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Wilhelm Pieck, "To the Returnees" (1946)

The Soviet Union supported the SED through numerous measures – one of which was the release of some German prisoners of war into the Soviet occupation zone beginning in July 1946. In his words of welcome to returning prisoners of war, SED functionary Wilhelm Pieck spelled out Germany’s crimes during World War II and described the disastrous economic and social conditions that prevailed there at the time. With an eye toward the September 1946 communal elections, he also tried to solicit support for the SED program, which he characterized as anti-Fascist and focused on reconstruction.

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To the Returnees [Heimkehrer]*!

Comrades! Friends!

On your long-awaited return to the homeland, I welcome you on behalf of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, which was created from the union of the Social Democratic and Communist parties. With this, the fateful split of the working class was overcome and the unity of the workers’ movement restored. Unfortunately, this only applies to the Soviet occupation zone for now, and not to the other parts of Germany. But that will come.

It is thanks to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany and the great good will of the Soviet military administration that we were able to carry out the first large transports of returnees. For the time being, 120,000 prisoners of war are supposed to return to the homeland from the Soviet Union. We will continue striving so that the others will also have the opportunity to do so very soon. I share in your happiness over the fact that you will not be kept in quarantine camps much longer, but will return to your families back home as quickly as possible.

With your entry into camp Gronefelde, you are once again free persons. It is my wish that you find your family members, your wives and children, your parents and siblings, in good health. We from the party will do everything to help you overcome existing difficulties. Our party organizations everywhere are prepared to help you and your family members as best they can. On your return, I wish you the best for the time ahead. We have instructed our organizations to make sure the bureaucracy sees to it that returnees are given preference in police registration, food-ration cards, and other forms of aid. Still, there will surely be various shortcomings, but you must lend a hand in remedying them.

You are coming back at a time when our nation is confronting important political decisions. For the first time in thirteen years, there are once again free elections for communal representation. The Socialist Unity Party of Germany endeavored to show the Soviet military administration that you, as returnees, are entitled to the full franchise, and was successful. It is your duty to seriously consider which party will get your vote. Many of you might say, “Leave us alone with politics; we have had plenty of bad experiences with it.” That is certainly true, but our nation now confronts a very great task. It must now decide what is to happen to Germany, how our economy shall be structured, how our communities and our state shall be democratically established, how our nation itself shall create guarantees for peace, for democracy, for the unity of Germany.

For this, the communal elections are of great importance. The issue is to create solid democratic majorities, and the workers must assume the leadership of these majorities. For that, the SED is the most reliable of all the parties. And that is also why it must become the strongest party in the parliaments. The SED by no means claims a party monopoly, but it takes on the great responsibility of the democratic renewal of Germany.

You will find a different Germany upon your return. Many of you will find that your old homes, your workplaces, are mere heaps of rubble. With the war, the Hitler regime brought an enormous misery upon our nation. When it was already clear to the entire world that the war was lost, the Hitler gang kept it going and going – the last soldier, the last house was to be sacrificed to this madness.

And thus Hitler turned our homeland into a mound of rubble. Millions of Germans were driven by the Hitler regime to death on the battlefields and back at home. [ . . . ] Our children and women are malnourished, our economy is deformed. An enormous burden of debt has been imposed upon our nation; all the money from savings and loans and insurance was squandered in this war.

* More specifically, Heimkehrer are repatriated prisoners of war – trans.

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