will capitulate to fascism, or will be done for without capitulating. It is such a place - and our transfer today proves it - from where the prisoners, unnoticed and unseen by anyone, can be dragged out and taken anywhere and might, if the fascists find it useful, be "removed" altogether.

'Sometimes, but rarely, foreign correspondents came to visit us. I assumed that happened in connexion with the particularly noisy campaign abroad. They asked us questions about our health and how we were treated, and lately especially whether the regime was humane. "You were not tortured or beaten, were you?", the Reuters correspondent asked once. In this connexion it must be said that under the influence of the campaign abroad the attitude towards us was humane. But in general, they practised a refined system of moral tortures. I wish also' to stress the fact that while the lower police officials and those of the storm troops treated us in general humanely, precisely the prison doctors of the Gestapo behaved rudely and incorrectIy. Doctor after doctor came during the last two weeks. First one doctor in the uniform of a storm trooper, and then two doctors dressed in plain clothes. Not one of them wanted to examine us, while Popov in the last days suffered from a serious stomach ache. One of those doctors said that he was going to examine Popov; but he left without doing anything and without prescribing any medicine. I called the attention of one of those doctors to the fact that such an attitude was inexplicable and impossible to understand, all the more so as we were innocent and had been acquitted by the higher German Court. The doctor's answer was a snigger, and then he left. We thus had neither examinations nor medical care.

'I must mention here the difference between the regime in the Moabit prison, where the inquiry was carried out, and in Leipzig, where the doctors - I must underscore this - were not rude and careless and did not behave like enemies. The doctors of the first type work in such prisons as the former military prison in Tempelhof, where hundreds of Communists and other political prisoners are kept. I can imagine, if those doctors behaved towards us in this way how they must treat the other Communists, the sick and dying German Communists.

'We are happy to have come to our motherland. We left Germany this morning. We hate only German fascism, but we nurture deep and abiding sympathy for the German proletariat, for the German revolutionary workers, for the German Communists. We could not learn in detail how these German workers bore the persecutions and how they fought fascism, owing to our isolation, but we felt on hundreds and thousands of occasions in the Courtroom and outside the Court and in the prison that the great, united German Communist Party, in spite of the most terrible blows, was standing at its post. This we were able to deduce from the moods and depositions of the witnesses before the Court witnesses who had spent 8 or 10 months in concentration on camps. What loyalty to the Party, what devotion to the cause of Communism, the cause of the German proletariat, what a worthy behaviour before the Court! The same cannot be said about the National Socialist witnesses, for instance, about the National Socialist deputy Karwahne, about Grohte or other agents - provocateurs and thieves. The Communist witnesses were true, strong proletarian fighters, who behaved like revolutionaries. We got a number of expressions of sympathy and love as accused during the trial, as well as -fter the Court sessions in prison, during transfers, wherever we might happen to be. Even many among the rank and file of the National Socialist Party are convinced that the burning of the Reichstag was the work of the fascist leaders. Our indignation and hate in leaving Germany were directed toward fascism and were accompanied by deep sympathy and gratitude for the German proletariat, which fought for our liberation. Hundreds and thousands of people are smarting in Germany's concentration camps and prisons. Hundreds of trials are conducted, death sentences are imposed and carried out and a number of new trials are on the agenda.

'The struggle against German fascism and the liberation of the imprisoned anti-fascists must continue, so as to save hundreds of thousands of revolutionary workers and fighters from fascism. At every step in its struggle the German proletariat, which was sold out and betrayed by the d... bureaucracy of the Social Democrats and the trade unions, needs international support.

, I think that I did not make a mistake when today, on taking leave in Königsberg , I answered the representative of the secret state police who expressed the wish that I would be objective abroad....' (A voice: What is the name of this official? Dimitrov: Criminal Counsellor Heller.Voice: A former Social Democrat? Dimitrov: Yes.)... 'I answered: Of course, I shall be objective. Then I added that I hoped to return to Germany, but as guest of the German Soviet Government'.

At the request of those present, Dimitrov who up to this mornent had spoken in German, began to speak in Russian. The representatives of the bourgeois press asked him a nurnber of questions: 'What is four opinion of Goering?'

'I have no reason to add anything to the opinion which I expressed at our personal meeting before the Court,' replied Dimitrov.

'What are You going to do here?', Dirnitrov was asked. His reply was:

'What I am going to do here is quite clear. I am a soldier of the proletarian revolution, a soldier of the Comintern. As such I was brought before the Court. Here I shall be doing my duty as a soldier of the proletarian revolution - to the last minute of my life.'

The correspondent of New York Times asked Dimitrov to sum up his opinion about the trial. Dimitrov answered: 'The trial was, in brief, a provocation, just as was the burning of the Reichstag. By means of this trial they wanted to hide the real incendiaries and pin the guilt for the fire on others. But according to the laws of dialectics, the laws of the class struggle, this trial was transformed into its opposite. The anti-Communist trial became a powerful anti-fascist demonstration, a shameful fiasco for fascism. The fascists, in setting fire to the Reichstag, wanted to deceive the German people that the Communists were the incendiaries, but the trial proved the opposite.'

A representative of the German Communist press put the following questions to Dimitrov: 'Did you learn while in prison that the leader of the German Communist Party, comrade Thaelmann, was transferred to the prison of the Secret State Police?' Dimitrov: 'Yes, I know this, but do not know any details.'

To the question whether, while in prison, he had learned the leading comrades of the German Communist Party, such as comrades Scheer, Schönhaar and a number of others had been killed, Dimitrov replied: 'Unfortunately I learned this only today. We knew nothing about that.'

The next question of the representative of the German Communist press was: 'The bourgeois press published a photograph showing you, Tanev and Popov in a cell of the Secret State Police. A large cigar is seen in your hand. This photograph was distributed to show what a good time those acquitted at the Leipzig fire trial had in prison. Do you know how this picture was taken and do you recognize it?'

Dimitrov: 'Of course, we know this photograph. We protested against this story. An American correspondent came to us, an alleged representative of the New York Times. I say alleged, because this man spoke German very well and looked like a German. He said that he wanted to take a picture. At first we hesitated, but then made the mistake to give him our consent. We did so, because we thought that not only the photograph, but also our statement, our decisive protest against our detention in prison after our acquittal, against all that unheard-of affair would be published. This was, of course, a mistake. Völkischer Beobachter published the photograph and wrote that they had sent an American correspondent to take the picture as a proof that we were in a good condition. This, however, happened not in the prison of the Secret State Police, but in the Leipzig prison. That same day our so-called official defencecounsel came and 'showed interest' in how we were getting on. He asked: 'Are you still in good health?' We replied: 'Yes.' He then asked: 'Have you anything to eat?' - 'Yes.' 'Do you play chess?' - 'Yes'. One or two days before we had played chess. Then our official defence counsel told us that the German Information Bureau had informed the German and foreign newspapers that we were in excellent health and enjoyed a splendid regime. We protested against the photograph and against this deception.'

Several bourgeois correspondents wanted to know: 'How come Goering declared that he was going to square accounts with you, yet did nothing?'

Dimitrov shrugged his shoulders: 'Not everything happens according to one's wishes. Goering expressed the most cherished desire of the fascist top clique, but besides him there is an international proletariat, there is Moscow, too. We got to know our judges quite well. These judges, who were not all racially pure political Arians, had to solve the problem so as to pay Peter without robbing Paul. Even the wise Solomon was not able to solve this problem in his time. That is why our judges formulated the sentence very poorly. But they were compelled to acquit us, they had no alternative. If they had condemned us, that would have been a condemnation of fascism: The Pauls remained hale and hearty - until when, the doctors are going to tell us this tomorrow. But Peter is not too pleased either, for we were acquitted. It so happened that we are dissatisfied with the trial and so are Hitler and Goering.'

In dwelling again on the trial, Dimitrov declared that the accused were deprived of real defence counsel. 'According to the German laws, we had the right to choose our defncecounsel, but we were given officially appointed lawyers. If I had left my defence to him, today I would be a political corpse. He would have discredited 'me and destroyed me politically.'

At the request of the foreign correspondents, Dimitrov gave a detailed description of the conditions during the inquiry.

During the trial we were isolated from each other. Towards the end of the Court hearings I sharply insisted before the President to explain to us why we were being held isolated. I told him that I did not approve of this and that now after the hearing was nearing its end, I insisted on meeting my comrades. After the trial we continued to be kept isolated. It was only on the 16th or 17th that they brought us together in the same cell. After our transfer to Berlin, we were again kept isolated at first for a few days. The fascists got us involved in this trial although we were innocent and after our acquittal kept us imprisoned. For five months before the trial by day and by night our hands were manacled. No one who has not lived through this experience can have an idea of what it means. To sleep in this way for five months by day and by night; and your hands to be left free for only fifteen minutes a day to dress and to eat. For five months all night your hands in those accursed manacles. And then they say that they treated us humanely and that we were in excellent health. During all this time I did not sleep properly a single night. I used to wake up twenty, thirty, fifty times a night from the pain. And all this depended upon that police official. If they tighten the manacles just a little, one suffers immensely. I and my comrades had to do our writing to the Court and to the examining magistrate with manacled hands. In connexion with that regime I should like to say the following: Our comrade Tanev did not know a word of German. His situation was much worse than ours. His nerves were so strained that he attempted to commit suicide. Fortunately he did not succeed. But those manacles and the moral terror in the course of months could produce such a consequence. He gets the indictment and does not understand a word! A week passes! He asks for an interpreter. They appoint one a little before the trial. This interpreter translates only parts of the indictment to Popov and Tanev...'

The lively conference was interrupted, owing to the late hour and Dimitrov's fatigue.

Moscow, February 27, 1934


1) Georgi Dimitrov's re-imprisonment after his aquittal aroused a storm of indignation among world public opinion. His interpid struggle at the court had given a great impetus to the campaign which had been launched on the eve of the trial. Letters from all parts of the world, by various organizations and individuals, were sent to the German government, demanding the release of the anti-fascist fighter, whom even the supreme court of nazi Germany had been compelled to aquit.

Georgi Dimitrov, too, insisted on his immediate release. Since he was still a Bulgarian citizen he probed the possibility of being sent to Bulgaria or some other country. The Bulgarian government, however, unwilling to help extricate him from the clutches of German fascism, hastened to state that it did not consider Georgi Dimitrov a Bulgarian citizen.

On February 15, 1934, the Soviet government decided to grant Georgi Dimitrov Soviet citizenship and asked the German authorities for his release. This settled the issue. Legalistically the nazis, still cowed by the Leipzig boomerang, were cornered and had to accede to this demand.

On February 27, the prison authorites asked Georgi Dimitrov to pack his belongings, and then he was hurried off to the airport, where he was informed that he was being sent to the USSR. Everything was done in great secrecy and haste, lest the masses should hear about Georgi Dimitrov's release and departure and turn the latter into an impressive anti-fascist demonstration.

On February 27, Georgi Dimitrov left Berlin by special plane and landed the same evening in Moscow, where he was enthusiastically welcomed by representatives of the Communist International and by delegations of workers who had heard about his arrival.

Georgi Dimitrov's release from fascist captivity was a triumph of proletarian international solidarity and a clear demonstration of the force of the working class and the masses, who opposed fascism in a united front.

Georgi Dimitrov immediately resumed his struggle against fascism. 'I am a soldier of the proletarian revolution...I am resolved to my duty here to the last minute of my life,' he declared in his interview with some 100 press representatives of foreign and Soviet papers and telegraph agencies on the evening of his arrival in Moscow. The next day Georgi Dimitrov spoke before the Association of Old Bolsheviks. Three days later, a speech was published in Pravda. He then made several statements and had talks on the Reichstag Fire Trial.