January 10, 2016

1949. The Eight Russians Who Refused to Leave Frankfurt

The Frankfurt Blockade
"German workers remove Soviet blockades from the roads, May 1949" Photo by Walter Heilig (Bild Bundesarchiv) (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

February 17, 1949

The puppet government of East Berlin has begun erecting road blocks on important streets connecting the Russian sector and the blockaded part of the city. At least two have been put up in the area just east of Tempelhof Airdrome. Communist controlled police are manning the road blocks, checking vehicles and packages of persons crossing the sector borders.

These road blocks are symbolic of the worsening relations here in Berlin between the Western powers and the Soviet Union, and with the advent of the warmer weather, there are signs that the tensions will increase.

A new dispute is underway between the American military governor, General Lucius Clay, and Marshal Sokolovsky, commander of Soviet-occupied Germany.

General Clay yesterday ordered that the Soviet Repatriation Mission leave the American zone of Germany since the voluntary repatriation of Russian displaced persons has all but ceased. The eight-man Russian mission has been operating in the American zone since the end of the war under the Yalta agreement. The mission has been contacting Soviet citizens left in Germany who want to return to Russia and assisting them in doing so. However, according to Clay, there are so few Russians left here willing to return to their homeland that the Soviet military mission can do the job.

Marshal Sokolovsky has objected and says it is indispensable that the repatriation mission continue its work. Also, the Russian commander said, Clay does not have the right to order the recall of the mission, and that such a declaration must be made by the governments concerned.

Clay's reply is that, since the question of repatriation is not involved, only the transfer of responsibility from one Russian group to another, Sokolovsky's argument is not valid. Consequently, the American military government in Germany will notify members of the Soviet Repatriation Mission that their accreditation will expire on March 1st. It seems that if it isn't one thing, it's another.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.
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Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

March 1, 1949

A new crisis in American-Soviet relations is in the making this morning in Germany. Today in Frankfurt, the Russian Repatriation Mission so far is defying the orders of General Lucius Clay to evacuate their headquarters and leave the American zone of Germany.

The American commander issued the order two weeks ago, pointing out that the repatriation of Russian citizens to their homeland has virtually ceased; that the Soviet military mission in Frankfurt could take over the duties. However, the Russians have refused to recognize this order to leave. Marshal Sokolovsky replied that Clay has no authority to issue such orders, and that the work of the repatriation mission is not complete.

However, Clay rejected this reply and gave the Russian mission until March 1 to evacuate their headquarters. Only eight Russians are involved—four Soviet army officers and four jeep drivers.

Unless the evacuation time is extended, authorities say that if the Russians have not left Frankfurt by midnight tonight they may be escorted to the Soviet zonal border by American military police.

The Russian-licensed press this morning is front-paging the reports from America that General Clay may soon be replaced as military governor of the US zone. Clay denies any knowledge that his longstanding offer to resign has been accepted. However the Communists, who have a great dislike for the General, would interpret his resignation as a great victory for Russian policy and what they call the new Communist peace program.

The British announce today that they are forming a 5,000-man border patrol along their sector borders to close the holes in the Western counter-blockade of the Soviet zone. Local German police, who now have the job of curtailing traffic to the East, are not adequate.

Berlin early this morning had its heaviest snow of the winter shutting down the airlift completely for several hours. About three inches of wet snow is now melting and as their skies clear the airlift is slowly coming back to life.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.
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Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

March 3, 1949

The red flag of Russia still flies this morning in the blockaded front yard of the Soviet repatriation mission headquarters in Frankfurt.

And the question today seems to be whether the American blockade of the eight man Russian mission is a rather amusing and ridiculous East-West impasse, or if it is an actual full-scale international incident.

Marshal Vasily Sokolovsky regards the attempts to oust his mission as a most serious affair. In a bitter statement released last night, Sokolovsky called the incident an "infamous police operation." He charged that the United States is violating international peace agreements, and went further to charge that we want to get rid of the Russian Repatriation Mission so that some 116,000 Soviet citizens could be deported to "Canada, South America, and other countries." The American military command will be held responsible for the "get out or starve" ultimatum to the Russian mission, Sokolovsky declared, calling the action part of a policy of terror against Russian citizens. There is no hint in his statement that Sokolovsky will order the blockaded mission to leave.

Last night Colonel Sterling Wood and a Russian officer from the military mission in Frankfurt visited the house. He knocked on the door of the Soviet mission headquarters, but the Russians refused to let him in.

His next step was to turn off the gas in the building, which the eight Soviet soldiers also use as their quarters. When Wood knocked again, the Russians opened the door. They refused to leave, saying that they had received no orders from Soviet headquarters directing them to evacuate.

Colonel Wood then ordered that all water, electricity, and telephone facilities be cut off from the building. A cordon of military police was established to prevent anyone from entering. One Russian officer was turned away.

However, this CBS reporter on the scene says that things are not so grim as painted by the Russian commander. The eight men in Frankfurt have been having a good time. They have been singing and playing an accordion; the music obviously enjoyed by them and by the American MPs surrounding the place.

This morning a crew of German workmen appeared to dig up the street in front of the house to disconnect water pipes running inside. The blockaded Russians leaned out the windows and watched them work with interest.

Earlier the Russians asked if they might have a newspaper. An MP lieutenant asked what kind, and they said they wanted the Stars and Stripes. It was provided.

At the moment, the next move appears to be up to the Russians.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.
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Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

March 4, 1949

The eight man Russian repatriation mission this morning is on its way back to the Soviet zone, thus bringing to an end the bizarre two-day American blockade of the mission in Frankfurt.

The Russians left angrily this morning at daybreak, racing the engines of their three sedans and two trucks which are now being convoyed through the American and British zones to Helmstedt, the border crossing point on the road to Berlin.

The mission spent all last night packing and unpacking their belongings and keeping a crowd of curious Germans and American reporters shivering through the night.

Before they left, the Russians burned their papers on the living room floor of the big house which was their headquarters. One of the drivers spat at the crowd as the vehicles drove away.

The siege ended after Marshal Sokolovsky ordered the mission to return at midnight last night. In retaliation, American graves registration teams working in the Soviet zone were ordered to leave. These teams have been locating the graves of missing American fliers killed during bombing missions during the war. They have all returned to American occupied territory.

The military governor's recommendations to West German politicians has spurred the work on the new German constitution, but the stipulation that Berlin should not be included as the twelfth province of the new West German state has drawn strong protests here.

Leading Berlin politicians are expressing bitter disappointment that the Western military governors would not allow the gesture to be made. They fear that it may mean a weakening of the American, British, and French position regarding the Berlin Blockade.

It now is suggested that the Bonn parliamentary council designate Berlin as the capital of the new state which cannot now become the seat of the government because of existing circumstances.

This latest step toward creation of the West German constitution has had immediate reaction in the Soviet zone. The so-called People's Council today announces that it, too, is making great progress in writing a constitution for the proposed East German government

Unless there is rapprochement between the East and West soon, it appears that Germany will have two separate governments before summer.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.