Chapter Six

Land Reform West

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 hardworking, but even they are being infected by this loathsome poison which comes from the other side of the frontier. Demanding land for themselves! As if 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 to help the 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 the Western Zones.

Close to Dusseldorf are 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 Buchholz-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 old, 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.

"Ofcourse," 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 CountBasso 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 forthe new settlers, amongst whom the estates have been divided up."

CountBasso 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 I heard this I gathered she did not share CountBasso'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 landowners pay forthe 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 CountBasso 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 land-holders 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 offood grains.

The final assessment ofland reform in the Soviet Zone was made in July, 1947, after distribution was completed on July 1st ofthat 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 ofthese belonged to the Nazi Party or the German Government, the rest to the Junkers. Some ofthe estates were reserved for State research farms, cattle and horse-breeding 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 offormer 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 tune. The rest were former tenant or share farmers. A large proportion were "expellees."

From the Junker estates, 110,000 houses, half a million head ofcattle, and 6,000 tractors were distributed among the new farm communities.

Their standards ofliving have increased by leaps and bounds in the past three years; they have become the most enthusiastic supporters ofthe regime which gave them land. They are immune to propaganda from the west promising change and better days. They have land, they are rooted in the soil. Change for them in the western sense, means return to the old days; ofhaving 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 ofpurchasing co-operatives, with much communal working and pooling ofimplements, development of the tractor stations and village-owned machine shops, there is little risk that these 500,000 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 ofnew measures being introduced; new methods of co-operative marketing oftheir produce; further developments in working the land in common as more and more tractors become available. The peasantry has been lifted out ofits traditional status as the most backward and reactionary political force in the country – and in the vanguard ofthe progressive peasants are the new settlers.

The land that once supported the most powerful, semi-feudal Junker barons, the main props ofreaction 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 ofindustry in the Soviet Zone develops on the one hand and the output ofmodern 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 co-operative 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.

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