Warmongers Unmasked: History of Cold War in Germany, Wilfred Burchett. 1950
Wilfred G. Burchett, Australian author and journalist, who in a few months will be visiting Australia on a lecturing tour to promote Peace and International Co-operation, has had a colourful career.
Born in Melbourne in 1913, his first experience after leaving High School was to encounter “The Great Depression,” which sent him with a swag on his back to many parts of Australia, from the dairy farms of the South to the canefields of the North, seeking work and bread.
He had a flair for languages which later enabled him to fulfil the dreams of his youth of becoming, by travel and study, a citizen of the world with universal friendships. Wherever he went in those hard times his studies in languages continued, and at the age of 24 he had mastered French, Spanish and Italian, and had saved enough money to buy a one-way ticket to London. After a period of near starvation, he secured a position with Thomas Cook and Son, in which his knowledge of languages was invaluable. Within eighteen months of landing in London he was appointed traffic manager of Orient Lloyd Tourist Agency.
This work brought him intimately in touch with refugees fleeing from Hitler’s terror. The tragic plight of those left behind, as pictured by the stories of these refugees, determined Burchett to resign his position and go to their assistance. He set up an organization to obtain visas in other countries and then entered Germany, and was responsible at great personal risks for devising ways and means which enabled many of these otherwise doomed people to escape. His last journey out of Germany nearly cost him his life. He was searched by the Gestapo in his carriage just before the train moved out of Berlin, the day after Hitler decreed that the removing of valuables and securities was a capital offence. In spite, however, of a vigorous search they failed to locate his plant. This ended his work in Germany, for he was now a marked man. In 1938 he returned to Australia and entered journalism, and soon achieved a foremost position. In 1940 he was sent by A.A.P. to New Caledonia to cover the rising of the Islanders against the administration of the Vichy Government. It was there he wrote his first book, “Pacific Treasure Island” This book was published in Australia (Cheshire & Co.), India and the United States, where it was accepted as an authoritative work on New Caledonia.
His political foresight drew him, on his own initiative, to China, just three months before Pearl Harbour, and his first despatch from there won him his position as war correspondent for the London Daily Express – the paper with the greatest daily circulation in the Western world, 3,800,000. Whilst in China, he met all the leaders of the New China, and became a firm friend of Madam Sun Yat-sen, who, when he was later badly wounded in Burma, had flowers sent to his room in the hospital in India.
When the Chinese troops marched into Burma to assist the hard-pressed British, Burchett marched with them. It was too late to avert defeat, and he found himself, with George Rogers, a “Life” photographer, trapped by the Japanese. To escape, they took to the jungle, and guided by Naga headhunters, they reached India after seven days of terrible experiences in country and over mountains never before travelled by white men.
In the second phase of the Burma campaign he was severely wounded – shot up in a sampan by Japanese planes. He still carries with him slugs of metal around the lining of his heart from thirteen bullets that ploughed across his back and badly mangled his leg. His experiences in the Burma campaign are recorded in his second book, “Bombs over Burma,” which was published in Australia and India. While in India he met that remarkable character, Major-General Wingate, and they became fast friends. Wingate’s famous army, supplied entirely from the air, made military history in the Burman campaign, and finally enabled the tables to be turned on the Japanese. Burchett’s intimate knowledge of Wingate and his campaign enabled him to write a book, “Wingate Adventure,” which was described by the “London Observer” as the best life of Wingate written, “which made that extraordinary character intelligible to his critics and satisfactory to his friends.” This book was published in Australia, India and Great Britain, and had a circulation of over 20,000.
After Pearl Harbour, he was assigned by “Daily Express” to the American Fleet and was with the fleet all through its great engagements, and landed with the marines in their attacks upon the various islands. When the British Fleet went into action in the Pacific, Burchett was transferred to the “King George V,” and was on her when she was struck by a suicide plane.
His last war experience is counted one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the war. Whilst the Japanese surrender was being signed on the “Missouri”, he made a one-man journey to Hiroshima, and on the site of the stricken city wrote the first horrifying description of an atom-bomb explosion.
Burchett’s experiences in the Pacific war are told in his fourth book, “Democracy with a Tommy Gun”. This book has been published in Australia, Poland and Germany.
At the close of the war, Burchett was appointed Special Correspondent to “Daily Express” in Europe, and for three years his headquarters was in Berlin. What he has seen and heard there he tells in a book just written, “Cold War in Germany”. This book is a terrible indictment of the policies of some of the Western Powers and shows where the responsibility principally lies for the present breakdown. To ensure mass distribution of this important book, “World Unity Publications,” Melbourne, is producing it in a series of pamphlets, which will shortly be on sale in Australia. Although the manuscript has only very recently been completed, it has already been accepted by publishers in London, Paris, Germany, Bulgaria and Australia.
During the last eighteen months, Burchett has been behind the “Iron Curtain,” representing some of the largest and most important papers of U.S.A. and Great Britain, with his headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. This vital story is told in his sixth book, “The People’s Democracies,” the manuscript of which is on its way to Australia and will be published by World Unity Publications.
At the moment, Burchett is in Italy, and from there goes to France to write the story of countries under the Marshall Plan. This book he will complete when he arrives in Melbourne in September next.
Five years after the war against Fascism, the world is divided into two camps again. Under the guise of an Atlantic Pact of “defence” an anti-Cominform Pact has been signed by the Western Powers as dangerous to world peace as the anti-Comintern Pact of Hitler and Mussolini. The reasons given by the American and British architects of the pact are the same as those given by Hitler and Mussolini, architects of the anti-Comintern Pact – to defend peace and halt Soviet aggression.
In the United States particularly, supporters of the pact use similar language, and phrases as belligerent, as those used by Hitler and Goebbels when they called for a world crusade against the Soviet Union.
Open attempts are made to line up the defeated Fascist states on the side of America and Britain in another attempt to destroy the Soviet Union and the Socialist states set up in Western Europe as a consequence of the defeat of Hitler Fascism. Germany, Japan and Italy are expected to supply much of the man-power in a renewed assault against the Soviet Union.
A bewildered man-in-the-street in England rubs his eyes and asks himself how and why such a state of things has come about. He rubs his eyes in astonishment when he reads that Germany, Italy and Japan, newly democratised and Christianised, are now the “good” countries and must be his allies against the “wicked” red Russians. Government propaganda from the West, repeated in sections of the press, tells him he is menaced by the same forces which in the hour of England’s greatest danger, he recognised as his greatest friends and deliverers. Twice in 35 years Russian forces have combined with British to resist German aggression. In World War 2, the Soviet Army saved Britain from defeat. But now the fighting is over, the man-in-the-street is told he must make sacrifices to build a strong Germany against the Russian Reds.
He knows Soviet “red” remained the same colour before, during and after the war, and that it never did him or the English people any harm. But he is asked to believe that Nazi “black” has been transformed into a democratic and Christian “white.” Despite strenuous efforts by Britain, led by Mr. Churchill, to destroy Soviet power in its infancy 30 years ago, the Soviet Union has not menaced Britain and has not menaced America. But, less than five years after Germany’s attempt to enslave the world and turn Western Europe and England into slave colonies was defeated primarily by Soviet power, American and British intriguers in Washington, London and Berlin, deliberately destroyed the basis for continued four-power unity; deliberately tried to turn the world against the Soviet Union, and even tried to stage incidents could have led to a new world war. The primary excuse given was to save Germany from Bolshevism; stop the “red flood” from advancing to the Rhine.
Part of the purpose of this book is to expose these intrigues as I watched them develop, day by day, during over three years of reporting for an English national newspaper in Germany, after the end of the war.
The deliberate and sustained effort to turn the American and British people against the Soviet Union came as no surprise to any observers who spent, as I did, the war years among American and British professional officers in many parts of the world during World War 2. The deep uneasiness they felt when fresh arrivals from home brought news of the pro-Soviet feeling at the inspiring Russian victories, was a bad omen for post-war developments. How many times did I hear in officers’ clubs in India: “It’s dreadful the way everybody’s gone ‘Bolshie’ at home, old boy. Bad outlook for after the war.” Later one heard the same types relate with deep satisfaction in the officers’ clubs in Berlin: “When our lads get back from here with the Russian atrocity stories they’ve picked up from the Germans it’ll soon stop all this pro-Russian nonsense.” The “glorious and gallant” ally feeling died away among the professional officer class before the last shots had been fired on the Western Front.
That there were good grounds for the “pro-Russian nonsense” right up until the last days of the war was admitted often enough from the very highest sources. As so much has been “forgotten” during the past five years, one is tempted to quote from the exchange of telegrams between Mr. Churchill and Mr. Stalin in January, 1945, when British and American armies were faced with another Dunkirk.
While part of British strength had been diverted to Greece to suppress the ELAS/EAM forces, which had borne the brunt of the fight against the Germans, von Rundstedt opened his Ardennes campaign, smashing through the Allied lines in a blitz offensive. He smashed the American 1st Army with his first blows, pressed on in the direction of Liege, and was in a fair way to break through to Antwerp, isolating the American 9th, the Canadian 1st, and British 6th armies. The Allies were faced with a dreadful defeat with the prospect of another Dunkirk and the evacuation of their forces from the Continent. The Americans alone lost 90,000 killed and wounded.
On January 6th, Mr. Churchill begged Stalin for help. One could imagine that Mr. Stalin, having waited for three years for a second front to take some of the strain off the Soviet armies, might have been content to allow Mr. Churchill to wait. He was well aware of the bitter objections put up by the British Prime Minister to every proposal for a second front. When Roosevelt pressed for action, Churchill grudgingly gave assent to a second front – but in the Balkans.
Even after the date was finally fixed for the landings in France, they were twice postponed. Mr. Stalin must have been well informed about opinions in Washington and London that it was best to let the Germans and Russians slog away at each other until both sides were exhausted. The Western Allies could then step into Europe and take over the role of policeman in the whole of Europe and dictate terms of economic help to a broken Russia, which would force her to abandon the Soviet system. These views were well enough public in the American press for Mr. Stalin to have had them in mind when he received Mr. Churchill’s call for help in January, 1945. Stalin’s armies were resting on the Vistula, having advanced 1,800 kilometres (1,200 miles) from Stalingrad.
“Very serious battles are taking place in the West,” cabled Mr. Churchill, “and the Supreme Commander may be forced at any moment to take grave decisions.” He begged Stalin to start an offensive on the Vistula front “or any other point during the month of January.”
Stalin received the message on the evening of the 7th, and replied within a few hours, the same night. He pointed out that the weather was unfavourable for the Russians to exploit their superiority in aviation and artillery; that they were preparing an offensive, but in view of Mr. Churchill’s plea, he would speed up preparations regardless of weather conditions. He promised an offensive in the second half of January at the latest. “You can be sure,” he concluded, “that we shall do everything possible to aid the glorious troops of our Allies.”
Mr. Churchill, replied, on the 9th, thanking Stalin for his “moving message”.
Marshal Stalin was better than his word. The great Soviet offensive from the Baltic Sea to the Carpathian mountains rolled into action on January 12 – still in the first half of the month, five days after Churchill’s request had been received. One hundred and fifty Soviet divisions took the offensive, smashed through the German lines and flung the Germans back in some places hundreds of kilometres in a few days. The Rundstedt offensive was stopped in its stride. The 5th and 6th German panzer armies were rushed to the Eastern Front; pressure on the retreating allied armies was immediately relieved. After a breathing spell they were able to take the offensive again.
Churchill was full of gratitude on this occasion, and on January 17 sent a telegram to Stalin expressing gratitude and congratulations from “His Majesty’s Government and from my own heart.”
The great service rendered by Marshal Stalin’s armies was afterwards to be paid by Mr. Churchill in other coin, in his Fulton speech demanding a world line-up against the Soviet Union. Mr. Churchill switched in fact as quickly as he did after World War I, when he sent his armies of intervention to destroy the Soviet revolution.
This exchange of telegrams between Churchill and Stalin three months before the war ended is now history, but it has been little publicised. It is worthwhile repeating today to remind the British people that the “pro-Russian nonsense” was well-founded. Part of the purpose of this book is to show that just as Marshal Stalin kept faith with the Western Allies in 1945 – and indeed throughout the war – so did his administrators keep faith in trying to carry out allied agreements in Germany in the years after the war. The failure was not on their side.
Western administrators in Germany, with help from London and especially Washington, took part in a deliberate conspiracy to split the world into two camps; to destroy the goodwill of the masses in America and Great Britain towards the Soviet Union; to deprive the Soviet Union of the reparations due to her; to isolate her from the western world. There was a deliberate conspiracy to restore the regime of the Junkers and Ruhr industrialists in Germany; to prevent any of the social reforms long overdue in Germany, and there was a conspiracy to prepare Germany for a future base of aggression against the Soviet Union. Some facts relating to this conspiracy are contained in official United States documents quoted in the chapters which follow.
The Soviet Union is charged before the bar of world opinion by the Western Powers, as being responsible for all the breakdowns in international relationships; the great barrier to unity and understanding. The leading statesmen of the western world have all accepted the roles of counsel for the prosecution. A large proportion of the western press and other organs of information and propaganda are submitting evidence for the prosecution, which is neither challenged nor cross-examined. It is evidence which is being used to build up a case for war against the Soviet Union, which is war against the whole of humanity.
This book goes in as evidence for the counsel for defence. It is but justice that the character of the witnesses upon whose unchallenged evidence world statesmen are basing their judgments, should be revealed and the value of their evidence determined by their activities as I watched them in Germany.
I can see the word “traitor” forming on some lips as the book is read. It will be charged that some material should not have been published, some secrets not revealed “in the public interest.” As I interpret the role of a journalist or writer, his duties far transcend those contracted with his newspaper or publisher, or those wished on him by Foreign Office or State Department. His wider duties are to the general public, and in times of peace, that means the world public. This conception needs restating today when there is an increased tendency to turn correspondents into political warfare agents.
Those who cry “traitor” because information revealed does not suit the Foreign Office or State Department, might well ponder whether the latter always follow policies which are in the best interests of their own peoples and those of the world at large. My own belief, for instance, is that Mr. Berth’s foreign policies have been and are still every whit as dangerous for the people of Great Britain and for the peace of the world, as were the policies of the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain during the period from Spain to Munich. I should be very loath indeed to suppress information because it conflicted with the policies of Mr. Bevin; but more and more in recent years correspondents are expected to suppress such information.
History will one day decide who were the traitors in Germany from 1945 onwards. Traitors were those who betrayed the hopes of the whole progressive world for peace and continued co-operation with the Soviet Union. Traitors were those who betrayed the policies on which they were elected by the general public in America and Britain. Traitors were those who sabotaged the policies of their own governments, while acting as administrators in Germany. Traitors were those who evaded even orders given by their own military governors in Germany when these orders conflicted with the interests of Anglo-American and German capitalism. These are the traitors, not those who disclose their intrigues. Some of them are named in the chapters which follow; their actions are clearly traced and documented. They are guilty men who should be content that they live in countries where a too generous view is taken of public servants who betray the trust vested in them.
A book at this stage can only lift a tiny corner of the curtain covering the intrigues and machinations of agents of a hundred conflicting vested interests, parading in the uniforms of generals, colonels and control commission officials. They were sent to Germany to ensure that Nazism should be eliminated; that German reparation be made for part of the crimes committed; to ensure that German militarism be destroyed and that Germany should never again disturb the peace of the world. From the western side these aims were lost sight of in the first months of occupation. Indeed they were at variance with the personal views of most of the top-ranking control commission personnel. The task for them seemed to be to find some way of avoiding the implementing of the Potsdam decisions, without officially disowning Potsdam.
The Russians from first to last had a clear line of policy based word for word on the Potsdam decisions. Their policy was to destroy the traditional base of German militarism by dispossessing the Junkers and industrialists; to demilitarise their zone; to exact reparations as promised; give the land to the peasants and the industries to public ownership; punish the war criminals and drive the Nazis out of every public office. Every action taken in their zone was taken with a view to security, and was in accord with the principles of Potsdam and the needs of world peace.
American policy under General Lucius Clay swung in a 180 degree curve from the Morgenthau plan of ruthless destruction of industry and the transformation of Germany into an agricultural state to the Marshall Plan and the Atlantic Pact of restoring her heavy industry; giving her priority in dollar help to contribute to the rearmament of Europe.
British policy vacillated from an early independent line and promises of socialisation in the Ruhr to such complete subservience to the Americans that, the Military Governor, General Robertson, was dubbed by wits “The General with Feet of Clay.”
While these remarkable contortions and somersaults were being performed by the western team, the world public was deceived into believing that it was the Russians who were behaving in such an astonishing fashion. Every western departure from Potsdam was preluded by a shower of reproaches about some fresh Russian “betrayal.” As the press were excluded from all four-power meetings, the public received only such information as carefully-briefed press officers were permitted to give us; information which invariably presented the Russians as “hopeless villains.” Only when some American officials, left over from the Roosevelt New Deal days, reported back to Washington on some of the “goings on” and commissions of enquiry were appointed, did facts come to light which showed just how much press and public were being fooled. The full story, however, will only be told when the full minutes of all four-power meetings are published.
Unfortunately no such commissions of enquiry were set up to check on the activities of British administrators. Recently, however, the British press, has started to send up alarm signals about the growth of nationalism and anti-British feeling in the western zones. Nationalism, of course, was “healthy” so long as it was directed against the Russians or Poles – but how did it get out of hand?
The press might well ask and keep on asking and even, demand a commission of enquiry to determine how all this came about. The answer would be that apart from a few conscientious officials, the administration in Germany, with the help of the British Foreign Office, turned it’s backs on the main principles of Potsdam and have rebuilt in Western Germany exactly the same type of state which handed over power to Hitler. The men of Bonn are the men of the Ruhr barons, with much more open support from American financial interests than even Hitler had in the early days. An aggressive, nationalist Fourth Reich has been set up, lacking only the weapons to set out on the road to conquer Eastern Germany, then the lands beyond the Oder-Neisse Line, Sudetenland, and on to the old “Drang Nach Osten.” They talk about it openly already. That is what the conspiracy has accomplished thus far, but even this is short of the target which some of the “lunatic fringe,” particularly at U.S. headquarters in Berlin, had hoped for. The division of Germany, the tearing up of Potsdam; the setting up of a neo-Nazi regime, is a long way behind the target which had been set for the end of 1949.
The more sinister stage of the conspiracy was to plunge the world into a third world war over Germany. The representatives of the pro-war set in Washington and Berlin knew the difficulties of formally starting an aggressive war. Only Congress can declare war. Even Truman, with his extremely wide powers, cannot declare war without first receiving congressional approval. General Clay and his entourage, supported by War Department big-wigs from the late War Minister Forrestal downwards, plotted against the State Department, against Congress, and against the American people for an early war.
The only way to get America into war was to get the war started first, and seek Congressional approval after. Clay was certain he would not be let down. And that was the meat-and-bones of the conspiracy in Berlin. “We’ll make of Berlin a Pearl Harbor,” boasted Clay more than once to his confidantes. With fighting started in or for Berlin, he was sure public opinion could be swung around to his support. That is why he fought tooth and nail against any settlement of the Berlin question. With the connivance of the War Department, General Clay had powers wide enough to start a shooting war. The British, and even more so the French, were a little nervous when it came to the point of the first shots to be fired, and General Clay’s scheme for sending an armed task force to “bust its way from Helmstedt to Berlin” was received coldly by his allies, and even more frigidly by the U.S. State Department when it got to hear about it.
Fortunately a breathing-space for world peace was won by a heavy vote in favor of peace in the United States when voters rejected the Republican presidential candidate at the November, 1948 elections. One of the most vocal of the pro-war clique, the late Secretary of Defence James Forrestal, went completely mad and committed suicide, others including Forrestal’s assistant, General Draper, Minister for the Army Royall, Minister for Air Symington, General Clay, and the Commandant of Berlin, Brigadier-General Howley, were either removed from their posts by an anxious Truman, or resigned because their policies were outdated or premature. History will show whether “outdated” or “premature” is the correct description of the Clay strategy.
The knotted rope dangling from the back of the Skymaster “Airlift” plane was greasy and black with coal-dust. A black-faced, sweating German, chewing gum, gave a final flirt with his broom and a shower of coal-dust settled over my face and clothes. My baggage had already been tossed aboard. An American crewman shouted down.
“Better hang on to the rope, Bud, and climb aboard. We’re ready to start up.”
The German grinned. “I was with our Luftwaffe. They’re the same as our fellows were. The very devils for efficiency.” In my civilian clothes he had confided in me as one German to another.
The plane was second in a line of eight parked in front of Tempelhof airport, Berlin. As I started to clamber up the swaying ladder, the plane ahead lumbered off, its wings flapping slightly as it taxied towards the take-off runway.
It was mid-April, 1949, a cloudy, gusty day with patches of blue between the clouds. “Slim,” the pilot, was a lanky, brown-faced, cheerful Texan, “Mac”, the co-pilot, a Californian with smooth, fat cheeks just developing into jowls. He looked as if he had been reared on apple-pie and ice-cream and would melt away if left for too long in the sun. Both were in their early twenties.
“Three-minute take-offs today,” roared Mac, above the noise of the engines now being warmed up. He shook his head ominously and pointed ahead at the cloud masses. As soon as we were up in the air, Mac turned round to me, wiping his forehead, the flex from his earphones hanging loose on his chest.
“Three minutes in front of us is a god-damned Skymaster,” he said, “three minutes behind is another one, all at our height. Down there somewheres,” and he stabbed with his earphones towards the clouds beneath us, “there are ‘Limey’ Yorks flying the same corridor, down below them are Dakotas. We’re piled up one atop the other like quoits on a peg and following one another like a string of freight cars. Whoever cooked up this airlift business should have a propeller stuck to his behind, a hunk of coal shoved in his mouth and left to fly the corridors himself.”
At 6,500 feet, the plane evened off, pilot and co-pilot lit cigars and relaxed. After half an hour’s flying, through a hole in the clouds, we could see the Elbe, a silver band laid across strips of brown and green. Spring ploughing was already finished in the Soviet Zone and winter wheat was well above ground.
“America’s new frontier”, the pilot said, pointing to the river, “or at least that’s what the ‘brass’ in Washington try to sell us. What’s going on here, anyway? I came this way in the war and we didn’t carry no coal or flour those days. When were we right? Then or now? It sure beats the hell out of us. What the hell is all this about? Seems to me like some son of a bitch in Washington just opened his big trap too loud and let us pilots carry the baby – or, in this case, the flour and coal. Why are we so tender about these Krauts in Berlin all of a sudden? They were trying to wipe us all out not so long ago. And do I find any of them saying ‘Thank you'? Hell, no. Most of them just ask for more. Some of them say we’re even doing them a bad turn by making dollar debts for them. America’s frontier on the Elbe! Horse shit! The ‘brass’ landed us in all this. Let them get us out of it and let’s go home. What you say, Mac? “
And Mac, the co-pilot, who was now flying the plane and about to veer south-west as we passed over Brunswick, grunted very hearty and definite assent.
The night before I had visited a cinema in the Soviet sector of Berlin to see a new Soviet film, “Meeting on the Elbe” It was a mixture of the true and the fantastic; of realism which was almost documentary and propaganda which was only a slight departure from reality. The types it mirrored were types which existed in American military government. It was the work of a skilled caricaturist. It was a film to make one weep for its implications; the chances lost, the hopes destroyed. It was the background to disillusionment, the explanation of the “air-lift.” Running through the story, despite some exaggerations, there was a strong shaft of bitter truth
To pass the time, there was still an hour to go before we put down at Frankfurt, I related some of the incidents from the film. The hilarious enthusiasm of the meeting between Russian and American soldiers at the Elbe. With a background of a shattered town, still burning German tanks, and swarming, bewildered refugees, American soldiers are shown plunging into the Elbe to swim across to greet their Russian comrades. Soldiers are shown exchanging caps and decorations; Americans drinking Russian vodka, Russians drinking American whisky. The film showed throughout a high degree of friendliness between the ordinary soldiers and non-coms., and frequent visits, in the early days, across the Elbe to celebrate at each other’s parties. One American officer is shown as having good and correct relations with his Soviet opposite number.
From the beginning of military government in this town, through which the Elbe slices, the Russians are shown as giving preference for administrative jobs to German workers who had suffered in concentration camps, while on the American side the Nazis are retained in office.
When a “Wall-street General” arrives with his wife, as U.S. Military Commandant of the town, fraternisation between Americans and Russians soon comes to an end. The Americans are encouraged to form friends with former Nazis instead. Intrigues start against the Russians; a blonde spy is introduced to try and recruit a Russian lieutenant as an American agent. A realistic picture of American black-marketeering is given; the General is more interested in playing the American stock market and acquiring German loot than in the problems of military government. His wife divides her time between black-marketeering and having her portrait painted in a series of period costumes in the style of various German empresses.
An American-inspired attempt to steal formulae belonging to a German chemist, placing the blame on the Soviet lieutenant, is foiled by an alert German worker. The pro-Soviet American lieutenant is disgraced for his friendly relations with the Russians, the blonde is unmasked as a Colonel in the U.S. Army, relations between the two banks of the Elbe are finally broken.
The pilots thought the film must be amusing, but some parts made them angry. When I described the scene where a drunken U.S. captain marks with a piece of white chalk the precious paintings, furniture, and eventually, the girls, he is requisitioning for his Colonel, they found it uproariously funny. Mac said, “Damned it they haven’t hit the jack-pot with that one. A Colonel from my home-town was sent back for doing just that sort of thing, but I guess he was out of luck. Most of them got away with it.”
Yes, the film had its funny moments, but its implications were tragic.
“Just where did everything go ‘kaput’ between us and the Russkies anyway?” asked Mac.
Fortunately for me we were just about to make the approach to the airfield at Frankfurt. I was embarrassed to even attempt a short answer to that question. For three years and three months, with a few breaks in the Balkans, I had been in Berlin as a correspondent, watching the workings of four-power government and the reactions of Germans, but to give the complete answer to Mac’s question, I was not equipped nor is any other correspondent there during that period. The whole truth on critical questions was never available to the press. Public relations officers, whose duty it was to inform the press, acted more as agents of the “cold war” than as a press liaison body. Information to the press officers was often incomplete; there was a deliberate suppression of facts which should have been available to them. They in their turn were briefed as to how much they could pass on to the press.
The stock answer to Mac’s question: “Where did everything go ‘kaput’ between us and the Russians?” is: “When Council Marshal Sokolovsky led his team out of the Control Council meeting on March 20, 1948.” That is not the truth or even a half-truth. It would be as true to say that World War 2 came about because some German soldiers fired shots into Poland.
A correspondent cannot peer into the minds of Bevin, Marshall, Acheson and Co. nor does he have access to the secret written and unwritten agreements made among them. But in Germany it was possible to collect fragments of the results of their policies which, when put together, form a clear pattern of the betrayal of the post-war hopes of the ordinary citizens of all countries.
One thing is clear. If we ignore for a moment the much-publicised causes for the breakdown and the incidents which led, step by step, to the splitting of Germany – and the Allies – at least the results are clear. If one looks at the two Germanys, it is fair to assume they reflect the original aims of east and west. It is not hard to decide which Germany conforms most nearly to that envisaged by Potsdam.
If one can ignore the anti-Soviet catch-cries of “von Paulus armies,” “reparations from current production,” “Volks-polizei,” “concentration camps,” “forced labour in the Uranium mines” which were whipped up in the western press and used as a smoke-screen to cover developments in western Germany, one can see a development each side of the Elbe which represents a step by step building up of the sort of economic and political structure that the Russians and the West, respectively wanted.
In Eastern Germany the big estates have been split up and most of them handed over to small farmers, landless peasants and agricultural laborers. A few were turned into State research and breeding farms. The Junkers were dispossessed. Most of them fled to the west, some were arrested by the Russians and concentrated on the Isle of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea, where they could no longer sabotage the land reform laws. Munitions plants were destroyed, many factories taken back to Russia as reparations, others, which the Russians legally had title to, were left in Germany to work as Soviet-owned enterprises. Most of the rest of industry was nationalised and put under the control of Laender, district or municipal authorities. The greater part of the former owners or directors fled to the West, but in a number of cases they were given good jobs in the nationalised concerns. Chief executive jobs in the factories went to trusted trade union officials; the trade unions had a dominant voice in all factory and mine management problems.
The education system was radically revised; children of industrial workers had priority of entrance to the universities over children of the former upper class. Fusion of the Social Democrats and Communists into the S.E.D. (Socialist Unity Party) placed the latter in a leading political role, but middle-class parties, the Liberal Democrats representing free enterprise and the Christian Democrats representing Liberal Catholics, were also licensed and given an important role in government.
These measures were what the Russians understood as the de-militarisation, de-Nazification, democratisation and re-education of Germans as provided under the Potsdam agreement.
The Russians understood by “democratisation,” giving the workers a dominant role in running the factories, deciding production methods, setting norms of work; giving land-hungry peasants a home over their heads and earth to till; providing education for those who in the past had little chance to enter the universities. These measures were more important to them than the formalities of political democracy which ends with every citizen dropping a ballot paper in a box, voting for programmes which are never implemented, personalities who turn traitor to the causes to which they are pledged.
In the West, in some areas, a limited land reform was carried out, but, in general, the princes, counts and barons still live on their estates in their family castles. Despite promises by the British Government, despite the will of the people expressed through the ballot box, no socialisation measures have been carried out. Heavy industry is still by and large in the hands of its former owners. Nazis are back in their old positions in industry and public life – especially in the judiciary. The pattern of life as it was before in Western Germany has been painfully rebuilt, brick by brick, on the same political, economic and social foundations on which it rested before the war.
Considering the differences in the plans, building methods, traditions and outlook of the builders, it was perhaps, inevitable from the start that the Potsdam Agreement should have been scrapped by the West, and that everything should go “kaput” between the West and the Russians, as Mac had expressed it.
What exists in East and West Germany to-day corresponds roughly to what existed in the minds of Russian and western diplomats when they argued at conference tables in London, Moscow, Paris, Washington and Berlin. More specifically it represents in the West what the Americans had in mind, because both British and French abandoned their independent ideas and surrendered completely to the Americans.
The Americans tolerated independent ideas as long as it suited them and no longer. The French could object to a Central Government for all Germany, as long as that saved the Americans and British the trouble of going back on their agreement at Potsdam. As long as it helped the EastWest split the Americans were glad to have the French say “No” to Soviet proposals for unity. Once the split occurred, however, the French had to swallow their objections and agree to a centralised government for Western Germany. In the same way, British ideas on socialisation of the Ruhr were tolerated as long as they did not interfere with American plans. Then they were quickly shelved.
If one had to name the most important single technical reason for the breakdown in Allied unity in Germany, I would choose the fact that France, who did not sign the Potsdam Agreement, was invited to join the other three Powers in putting it into operation. If there was a chance of reconciling east and west ideas on Germany, and the Potsdam Agreement was the hard, legal expression of such a compromise, we scattered our cards to the four winds when we brought in a non-signatory to the treaty as an equal member of the Control Council.
France was able to, and did, veto all the early proposals for the economic unity of Germany. French General Pierre Koenig, who refused even to live in Berlin, sat back in his chair at the Control Council meetings and refused to agree to any measure which hinted at economic unity. The first steps towards establishing this unity had been agreed on at Potsdam and provided for the setting up of five central economic secretariats to run Finance, Trade, Economics, Posts and Telegraphs and Communications. More than any other single measure the failure to set up these secretariats in the early days signed the death warrant for a united Germany. British, American and Russian delegates spoke in favor of them, General Koenig could puff at his cigar and say, “Messieurs, we never agreed to the Potsdam Agreement. It’s no use quoting any clauses of it to me. Why did you not invite us to Potsdam? We would never have agreed to any clauses which would lead to any centralised government of a united Germany.”
Although the Russians as usual, were given the blame for the failure to establish the Central Secretariats which would have paved the way for economic unity, it was to the French and not the Soviet Government that the U.S. Secretary of State, James Byrne, sent a note in February, 1946, asking the French to withdraw their objections to a centralised administration in Germany. And General Clay admits in his book, “Decision in Germany,” published early in 1950, that it was the French who originally blocked four-power unity. Referring to the Potsdam Agreement, Clay writes:
“Unfortunately it could not become the ‘rule of law’ for the Allied Control Council. The Council could only act by unanimous consent and one of its members, France, was not a party to and never accepted the Protocol in full. Time and again when it (Control Council, author) would attempt to implement the decisions to which France objected, the French member, in exercising his veto power, reminded us that his government was not represented at Potsdam. On several occasions my Soviet colleagues suggested to me that France was receiving too much financial assistance from the United States to maintain such strong opposition unless it was with our acquiescence ... On the other hand, my French colleague said to us later that ... fortunately the French veto had prevented us from creating agencies (the central administrations, author) which would have been vehicles for Communist expansion ... Perhaps,” continues Clay, steering quickly away from this crucial breakdown, “without the French veto we could have created central administrative agencies for Germany as a whole within the first six months and struggled within and through them for a common economic policy.”
One could be pardoned for harboring a reasonable suspicion that it was precisely for providing an escape hatch for unpleasant clauses in the Potsdam Agreement that the Western powers, were so anxious to have a non-signatory sitting with veto powers in the Control Council. The Russians were also prepared to have the French present, but in an observing and advisory capacity only, as they were not bound by Potsdam.
In the first few months of Control Committee activities it seemed possible to salvage something of the wartime unity among the Allied Governments. The personalities of the Western Commanders, General Eisenhower and Field-Marshal Montgomery, and of Soviet Marshal Zhukov, were still warm with mutual respect for deeds during the wartime comradeship of arms. Military government at first looked like a smooth continuation of wartime co-operation. The aims were clear; to purge and punish Nazis, castrate Germany as a future military force, exact repayment in kind for some of the war damage. No word of setting up a complex organisation to control every phase of German economic life. No word that we should give Germany top priority in economic recovery. In those early days there was still an aura of the Roosevelt humanity in the American camp; there was a new Labor government elected in Britain sworn to friendship and understanding with Russia. “We of the left ...” said Bevin, and the people understood the British Labor Party standing solid with the Soviet Union in a new era of friendship. Such illusions were soon shattered by those who understood British policy, when the personalities began to arrive in Germany to carry out this “new era of friendship.”
Two key positions went to men associated with the greatest diplomatic failures in modern British history. Political adviser to the Military Governor was Sir William Strang, remembered as the insignificant Mr. William Strang of the British Foreign Office, sent by Mr. Chamberlain to Moscow in the summer of 1939, to calm British public opinion which was demanding a pact with the Soviet Union. The late Mr. Chamberlain took special planes and flew to see Hitler three times when it was a question of handing over Czechoslovakia to the Nazis. Mr. William Strang, of the Foreign Office, was sent on a long Baltic cruise to Moscow when it was a question of negotiating a pact vital to Britain’s security in the eleventh hour when it was still possible to save the peace of the world. When Mr. Strang arrived in Moscow it was obvious from the first that he had come “to discuss pacts and not to sign them.” He had no powers, every proposal had to be referred to the Foreign Office, which took up to a week or ten days to send replies to his queries. Mr. Strang’s role in Moscow was to play for time for a project much nearer to Mr. Chamberlain’s heart to be worked out in Berlin. In the Soviet mind, Mr Strang became a symbol of hypocrisy and official British enmity towards the Soviet Union.
In Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson and a bright young Embassy secretary, Mr. Christian Steel, were busy trying to persuade Hitler that as long as he kept moving east, he would meet no opposition from the British Foreign Office or Mr. Chamberlain. There would even be financial aid, perhaps a relaxation on the question of colonies. As a token of the financial aid, a Mr. Hudson arrived with offers of £400,000,000 credits for Hitler Germany.
Mr.Christian Steel turned up in Germany in 1945 as assistant to Sir William Strang, the political adviser, and later took over the latter’s functions altogether. It was difficult to believe the British Government was sincere in its desire for friendship and accord with Russia when just these two men were appointed to key positions, where in day-to-day contact with the Russians they had to work out common policy. Mr. Steel’s former chief, Sir Nevile Henderson, wrote a book before he died, “The Failure of a Mission,” which made it clear that the mission failed not through any lack of trying on his part. The mission? To establish closest relations between Nazi Germany and England, even if it meant sacrificing friendships and pacts with Czechoslovakia, France, the Soviet Union, and any other countries which Hitler did not like. Mr. Steel has not changed his strong personal anti-Soviet, anti-Czech, anti-French and extreme pro-Nazi views since the pre-war days.
The Strangs and Steels were accompanied by leading industrialists as economic advisers, by Russian liaison officers with White Russian and army of intervention backgrounds. It was not compatible with good relations with the Russians that one of the chief liaison officers wore two rows of ribbons, only the last two of which were British decorations, the others won serving the Tsar and the “White” armies of Generals Denikin and Wrangel against the Bolsheviks. This particular officer wore the badge “Intelligence Corps” on his shoulder, and in the Control Council combined buffet made no effort to conceal his hatred and contempt of the Russia of the Soviets. The late Chief of Liaison Protocol, Colonel Caird, also wore his Tsarist decorations at any functions where Russian officials were likely to be present.
How can one square these things with the public declarations that we wanted the friendliest relations with the Soviet Union, and were making every effort to collaborate over the Conference table?
The astounding thing is that the Foreign Office sent to key positions in Germany – and the same applies to Austria – officials who were not only extremely anti-Soviet, but who were quite out of touch and sympathy with developments in England. And who is to blame but the Labor Government if many of these officials deliberately sabotaged official government policy in Western Germany, especially in regard to support of the “socialist” parties and socialisation of the Ruhr?
Even the briefest resume of these things seemed incomprehensible to Mac and Slim and we touched down at Frankfurt airport without their being wiser than when we left Berlin as to why things had gone “kaput,” and why they had to fly their Skymaster two or three round-trips a day between Frankfurt and Berlin.
For me, that plane ride was the end of an era. My assignment in Germany was finished. The next day I was to leave in my little Volkswagen and drive away from Germany back to the Balkans, leaving others to watch the wreckers of four-power unity and the would-be wreckers of peace at their work.
This book is not meant to be an historical, chronological account of Military Government in Germany. At most it can partly answer the questions of the Slims and Macs as to how the parting at the Elbe came about. Correspondents have created much of the fog which has prevented the world public from seeing the pattern which was being laid down in Germany. For the most part it was not their fault. Newspapers are interested in the sensational and the dramatic; they are interested in news and not explanations. The emergence of two Germanys was a long and laborious process. Explanations followed long after the news and had to be extracted after days of tortuous questioning of reluctant officials. Official Secrets Acts were used as a means of muzzling officials. This book will help amend some of my own omissions in reporting and will expand on some stories which the public read in sketchy or one-sided versions.
There was the usual bustle on the British military platform at BerlinCharlottenburg station on the night of March 31, 1948. The nightly “duty train” supposed to carry only military personnel or allies accredited to the Control Commission was being made ready for departure. A usual mixture of passengers, soldiers going home on leave, officials going to the British Zone on business, typists going to spend a week or ten days at one of the British leave centres – and a few Germans.
The curious – and a journalist must always be curious – would have noticed that the train guard had been doubled and that just before the train left, the British deputy-chief of staff, Major-General Westropp, arrived at the station, and had an earnest discussion with an R.A.F. Wing Commander, who was the, senior officer travelling on the train. Westropp seemed to have left home in a hurry. He was wearing civilian clothes under his military overcoat.
The train left at 8.30 p.m. on schedule, and arrived on time at Marienborn on the border of the Russian and British zones of occupation at 1 a.m. on April 1st. It had been doing so for over three and a half years.
A British sergeant-major stepped off the train on to the platform with a typed passenger list in his hand, as he had been doing for months past. There were a number of blue uniformed Soviet Zone police on the platform and some Soviet officers. The sergeant-major was greeted politely by the officers, and he handed, as usual, the passenger list over to them. A Russian interpreter explained that as from April 1st, the Russians would have to check passengers’ identity papers to ensure they corresponded with the passenger list. The sergeant-major said he was sure British officials in Berlin knew nothing about this as he had received no fresh instructions. He suggested that as it was only an hour after midnight on the 31st, that the Russians let the train through.
He produced new cards, attached to the passengers’ travel orders, written in Russian, stating that each passenger was accredited to the British Control Commission. The Russian officers were polite but firm. It would only take a few minutes to check identity cards and then the train could proceed. Otherwise not. The sergeant said his orders were not to allow any Russians to board the train.
After half an hour’s courteous discussion, the sergeant-major carried out normal instructions by calling the senior military officer on the train. Wing Commander Galloway came out, rubbing his eyes. He also was astonished at the new regulation of which he knew nothing. Neither he nor the sergeant-major knew what I and General Westropp knew – that the Russians had informed the three Allied Chiefs of Staff in Berlin some time before, that as from April 1st, they would cheek passengers’ papers on all trains, including the military trains, before they left the Soviet Zone.
The Russian repeated this to Wing Commander Galloway and looking at his watch, said: “And you see it is already April 1.”
The Russians knew as well as anybody who ever travelled on the military trains that the passenger lists did not correspond with the actual travellers on the trains. They knew that German political personalities, allied agents, sometimes war criminals on the Russian “wanted list” were travelling back and forth across the Soviet Zone in the allied military trains, contrary to agreements that the trains were to be used only for allied personnel accredited to the Control Council.
The discussion started all over again. Galloway said his clear instructions were to prevent any Russian from boarding a British military train. The Russians were equally adamant. The train could not continue until identity cards had been checked. Galloway offered to line passengers up at the train window. He would walk along inside the train, and make everyone produce his card at the window, and the Russians could walk along the platform checking coach by coach. A White Russian interpreter sharing a compartment with me became pale and agitated when he heard this suggestion being made. Although he was in British uniform it seemed he had good reason to keep out of sight of the Russians, so I judged he had probably been a member of the renegade Vlazov army which had fought with the Nazis.
The Russian officer refused this suggestion, however. “If you have nothing to hide,” he said, “why not let me walk along with you through the train corridor?”
Inside the train, passengers were beginning to wake up and ask what was going on. It turned out that in addition to several Germans there was another former Soviet citizen aboard who was very apprehensive that the Russians were going to board the train.
The discussion was still polite and friendly on both sides, but after an hour and a half of arguing it was obvious no solution could be reached. Wing Commander Galloway, in accordance with orders received before the train left, asked if he could use the telephone. He was taken to the station office and called the number he had been given by General Westropp to call in case of difficulties. There was no reply. He tried at half-hourly intervals, but still no reply.
More trains were due in, so ours was shunted back on to a siding until morning, when Galloway would try to get hold of officialdom in its office hours.
At 4 a.m. we were joined by the British military train coming into the Soviet Zone from the British Zone. The same discussion and arguments. Then it was shunted in alongside our train. Half an hour later we were joined by an American train, then a French military train and another American train. They were all shunted in alongside the first train and looked like a cluster of submarines at anchor. By this time telegrams were going out alarming the world with a new Soviet “atrocity.” The more “Blimp-minded” of the officers aboard the first train were all for “shooting our way through,” in Charge of the Light Brigade tradition.
After some hours the French train allowed Soviet officials aboard, passenger lists were checked and it proceeded on its way half an hour later, accompanied by jeers from some British subalterns, who felt the French were showing “cowardly weakness.” Another American train came in from Bremen and the officer in charge allowed the Russians aboard.
A few minutes later it continued its journey to Berlin. The officer-in-charge narrowly escaped a court-martial when the train got to Berlin.
It’s an April Fool’s Day joke,” said one optimist, “they’ll send the instructions and we’ll move on after mid-day.”
But by mid-day we were still there. The soldiers lit fires, a train with foodstuffs from Brunswick was allowed through by the Russians, the women passengers opened cans, brewed tea and put up a good open-air lunch. It was a sunny day with the first breath of spring in the air. We sat around on a grassy bank and discussed the situation while officials in Berlin held conferences, telephones buzzed and messages flashed back and forth between Berlin, London, Paris and Washington. Those who had to connect with trains for London gave up as the day wore on without any decision to go back or to continue. Galloway spoke with Berlin every hour or so, but no definite orders were given. A special wireless communication car was shunted through to facilitate communications.
Those few hours, while we dozed on a grassy bank at Marienborn, were decisive in setting the “get tough with the Russian” line of policy. The Russian demands were reasonable and within bounds of existing agreements as we shall see later. The French and American military trains which allowed the Russian control, were allowed to proceed with the minimum of delay. But this for General Clay and Co. was too good an opportunity to miss.
At 8.20 p.m., just about 20 hours after the train had arrived at Marienborn, orders were received to return to Berlin. That was the beginning of the events leading to the blockade of Berlin, and the counter-blockade of the Soviet Zone. It could have been settled by one phone call to Wing Commander Galloway without loss of face for the Western Allies.
The next day most of the passengers started out again, this time in a fleet of Control Commission coaches. Passengers were given the same sort of travel documents, and the coaches were stopped at the Russian check point at Helmstedt, 130 miles from Berlin. This time, however, the Russians were allowed aboard to check identity cards against passenger lists. (After all, it was difficult to hide Germans or renegade Soviet agents in a glassed-in coach.) The explanation given for allowing Russians aboard the coaches and not aboard the trains was that coaches were civilian, trains military, although the occupants might be identical.
In Berlin, correspondents demanded to know what was the actual legal position regarding control of roads and railways leading from the Western Zones to Berlin, through the Soviet Zone. To our astonishment, we learned there was no legal position. It had been one of the things overlooked in 1945, when the European Advisory Commission, forerunner of the Allied Control Council, framed its agreements on four-power partition and government of Berlin. After much searching through files and archives, somebody dug up copies of notes of a four-power staff meeting where it was agreed that the Western Allies could use the railway and autobahn leading from Helmstedt to Berlin for moving military and control commission personnel and supplies, and that the Russians would be responsible for the “control and maintenance” of the railway and autobahn. They had actually waived their right to control until it became clear that the privileges were being abused.
In Austria the Russians had exercised the right of control from the first days of occupation. As with Berlin the joint occupied capital of Austria lay deep inside the Russian zone of occupation. Identity cards are checked by Russians on all Allied trains, grey Russian passes must be held by any Allies using the motor roads through the Soviet Zone to Vienna. No difficulties have arisen because of this. Allied trains and motor transport have moved back and forth without a hitch. Russian officials peer into sleeping car compartments on the British sealed military train, and no one bothers about it. It is accepted and normal. And if so in Austria, why the panic in Germany?
Can one imagine the situation in reverse? Russian military trains running through the British or American Zones to an international capital in Frankfurt or Dusseldorf? Would the Western Allies have demanded the right to cheek identity documents? Most certainly. And especially if it were suspected that some of the travellers were German “Communist agents” bent on stirring up troubles in the Ruhr, or carrying out espionage activity in the Western Zones.
With the question heading up almost to a war situation, it was the feeling of many in Berlin, that the question of the military trains could have been settled amicably and made a test case as to whether co-operation was to be desired. But the way it was handled on the Western side, it could lead to the suspicion that we were eager to accept the incident, to preserve it unsettled The more such incidents that could be collected the better chance of making a “Pearl Harbor” out of Berlin, and speculation on such possibilities was very popular in circles close to General Clay at that time.
The Russians well knew what type of German was being carried on the military trains. And we knew that they knew it. For weeks before April 1, the Russians had been complaining about it. The chief of the British Travel Bureau in Berlin, a good old soldier turned civilian, Mr. Phil Scott, ruddy-faced and prodigious drinker of pink gins, had been thumping generals’ desks for weeks past pleading that Germans be sent back and forth by plane, instead of on the trains. There was no possibility of Russian control of air passengers. Scott knew the Russians had “caught on to” the transport of Germans when they asked that all passengers should have a Russian translation of their travel orders which stated that they were Allied and accredited to the Control Council. He was forced to give these same passes to any German that the British political division wanted to move back and forth between Berlin and the British Zone.
Evidence of some of the types of Germans who used to be given such documents came to light in an “Open Letter” to the Social Democrat Party, dated April 9, 1949. It was written by Heinz Kuehne, former head of the Berlin branch of the Eastern Bureau of the Social Democrats in the Western Zone. (Eastern Bureau was a Social Democrat espionage centre, specialising in the Soviet Zone.) The letter was published in the leftist press in Berlin and the Western Zones on April 11 and 12. Kuehne wrote that he acted as a courier between the West Zone Social Democrats and former Social Democrats in the S.E.D. in the Soviet Zone, from February, 1948, until he took over as chief of the Berlin branch in 1949. He said he had become disillusioned when he found that he had been turned into an espionage agent for the Western Powers.
“Under the pseudonym of Heinz Mueek,” he writes, “I went for the first time into the Soviet Zone in the beginning of March, 1948, with Richard Lehner.
“This round trip made it clear to me that leading members of the Eastern Bureau were in regular contact with the English and Americans. Apart from the fact that we had false identity documents that the British helped us obtain, we were also provided from the same source with food, cigarettes and ready money. We travelled in an English military train which could pass the frontier without any control. After this first trip I made fifteen more. I travelled to Mecklenburg and Saxony, to Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt, visited the agents in each of the Lands and in Berlin. With each trip it became clearer to me the criminal role the Social Democrat leaders were following. Not only I but ...” and he mentions the names of five other couriers, “constantly used forged papers that we received through an English agent, to legalise our presence in the Soviet Zone ... The travel documents for the interzonal and military trains were provided by the deputy leader of the Eastern Bureau, Stephen Grekowiak (pseudonym Stephan Thomas), who maintained constant contact between the S.P.D. and the British occupation authorities. The representative of these authorities at the Eastern Bureau, Mr. Carr, sometimes provided the couriers with forged passports of officials of the Swiss Red Cross. I myself once had one of these, issued in the name of Lieutenant Jean Andre ...
“I was repeatedly given the task on my trips of collecting military information that would be useful to the English and Americans.
“Thus for Mr. Carr, I had to cheek about warships at Rostock Harbor and at Warnemuende, about their types and armament, about the type of coastal fortifications, the loading capacity of the harbors and the cranes, as well as the type of radar antennae used on any Soviet warships.
“Also for the English I gathered information in Thuringia about the Ohrduf works which before the surrender produced V weapons, about petrol storage depots and their capacity, and the state of the roads leading to them. The British and Americans were very interested in information about Soviet troops stationed near the border areas, their strength, equipment and locations.”
One could fill many pages with the “Open Letter” of Heinz Kuehne as he details his activities for the S.P.D. Eastern Bureau. The interesting thing is that it was just in early March, 1948, when Kuehne says the Eastern Bureau began to get busy sending its couriers back and forth on the military trains, that the Russians began to get tough and demand control of passengers.
It is more than probable that they were well-informed as to what types of Germans were travelling, even if they could not put their fingers on the actual proofs.
Marshal Sokolovsky put the official end to the Allied Control Council when he walked out of the meeting on March 20, 1948. Actually the Control Council had ceased to function as such since 1947, when the British and Americans fused their zones into Bizonia. After that date the Control Council could be used only to make decisions affecting the Russian and French Zones, as Generals Robertson and Clay were taking decisions for Bizonia without any reference to the Control Council.
At the meeting previous to the fateful one on March 20, I had the good fortune to be present half an hour before the discussions started. I managed to squeeze myself in as a photographer and have a look at the personalities in their proper setting, grouped around the conference table in the Allied Control Building, as they decided the fate of Germany, perhaps the issue of peace or war.
In appearance General Sir Brian Robertson of Great Britain and Marshal Vassili Sokolovsky of the Soviet Union dominated the room. The delegates of the four powers sat round four sides of a square of tables. Robertson opposite Sokolovsky, General Lucius Clay opposite General Pierre Koenig.
Robertson, tall, with a long head, severe intelligent face, military moustache and horn-rimmed glasses. Not a man one could expect pity from at a court-martial. Also not a man to be flurried easily. One who weighs his words. His favorite trick when he wanted to play for time, before answering a particularly sharp question, was to take off his glasses, fold them on the table beside him, and stroke his long chin, then throw his head up with an abrupt gesture to deliver his answer or opinion. When he has said something particularly cutting, he often flashes on a smile which comes from the lips only. He prides himself on bitter retorts intended to silence the timid.
General Robertson is a South African soldier-businessman – now soldier-diplomat. He was a director in South Africa of the Dunlop Rubber Corporation; he has the cold hardness one would expect from a soldier in two wars and a very successful businessman in one of the world’s greatest capitalist concerns, in between the wars. It is said, and I find it easy to believe, that the Russians respected only Sir Brian’s faculty for arguing coolly and politely the toughest problems. (Sir Brian later became the first British High Commissioner for Western Germany, and was eventually succeeded in that position by Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, formerly First Secretary to Sir Nevile Henderson, Britain’s Ambassador to Hitler. Sir Ivone and Sir Nevile did much to pave the way for the Munich Agreement.)
On Sir Brian’s right sat Mr. Christian Steel, political adviser referred to earlier. Very tall, fresh-faced and. good-looking, a trifle languid, Steel was always faultlessly dressed. He always seemed more at home in a dinner jacket than a lounge suit – and he looked the perfect prototype of a British career diplomat. His hair and dark moustache always neatly and smoothly brushed, Steel has the professional diplomatic vagueness and evasiveness in serious discussion, but a great fluency in small chatter and good stories about personalities he dislikes. For all his pose and appearance, Steel is at bottom a petty, ungifted figure, for whom a Socialist government should have found no place.
The economic adviser, Sir Cecil Weir, sat on the left of General Sir Brian. A small man with white-hair and moustache, Sir Cecil used to be President of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and a director of the Schroeder, Weir and Co. Shipbuilding Yards. As hard as the flinty rocks of Scotland whence he hails, Sir Cecil was best known to the press for his reluctance ever to give a straight answer to any question put to him.
These three men form the hard core of the team sent to interpret British “Socialist” policy in Germany – and in those days, to weld British policy into a common programme with Russians, French and Americans.
Across the table from Sir Brian’s team was Sokolovsky, the youngest of the four military governors. He is a good-looking, rather hawk-faced man, sharp and intelligent, with a charming smile which completely lights up his normally rather serious face. Sokolovsky was a successful general who, took part in the Soviet offensive on the Central Front, and later became Chief of Staff to Marshal Zhukov. He had an advantage over both Clay and Robertson, in that he was an active, front-line general throughout World War 2 while his British and American colleagues had desk or administrative jobs.
He has personal charm with a good sense of humour of which he made use several times to break up tense situations which developed in the Control Council.
His economic adviser, Koval, was a deputy-minister of heavy industry in the Soviet Union, a man of terrific energy and stamina – as his opposite numbers, on the Economic Directorate knew to their cost. A thick-set dark man, with a massive head, Koval was reputed to stand head and shoulders over his Allied colleagues, for his detailed knowledge of capacities and locations of German industry and his encyclopaedic memory. It was said of him that he had a verbatim record of the minutes of all meetings he had attended in his head, could refer to dates and figures which were invariably right when the minutes were consulted.
The Soviet political adviser, Semyenov, a balding, blondish man, sat on Sokolovsky’s left. As distinct from any of the other top-ranking Allied officials, Semyenov from the first day of his arrival took a great interest in cultural affairs and did much to promote the active cultural rebirth in Berlin and the Soviet Zone in the early days of the occupation.
Between the British and Russian teams on the left sat the American delegation, headed by General Clay. Clay is short and slight, with a bony face dominated by large ears and a large nose. He has a wryish sort of smile which never seems to break right. out into the open. His smiles in fact could best be described as wolfish.
Extremely clever, Clay had one personal weakness which put him at a disadvantage with both General Robertson and Marshal Sokolovsky. He lost his temper. While the British and Russian military governors debated the hottest, most controversial question in glacial calm, Clay would explode in a burst of fury. He sometimes used this way out when he had no further arguments in his arsenal. A notable case was in September, 1948, at a critical meeting in Berlin to work out details of an agreement already reached in Moscow to settle the Berlin currency question and lift the transport restrictions. It was the first meeting of the four military governors since March 20. When it seemed that nothing could prevent agreement being reached, Clay had an outburst of the “tantrums,” exploded in a fit of rage and stalked out of the meeting. Of course, the press were briefed that the Russians had caused the breakdown.
In some respects Clay was the most formidable figure in the Control Councils; he was certainly the most dangerous. He had far wider powers than his colleagues. Clay could and did initiate and make policy without reference to Washington. This was done, of course, with the connivance of the War Department, headed by the late Dillon Read banker, Mr. James Forrestal. Clay’s economic adviser, Brig.-General, Draper, also a director of Dillon Read, later became Forrestal’s assistant.
The State Department seemed reluctant to take the responsibility for running Germany. They could give no orders to General Clay direct, but had to ask the War Department to forward any “requests” they had for Clay. The War Department at times did not even bother to inform the State Department of orders they had sent Clay, or of policies which Clay had initiated on his own account. Clay could take actions on his own and inform the War Department afterwards. The War Department informed the State Department or not, as it thought fit.
Army Secretary Kenneth Royall at his first press conference in Berlin, let slip the fact that the War Department acted at times without informing the State Department and that the latter sent instructions to its representative in Berlin without informing the War Department. Be that as it may, General Clay certainly had greater powers in his hands in Berlin than any American abroad in peace time, with the possible exception of General MacArthur in Japan.
Although he could not formally commit his country to peace or war, he could involve it in a shooting incident, or in situations which must lead to shooting incidents, without reference to Washington. The war set, in Washington, which backed Clay, counted on him doing just that, to avoid the difficulties of having Congress pass an Act of War, before the shooting started. There was the specific incident of Clay asking British and French support for an armed task force with bridging equipment, to force a passage through to Berlin during the blockade, which must have involved shooting.
The other three military governors had clear briefs in front of them at Control Council meetings beyond which they could not go without consulting their governments. Marshal Sokolovsky had the Potsdam Agreement as his blue-print and would certainly not go beyond that on important questions without receiving fresh instructions. But not so General Clay. He could take decisions involving peace or war and expect his government to back him, afterwards. The American people without knowing it hall been robbed of vital democratic rights when such powers were given to one man – the American Pro-Consul in Europe, as Clay liked to hear himself described.
General Clay’s political adviser, the representative of the State Department, was Robert Murphy, a pet of the Vatican, former Ambassador to Vichy France, responsible for appointment of pro-Vichy and Fascist Admiral Darlan as Military Governor, North Africa, after the Allied invasion. Murphy is a diplomat of the Christian Steel type, slick, good-looking, full of the vague chatter and gossip which masks deceit in a diplomat; full of forced “bonhomie” and an apparent frankness which deceived the naive only. Ambassador Murphy was removed from Berlin in mid-1949 and appointed ambassador to Belgium. Brigadier-General Draper, Clay’s first economic adviser, as mentioned earlier, was a leading executive of the firm of Dillon Read & Co., allied to the Morgan banking house, a firm which helped finance the Ruhr heavy industry after World War I. Draper, after serving as Assistant Secretary of Defence, has since returned to his old job with Dillon Read.
Opposite General Clay’s team sat General Pierre Koenig, nominee and personal friend of General de Gaulle. Koenig was the only one left of the original four military governors, a large man with greying hair and moustache. Bluff and jovial, he resembles an English squire. He had adopted as his own personal dislikes the main French disagreements with the Potsdam Agreement. He detests Berlin, which at one time it seemed the other three military governors were prepared to accept as the capital of Germany. He never stayed in the city but flew back and forth from his headquarters in Baden-Baden – named by wits Vichy-Vichy – to attend Control Council meetings. He was much happier when he could desert Berlin altogether and meet his American and British colleagues in Frankfurt. In the early days, he forbade his staff to use the words “Central Government” in his presence. Later the word “Trizonia” was also banned until Marshall Plan pressure forced his government to accept the fusion with Bizonia, which was resisted for so long. From the first days Koenig’s role was to prevent any moves towards a central government for Germany, to prevent or delay the revival of German industry. The idea of a new German Reich with a capital at Berlin was anathema to him. He ordered that the word “Reich” be abolished in every administration in his zone. Signs and stamps had to be altered. Reichsbahn became Deutschebahn, Reichspost, Deutschepost, signposts and letterheads were all changed at General Koenig’s whim. In his younger days he had served as captain in the French Foreign Legion in North Africa and he was a fighting general in World War 2.
Koenig, in the days of the March crisis, was assisted as political adviser by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedoux and by M. Rene Sergeant, Inspector of Finance, as economic adviser. In qualifications and intelligence, these two most closely measured up to the Soviet counterparts.
It has been said incidentally, by officials close to General Robertson and General Clay, that despite their Siamese-twin like public pronouncements, each of them got along better personally with Marshal Sokolovsky than with each other. Robertson is said to have appreciated Sokolovsky as a man of charm and culture; Clay is said to have praised him as a “straight-shooter.” These personal feelings did not, however, prevent the western military governors intriguing against their Soviet colleague.
It was Marshal Sokolovsky who called the fateful meeting of the Control Council on March 20, 1948. The military governors took it in turn, month by month to preside over the meetings and March was the Russian month. The Council normally met every ten days, on the 10th, 20th and 30th of each month. An agenda was usually arranged before by the Coordinating Committee consisting of the military governors or the deputies. On this occasion no agenda had been fixed beforehand. Marshal Sokolovsky wished to discuss with his colleagues, three-power talks in London, attended by Generals Clay and Robertson, which had taken important decisions on Western Germany without any reference to the Control Council.
Generals Robertson and Clay refused coldly to discuss the matter. “No decisions were taken at all in London” said General Robertson, “we had a discussion of German problems and made certain recommendations to our governments. Nothing at all for the Control Council to discuss. We have received no fresh directives from London.”
Marshall Sokolovsky’s insistence that very grave decisions had been taken on matters affecting the whole of Germany, decisions which wrecked every paragraph of the Potsdam Agreement, did not change the attitude of the Western military governors. They refused even to consider a discussion.
The western representatives refused to discuss this item and General Clay expressed his annoyance at having been called to a special meeting to “waste time” on such matters.
Marshal Sokolovsky once again asked for a discussion on a matter which he insisted again was of vital interest to the German people and fell within the scope of the Allied Control Council. This time there was no response from Generals Robertson and Clay.
The Soviet Marshal then got up and walked out of the conference room, stating as he got up “The session is closed,” and that was the formal end of four-power government in Germany, two years and nine months after the signing of the Potsdam Agreement. One must use the term “formal end” because the actual death-blow to four-power control was dealt over a year earlier when the United States and Britain joined their zones together and set up the Bizonal administration, putting into effect economic and political policies in their half of Germany, over which the Russians – and even the French – had absolutely no control.
“The intention,” it was stated at the time, “is not to divide Germany, but to bring about the economic unity called for by Potsdam as rapidly as possible.” This made about as much sense as a doctor trying to cure a patient of heart disease by chopping off his legs.
The Soviet walk-out on March 20 need not have meant even the formal end of the Allied Control Council. In April the French were in the chair; in May the Americans, and in June the British. Had the Western Allies been interested in continuing four-power control, General Koenig could have called a meeting in April, the others when their turn came. But they were only too relieved that the breakdown had been provoked when the Russians were in the chair. Marshal Sokolovsky’s statement that the “session is closed” was presented to the world public as a statement that the Control Council ceased to exist.
The events of the days following Marshal Sokolovsky’s walk-out had a vital bearing on the future of Germany and they deserve a chapter to themselves. Concrete, practical measures were taken in those days by the Western Allies to ensure that Germany should be finally split.
Currency reform was the issue on which the unity of Germany was to be decided. Everybody was agreed that there must be a new currency. The old marks had been run off the Nazi printing presses by the billions without any real backing. They had been added to by Allied occupation marks. In effect, they were worthless. Farmers were reluctant to exchange their farm produce for notes with which they could buy nothing. Manufacturers had no incentive to rebuild, plan and produce goods. The honest worker who put in his eight hours a day at factory or office, found the money he earned would buy less goods than he could obtain in a few minutes’ activity on the black market.
If the Allies could agree on one currency for the whole of Germany, then there was hope for gradual agreement on other matters, primarily in the economic field. If ‘east and west’ decided on separate currencies, economic and political unity would be postponed for years. The matter had been discussed by the Allies for many months in 1947, but no agreement had been reached. The Russians wanted the Potsdam provision for the setting up of a central German financial secretariat to precede the printing of a new currency.
For several months prior to March 20, 1948, propaganda had been fed to the western-licensed German press, that the Russians were printing notes of their own and were about to introduce a unilateral currency reform. I was myself told by the deputy chief of a division in the British Control Commission that he had indisputable proof, in early 1948, that the Russians had distributed the new notes to banks in the Soviet Zone. Had he seen the notes? No. Could he describe them to me? No. Quantities? No. Dates of issue or distribution? No.
In the four-power discussion on currency the Russians were said to be holding out for an unrestricted printing of notes in Leipzig in the Soviet Zone, without any control by the other Allies. Every word of this was false, and was put out only to cover up American intrigues designed to avoid a united currency at all costs.
In January, 1948, shortly after General Marshall broke up the London conference of the Council of Foreign Ministers which was debating the German problem, General Clay returned to Berlin and announced that he “was going to have one more try to get agreement on currency reform.” The implication was that for the sake of public opinion, he was prepared to talk about it once more.
British financial experts had been convinced from the earliest days of discussion on currency reform that agreement was possible on this fundamental question. A report by Mr Chambers, head of British Finance Division, following a trip to the Soviet Zone, emphasised that there was little to choose between the Soviet plan and the British for a united currency. Mr. Chambers was replaced shortly after that and the stories were churned out again in the western-licensed Berlin press that the Russians and the Russians alone were blocking currency reform because they wanted to issue their own currency with no control on the amounts issued.
After General Clay’s January, 1948, announcement, there were “closed” meetings of the Control Council, that is to say, meetings at which only the military governors and their financial advisers were present and about which no communiques were issued. General Clay’s adviser produced a plan and the Russian financial chief, Valetin, produced a counter-plan. In principle, the plans were very similar. After several more “closed” meetings, agreement was so near that it was left to a special financial committee to iron out the final details and report back to the Control Council or the Co-ordinating Committee by at latest April 10, 1948.
In early March I had dinner with one of General Clay’s financial advisers. He was very gloomy and depressed, and had no appetite. Gloomy and depressed because, as he said, “It looks as if we can’t get out of having a united currency now.” He added, with some bitterness, “God knows what was biting Clay, when he made that statement about having another shot at currency reform. Now we’re in a devil of a jam. The Russians have agreed to everything and it’s going to be as embarrassing as hell to wriggle out of it now ... We had everything ready for something quite different and then Clay had to go and put his goddamned big foot in it.”
“But I thought you had been fighting for this for years past,” I said, most astonished. “That’s what the press have been led to believe certainly.”
“How can we have a common currency with them unless we can control their imports and exports?” he asked, putting forward arguments which had never seen the public light before. “To do that we would have to control their zone. And if we want to control their zone, they would want to control our zone. And where the hell would we be then?”
By the middle of March, however, the four powers had reached such a stage of agreement, that they had decided how much money was to be printed, at what rate the new notes would be exchanged with the old. It was decided to print the notes under four-power control at the Reichsdruckerei (State Printing House) on the borders of the Soviet and American sectors of Berlin. The Russians had abandoned their early project of dual printing in Berlin and Leipzig. The designs of the notes were approved – in deference to General Koenig’s phobia, they were to be known as Deutschemarks instead of Reichsmarks. Plates were cut and printing was actually started.
The campaign was stepped up in the press that the Russians were preparing to flood their zones with new currency to cover the fact that new notes for the Western Zones were actually lying offshore in United States freighters in Bremen Harbor. They had been printed before General Clay’s hypocritical announcement about “one more shot for united currency reform.” They had been printed in the United States on the same presses which printed the American scrip dollars for use of the U.S. occupation forces in Europe.
The situation on the day of the crisis in the Control Council was that to all intents and purposes, united currency for Germany was an accomplished fact. The notes were ready to come off the printing presses.
Marshal Sokolovsky withdrew from the Control Council on the Saturday. On the Monday, as Control Council president until the end of the month Sokolovsky called for a meeting of the special finance committee. Half an hour before the committee was due to meet, the British and Americans followed by the French announced they would be unable to attend. Later in the week, Marshal Sokolovsky called for two meetings of the Finance Directorate, a permanent body comprising the four Allied chiefs of their respective finance divisions. In each case the Western Allies replied that as Sokolovsky walked out of the Control Council, the latter no longer existed and they would attend no further committee meetings.
General Clay’s financial advisers could breathe freely again. Their plans were saved after all. April 10th came and passed. No report was presented by the special financial committee. General Koenig called no meeting of the Control Council. The completed plan of the financial committee was never seen. Eventually work stopped at the Reichsdruckerei and the four-power control officers were withdrawn.
It is true that Russian officials did not attend other committee meetings scheduled for between March 20 and 31st, and this was partly made the excuse for the Western Allies not attending the finance committee meetings. Russian officials with whom I have discussed this point, said that after all the hypocrisy in the past, they wanted to test Allied sincerity on this one point. They wanted to make a test of currency reform and if that worked out favorably, they would accept it as a sign that the Western Allies still wanted some form of four-power co-operation. Almost all other questions had bogged down in the Control Council. Even important matters which in the past had worked smoothly, as for instance the highly important question of inspection of demolition of military installations, was stopped by the Western Powers although it had worked well for a year and a half. The Russian view was that if the Western Powers wanted to co-operate and not just discuss co-operation, they would agree on currency reform, and on that basis one could painfully rebuild co-operation m other fields.
The chance was lost. Three months later, on June 20, the bright new notes, printed many months previously in the United States, were introduced in the Western Zones. The Russians as from midnight June 20, clamped a control on all road, rail and river transport leading into their zone from the west. The new currency in the west of course made the marks in the Soviet Zone valueless, and the whole of production in the Soviet Zone could have been bought up with the new west marks. One would have thought that having decided to go ahead with a separate currency, the Western Allies would at least have warned the Russians, so they could prepare for simultaneous reform in their own zone.
The barrage of propaganda that the Russians had prepared a separate currency, was shown to be false. The Russians had prepared nothing, had prepared no notes at all. After the western currency was issued, as an emergency measure, the Russians improvised stamps which were pasted over the old marks circulating in the Soviet Zone. A currency reform was carried out there at short notice with the improvised notes which were replaced after three or four months by a new Soviet Zone note issue.
Germany was sliced in two as cleanly as if she had been divided by a surgeon’s scalpel, when German banks all over the Western Zones began handing out fifteen new marks for fifteen old ones, to each of the 50,000,000 citizens of the British, French and American occupation zones on a Sunday in June, 1948.
German citizens were taken in at first by the dramatic, immediate results of currency reform in the west. Goods that for years past had only been exchanged behind closed doors, flooded the shop windows that first Monday morning after the new money was issued. The wealthy and the black marketers were able to deal in the open now: in fact they were forced to for a while, to accumulate some of the new money, rigidly rationed at first.
The food “crisis” which had enabled the United States to get complete control of Western Germany disappeared overnight. The day following currency reform, many categories of foodstuffs, including eggs, vegetables and poultry, were removed from the list of rationed goods.
The wealthy, who had invested their war profits and black market earnings in consumer goods, gradually released these on to the markets and were able to buy openly the luxury foodstuffs which appeared like magic in the shops. The workers who had honestly sold their labour for bad marks in the past were as badly off as before, except that they could now gaze at glittering shop windows. In many respects they were worse off than before. Now that the new currency had the real value of scarcity, wholesale dismissals of workers started. Employers could afford the luxury of large staffs of cheap labour when they were paying in worthless paper money, but the axe soon fell after the currency change.
Within six months of the new money, unemployment in the Western Zones had risen from nil to almost a million. Within eighteen months the figure had risen to over 2,000,000, ten per cent. of all workers, according to the West German Chancellor, in February, 1950.
The display of fat, dressed geese and Entertainer wines; of cream sponges and preserved cherries, and of imported delicacies from Belgium, Holland and America, in the shops which sprang into being in Koenig, Dussedoer, produced nothing but bitterness in the hearts of the Ruhr workers who saw for the first time in open display the luxuries which the company directors and black marketeers had been enjoying throughout the worst days of the food crisis.
The exploding of the myth of the desperate food shortage was one of the most surprising results of currency reform in the West. From the early days of 1946, food shortage had been a very real thing to the industrial workers. They went without food and so did their families. Rations were cut over long periods from a promised 1,500 calories a day to as low as 600 and 700 calories daily. A slice of bread, two or three small potatoes a day was the normal diet for hundreds of thousands of working class families in the Ruhr area for months on end. Yet the day after currency reform, the Economic Council meeting in Frankfurt, debated a proposal to end potato rationing, because a sudden “surplus” had developed in the American Zone. The farmers could not get enough of the new marks quickly enough with normal quota buying by the government, and were dumping their hoarded supplies on the market.
There were many things which did not ring true about the recurring food crises if one checked up on some elemental facts. And the surprising end to the food shortage within 24 hours of currency reform indicated that there should be some checking of the facts.
The Soviet Occupation Zone including Berlin (which was fed by the Soviet Zone originally, the Western Allies paying for their sectors by coal shipments from the Ruhr), totalled about 22,000,000 population living on a total area of 6,201,500 hectares of arable land. The British and American Zones, totalled a population of 44,000,000 living on 11,052,600 hectares of arable land.
During the period of the food crises of 1946-48, the Soviet Zone maintained a consistently higher ration scale for their population. Not only was the ration scale higher on paper, but in the Soviet Zone it was met; in the west it was officially only half to two-thirds what was promised on paper. The Soviet Zone supported in food grains, potatoes, meat and butter the Soviet Army and administration without any food imports – until 1948 – and at the same time exported about 200,000 tons of mixed foodstuffs to the Western Zones. How was this possible? In zones with almost the same arable acreage of land per head, the West imported half the foodstuffs officially consumed and maintained a much lower standard of feeding, while the East was self-supporting with an exportable surplus.
It is not enough to say that the rich agricultural areas of Germany were in the East. That used to be true, but most of that line lies behind the Oder Neisse line, and is now part of Poland. The American occupation zone includes Bavaria, which is certainly the richest agricultural land left in Germany. The British Zone includes Schleswig Holstein and Land Niedersachsen, both rich areas. None of these areas had suffered in the war to anything like the extent the Soviet Zone suffered, during the gigantic battles which swayed back and forth there.
The explanation lies in the fact that the Russians had taken Clause (c) of Paragraph 17 of the Potsdam Agreement very seriously, while the Americans particularly had ignored it. Para. 17c of the Economic Principles states that “measures shall be promptly taken to maximise agricultural output.”
A breakdown of crop figures for 1946-7 after the first serious food crisis shows this was not done in the bizonal area. An incredibly large proportion of land was being used to grow cattle food and for pasture land, which should have been used for growing food crops for direct human consumption.
The following table is from official figures compiled by U.S. Military Government.
In other words, with slightly more than half the total area of arable land, the Soviet Zone devoted almost exactly as much space to direct food crops as did the Western Zones. Food experts estimate that land devoted to crops for direct human consumption, bread grains, rice, etc., feeds three times as many people as land devoted to indirect food crops, that is fodder for producing milk or meat. China and India, for instance, could support only one-third their present populations if they decided to turn into meat eaters and switch their crops from rice to animal fodder.
In 1947 there was less land under cultivation in the American Zone than in 1938, despite the fact that there was virtually no destruction of farm implements or wholesale slaughtering and removal of draught animals as in the Soviet Zone. In 1949 there were 200,000 fewer people engaged in agriculture than in 1948. Grain production had fallen by 10 per cent., potatoes by 17 per cent.
There was no attempt to enforce an increase of the area under food grain cultivation; there was no enforcement of collection of those crops actually grown; there was no real pressure put on the Laender governments to export food from surplus areas to the starving Ruhr. Year after year, the Bavarian Government refused to send its surpluses to the Ruhr. Farmers preferred to feed their potatoes to the pigs. For months on end in 1946 and 1947 when Ruhr workers were starved of meat and ordinary consumers did not see meat for weeks on end, there was a glut of food, especially meat, in Bavaria. Half-hearted threats by some American officials that they would go in “with bayonets if necessary” to prise food from the farmers were ignored by local Bavarian officials.
When it came to the point of drastic action against the Bavarian Land Government, a sudden tenderness for democracy and rights of the Laender became apparent. It was decided it would be undemocratic to force the Bavarian Government if a majority in the Landtag did not want to Where Laender rights coincided with the real aims of American military government, they were always respected.
After the Bizonal Economic Council was set up in Frankfurt, representatives from the British Laender, demanded that food officers from the Council be sent to cheek on what was happening to the food collection campaign in Bavaria. When inspectors were sent, they were thrown off the farms by the Bavarians with full support of the Land Government. In cases where tests were made it was found that the Bavarian Land and Agriculture Ministry had deliberately underestimated crop returns by twenty to thirty per cent., in order to prove that Bavaria had no food to spare. Even from the artificially low estimates of crop yields, when it came to actual collection, another twenty to thirty per cent. was missing. No real measures were taken to correct this.
In the midst of one of the food crises, General Clay’s men announced a great pig-slaughtering campaign in Bavaria to send meat to the Ruhr. Official figures showed that just 10 per cent of the pigs marked down for slaughtering were actually turned in by the farmers.
Similar things happened in the British Zone, but more energetic measures were later introduced there when the prospect of finding dollars for American food imports loomed up.
In the first year of the food crisis in the British Zone, in 1946, it was found that the difference between British estimates of the harvest, based on known acreage sown and test samples of yield, and the actual figures of grain harvested was fifty per cent. In other words, the farmers declared only half the actual amount of grain they harvested.
The British Zone, with the huge industrial area in the Ruhr, was becoming more and more in dollar debt to the Americans, by the restriction of export of food surpluses from the American Zone and the failure to press any sort of food production campaign. For the British it was just a question of when the Americans were going to deliver the bill. It was not long in coming.
“We’re putting up the money for feeding Germany, ain’t we?” said Senator Tobin, chief of the Senate Financial Affairs Committee at a Berlin Press Conference, when he demanded that America have the whip hand in Germany.
And it came in the demand that Britain abandon her declared policy of socialising the Ruhr; in the demand that America should have an overwhelming control over Germany’s imports and exports; in the demand in the April, 1949, discussions on Germany in Washington that America have an overwhelming voice in all matters affecting policy in Germany when the Occupation Statute was applied.
“We’ve put up the cash, haven’t we?” said the Tobins, “then we’re not gonna have anybody monkeying around with our investments.”
The concrete conversion of food crisis to American control of Germany took place in 1947, after Britain had signed on the dotted line to fuse her zone of occupation with the American Zone a clear and obvious breach of the Potsdam Agreement.
Under a complicated agreement, the full significance of which the British signatories do not seem to have appreciated at the time of signing, the Americans were given a free hand in providing food for the Bizonal area. Imports into Germany were split into two categories. Category A included food, fertilisers, petrol and oil. Category B included raw materials, cotton, wool, etc., for producing export goods.
Category A imports were to be paid for from funds allotted by the American and British Governments. The food, fertilisers and petroleum products were to be provided almost exclusively from the United States, and carried in American ships. The Americans would decide the prices. Britain was to have a greater share in providing the Category B imports, which were supposed to be paid for out of German exports. In theory, German exports and Category B imports were supposed to balance.
The Germans, of course, had no say in any of these arrangements. If they had, they would certainly have continued the old trading arrangement of selling Ruhr products to the East in exchange for food. With grain and potatoes available a few hundred miles to the East on a barter basis for Ruhr coal and steel, they would not have elected to import food at top world market prices, carried half-way round the world in American ships, with the highest freight charges of any in the world. American tenderness for German democracy always stopped short of any point where the exercise of that democracy conflicted with American interests.
As the price they paid for being starved out of the Zone, the British had to agree to giving the Americans eight votes to two British on the Joint Export-Import Board which was established. The votes were supposed to be in direct proportion to the money invested by the two countries and so, of course, was thoroughly democratic. America decided, always by eight votes to two, what should be imported into Germany and at what prices.
At the very height of the 1947 food crisis, twenty thousand tons of Dutch vegetables were turned back at the German border on General Clay’s orders, because “vegetables are too expensive a food in relation to their calories.” Golden grain paid for in golden dollars and brought from America, must be the only food. Holland’s age-old trade of vegetables and other foodstuffs to the Ruhr in exchange for semi-finished Ruhr goods for her own industries was brought to a halt. It only started up again when the Dutch developed a vigorous trade with the Soviet Zone, which General Clay did his best to bring to a halt by the counter-blockade, but which developed so flourishingly that Western Germany was allowed later to take a share in the Dutch trade again.
What the American control of export and imports meant for the British, I stumbled across by accident.
I wanted to buy a Rolleiflex camera, made by Francke and Heidecke at Brunswick in the British Zone. I went through the correct official channels, to Fine Instruments Branch, Commerce Division, of the British Control Commission, with a sponsoring letter from Press Relations. There would be no difficulties, I was told, as long as I was prepared to pay in sterling and not in marks. I was ready to pay in sterling.
Various letters passed to and fro. I must have a permit, it seemed, from the British Board of Trade. After some more correspondence the Board of Trade gave its assent, as I was a journalist working abroad. In the meantime Joint Export-Import had been set up and I had to deal with a British official there.
He was very harassed with my problem. “But look here, old boy,” he said, to my great astonishment, “it’s all very well for the Board of Trade to give you a permit, but what about the Treasury?” I explained patiently that it had already been settled that I would pay in sterling and not in marks – that this had been decided three months ago.
“But look here,” he said, “as far as I can understand this new agreement, this camera is now a German export and by what I can make out, the British Government must pay out in dollars to the American Government the equivalent of the thirty-five pounds you pay me.” And he quoted some very involved paragraphs from the new agreement.
It boiled down to the fact that Britain could only buy goods in Germany in sterling to the extent she pumped in goods paid for in sterling and it was America who decided how much Britain could export to Germany. Everything bought in excess of what America allowed her to put into Germany had to be paid for in dollars – to America.
I published a story next day that the British Zone of Germany had become a dollar area; that for trading purposes Britain would have to restrict purchases there in the same way as she had done with the United States; that even normal pre-war trade was barred by American restrictions. The story was denied and an expert from the Export-Import Board was sent specially to Berlin to correct my errors. General Robertson and his economic adviser, Sir Cecil Weir, both ridiculed the idea, when it was put to them at a press conference a day or two later.
Then it seemed that somebody was told to study the agreement carefully, paragraph by paragraph.
Overnight the sales of Volkswagens – made at Fallesleben in the British Zone – was stopped to British nationals. Previously Control Commission officials could buy them for pounds. Three days after my story was published, one had to take along dollar traveller cheques to buy Volkswagens, Rolleiflex cameras, or any other items in the British Zone. The British Zone had indeed become a dollar area. For once, it seemed, American financial experts caught the British napping. And it was all done by food crisis.
Yes, the food crisis was a very opportune intervention for American policy in Germany. It could not have served American interests better if it had been planned at a Washington Conference table. Of course, the taxpayers were told they wore paying for the dumping of American food and fuel into Germany, but it was American capitalism that would reap the profits and German taxpayers who would eventually foot the bill. American taxpayers were making a temporary loan to American economic imperialism.
The myth of the food crisis was finally exploded three months after the setting up of the Bonn regime when the end of food and petrol rationing in the Western Zones was announced. Food production declined steadily while unemployment rose. The food crisis had served its purpose only too well, and when it was no longer needed as a weapon to further U.S. aims in Germany, it was cast aside. There is, however, a standing food crisis for two million unemployed and eight million displaced persons in Western Germany, with the end of rationing and sky-rocketing food prices.
Bonn ministers jeered at British criticism, when they ended food and petrol rationing, and said, “Come over to Germany and see for yourselves how much food we’ve got.”
American big businessmen and investment bankers are cashing in on the food crisis as controls are lifted, and they can go in again to buy up their share of trusts and industries. After the American Government has “so generously” thrown hundreds of millions of dollars into feeding Germany, what West German politician would have the ingratitude to slam the door in the face of American investors in the Ruhr – a nice non-socialised Ruhr? And if ingratitude rears its ugly head, there’s a good solid dollar debt of several billions, to club it down again.
In January, 1946, I had the opportunity, together with some of my colleagues, to make a tour of the Soviet Zone. It was the first time western correspondents had been in the Soviet Zone and after a trip which lasted a week, we all commented favorably on developments there.
The London Times reported, for instance: “Impressions on meeting the Germans who are responsible for the administration of Saxony under Russian direction are generally favorable. They are seldom professional officials; inquiry generally reveals that they are Communists or, less frequently, Social Democrats. No doubt ideological reasons have promoted the Russians’ selection in the first instance, but in Saxony is found what is found also in Berlin – that the two working class parties, especially the Communists, have men of outstanding ability whom the Christian Democrats and Liberal Democrats cannot match. In one respect the position of a German in the Russian Zone is different from that in the other zones – notably the British and American. The ordinary citizen sees less of the soldiers of the occupying power unless his work brings him in contact with them. Official Germans say the discipline of the Russian troops is good. The same German sources also point out that the Red Army made a favorable impression last summer after the first occupation by supplying food from its own resources at a time when the German organisation had completely broken down and Dresden was starving ...
“There has been no interference with the Churches which are now freer than under national socialism, and the Russians have given permission for religious instruction in the schools which the Nazis had abolished ...
“The first party of British journalists to visit the zone have found the Russians accommodating and efficient. We have been able to visit places and persons we wanted to see. We have been accompanied by Russian officers but it has been possible to form the opinion that this has been dictated more by regard for our safety and convenience than by a desire to restrict our movements.”
For my own part, I was interested mainly in the details and results of land reform, the great basic change which has been wrought in the structure of Eastern Germany. On that and subsequent trips I was able to watch developments in the Soviet Zone and compare them with events in the West.
We visited an estate at Grossenhain, near Dresden. It had originally belonged to one of the princes of Saxony, then to a manufacturer who had fled to the West. We talked with the peasants. Most of them were “expellees” from Silesia, the former eastern province of Germany, now part of Poland.
Middle-aged, wrinkled people for the most part, farmers who had lived on and from the soil for generations. There was a sprinkling of younger folk, but the majority were the over-fifties.
Like all farmers, they had their grievances. It would soon be time for sowing, and they had no seed. There was no fertiliser and the soil was hungry and needed lots of fertiliser. There weren’t enough draught animals, not enough ploughs and other implements.
The local village committee-man explained that everything was planned. The seed and fertiliser would be there on time, the ploughs and other implements were being repaired at Grossenhain, the committee was trying to scratch up some more draught animals.
Most of them had been given five hectares (12½ acres) of arable land plus some under forest.
The plan was for each new settler to have one horse, one cow, one pig or sheep to start off with, but several of the score of people we were interviewing complained that they hadn’t received any animals. The committee-man tried valiantly to explain that there were not enough animals to go round yet. They had been killed off in the war. “And you can thank Adolf for that,” he said, and there was grim laughter. He was able to give them one good piece of news, that the Red Army had just given the committee some horses, which would soon be distributed. But he had a hard time, persuading embittered and suspicious peasants that things really would be better and that promises would be carried out. He had about the toughest raw material, in these dispossessed peasants, that one could imagine. They knew and cared nothing for politics and slogans. They wanted land and the means to work it.
I went to Saxony six months later, on June 30, 1946, primarily to observe the plebiscite which was being carried out, to decide the fate of various industries, formerly owned by Nazis and big industrialists. I took the opportunity of driving over to see these peasants again. The snow-covered fields of winter were now deep under gold-flecked green of waving crops.
We arrived at the castle at evening time as the peasants were coming in from the fields. I recognised the gnarled face of one who had come with his wagon and two horses from Silesia.
“Well, I see you must have got your seed and fertiliser in time after all,” I said by way of greeting. “Yes, that we got,” he said, “but in a week’s time we ought to be harvesting and we haven’t got an implement in the place. What’s the good of raising a crop if we can’t harvest it?”
The committee-man, the same who had accompanied me before, interrupted, “But you’ll get implements in time. The mechanics are working on them and by the time the grain is ready, you’ll have the tools to work with.”
His buxom wife came to feed some grain from her apron to a dozen healthy-looking chickens. She joined our circle, hands on hips, waiting her chance to say something to the committee-man.
“Have you got a cow yet?” I asked the peasant. “Yes,” he said, “it’s true we got a cow.” His wife dug him sharply in the ribs and he added, hastily, “But it’s not like the nice brown cow we had at home in our Silesia.”
“Mine is a tough life,” the committee-man sighed, as we drove away. “Of course, it’s hard for them. They don’t live well. There are terrible difficulties and shortages. Often, although I promise them that seeds, fertilisers, tools and things will come on time, I don’t really know where they are coming from. So far we haven’t let them down. Everybody now has the animals he was promised. Everybody has enough to eat and they got enough fuel to keep them warm through the winter. But they all compare what they have now with what they had in Silesia, or East Prussia or Pomerania.
“It’s no good my trying to tell them how much better off they are here than in the Western Zones where the expellees get no land and live in internment camps. I have to show results. It’s beginning to work – but it’s hard. Our best success is that they no longer talk of wanting to go home. They are beginning to look on their bits of land as their new homes. Agitators tried to start trouble here, telling the peasants the Americans would soon get them their old farms back again, in Poland. Those that believed them, had no interest to settle down and work. But that has stopped now. Take the old peasant we’ve been speaking to. I saw him the other day, crumbling a handful of soil, poking it with his fingers and letting it trickle down on to the field again. I went over to him. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘this soil isn’t bad. If we could get a bit more fertiliser and if the rain was right, why, I believe it’d be as good as the soil at home in Silesia after all.’
“As I see it,” he continued, “there’s a two-fold political as well as a two-fold economic reason why we had to carry out land reform and make a success of it. First of all we had to get rid of the Junkers, the princes, counts, barons and such junk. They have been the curse of Germany and the curse of the small peasants and laborers too, for long enough. They were a breeding ground for militarists, adventurers and reaction of all sorts. They had to go. Without their estates, they’re no power and no danger at all. Let them go to the West and sit in their friends’ castles there and make their plans. They’ll never come back, take my word for it. Think of it, 2,000 of them owned as much land as 2,000,000 of our peasants.
“Then again we had millions of refugees – but we’re careful not to call them that. We call all those who got land ‘Neusiedler,’ and we make no difference between those that came from Poland and those that were former laborers or landless peasants from this very district. To us they’re all ‘Neusiedler.’ We reckon ‘refugee’ is an ugly and permanent word. There were altogether 4,250,000 people came into the Soviet Zone from Poland and Czechoslovakia. If we had that number of people with no fixed jobs and no land, all would want to go back and that would always make bad blood between us and the Poles and Czechs. We’ve had enough of that. We want to live in peace and friendliness. If we can give those people roots here, land or jobs, they won’t want to go back. We’ve got to make them feel at home. And in my community they’re starting to take root now.”
I asked him about the economic side, why after the successful Soviet experiment with large-scale communal farms, they had split the land up into such small units – which many experts said were uneconomic.
“I see you’ve been reading the western press,” he said and smiled. “The Berlin Social Democrats have been weeping crocodile tears about the difficulties of the new settlers. The Social Democrat press says: ‘We’re not opposed to land reform. Of course not. Only the way it has been carried out in the Soviet Zone. Now if the land had been left in the form of the great estates and turned into large-scale farms, farmed with modern machinery, we would be the first to applaud ...’
“That’s what they write. But, of course, if that had been done, they would have been the first, to cry: ‘Bolshevisation. The Russians have imported the kolkhozes into Germany. First land in common, then our sisters and wives.’ How the western press would have played it up.
“Our problems are exactly the opposite of those faced by Russia when she carried out her revolution. The Bolsheviks had to turn their country from an agricultural economy into an industrial one. They needed workers from the farms for their factories. The broad steppes of Russia were ideal for large-scale farming, the work done by machinery and farmhands released for industrial work. In Eastern Germany and in Germany all over, for that matter, our problem is to turn an over-industrialised country into a country with industry and agriculture nicely balanced.
“We had to find places on the land for many city workers as well as the millions of refugees. That was one reason for the small farms. The second reason is that we can’t base our programme to-day on what is theoretically economic or uneconomic. We have practical day to day tasks which must be fulfilled. We need food. East Germany needs food. Berlin needs food. West Germany needs food. In theory it’s more economic to work the land on a large scale with tractors and mechanised equipment. We haven’t got such things. Shall we sit down with blueprints of large-scale farms between our knees and wait for tractors to grow? No. With our small units if necessary, in these first years we can practically till the ground with our hands, with spades and forks. We’ve just got enough small implements, light ploughs that any good blacksmith can make, to keep things going, to get the land turned over and the seeds in.
“Above all it’s easy to control the food collection with these small units. If a man plants three acres of potatoes, we know what his surplus is going to be within a few pounds almost. If he has fifty acres it’s much more difficult. Each of our farmers knows exactly down to the last few square yards of earth what he has to plant and how much he is expected to deliver up at the fixed prices.
“And there you have land reform in a nutshell,” he concluded, as I left him at his office at Grossenhain, “the Junkers finished, the new settlers getting their roots; the land so divided that fullest use can be made of any implements we can lay our hands on; small units easily controlled for grain collection.”
For the contrast in conditions in the East and West Zones, it was only necessary to cross the border of the British Zone and visit the von Cramm family at Hildesheim, near Hanover. I went there with the most innocent of intentions, having no knowledge that the von Cramms were great land-owners. There had been a report that Gottfried von Cramm, the German tennis ace and Davis Cup player, was about to get married. As the duties of a correspondent of a great national newspaper include the gathering of news likely to interest tennis fans, I drove to Hildesheim to see what Gottfried had to say about the matter.
It was in the winter of 1946. I was directed to a castle which I was told was one belonging to the von Cramm family. I was received by a wonderful black-coated imitation of an English butler, who led me through corridors studded alternately with deer and boar heads and dozens of gloomy oil paintings of von Cramm ancestors. The butler explained: “Baron Gottfried is not at home, but perhaps you would speak with Baron Siegfried.”
I waited in a sitting room, crammed with more ancestors and paintings of family castles. A roaring fire in the empty room forced me to think back to the Berlin I had just left, with Berliners burning their last furniture, children and old people spending their days in bed, trying to keep warm.
Baron Siegfried, in plus fours and tweed coat and carrying a riding whip, cut a neat figure when he entered.
“I am sorry my brother is not here to greet you,” he said, speaking a careful, clipped English. “He is in Hanover. You see, he does some work with British Military Government there.”
“What sort of work?” I asked.
“You see, he advises the de-Nazification people about the local bad hats. We know all the people about here and can tell which ones would be suitable for jobs with military government and in the local German administration. We know which are the ‘reds’ too. You know,” he said, and he tapped his boots with his riding whip, “you as a newspaper man should write something about the horrible propaganda which is flooding into the villages now. Russian papers from Berlin and pamphlets are coming in here and we can’t do a thing. Why is that permitted? We have enough trouble with the bad hats that came in with the refugees. In the old days we knew every villager, but now it’s difficult to know what’s going on. But one thing is certain, all this talk and propaganda about land reform, splitting up the estates, is proving most unsettling to our estate workers. Can’t you write about it and do something to have all this business stopped?”
Baron Siegfried went to the window and pointed out with his riding whip. “What we have to teach these wretched people,” he said with a sweep of his whip, which embraced the miserable hovels clustered around the castle walls, “is democracy. The real democracy. Cleanliness, discipline, hard work, Christianity and loyalty. Our old villagers are good, loyal and hard-working, but even they are being infected by this loathsome poison which comes from the other side of the frontier. Demanding land for themselves! As it they would know how to work it even if they did get it. It would go to waste and ruin just as it does in the Soviet Zone.”
The polemics of Baron Siegfried in plus fours and tweeds were almost too good to interrupt. I asked him however about his own estates.
“Here we have 1,000 hectares, but my brothers also have estates in the area.” He pointed to the various paintings of castles on the walls. “That is our own castle here,” he said, “before it was restored. It was built originally in the 14th century. This one belongs to Baron ... It is a 16th century building, and this one belongs to my youngest brother, Baron ... A fine old 11th century building.
“On, our property here,” he continued, “we employ 60 laborers. Actually it is twice what we need, but we want to help these poor beggars of refugees as much as possible. After all, it’s our duty.”
I made a rapid calculation. In the Soviet Zone 1,000 hectares of land would have provided a living for 200 families. The castle would be a workers’ rest home, an orphanage, hospital or old people’s home.
“Are there any refugees quartered in the castle?” I asked.
“No. The British have been very good about that. Of course, we have every room occupied,” he hastened to add, as perhaps some suspicion flashed across his mind that my questions were not all prompted out of sympathy for him. “Every room is occupied by people who have lost everything in the East or Berlin. Many of them are relatives. They are, in any case, all people that we know quite well. Of course, in a way, you could call them refugees too, but at least we could choose them.”
Baron Siegfried offered me a glass of vermouth. “We are doing our bit too to help Military Government,” he said, as we sipped the vermouth. He pointed from the window to a brick building with a smoking chimney. “This vermouth,” he said, “comes from my little distillery, and practically the whole production is sold to military government.”
The von Cramm family were doing quite well. Except for having a lot of friends and relatives living with them, they led much the same life as their ancestors had led for the last six hundred years. The peasants worked the estates, Baron Gottfried could play tennis with brother Siegfried – also a first-class player – and live the leisurely life. Brother Gottfried spent much of his time at a villa he owned in Hamburg. Apart from tennis, Gottfried divided his time between perusing the estate book-keeping and unofficially advising British military government on the “right” and “wrong” types in the district. One could be sure he kept a particularly sharp lookout for any “agitators” spreading the dangerous gospel of land reform.
The story which prompted my visit to the von Cramm estates proved to be no story at all. Baron Gottfried had no intention of getting married.
The von Cramm situation was typical of that of hundreds of other barons, counts and princes in the British Zone. I visited a couple of typical aristocratic landowners as late as February, 1948. Their lands were still untouched despite the agreement, signed in March, 1947, at the Moscow conference of Foreign Ministers, to press ahead with land reform in theWestern Zones.
Close to Dusseldorf ate the estates of Count von Salm, Knight of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately the Count was not at home when I called. He is an absentee landlord with, his headquarters at Bonn. An estate manager was handling his affairs – and very reluctant to give any information about acreage, numbers of tenant farmers.
February, 1948, was the period of the greatest famine which had yet struck the Ruhr area. Workers who did an honest day’s work at their factories instead of scouring the country for black market food, were on the verge of starvation. Bakeries in many cities were closed, meats and fats had entirely disappeared. I surprised several farmers on the Salm estate at evening meal time. There was plenty of butter and jam on the table and good meat stewing in the kitchen pot.
“Don’t you feel you have to help the hungry Ruhr workers?” I asked one farmer.
He looked rather sheepish and said, “Well, you see, to get anything done here we have to give some food. Before the blacksmith will mend a plough or the shoemaker patch the kids’ shoes, they ask for half a pound of butter or a pound of bacon. We have to hold our food back to get by ourselves, and to get things done.”
“Are you told what to plant and how much food you have to give up?”
“No. We just plant what we always planted. Nobody bothers us about that. But we are supposed ...” and he winked, “supposed to give up everything we grow to the government. We’re not supposed to keep anything back at all.”
I was luckier with Count Basso von Bucholz-Asserburg than with von Salm. He was at home – just recently come home from a camp where he had been interned for some time as an S.S. officer. He had not come up for trial, just been released quietly as a “non-offender.” The road led for half -an hour through snow-covered parkland on the Count’s estates. Herds of deer tossed their antlered heads as the car approached but went on snuffling and browsing in the snow for tender bits of green, when they sensed I was not there to hunt them.
Count Basso’s castle is at Nierheim in Land Niedersachsen in the British Zone, about 40 miles south-west of Hanover. The road to the castle leads through the village of his tenant farmers, and winds up a hill where the castle perches, away from the distasteful sights and smells of village life. Peacocks, rather bedraggled ones, but still peacocks, strutted on the snow-covered lawn as I approached the entrance.
The family were gathered around a roaring fire in an enormous open hearth. The Graefin, mother of Basso, tall and cold, once beautiful in a, brittle, arrogant way, dominated the circle. She sat in a corner of the fireplace, with her hands folded over a stick, listened intently to my questions and always steered the conversation away, from “dangerous” topics. Count Basso’s brother, tall and weakish looking, dressed in green hunting uniform, several children, and Count Basso himself completed the circle.
Count Basso, black-moustached, small, slightly limping, seemed away below the physical standards one expected of an S.S. officer. About the whole family, except the vital mother, there was a distasteful air of decadence.
“Of course,” said Basso, “I wasn’t really in the S.S. at all. I was an enthusiastic rider and just got drafted in the S.S. Reiterkorps. The British understood all this quite well, and that’s why they released me. I have just now been cleared by the local de-Nazification board.” He explained later that most of the members of the board were tenants or executives from the von Buchholz-Asserburg estates.
When asked about the size of his estates Count Basso wanted to talk only about what he had lost.
“Three thousand acres and a beautiful castle I had in the Soviet Zone have been lost,” he said, “and the terrible thing is that while the land I can recover, of course, the castle has been completely destroyed.” He went on to tell me that every castle in the Soviet Zone had been destroyed, because the “Soviet bandits” were against anything that had to do with “western culture.” “They can’t afford to let their barbarian soldiers see any monuments of western culture,” he said, “It would only make them dissatisfied and want to overthrow the regime when they got back.”
I explained that I had been often to the Soviet Zone and that most of the castles had not been destroyed, but turned to some useful purpose. “The only ones that have been pulled down,” I explained, “were those that were badly damaged in the fighting. The stones and bricks have been used to build homes for the new settlers, amongst whom the estates have been divided up.”
Count Basso was satisfied he only had to wait a short time and the British and Americans would throw the Russians back “to the Volga” and he would get his Soviet Zone estates back again. By the expression on the aged countess’s face as she heard this I gathered she did not share Count Basso’s optimism on this point.
It turned out that Basso had six thousand acres on his Nierheim estate, part of it under forest and park-land. Asked whether he thought it would be divided up, he said:
“We have too much faith in the British to believe that. The British believe in fair play and democracy. Would that be fair play to take away our estates? What have we done? It was the Nazis who made the war. We all suffered because of them. Hitler always hated the aristocracy and the landowners.”
The old countess stabbed the fire viciously with her stick and said, “Let the sacrifices be equal. Don’t make the land-owners pay for the war. By the propaganda you allow to be made in some of the newspapers for land reform, one would think we were the guilty ones, not the Nazis.”
S.S. Officer Count Basso von Buchholz-Asserburg and his brother nodded vigorous assent.
And so it was all over the British Zone, in North-Rhein Westphalia, Land Niedersachsen and Schleswig Holstein. Within a few minutes of British Army Headquarters on the Rhine was the estate of Baron von Oeynhausen with 7,000 acres. Oeynhausen was a land president under the Nazis. In Schleswig Holstein is the estate of Nikolaus, Prince of Oldenburg, with 7,500 acres, and similar holdings by Prinz zu Schaumburg-Lippe, the von Buelows, Brockdorffs and Reventlows.
A land reform law passed by the local Laender governments was vetoed by the British military governor and another one substituted which would leave the Junkers, if with less land, at least with their same economic and social position. A reform law has now been promulgated which in theory takes away land in excess of 375 acres – but with full compensation.
In effect, as no provision has been made for providing housing, implements, or stocking the new farmers, even in those areas where a land reform has been carried out the new settlers will be absolutely dependent on the Counts and Barons still. As no financial aid is given them to help pay for the farms, they will be perpetually in debt to the landowners.
Instead of paying rent as in the past, they will pay interest. The economic power of the Junkers is left intact.
On the other hand, what took place in the Soviet Zone under the land reform laws, represents a complete and bloodless revolution which drastically and permanently changes the economic, political and social structure of Eastern Germany. The land reform laws were the most important single measure introduced into Germany; as fundamental and definite as the splitting up of the feudal estates of France a hundred and sixty years earlier.
Whatever the future holds for Germany, the clock cannot be turned back in the eastern areas. The land will remain to the people that work it. In the long run these reforms will have signed the death warrants of the knightly landholders in the west, too. They may, with British and American help, postpone the day for some years, but the pressure of the peasants with the example of results in the East to spur them on, will force the landowners to disgorge.
They have been saved till now partly by the artificial food crisis. Generals Robertson and Clay were against “disrupting” present agricultural methods in the midst of “famine,” although experience in the east showed that land reform meant not only increased food crops but one hundred per cent. efficient collection and distribution of food grains.
The final assessment of land reform in the Soviet Zone was made in July, 1947, after distribution was completed on July 1st of that year. All estates exceeding one hundred hectares (250 acres), excepting those belonging to the church, were confiscated. Altogether these represented 12,355 estates totalling 7,500,000 acres. 2,089 of these belonged to the Nazi Party or the German, Government, the rest to the Junkers. Some of the estates were reserved for State research farms, cattle and horsebreeding centres, seed production centres and experimental farms. The overwhelming majority were divided between 500,000 families representing at least 2,000,000 persons. 119,650 were families of former landless peasants and laborers; 113,274 were peasants with tiny farms who were given more land to bring them up to the average size (nineteen acres) throughout the Soviet Zone. 130,881 were city workers taking up land for the first time. The rest were former tenant or share farmers. A large proportion were “expellees.”
From the Junker estates, 110,000 houses, half a million head of cattle, and 6,000 tractors were distributed among the new farm communities.
Their standards of living have increased by leaps and bounds in the past three years; they have become the most enthusiastic supporters of the regime which gave them land. They are immune to propaganda from the west promising change and better days. They have land, they are rooted to the soil. Change for them in the western sense, means a return to the old days; of having their land handed back to the Junkers, themselves turned back to hired laborers.
As the change has been carried out hand in hand with the development of purchasing co-operatives, with much communal working and pooling of implements, development of the tractor stations and village-owned machine shops, there is little risk that these 600,000 families will crystallise into rigid, individualistic and selfish “kulaks”. Quietly and almost without knowing it, they are being introduced to collectivism in agriculture. Because everything around them is new, they are still receptive to changes which would frighten the settled middle-class peasants. The confidence which replaced their early fears and suspicions, fortifies them to-day when they hear of new measures being introduced; new methods of co-operative marketing of their produce; further developments in working the land in common as more and more tractors become available. The peasantry has been, lifted out of its traditional status as the most backward and reactionary political force in the country and in the vanguard of the progressive peasants are the new settlers.
The land that once supported the most powerful, semi-feudal Junker barons, the main props of reaction and militarism, the financial backers of aggression, has now been turned over to half a million families whose very blood cries out for peace and orderly life; the right to work the land they own and enjoy its fruits.
It cannot be expected that they will always live as independent smallholders. As the peaceful reconstruction of industry in the Soviet Zone develops on the one hand and the output of modern agricultural machinery increases on the other hand, it is logical to expect a development towards large-scale co-operative farms. The cities will be able to re-absorb many workers from the land; large-scale agriculture will be able to spare the labor.
Real emancipation of the peasants can only come with the large-scale cooperative farms, a full cultural life can only be available when industry is securely allied with agriculture, when the peasant can rest after an eight-hour working day and have his Saturdays and Sundays free like the city workers.
I arrived in Berlin on New Year’s Eve, 1945, having travelled more than halfway round the world to get there. During the war years I had been in the Pacific and Far East and my last part in it was to land with the first detachment of U.S. Marines at the Yokosuka naval base in Tokio Bay at the end of August, 1945. I had afterwards been transferred to the other pole of the Berlin-Tokio axis. At the end of November, 1945, I was back in England for the first time since February, 1939.
While I was recovering from a bout of malaria and assembling clothes to withstand a European winter after five years of tropics, I went to a crowded meeting in London’s Albert Hall, called under the auspices of the “Save Europe Now Committee.” Chief speaker of the evening was Mr. Victor Gollancz. It was soon quite clear that the meeting was a “Save Germany Now” meeting, that its tendency was anti-Czech, anti-Polish and above all, anti-Russian. The war had finished exactly three months previously, with the Soviet Army playing a decisive part in defeating the Japanese.
The only previous occasion on which I had heard Mr. Gollancz speak was in 1937, at a summer school not far from London, held under the auspices of the Society for Cultural Relations with the Soviet Union. Mr. Gollancz had recently returned from the Soviet Union and he spoke on his impressions as a Jew.
“For the first time,” he said, “I felt what it was like to move in a society completely free from anti-Semitism. only in that atmosphere completely free from racial discrimination, did I realise that there had always been anti-Semitism in England. Life here can never be the same again for me. I know there has never been complete equality for me as a Jew. I have never been fully accepted; always there have been some hesitancies. Only in the Soviet Union did I feel that every racial barrier was down, that every citizen was respected on his merits, not for his race, creed or colour.”
Mr. Gollancz’s speech made an impression on me because only a few weeks previously Paul Robeson, the great negro singer, had said something along similar lines, at a meeting in the London Albert Hall.
Now a short six months after the Nazis had been defeated, having gassed and burned to death one quarter of the population of Poland and caused 20,000,000 deaths in Europe alone, including 7,000,000 Soviet citizens, Mr. Gollancz was suddenly moved with a great tenderness for the Germans – at the expense of Germany’s victims. His main pity was directed to the expellees from Poland and Czechoslovakia. He drew a harrowing picture of them trudging through the snow, their few belongings packed on their backs or pulling them in carts behind them. When he spoke of the suffering of children, it was not of Polish or Greek children he spoke but suffering German children.
As often as he could conveniently weave it into his oratory, he referred to “inhuman conduct,” “uncivilised actions”, “un-Christian attitudes” of Soviet, Czech and Polish governments and each time a shout went up from the over-filled hall “Shame,” and not a few times the German equivalent “Pfui,” because there seemed almost as many Germans as English in the hall that night.
When he finally asked the crowd to demand from the Government that no increase in English rations should be allowed as long as there was one hungry child in Germany, there was a great roar of approval. No less vocal and emotional were Michael Foot, Labor M.P., Mr. Guy Boothby, Tory M.P., and others prominent in political life.
Nobody could object to a meeting to help suffering children anywhere in the world; and nobody could criticise a warm-hearted British public offering to go without for themselves to succour misery. But the callous hypocrisy of the campaign of Gollancz and those allied with him, was to exploit human suffering to whip up hatred against the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe. Was it the Russians who had slaughtered millions of Jews in Europe, I was forced to ask myself, or was it the Soviet Army sweeping through Poland and Germany that saved the lives of most of those that still existed? How could one explain the attitude of Gollancz, if it were not to deliberately sabotage the friendly feelings of the British people towards the Soviet Union in those early days after the war?
Gollancz’s actions in 1945 and Churchill’s actions in 1949 by contributing money to the defence of Field Marshal Manstein, murderer of tens of thousands of Russians and Jews, are inseparable. Fawn on Russia as long as her aid was necessary to defeat Hitler and later Japan, slander her the moment her help was no longer necessary. And Gollancz the Liberal and Churchill the Tory, were joined by Labor M.P. for Northampton, R. T. Paget, and the son of Labor Minister Silkin, Mr. R. S. Silkin, in heaping abuse on the Soviet Union and defending German militarism, when the last two, as barristers, undertook the legal defence of Manstein at Hamburg.
The English newspapers in November, 1945, were full of harrowing accounts of Germans arriving back from East Prussia, Silesia and the Sudetenland, in unheated trains and cattle trucks. A heat wave of emotion swept over the English people, who are kind-hearted folk, at the thought of so much human misery. The accounts were not balanced, by descriptions of long lines of Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and French slave workers, moving back and forth over the face of Europe, with whips and machine-gun bullets to keep them moving, or of civilian populations choking the roads of Europe during the fighting, with German planes strafing them from the air.
There were no reporters to describe these things at the time, no correspondents to describe fat German Nazi families, moving into Polish and Czech farms after the owners had been rounded up for the gas-chambers or the slave gangs. For the first time, the British public heard of such miseries after the war – with Germans the victims. Great sympathy for the Germans was whipped up in a number of London newspapers, not only those who had consistently supported the Nazis before the war and presented Hitler as a man who believed in cleanliness, orderliness and discipline – much to be preferred to Czechs or Poles, French or Russians – but also in the so-called Liberal papers, “News Chronicle” and “Manchester Guardian.”
To leave London where the natural sympathy for the underdog, implanted in most British breasts, was being exploited by the press, and to arrive in Berlin where a specific anti-Russian attitude was noticeable among the overwhelming majority of army officers and control commission officials, was not a large step. After that it was natural to find that it was the Germans of the concentration camps who were to be despised and the German generals who were to be pitied.
“A damned scandal that men like Jodl, Doenitz and Raeder should be held as war criminals,” exploded one Colonel of Press Relations to me almost the first night I arrived. “They should be released and working with us, giving us the benefit of their experiences.”
Some of them were.
The bars and clubs resounded with anti-Russian stories and it was particularly noticeable that it was just those officers who had no combat experience who were the most vocal about the necessity for, and ease with which the Russians had to be “pushed back into their own country.”
Despite the non-fraternisation regulations at that time, most of the officers had German girl-friends, all drawn from the same class, the class which had the advantage of education and travel, and could usually speak English. They poured out their tales of lost property, terror and narrow escapes from rape. (Despite thousands of stories about Russian rapings, in three and a quarter years in Berlin, I never met a German woman who herself had been raped, but there were an enormous number in Berlin’s West-end who would willingly go to bed with any soldier for twenty cigarettes.) The frauleins repeated the same stories with thousands of refinements into sympathetic British and American ears.
A friend of mine who arrived in Berlin in early 1946 and found the entire officer caste of the British Army pro-German and anti-Russian through the influence partly of the frauleins, said: “Lord, I would never have believed it, but I see now the penis is truly mightier than the sword.”
The frauleins’ bedtime stories varied little. Their theme was the Russians were barbarians, uncivilised, unreliable, an inferior race little better than animals. They had won the War only because of American equipment, Russian winters and Anglo-American air power.
My first visit to a German family – a few days after I arrived – was to a mother and grown-up daughter, Helga, in the fashionable West-end of Berlin.
After a few words of general conversation there came a furious tirade against the Russians which was new to me then, at least from German lips.
“Why did you British and Americans wait so long on the Elbe?” questioned Helga. “We were waiting to welcome you with open arms. Instead of that you let the Russians come. Those savages. Those barbarians.” Her voice rose to an almost hysterical pitch as she repeated the lines she had learned as a faithful disciple of Goebbels. “You let those Mongol apes loose on a cultivated people like us, to rob, rape and destroy us.”
What a treasure for Mr. Gollancz, I thought as she babbled on in her frenzy, repeating catchwords and phrases from the Goebbels vocabulary.
At one point the mother paused between mouthfuls of gruel and bread to interrupt.
“You know, Helga, our soldiers didn’t always behave as they ought to have done at the front,” she said in a mild understatement.
Helga straightened up and flushed. “Mutti,” she screamed, “I won’t have you say things like that about our troops. German soldiers and German officers are always correct. They could never have behaved like these ... these ...” and she sought for a term sufficiently vile, “these Slavic gutter pigs. They should be our slaves and would have been but for that awful winter at Stalingrad.”
I thought at that time that Helga was an exception, a candidate for a lunatic asylum, but I soon realised she was the normal spokesman for the Berlin upper middle-class.
It took me several weeks in Berlin and meetings with hundreds of Helgas and their mothers before I found anyone who spoke of Germany’s guilt. Hitler’s guilt, yes, because he had interfered with the generals who would have “won” the war. It took weeks to find anyone who had a feeling of guilt or a word of sympathy for the Russians or Poles. And the first one I met who spoke of Germany’s guilt was one who had least of all reason to take upon himself guilt for the Nazis. He was a victim of Fascism, who had spent eight years in a concentration camp.
I had last visited Berlin in November, 1938, when the smoke was still rising from the synagogues and hundreds of shops had their fronts boarded up with planks, after the organised burning, smashing and looting by the brown-shirted bullies, Hitler’s stormtroopers. In 1946, I found the German middle-class had forgotten about that episode and were innocent of any knowledge of persecution of Jews or Communists. “But we had no idea such things were going on,” they would say with wide-eyed innocence.
I did not find Berlin in 1946 a more pleasant place than when I left it in March, 1939. I found the West-enders even more unpleasant than seven years previously. Their own and their neighbours’ sufferings had taught them only to be more callous, more ruthless, more arrogant, less sensitive to the sufferings of their fellows.
If Berlin, the city, had been crumbled into an unrecognisable rubble-heap, the West-end Berliners had changed little. They still had the annoying habit, which I remembered well from the old days, of marching down the street as if they were on a parade ground, gazing straight ahead, deviating from their course for nobody smaller than themselves. The weak, the young, the aged, had to leap aside to avoid being trampled underfoot by the well-fed, West Berlin burgers. A lost war, the collapse of an unholy and inhuman faith, a destroyed capital took away nothing of the arrogance from the Prussian middle-class.
The attitude of the western occupation powers from the first days was to bolster, praise and even curry favor with this arrogance. And after the first couple of years of occupation, they were made to feel that they were the real heroes, the pioneers of the fight against Communism; that it was the West which had made a mistake from the first in not fighting alongside the Germans to bring the Russians and Communism to their knees.
In Berlin, almost from the moment the occupation started, it was taken for granted by the Germans that if one spoke English, one would immediately sympathise with German “sufferings” at the hands of the Russians. Such was the atmosphere in the Allied clubs that it was regarded as seriously “bad form” to mention the record of German troops in the occupied countries, or the torture and execution of ten million men, women and children.
During my few weeks in London on my way to Germany from Japan, I had seen photographic exhibitions of Belsen, Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps, the piles of children’s shoes, sacks of human hair all arranged with German tidiness; piles of bodies, dead indistinguishable from the still living. In Berlin one was amazed to learn that Germans had never seen these pictures. After a week or two of being accosted in bars and trams and being told of Russian atrocities, I felt that every bar and shop, every tram and train in every village and city throughout Germany should be forced to display these pictures. Then perhaps the middle-class – and it was always the middle-class – would not have the effrontery to accost one in bars or on the streets and to complain about the Russians. Their stock excuse when one mentioned Ravensbruck or Belsen was, “Of course, we knew nothing about it. Yes, horrible. But all done by the S.S.”
The German middle-class knew better than anybody else what was going on – especially as regards the Jews. They all had business dealings with Jews. Every city-dweller in Germany could see quite well what happened in the first week of November, 1938, when the synagogues were fired and shops looted. Concentration camps did not start with the war. They started within a few weeks of the abolition of the Weimar Constitution which gave Hitler his powers as dictator. The arrest of thousands of Communists, trade union officials, socialists and Jews did not take place in 1939 or 1940, but from 1933 onwards. One must mention these unpalatable facts because German “innocence” on these matters has been given official recognition by the highest British and American officials in Germany.
General Robertson, then British Military Governor, issued a statement on June 4, 1948, giving new “fraternisation” instructions to British personnel in Germany urging the friendliest and closest relations with the Germans. Amongst other things he said, “They are a Christian and civilised people to whom we can no longer bear any ill-will ... A people who had fallen under evil influences during the war.”
What was done by the Nazis until the day war broke out is sanctioned in other words by General Robertson. No one could object to an appeal for friendly relations between the British and German people, but the nature of General Robertson’s appeal is such as to drive home to the German people that the British chose them rather than the “un-Christian and uncivilised” Russians. General Robertson tells the Germans they were quite all right as Nazis, but went wrong “during the war.”
To make it quite clear that the official attitude was to be anti-Russian and pro-German, Brigadier General Frank Howley, then U.S. Commandant of Berlin, publicly rebuked a U.S. officer who had sent a New Year’s greeting to a Russian colleague. “I won’t have any of my staff playing ‘footsie-wootsie’ with the Russians,” said Howley, with his usual exquisite choice of language. Howley was one of those who insisted on closest relationships between Americans and Germans – of the right reactionary type, of course.
One wondered whether Howley had turned a hundred and eighty degree circle in his respective attitudes towards Germans or Russians, or whether he had just dropped the mask he was forced to wear during the days of Allied co-operation. In any case nothing could do more to improve the morale of the thousands of neo-Nazis, than such statements by Howley and Robertson.