May 20, 1960
Goodness- George has been to Berlin and returned and even taken another excursion- and here I am, late again. Perhaps by now you are used to this routine. At any rate, as I wrote to him only last night, he just got to see Berlin in time with that Mr. K acting up. And, frankly, I shall be very happy to greet him on June 11th in San Francisco. Somehow we will prefer to have him on this side of the "pond" and he seems to be counting the days too.
April 28th, 1960
I have a few minutes before going to the Berlin Philharmonic so will start a letter to you.
We have spent both morning and afternoon in seeing the refugee situation. We began this morning at the main reception center here in west Berlin, where the refugees come first of all after crossing the border into east Berlin and then crossing again into west Berlin.
First of all we had a very informative lecture from the director of the venter [venue?], himself a refugee in 1951. Som statistics he gave were well worth repeating: Since world war 2 there have been 3.4 million refugees from east Germany, not counting those from other lands such as Latvis, Csechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland etc. Germany has a present popultion of about 54 million; of these, 13 million are refugees from somewhere behind the iron curtain- i.e. 25% of the whole population! That is a lot of people to absorb especially when foirths [fourth] had another language, customs, etc, and of, course, none of them could bring more than a suitcase or so with them, many of them not even that much, so it was also quite an economic problem and still is.
Even more interesting are the more current figures; for example, the monthly refugee flow so far this year: January 5,300; Feb. 5,900; March, 8,000; April to the 26th, 14,000. One reason for the rise since Feb. is that the Communists have put on a big push to collectivize the farms and also the handworkers etc who remain sel-employed. This has, as the numbers show, driven thousands of farmers to make the very dangerous trip to Berlin to escape to the west, where they must now face the difficulty and hardship and uncertainty of starting life from scratch. The no. of farmers jumped from 200 in Jan. to 2,400 in the first three weeks of April, after the new laws came in. The phychological [psychological] importance of west Berlin as an escape valve for refugees from Communism cannot be exaggerated!
After his backgroung [background] speech we split up into groups of ten to sit in on the actual interviews given to all new refugees. These people must show good reason for having left the Communist country in order to be granted refugee status in west Germany (this preventing infiltration and also preventing the complete flooding of west Germany with refugees to house, clothe, and feed) and hence they are questioned by a committee of three former refugees to verify these reasons. We got to listen to four cases, were permitted to ask questions when we didn't understand something- this was, I thin [think], the most informative experience of the day, giving a unique insight into how Communism goes about its slow but relentless job of taking over the lives of the common people in service of the state.
The first case was a man and his grown daughter; the family had been operating a private laundry business in the suburbs of east Berlin. A couple of years ago, in order to put greater economic pressure on such private business (enforce them to form larger "people's factories") the State passed a law that a factory would now be any business employing mroe than 3 people (previously the number had been 11.) Thus, the family had to begin paying factory as well as personal taxes; over the years these taxes were raised to even more pressing levels. Also there are laws restricting the amount people can pay such private businesses (i.e. price controls to eliminate friendly assistance from neighbors and make profits impossible) and also restricting where their goods can be sold. Such economic pressures as this were eventually supplemented by direct threats that the business would be closed and the people forced to work in the "people's factories". At this point they fled as refugees.
The second man was a lawyer, had been working as a tax advisor in a town in east Germany. The State had, over the years, been collectivizing farm and hand workers in his community, thus eliminating his clientele (who must then deal with the State's tax advisors). As a more imminent personal distress, one of the sons( there were 2 sons and wife who had fled with him) had been detected unfavorable comments in private letters to a frolond in the western zone. When this was somehow discovered he was brought up for punishment, given an alternative of joining the Secret Police and spying on his schoolmates (really this is no fictional horror story- it happened!!!) With the threats on his son and the pressure on the father to become a state lawyer (which means joining the party too), the family fled to west Berlin, will go on to Stuttgart where the man has a job arranged through friends.
The third and fourth ones were both farmers fleeing in face of the pressure to give up their private farm and join the Collective farms as I already mentioned. Here we observed, the stress has been more openly political. They (the party organization) call meetings in each town, request that the farmers voluntarily sign up for the party and collectiveization [collectivization] (thus they can say in propaganda that it was "voluntary") and had the peoples' support; Those who don't sign are then pressured to sign ("voluntarily", mind you) by city officials, visits from party people, even liud [loud] speakers going through the streats screaming the man's name as a "friend of Adenauer". If the "Voluntary" apeal doesn't work, the man is, I think, then required to join anyway, and of course his stalling makes him the less popular in the government's eyes. As on side note on the dangers involved in a refugee's flight to the west, one of these farmers came by train with his wife. He and his son ( with the son's wife and two young children) had arranged to leave at the same time and travel seperately for greater safety in smaller numbers). They were to meet in Berlin. But there is so far no sign of the son and grandchildren. They were either delayed or picked up by the Police. It is illegal to flee, try to flee, or even to know of someone's feelings without reporting it to the police! As I realized the torment this couple must be suffering, not knowing their son's fate, the personal brutality of the Totalitarian system really hit me, and I felt liberally almost like crying in sympathy.
Thursday afternoon we went to a refugee camp to observe the living conditions of some of the really unfortunate ones- those who cannot work (as injured veterans, or old people) or cannot find work, and those not granted full refugee status in the hearings (who must therefore just remain in such camps indefinitely). They live in dreary old barracks, converted to this use from old munitions warehouses etc. They usually have very little income, have little hope, and the life is pretty depressingsmall two room apartments with beds and furniture crowded (and I mean crammed) into the tiny space- often families of six or more in this small space. This is just one more hazard of becoming a refugee The situation has to be pretty unbearable in the east zone for people to risk such a future.
On Friday morning we were free to do as we wished. So I went into east Berlin to walk around. Went to several book stores but had no luck in buying anything yet. There are controls on speeding the east German currency and I am still looking for a store that will overlook these. It is easy to buy propaganda material or history or art of the Communist countries, but as for general books on art etc it is much harder. Then we went for a couple of hours to an exhibit in an east Berlin museum part on "Fifteen Years of Freedom in Hungary" and part on the history of "The fight of the German communist Party against Nazism and Imperalism". Very artfully, displayed, large blown-up photographs etc with, of course, some propaganda slant on the historical events. It is fascinating here in Berlin to see and hear the competing propaganda efforts of both east and west. Lots of important issues have been sharpened or clarified in such an atmosphere, though I think if you stayed here too long you would gradually be shifted over to a hard pro-western line- most of the official (even American) we have heard have done so.
Yesterday afternoon we had a rather ordinary reception by an official of the west German gov't- coffee, speeches, etc. Then last night a social gathering with the students of the free university of Berlin- lots of talk, movies etc.
May 1, 1960
Well today was May day in Berlin! So long awaited both by us visitors from Stanford and by the people of east and west Berlin.
We began by taking a train (an intereity rapid system. There are two, [Dr?] underground and with more stops and one above with fewere stops, thus fast to the Marz-Engels Flats in the east sector, the site of their huge parade-rally. We arrived just at the 9 AM starting time and couldn't get within a couple of blocks of the square because of the number of people [Dr?] some blocked off streets. The initial feeling when we got off the train [Dr?] that of a big football game or parade- huge crowds, band music in the distance, various groups forming to march, a sense of excitement and carnivals like activity in the air. In each of the many sides streets leading toward the square were a block or two of groups preparing to march in the parade this accounted for about 3/4's of the people since almost everyone was marching in almost some group or other. (If not regimented, East Berlin is certainly well organized!). The first part of the parade was the [Dr?] military part- marching unite of soldiers and sailors carrying tommy guns or rifles, and even doing the goose step. After the armies came the weapons, tanks, big cannon, anti-aircraft, troop carrier trucks etc. Unfortunately
these went along another street and we only saw them at a distance. The rest of the parade was at least semi-civilian, though the pervasive sense of a people organized into a chain of little fighting units existed for us. There were thousands in "sport clubs", youth organizations, "factory fighting groups", all carrying colorful flags, posters, pictures of party heroes, etc. - all marching in front of the review stand in step. (By this time we had managed to slip with a small crowd of people thru gap in police restraining lines, and stood in good positions at one corner of the square itself, a find view of the proceedings).
About 10:30 we (Dr. Tarshus (Georgie Hoon. prof.), Dr. Whittaker, Dr. and Mrs. Zoerner, Laurie Hutton and I ) worked our way through the crowds back to the train to go over to the west side rally, just across the border between east and west Berlin in the gigantic Flats der Republic. This is a huge open space about 1/6 to 1/8 mile each way; there were an estimated 750,000 people there, to hear three speeches by west German and Berlin officials. To get any feeling for the magnitude of the occassion just try to imagine that many people assembled in one place- Bit Gamo is 100,000, and this made that tiny. I was held up briefly to take pictures and it was an endless sea of faces in every direction. But the tone here was quite different from that parade an spectacle in east Berlin. People were coming and going in steady streams at the edges of the crowd, but there was a arge [large] central area where the people stood still, watched and listened. The spirit was generally serious, thoughtful, people listening attentively, clapping at some points. It was quiet and serious the whole time as though the people appreciated the gravity of the situation and the importance of their position as an outpost of the free world. The speeches themselves were generally anti-Communist ("we will not surrender our freedom" variety.
As the west rally broke up (it lasted only 1 1/2 hours) we went back to the east sector and caught the last hour of the parade there (which lasted five hours)- which [Dr?] closed by thirty units of polikspolizer (people's police) 100 men in each unit. Thus it closed on the same militaristic note on which it began.
We spent the rest of this afternoon again looking around a couple of book stores- and with the help of Laurie's Russian visa- I was able to buy a beautiful book on Van Gogh which I had been refused on 5 previous tries. Cost $2.25- worth $18 in the USA. I have bought several others by now including two big works by Harz and Engels and Lenin (30c each for 500 peces) and four longplay classical records with the exchange of east arls being over 4-1 in west Berlin (this is illegal to the east Germans) the prices are ridiculously low!
Tonight I am staying home, partly because I am tired and my feet are all walked out! But also I have to prepare a short talk for a meeting tomorrow morning in which we try to pull together our experiences and observations here in Berlin. So I have some reading and thinking to do. Maybe if my observations end up being organized enough I will write them down and send them on to you- for there is surely much to be learned and understand about Berlin and the US and every little knowledge helps.
Tomorrow is then our last day of sightseeing- we leave after dinner for theburg, arriving about 1:30 AM.
I came to Berlin with certain misconceptions (as I can see now in retrospect) which I think arose from my reading of American newspapers and listening to American TV, and from my conversations with kids who had been there. Thus several of my own wrong inaccurate ideas are perhaps shared by most Americans. I expected above all to see in Berlin the comparison of the standards of living provided by Capitalist vs Communist economies. I also expected to observe clear examples of suppression of freedom of action and the "big lie", used to mislead epople [people] in the Communist system. My misconceptions lay in the simple images I had drawn of the evils of Communism vs the cirtue [virtue] of the free world- the contrasts that do exist are more subtle and not so readily visible to the eye.
One did see in Berlin the differences if physical appearance at the border in east and west Berlin. In west B. there is tremendous building activity both downtown and in the suburbs and the skyline is dotted with numerous beautiful, modern structures. There are endless new stores of all kinds, displaying a variety of consumer goods (fine ones) and the streets are crwoded [crowded] with shoppers. In East B. there are acres of war ruins, where only the loose rubble has been cleared away, leaving shells of bldgs. and ehre and there a lonely survivor head above the flat, bush covered ground around it. There is Stalin Allee as an example of the new construction style, but its tasteless design (after the Russian model) is all the more depressing, and its stores are obviously fewer and contain less in both variety and quality in the west.
But we msut be cautious in the conclusions drawn from these observations. West B. doesn't prove the success of Capitalism per se- it is economically a completely unnatrual [unnatural] situation in two ways. It is entirely cut off from its natural source of food supplies; it must there fore be subsidized by the west German gov't to the extent of $370 million dollars a year, and its industries are also given tax discounts etc. Neither do the conditions in east B. simply prove the failure of the Communist system; rather it probably illustrates deliberate choices on the part of the east gov't to develop factories ahead of consumer goods or housing projects.
When I turned to the subject of apparent freedom of action, I was again surprised. For, in walking around east B. the people we saw didn't look any sadder or more fearful than those walking around West B; they seemed to go on about their own business, etc. As to propaganda, again the black-white version was unsatisfactory. To begin with, one senses everywhere the presence of two propaganda lines, one from the Communists and one from the wests. They are quite alike in their exaggerations too:
The West says:
1. East Germany is a country of 17,000,000 enslaved people, held under the heel of Communism by Russian tanks and soldiers
2. West B. is a beacon of freedom to suppressed peoples in the midst of a Red sea
3. West B. must remain exactlly [exactly] as is and even to discuss changing the status-quo in any way is dangerous and unwise
The East says:
1. West G. is a hotbed of Naziism and militarism
2. West B. is the center of imperalism, espionage and agitation.
3. West B. mus [must] become a demilitarized free city.