Bob Ryan
Bob Ryan

Margarete Buber-Neuman, from Gulag to Concentration Camp

In 1901, Margarete Thuring was born to Jewish parents in Germany. In 1921, she joined the Socialist Youth League. It was either that year or the following when she married her first husband, Rafael Buber, who was every bit the communist as his philosopher father, Martin Buber.

In 1926, she joined the German Communist Party, which was more in line with not just her husband’s beliefs, but her own. So devout was her belief that she became a member of the editorial staff of Inprekorr, which was the official journal of the German Communist Party.

In 1929, she divorced Buber, but kept his name for the remainder of her life. That same year, she met the man who would become her second husband, Heinz Neumann, who was the Comintern to Germany, which put him under the control of the Soviet Union as all members of the Third International were. He may have been a member of the Reichstag, but his allegiance was to the Soviet Union.

In 1933, Margarete Buber-Neuman fled to Spain soon after the events that followed the Reichstag fire. Anti-Semitism was on the rise in Germany, which was a time when many Jewish communists started an attempt to reach the Soviet Union with thousands of successes. The anti-Semitism being spread through the Stalin controlled Soviet press never made it out of the Soviet Union.

Prior to reaching the Soviet Union, Neuman was sent in his capacity as Comintern to several countries including Spain. It would not be until 1935 that he would be called to Moscow, which must have come as a relief to both of them, since the Nazi’s propaganda was making things far more difficult for Jews in any capacity throughout western Europe.

In 1937, they both fell victim to Stalin’s Great Purge, or Great Terror depending on the source. These staunch and loyal communists were arrested on trumped up charges, which was the common theme throughout the Soviet Union during this time. Within a year, Heinz Neuman was sentenced to be shot, which was carried out the following day.

Margarete Buber-Neuman had already been sentenced to the gulag for five years. She could just as easily have been one of the approximately 600,000 Jews who died during the four years of terror that resulted in about 10,000,000 dead. 1/10th the total number of Jews killed by Hitler during a time of peace.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 included much more than a nonaggression treaty. Hundreds, if not thousands of Jewish communists who had fled the Nazis for the safety of the Soviet Union were handed over to the SS, including Margarete Buber-Neuman. She traded one gulag for another as she faced similar conditions of mistreatment and undernourishment in both.

Margarete Buber-Neuman spent the remainder of the war at Ravensbruck concentration camp. She was one of the fortunate few who survived both the gulag and concentration camp and the only Jewish person among those handed over to Hitler. The rest of the Jews joined the 6,000,000 dead.

Margarete Buber-Neuman published her first book in 1948, with translations into English and French the following year. Under Two Dictators: Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler was her personal account of the similar conditions she faced in both the Soviet and Nazi camps. Rather than accept the account as honest, it was met with great disdain by those who had never lived in the Soviet Union and knew very little about what was happening there.

The disdain was minor compared to Kravchenko’s memoirs, who also suffered from Stalin’s Great Purge. He avoided arrest, but not the abuse suffered by countless millions as Stalin turned communist against communist through the media and staged trials.

When Kravchenko published, I Chose Freedom, it was an account of the failures of collectivization and the use of slave labor from the gulags. When collectivization was forced on the people, production decreased drastically, which was the primary reason for Ukraine’s famine that led to starvation and cannibalism.

The attacks that resulted from publishing his book resulted in him suing for libel in France. The Soviets called several witnesses including his ex-wife, but the lies told could not stand against the testimony of those who had experienced the gulags firsthand.

Among the witnesses to testify on his behalf was Margarete Buber-Neuman. Her testimony alone would have swung the verdict in favor of Kravchenko. He did win his case, but not the amount in damages he was seeking.

Margarete Buber-Neuman spent the rest of her life writing and fighting against communism. She made it clear, after suffering under both Stalin and Hitler, that the only difference between the two was a matter of only a few degrees. While much of the world ignored Stalin’s anti-Semitism as they lapped up the propaganda over the facts, there were those who were aware of Stalin’s hatred for Jews, which resulted in those party members who survived him to be every bit as anti-Semitic.

Winston Churchill wrote an essay about Trotsky in 1937, a few years before Stalin’s people caught up to him, which resulted in his assassination:

“In 1922 so great was the appreciation among the military for Trotsky’s personal attitude and system that he might well have been made Dictator of Russia by the armed forces, but for one fatal obstacle.

He was a Jew. He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that. Hard fortune when you have deserted your family, repudiated your race, spat upon the religion of your fathers, and lapped Jew and Gentile in a common malignity, to be balked of so great a prize for so narrow-minded a reason! Such intolerance, such pettiness, such bigotry were hard indeed to bear. And this disaster carried in its train a greater. In the wake of disappointment loomed catastrophe.”

This was 2 years prior to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Churchill saw Stalin for who he was every bit as clearly as Hitler. Much of the world ignored Churchill on both accounts, which brought tremendous suffering to Jews and gentiles, but none suffered more than Jews under Soviet reign. Anti-Semitism would be used by Stalin throughout the remainder of his life as he inched towards his own final solution through the Doctors’ Plot.

So thorough was the anti-Semitism left in the party he controlled, that the Soviet Union supplied weapons and ammunition to Ethiopian communists who tried to kill every Jew who remained from the time of Solomon. What could have been called a second Holocaust was mostly ignored by the same outlets that ignored the suffering of the Jews within the confines of the Soviet Union right up until their fall and continue to do so to this day.

When Margaret Buber-Neuman released her memories, it should have sent a glaring message to socialists throughout the world that the Soviet Union was not what the propaganda claimed. The problem was the socialists believed the first communist state could not fail, no matter how much evidence was provided. If they accepted Stalin and Hitler were of the same ilk, Jew hating psychopaths, then they would have to admit that their ideology was a failed ideology.

About the Author
Bob Ryan is a science-fiction author and believes the key to understanding the future is to understand the past. As any writer can attest, he spends a great deal of time researching numerous subjects. He is someone who seeks to strip away emotion in search of reason, since emotion clouds judgement. Bob is an American with an MBA in Business Administration. He is a gentile who supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
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