Stalin’s Last Comrade: Hanna Wolf and the “Karl Marx” Party College in the German Democratic Republic
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For over thirty years, the Parteihochschule Karl Marx (PHS) was under the direction of the fervent Hanna Wolf, who oversaw the training of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party (SED) functionaries. First appointed as Director in 1950, Wolf proved to be a tenacious and calculated leader who was not only able to remain in her position for over three decades, but who also wielded power as a female member of the SED. While many high-ranking women in the East German regime were either propped up due to the influence of a more powerful partner or their positions were deemed more suitable to women’s work, Wolf’s appointment at the PHS proved neither and she broke through the male-dominated party culture of the SED on her own merits. However, scholarship focusing on high-ranking women in the SED has been quite meagre and on the PHS itself, there is a modest but important literature. Therefore, this dissertation explores how Wolf’s political savviness, which included a myriad of personality traits, helped her successfully navigate the male dominated party culture of the SED. Such personality traits included being an “iron maiden,” proving to be cold and domineering with students and peers who did not follow the party line, or warm and friendly with those in positions of power. As a result of Wolf’s keen awareness of party politics, she was able to remain in her role as Director for thirty-three years, overseeing the training of close to 25,000 party functionaries that were sent out into the workforce and branches of the party apparatus armed with a very limited set of professional skills and only the knowledge of Marxism-Leninism, which ultimately helped stall technological advancements in the East German regime. Often referred to as “Wolf Canyon” or the “Red Monastery,” Wolf ruled over the PHS with an “iron fist” and proved to be a massive barrier when it came to changing the student curricula. As a veteran communist who first joined the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in 1930, then spent the 1930s and 1940s in the Soviet Union, Wolf was instilled with a vehement dedication to Stalinism which never faltered throughout the duration of her life and which she employed in her management of the PHS. Even during the 1950s, with Stalin’s death in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of the Soviet dictator in 1956, Wolf stayed true to her ideals and faced backlash from colleagues at the party school who started a campaign for her removal. During the 1960s, Wolf had to contend with Walter Ulbricht’s transition from an ideologue to a technocrat and his attempts to reform PHS student coursework from focusing primarily on ideology to more technical topics. However, by the 1970s, Wolf’s leadership remained unchallenged as Erich Honecker, who was also a dedicated hardliner, replaced Ulbricht as Party General Secretary in 1971, and the PHS continued to operate under Wolf’s dogmatic and dictatorial rule until her retirement in June 1983.
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Jennifer McKay (2024). Stalin’s Last Comrade: Hanna Wolf and the “Karl Marx” Party College in the German Democratic Republic. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/20326