January 24, 2020

1948. Berlin's Newspaper Propaganda Wars

Cynicism in Occupied Germany
East German VoPo patrols Checkpoint Charlie at the Berlin Wall, October 1, 1962 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

July 20, 1948

A report has come into my hands this morning of a confidential meeting of East Berlin editors and newsmen working on Russian-licensed newspapers.

The meeting was called yesterday to give guidance to the people who publish the pro-Communist newspapers as to the current Kremlin policy on Germany. It provides an interesting insight to the workings of the Communists in the current East-West struggle for the country.

The main speaker at the meeting was Rudolf Herrnstadt, editor-in-chief of the Communist paper Neueus Deutschland. Herrnstadt told the East zone newsmen that the Soviet military government is not interested at the present time in increasing political tension in Berlin—to take it easy for the time being. Herrnstadt also said that Russian policy is to avoid any situation that might precipitate a warthat the first objective of the USSR today is to rebuild her own territories destroyed in the last war.

At the present time, he said Soviet scientists are intensifying their work to overtake discoveries of the Capitalist countries—presumably a reference to the atomic bomb.

According to the Communist editor, the Russian technicians already have developed an air force that can match anything in the world.

At this point, Herrnstadt had to insert some propaganda. The reason the Russian air force is so good, he said, is not only its technical superiority, but also the fact that Soviet fliers are all heroes. Russian airmen, he concluded, will win through because they fight with patriotism in their hearts, whereas American airmen, like those flying the airlift, think only of the high salaries they make.
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

August 27, 1948

The struggle between East and West in the four-power city of Berlin has resolved itself into a "weekend war of words." Western sector newspapers this morning warn Berliners in the non-Communist part of the city not to take West Marks or Western publications into the Russian section of town today. They claim to have been tipped off that the Communist People's Police are planning a series of arrests, searches, and raids in an attempt to stamp out the distribution of pamphlets and the painting of signs on buildings which have been embarrassing to the Soviet-sponsored regime of East Berlin.

In the Russian headquarters town of Potsdam just west of Berlin, police discovered a suitcase left in a railway station which contained 380 pamphlets headlined "Is Tito a Traitor?"

The undercover anti-Communist propaganda campaign in East Berlin is not considered by authorities here to be of any great moment. There is most activity during the weekends because this is the time that Berliners cross sector boundaries to get to lakes and resorts and visit friends and relatives. So far none of the big painted "F's"—standing for freedom—have been found in the American, British, or French sectors—only in the Russian.

Reports continue to come in that Russian authorities are organizing German units to send to the Yugoslav-Hungarian border for possible action against the recalcitrant Tito. At the Helmstedt zonal crossing point in the British zone, twenty young Germans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one are said to have deserted the Communist-led police for fear of being shipped to Yugoslavia.

A major test of German intentions and responsibility is in the making in Bavaria today. The military government licensing system for newspapers has been replaced by the German press law, and now an American official reveals that a wealthy group of former Nazis backed by huge capital are setting out to gain control of the German press by driving the Western-licensed newspapers out of business. 106 new newspapers are expected to start within the next few weeks in Bavaria alone, which according to the official will revive "chauvinism, rabble-rousing, antisemitism, and anti-Americanism."
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

September 21, 1948

Two Communist-controlled Berlin newspapers, Tägliche Rundschau and the Berliner Zeitung, demand in front page editorials that all foreign occupation troops withdraw from Germany.

This appears to be a new and important propaganda line from Moscow, and it may be the first indication of a significant change in Russian foreign policy.

Tägliche Rundschau, the most virulent of the Russian-licensed publications attacking America, headlined the story of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Korea, and in an accompanying editorial teed off on American occupation policy, saying that the Red Army came as a liberator for the German people while the United States troops came merely as instruments of colonial oppression. Other East zone newspapers followed suit.

The Communist propaganda line has long been attacking American foreign policy as being a twentieth century version of British imperialism, but this is the first time that their argument has been used to demand total withdrawal of troops from occupied Germany.

Diplomats here in Berlin this morning are waiting to see whether the new Communist propaganda line is more than a trial balloon or just another bid for the good will of the Germans. Some see the surprise withdrawal from Korea and the demand for withdrawal from Germany as further evidence of Russian isolationism—of further evidence of Soviet fear of war. Thus, by proposing withdrawal of troops at the only two spots where the East and the West have common military borders, the likelihood of incidents will be reduced, and the struggle between Communism and Democracy can be pursued politically without the presence of arms.

This demand, coming as it does on the opening of the United Nations, is most certainly the most interesting diplomatic development in many months.

You remember that, at the Warsaw meeting of the Cominform—the new organization of world Communism—a resolution was adopted demanding complete withdrawal of troops from occupied territories. Now, perhaps, that resolution is being implemented.

In any event, and whatever meaning this new propaganda line might have, it does appear that the Communists in Europe prefer to fight their battle at this moment with words rather than bullets.

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

CBS Berlin

September 22, 1948

The first snow of the critical winter now approaching fell in the Harz mountains last night—an event of great importance for Germans.

However, this first snowfall, for all of its chilly significance, isn't receiving much attention here in Berlin. The people, the press, and most of all, we who are here as conquerors, look to Paris and the United Nations for the next move in the international struggle in which the world finds itself.

I must admit that I have found very little here that gives much hope for the future. One of the things you absorb when coming to this country is a peculiar cynicism. The Germans have found it after years of dealing with the Nazis. The Russians foster it through their contradictory propaganda. And the Americans, British, and French contract this cynicism through just living in its atmosphere.

For what it's worth, the Communist-controlled newspapers are saying that if the Berlin and German problem is placed before the United Nations it will only make matters worse. The Russian-licensed newspapers here maintain that the German question is not one for the UN but for the foreign ministers. About the only ray of hope in this Communist-sponsored comment is that they point out that the Moscow talks have not ended but have only been recessed.

But the cynicism I spoke of is best expressed by the British-licensed newspaper the Social Democrat. It says that the fact the Deputy Foreign Minister Vyshinsky is representing the Soviet Union instead of Molotov is proof that the Russians will oppose bringing the Berlin blockade before the UN. The paper says that the UN is doomed to failure because of the single fact that there can never be negotiation and agreement between totalitarianism and Democracy. And finally the Social Democrat editorial observes: "What can happen in Paris, then? Well, if no miracle occurs...nothing."

But perhaps the best illustration of the 1948 brand of German cynicism is in the caption of a cartoon which appeared last week. One German asks another: "Who's going to win the third world war?" The other German replies: "Who knows? They haven't even decided on who won the second."

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