Chapter Eight

Von Papen's Protege

When the Russians captured Berlin, they fought for it bunker by bunker, building by building, and street by street. What the R.A.F. and U.S. bombers had left intact was destroyed in the unprecedentedly heavy street fighting as the capital of the Thousand Years' Reich was won inch by inch from its S.S. defenders. Trams, underground, water supply, electricity and gas were all disrupted. The Russians set up a City Council of technicians and representatives of the four political parties which they licensed when they first crossed the border from Poland into Germany.

As mayor they chose a non-party man, Dr. Werner, a former professor from the Berlin University. The City Councillors were told to pick teams to help them and to get the city cleaned up and running again. The Soviet Army immediately put large stocks of food at the Council's disposal to avoid mass starvation during the first weeks.

The work done during the first 15 months of occupation by the Council appointed by the Russians was monumental. Volunteer gangs were enlisted to clear the streets. They were soon reinforced by batches of Nazis, too unimportant to prosecute, and batches of sturdy girls from the Bund Deutsche Maedel, the Hitler youth movement for girls. They could work out their penance by shifting rubble. The two outstanding figures in the administration were bald-headed, white-moustached Joseph Orlopp (in charge of food), and swarthy, young and energetic Karl Maron (head of the economics department). There was little time for playing politics in that first administration. It was work, work and work to get the city running again. By the time elections were held, in October, 1946, the fusion of Social-Democrat and Communist parties had taken place, and the most important members of the Council were S.E.D. members.

The elections, which were held under four-power supervision, were fought on unreal issues, and had nothing to do with the government of Berlin. The Western Allies and the western licensed press presented the elections as the only means of stopping the floodtide of Bolshevism from sweeping west to the Rhine. The platform of the Social-Democrats could have been taken straight from Goebbels' propaganda arsenal. "Vote Social-Democrat and stop Bolshevism" was the keynote from first to last.

The West-end Berlin middle-class trooped out stolidly and voted for the Social-Democrats for the same reasons they had voted for Hitler. "Only the Social-Democrats can stop the Communists," they said.

The Social-Democrats got slightly more than 50 per cent. of the votes; the Socialist Unity Party, 19.5 per cent.; Christian-Democrats, supported by the Americans, 21 per cent.; and the Liberal-Democrats, the champions of private property and free enterprise, only 9 per cent. Despite British pressure in the beginning to retain a coalition City Council with men like Orlopp and Maron back in their old positions, the Social-Democrats demanded a clean sweep. All the excellent technicians were thrown out. Key jobs went to Social-Democrats. Efficiency and experience were ruthlessly sacrificed for party political considerations. Reconstruction in Berlin came to a stop.

The Americans, who had hitherto backed the Christian-Democrats as they had in their own occupation zone, now swung their support behind the Social-Democrats when they saw the election results. (As a result of American food-packages instead of the meagre rations he had got from the British, Neumann, the hulking Social-Democrat leader in Berlin, filled out noticeably in the weeks that followed.)

When it came to choosing a new mayor, there were long discussions between Social-Democrat leaders and their Western advisers. In the end the choice was narrowed down to two men: Paul Loebe, former president of the German Reichstag, and Dr. Ostrowski. Both men were old Social-Democrats. The supporters of Ostrowski won the day, because they were able to prove that Loebe had some leftist leanings which might incline him to co-operate with the Russians or the S.E.D. Ostrowski got the job.

Within a few months, however, Ostrowski was in trouble. By late winter, 1947, the food crisis in Western Germany affected Berlin. Rations were cut, there was no coal, and it was a hard winter, which lasted well into spring. In the Soviet sector of Berlin "warming halls" were organised where people could crowd together and get a little heat from fuel provided by the Soviet authorities. Discontent among the workers was rising. Many factories shut down through lack of fuel and electric power. A worker could earn as much food in a day by taking a packet of razor blades to the countryside and exchanging them for potatoes, as he could by working in the factory.

Mayor Ostrowski went to the various Allied commandants in Berlin to see what could be done about getting increased food and coal supplies. He spoke at first with the western commandants, and then with the Soviet commandant, white-haired General Kotikov. After the discussions with the four commandants were completed, Ostrowski made a statement that if he "had found the same consideration from the western commandants as he had found from General Kotikov, Berlin's food and coal problems would be well on the way to being solved." Kotikov, it seems, was quite conscious of the difficult situation, and had made specific promises of extra allotments of coal and food.

The statement released by Ostrowski was his first "mistake." His second was that, in view of the desperate situation, he agreed to set up joint emergency committees with S.E.D. representatives to undertake common action in helping to solve the crisis. He struck a bargain with the S.E.D. leadership that, in exchange for the joint committees, the S.E.D. would withdraw their men from posts as deputy-burgermeisters, which they held in many of the suburbs.

For these two "crimes" the Social-Democrats, certainly under orders from the Americans, got rid of Ostrowski. They demanded his resignation in party faction meetings, and when Ostrowski refused to resign, the Social-Democrat leaders moved a vote of no-confidence in him at a City Council meeting. After that, of course, he was forced to resign.

The man the Social-Democrats selected to succeed him was Dr. Ernst Reuter. Reuter's nomination, backed by the Americans and British, was a deliberate insult to the Russians, and could only have been done to provoke a crisis in the city administration. It was a typically crude action of the U.S. cavalry officer from Texas, General Clay, who was U.S. Commandant of Berlin.

For months past, the Russian delegate in the four-power Kommandatura had objected to the appointment of Reuter as chief of the transport administration in the Council. The Kommandatura had unanimously to approve all measures taken by the City Council. The Soviet objection was based on Reuter's record. He was a renegade Communist, bitterly anti-Russian, and had spent the whole of the war years in Turkey, working for the Turkish Government. His passport had been renewed year by year, by von Papen, German Ambassador to Turkey. It is well known that the Nazis did not renew the passports of Germans abroad if they were political refugees, as Reuter claims he was. In fact, no political refugee or Jew would dare step inside a German Embassy abroad, because he knew quite well he would be in danger of arrest and deportation back to Germany.

It is not likely that in a place like Turkey, with few Germans, that von Papen was not accurately informed about Reuter's background, beliefs and activities. Reuter spent some years in the Soviet Union after World War 1, and worked among the Volga Germans. Disenchanted with Communism, he became the loudest-mouthed and most objectionable anti-Russian spokesman in Berlin.

By supporting this nomination the Western allies in Berlin showed, once again, they were not interested in good relations with the Russians, despite their pious declarations to the contrary. They were interested only in splitting the City Council and the Kommandatura as quickly as possible. The Social-Democrats, who had at first taken their orders from the British and afterwards gratefully licked the hand the Americans extended to them, could not possibly have nominated Reuter without Anglo-American support.

It was about this time, incidentally, that several British officials resigned and others were dismissed because they reacted against instructions that neither the Americans nor the Social-Democrats were to be opposed on any point, in future Kommandatura or four-power committee meetings.

The nomination of Reuter provoked, as expected, a first-class row in the Kommandatura. The Russians refused to sanction Ostrowski's resignation. General Kotikov released a statement to the press in which he correctly blamed the whole crisis on the Americans. He charged that "certain American officers... inspired and helped" the opposition to Ostrowski, and accused the Social-Democrat leaders of having forced Ostrowski out to "cover up their political bankruptcy and their inability to provide Berlin with an efficient administration."

Kotikov's analysis was correct so far as it went, but it fell short of disclosing the real aims of the Social-Democrats of the Reuter-Neumann school.

From conversations I had with Reuter himself and several of the American officers concerned, I am convinced that the Ostrowski crisis was just one more step along the road to the shooting war which the neo-Nazi Social-Democrats and certain of the Americans wanted. Berlin was to be the Pearl Harbor, the Bataan, the excuse to shock America into a war. Anything that the group of German-American conspirators could do to further that aim, any split that could be created, any wedge that could be hammered into that split, was a weapon to be used. They planned and schemed night and day to provide new .incidents, provoke new crises which would force the east-west split, and out of that split make a war.

Of course the Ostrowski-Reuter crisis was presented to the world as one more example of Russian "bloody-mindedness." It was used to spread the propaganda that it was impossible to work with the Russians.

If the Americans and British felt they were making use of the Social-Democrats, Reuter, Neumann and Co., for their ends, the Germans were quite sure they were fooling the Anglo-Americans and using them for their ends – to get the war started, to achieve with Anglo-American help what they had failed to do with Italian and Japanese help – to defeat the Soviet Union.

Kotikov, by use of his right to veto, succeeded in blocking Reuter’s-appointment, and the senior Social-Democrat among the deputy-burgermeisters, Frau Louise Schroeder, became acting oberburgermeister, the first woman ever to hold such a post in Berlin history. Reuter had to bide his time, until the split between east and west Berlin was complete and a West Berlin City Council was set up in the British sector with Reuter as oberburgermeister.

As Reuter has been built up in American circles as one of the great future leaders of Germany – has toured the United States, whipping up sympathy for the “oppressed and gallant" Germans in Berlin and hatred against the Russians – it may not be out of place here to describe my impressions of him. They were noted down after I lunched with him at the home of a mutual acquaintance early in 1949. Reuter was still basking in the warmth of having been described in the American press as the "outstanding American ally in the great fight for Berlin."

Unfortunately for him on this occasion, Reuter was under the impression that it was an all-American luncheon party, so he revealed a side to his nature which was embarrassing to our mutual host and himself, when he discovered I was British.

Early in 1949, German politicians in the Western Zone were wrangling over the Bonn Constitution. Somebody asked Reuter, over the soup, when Western Germany was going to have a government. He set down his soup spoon.

"It's all the fault of the British, these delays," he said. "If it were not for them wanting to tie us down at every hand's turn, we would have had a constitution by now." His loose lips and flabby, pale face became distorted with passion as he began to complain at the increasingly anti-German tone in the British press. A very different Herr Reuter from the servile Social-Democrat who courted British favour in the days when the Americans were backing the Christian-Democrats.

As one who had played no small part in trying to awaken the British public to the dangerous resurgence of German nationalism and neo-Nazism, I was glad to lead Herr Reuter along this interesting path. His line was that of the extreme nationalists, of which Reuter must be regarded as an arrogant and dangerous example. It was the line with which I was familiar from talking to ex-Nazis, or listening to conversations in west-end bars.

"The British were responsible for Nazism. The German people had nothing to do with it at all. The British brought Hitler to power and kept him there. The British were now trying to give the Germans a constitution under which they would have no powers at all. The British were dismantling industries only for fear of German competition. If the British were out of Germany all would be well. The British press was publishing critical articles and trying to make trouble between the Germans and the Americans."

"'As one who has written many such stories for the British press," I interrupted – and Herr Reuter laid down his soup spoon again and wiped his lips, in embarrassed surprise – "I should like to point out that you can't expect too much support from the British public, when the best line you offer differs in no way at all from that of Hitler and the Nazis. You plead for a strong Germany as a bulwark against Communism. That line may go down well with our American friends and in certain reactionary circles in England. The Americans are new to the European scene, but you must really think up something more original to appeal to British public opinion."

Of course, there was much that was correct in what Reuter had said. British industrialists and British politicians did help Hitler to power. Chamberlain certainly saved him from being overthrown in 1938. Some British interests were in favour of dismantlings for reasons of competition. But such criticism came ill from a man who personally and through his Social-Democrat party never gave a sign of opposition to the Nazis. Typical of Reuter, also, was that he should find no hard words for the German industrialists and the spineless German middle-class political parties who really brought Hitler to power. Typical of Reuter's hypocrisy was that he was appealing in America and England to just that class which had supported Hitler financially before and after his rise to power.

"What do you think are the chances of the Russians withdrawing their troops from Germany, without waiting for the West to move?" I asked Reuter, to break an uncomfortable silence.

"They withdrew from Korea, you know," I reminded him, "and they are supporting moves for an early peace treaty with Germany and withdrawal of troops within one year after the signing."

"The Russians know too well that, if they pulled out, there would not be a Communist left in the whole of Germany within one week."

"Why not?"

"We would hang them from the nearest trees and lamp-posts," replied the Social-Democrat, the Oberburgermeister of Berlin.

"You would do even better than the Nazis did," I observed. "But presumably, if the Russians pulled out, they would leave behind a well-organised State, capable of maintaining order. What makes you think you would overthrow that State? Your record during the twelve years of the Nazi regime, and during the last 100 years of German history, would not lead one to think that the German Social-Democrats and middle class could carry out an armed coup."

As at that time Reuter did not even dare enter the Soviet sector of Berlin, his courage in this comfortable home in the American sector was more than striking.

"I have just come back from a trip in Eastern Europe," I said. "There, in Bulgaria, in Hungary or Czechoslovakia one can talk to many people like you, who say that not one person in a hundred supports the Communist government. And yet those governments remain in power – and I believe it is because they are supported by the majority of the working class and peasants. What makes you think that you German Social-Democrats could take over here in Germany, when your colleagues in Eastern Europe have either worked together with the Communists or dissolved into nothing?"

"Because there are Russian armies there to support the Communists. Without their support the governments would be quickly overthrown."

"But there are no Russian armies in Bulgaria or Hungary. There were for some time after the war, but no longer. There were also Russian armies in Finland, but there the people decided for a Social-Democrat government, and it has remained. There were no Russian troops in Czechoslovakia when the workers took over the government in February, 1948."

Then came one of those astounding statements which could only originate from the arrogant nationalist neo-Nazi type which Reuter personified.

"The only reason the coup carried out in Czechoslovakia was a success was that the Czechs had expelled all theGermans. If the German minority had been intact, such a Communist coup would have been impossible. And don't forget, when the time comes here it is we who will have the machine-guns."

It was an interesting luncheon, and Reuter turned to his American host and fellow-guests from time to time, for confirmation of his line. One of the American fellow-guests, a Dr. Stern, of the Political Intelligence section, said to me later, over the coffee:

"You know, I don't quite get the set-up here. I have just come up from the Zone where things were simple. It was just the Germans against us; down there. You could bet that everything they did, wrote and said was directed in some way against the occupation. It was just a matter of checking on how dangerous the various trends were, and then trying to get some action taken to clip them back. But here they're all for us; fulsomely and servilely so. Now I'll be hanged if I know which is the real attitude. Here they're a thousand per cent. behind us in whatever we do, they do what we tell them, and they ask our advice before they do anything themselves. Down in the Zone, they just plainly hate our guts."

I did not have the advantage of meeting Reuter socially in a purely British gathering, but from my colleagues, I know that on such occasions his attitude was: "The British and Germans understand each other. We are both Europeans. The Americans are well enough in their own way, but are crude and gauche. They can never understand Europeans, know nothing about our real problems. They are interested only in fleecing Germany temporarily, and will lose interest in European affairs when they have milked the Continent dry. The future of Europe depends on the tightest collaboration between Germany and Britain."

Reuter is probably not as dangerous a figure as the Adenauer type in the Western Zone. He has the limitations of stupidity, arrogance and vanity. It is certain that at one time he saw himself in the role of West German Prime Minister, but is more likely he will be abandoned by both the British and the Americans, after he has served his marionette role in Berlin. Reuter has not the confidence of the Ruhr barons to play the larger role cast for Adenauer.

He played the crude and obvious game for German nationalists: first of all angling for the split between east and west, then splitting the French from the western camp, setting British and Americans against each other, and finally playing off the different factions in the American camp one against the other. Above all he worked against any solution of the Berlin problem. Any suggestion of a compromise was denounced by Reuter as "treachery." At all costs Berlin had to be preserved in a state of crisis as the future "casus belli" and in this he was supported to the hilt by the war clique in the American camp.

There were plenty of ways of avoiding the various crises which beset Berlin, but the Social-Democrats were not interested in accepting them. In the days of the acute food shortage in 1947 and early 1948, long before blockade and counter-blockade were started, the S.E.D. deputy chief of Food Administration worked out an excellent scheme whereby food would be made available from Germany's neighbours and paid for by City of Berlin industrial production.

It was not an abstract idea of what might be done, but a concrete plan, worked out to the last comma. The eastern neighbours, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, were approached, also Norway, Holland and several other western countries. They agreed to supply specific lists of food and raw materials so that Berlin's factories could be run at full capacity again. The raw material would be returned as finished goods, and the labour would pay for the food. All of Europe was interested in having Berlin electrical goods, Siemens and Blaupunkt radios, Agfa film and chemical products; but factories had closed down or were working only part-time. The Scandinavian countries promised fish; Poland and other East European countries, grain and fats and meat; the Low Countries, fruit and vegetables.

It was a sound scheme, worked out by competent economists with hard offers and waiting contracts to work on. The Soviet commandant supported it, and offered to make the necessary extra electric power and coal available in his sector. But nothing came of it. Under pressure from the Western Allies, the Social-Democrats turned the scheme down. The crisis had to be maintained at all costs. Much better to lay the blame, for those cold homes and empty stomachs, on the lands lost east of the Oder-Neisse line.

After the unilateral currency reform in the west – when the transport restrictions to Berlin were imposed, when factories were closing down in the western sectors, when parks and gardens were being robbed of their trees for fuel, when Berliners had two hours gas and electricity per day – Herr Friedrich Ebert, Communist son of former Prime Minister Ebert, and Oberburgermeister of the Soviet sector of Berlin, offered to supply all the food, coal and power that West Berlin needed.

I attended a press conference called by Herr Ebert when he announced that stocks could be had by Herr Reuter's West City Council without any conditions whatsoever. No question of bargaining with food and coal for recognition of the newly established Soviet City Council. In the Soviet sector they had just introduced the most generous coal ration Berliners had enjoyed since the war. In the Western sector, air-lift planes were bringing coal in sacks from the Ruhr. The beautiful Grunewald park was being completely denuded of its trees. Every second tree in the streets and avenues of West Berlin was being cut down for fuel. The air-lift was costing Berliners thousands of dollars every day.

The total bill for the fifteen months of the air-lift is estimated at 210,000,000 dollars, almost one hundred dollars for every ton of food and coal carried. An expensive lesson for the Berliners in future to disregard the demagogy of their Social-Democrat West Berlin City Council. The bill for the air-lift should be sent to Reuter and his colleagues, who could have forced the Americans to call off the air-lift any time they wanted to. Because of the air-lift, West Berlin is a bankrupt city with a quarter of a million unemployed, and is likely to be plunged ever more deeply into debt unless a clean sweep is made of the present administration.

"We have the coal and food stored in our warehouses," said Mayor Ebert. "They can be had by Herr Reuter for the whole of Berlin without any conditions whatsoever. And if Herr Reuter does not want to accept, individual suburban burgermeisters can have it. They can collect from us or we will deliver it to them."

Reuter turned down the offer and forbade any of the Western burgermeisters to accept, although some of them made public statements at first, gladly welcoming the generous offer. The crisis had to continue. The air-lift was the best publicity West Berlin and Herr Reuter had, and it offered the best chance for the transformation of the "cold" war into a shooting war.

The Ebert council then offered individual Berliners from the Western sectors the possibility of drawing their food and coal rations in the Soviet sector. Special depots were set up for them. Many thousands accepted this offer despite strong hints of discrimination against them by the West. People who drew their rations in the Soviet sector were told they would never again be able to register in the West. Western industries which took advantage of the Ebert offer of coal supplies were black-listed by the Western Allies. After the first few weeks of hauling their coal rations home from the Soviet sector, West Berliners had their sacks of coal confiscated by the West Berlin police at the sector boundaries.

No solution could be accepted by Reuter and Co. Their camp was heavy with gloom when there seemed any chance of settlement – a gloom reflected in the headquarters of Generals Clay and Howley.

By September, 1949, Reuter was complaining that Western Allied inaction was "bleeding" Berlin. "They send us experts and make nice Sunday speeches," he said, "but they come to no decision that will save the city from despair." (The words have a familiar ring. They are faithful echoes of those pronounced by General Kai-shek during the last months preceding his eclipse. Reuter would do well to study the history of American help and promises of help to Chiang and the final results.)

Reuter did as much as any single person to create the situation which he went on to describe as "intolerable." "The city is now like a ship without a rudder," he said, ending his statement with a typical Reuter impertinence: "How can people go on without lapsing into complete despair, while our Allied friends sit and wait for Vyshinsky?"

The greater the misery, the colder and hungrier the Berliners became, the more Reuter and his Western .advisers hoped to turn them against the Russians. An incessant campaign in the West German press denounced the Russians in most insulting terms as being responsible for the city's troubles. The Nazis came out of their holes, and it was impossible to distinguish between the West Berlin press of 1948 and that of 1939, for the violence of its polemics against the Soviet Union and the Communists. Leading the campaign was Reuter, late official of the Turkish government, protege of von Papen, Social-Democrat whose declared ambition was to outdo the Nazis and hang all Communists "from the nearest trees and lamp-posts."

Reuter fancied himself not only as the "saviour" of Berlin but also as the champion of German rights all over Europe. On January 17, 1950, we find Mayor Reuter urging the Western world to restore "liberty" to Poland and Czechoslovakia. It was understood but not expressly stated that this "liberation" would be accomplished by German arms.

"Europe cannot be saved on the Rhine river," Reuter told 14 visiting American editors. "Europe extends to the Curzon line on the borders of Poland and Russia. We do not fight for the liberty of Germany alone, but for the Poles and Czechs too. We have to fight for their liberty to save the peace of Europe."

Fortunately the Czechs and Poles have vivid memories of the sort of "liberties" which German armies fought for last time they invaded Eastern Europe, while Reuter was working for Germany's friendly "neutrals" the Turks. But Reuter never gave up hope of turning Berlin into a "Sarajevo," as one of his colleagues recently expressed it, which would kindle the sparks of World War III.

Reuter it was who .inspired the foolish attempt in January, 1950, by American military government, to seize the headquarters of the Soviet Zone railway administration, which happens to lie a few yards inside the American sector of Berlin. Reuter claimed its six hundred rooms should be used for office space by the West Berlin Council, although the building contained the entire switchboard not only for railways throughout the Soviet Zone, but also for Berlin as well. The switchboard controlled the food supply route from the Western Zone to Berlin. It was another example of Reuter sabotage and provocation, and it was paralleled by actual sabotage on the railway lines which caused several accidents.

Western police with American support seized the building, but were forced to turn it back again a few days later when the Soviet Zone authorities pointed out that without their headquarters they could not guarantee full operation or the safety of the Berlin and East Zone railways.

Reuter wanted this breakdown in order to have the airlift started again and the crisis sharpened. After the Americans withdrew, Reuter complained: "This American retreat has caused the Russians to feel much stronger. Having seized the building, it would appear the only course would have been for the Americans to stick by their positions."

Reuter's friend, Erich Reger, editor of the Goebbels-type "Tagesspiegel," went even further in condemning this American "weakness": "The American retreat is more dangerous than a new blockade. The population of West Berlin will never understand the tolerance of Soviet enclaves in the Western sectors."

Reuter and Reger had banked on a new blockade when they provoked the incident. If the Western Powers were not quick enough on their own initiative to provoke anti-Soviet incidents, Reuter and his colleagues were always at hand, intriguing and plotting new and ever more dangerous provocations.

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