30th March 2008
I've recently finished reading Konrad Adenauer's Memoirs 1945-53 and a biography of Adenauer by Terence Prittie, who was the Guardian newspaper's correspondent in Germany from October 1946 to June 1963, and who, in his own words, "covered all but the last four months of what has come to be known conventionally as the Adenauer Era."
I am not qualified to comment on Adenauer as a politician and statesman, but I was interested in what these books reveal about his attitude to the three Western Allies, the US, France and Britain, during their occupation of Germany after the war.
I'm also interested in the story of his dismissal by the British as Oberbürgermeister (Mayor) of Cologne in October 1945. He was first installed as Mayor of Cologne on October 18, 1917, when he was 41 years old. In 1933 he was dismissed by the Nazis and spent the next 12 years in retirement, apart from brief periods when he was arrested on suspicion of opposing the regime. In May 1945 he was reinstated as Mayor of Cologne by the Americans, only to be dismissed by the British five months later. Ironically, this gave him more time to devote to national politics, the creation of a new political party, the CDU, and his eventual election as Chancellor of the new Federal Republic of (West) Germany in 1949.
Possibly Adenauer's greatest achievement as Chancellor was the rapprochement with France and the acceptance of West Germany into the various international organisations formed in Western Europe after the war, promoting peace and stability after decades, even centuries, of conflict. In his memoirs, shortly after describing the admission of the Federal Republic as a full member of the Council of Europe on 2nd May 1951, he wrote:
"One must never forget that between Bonn and Paris lie the gigantic graveyards of Verdun [referring to the battles of the First World War], and that it required a common and continuous effort of the good will of all at last to put an end to one of the most tragic chapters in the history of Europe and to begin a new one."
Adenauer spoke favourably of the US on several occasions, for example, when he was reinstated as Oberbürgermeister of Cologne in May 1945:
"The Americans with whom I dealt were all intelligent and reasonable men. We soon understood each other,"
when describing the work of former President Hoover, who led a commission to investigate the food shortages in Europe after the war, and in Germany in particular:
"I want to take this opportunity to thank President Hoover on behalf of all Germans and to express my admiration to him for this report on the situation of the defeated and ostracized Germany. The report is a great humanitarian document. It must have been the first time in the history of the last few centuries that a humanitarian spirit animated the victor and that the victor desired to help the vanquished to emerge from their misery,"
"No one who was not living in Germany at that time can imagine what this relief, coming from private or church sources, meant to hungry and defeated Germans. The arrival of a CARE parcel made any day into a feast day for a family."
References to the British, on the other hand, were mixed, to say the least. He spoke favourably of General Sir Brian Robertson, for example on his leaving Germany in 1950. (Robertson was British High Commissioner in Germany from 1949-50 and before then deputy Military Governor from 1945-7 and Military Governor from 1947-9).
"I must here pause to say that to my great regret Sir Brian Robertson was no longer British High Commissioner. He had been in Germany for nearly five years. He had come at a time when we Germans were in an extremely difficult situation. By his personality, the honesty of his convictions, his humanity and sincerity he had made a tremendous contribution to changes which none of us would have dreamed of in 1946 or 1947."
But most of his comments on the British were far from complimentary. Here are a few examples:
Firstly when the British took over responsibility for Cologne from the Americans:
"My relations with the officers of the American forces were, as I have said, very good. Things changed when, after a while, on 21 June 1945, the Americans left Cologne and were replaced by British troops. Conflicts soon arose between me and the British administrative officers. In my opinion the British were treating the population very badly. Their attitude to me was very negative."
Secondly a general comment on the administrative abilities of the British in general:
"The British and other occupying powers were not equal in practice to the extraordinary tasks involved in administering a destroyed country."
Thirdly his opinion of British attempts to improve productivity in the coal mines:
"On the orders of the British Military Government, men from all parts of the British zone were forced to work in the mines. This proved completely futile. Also, miners were given special food rations which they were supposed to eat alone, away from their families. It is easy to imagine the psychological consequences. The miner was expected to eat his fill at his place of work while his wife and children went hungry at home."
And fourthly on British lack of participation in discussions in the early 1950s which were to lead to greater European integration:
"In the face of the new European possibilities Great Britain assumed an attitude of hesitation, irresolution and indecision."
An interesting insight into what the British thought of Adenauer, and his criticisms of them, is provided by Sir Christopher Steel, who was a senior and influential British diplomat in Germany, as Political Advisor to the Commander-in-Chief in Germany in 1947, Deputy High Commissioner in 1949 and British Ambassador in West Germany from 1957-63. In his Forward to Prittie's biography, Steel wrote:
"Naturally it is Adenauer's relations with the British which have principally interested me. The question will always be asked whether he found us fundamentally unsympathetic from the start, whether he was permanently alienated by Brigadier Barraclough [the senior British officer in Cologne], when dismissed from his post of Mayor of Cologne, or whether as I believe, and I saw him repeatedly over the whole period of his chancellorship, he only settled into petrified hostility to us when he had lost his touch and was blindly trailing de Gaulle."
This appears to me to be an extraordinary statement, for a diplomat, all the more surprising as Steel knew Adenauer well and was "... considerably in his [Adenauer's] confidence because he was a friend of my father-in-law, who was Military Governor of Cologne after the First World War." (Steel's father-in-law was General George Sidney Clive, the British commanding officer in the Rhineland during the occupation at the end of the First World War. Prittie described in his biography how Clive worked with Adenauer at the time, tactfully counteracting French separatists who wanted to split the Rhineland from the rest of Germany and link it more closely with France).
The story of Adenauer's dismissal as Mayor of Cologne by the British has been told many times. According to Prittie and Adenauer's own memoirs, he was summoned to Barraclough's offices on 6th October 1945, summarily dismissed for incompetence, ordered to leave Cologne as soon as possible and instructed not to engage in any political activity.
Prittie also quotes an account Barraclough gave later in an interview in the Daily Express soon after Adenauer ceased to be Chancellor and which was republished in a biography of Adenauer by Rudolf Augstein, editor of the German news magazine Der Spiegel, and a long-standing political opponent of Adenauer's.
In this interview, Barraclough said Major General Templer (Director of Civil Affairs and Military Government at the time of the invasion of Germany and later Deputy Chief of Staff under Robertson), had told him he was disturbed by the lack of progress in Cologne. Barraclough arranged a meeting with Adenauer to discuss the problems of the city, asked him to sit down, and in response to his concerns Adenauer showed him plans for the Cologne of the Future, built outside the city: "Surrounded by the chaos which I have described [Cologne after the war] here we had the senior paid official with his head well in the clouds."
Adenauer's own account in his memoirs is quite different. Adenauer had to stand, and the meeting was short and consisted of the reading of a 500 word statement dismissing him. The reason given in the statement was that Barraclough "was not satisfied with the progress which has been made in Cologne in connection with the repair of buildings and the clearance of the streets and the general task of preparing for the coming winter," an accusation Adenauer dismissed as ridiculous.
Prittie says in his biography, that Steel told him later neither he nor Robertson had any knowledge of Adenauer's sacking, and added:
"Sir Christopher [Steel] compared Templer's part in the affair with a stray remark of King Henry II of England, which resulted in the murder of Thomas a'Becket."
This seems to me another extraordinary remark. Did Steel really mean to compare Templer with King Henry II and Adenauer with Thomas a' Becket. One a king and the other a saint and martyr? If not, did he understand that this was exactly how Adenauer could present the story?
According to Prittie, Adenauer retold the story of his sacking a great many times afterwards. Sometimes he tried to make a joke of it, as when he told Brigadier Barraclough, many years later, when he was Chancellor, that he had two files in his office, one headed 'Dismissal by the Nazis' and the other 'Dismissal by the Liberators'.
In his memoirs, Adenauer also refers to the story in describing his first meeting with the newly appointed Sholto Douglas, who succeeded Field Marshal Montgomery as Military Governor of the British Zone of Occupation, in 1946.
"The British Commander-in-Chief and Military Governor, Air Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas, arrived amid a roll of drums and a blare of trumpets."
Members of the Zonal Advisory Council (a representative body of leading German politicians) were presented to the Military Governor. Kurt Schumacher, the leader of the Social Democrats, had a "long and cordial welcome." Adenauer's own lasted one minute and forty-five seconds:
"Douglas asked me about my political career to date. I said: 'In 1917 I became Oberbürgermeister of Cologne; in 1933 I was removed by the National Socialists because of political unreliability. In March 1945 I was reinstated by the Americans and in October of the same year dismissed by the British for incompetence. That is why I am now on the Zonal Advisory Council.' Douglas looked rather surprised and walked on without saying a word."
In his biography Prittie refers to personal conversations with Robertson and also with Lord Longford (who succeeded J B Hynd as the British Minister with responsibility for Germany in 1946), saying that both of them "believed that he [Adenauer] regarded his dismissal as an affront and that it left a mental scar which never entirely healed."
This is pure speculation, but it seems to me this story shows how little many of the British in Germany really understood Adenauer (or German politics in general after the war). Above all, Adenauer was a consummate political operator. His dismissal by the British was a political gift, which he was able to exploit, for many years, for all it was worth. He didn't really care very much what the British thought about him, (something British politicians and diplomats, with a great sense of their own self importance, probably failed to understand), but he did care a great deal about what the German people thought about him.
He could make a subtle comparison between the British Military Government and the Nazis, passing it off as a joke, drawing attention to the fact that both could act in an authoritarian manner and arbitrarily dismiss local city officials. In so doing he could reinforce his own legitimacy and authority as an elected representative of the German people, (and imply that if the British occupiers really believed in democracy why didn't they practice what they preached?).
He could suggest (with some justification) that on occasions the British were incompetent and lacked judgement, and in so doing reinforce the view that the sooner the Allies restored responsibility for governing Germany to the Germans, the better.
He could emphasise his independence from the Allies, and his willingness to stand up to them, at a time when he was under constant criticism from his political opponents, the Social Democrats, for being too subservient to them (an issue which reached its peak when Kurt Schumacher accused him in a debate in the German parliament of being the 'Chancellor of the Allies', a remark he later had to withdraw).
And if the British were offended by this, why should he care, as they were far less important for the future of the new West German Federal Republic, than the French or the Americans!