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Why the Stasi traitor of the CDU fled to East Berlin

The other side's sense of triumph was unmistakable, and it caught those responsible in Bonn completely unexpectedly.

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Why the Stasi traitor of the CDU fled to East Berlin

The other side's sense of triumph was unmistakable, and it caught those responsible in Bonn completely unexpectedly. On the afternoon of August 21, 1954, the spokesman read a message from the East Berlin Ministry of the Interior on East German radio. According to this, the member of the Bundestag and CDU politician Karlfranz Schmidt-Wittmack asked for asylum for his wife, his daughter and himself "after a discussion with political authorities in the GDR". This request was "approved". And, the voice on the airwaves added, Schmidt-Wittmack had been approved to "continue to engage in politics."

The Hamburg Christian Democrats, who had considered themselves to be the political home of the disappeared, were dismayed. It was not until the end of July 1954 that Schmidt-Wittmack asked a fellow party member to arrange household contents and glass insurance for his MP apartment in Bonn. He had made an appointment with a member of the CDU board of directors in the Hanseatic city for the day of his disappearance, but did not show up.

The police weren't quite as surprised - at least those in West Berlin. The Hamburg MP had turned up there surprisingly often; allegedly to go on vacation or "buy furniture". This has been under observation in the divided city for some time. The criminal police confirmed "that Schmidt-Wittmack lived in the Hotelpension 'Royal' in Charlottenburg between August 7 and 10, that during these days he met with eastern liaisons and prepared his conversion," reported WELT on August 23, 1954.

According to their investigations, Schmidt-Wittmack arrived in West Berlin from Hamburg on Thursday, August 19. This time, however, he lived in the “Astrid” boarding house, a few houses next to the “Royal”. He stayed in his room for just under half an hour, changed his suit and then left the house.

In the evening, an unknown person appeared at the boarding house and explained that he had been commissioned to "pick up Mr. Schmidt-Wittmack's luggage". He identified himself to the innkeeper with a member’s business card, on which was written: “I would ask you to hand over your suitcase and handbag to the bearer, and I’m best regards, yours, Schmidt-Wittmack.” A strange, suspicious request – but what should it be the pensioner do? After some hesitation, he handed over the key to the room and allowed his guest's belongings to be taken away.

Just over four weeks earlier, the President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Otto John, had disappeared after the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of July 20, 1944, and reappeared a little later in East Berlin. So now the next defector.

Schmidt-Wittmack, born on July 27, 1914, was considered a political talent. Although born in Berlin, he grew up in Hamburg, where his father ran a cigar factory. He attended the traditional grammar school Christianeum in Altona, where he passed his Abitur. He then studied political science and law in Hamburg. In 1938 he joined the NSDAP; his membership number was 7,014,929. Instead of taking up a civilian job, he did military service in the Luftwaffe from 1939, finally as a lieutenant. From April to July 1945 he was a Soviet prisoner of war.

In 1945, he first joined a Hamburg freight forwarding company as a trainee, soon afterwards became the managing director and finally the owner of a coal company. He co-founded the Junge Union as a CDU youth organization in Hamburg and chaired it from 1946 to 1948. From 1947 he also served as deputy state chairman of the CDU.

By 1948 at the latest, Schmidt-Wittmack had been working for the “party enlightenment” of the communists, i.e. for East Berlin. According to the files, the Stasi's foreign secret service, the HVA, had looked after him since 1952 under the alias "Timm". Their long-time boss, Markus Wolf, described Schmidt-Wittmack's escape in his memoirs published in 1997 - however, as with all public statements by the GDR chief spy, one has to take into account that he lied, notoriously professionally.

"When I returned from vacation, I found Wollweber's instructions to bring 'Timm' to the GDR immediately," Wolf wrote about the order from his superior, Stasi chief Ernst Wollweber: "I resisted tooth and nail, my top source in the CDU – just to hold a press conference at which my husband was also supposed to present theses that he neither knew nor could approve of.”

According to Wolf, Schmidt-Wittmack's information about secret committee meetings was "invaluable, especially about the Federal Republic's attitude towards an American-dominated military alliance". He tried to dissuade the wool weaver, installed directly from Moscow, from the idea. "But he just reiterated that it was all a done deal. I had no choice but to think about how I was going to persuade Schmidt-Wittmack to flee to the GDR.”

According to his own statements, Wolf resorted to a "white lie": He claimed that "the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution had become aware of Schmidt-Wittmack and intended to arrest him". In reality, the suspicions of the West Berlin police only arose during this meeting in the divided city. In any case, the MdB, who had been in office since 1953, agreed "after a short period of reflection" - provided his wife would come along. She agreed.

After his change of sides, Schmidt-Wittmack appeared on August 26, 1954 at a propaganda show of the "Committee for German Unity" in East Berlin and spread wild slander against the Federal Republic and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The CDU immediately requested that his mandate be revoked and he was expelled. The SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag rejected the withdrawal for formal reasons.

In 1955 Karlfranz Schmidt-Wittmack was given the completely meaningless position of vice president of the largely meaningless “Chamber for Foreign Trade” in the GDR. As a factually unemployed but well-paid party functionary by East German standards, he retired early in 1977. He died ten years later – without any significant public reaction.

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