Martin Monath: A Jewish Fighter Among Nazi Soldiers
By Nathaniel Flakin
Pluto Press, 2019
184 pp, $39.00
Martin Monath is one of the great, though barely known, heroes of World War II. A German-Jewish Marxist, he fled the Nazis and operated underground, first in Belgium and then in France.
His astonishing contribution was to produce a Trotskyist newspaper in German, pitched at turning rank-and-file soldiers against the fascists. He argued that the Nazis represented capitalism, while Stalinism was a bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution.
His aim was to create a mass working-class uprising both to overthrow Nazi rule, end Stalinism and ultimately create worldwide socialism.
He began his political life as a member of the Zionist youth in Germany, in which he rose to leadership. He was part of Hashomer Hatzir, a left-Zionist trend that identified with Marxism.
While the Nazis threw Communists and socialists into concentration camps immediately after taking power, they didn’t crush Zionist organisations until 1938. Ironically, Zionists, with their aim of emigration to Palestine, were seen as a safe adjunct to Nazi anti-Semitism.
In his book, Nathaniel Flakin quotes a member of the Hashomer Hatzir at the time explaining that the Gestapo would visit the youth group’s meetings to see what was discussed. He says: “Bible and Jewish studies were allowed actually, but Karl Marx was totally banned.”
The upshot of this was that Leon Trotsky’s criticisms of Stalinism and Nazism were circulating under the noses of the Gestapo — in Hebrew! The Hashomer Hatzir magazine was published in Poland and legally imported into Germany, containing an article by Trotsky that Monath used in educating the youth group.
By 1939, Monath was a convinced Trotskyist. By 1943, he was operating so deep underground in France and using so many aliases that Flakin had to perform a monumental task of sleuthing to uncover his real name!
Monath was expert at underground work, but personally took on the dangerous task of recruiting German soldiers, using the newspaper Arbeiter und Soldat (Worker and Soldier) as his tool. As soldiers joined, they contributed letters that were printed alongside Monath’s more politically-polished articles.
Eventually, a turncoat betrayed the network and the Gestapo swooped. Monath was arrested by chance. The Nazis raided an apartment in the same building he was in and he mistakenly thought they had come for him. He was grabbed attempting to flee over the rooftops.
Monath refused to break under Gestapo torture and so they determined to simply assassinate him and dump his body in a forest. But they botched the job and Monath ended up in a hospital in a serious condition.
The Trotskyist underground discovered his position and prepared to liberate him in a daring raid. But the Gestapo got there first.
After a few days, in early August, 1944, the Trotskyists heard that Monath was being held in a German military hospital and began staking it out for another rescue attempt. However, events got beyond them.
Allied troops were at the outskirts of Paris and the Germans were hectically ferrying people and equipment out of the hospital. Monath was probably in that evacuation.
On August 15, the Resistance called a general strike. However, the German murder machine still ground on. That same day, the final deportation train took Jews to Buchenwald and Ravensbruck.
On August 25, the remaining German troops surrendered. Sometime during that chaos Monath was murdered and his body dumped in an unknown location.
Flakin has included as an appendix his careful translation of every remaining copy of Arbeiter und Soldat, which makes for inspiring reading. There are clear indications of a growing fascist menace internationally, and Martin Monath offers an example of resistance.