Berg, Helene (1906—)
Berg, Helene (1906—)
German Communist activist and political leader in the German Democratic Republic. Name variations: Lene Ring. Born in Mannheim, Germany, on April 4, 1906; attended Lenin School in Moscow, 1931–1932.
Trained to be a dressmaker; became politically active (1921); joined Communist Party of Germany (1927); involved in underground activities in Germany (1933–35); immigrated to Soviet Union (1935); returned to Germany (1946); active in propaganda and ideological work for Socialist Unity Party (SED); director of Institute for Social Sciences, Berlin (1951–58); candidate and member of Central Committee of SED (1958–89); active in political life of GDR until collapse of Communist rule (1989).
Exhibiting remarkable powers of physical stamina and political longevity, Helene Berg was one of the very few women to play a significant role in the leadership of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). She could boast of a true proletariat background, having been born in Mannheim on April 4, 1906, into a poor family. Her education ended with the completion of primary school, and she then began to work as a dressmaker. In 1921, 15-year-old Berg joined the Socialist Worker's Youth League, beginning a life of intense political involvement that would last until the end of the 1980s. Dissatisfied with the reformist attitudes of the Social Democrats, she joined a Communist youth organization in 1924 and completed her conversion to revolutionary Marxism in 1927 by joining the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Deemed a promising Communist activist by the KPD leadership, Berg was sent to Moscow, where she studied revolutionary ideology, strategy and tactics at the Lenin School from 1929 to 1931. Her good marks in Moscow led to further advancement on her return to Germany, and she was promoted to a position as a staff member of the KPD Central Committee.
The Nazi seizure of power in 1933 resulted in a catastrophe for German Communism, with the leadership thrown into concentration camps or fleeing into exile. Like most lower-rank party members, Helene Berg remained in Germany to pick up the pieces of a failed policy. For two years, she engaged in dangerous underground work, until in 1935 she was given permission to move to the Soviet Union. Berg arrived just in time for the bloody Stalinist purges, which decapitated the German Communist movement in Soviet exile. Though Berg escaped the gulag, many of her colleagues were arrested and disappeared forever in the terror.
Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 created new tasks for German Communists like Helene Berg in exile there. Most of her energy was spent as a teacher in schools for German prisoners of war. Using the name Lene Ring, she attempted to reeducate soldiers whose basic ideals had been those of Adolf Hitler's racist regime. For several years, she taught anti-Fascist courses at the Comintern school at Kusharenkovo. Returning to Germany in 1946 after the defeat of Nazism, Berg joined the Communist-dominated Socialist Unity Party (SED). With her experience from years of work as a teacher and propagandist, she was assigned to propaganda work in the province of Saxony-Anhalt, a post she held from 1946 to 1951. In 1951, Berg became director of the Institute for Social Sciences, a division of the Central Committee of the SED. This job brought her in close touch with the ruling elite of the GDR, virtually all of whom were Stalinists and hard-liners. Berg was also granted the title of professor—a remarkable advancement for an individual whose formal education had ended with primary school.
One of the very few women in a high political post in the GDR, Berg became a candidate member of the SED Central Committee in 1954, advancing to full membership in 1958, a post she would hold until the collapse of Communist rule in the fall of 1989. As a completely reliable SED member, and one able to spot ideological deviations, she held the important position of the party's representative in Prague for the international Communist journal Problems of Peace and Socialism. Displaying remarkable physical energy and intellectual alertness, Berg served from 1978 to 1989 as a consultant in the SED Central Committee division concentrating on international relations. She lived long enough to witness the collapse of her ideals and the regime that claimed to embody them.
Berg, Lene. Die nationale Frage in Deutschland unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des gegenwärtigen Kampfes um die Einheit. Leipzig and Jena: Urania-Verlag, 1954.
Buch, Günther. Namen und Daten wichtiger Personen der DDR. Berlin and Bonn: Verlag J.H.W. Dietz Nachf. GmbH, 1979.
Bundesministerium für gesamtdeutsche Fragen, Bonn. SBZ von A-Z, Ein Taschen und Nachschlagebuch über die Sowjetische Besatzungszone Deutschlands. 10th rev. ed. Bonn: Deutscher Bundes-Verlag, 1966.
Gast, Gabriele. Die politische Rolle der Frau in der DDR. Düsseldorf: Bertelsmann Universitätssverlag, 1973.
Herbst, Andreas, Winfried Ranke and Jürgen Winkler. So funktionierte die DDR. 3 vols. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Universitätsverlag, 1994.
John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia