INTERVIEW WITH LORD ANNAN 16/1/96
INTERVIEWER: I'd like to take you back, Sir, if I may, to the end of the Second World War. You're in Germany. I wonder why you're in Germany, and I wonder if you could tell me how the place looked?
LORD ANNAN: I was in Germany simply because at that time I had been... finished the war on the Supreme Headquarters, Eisenhower's headquarters, and my old chief from London, Bill Cavendish-Bentick, of the Foreign Office, saw me and said, "When are you going to be demobilised?" "Oh," I said, "not for a long time." "Then we need people like you to be satraps for the Foreign Office. Come and join the Political Division." So, as I was not going to be demobilised for a long time, I did.
What was Germany like? It was absolutely shattering, the destruction. And I think that people forget the fantastic problem of the British, particularly in their zone, because their zone was more heavily bombed than any other. It was the Ruhr, it was the industrial part of Germany, and the canals were blocked, the Rhine was blocked, the roads were all with interminable bypasses and 'Umleitung', to get from one place to another; and the railways, of course, were smashed. We had a problem immediately: how were we going to feed the Germans? But much more important than that: how were we going to feed the Dutch, who were starving? And then, how were we going to feed the millions of displaced persons, as they were called, refugees from all over Europe, some of whom were going east, trying to get back home; some of whom, the last thing they wanted to do was to go home to the East? And of course, there were millions of German refugees, expelled from Czechoslovakia, expelled from Silesia. So that was the problem of chaos, which General Templar, the Commander-in-Chief of the British zone, faced, and I think he did a fantastic job. It was amazing, the problem in which the British Army had arrived in Germany hoping to have a good rest and enjoy a nice, warm summer, filling up the mess with schnapps and with beer, instead of which they found themselves working an 18-hour day to prevent chaos in the zones. And no sooner had Templar got an army of German ex-servicemen - and of course, they were all prisoners of war, and women, working in the fields to get in the harvest - than he next turned his attention to how on earth were we going to get the coal out of the ground. And the next thing was (big props) [sic] for the pits, and get the miners back to work and get them out of the prisoner-of-war camps into the mines, those who had been miners, and so on.
INT: Tell me about your first trip to Berlin after the war. What was that like, and how was that different from the British zone you've just been talking about?
LORD ANNAN: It was different, of course, not from the point of view of destruction, but from the point of view of the fact that (their one) was in an international city. At that time, of course, there was no Berlin Wall; you were at liberty to go into the Soviet sector - not the Soviet zone, but the Soviet sector of Berlin. Nevertheless, if you did go, you had to be fairly careful. I remember (Gromway Rhys) and I went to the Nikodaus, the extreme east part of the Berlin sector: we were arrested at once for being spies. Of course, then it was explained, "Of course, we recognise you are allies and all that, but nevertheless, there are lots of spies around, and I wouldn't, if I were you, go as far east as this."
INT: How long were you in Berlin, and what was actually happening in Berlin? What were the Soviets up to at the time that you were there, in Berlin?
LORD ANNAN: Well, it changed, of course, very, very swiftly, immediately after the war, of course, a good deal of fraternisation. And then the recognition that the Russians, or the Soviets, really only had one idea, which was that they and their ideas should dominate and rule in Germany. And they were deeply distressed when the free elections in some of the East European countries gave an overwhelming majority to the Socialist Party and a tremendous thumbs-down for the Communist Party. So what did they do? They took... learnt a lesson, and they said, "Well, there's only one thing to do in Germany, and that is to compel the Social Democrats and the Communist Party to amalgamate." Now it had been part of, shall I say... not the mythology, because in fact it was true that one of the reasons Hitler found it easier to gain power was the fact that the Communists treated the Social Democrats - they called them "social fascists" because they wouldn't actually toe the Communist line... so therefore, the great line was: "We must build on the mistakes of the past, and never let this division between the great working-class parties happen again." Of course, the socialists didn't want this at all; they knew perfectly well that the people would be prepared to vote for them - because one must remember that the Soviet zone was a traditional Social Democrat stronghold, just as much as the Rhineland was a traditional stronghold for the Catholic parties. And recognising this, the socialists were very unwilling to simply agree immediately to amalgamate with the Communist Party.
INT: What sort of tactics did the Soviets use to try and bring about an amalgamation?
LORD ANNAN: Well, the usual ones which the Communists practised all over Europe - I mean, falsifying elections, bringing pressure to bear on people, extra rations for those who went the right way. Those were the sort of mildest things. But anybody who really stood out against it and made impassioned speeches, they were kidnapped and never seen again. It was very, very tough for the Social Democrats to hold out. And indeed, in the Soviet zone, as opposed to the Soviet sector of Berlin - in the Soviet zone, within a month or two, their resistance had crumbled. They couldn't any longer hold out against the relentless pressure to amalgamate the two parties. Now, from the British point of view, that would have been a disaster. If that had happened nationwide and there was a nationwide Communist Party, because that's what it would have been, that would have been very much against our interests, and I believe the interests of Europe as a whole.
INT: Were there any protests about these kidnappings from the other allied...?
LORD ANNAN: Well, we were the ones, I think, more than anyone, who brought this to the attention of our Foreign Office and generally made an issue of it. Mind you, it was difficult there, because the official Foreign Office line had to be: the four powers are governing Germany, and anything which... can be said to sow dissension among them, is against the Potsdam agreements. So, you know, we were trying, officially, to run a four-power government of Germany. And it did take time, I think, for people who were on the ground, like myself, who saw what was going on, to persuade our chiefs that really we must not cave in to this, if we really claim to stand for what we believe to be democratic government, in which the will of the people does prevail.
INT: How were the relationships between the four powers themselves, I'm thinking about, but early on between the Americans and the Russians and the British? How was it shaking down? What, for example, was the American attitude to the British, as opposed to the American attitude to the Soviets?
LORD ANNAN: Very interesting, that. The People I think forget that immediately after the war, the official American policy was much more "Let America and the Soviet Union rule the world together". They're both opposed to the continuation of the British Empire. Of course, the Soviets rather more than the Americans, but nevertheless, the Americans were. Roosevelt: strong anti-imperialist. And so therefore, "We're not here to prop up the British Empire. We are here to rule the world as a diarchy, between these two great powers. Britain is, after all, not as great a power as all that." And... this made, sometimes, our position in the British zone pretty tricky. We couldn't absolutely count for support from America on these isof freedom of speech, of decent elections, and of fair plain politics - I mean, as much as there is ever fair play in politics. So when, I remember, we began to try and persuade the Social Democrat Party in the city of Berlin itself to stand out against the forcible amalgamation of the Communist and the Social Democrat Party - when we began to do this, we didn't have much support from the Americans. Later, when it actually came to the fact that we held an election in Berlin - with great courage the Social Democrats did: they stood out in Berlin and said, "We'll have a referendum of those members of the Party. Who are in favour of amalgamation, and who are against it?" - one of the leaders of that was Walter Dahrendorf who was the father of Lord Dahrendorf today, and he was so much hated by the Russians that he had to come and seek refuge in the Western sectors for fear of being kidnapped. And I arranged for him and Ralph Dahrendorf to be flown out of Berlin, down to the British zone, where I met them and saw that they went to Hamburg, which was, after all, his old home town.