June 28, 2017

1948. Outcry Over the Sentencing of Berlin Protesters

Trouble Continues on the East-West Border
A crowd of approximately 200,000 listens to Mayor Ernst Reuter speak in Berlin at a demonstration against the policies of the SED and the Soviet military government, September 9, 1948 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

September 14, 1948

General Lucius Clay, America's military chief in Germany, took down his hair to a number of reporters at his Berlin headquarters this morning, and what he said is perhaps the most significant opinion to come out of this crisis city since the Russians imposed their blockade.

General Clay told us that he did not believe there is an immediate prospect of war; that, in his opinion, a major conflict is not just around the corner.

Not that the general was being optimistic—but Clay explained that he did not believe the Soviet Union would make the Berlin crisis a cause for the use of force.

And the other point the American commander made in his informal talk with reporters was that the gigantic airlift would be maintained through the winter and that it may be necessary to increase the number of planes by forty percent, but that the people of Berlin would be fed and major services would be maintained. And depending upon the weather, there should not be too much suffering. "People won't be as warm as normal," Clay explained. "But no one will starve to death nor freeze."

As for possibilities of the Russians lifting the blockade, Clay was noncommittal. Negotiations between the Berlin military governors are now suspended but are expected to resume after completion of Moscow talks now underway.

Meanwhile the airlift continues droning overhead, bringing its tons of food and fuel. At 4:20 this morning a C-47 cargo plane crashed some twenty-five miles inside the Russian zone. The crew parachuted to safety, but the American fliers are not yet back in our territory.

The success of the airlift and the failure of the Russian blockade to discredit the Western powers and Western democracy in Berlin is confirmed in detail in the July report of the military governor released today. The report says that despite the blockade there has been no abnormal unemployment, although many people have been forced out of work. Fuel supplies are being maintained on a limited basis, and more than a month's food stock is on hand.

But the inter-zonal troubles in this city continue. Yesterday a Soviet military tribunal sentenced five youths, presumably Western sector police, to twenty-five years hard labor for their participation in last Thursday's Western sector mass meeting that resulted in violence. The Russians have abolished the death penalty, but twenty-five years hard labor is their maximum sentence.

So this afternoon the non-Communist political parties and labor unions of the American, British, and French zone have called another mass meeting to protest these extreme sentences and what they call attempts to intimidate civil authority in Berlin. The protest meeting is called for 3:45 at the Rathaus Schönberg in the American sector. This section is well inside our zone, and police are expected to contain the crowd to avoid incidents on the East-West borders of the city.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

September 15, 1948

It's a cold, gloomy day in Berlin, and probably the start of what will become the greatest outdoor sport of this blockaded city—weather watching. I remember back in the days of the London Blitz we used to pray for the gray, muggy skies that we have now. The bombers then wouldn't be able to see their targets.

But the situation is reversed in present-day Berlin. Bad weather means a slowing down of the airlift and the vital supplies needed to keep us going. However, the Air Force says that so far deliveries are up to schedule with the planes continuing to land by GCA—ground-controlled approach.

There is one encouraging bit of news. The two American fliers who parachuted from a cargo plane yesterday have been returned to the American zone by the Russians.

Temperatures might have dropped today, but tempers have not. The struggle between the Democratic West and the Communist Eastern sections of the city now are being underlined by a series of protests.

General Kotikov, military commander of the Russian zone, has sent a letter of protest to the British commandant demanding that the persons involved in last Thursday's rioting at Brandenburg Gate be punished. The note is loaded with charges of fascist gangs, dishonor to the Soviet war memorial, and fascist provocateurs, and it says that such activities are contrary to the Potsdam Agreement. The British have replied rejecting the charges. Incidentally, Kotikov addressed the note to the "Chief of the British Garrison" and signed himself as the "Military Commandant of Berlin."

From the Western side, the democratic leaders are doing some protesting of their own over extremely heavy sentences given to five young Germans arrested by Communist-led police during the Thursday incident. American and British officials have joined in branding the twenty-five years at hard labor ordered by the Soviet military court as infamous. The five Western sector Germans incidentally were tried in secret and without defense lawyers.

The mother of one of the youths involved says she believes her son was convicted because of the credentials he was carrying showing that he was working for American military establishments.

However, the Russians are having their own troubles too. Thirteen officials of textile manufacturing firms in the Russian zone of Germany have been arrested for withholding some eight and a half million marks worth of cloth and selling it on the black market. An official Russian report calls for further centralization and intensified control of the clothing industry in their zone.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

September 16, 1948

American authorities this morning are reported to be taking extraordinary measures to protect anti-Communist Germans here in Berlin as rumors spread throughout the city that the Soviet-dominated police force is preparing to act against pro-democratic organizations and leaders here.

New protective moves are in the making to prevent repetition of such arrests as that of some forty-seven Western zone policemen taken during the troubles at the city hall and the arrest of Dr. Kurt Mückenberger, former head of the Berlin coal organization. American authorities charged that Mückenberger was taken illegally. He is now being tried secretly by a Soviet military tribunal on charges of sabotage.

The rumors spreading among Germans is that a Communist blacklist is in the making with probable kidnappings across zonal boundaries to follow.

The reaction to the recent sentencing of five young Germans involved in last week's riots has been strong here. The youths got the maximum penalty under Soviet law, twenty-five years at hard labor for participating in the Western zone demonstration. General Clay said yesterday in Frankfurt that while it is unusual for us to interfere in another government's court procedures, it is possible the United States will make a protest against the severity of the sentences.

However, there are two stories this morning that serve to bring this Berlin picture into perspective. One of our airlift pilots who parachuted into Russian territory when his C-47 failed was immediately returned to American authorities by Soviet officers. His name is Lieutenant Clarence Steber. The pilot of the plane, Captain Kenneth Slaker, just walked back to the Western zone without Russian interference.

And the other story is more significant. One of the best places to access morale in this messed-up postwar Europe is in the money exchange market. The big news from the Berlin exchange this morning is that the West mark, sometimes called the "Clay mark," is exchanging at the highest rate for Soviet marks in the history of this present economy.

The story is this. When the blockade was clapped on and the four-power monetary talks began, Berliners wanted to get rid of their Western marks, thinking that we would yield to Soviet control of the currency and that only East marks would be good. At that time the exchange rate was about one West mark for two Soviet marks. However, with the continuation of discussions, the airlift, and a stiffening Western attitude, the financiers now believe we mean what we say. So today the exchange went up again. And you now can buy about four and a half Russian marks for one Western mark. Maybe things are not so bad after all.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.