TEST IN BERLIN
Here, by experiment with the heart of Germany, Russians and Anglo-Saxons may reach a common basis for the Peace
L. S. B. SHAPIRO
Maclean’« War Correspondent
BERLIN— Probably the most vital prerequisite to the fashioning of a durable pattern for world peace is that the English-speaking world understand the Russians and the Russians understand us. What we have in common at the moment is a genuine desire for security. Thut is an important start —but only a start.
Understanding has never had a chance to blossom between us. For the past 25 years we’vebeen kept apart by geography, propaganda and prejudice. Now, for better or worse, we have been thrust together. The great test is at hand. By far the most critical link in this new chain of circumstance stretching across Europe lies in Berlin, whose nearly three million residents are guinea pigs in this clinical experiment to fuse two worlds into a common stream of action. Berlin has always played a thoroughly Germanic— the adjective has become synonymous for vicious— role in world affairs. No one, certainly no German from Frederick the Great to Hitler, could have dreamed that the city would one day become the point of confluence for streams of good will surging from East and West.
Yet this has happened. West has come to meet East in Berlin. For the first time since the Russian Revolution the heavy curtain of secrecy has been lifted from Soviet-administered territory. Our columns have been allowed to pass through a hundred miles of Russian-occupied Germany. Two hundred British, American and Canadian correspondents have been given free run of Moscow-controlled Berlin to see what they liked, write what they liked, without submitting their findings to Russian censorship.
We are now enabled to put into motion our mutual desire for understanding by removing the suspicions engendered by silence, secrecy and censorship. What have we discovered? Briefly this: first, that the Russians have behaved with rare forbearance toward the capital of the nation which premeditatedly ravaged all of the Soviet Union to the very gates of Moscow; second, that Russiu has a positive policy for the rebirth of the German Nation in contrast to the negative policy of the Western Allies; third, that by force of circumstance rather than by choice, Russian methods are more abrupt than ours; fourth, that the Russians are at least as anxious as we are to solve thorny problems by compromise and good will. First let us examine hurriedly the locale of this profound experiment.
We drove along Schloss-Strasse into the heart of the fashionable West End, where two famous streets— Kurfürstendamm and Tauentzien-Strasse—once converged to form Berlin’s Fifth Avenue. Now these streets were indistinguishable from everything else in the centre of the city. As far as the eye could see—and practically every building was transparent—there was fire-blackened, rubble-strewn ruin. Wide Kurfürstendamm was ripped down the middle as though a giant plow had plunged along its length. This was where the Russians blew up the subway to trap Berlin’s last-ditch defenders.
We drove everywhere and found only a chaos of jumbled masonry. Berlin is the most imposing monument to the infamy of war that history has ever presented to the world.
It was all as we expected to find it. What our bombing had not done, the Russians, encouraged by Hitler’s hysterical defense of the city, had properly accomplished. The heart of Germany lies broken beyond repair. If the city is ever to rise again it will be a new one. The Berlin the world once knew has passed into memory.
At the first impact one felt a sharp sense of pity; it was like looking at a handsome woman crushed beneath the wheels of a truck. But this feeling passed quickly and one felt the justice inherent in this scene. One thought of Caen and Saint Lo, of London and Antwerp, and one knew this was a beautiful and relentless stroke of history.
Soul of an Evil City
ERIKA MANN, daughter of Germany’s great writer, Thomas Mann, summed it up properly. She drove with me through the city on that first day. For her it was the first visit to her native capital since 1931, when her family fled disgustedly from the insanity of Hitler’s drive to power. She regarded quietly the blackened scenes of her early career as a German writer and actress. Finally she said, “I am not horrified. This is merely the physical expression of Berlin’s moral climate ever since Hitlerism captured the capital. Berlin looks now exactly as she should have looked for the last 12 years.”
But if Berlin’s physical appearance was just as we expected to find it, the city’s spirit came as a surprise. The nearly three million inhabitants who remain of its original four million population are neither cowed nor excessively dejected. People in great numbers walked or bicycled briskly on passable streets—not aimlessly but as though on serious business. They seemed not to notice the Russians, nor did the Soviet troops notice them. Food shops were open for distribution of milk, fat, meat and bread rations. A few stationery and hat shops showed wares in their windows. Although all the major hotels have suffered total destruction I found one small hostelry on Kurfürstendamm which was open for business on its lower floors. Here a jazz band was playing and well-dressed Berliners were having a tea dance. Six theatres and more than a score of cabarets were open, as well as several movies in the suburbs.
I was confused at first, and I asked Berliners, “Where do you live? What do you do?”
The answers came in various forms but they all amounted to the same thing: “We manage to live.” The talent of Berliners for “managing to live” was exemplified in streetcars which rumbled miraculously through desolate streets and by the electricity and water which are now supplied in a majority of districts.
Sharp differences between our policy and that of Russia became quickly apparent. Berlin’s atmosphere lacked the oppressive quality of our zones in the West.
enforce the antifraternization rule to the best of our ability; we forbid organized amusement of any kind; our controlled radio and press drum into the Germans their collective war guilt; we allow only essential business to begin on a small scale under strict supervision; we deny Germans any political activity whatsoever. In short, we apply a policy strictly in keeping with Eisenhower’s directive that “Germans shall pay with sweat, blood and tears” for their crime as a nation.
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Test in Berlin
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Our Attitude—And Russia’s
In Berlin the Russians do not enforce the antifraternization rule —if they have one, which is doubtful. In Kurfürstendamm cellar cabarets Russian officers entertain German women without restriction and indeed with great aplomb. The capital’s night life is certainly more flourishing than that of Paris or London, and German movies are reopening daily in the less-damaged suburbs.
Although the Russians don’t lose an opportunity to impress on the German masses a sense of collective guilt for their support of Hitler’s war, they temper this propaganda by encouraging political activity of all anti-Fascist parties, from the Catholic Right to the Communist Left, and are punctilious in sharing equally among them space and time in press and radio.
This does not mean that the Russians are more kindly disposed toward Germans than we are. On the contrary, Soviet military police have arrested suspected Nazis on a much more sweeping scale than we ever attempted, and they’ve treated them as extreme Vansittartism would have them treated, Soviet secret agents seek out potential werewolves and smash them with a merciless fist.
The essential difference between the Russian and our treatment of Germany is this: the Russians know precisely what they want to do with their zone of Germany, and they’re doing it; they know what they want to get out of Germany, and they’re getting it; they have a program for the revival of the German state, and they’re implementing it without delay.
Grist for the Soviet Mill
Why is it the Russians have a positive policy while we pursue only a negative attitude? What is it the Russians have that we haven’t got? The answers are clearly indicated by the Russians themselves.
They need everthing they can lay their hands on within Germany to restore their own shattered and ravished country; therefore they have a clear policy on what they want to get out of Germany—everything! They have a rough form of legal procedure and a burning enmity for Fascism; therefore their policy of what to do with Germany is straightforward—pull out Nazism by the roots. They have within Germany a long list of German Communists whose ability and trustworthiness have long been authenticated in Moscow; therefore they can afford to launch immediately an ambitious program of political regeneration—with these specific persons in supervisory positions. The Berlin civil administration, key positions in radio, press, education and trade union organization are held by Communists. Why not? ask the Russians, they’re the only Germans we can trust.
The Western Allies are in no wise similarly placed. We don’t want German machinery or labor because import of these would interfere with our economy. We have a very circumspect form of legal procedure and therefore we cannot go about arresting and liquidating suspected Nazis on hearsay evidence. And we cannot afford to permit Germany’s political regeneration at this early stage because there are no Germans we can trust— unless we want to put Communists in charge everywhere.
The German Democrat is German first and Democrat second; the German Communist may be an ardent Nationalist but he’s invariably a Communist first. Outside of a few self-exiled German Democrats in America and Britain, where would we find German political supervisors we can trust?
Thus our problem is vastly complicated when compared with the Russians’ earthy requirements and rough justice. Having purged Germany by wholesale arrests and stripped land hy vast seizures of everything movable, having placed trustworthy Communists in key control posts everywhere, Russia can afford to permit movies, theatres and cabarets to remain open and to encourage political organization. Why not let the skeleton dance? It keeps everybody happy, including the Russians.
Such are the main differences in policy between the Russians and ourselves. Now let us turn to a discussion of methods—for this is an important point on which the Western World definitely lacks an understanding of the Russians. The curtain of secrecy thrown over the early period of Russia’s occupation of the Berlin district led to widespread rumors— assiduously promoted by the Germans —that the Soviets embarked on a wild campaign of seizure, looting, execution and rape. Not, mind you, that under any form of rough and righteous revenge they wouldn’t have been justified in doing so. But let us examine the facts.
On this matter of the seizure and stripping of factories and farm machinery for transport to Russia, the Soviets have merely acted justifiably on the basis of their urgent requirements as a result of Germany’s unprovoked aggression. Our practice rather than our policy is different;, because we simply don’t need machinery.
Here is an example:
Several weeks ago T was sitting in United States Military Governor’s office in a town near Weimar. The phone rang and the following conversation ensued: “Hello. Yes,
Colonel. Oh, I see. You’ve found a hydraulic pumping machine you’d like to take along with you for your camp. Is it Wehrmacht or Nazi property? You’re not sure? Well, it doesn’t make any difference. For the record I’d put it down as Wehrmacht property. Send your orderly around and I’ll have a requisition ready. Not at all, colonel—you’re entirely welcome!”
We take whatever we need with a phoney bow toward our self-imposed rules. Only we don’t need very much. The Russians need everything and take everything without snarling themselves in regulation red tape. Even after the British and Americans took over their areas in Berlin, Russian convoys continued to transport machine tools from factories under our noses.
On the question of looting of private homes we can hardly point the finger of shame at the Russians. During the campaign, American, British and Canadian troops, officers and men, did as thorough a job of private looting as it’s possible to do. Perhaps we didn’t knock over old women and cripples in order to get at the loot but neither have we evidence the Russians did so.
Berlin’s Self-created Bogey
The average Russian private is a peasant type. He has much within him that is reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s character, “Lonnie,” in “Of Mice and Men.” A Berliner told me a story of a Russian soldier who forced his way into a watchmaker’s shop, produced an alarm clock he had looted, and asked the watchmaker to remodel it into two wrist watches. It is this type of Russian—gruff, childlike but inherently kindly — that frightens Berliners and raises in their minds all bogies waved before them for 12 years by Goebbels. This does not mean there have been no rapists and purposeful looters among the Soviets, nor that many Berliners have not been roughly handled by men freshly arrived from scenes of torture and destruction on their own homesteads. But I am convinced that nothing beyond the normal limits of easily comprehended human nature has occurred or is occurring in Berlin.
Some people have suggested that Berlin be forced to remain in its present state— a rambling cave dwelling for two million personsas a permanent reminder to the Germans of the punishment that humanity inflicts on predatory nations. This cannot be carried out because the instinctive industry of the German people forbids it, and long-range Russian policy does not call for it. In 10 perhaps 15 years Berlin will be a great city once more, with new state structures and clean, wide boulevards.
Yes—there may be Nazis in it again; Nazis with new slogans and clothed in new forms of incipient violence. But I doubt that the majority of Berliners will in our time lend themselves to another war against the world. They above all other German civilians or military have been learning the lessons of re-education for two full years. Ever since Berlin became a focal point on the bombers’ war map they have been digesting the only type of lesson a German can thoroughly understand.
They have seen their city burned by our incendiaries and levelled by Russian guns. They know vividly the humiliation of physical occupation. Their eyes have blurred before the sight of British and Americans parading proudly along their boulevards. Better than any other capital in modern history, Berlin knows the full bitterness of physical destruction and moral defeat.
If the Germans cannot learn this lesson and teach their children and their children’s children, there is only one further step left open to a wary world struggling upward. It is complete extermination. Let the Germans know this and—more important— believe it. Then we may have peace.