Sir Freddie Lochner,
INTERVIEW WITH ETZA REUTER - SON OF ERNST REUTER MAYOR OF BERLIN AT TIME OF BLOCKADE AND AIRLIFT- 9TH JAN 1996
Q: could you tell me about your father, what kind of character was he?
E: Well that's, of course, not too easy to describe, but in short I would say that he was a man very much come on, I'm sorry. Can I begin?
Q: Yes, start again, yes.
E: Okay. Well it's not too easy to answer that question because he was a character which is not usual at times like these, you know. He was deeply characterised by his education, by his very humanistic education which was significant for the 19th century, maybe. With all the broad knowledge of humanistic things. Greek and Latin and history an all these things. At the same time he was a burning politician. He had a burning fire in himself resulting from the dedication to what he always described necessity of having freedom for his people and also, at the same time, social justice. That made him a Social Democrat, after all, and he was a deep believer in Social Democracy. And then, at the same time, he was a very, very sincere man. I think that is a fair description, from a son.
Q: He had some experience of the Communists. Could you tell me about that?
E: Yes due to his dedication to the man in the street after becoming Prisoner of War in Russia, and witnessing the Russian Revolution of 1917, he then became a Communist. In Russia. As a prisoner. And he also participated, of course, and contributed to the success of the Lenin revolution. Actually he was assigned as being the First Commissar of the Volga German Republic. At that time his boss being Stalin. and then, by 1918 as a proven Communist he was chosen to return to Germany in order to contribute to the formation of a German Communist Party. So by the turn of 1918 to 1919, he returned together with another chap called Radek, to Germany and was one of the founders of the German Communist Party. Actually, after that he became one of the first Secretary Generals of the German Communist Party. But then very soon he understood that the Communists, the Russian Communists would understand all their party comrades in all parts of the world as just part of the Soviet system. And being a very independent man, believing in the independence of Germany, he at that time decided that this could not continue, and he himself could not continue in serving the Russian Communists. And therefore decided to leave the party in '21.
Q: You talk about him as a natural politician, he was also a natural speech maker and orator. Where did he get that from?
E: Well I can't say, but basically probably it has something to do with this training because in his early years as a young member of the Social Democratic Party, he used to be a party orator by profession. travelling around Germany teaching party members about historic matters and this probably is where he learned that. But, at the same time, I personally feel that you can never be a great orator without really believing in what you say and this belief resulting from deep roots inside yourself. And this is what made him so convincing.
Q: You returned with your father - the whole family - some point in 1946 to Germany. What was your father's hopes for Germany? I mean Germany was in ruins, no political activity to talk of. What did he think? What did he - what was he going to do?
E: Well actually that was not a matter of discussion in our family because during the whole wartime period, during our whole stay in Turkey, my parents always dreamt about returning to Germany after the disappearance of the Hitler regime in order to contribute to a democratic revival of that country. and therefore there was no question mark behind their returning to Germany, whatever the conditions might be. What he felt was that he, on the background of his experience, on the background of his education, he could decisively contribute to the rebuilding, reconstruction of Germany on a democratic basis. And here we are.
Q: What lessons do you think he derived from experience of a Nazi dictatorship?
E: The basic lesson, I think, was that you must never give in to any temptations in the direction of having dictatorships. That democracy is the fundamental thing which can never be questioned by anybody and must never be questioned by anybody. So once you give in to temptations of having a leader, a sole leader, dictator like leader, then things run into danger, to deteriorate into a true dictatorship. And this was, I think, his basic belief after all. And, again, I think that his experiences in Russia and his experiences with Communism, or Stalinism, of course, contributed to that conviction to a very large degree. Not only the Hitler experience.
Q: What was it like to live in Berlin after that period of exile? I mean what it was it like for you. What was it like for the family?
E: Well that was quite a change, of course. Because the Turkey we used to live in was, after all, almost peaceful. A peaceful country, no war. Nothing like that. so when we came back to Germany I quite well remember that was in early morning when we drove the train from Paris into Germany. The first sight of the ruins of the city of Aachen. Everything destroyed. And then we arrived at the Hannover railway station. again destroyed, all ruins. And crowded with lots of people, refugees from all kinds of - all parts of the country, especially from the east. Hungry people. Ill-dressed people, of course. With the rest of their belongings with them. That was quite a shock, I must say. but then this really did not continue for too long a time. Maybe after a week or two, we got used to it. because both my parents and myself made the experience that there were a lot of people who really wanted to contribute to a reconstruction of the country, and also to a building up of democratic country. Of course it is also true that those people were probably a very small minority at that time because the large majority of the population, of course were not thinking about anything political, but just thinking about their own survival.
Q: Your father had been away from Germany for quite some considerable time. yet in Berlin there were some quite remarkable politicians. People like Louisa Schroeder. Ferdinand Freidensberg, Otto Suer.
Q: Among all these people who did he admire the most?
E: No doubt Louisa Schroeder. Because Louisa Schroeder was a very singular personality. She was warm hearted very dedicated and also very courageous woman. The other person he worked together very closely was Otto Suer, you mentioned him. Because Otto Suer was a very brilliant intellectual politician who contributed a lot to the setting up of the Berlin constitution for instance and - and formation of the new west Berlin magistraat after that. These were, I think, the two persons with whom he co-operated very closely and Louisa Schroeder he admired her also, yes.
Q: Was it easy for your father to pick up the reins of political life again?
E: Surprisingly not. This is what I - as an observer at that time noticed that he was very quickly back in that business. He was accepted, of course, by his own party in Berlin, which was important enough. but he didn't feel it too difficult, really, to again speak to people, to as you say, to hold the reins, I don't know whether he did hold the reins at that time. But anyway, to get used to the political mechanisms and things like that, that didn't take him very long. No - no time at all, I would say.