January 30, 2017

1948. The East-West Standoff Rattles Berlin

The Most Nervous City in the World
A crowd of about 300,000 gathers in front of the burned-out Reichstag building in Berlin to protest the Soviet blockade as Mayor Ernst Reuter and other leaders deliver speeches, September 9, 1948 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

September 17, 1948

It has been a full week now without any major violence in crisis-ridden Berlin, but the so-called peace in the battle between the East and West here is the kind of peace that exists between rounds of a prize fight.

Typical of the inter-zonal tension was an incident yesterday on the Russian-American sector border. Private David Ruffner of Cleveland was on a normal military police patrol when he went to investigate a group of Russian soldiers tinkering with a broken down Soviet automobile. Ruffner was carrying a Tommy-gun un-slung in his hands. As he approached the group, a Russian soldier pushed a Soviet gun in Ruffner's stomach. The American retaliated and did the same.

The two soldiers stood there with guns leveled until a Russian officer interceded and ordered the Soviet soldier away. There the incident ended.

However, there were more rumors last night that Soviet patrols were crossing into the American zone. There was nothing to these reports, either.

There is no doubt that this is the most nervous city in the world. Western zone papers are still printing reports that the Communists plan a putsch to take over the entire city. This unconfirmed story says that the move has been temporarily postponed on orders from Soviet officials who say the time is not ripe for such a daring move. It is said the Russian leaders want to wait until Western Berlin is colder and hungrier than it now is.

Even the Germans are shocked at the news from Munich that the notorious Ilse Koch has had her life sentence reduced to four years. The red-haired Frau Koch was the "Mistress of Buchenwald" who ordered subordinates to make her gloves and lampshades from human skin.

The life sentence was officially commuted last June on recommendation of the American Army's Judge Advocate office. Since the sentence is retroactive, the woman is expected to be released sometime in October 1949.

Another German received a sentence the other day. He is a former Luftwaffe pilot who was caring for an American plane. The German flier couldn't resist the temptation. He climbed in and took an unauthorized ride. He was sentenced to one month in jail.

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