Berlin Letter

In Berlin, children sing in their schoolrooms... and adults cheer a man Baxter says "has the makings of another dictator."

BEVERLEY BAXTER September 1 1946

Berlin Letter

In Berlin, children sing in their schoolrooms... and adults cheer a man Baxter says "has the makings of another dictator."

BEVERLEY BAXTER September 1 1946

Berlin Letter

In Berlin, children sing in their schoolrooms... and adults cheer a man Baxter says "has the makings of another dictator."


ONE of the strangest experiences we had in Germany was when our convoy of five cars set out for the long drive which was to take us through the Russian zone to the “free city” of Berlin. The autobahn is a highway which runs from the Rhine to Berlin, a vast wide road that goes through no village or town, has no cafés or rest rooms, not even a public petrol station. It was built for one purpose only, the supplying of the Western Front, and the rest of Germany’s roads had to pay the price in neglect.

For two hours we drove on this artificial highway, which is out through farm lands, and saw perhaps a hundred people, mostly women, toiling in the fields. Occasionally a village could be distinguished a few miles away on either side, and once we skirted a large industrial town, but no bridge, subway or path crosses this grim, lonely artery that joins the Western frontier to the heart of the Reich.

But suddenly we came to a sight that was incongruous and faintly ridiculous. It was like a setting from a western film, with a half dozen wooden sheds, a no man’s land of 70 yards, and a barrier at each end. This was the last of the British zone and the beginning of the Russian. An armed Soviet sentry gazed curiously across at us as a British sergeant stamped our permits, and an escort of

armed military police came up on motorcycles to take us through to Berlin.

A courteous British officer checked us thoroughly and seemed to be memorizing our faces. I asked our escorting officer why so much fuss was made about leaving a zone. “Oh, it’s just in case some of you did not reach Berlin,” he said. One must always allow for the military sense of humor, but the Russians themselves are to blame for it. They allow transit to Berlin on the autobahn, but it is only a daring fellow who would go off it.

Up went the British barrier and we advanced across no man’s land. Now we would see the behavior of the Russians, the exasperating delays, the examining of passports and documents in a language completely unintelligible to them. No such thing happened. The Russian sentry, a goodlooking boy of about 17, simply lifted the barrier, smiled at us in the most friendly way and waved us on. In fact we felt rather hurt at being regarded with such small suspicion. Thus, without thrills, did we pierce the famous iron curtain.

On to Berlin . . . Occasionally we would pass a lorry full of Russian soldiers, most of them mere youngsters, who gazed at us with the same curiosity that Canadian or American or British boys would show. Now and then there were horse-drawn Russian vehicles driven by officers who were heavier jowled, older, and whose faces indicated neither friendliness nor interest. I am told that the Russian

transport is in bad shape now that the American supplies have been exhausted.

Forty miles to Berlin and large colored signs in Russian began to stare us in the face. I assumed that they were traffic directions, but I was wrong. They were exhortations such as:

“Salute the glorious Red Army for its mighty victories against Fascist Germany!”

“Workers and peasants unite in the struggle against Capitalism!”

Every now and then there would be a sign in English:

“Warning. The road ahead is skiddy.”

We agreed.

Half a dozen times we crawled across temporary bridges built by the British, bearing such names as “The Two of Clubs,” or “Journey’s End.” Although there was no attack on Berlin from the west, the order had gone out to blow up bridges, and the German, being what he is, carried out his orders thoroughly. If Hitler had had his way, he would have destroyed the whole of Europe, including Germany, to make a funeral pyre worthy of his greatness.

The Russian Had a Gun

I HAD not been in Berlin since 1934 (despite the popular belief that I was the constant guest of Hitler and Goering whom, to my journalistic regret, I have never seen), when the purge was on and Hitler was advertising to the whole world that he meant to make war. Berlin had seemed to me then nothing more than a bloated provincial capital, arrogantly straining to reach the status of Paris and London. I thought it ugly, uninspired and pretentious.

And now, in the year 1946, the RAF had achieved what Hitler could not do. The ruins of Berlin have given to the city what it never had before—a quality of dignity. What is more, the trees were in full leaf, and it is not

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Berlin Letter

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for nothing that its chief boulevard is called “Unter den Linden.” There was beauty and there was hope in the trees. Terrible as the devastation was I had no such sense of irreparable tragedy as in Hamburg, and, later on, in Cologne. Whether we should be glad about it or disturbed, Berlin will rise again.

There are other reasons why visitors to the German capital feel a sense of activity that exists nowhere else in the Reich. Berlin is the spoiled protege of the Big Four. It is divided into four zones, Russian, American, British, French, but it is an open city and there are no restrictions against moving freely among all four. Also, the food ration is higher than anywhere else, except possibly in the Russian-occupied territory, which grows most of Germany’s food supply. There are two opera houses and various theatres open.

And while I give you that picture let me show you the other side, in a sentence. In the month of May one newly born baby out of three died. Not even Berlin can escape the death sentence pronounced by Hitler on his people.

Because others have described the ruins of the German capital, I shall not waste time in adding to what is known. There is hardly a section of the city where the RAF failed to drop its visiting card, and, as if that were not enough, one can see the marks of that fantastic battle when the Russians fought from building to building.

But I must confess that between conferences with high officials and endless inspections we did find time to visit Hitler’s Chancellery. Here we found the magnificent room in which he terrorized his generals and planned Germany’s Götterdämmerung. There were two adjoining rooms at each end reserved for his special S.S. Guards who kept watch over his sacred life. The floor was still covered with rubble and

typewritten documents as if the charwoman had failed to turn up that morning.

Outside in the grounds was the famous Bunker in which Hitler and Goebbels lived out the final scene of “The Twilight of the Gods.”

On the surface the Bunker simply looked like a very strong air raid shelter, but down below there were various rooms and apartments as befitted a mighty emperor delaying the hour of Nemesis. It was there that Frau Goebbels prayed for strength to murder her six children—and found it. It was there that the screaming Hitler gave orders for Goering and Himmler to be shot—orders that died themselves on the wires that had been cut. It was there that Hitler appointed a brave

pilot (who had made his way through a hundred Russian fighter planes) commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe which had ceased to exist.

Unfortunately a Mongolian Russian sentry would not let us go down. He had a gun, and kept on saying something like “nichevo” or “nichecov.” At any rate it sounded like a negative. We tried all our blandishments and at last he went off to get the key. He returned to us, showed us the key, and then put it in his pocket. He was a singularly unattractive specimen of the human race.

Just then he noticed that one of the Socialist M.P.’s had a folder of papers under his arm, and snatched it. He opened the folder, looked at the papers,

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which, of course, he could not read, and then confiscated the lot.

We were four to one. But he had the gun. What would you have done? Well, we did the same.

Every now and then one meets a man or woman whose quality of spirit inspires a new faith in humanity itself. Such a person is the vigorous, whitehaired Dr. Middleton, who lectures at Cambridge on music, but just now is on loan to the British authorities in Berlin. His task is to revive education there and get the schools and universities open as far as it is humanly and physically possible.

I spent two days and most of one night in his company, and saw sullen German faces, tired German faces and little children’s faces light up with joy whenever he appeared. He took me to a battered school where there was one class of some 60 girls of about 12 years of age. The young woman in charge had all the gusto and vitality of a whooping Valkyrie, and her youthful pupils caught her surplus vitality. This was their English lesson and Dr. Middleton asked her to continue.

“Very well, sir,” she said. “We will now do Ferdinand de Bull. Quick! Berta, Irmgard!” A pair of tall girls strode forward with two poles around which were wrapped continuity drawings of the famous story. They unwound the first picture, whereupon a flaxen-haired child came forward and told us: “Once upon a time there lived a little bull in Spain and his name was Ferdinand.” With a little giggle she made way for a brunette as the next picture was unrolled. “Ferdinand’s mudder,” said the brunette, “was a cow. But of all her children she liked best Ferdinand, because he was so gentle.”

With a sweep of her hand the Valkyrie waved her away and summoned a lovely little blonde with a voice as soft as moonlight. She told us how Ferdinand liked to smell the flowers, and so it went on until a tall girl described how “cruel, cruel men came from Madrid to take Ferdinand away, away.”

Cruel, cruel men ... all the innocence and gentleness of girlhood went into those words. Yet it was from the wombs of German women that the torturers of Buchenwald and Belsen were born—and these girls are the German women of tomorrow. What is the answer? Is there an answer?

When Ferdinand was safely returned to his flowers, the class sang, “Sleep, My Baby,” to the music of “Frère Jacques.” And as they sang they rocked an imaginary baby to sleep. There were other devices, all dramatized or musical, and finally we had to go. “Class!” ejaculated the teacher. All the little girls leaped to attention like soldiers. Not one word of German had been spoken throughout the visit.

We went to the wreckage of the Technical University and attended a class of men students from 18 to 32. Several of them had only one arm or one leg. The professor is the leader of the Christian Democratic Party, and had been in the plot against Hitler’s life. But how different was the atmosphere in comparison with the girls’ school! Here were grown men with bitter memories, young men with no hope. I felt again the hidden menace of Germany—despair.

That same day a sardonic, brilliant man, Dr. Karl Schummacher, had roused 15,000 Berliners to wild cheers as he proclaimed the sanctity of German territory. He came to see us that night and we talked for three hours. Schummacher lost his arm as a soldier in the first world war. He was in a concentration camp from 1935 to 1945, but

emerged with a mind grown stronger with the years. Now he is leader of the Social Democrats, the only powerful political figure in Germany.

This is no man of straw. He has the makings of another dictator. My advice would be to trust him and to watch him at the same time. He looks like Germany’s man of destiny.

Late that night we left by train for the Ruhr.

France Muffs a Good Hand

Germany is a beautiful country. The soil is kindly, the forests are full of quaint legendary lore, the hills and lakes are tinted and touched with charm. This land should have bred a human, well-meaning, contented race. Yet even as far back as the Thirty Years’ War the Germans fought each other with a ferocity and cruelty unequalled in history.

The industrial belt, called the Black Country, in England is harsh, ugly, uncompromising, even if there was once a beautiful cathedral in Coventry and there are still fine districts in Birmingham. But in the Ruhr, at Düsseldorf and even in Essen, there is beauty. The German is never content to make his home the mere antechamber to his work, or to surrender the amenities of an industrial town to the demands of the factories.

The only hideous thing I saw in the Ruhr was the monstrous private home of the Krupp family, with 50-yard paintings of the Krupp family on the gigantic walls, with 10-yard paintings of the Krupp children on horseback, with sphinxes on the terrace, showing huge breasts, with a marble seal blowing water into a pool, with hollow illuminated trees, and dull Teutonicstatues among which there is a sudden graceful French piece of sculpture of a naked boy holding hands with a naked girl.

We had lunch there with the British Control Officers, but, by a fortnight, missed being waited on by the Krupp heir who was engaged as a waiter by the British. Now the gentleman is under arrest with most of the other industrial magnates of the Ruhr.

The shadow of the future trouble lies deep on the Ruhr. This massive district is the industrial base from which Germany draws her strength to make war. The French, with ruthless logic, demand that the Ruhr should be politically detached from Germany and placed under international control which would be preponderantly French. Thus the Ruhr would be made to serve all Europe and would be kept out of the hands of any militaristic superman who rose to carry on the work of the Kaiser and Hitler.

There is much to be said for this policy, even though it holds the threat of Germany turning to Russia in despair or making war to reunite the Reich. But as usual the French are playing their cards badly. I visited mines in the Ruhr where German miners are turning out coal which is largely exported to France and other formerly occupied countries, leaving insufficient supplies to get German industry on its feet. The miners are paid in marks, which may eventually be worthless, and which are now useless since there is nothing to buy.

I do not plead any cause. I merely want to put on record that having defeated the menace of a powerful Germany we are now faced with the menace of a stricken Germany. We must think hard and think straight. I believe international control of the Ruhr is possible and that the Germans would accept it. Equally I believe that the political amputation of the Ruhr is dangerous even though it be just.