Sir Freddie






Q: Was that a consequence of what happened the night before or why - why did it actually happen, that con - tank confrontation?

A: Because next day and if my memory is right, for several more occasions the East German border guards again stopped unimportant people from going to East Berlin. So apparently this first effort hadn't taught them the lesson yet, and that's why. But that's always been difficult for me to understand why the Soviets would make an issue of something that they had agreed on, the modus vivendi of Western allies continued free access to East Berlin.

Q: What did that show about the Americans' attitude towards the Soviets, to kind of bring up the tanks?

A: Clay's determination not to take this lying down. And to me there is an interesting non-parallel with the situation the night the wall went up. At that time in our various post mortem of course we thought oh well, what could we have done? And one of the unrealistic scenarios was if we had immediately sent some tanks to remove the barbed wire, that's how the wall started out, they simply started putting barbed wire and across the major thoroughfares, and immediately at the same time and publicly called the Russians and said we realise that Saturday night till Sunday you had nobody on duty so we took the liberty, your East German henchmen are running wild here, they're clearly violating the free circulation all of Berlin, so since we couldn't reach any of you we took the liberty on behalf of all four occupation powers to remove this silly effort to interfere with traffic. Well, that was theoretically possible, but no two star Generals could take such a decision. So any such decision required checking with Washington, London, Paris and Bonn by that time. '61, you couldn't leave the Germans out. And that obviously was totally impossible within the span of a weekend, and if any such measure had been taken later, that might have provoked a war or whatever, because only if it could be done under this guise of actually coming to the help of the Soviets the very first night, and within hours, and that's the difference between the tank confrontation in October. Then General Clay was present, who could make such decisions.

Q: So at the night of building the wall, was there any Russian military presence at all?

A: Nobody could be seen. During the night I went to East Berlin three times in a US mission car with a diplomatic licence plate to make recordings for RIAS, because of course my Germans couldn't go to East Berlin. It was a hot summer night and I didn't know what reaction we would encounter so I hid my recording equipment under a coat, which was rather silly on a hot day like that. But nothing happened. At worst they could have sent us back too, but actually as it turned out, for the first few days they allowed allied vehicles over on, if I remember right, five different crossing points and only when they saw how little reaction there was from the allied side they confined it then to the famous Checkpoint Charlie. During these I drove around and simply described into my portable recorder what I was seeing, and there was course no evidence of any Soviet troops at all. This was cagreed on as a GDR show of strength, so you saw the German transport workers putting up the barbed wire, in each case with GDR troops with gun ready behind them so that a worker wouldn't get the idea of jumping over the wire and running into freedom in West Berlin. But no Soviets.

Q: Did you also watch people escaping during that early period?

A: No, because I didn't drive up that close to the potential wall from the East Berlin. In fact, I'm sure they would have prevented us from - as they did later on. No East Germans could ever approach the wall from the Eastern side. There was always a no-man's land. So I didn't try that. I did have one tremendously impressive experience on the third trip, which was 10 in the morning. I went to Friedrichstrasse, the later official crossover point for people who were not going by car. Both Germans and foreigners. And in the elevator train station I came across a crowd of thousand of desperate people milling around with little boxes and suitcases and later on we found that in many cases, this being Sunday, families were split because on Saturday the - say, father and daughter had gone over, simply taking the elevator train to West Berlin, but so as not to make it too conspicuous, mother and son were supposed to follow on Sunday. And it took years for the Red Cross to try to reunite some of these families. So I've never seen as many desperate looking people in my life, and on the stairways leading up to the elevator train station were black uniformed troops, transport police, who to me fatally resembled the SS. They had exactly the same kind of uniform, boots and so on, and they were standing there about four steps up, elbow to elbow, locked with each other to as if the East Germans would have dared to try to storm up. So as I was standing observing the scene, a pitiful old woman timidly walked up the three stairs to one of these tropos and said 'when is the next train to West Berlin?' Because all these people hadn't heard the first news was at midnight over the East Berlin radio and these people came to the station thinking they could go to West Berlin. And I'll never forget the sneering tone in which this troop said to her, 'none of that any more, grandma, you're all sitting in a mousetrap now.' That was his reaction, and so that was as much a picture of human misery as I've ever seen.

Q: How did the Berlin - the West Berliners feel? Did they feel a kind of sense of abandonment?

A: Oh yes, indeed. Of course they were furious, they had protest meetings, they confronted the East Germans tearing up the street beginning on the second day with angry shouts. But there was of course no effort of interfering. That would have been utterly foolish. But there was a tremendous blow to the West Berlin morale that the Western allies were seemingly taking it all lying down, with no reaction at all. And so that was of course why Kennedy then sent Johnson, and much more important, General Clay to West Berlin six days later to try to boost German morale. And the USA director Ed Murrow happened by accident to be in town and he made a phone call to President Kennedy in the afternoon of Sunday 13th after I had taken them both to see the wall from the Western side at Brandenburg Gate and to East Berlin. And later, of course I wasn't present, he went up to the bedroom of Mr Leitner and the secret service people arranged for his talking to the President. And in the years since I've had in encounters with many American history professors who all told me, I'm only repeating it, that that call from Murrow was the first one that really awakened Kennedy to the seriousness of situation. He has, as you'll know, been on his boat in Hyannis Port and they didn't really want to disturb him. And Murrow immediately saw this impact on West Berlin morale. He didn't report there was danger of war or anything like that, but he sees the tremendous impact that the seeming total inactivity of the Western allies would have on West Berliners' morale. And some of these historians have told me that it was his proposal in that phone call to send vice president Johnson and Clay as soon as possible.