|Was||Politician Journalist Resistance fighter|
|Field||Activism Journalism Military Politics|
|Birth||15 January 1898, Leipzig, Germany|
|Death||3 October 1937, Moscow, Russia (aged 39 years)|
|Politics||Communist Party of Germany, Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany|
Hans Kippenberger (15 January 1898 - 3 October 1937) was a German politician (KPD). Between 1928 and 1933 he sat as a member of the National Parliament (Reichstag).
Like many Communist Party members at the time, he also operated under "party names", by which he may be identified in sources. These included "A. Neuberg", "Leo Wolf" and "Ernst Wolf".
Kippenberger was born in Leipzig. His father was a secular preacher. He attended school up to the middle level, and then became an intern at a printing machine factory, still in Leipzig, shortly afterwards embarking on a traineeship for bank work. However in 1915 he volunteered for military service, and spent the rest of the First World War in the army. He served on the western front and was wounded several times, and when discharged in January 1919 had reached the rank of Oberleutnant. Early in 1919 he embarked on a commercial traineeship which led to a clerical job in Leipzig. From June 1921 he was based in Hamburg, employed as a foreign languages correspondent for various firms, and working with the English, French, Italian and Spanish languages.
He had already, in Leipzig, joined the anti-war Independent Social Democratic Party ("Unabhängige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands" / USPD), and when this broke apart he was part of the left-wing majority that joined with the newly formed Communist Party. By 1922 he was employed full-time by the party and part of what one source identifies as the party's "secret apparatus". Meanwhile, he attended lectures at the University of Hamburg on socioeconomics ("Volkswirtschaft") although it is not clear that he was formally enrolled as a student at the university.
He became a leader in the Communist Party student group and played a leading role in the Hamburg Uprising which erupted in October 1923. In the city's politically left-wing Barmbek quarter Kippenberger led a fighting group of workers, also managing to infiltrate Communist Party members into local police and army units. It was thanks to his careful oversight and military training that the communist fighter groups were able to retreat in good order. Despite being elected to the regional Hamburg Parliament in 1924, after the Hamburg uprising the local prosecutor issued a warrant for his arrest. Badly wounded, for several months he lived illegally (unregistered with the local city hall) in Leipzig till March 1924 when Kippenberger fled to the Soviet Union where he attended a military academy. Sources differ over whether he returned from the Soviet Union at the end of 1924 and then lived illegally (unregistered) in Germany or stayed in the Soviet Union till 1926 (or beyond). There is also a suggestion that in Moscow, as well attending a military academy, he studied at the "Communist University of National Minorities in the West". During 1924/25 he was still being sought - apparently without success - by the Hamburg police in connection with the part he had played in the Hamburg uprising.
Towards the end of the 1920s he was mandated by the Comintern to create a secret military apparatus for the party. In May 1928 he stood for membership of the Reichstag in the general election. He was successful, despite being arrested during the election campaign. As an elected member of the Reichstag he enjoyed certain immunities, and once the election result became known he had to be released. He sat as a communist party member for electoral district 29 (Leipzig).
At the twelfth party conference, held in 1929 in the central Wedding district of Berlin, Kippenberg was accepted as a candidate for party Central Committee membership. In the Reichstag his focus was on defence matters: he was a member of the parliamentary military commission. He continued to sit in the Reichstag till 1933. Outside the chamber he built up the so-called "Betriebsberichterstattung (BB-Ressort)", originated in 1927 within the party's illegal military apparatus, but from 1932 consciously separated from it. It was a quasi-military body comprising approximately 300 members who undertook economic-espionage tasks on behalf of the Soviet Union, also reporting back on social, political and economic developments more generally during what was a period of rising tension inside Germany. Seen from the perspective of the Nazi Party the "BB-Ressort" was "the German Communist Party's most dangerous structure".
The political backdrop was transformed with the Nazi power seizure in January 1933. The new government lost little time in transforming Germany into a one-party dictatorship. Hans Kippenberger was one of those who participated in the (illegal) meeting of the party central committee held at the Ziegenhals cafe ("Sporthaus Ziegenhals") a short distance outside Berlin on 7 February 1933. The meeting would subsequently be celebrated as both the first and last meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee held in Nazi Germany. The Reichstag fire at the end of February 1933 was immediately blamed on "communists", and before the end of the year participants in the Ziegenhals meeting and most of the other active communist party politicians had either fled abroad or else been arrested. The Communist Party structure was shattered. Kippenberger took on and preserved much of its military apparatus under conditions of enhanced secrecy and certain important tasks were accomplished, but the Gestapo nevertheless succeeded in infiltrating its information and communications structures.
Kippenberger, operating for some purposes under the code name "Leo", was feverishly sought by the Gestapo during 1933 and 1934. Meanwhile, despite having to operate underground or, increasingly, out of Paris, the Communist Party of Germany had lost none of its appetite for internal feuding. The arrest of Ernst Thälmann on 3 March 1933 had left a vacuum at the top of the party. To the extent that the quasi-military apparatus under Kippenberger remained effective, it supported the opponents of Walter Ulbricht and Wilhelm Pieck in the increasingly polarised leadership struggle that ensued. In the context of increasingly shrill attacks on him from Ulbricht, Pieck and their supporters, on 12 February 1935 the party politburo set up a commission of enquiry into Hans Kippenberger. In October 1935 a party congress was held, under somewhat bizarre conditions, at Brussels: Ulbricht and his allies took over the party leadership. The resignation of two of Thälmann's old lieutenants, Hermann Schubert and Fritz Schulte left Kippenberger unambiguously on the losing side. In Walter Ulbricht he had acquired a powerful and uncompromising enemy at the top of the party. Ulbricht enjoyed the backing of Moscow. Kippenberger lost his position on the party Central Committee and the quasi-military underground operation he had directed was dissolved. He was ordered to relocated from Paris to Moscow where he was provided with factory work. Sources are silent over whether, on moving to Moscow, he ever met up with his former wife, Thea, and their two daughters, Margot and Jeanette, who had emigrated there in July 1933, since when Thea had been worked as a teacher in the Soviet capital.
Death ... and rehabilitation
On 5 November 1935, as the scope of Stalin's purge of Trotsky supporters and other political opponents accelerated, Hans Kippenberger and his partner Christina "Aenne" Kerff (born Chrisina Lenderoth) were arrested in Moscow's Sojusnaja Hotel (across the road from the Hotel Lux). In a secret trial he was accused of "espionage and participation in a counter-revolutionary terrorist organisation". Hans Kippenberger was shot dead on 3 October 1937.
Hans Kippenberger married Thea Niemand, from Hamburg, in 1923. Their daughters were born in 1924 and 1928. The marriage ended in divorce in 1930. After a raid on their Berlin apartment, Thea hastily took the children to a safe location in the countryside, from where they escaped via Czechoslovakia. Thea arrived in Moscow with their daughters in July 1933, six months after the Nazi power seizure back in Germany. The standard of their Moscow accommodation, shared with Thea Kippenberger's friend Thea Beling and a large number of other people, came as a shock to the children. In February 1938 Thea, who by this time worked as a teacher, was arrested. A special NKVD tribunal sentenced her to a lengthy term in a labour camp. During 1939, Thea Kippenberger died in Siberia.
Two decades later, following a change in the political wind direction, Hans and Thea Kippenberger were posthumously rehabilitated by a Moscow tribunal on 30 September 1957. However, both their deaths and their subsequent rehabilitations remained officially undisclosed by the ruling party in what had, by this time, become the Soviet sponsored German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
One afternoon in November 1937 two secret policemen turned up at their school in Moscow and removed Margot and Jeanette Kippenberger from their lessons. Early the next year, aged 14, Margot wrote a desperate letter to one of her mother's friends asking what had happened to her mother. There was no reply. It would be another 22 years before she would learn of her parents' fates. The children were taken to Chistopol in Tatarstan and placed in an orphanage for "homeless street children" which at this time was receiving more and more of the children of "enemies of the people".
The older daughter, Margot Kippenberger, was transferred to a labour camp in Vologodskaya, condemned in 1942 to a lifelong term of forced labour. She was given work in forestry, tasked with collecting the sawdust caused by the felling of trees. There was one day off work each month which was used for delousing. Later she was denounced and subjected to six months of intensive interrogation. Nevertheless, she survived. Her situation eased after the end of the war, formally in May 1945, and she married Igor Tschnernavin, a Soviet citizen in 1948.
After her parents' rehabilitation Margot Kippenberger was able to leave the Soviet Union with her five children, arriving in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in May 1958. Their marriage never having been officially recognised (because Margot was foreign) Igor was not permitted to accompany them, but following a personal appeal to Nikita Khrushchev he joined them in 1960. The family nevertheless felt themselves treated as outsiders, and while Margot built her life in the new country, Igor soon returned to the Soviet Union, where he died in 1984. Although Margot had been informed of her parents' fates, she was under firm instructions to keep the information to herself. Her insistence on discussing the matter led to constant tensions with the authorities. Her indignant letter sent in 1979 to the national newspaper, Neues Deutschland, on the centenary of Stalin's birth, was naturally never published. She remained under close Stasi surveillance till March 1981 when she was permitted to relocate to West Berlin, where she lived in a small apartment, supported by a small pension provided to survivors of Nazi persecution. There was no pension in respect of her time in the Soviet Union.
There is less information in the public domain concerning the younger daughter. After they had been taken away from their parents at the end of 1937 Jeanette had learned Russian much more quickly than Margot, which may have indicated a particular talent for languages. Jeanette Kippenberger worked for the government news service in East Berlin between 1956 and 1973 as a typist. specialising in Russian language work. She was given a new job, in September 1973, as a translator with the Intertext, the ruling party's translation bureau. She was able to relocate to West Germany on 14 July 1978.
Margot and Jeannette Kippenberger died respectively in 2005 and 2016. Both their bodies are buried in the Sankt-Matthäus-Kirchhof ("Old St. Matthew's Churchyard") in Berlin's Schöneberg quarter. It was noted in at the end of 2017 that their graves were not yet marked by any grave stone.