Chapter Five

Land Reform East

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 have 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 got 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 farm hands 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 blue-prints 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 bands on;small units easily controlled for grain collection."

In early June, 1947, in the company of Denis Weaver of the News-Chronicle and Eric Bourne of Reuters, I paid a visit to Mecklenburg and Pomerania. The prime object of our trip was to see Peenemunde, the research station for German secret weapons and the testing ground for the V1's and V2's. For me, however, the greatest attraction of the trip was to study again Soviet agricultural methods at close hand. The Peenemunde story itself, however, is worth recounting again. There were almost daily references at that time in the British and American press to Peenemunde, references that were, of course, splashed in the western German press. There were stories from Sweden of streaks of fire searing the sky at night, of mysterious explosions, rockets skimming across the skies and coasts of Sweden. Science correspondents from several London papers even went to Stockholm to investigate reports of parts of rockets landing in Sweden.

The Berlin Social-Democrat press filled in the local details. Dull explosions from Peenemunde, flashes of fire, pillars of smoke. The Russians had certainly rebuilt Peenemunde and were building and testing out even more deadly types of V-weapons than those used by the Nazis. We asked the Russians if we could have a look at Peenemunde and they said, "Sure, come along."

On our way to the tiny Baltic isle, we called in at Karinhall, the famous roystering place of Goering where he entertained his guests to deer-stalking and pig-stabbing parties, followed by gargantuan, mediaeval banquets with oxen, roasted whole in front of the guests. Lord Halifax, former British Foreign Minister, who signed for a pact with Hitler, and Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador in Berlin, were entertained by Goering at Karinhall. According to the Berlin Social-Democrat press, Karinhall had been given to the veteran Communist leader, Wilhelm Pieck, and he used it for entertaining Russians and German Communists on the same scale as the former Grand Master of the Hunt, Goering.

We were the first western visitors to Karinhall since the war. This castle, which was supposed to resound at night to the red revels of Wilhelm Pieck and his colleagues, was actually a shamble of tumbled ruins. It had been completely destroyed, blown up at Goering's orders by special S.S. troops as the Soviet armies drew near. It was impossible even to force one's way through the rubble to the underground air shelter where it is said Goering had a riding-ring established for his children. The only intact part of Karinhall was a Goering cemetery at the edge of a lovely emerald-green lake. In the centre was a crypt of Goering's first wife, Karin, a Swede, from whom Karinhall takes its name. Dominating all other tombstones in the little cemetery was an enormous rough granite slab enscribed with the single word "Goering." It was to have marked the spot where the most cynical .and bloodthirsty of all the Nazi gang was to be buried. Goering's preparations for Valhalla were upset however by the Soviet Army's rapid advance through Germany. There was nothing left to bury in the Karinhall cemetery. Goering's ashes were scattered in anonymity after he cheated the Nuremburg gallows by swallowing poison in prison.

Before we visited Peenemunde I fell ill-of a stomach poisoning. My colleagues assured me it was due to an overdose of Soviet hospitality of too much cucumber salad with fresh cream, and washed down by vodka. Whatever the cause of the illness, I really experienced Soviet hospitality afterwards.

The Russian woman doctor who was called to examine me decided I must be removed immediately to the Russian military hospital. I did not want to go. My experience of hospitals was that they detain you much longer than necessary, and I was anxious to finish my tour. She was insistent, and so was I. I wanted to remain in my comfortable hotel room at Schwerin, capital of Land Mecklenburg. I won the battle, but half an hour later, the hospital moved into my hotel room – the doctor, a sister and two nurses with an array of ominous-looking rubber tubes, bowls and jugs. The rubber tube was thrust down my throat and deep into my stomach and jugs of warm water poured down the tube. After the same procedure had been applied to other portions of my anatomy, I was transported to bed by my female echelon, as flat as a gutted eel. The lady doctor examined me and proclaimed that with rest, and a careful diet, I would be saved to write again another day.

There was a lively debate a couple of days later between the doctor and our conducting officer, a handsome young Muscovite, George Krotkoff, from Soviet Information Bureau. Krotkoff with my earnest backing, said we must push on with our tour. The doctor said: "What about his diet?" The solution was a triumph of Soviet organisation.

I was considered too weak to drive my car so a driver was provided. We left the hotel, the doctor and nurses shaking their heads at such lunacy. At each Russian Kommandatura or Intourist hotel at which we stopped to eat there would be a whispered conversation as to which of the four of us was the invalid – and my precise diet forthat meal was set before me. The doctor had telephoned through to each eating place on our tour and had ordered a specific progressive diet for each meal.

As we approached Peenemunde – the first visitors, apart from the Russians and Germans who worked there, ever to visit the island since the Germans turned it into their secret weapon station – we heard the rumble of explosions echoing through a thick belt of pine trees and we smelt the acrid odour of high explosives. There were explosions and flashes all right.

The Russians were just completing the demolition of all installations. Unhappy-looking German girls, under the eyes of tough-looking Russian non-coms, were carrying cases of explosives, as we strolled across the debris of shattered buildings.

"Hitler girls," said the Russian colonel in charge of demolitions, "they don't work willingly." Those I tried to photograph turned their heads away, frightened of reprisals from former Nazi comrades, if they were recognised as taking part in the destruction of Hitler's pride, the ace with which he was certain he could win the war.

The Soviet colonel of engineers gave full marks to the British R.A.F. for their raids on Peenemunde. "They destroyed it by seventy per cent.", he said, "but still they left us the hardest work to do. Now we are nearly finished. We have destroyed every installation above ground and most of those underground as well. There are still two underground wind testing tunnels." The German girls were carrying explosives to one of these wind tunnels, and Russian engineer troops were preparing a section for demolition. The colonel, obligingly blew it up while we were there so I could take a picture.

"When these two tunnels are completely destroyed then we'll start on the foundations of the buildings. After that we'll destroy the roads and railways still left. We are keeping two big sheds until last, to house our staff, but they will go too in the end. After we've finished with the roads and railways, we'll plough up the island and turn it back to the Germans."

We walked all over the island, inspected the shells and wreckage of fantastic-looking buildings from which the Nazis shot their rockets into the stratosphere, took photographs where we wanted. After a few hours we were convinced that one more anti-Soviet propaganda canard had been shot down. "OfPeenemunde," we could and did write, "there is nothing left but the name and rubble."

"Come back and see us at the end of June," the Russian colonel said as we left, "our target date for ploughing the fields of Peenemunde is June 30."

After our stories were published the reports of Russian rocket experiments from the Baltic Coast died overnight. The Chief of Staff of the Swedish Army told correspondents in Stockholm that there was no evidence that rockets or any other guided missiles had passed over or landed in Sweden. The Peenemunde and Karinhall legends were both exploded, but of course, the West Berlin press switched next day to writing in sinister and lurid terms about Russians working the uranium mines in Saxony.

In Schwerin, we called on a Herr Mueller, Christian Democrat, Minister of Agriculture in Land Mecklenburg. A large, burly man who wore an English golfing cap, his whole life had been devoted to agriculture. He resembled an English gentleman farmer who really took an interest in the land.

We asked Herr Mueller how the spring sowing was coming on.

"It's 92 per cent. completed," he said, "and by our target date, May 19, it will be 100 per cent. complete."

We were rather astonished at such very precise figures and asked how he could produce at a moment's notice such an unqualified statement. Herr Mueller was proud and pleased to explain to us.

"The Russians and ourselves make a fine combination," he said. "They are excellent planners and we are good organisers. We have learned much from them in the way of detailed planning, and they are impressed with the way we can organise to carry out a plan.

"The whole Land Mecklenburg is divided up into provinces, districts, village groups and finally villages. In each village is the agricultural committee elected by the peasants. We have a liaison officer for each group of villages, constantly in touch with the committees: Every hectare of land is known to us, every cow, horse, pig and sheep is registered with us. We have a complete registry of all agricultural equipment. We know what land is best for grain, which is best for potatoes or sugar beet. We help to make the overall agricultural plan on the basis of the data we have here. When we got our plan for spring sowing, it is broken down to allotments for provinces, districts, villages and finally the village committees allot to each individual farm exactly how many acres ofwheat, barley orpotatoes a farmer must grow.

"My job then is to see the farmers get their seeds and fertiliser in time, that sufficient implements and draught animals are available. This year it has worked very smoothly. My village liaison officers make up reports every evening as to how the sowing is coming on and by 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., yes," he smiled at our surprised expressions, "we work late hours during the busy season, I can tell you exactly how much is sown and where there are difficulties. Up to this morning 92 per cent. of the total area was sown.

"It is almost like a military operation," he continued, "I have reserves of seed and fertilisers. I have mobile technical brigades and tractor pools. If I get a report from one district that the sowing is lagging because the seed potatoes have turned bad, I can rush a couple of truckloads of seed to the area. If another area is in trouble due to shortage of draught animals, I can despatch .a tractor to the rescue. If there are breakdowns of tractors or seed-drills I can send one of my flying columns to help. All this has improved the morale of the farmers to an enormous extent.

"Oneother great thing we have learned from the Russians is to improvise and to exploit our machinery to the greatest possible extent. Machinery that farmers had discarded long ago, they have made us organise and repair. Without this improvisation, we could never carry out our plans. And the planning itself is meticulously thorough. Everybody is given a target date for everything he has to do, and for us this is very sensible and necessary. Many ofour new settlers have never been used to acting on their own responsibility before. They have been farm servants, agricultural labourers, some ofthem even city workers. Those who have come from other parts don't know this type ofsoil and weather conditions. The great majority of the new farmers, however, have been used to doing just what their boss told them, not thinking ahead from one day's job to the other.

"Now we have a great scientific organisation that does the strategic thinking for them. After a year or two of course they will learn and many things we do now will not be necessary. It may seem ridiculous to you when Marshal Sokolovsky issues a decree that by a certain date, all tractors, ploughs, harrows, seed and fertiliser drills, farm carts and other implements named, must be overhauled and greased, ready for the spring-sowing campaign. But for us, this is very important. For many farmers the decree is unnecessary. They are used to planning their work. But it gives our local officials the authority to make the farmers help themselves. For the time being we have to do their thinking for them, tell them what to plant and when to do it, according to the soil and weather conditions which we can judge scientifically."

Herr Mueller explained that he received his plan for Land Mecklenburg-Pomerania from the Central Administration for Agriculture in Berlin. Based on reports from the provinces the Central Administration – now Ministry of Agriculture – submitted each year a plan to the Russian Chief of Agriculture Division. The Soviet officials might make some amendments, suggest more potatoes than wheat, more maize for fattening poultry, and less beet for sugar, more hops for beer and less fodder for cattle. Once agreement was reached, the portion affecting each Land was sent to the respective ministries of agriculture for putting into effect.

"When the crops are well advanced," continued Minister Mueller, "we make sample checks of the yields. On the basis of that, we fix the quotas which each farmer must deliver, making allowances for local conditions, bad quality soil in one area, shortage of rain in another and the size of the farmer's holding. The quota system is so arranged that the main burden of deliveries falls on the wealthy farmers. We encourage the farmers to sell their surpluses through the co-operatives instead of on the free market, by allowing them to buy equipment at the co-operatives at fixed, low prices, according to the amount of produce they have turned in.

"And the beauty of it all is," he concluded, "that it works, works beyond our most optimistic hopes despite, at times, seemingly insuperable difficulties. Russian planning, German organisation and hardworking German peasants. It works. We get our crops sown on time. We collect our grain quotas. The city worker gets his rations and the farmers get their consumer goods."

We toured around among the villages, spoke to farmers and assured ourselves that it was working. Almost a year had passed since I talked with the peasants at Seusslitz but the types – and the developments – were the same everywhere. Here in Mecklenburg, the new houses were no longer in the blue-print stage. They were there, fastened to the very soil the new settlers had been given.

Small but solid brick houses, with stables attached, everything under one roof, so that animals could be tended in winter without moving out of the house. Houses with electric light and running water. The suspicion and uncertainty which I had seen at first on the faces of the Schloss Seusslitz "Neusiedlern" had disappeared from the faces of those in Mecklenburg who now had their own homes, with brightly polished stoves and something good cooking on them. Life had started again, roots had crept back into the soil and found firm support. No use trying to talk these families into returning to their old farms east of the Oder-Neisse. Most of them had homes, better than those they had left; they were well on the road to a better and fuller life.

They made poor raw material for the propaganda with which they were bombarded by the West Berlin and West German press, demanding that the lost lands be recovered and the "expellees" returned to their old homes. The rich former land-owners from the east, formed into associations, pledged to the return of East Prussia, Silesia, Sudetenland, and the rest of Germany's lost territories, could no longer count on the new settlers in the east to fight for them. The new roots had taken too firm a hold to be shaken by irredentist propaganda.

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