Sir Freddie






Q: But what was the reaction in Bonn to the news of the uprising in Berlin? Was there any particular reaction?

A: Well, we were all worried that this thing might get out of hand of course and being a radio man, I was particularly interested in what RIAS was doing. a year later if not more, Congress ordered an investigation how RIAS had performed on the 16th and 17th of June, because there were charges that RIAS had fomented the uprising in East Germany. And the investigation gave RIAS a complete clean bill of health, because they had cleanly maintained the separation between reporting and interfering. A group of East Berlin workers came to the station and demanded the microphone, to appeal to their fellow workers in the rest of the GDR to join the uprising. And my then predecessor Gordon Ewing, refused that. That would have been beyond the line of reporting. Of course it didn't stop him from reporting in the news that a group of East Berlin workers had demanded. And of course the very fact that RIAS was so widely heard in the Soviet zone of occupation assured that fires broke out elsewhere. But nobody could charge with justification that RIAS had fomented them. It strictly held itself to the job of reporting. But no question that because it's so widely heard that it helped in that sense spread the fire. But from a formal point of view the investigation concluded that RIAS had not fomented the uprising.

Q: I'm interested that they would have an investigation into RIAS's role. Surely at the height of the Cold War all means are justified to foment discontent in the enemy camp?

A: I never found out who complained, so to speak, because certainly even if Gordon Ewing had permitted them, I can think of few critics who would have blamed him. That's beyond my knowledge, why somebody in Congress started this investigation. But you see, the language services of the Voice are constantly under scrutiny. I was for three years head of the European division of the Voice of America, which included all the East German language services, and among my most unpleasant memories is that each year each of my 18 services was subjected to what I considered a humiliating scrutiny. They were given a date three two or three weeks in the past where for three days every word had to be translated into English and then a bunch of rather petty minded bureaucrats would go through them and try to look for any policy violations and I found it a most distasteful procedure. So they picked a date in the past so the services couldn't prepare if they were told next week each service has to ... So of course nothing ever serious came out of these, but it was just unpleasant. We had highly qualified refugees from the various East European countries who knew their business and it was just kind of humiliating to have them screened as to whether there was one word of violation of a policy. Anyhow, the reason I mentioned it is that, thank goodness, because RIAS was putting out an output of 24 hours a day, perhaps for that reason only, RIAS was never subjected to this kind of petty scrutiny. And in fact it we had had to abide by these so-called policy suggestions we would have been dead in the competitive situation in Berlin. And so I used to say as Director of RIAS, that one of the main jobs of the RIAS director was to keeping Washington in the dark as to what we were doing, because if we had had to translate all our service, the day the wall went up and so on then, we would have been dead. And when Ed Murrow came the day after the wall started during the big reception by the US Minister, he pulled me over into a corner and said, 'Bob, how do you deal with a crisis like this wall going up?' I said to him equivalent of the New York Times slogan, all the news that's fit to print, we say all the news that's fit to be broadcast. And he looked out of the window for a while and he said, 'I guess that's as good as any guideline.' Now, with Murrow I could do that, because he was a journalist and he happened to be a friend of my father's. He'd been a correspondent in Berlin. With later USIA directors I had to say piously, 'why, we get our guidances from Washington.' There I couldn't have. And so I was lucky that on this crucial day when the wall went up, Ed Murrow was the USIA director.

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This is a continuation in the interview with Robert Lochner. It's mainly regarding Cate Haste's programme on the Berlin Wall in 1961. And I would very much like you to describe me the kind of, the 13th or even the 12th of August. I remember you told me the most wonderful story of what you saw that night before when you went to the East.

A: All week long it had become obvious to all of us in the US mission that something must happen, because the flow of refugees had mounted from an average of, I think, one thousand the weeks before to three thousand a day. We knew the GDR had to do something, but I'll frankly confess nobody guessed that it would be the wall. After the whole thing was over, of course, we had many post mortems where we asked ourselves why didn't somebody have that idea. But frankly, nobody did. What we thought would happen would be that the GDR would strongly increase its controls at the sector boundaries, because up till them there was only a very cursory check at some of the major intersections and up till August 13th any East Berliner could drive his car into West Berlin. The controls were very cursory, as I said. other than that, I cannot say thatthe real size of the crisis dawned on any one of us,because we thought while it would inconvenience inner city traffic if they strongly increased their controls of East Germans going to West Berlin, it would have been the only one. No reason under that solution why there should have been a total interference with traffic between East and West Berlin. They would have only tried to catch refugees trying to get to West Berlin. So that didn't seem like such a major crisis.

Q: What did you actually see when you went to the theatre performance in East Berlin, going over?

A: Well, that was not till six weeks after the wall. So that would be too early to mention now. That came not -

Q: But it's still - it's part of that programme, it will be still part of that programme I assume.

A: Well, do you want to take it now?

Q: Yes please, yes.

A: Some time in October of '61, in other words a month after the wall had started, I was going to a Czech theatre performance in East Berlin with an American, a US mission colleague and his wife, and when we came to Checkpoint Charlie the Fopo East German border guard made motions that he had to physically inspect our passports. By that time the procedure seemed firmly established that Western allied official personnel going to East Berlin would show passports through the closed window, first from the outside, and then the picture. That much apparently we conceded the East Germans had a right to control whether we were who we said we were. But strict instructions never to noodle down the window and let the Fopo's get their dirty paws on an American diplomatic passport. This Fopo, for reasons of course we never found out, insisted, and of course you could talk through the closed window, and finally my colleague not speaking any German, I interfered and pulled out the tickets and said to the Fopo, 'look, it's 10 minutes to eight, we'll miss our performance if you cause such difficulties.' So for whatever reasons, he let us go through. We saw the performance, the American Minister, Leitner and his wife, were supposed to sit next to me, and we felt very bad when they didn't show up, because after all these strenuous weeks he deserved a little relaxation too. And of course we immediately worried that there must be some new crisis, because otherwise why wouldn't he show up? After the performance we drove back on the famous Friedrichstrasse and from afar we could already see that something was going on at Checkpoint Charlie, because we saw huge lights which weren't there normally, we heard the roar of trucks, and as we came to the allied side and got out we found out that this had happened. Three minutes or so after us, Leitner and his wife came in his private little Volkswagen, but of course had a US mission licence plate just as our car had had, and that same Fopo did not let him and his wife through at all. Now, this was a very serious matter, it was the first case where a East German Fopo, and then of all people, though I'm sure he hadn't realised what a big fish he was causing trouble for, the head of the US mission. Now, in those two hours or so of the performance, Leitner had immediately called General Clay, who had been sent back by President Kennedy as an adviser. He was by that time out of the military service, but like all four star Generals subject to recall. And we had the ludicrous situation in the US mission that we had a four star General as an adviser to the two star General, because all the city commandants, by agreement with the Russians from '45 on were two star Major Generals. Now, everyone in the mission knew that the one who was really pulling the strings was General Clay. And in those two hours I'm sure, I didn't get a chance ever to ask him, and I wouldn't have anyhow, that he talked to Kennedy and said this is a very serious matter. And therefore he had ordered already trucks coming up and all sorts of commotion at the Western side. And as I got out it turned out that Leitner was just about to leave again on a second attempt to penetrate East Berlin, obviously under General Clay's orders, and this time three armed American soldiers were walking slowly next to the car. Since I happened to show up at that moment, he took me along rather than his wife. He wouldn't have - would have taken somebody else, but I just had the good fortune that I came at the right moment. So as we slowly approached the East German border side, nobody was to be seen. To my surprise, no Russians seemed to be there either. So we just drove on. We drove around Unter den Linden for a couple of times just to demonstrate our right of access to East Berlin. On the way back again, on the Eastern side nobody in sight. And that was the end of the first day. The tanks did not come till the next day. And then the who