July 20, 2015

1949. Factions Vie for Power in West Germany

The West German Federal Election of 1949
1949 West German Bundestag election posters (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

August 7, 1949

Western Germany's election campaign is beginning to heat up today after a cold, unimpressive start, and the last seven days before the voting next Sunday promise to produce some political fireworks.

Max Reimann, leader of the German Communists, spoke in the manufacturing center of Braunschweig yesterday and got himself hooted to "go back to Russia." A fight started in the crowd. The public address system was destroyed. And then, almost as if by signal, one part of the crowd started singing "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles." The Communist section broke into the "Internationale."

In Nuremberg, the right wing Christian Democratic leader, Dr. Konrad Adenauer, had to dodge stones thrown from the crowd. Another fight started and it took thirty policemen to quiet the rally.

However, in all this campaigning, the main object of the attack by German politicians has not been the rival German political parties. It has been the Western occupation powers. To hear the politicians of all shades lay into America, Britain, and France, one would think that we were running for office.

The theory seems to be that the party who attacks the occupation most strongly will get the most votes.

Western authorities have become concerned over this development. It is no accident that the crowd at the Reimann rally suddenly began singing the nationalist "Deutschland über alles."

Bill Downs

CBS Frankfurt

August 9, 1949

Germany's current election campaign, which will establish the new West German state, has thus far proved just one thing: that politicians as an international breed are vociferously enduring in Europe as they are in America.

In the final five days of the electioneering, there are a half dozen major speeches every day in the community centers stretching from Hamburg to Munich. The different party leaders usually make two addresses a day, and a political speech in Germany isn't a full dress affair unless it lasts at least two hours. If the volume of words spoken in this campaign were a measure of the new democracy here, then the world would have little cause to worry about these people. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The underlying theme of this campaign has been "Germany for the Germans," a poorly disguised reemergence of nationalism which forebodes more problems for the Western occupation powers after the Federal Republic of Germany is formed about a month from now.

There are more unknown quantities in Sunday's German election than in boarding house stew. There are eleven million refugees in Eastern Germany, and no one knows how they will vote. There is the million and a quarter unemployed, there is the women's vote, and most importantly there appears to be great apathy on the part of most people that questions whether the election is really important at all.

Bill Downs

CBS Düsseldorf

August 11, 1949

By anyone's standards, this German election campaign should have been one of the most exciting events in recent European history.

It has everything—a defeated people rising to form their own government and accept the challenge of the last half of the twentieth century.

It has drama—thirty million Middle Europeans caught in the fulcrum of the struggle between East and West and speaking out in a free election in an area where free elections are threatened with extinction.

It has pathos—eleven million refugees seeking stability, homes, and security in a Germany where every city above a population of twenty thousand is in ruins.

This election would appear to have promise, for these are the people who, only four short years ago, were at the throats of the democratic world. Since then, they have made official repentance by giving up their arms, and they have told the conquerors that it was all Hitler's fault anyway—that it was the Nazis, not the German people who fought their losing war.

However, instead of this Sunday's election being a chapter of exciting, throbbing history, the ordinary German appears to be regarding the political struggle with all the interest that a kindergarten class might have in a lecture on interplanetary physics.

In attending the campaign meetings of the right win Christian Democrats, the left wing Socialists, and the extremist Communists, I have sat in the audiences and looked at the German electorate and wondered what they were thinking. They all appeared to be listening intently, and some of the speakers are good and it probably is true. They are hard to distinguish types. The Christian Democrats will be a little better dressed than the Communists or Socialists.

It struck me that the only common denominator is the same one that you see at American political meetings. A great number of those attending the German political rallies have that same yearning look that maybe, if their party wins, they can wrangle a political job, or maybe be able to fix a traffic ticket sometime in the future.

Then, when the meeting breaks up, the people file out and stand around and talk about everything under the sun other than what the speaker said.

The only physical evidence that there is an election on in this part of Germany at all is a plastering of brightly colored posters on the wall, as well as an occasional banner like the one a few blocks from here in front of the Düsseldorf railroad station. A big red banner proclaims to commuters, "Vote for the exit of the occupation armies. Vote KPD"—the Communist ticket.

An American politician would go crazy at the weakness and inexpertness of the German campaign. But, of course, the German political parties are very poor. They depend mainly on their campaign funds to come from voluntary contributions.

The Socialists have been most vigorous in fighting the campaign battle, and apparently they have the most money. However, the opposition parties charge them with unfair tactics. Protests were made in Hamburg, where it is charged that the Social Democrats have been employing disabled German soldiers to go around tearing down the posters of the Christian Democrats.

And in Kiel some enterprising politician dug up an old barrage balloon and painted "Vote Socialist" on it. It now drifts lazily over the city.

Here in the Ruhr the Communists have their only real chance of electing deputies to the new parliament. It is here that they will collect most of the ten percent of the vote they are expected to get. I asked a Party official what his predictions on tomorrow's voting was. He wisely replied, "Look what happened in your America when people started to predict the election. The Communist Party says only that we will do very well.

The Communists are getting the most trouble from recently released prisoners of war sent home from Russia. Last night, another Communist meeting was broken up only three minutes after it started. There are also reports that the Comrades are taking a page from Boss Tweed and Prendergast in this election and are planning to concentrate their strength in one or two places in the Ruhr.

Since this is the holiday season in Germany, the authorities have made provisions that vacationers can vote outside their home precincts if they have the proper papers. It is reported that about five thousand Communist vacationers will descend on Solingen by streetcar and cast their votes there for their candidate.

As I said before, the isolated incidents of violence—one man has already been killed in an election argument in Bavaria—there does appear to be a great political disinterest in the election by the great mass of German people.

After sixteen years under Hitler, the Germans have learned the wisdom of the closed mouth, and authorities here admit that there may be a great groundswell of feeling and opinion which may find expression in tomorrow's election. This can be demonstrated in two ways: by the people staying away from the polls and boycotting the election, or by a surprise extremist vote either to the right or to the left.

There are those who say that the mass of people have been too quiet in this campaign; that the still political waters of Germany run extremely deep and dangerous.

And there is evidence to support this in the overt and increasing signs of blatant nationalism that has shown up here. The pre-Hitler red, white, and black Reich's flag has been displayed in some meetings. "Deutschland Über Alles" is reemerging as the national anthem.

Here in the Ruhr there have been vicious attacks on America, Britain, and France. And in a number of speeches, including the bourgeois Christian Democratic Party, politicians have praised the achievements of the defeated German Army.

The most overt statement yet came last night from a former Nazi general, Major General Remer, the man who put down the military putsch against Hitler on July 20, 1944. Remer announced the formation of the German Party of the Right, admitting that he welcomed and needed all former Nazis in Germany. "Our work will begin the day after the election," the former Nazi officer declared. "Within two years we will be so strong that we will sweep into power."

This frank admission of neo-fascism has found other and different expression in Germany. I have copies of a letter sent anonymously to businessmen in the Cologne and Aachen area demanding that all good Germans should boycott the election. The Christian Democrats are tools of the Americans, the Socialists are pawns of the British, and the Communists are catspaw of the Russians, this letter declares.

The mimeographed letter goes on to name a number of German politicians charged with working for the OSS or British intelligence during the war and who continue to be spies against other Germans.

Another pamphlet, also appealing to all "true Germans," has had wide sale here demanding passive resistance to the election and a vote boycott.

Whether these appeals will develop into anything more than "lunatic fringe" movements will be partially answered tomorrow.

But it would appear that Germany's first general election in sixteen years has more sound than fury. The fury may come later as the Germans gain confidence and strength in their new government.

Bill Downs

CBS Düsseldorf

August 12, 1949

Emphasis in Germany's election campaign is shifting to the Ruhr today as politicians of all shades make their final bid for votes in the country's most densely populated district.

The Ruhr area, stretching forty miles eastward from Düsseldorf, from where I am now speaking, has a population about the size of New York City. But more importantly it contains the coal mines, the steel mills, and the synthetic oil plants that have become a major issue in this election.

How the Ruhr votes next Sunday is going to have a vital effect on the course of our European Recovery Plan. It will influence British foreign policy, and the Ruhr vote may determine whether or not the future West German government will be free enterprise or socialist.

The Ruhr industrial area will most certainly give the measure of Communist strength in Germany, for it is here among the coal miners and steel workers that their influence and following is the greatest.

Political experts here say that they have sensed a swing in the left. That is, from the right wing Christian Democratic Party to the Socialists. A British military government official said the Communists have lost ground and will get less than ten percent of the vote. I talked with Communist party leaders here this morning. They deny they have lost ground, claiming that their political meetings are drawing more interest than in 1932 when the German Communist Party was at its peak. However, the Ruhr Communist leaders refuse to predict their strength at the polls on Sunday.

For the next few days I'll be broadcasting from what is laughingly called "CBS Düsseldorf." The studio is my two-by-four bedroom in the British press camp. Press wireless equipment is perched on the windowsill. The tap on the sink in the corner drips badly. Children of a Danish correspondent play in the hall. I just wanted to warn you in case any strange noises come over this microphone. It is probably the maid looking for laundry.

Bill Downs

CBS Frankfurt

August 15, 1949

The people of Western Germany have elected a conservative, middle-of-the-road government to form their new Federal Republic and constitute the first German state since Adolf Hitler's abortive Third Reich.

Final returns of yesterday's election, completed a few hours ago, give a substantial victory to the Christian Democratic Party and its free enterprise, capitalistic economic program.

The vote rejects the nationalization platform of the Socialists, although they will be the strongest opposition party, and the results deal a severe blow to the Communists.

The Christian Democrats, however, have not won a clear majority, but they are expected to form a coalition with the Free Democrats and other right wing groups which will give a clear two-to-one margin of votes.

Some twenty-four million Germans cast their ballot yesterday, making their participation in the election 78.5 percent.

The right wing victory marks 73-year-old Dr. Konrad Adenauer as the dominant political personality in the Federal Republic of Germany. Adenauer is slated to be the new Chancellor. The presidency of the republic is reportedly promised to Dr. Theodor Heuss, leader of the Free Democratic Party whose right win campaign won them the greatest gains of any organization yesterday.

The German Communist Party lost badly. They polled over one million, 360 thousand votes—almost a half million less than their strength in the state elections in 1947. The percentage of Communist votes ran only 5.7 percent. Even KPD leader Max Reimann had trouble. He failed to win a seat in the direct vote in his hometown of Dortmund, but is assured of a place in the Parliament in the proportional representation list of his party.

This election marks the fourth defeat of the Communists in free elections in the past eighteen months. The first was in Italy, then France, and finally in Berlin.

The new German Parliament will meet in Bonn on September 7. It will have 402 members. The lineup will be like this: for the right win majority, the Christian Democrats have 139 seats. The Free Democrats will have fifty-two, with smaller right wing groups joining in for the working majority.

The Socialists will have 131 seats in the opposition. The Communists have fifteen elected delegates.

The election revealed a hardcore faction of right wing of extremists whose strength is approximately the same as the Communists.

The international significance of West Germany's swing to the right is tremendous. The German people, by electing a conservative government, have certainly created the kind of state most palatable to the policies of the United States. The rejection of the Communists also follows the pattern of France, Britain, and the Low Countries.

The question will soon arise as to Germany's participation in international organizations such as the Council of Europe, and an increased participation in the European Recovery Plan.

But the final decision as to whether the new Federal Republic of Germany will become a respected member of the Western community of nations depends upon the actions and achievements of this new government during the coming months.