INT: And absolutely right.
INT: I think we can go on to Berlin now, 1962 to '65, when you were there. The death of Pieter Fechter. How did you happen to be there to witness it, and what happened?
CW: We all in those days had effectively a line to either the police or a news agency, so that wherever there was an attempted escape on the Wall, Western correspondents in West Berlin would rush to the place to see what the story was. I got a tip off to say there'd been a shooting at Checkpoint Charlie, and so I drove down, it's maybe fifteen minutes from my office, and you could hear this boy on the far side of the Wall screaming and asking for help, because he was only wounded. It it took him about forty minutes to die and it was within camera range, you could get shots of him from an oblique angle, lying at the foot of the Wall. And the Fechter case, because it happened really under the noses of the Americans, the American military police at Checkpoint Charlie, created ... there was an enormous reaction in West Berlin. West Berliners were really angry with the allies for allowing something like this to happen with not intervening and there's no question, the Americans could have got out of their hut at Checkpoint Charlie, walked twenty yards down on the East German side of the Wall and picked this boy up and I don't think the East German police would have had the courage to interfere with the Americans if they'd done it. That certainly was the feeling of West Berliners. And this was a period when West Berliners were still very upset by the building of the Wall and the fact that the allies had tolerated it...
INT: Charles could you again describe how you heard about the incident of Pieter Fechter and what happened when you arrived at the scene?
CW: There was a lot of tension at that time, partly because the Wall had only been up for, well exactly one year, and the West Berliners were using, or some West Berliners were using the anniversary to protest generally at the building of the Wall. For example, there was a Russian bus that used to come through Checkpoint Charlie every day, carrying the guard of honour which used to surround the Soviet war memorial which had been built in West Berlin and people used to throw stones at the bus and there was a lot of yelling and so on. And then a few days after that, there was a report that there had been a serious shooting on the Wall, an escape had failed. So we all dashed down there and Fechter had attempted to climb the Wall, very close to Checkpoint Charlie, a matter of less than a hundred yards to one side, and had been shot in the back and had fallen back on to the ground and was badly wounded and took about forty minutes to die and was screaming and asking for help. And cameramen managed to get cameras over the top of the Wall to get shots of him lying there. There was another shot from an oblique angle, so everybody saw this and knew about it. And there was a lot of resentment that the American military police, who manned the checkpoint at Checkpoint Charlie, didn't bring him in, save him. And this is really typical of Berlin, because the allies were so concerned not to have incidents at the border, not to get involved, even with the East Germans, let alone the Russians, that they were inclined not to move in a case like this and the West Berliners were very resentful.
INT: You actually attended his funeral, what happened...
CW: I went to his funeral. I got a telephone call, anonymous telephone call one morning, saying, Fechter funeral, ten o'clock such and such a cemetery. And so I went over there and the family was there, I didn't speak to anybody, I just listened and watched, and then on my way back to West Berlin, together with George Vine, who was the Daily Mail correspondent, we were jumped by a police car and pulled out and taken to the main East German police headquarters in Aleksanderplatz and interrogated, but there was nothing they could do, we hadn't broken any rules, we were in West Berlin... in East Berlin as opposed to East Germany proper. We didn't need passports, we had British passports, we were entitled to go and eventually they let us go.
INT: Did you give them a fair amount...
INT: Charles, if you describe what witnessed when you arrived at the scene where Pieter Fechter had failed in his attempt to climb the Wall?
CW: By the time I got there, there was a little crowd of cameramen and reporters hard up against the Wall on the West German side, you couldn't see over it, obviously, it was too high. There was screaming from the other side. He was wounded, he was shot in the back as he'd tried to climb the Wall. We knew he'd fallen down and it took him about forty minutes to die. And in that time there was a lot of screaming for help and so on. And I think some of us felt that the American military police, who manned Checkpoint Charlie, should have, could have, should have walked out of their hut, twenty yards down the Wall, on the East German side and picked him up and brought him back, in which case he could have been taken away by ambulance and perhaps survived. So there was a lot of resentment from the West Berliners that the allies, or the Americans in this case, simply stood by and watched this happen.
INT: Why do you think they did?
CW: Because I think allied policy in Berlin was always to avoid any kind of confrontation if possible that might affect their position, but particularly with the Russians, but also with the East Germans. We had, after all, by that time recognised the East German government and this was their side of the border and if they wanted to shoot people on their side of the border, they, I suppose, were perfectly at liberty to do so. So the allies had automatic right to intervene, unless you say that concern for human life is a factor in a case likethis. But the allies were always very careful to avoid anything that could start some kind of international incident.
INT: We'll go on to a rather happier occasion, the Kennedy visit of June 1963 an enormous crowd. Was that a crowd of people who were full of curiosity or criticism for what the previous let downs or just general enthusiasm?
CW: Kennedy was, anyway, an enormously romantic figure. He was unlike any other Western statesman who had been to West Berlin over the years since the War. But the Berliners were always very conscious of the need for reassurance, we the allies will stand by you, no matter what. We're prepared to go to war to prevent your being swallowed up by the East Germans or by the Russians. So that any head of state visit of that kind always attracted much attention in West Berlin than it would have done in any other city. And add to this, Kennedy's... this rather glamorous young American President and you got this incredible crowd of people who were absolutely fascinated. He made a very good speech. He made the kind of speech that West Berliners wanted to hear. It was tough, it was a Cold War speech and that was the mood in West Berlin at that time and it went down very well.
INT: How much do you think it restored faith or perhaps thinking that they'd been let down over the building of the Berlin Wall?
CW: I think by that time, by1963, the West Berliners had got over their immediate anger at the West not knocking the Wall down, those who thought that's what the allies should have done. So I think Kennedy's visit was simply a reassurance that we're here and we're going to stay.
INT: Thank you.
(END OF TAPE)