November 5, 2017

1949. More Purges in East Germany as Technicians Flee to the West

Christmastime in Divided Germany
"Eastern refugees boarding a plane at Tempelhof Airport to fly into West Germany, 1953" (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

December 11, 1949

We're having our first big snow of the winter in Berlin today, but despite it the crowds are swarming the downtown streets. This is silver Sunday in Germany, the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season. All stores are open.

For the first time since the war, Berlin's shops are stuffed with all kinds of goods. True, most are priced too high for the ordinary Berliner, since 25 percent of them are out of work. But there is no charge for window-shopping, and that is the greatest outdoor pastime in Germany these days.

The traditional Christmas dinner will appear on more tables in this country than for the past four years. Goose is to the German Christmas table what turkey is to ours, and most grocers have worked out an installment plan whereby low-paid workingmen can have their bird and eat it too. For the past month, Berlin Hausfrauen have been paying one or two marks a week on a kind of goose savings plan. By the time the holiday rolls around, they will have the bird paid for.

But not even Christmas is without its political implications in this divided city.

The official Soviet newspaper today launches a new "peace campaign" complete with the usual slogans to fight for peace by hating the West. The Communist editorialist regrets that there are Christmas trees at the Bethlehem Steel plant, which he calls the central chamber of American war production.

Tägliche Rundschau this morning also reveals another scandal in the people's-owned Leipzig railroad shops, charging that certain administration officials and trade union leaders have embezzled more than one hundred thousand marks.

This is the second management purge reported in the past several weeks. Last month a group of directors of the Continental Gas company of Halle also were arrested for embezzlement.

In the case of the Leipzig rail shops, the Rundschau admits that the plant director has escaped to the Western zones but that trade union leaders and certain workers were being held.

It is interesting to note that in connection with these arrests, the East German government has set up a Supreme Court—a Communist-controlled tribunal whose special job will be the trial of persons accused of crimes against the state.

The Communist press today also gives its reason why so many German technicians seem to turn to South America. The Brazilian military mission headquartered in the American sector of Berlin is charged with recruiting and smuggling former German army experts out of the country. Physicians, mechanics, technicians for diesel and aircraft engines are most in demand.

This story in the Rundschau should produce a great lineup at the Brazilian mission—no better help-wanted advertisement could be devised.

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