August 24, 2019

1948-1950. The Berlin Reports

Bill Downs Reports from Blockaded Berlin
Bill Downs (left) and Edward R. Murrow in East Berlin standing under a Free German Youth banner in 1948
Berlin, 1948 - 1950

Bill Downs served as the CBS correspondent in Berlin for nearly two years to cover the blockade and airlift. He stayed in the city from 1948 to 1950 with his wife, writer Rosalind "Roz" Downs (née Gerson). During that time he reported extensively on political developments in postwar Germany. In one letter home dated October 1948, he wrote:
You know just about as much as we do about what is going to come out of this mess. The decisions will not be made here. However the reflection of our policy shows here first and as far as I can make it out, we are preparing to continue this air lift for two years if necessary. There has been nothing that gives any hope for the lifting of the blockade in the near future. The Russians go as far as they dare without overtly precipitating war. I get the feeling that we do the same more or less. And the feeling is that there will not be any open, official conflict between the two major powers.
In another letter home dated September 1948, Roz wrote about the devastation in Berlin:
We drove into the city the other day. [Edward R. Murrow] wanted to see what was left of it. The only opinion I have of the Germans after seeing Berlin and the other parts of Germany we've driven through is that they sure were damn fools. I think before the war Berlin must have been one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Now, there is no city. For miles on end there is nothing but rubble. You are startled when you see a building standing until you drive close to it and see it's only four walls with no insides. . . . It is very depressing to go into Berlin proper. As Ed said, it looks like the end of the world. It looks like something out of a fantastic story magazine; something that looks like a civilization of the past, now dead.
Below are some of Bill Downs' reports from 1948 to 1950. The text is adapted from his typewritten scripts.

July 22, 1948 to September 22, 1948: Berlin's newspaper propaganda wars

July 30, 1948: Politics and the black market in West Berlin

September 12, 1948: Communists hold "Victims of Fascism" rally in Berlin

September 13, 1948: Rumors of an "X-Day" putsch

September 14 to September 16, 1948: Outcry over the sentencing of West German protesters

September 17, 1948: The East-West standoff rattles the city

September 18, 1948: US celebrates Air Force Day by ramping up the airlift

September 19, 1948: Uneasy quiet ahead of UN meeting

September 20 to September 23, 1948: Western Allied Commanders convene on the eve of UN meeting

September 24, 1948: US increases the airlift operation

September 25, 1948: Worried speculation of Soviet interference in the airlift

September 26 to September 28, 1948: The Western occupation powers appeal to the UN

September 30, 1948: The tenth anniversary of the Munich Agreement

September 30 to October 12, 1948: One hundred days of blockade

October 2, 1948: War of nerves behind the Iron Curtain

November 16, 1948: Moscow withdraws recognition of Ernst Reuter

November 18 to November 26, 1948: Elections near as the Anglo-American airlift continues

November 21, 1948: Downs' car vandalized

November 28 to November 30, 1948: Eastern sector Communists oppose West Berlin elections

November 30 to December 4, 1948: The East-West divide widens

December 4, 1948: West Berliners go to the polls

December 6, 1948: Berlin, the "island of anticommunist opposition"

December 7 to December 10, 1948: The deepening isolation of West Berlin

December 16 to December 20, 1948: The French destroy Soviet-controlled radio transmission towers

December 18, 1948: Signs of economic difficulty reported in the Soviet zone

December 19 to December 30, 1948: Christmas in Berlin

December 1948: Germans making the most of the holiday
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)

January 1949: Bill Downs on the "moral reconstruction" of Germany

January 4, 1949: Stalingrad prisoners forced into the East German People's Police

January 5, 1949: The Harnack House club

January 10 to January 24, 1949: The fascist remnants in Germany

January 12, 1949: Simmering tensions over the Ruhr

January 13, 1949: Dispute over missing German war prisoners in Russia

January 14, 1949: The West Berlin assembly prepares to meet in Schöneberg

January 14, 1949: The Communist-Socialist divide in East and West Berlin

January 17, 1949: Protests against the Ruhr occupation

January 24 to January 29, 1949: The Socialist Unity Party convenes in Berlin

January 26, 1949: The future of the two Germanies

January 28, 1949: West Germany's booming industry alarms Britain and France

January 30, 1949:  Reports of a shakeup for the US military government in Germany

January 31 to February 13, 1949: Stalin's conditions for lifting the blockade

February 9, 1949: Debate over Cardinal Mindszenty's sentencing in Budapest

February 16, 1949: Tensions grow as the Berlin blockade continues

February 17 to March 4, 1949: The eight Russians who refused to leave Frankfurt

February 19, 1949: Criminal trials in Munich

February 19 to February 20, 1949: Five men charged with espionage against the United States

February 23 to February 24, 1949: The Soviets opt to remain in Germany

March 2, 1949: Ultranationalism in West Germany

March 8, 1949: Fear dominates Leipzig

March 11, 1949: Soviets conduct defensive exercises along the Elbe

March 13, 1949: The West prepares for indefinite blockade

April 17, 1949: Easter in West Berlin

April 18, 1949: The US stages a major field exercise in Germany

April 19, 1949: New wave of blockade speculation in Berlin

April 20, 1949: The Kremlin reconsiders its blockade policy

April 23, 1949: The SPD and CDU work on drafting a constitution

April 23 to April 25, 1949: Western occupation powers urge statehood for West Germany

April 26 to April 27, 1949: The Kremlin calls for a Big Four conference

April 28, 1949: General Clay announces he will step down as military governor

April 29 to April 30, 1949: Berlin readies for May Day

May 5, 1949: The price to pay for lifting the blockade

May 7, 1949: Strategic failure as the Soviets plan to lift the Berlin blockade

May 8, 1949: Victory Day ceremony in Treptower Park

May 10 to May 13, 1949: Soviets dispute Western claims of ending the counter-blockade

May 11 to May 12, 1949: Celebrations as the blockade is lifted

May 14, 1949: Western powers grant West Berlin more autonomy

May 15 to May 17, 1949: Unexpected anti-Communist movement in East Berlin elections

May 21 to May 27, 1949: Massive worker uprising hits East Berlin

May 28, 1949: Council of Foreign Ministers meets in Paris to discuss Berlin crisis

June 3, 1949: Gerhart Eisler criticizes the United States

June 4 to June 10, 1949: No end in sight for the elevated rail workers' walkout

June 6, 1949: Pro-Soviet propaganda downplays D-Day's significance

June 11 to June 16, 1949: Rail workers vote to continue strike

June 18 to June 29: Occupation powers clash over rail strike

June 19 to June 23: Deal sought to end rail strike

June 25, 1949: Airlift marks its first anniversary

June 30 to July 1, 1949: Traffic snafu in Berlin

July 2 and July 8, 1949: The East awaits the economic collapse of the West

July 3 to July 6, 1949: American High Commissioner John McCloy in Berlin

July 4, 1949: American occupation troops celebrate the Fourth of July

July 10 to July 14, 1949: The "Little Blockade" of Berlin

July 16, 1949: Tragic accidents in Germany

July 17 to July 29, 1949: The Catholic Church's "open warfare" with communism

July 19 to July 22, 1949: East Germany seeks a united front

July 25 to July 27, 1949: "Little Blockade" finally ends

July 29, 1949: Western Allies pay tribute to lives lost during the airlift

July 31 to August 2, 1949: Allied occupation officials convene ahead of West German elections

August 7 to August 15, 1949: Factions vie for power in West Germany

August 15 to August 17, 1949: United States backs right-wing coalition government

August 19 to August 21, 1949: The Communists lose influence in the West

August 22, 1949: American officials promote the Marshall Plan

August 24, 1949: Adenauer set to form coalition

August 26, 1949: Intelligence reports of increased Volkspolizei activity

August 29 to September 10, 1949: US officials appeal to Soviets to release two American youths

September 3, 1949: Tensions rise with the Yugoslav-Soviet split

September 7, 1949 to September 9, 1949: The West German parliament meets in Bonn for the first time

September 11 to September 15, 1949: Konrad Adenauer becomes Chancellor of West Germany

September 18, 1949: Son of Communist leader Max Reimann escapes the Volkspolizei

September 22, 1949: Adenauer government begins work

September 26, 1949: The Soviets successfully develop nuclear weapons

October 11, 1949: Massive pro-Communist parade down Unter den Linden

November 14 to November 15, 1949: Secretary Acheson meets with Allied High Commissioners

November 16 to November 25, 1949: Adenauer signs the Petersberg Agreement

November 30, 1949: East Berlin marks anniversary of rump magistrate's founding

December 4, 1949: American labor leader Walter Reuther visits Germany

December 5, 1949: Threats of violence overshadow West Berlin elections

December 6, 1949: East Berlin criticizes West; Germans clean up World War II battlefields

December 9, 1949: Yugoslav diplomats detained in East Berlin

December 10, 1949: The question of rearming West Germany

December 11, 1949: More purges in East Germany as technicians flee to the West

December 14, 1949: Soviet Foreign Minister Vyshinsky visits Berlin

December 15, 1949: Occupation powers back German youth movements

December 17, 1949: US ramps up economic ties to West Germany

December 18, 1949: Far-right nationalist movement emerges in Bavaria

December 21, 1949: East Berlin celebrates Stalin's birthday

December 23, 1949: Downs reports for the American Forces Network

December 24, 1949: Berlin prepares for its first Christmas after the blockade

December 24, 1949: Positive news for West Germany on Christmas Eve

December 25, 1949: Downs celebrates another Christmas in West Berlin
The Free German Youth marches in East Berlin to protest the Marshall Plan and the Western Powers, with a banner reading "Yankee, go home," May 1950 (source)

January 6, 1950: Downs returns to Berlin from New York

January 8, 1950: Germany reacts to British recognition of Communist China

January 13 to January 15, 1950: Adenauer meets with French Foreign Minister Schuman Meet in Bonn

January 18 to January 22, 1950: East Germany threatens to impose new traffic blockade on Berlin

January 25, 1950: Soviets shut down internment camps in East Germany

January 27 to January 28, 1950: East Berlin announces the creation of the Stasi

February 1, 1950: Traffic slowdown at Helmstedt-Marienborn checkpoint

February 6 to February 10, 1950: Klaus Fuchs arrested in Britain

March 1 to March 3, 1950: East criticizes Western preconditions for reunifying Germany

March 4, 1950: Soviet deportation plan for Germans stokes tensions with British

April 2, 1950: German Communists react to Senator Joseph McCarthy

April 28, 1950: East German lieutenant testifies Soviets building a German army

April 29 to May 2, 1950: East and West Berlin hold dueling May Day demonstrations

May 7, 1950: Political reshuffling on both sides of Germany

May 8, 1950: West Germans scoff at Communist declaration of "Liberation Day"

May 18, 1950: West Germany celebrates holiday as the East prepares for elections

August 22, 2019

1951. Heated Debate in Congress Over 'Voice of America' Programming

Republicans Say Voice of America Is Biased and Ineffective
"A group of State Department announcers huddle around the microphone after the initial shortwave broadcast in Russian to Russia from New York City, Feb. 17, 1947" (source)
From Broadcasting-Telecasting magazine, July 30, 1951, p. 31:
VOA COMMENTATORS: Barrett Answers Charge

The State Dept. last week soundly scotched a series of Congressional charges involving network commentators whose service were utilized on the Voice of America by contract under the Smith-Mundt Act. NBC also joined in a partial rebuttal to a Communist affiliation blast.

The issue was raised in a caustic speech on the House floor by Rep. William S. Hill (R-Col.), who charged that the State Dept. had placed itself "in a highly dubious position" by employing certain political commentators, notably those with CBS. Rep. Hill also singled out an NBC commentator whom, he claimed, "has a lengthy record of affiliation with Communist and Communist-front organizations." He referred to Ben Grauer, who promptly labeled the accusation as "vicious" and questioned the existence of any "official record" tending to discredit his loyalty.

NBC also issued a statement saying that "we have thoroughly investigated (Mr.) Grauer at his request, and found him to be a true and loyal American."

CBS declined comment on Congressman Hill's mention of the employment by VOA of four commentators—Charles Collingwood, William Downs, Griffing Bancroft and Eric Sevareid—who he said had drawn $1,100 for private services.

In a statement issued Thursday, Edward W. Barrett, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, held that it was a "gross injustice" for anyone to imply political favoritism.

Secretary Barrett's comments were directed to Rep. John J. Rooney (D-N. Y.), chairman of the House Appropriations sub-committee, which has been critical of Voice operations. Rep. Hill's remarks came during the course of House debate on VOA funds (see separate story).

Mr. Barrett pointed out that both parties of Congress have suggested that "this program should utilize as fully as possible the best professional talent available" and facilities of private agencies.

"Naturally the Dept. of State as tried to comply with these very sensible and constructive suggestions and instructions. As one part of this program, we have utilized the parttime services of well-known American radio commentators in reaching a worldwide English language audience and in reaching audiences in other languages," he explained, citing the provisions of the Smith-Mundt Act.

He added:
. . . Such commentators have been extremely generous in doing this work at nominal rates far below the pay scale they normally receive. I hardly need to tell you that it is a gross injustice for anyone to imply that a distinguished American radio commentator should be swayed to change his views in any respect because he receives a nominal fee of $50 to undertake a special broadcast for the Voice of America.

On the contrary, these men deserve very sincere thanks from the nation for doing this work at fees substantially below those they can command elsewhere.
Render Advice

Rep. Hill had noted that "as political commentators they frequently have occasion to pass judgment and express opinions regarding the State Dept. that is making cash payments to them."

Taking another tack, Rep. Hill also described CBS as having a "reputation of being, through its so-called news programs and commentaries, a strong supporter of the Truman administration, and of socialistic tendencies generally." He continued:
. . . CBS has been well treated by the Truman administration; it was Columbia's color television system that received the approval of the FCC and is now being adopted as the standard color system for this country. Columbia stands to gain many millions of dollars from this decision. The agency that handed down the decision, the Federal Communications Commission, is, of course, the same agency that holds the power of life and death over radio stations through its licensing requirements.
In another blast, Rep. William K. Van Pelt (R-Wis.) lamented VOA's appointment of Raymond Swing as advisor and commentator. Referring to Mr. Swing's alleged sympathies for Secretary of State Dean Acheson, he scored the commentator as "one of the most unsuitable persons" the Voice could hire.


Marked dissatisfaction with present Voice of America operation, particularly as an instrument of State Dept. foreign policy, characterized heated House debate on VOA appropriations last week.

Using the U. S. radio arm as its whipping boy, a Republican bloc of the nation's lawmakers lashed out at Voice management, programming, personnel and assorted other phases. Discussion was flavored with pungent descriptions, most of them designed to lay the groundwork for a sharp cut in Voice funds this new fiscal year.

After four days of charges and counter-charges that reverberated from Capitol Hill to the State Dept., the House finally voted to allot VOA $85 million for 1951-52 as recommended by the House Appropriations Committee [BROADCASTING-TELECASTING, July 16]. Two amendments by Rep. Cliff Clevenger (R, Ohio), to cut the Voice another $15 million and to return the bill to committee—were rejected.

The GOP bloc charged that the Voice:
• Fails to "bring hope and encouragement to enslaved peoples behind the Iron Curtain," particularly in Poland, where it rates "last" among listeners.

• Concentrates on covering up "past blunders" by the U. S. government.

• "Is about as agile as a rheumatic rhinoceros . . . red tape, lethargy and inertia are the order of the day."

• Stresses the need for funds to purchase radio receivers for use abroad as "an emergency project," but makes little progress on the project.

• Cannot be made effective unless "you have an effective State Dept."

• "Wanders aimlessly from program to program," lacking a cohesive idea or ideas"; boasts too much about the American standard of living, reflecting a "giveaway complex" and has "a very small listening audience, despite some pretty fanciful figures to the contrary."

• Should be better coordinated with an improved U. S. information program.

• Spends too much money on program evaluation ($1,312,100). Advertisers "would go broke if they spent one-tenth as much evaluating the effect of their promotion. . . ."
Bulwarking a Republican attack on the Voice were Reps. Richard B. Wigglesworth (Mass.), John V. Beamer (Ind.), William S. Hill (Col.), Hamer H. Budge (Ida.), Patrick J. Hillins (Calif.), William E. McVey (Ill.), Clarence Brown (Ohio) and John T. Wood (Ida.). Rep. Brown summed up the GOP position: Republicans support a Voice program but the overwhelming majority of its members are "distressed at the results" and blame the administration for lack of a realistic foreign policy.

The Voice also had its supporters in the House, among them Democratic Reps. A. S. J. Carnahan (Mo.), Alfred D. Siminski (N. J.), John J. Rooney (N. Y.), Prince Preston Jr. (Ga.), Laurie C. Battle (Ala.), Brooks Hays (Ark.), and Adolph J. Sabath (Ill.).

In defense of the Voice the Democrats held that the radio operation:
• Spends only 3% of its total budget for program evaluation, on the basis of claims by Thurman Barnard, new acting general manager of the program, and other advertising executives, and that radio networks and advertisers spend at least as much.

• Is counteracting Russian propaganda effectively—a fact borne out by heavy Soviet jamming operations—and is "rendering a real service behind the Iron Curtain."

• Is acting within the provisions of the law in utilizing radio, television and other private agencies as well as professional services of individual commentators (see separate story).

• Is "carrying America's message to the world," under the "expert generalship" of Edward W. Barrett, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.
A suggestion advanced during House discussion was one by Rep. William H. Ayres (R-Ohio) to set up a House committee on the Voice of America. "We have had an Un-American Activities Committee for quite some time," he noted. "I suggest we have a pro-America."