Galbraith, JK.



Nitze, Paul H

Tucker, R.


Interview with Martha Mautner


INT: The Soviets appreciated that the huge conventional build-up and that there was no question that the West would defend West Berlin, but how much do you think is that actual phraseology in the speech of West Berlin confirms perhaps suspicions they'd had before from previous statements, straws in the wind, that the important element was West Berlin and that if East Berlin became part of the Soviet sphere of influence, cut off, then the West wasn't going to mind too much?

MM: I think what it did was convince them that they could get away with a little more and possibly they would have tried to get away with if the phrase 'West' had not been in there. What I'm trying to say is that a lot of the Eastern planning, the planning that was accepted by our intelligence sources and elsewhere, was to seal off the whole city of Berlin from East Germany to stop the refugee flow, that that was a problem that the Soviets had to act on and the East Germans had to act on before it just destroyed East Germany completely. And that therefore the question was how to seal off the city, to prevent the exodus of the East German population was the question of the moment and most of our estimates on the subject was that the East Germans had the capacity and the will and would probably seal off the whole city, all around Berlin, East and West, leaving only the access corridors free. Now, the West Berlin emphasis, I think the Soviets gave Khruschev the conviction that he go a little farther than that and seal off East Berlin as well and incorporate that into the East German domain and also into the Eastern empire and, in the process, erode one element of the quadro-partheid status of Berlin, one more slice of salami. You can't make a... you can't document this one way or the other. We have all kinds of stories coming out of the East on what the decisions were, but we know that plans for all various possibilities had been under consideration for several years.

INT: Just to back to that, the refugee crisis, you mentioned seal off the whole city, when you were anticipating that something was bound to happen to stop the refugee flow, what were the actions anticipated, the various options you thought that the Soviets might take to stem the refugee flow?

MM: Well, this is a really complex question to answer, because a lot of the refugee flow was stimulated by actions inside East Germany. Oddly enough, if you go back over the refugees who'd been coming out of there over the years, in the last, oh say, '57, '58, beginning of '59, there was a reverse flow, oddly enough, of people. A lot of people had left East Germany for very minor reasons, you know, just because they were having problems with a spouse or because they thought they'd get a better job somewhere and a lot of them got disappointed out in the West and came back. And in tracking it, we discovered almost about, oh, maybe thirty per cent of the ones who went out in any one year, there was a reverse flow coming back into East Germany and if the East Germans had eased up on the internal situation, you would have discouraged more and more people from leaving, because most East Germans didn't want to leave, they did because they felt they were forced to by circumstances. But Ulbricht was insisting on copying the Soviet Union, collectivising agriculture, installing the Socialist regime and he began pushing it full force in '59 and '60 and forced it through and that of course was what began stimulating the interest of a lot of people of getting out, while they still had a chance to get out. Then, towards the end, the East German regime began even spreading stories out in the provinces about something was going to happen to close off the Berlin exit area and so if you were going to get out, get out in a hurry and that stimulated even more, which then gave Ulbricht a lever to use against the Soviets, who were hesitant about taking any action. So they were all little strands of this coming from various different directions, but what happened was, of course, towards the end, the refugee flow began to get almost unmanageable, we could almost could... could hardly handle it in the West and for the East it was just a tremendous brain-drain.

INT: If you could just go back on that and explain what action you anticipated the Soviets would undertake.

MM: Well, we basically speaking, we expected a sealing off of Berlin. They had done it before, it had been done in not only with the blockade, but they did it also in, I think, '52 or... somewhere '52 or so they closed all the borders around the... outside the city for a while and then they had tried test probes on various occasions when the Bundestag was coming to Berlin or when a federal institution was coming, they would close the access for Westerner... foreigners... for Westerners coming in. So you had this sense that when the chips were down, they would seal off Berlin. But that in... mostly consideration was given to all Berlin, because doing it through the middle of the city was just sort of unthinkable.

INT: Why?

MM: Because of the very structure of the city. There's tremendous apartment houses, everything else right along, it was a very vibrant cross-border activity, even after the Communist regime was well established in East Germany, and sealing it off was considered just an undertaking that didn't make good sense and one argument against it was the fact that Ulbricht wanted all of Berlin, he didn't want just East Berlin. His goal was eventually all of Germany and all of Berlin was the first step on that way and so that he was always pushing too for that. Ithink the refugee flow forced his hand. He had to fa compromise on that one, but he compromised in a way that left it open if the Western position was eroded so sufficiently that he could utilise that political atmosphere for the future for building East Germans' claims at a later date.

INT: Can we just stop there...


INT: Martha, can you describe how you personally felt when you heard the news that the sector had been closed off?

MM: Well, we reacted, here it is. I mean, we'd been waiting for this for weeks that something would happen and now we know that they have started to do it. What they had done, although it was not quite clear, the first information we got was that allied rights were not being affected, that they were... there was a barrier being put through the centre of Berlin, that the East Germans were out blocking access to East Berlin, but the first messages we got from... showed that our own people had been tra... Americans who were stationed there had been able to get over to East Berlin and see what was going on. But the reaction, of course, we were called... there were all kinds of communication problems and that's part of the history, long history of the Berlin Crisis. The State Department had no facilities for calling immediately, telephoning for instance over to Berlin and getting information. We got our first word about it from a West German journalist stationed in Washington, who was an old Berlin hand and who... he was the one who called us up at home on Sunday morning to say that something had happened in Berlin and Pehrl immediately went into the Department and I followed a little later to see what we could find out. But we didn't really get a real sense for almost a day. By that time then it became clear that what the Soviets were trying to do was to block off East Berlin completely, without touching the allied position in Berlin and I figured it was a very clever move. Monday morning, I drafted an intelligence brief in our bureau, that made the point to what the Soviets were accomplishing was that they were moving East Berlin from the quadro-partheid status and that this was their goal and that the refugees, while a very important factor of this, were a secondary consideration in the longer term political calculations, that the question was eroding the quadro-partheid position in position. I immediately hit flak with the Pentagon representative, who tried to tone it down, before the clearances, but our bureau chief let most of it go through and it did go through. At least I claimed I had done something for this day. But this was not a point that was very important to the people in the White House. The quadro-partheid status of Berlin, they felt that they was confined to West Berlin.