Materials relating to a request for a review of the case of Anni Etterer. 10 December 1938 – 8 January 1939.
[Prior to 8 January 1939][i]
TO THE SECRETARY OF THE CC VKP(B)
On the orders from com. G. DIMITROV, we are forwarding to you a letter from the ICC and the materials on Anni Etterer and Franz Guber for your review.
We also inform you that the ICC’s letter and [other] materials have been sent to com. BERIA, L. P.
SECRETARIAT OF com. DIMITROV:
Sent in package No. 18
11. I. 39. Stern.
<<page break in the original>>
TO THE GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE COMINTERN
Com. DIMITROV, G. M.[ii]
Franz Guber, a member of the CP of Germany from 1926, has appealed to the ICC with a statement in which he asks for a complete re-instatement into the party.[iii] The German party expelled him in connection with the arrest of his wife, Anni ETTERER, by NKVD organs on 9. III. 1938.
In his statement, Guber says that he has always considered his wife to be an honest communist, and that the letters that he has received from her from exile only strengthen his conviction.
The ICC material on Anni Etterer and Franz Guber can be reduced to the following.
Anni Etterer was born in 1913; her parents were workers. She worked as a clerk, [and] received a professional education in 1930. A member of the CP of Germany from 1931, she conducted work among women in the construction workers trade union in Bavaria. In 1933, she was arrested in Munich and spent one year in prison as a hostage for her husband, Franz Guber. Between her release in March 1934 and December 1934, she was a party instructor in a district committee. Following a decision by the party, she emigrated to Prague, from where, upon her husband’s request and with the consent of the party, she came to the USSR.
Franz GUBER was born in 1910. His parents were workers (his father was an old S[ocial] D[emocrat], a member of the CPG from 1920 or 1921. After Hitler came to power, he was put in a concentration camp where he spent more than 4 years. His mother spent 3 years in a conc[entration] camp as a hostage for her son). He is a plasterer by trade. Between 1923 and 1926, he was a Pioneer. In 1926, he became a Komsomol member and, in the same year, a member of the CPG. He was a delegate to the Gotha Conference of the children’s communist groups in 1924, [and] a delegate to the 11th Komsomol Congress where he was elected a candidate member of the Komsomol’s CC. He was a delegate to the Party Congress in Wedding in 1929, and worked as a party worker until Hitler came to power. In the underground period (until September 1933), he was the organizational secretary of the South-Bavarian committee of the CPG. In September 1933, following the party’s decision, he emigrated to the USSR.
Regarding their work in Germany and their behavior before the class enemy, both Anni Etterer and Franz Guber have good references.
In the USSR, Anni Etterer worked as a typist in the International Agrarian Institute, and Franz Guber studied in the MLSh, where he received a party reprimand for mistakes regarding school discipline and for lack of self-control.
Here are some abstracts from Anni Etterer’s letters cited by Guber:
“I cannot understand a thing. I have spent 4 1/2 months in prison… I think and think, but I cannot find explanation. I was interviewed once by an investigator. As far as I could understand (without an interpreter), he was asking me about my biography. I answered in my really bad Russian. I signed everything, although I could not read it… because until now I have not lost faith in my own comrades, in our Soviet power. When I came to the investigator the second time, he told me so I could understand him (in Russian): [I have] finished [the investigation], [you] are not guilty, you are not a spy, everything is good with you… However, I received quite a shock when, on 16. VII, I was sentenced to 5 years in a labor camp for counterrevolutionary activities…[iv] I want to tell you that what supports me is that I have always acted as a class-conscious communist, that I am imprisoned here innocent…”
Franz Guber outlined his ideas about the possible reasons which led to the arrest of his wife.
Among the most important of them are:
A) In the Agrarian Institute, Anni Etterer used to type materials in languages unknown to her, on orders from her boss who was [later] arrested by the NKVD;
B) Guber’s neighbor, in his opinion, has a suspicious lifestyle, and may have slandered [Etterer]. (This neighbor is using the room as a reserve while living in a different place. In this room, she is visited by a man of unclear origin, and she is typing something all the time).
We consider it appropriate to raise the question of reviewing the materials on Anni Etterer with the appropriate state organs.
ENCL. – 16 pages.[v]
SECRETARY OF THE ICC:
8. 1. – 1939.
<<page break in the original>>
TO THE INTERNATIONAL CONTROL COMMISSION OF THE ECCI.
Here are my considerations regarding the arrest of my wife, Anni Etterer. After I thoroughly thought over all the events, I singled out the following facts which might have led to my wife’s arrest.
1. The International Agrarian Institute [MAI] (where my wife worked).
For 3-4 months before my wife’s arrest, there were arrests among the leading administrative workers and among researchers. Among them was deputy director of MAI, a Pole, who spoke German well. My wife got a job as a German typist with the help of com. Weber[vi] who, at that time (1936), was the representative of the German party in the ECCI. My wife told me that this deputy director once called her to his office and asked [her] to maintain secrecy. [He told her] that she had no right to talk about it with anybody, including myself. I found it to be quite right given current condition, especially since MAI was a Party institute.
In early 1937 (I do not remember when exactly), my wife boasted jokingly after work that she knew “several languages” since she was typing in different languages. Thus, she told me that she was typing manuscripts [written] probably in Polish, as well as in one of the Balkan languages, and in Russian. That she typed letter after letter when copying from handwritten manuscripts. Although there was a Russian typist in the Agrarian Institute, she was frequently ill. I do not now know whether or not she reported to work in that period.
Therefore, it could have happened that my wife could have been involved, without her knowledge, in a counterrevolutionary activity. What kind of documents were those? My wife could not know that, because she does not know a word in languages other than her native one. Until her arrest, she knew in Russian only what was necessary to know in a tram or in a grocery store. She worked in the Agrarian Institute, [but] dealt only in the German language, with German comrades, and spoke only in German.
When my wife learned about the arrest of the director, she told me: “You see, we have not yet learned how to recognize the enemy. That is why this person was so kind and attentive to his staff. You see, here too one has to be on guard!”
Thus, this could be one factor that could be crucial for her arrest. Another thing is whether there were sufficient grounds for such a decision, such as what happened to my wife. First, my wife followed her boss’ orders. Second, she did not know the contents of the documents that she was typing in different languages. She was sure that they were somehow related to scientific agrarian problems. When she told me about it, I did not think it bad, either. However, a thorough investigation by NKVD organs could have easily clarified these things. Therefore, if this did take place, then my wife was an unwilling victim of the class enemy. But my wife did not even mention about this [aspect of the] case, because she was not asked about anything like that.
My wife would have never been able to commit, on her own initiative, an act hostile to the [working] class or to the party. I also want to note that I have a very strong influence on my wife, and that she would have never done anything that might be harmful to me. I met my wife when she was 17, the age of puberty. For many young people, this is an emotionally difficult period, and she too had problems then. Her mother, a hysterical woman, tormented her so much that my wife, who is very sensitive, tried to take poison. However, her mother noticed this and after that was a little kinder to her. Then I met my wife and educated her in a communist spirit. This explains my wife’s attitude toward me.
2. Our neighbor, a Russian named Glinkina.
The room next to our apartment is occupied by citizen Glinkina. She claims to be a Narkomzdrav[vii] inspector. This is what happened to this person. 1. This so-called permanent apartment of hers here in the Oktiabrskoe pole (VLIEM building, site No. 1, d[om] 1, kv[artira] 7) must be her reserve apartment. Sometimes she does not show up for weeks. She does not sleep there more than 4-6 times in the course of a month. For the most part, she is here on weekends, but inconsistently. Sometimes she spends 3-4 days here, and then she is not seen for 14 days or even a whole month.
2. On rare occasions (once every half a year or more), a man comes to visit her and stays for a week. She claims that he is her husband. In these periods, she is always at home. Naturally, a question arises, where and how does this woman spend her time? Why is she away from home the rest of the time? Where does she sleep the other days? What if he is not her husband and uses this room only as a secret meeting place?
3. When she is in her room, she types all the time. Then she regularly types until 2 A.M., and sometimes for the whole day. The typewriter is always in her room. (She has been typing hard since this [past] summer).
4. In August or September 1937, her friend lived with her for about two months. This woman gave us the impression that she lived there illegally. It is worth mentioning that they never left the apartment together, but always 10-15 minutes apart from each other. Then too the neighbor was not at home for a whole week, and [her] friend stayed alone in the room. We think that she lived there without being registered.
5. Already in late 1937, my wife and I thought this visit by the man, and the friend’s living there illegally, and the strange use of the room (at the time of a great need in apartments) to be suspicious. My suspicions were especially heightened by the continual typing. That is why (after my wife’s arrest) I frequently tried to disturb her when she was typing in order to see her reaction, and I must say that each time she was very frightened. Once I wanted to send my wife a package of food, but I did not have paper. I went to the neighbor and asked for some paper. She gave me different kinds of typing paper. The used parts had already been cut off, but still she looked through the paper once again, smiled, and said that it is important that there was nothing written on the paper, because there (i.e. in the camp) everything is being checked.
6. In November or December 1937, another Russian woman with a child, her mother-in-law and a nurse, moved in with our neighbor. That woman worked somewhere as a typist. In late February, the following happened: one evening, an NKVD worker in civilian clothes, accompanied by one witness, came to our apartment and inquired about this Russian [who had] recently moved in. He [also] asked about some particular typist (I no longer remember the name). He entered our room and asked whether my wife could type on a Russian typewriter, and what her name was. I replied by giving my wife’s name and by stating that she could not type in Russian. At that point, the [NKVD] worker said that the last name was different, and went to the neighbor.
Their nurse later told us that they were very upset, pale, and were crying. She could only hear how the [NKVD] worker was asking where were certain things, a piano, etc. After that, they sent her out [of the room].
Maybe here one could find possible explanation. Those people may have been class enemies. That woman with a child, mother-in-law and a nurse moved out of here in late April of that year.
Maybe that inspector wrote a denunciation in order to protect herself. In any case, it seems to me that that woman has provided sufficient grounds to suspect her. My wife writes me about it from the camp:
“Is that neighbor still living there with her relatives? The idea that she had a hand in this case nags me. Do you remember that civilian visitor, in late February? I wish them nothing good.”
Maybe, it is a prejudice on my wife’s and my part, but this phrase indicates that, in the final account, my wife has no idea why she is imprisoned, [or] in what kind of counterrevolutionary activity she engaged. Because otherwise, she might have guessed from where the denunciation had come.
Thus, if my wife and I knew who the accuser was, it would have been very easy to clarify [the case] by direct confrontation. Whether or not my guess is correct, I still think that something is wrong with my Russian neighbor. I also spoke about this to Walter Dittbender,[viii] before my wife was arrested. Walter Dittbender worked then in the German delegation. He told me not to conduct an investigation. [He told me] that I should not interfere in this case, since it was the Russians’ problem. That is why I made no further use of this incident.
8 days after the visit of the NKVD worker, my wife was arrested.
It is possible that the NKVD worker wanted to verify, among other things, whether my wife could type on a Russian typewriter; maybe his visit was related to the documents in the Agrarian Institute, but it would have been a strange inquiry. Anyway, my wife was not asked about this.
3. Correspondence with abroad.
My wife and I maintained correspondence only with our parents. We used a transfer address in Prague and one address in Stockholm. Corresponding with these friends was limited only to forwarding letters to our parents in Germany. We received one letter from, and sent one letter to Spain, where a Bavarian comrade, Joseph Wimmer, is fighting. By the way, all the correspondence was received on my name and on my address. Therefore, I should have been held responsible.
4. Our personal ties in the USSR.
My wife had no ties other than those that I had. The party knows about all of our acquaintances. I cannot imagine that my wife could have been arrested because of any of these ties. It is possible that one of the arrested denounced her, but it is very unlikely.
This is all that I wanted and had to say in this regard. I stress once again that a thorough investigation might be able to clarify everything.
With communist greetings (F. Guber).
13 December 1938.
11. I. 1939 <…>
<<page break in the original>>
TO THE INTERNATIONAL CONTROL COMMISSION OF THE ECCI.
Dear comrades, I have just received, for the first time in two months, a letter from [my] wife. I definitely want to familiarize you with the most important sections of this letter. [My] wife writes:
“25 November 1938. My dear, beloved Franz. Regarding my case, I have to tell you the following: I could not send you the draft [of my appeal], all petitions and statements are being forwarded from here. I have already written to the Procurator of the USSR, Vyshinsky. In the coming days, I will write to the Party Control Commission. I have already written to you that I did not appear before any court, only the Special Council (OSO) (underlined by me – F. G.), which sentenced me to 5 years in a labor camp for counterrevolutionary activities. I was interrogated only once, and they asked me about [the facts of] my biography. Despite repeated requests, I was not given an interpreter. (underlined by me – F. G.). On 7. IV-38, the questioning was finished, and the investigator told me, as best as I could understand, that the investigation was over, that I was not a spy, that I was innocent and that I was a good person."
"I was not given any materials or charged with anything. I signed the entire examination record although I understood nothing in it, since I thought that it was normal; besides, I trusted completely the Soviet organs of justice. (underlined by me – F. G.). The power of attorney for my money is not needed, since it will be sent directly from here to the institute. I will follow your other advice, i.e. I will write to a deputy of the Supreme Soviet. Thus, if you will do something on my behalf, what I have written to you today will be sufficient.”
“You are right [when you say] that it is necessary to be strong willed, but everything has its limits. I cannot tell you in what state I sometimes find myself. You know, it is good to be a Communist, but because I always act in such a way, I can achieve very little. It is impossible to forget what kind of people surround us here. I have been working in the forest for two months, and it is very hard for me. I have enough exercise while working in the forest. I have lost most of my [sense of] humor already, but I will regain it when I will be with you.”
“In general, I am healthy and I do not lose courage. Of course, I will follow your advice and will maintain my will power. At least, I am not losing hope.”
Dear comrades, let me nevertheless note that I absolutely do not know what else to add here. At this point, I will not refer to Marxism-Leninism. [I wonder] if the class enemy had a hand in this case in order to undermine [the idea of] Socialism for honest communists and to turn friends of the USSR into the enemies of the USSR. If this is not so, then I do not understand the program, strategy and tactics of communism anymore. In any case, it is obvious that this is an unprecedented enemy’s sortie against Soviet democracy. By such means, it is thus possible to create misfortune for any honest person [simply] by not giving him a chance to defend himself.
I reiterate my request for a thorough investigation of my wife’s case. This investigation might produce other useful results for Soviet power. It is necessary to thoroughly question my wife via interpreter, [to let her] confront the slanderers with translations of the examination records which she will have to sign, to let her write an explanation.
With communist greetings, Franz Guber.
Moscow, 10. II-38.
Translation correct <…>
11. I. 1939.
RGASPI, f. 495, op. 74, d. 133a, ll. 5-17.
Original in Russian. Typewritten.
[i] The letter with enclosures was received in the Secretariat of G. Dimitrov on 8 January 1939. On 11 January, it was forwarded to A. Andreev and to L. Beria.
[ii] Across the first page, a handwritten note by G. Dimitrov:
Send to c. Beria.
Besides, send to c. Andreev (CC) separately, indicating that the ICC’s letter and the materials are sent to c. Beria.
9. 1. 39.
[iii] Franz Guber appealed to the ICC on 21 November 1938. He also sent a letter to G. Dimitrov. On 10 August 1939, a session of the ICC took place with participation of F. Guber, Lukanov, the ECCI’s Organizational Committee analyst E. Privorotskaia, the ICC secretary W. Florin, and W. Ulbricht. In the information letter about Guber, written for the meeting, Lukanov stated that “there is no reason not to trust his party honesty.” In September 1939, the commission of the CC CPG readmitted Guber to the party. On 11 September 1941, he was arrested by the NKVD as a “socially dangerous element.” He died on 4 June 1942 in the NKVD prison in Chistopol, Tatar ASSR. The OSO of the NKVD convicted him postmortem on 13 June 1942.
[iv] Anni Etterer was sentenced to five years in prison on 26 May 1938 by the OSO of the NKVD. On 27 February 1940, she was released following the OSO’s decision to close her case in light of the absence of evidence of a crime. Until 19 March 1940, she was held in the NKVD labor camp in Kargopol, Arkhangelsk region. After her release, on 17 April 1940, she was readmitted to the CPG, and received a Soviet passport. After the arrest of her husband, Franz Guber, Anni Etterer was exiled to the Karaganda region. On 14 February 1946, she left for Germany.
[v] Enclosed were three typewritten copies of the F. Guber’s letters to the ICC, translated from German. On each of the letters, there is a handwritten note (probably made by the party investigator Lukanov) dated 11 January 1939, confirming the accuracy of the translation.
Franz Guber’s seven page-long appeal of 21 November 1938 in connection with his expulsion from the CPG is not published. That letter’s essential contents were reproduced by W. Florin in his letter to G. Dimitrov and the two letters in the text that follow his letter. The originals can be found in Guber’s personal file. The letters here are published in the order they were sent as enclosures in the letter from Florin to G. Dimitrov, A. Andreev and L. Beria.
[vi] Fritz Weber (real name – Heinrich Wiatreck). Born in 1886, he joined the CPG in 1922, and became a member of its CC in 1935. In 1932-1934, he attended the MLSh. Between 1935 and 1937, he was head of the German delegation in the ECCI. In 1937-1941, he was a CPG representative in Denmark. In 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo. In 1946, he lived in the English occupied zone in Germany.
[vii] Narkomzdrav – abbr. of Narodny Komissariat Zdravookhraneniia (The People’s Commissariat of Health). (Trans.)
[viii] Walter Dittbender (1892-1938). He was a member of the CPG from 1920. After 1927, he was head of the Department for aid to the political émigrés and a Secretary of the CC of the German section of MOPR. In 1933, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp. After his release in 1934, he emigrated to the USSR. In 1935, he was head of the Political Emigration Department of the CC MOPR. After 1936, on the suggestion of the Political Bureau, he was in charge of the registration and verification of CPG cadres. On 31 March 1938, he was arrested by the NKVD. On 2 March 1939, he was sentenced to be shot, and was executed on 3 March.