462A.62B31/7–253: Telegram

No. 720
The United States High Commissioner for Germany (Conant) to the Department of State


52. Reference: Bonn’s 652 to Berlin repeated Department 5456 of 25 June.1

Economic and Marshall Plan Ministry officials met with Harris stating that Erhard, with consent of Adenauer, had requested them deliver following message:
View of real needs Federal Republic desires for humanitarian reasons to assist East Germans by gifts of food. In each of next three months Federal Republic hopes to transmit to individuals in East Zone two million food parcels. Cost DM 10 per parcel. Total for three month program DM 60 million. German Government believes that public offer of outright gift by Federal Republic would be rejected by GDR Government. Therefore, Federal Republic participation in program must be regarded as secret and some device found to obscure origin and financing. Since Protestant and Catholic churches are organized in both East and West Zones, they, therefore, are most appropriate channel to distribute parcels. Program would appear to be initiated and under responsibility of churches and not Federal Republic and, in Federal Republic’s view, would be acceptable to GDR and Russians.
In view their desire to maintain strict secrecy regarding Federal Republic’s part in program, Federal Republic cannot obtain Bundestag authorization for funds and, hence, requested DM 60 million from MSA counterpart or surplus property funds. Although Federal Republic contemplates program extending for longer than three month period, representatives believe Federal Republic’s part might become matter of public information after elections and Federal Republic might then be able to repay at least some of the DM 60 million. Representatives said Cabinet would meet this week to discuss question and desired immediate reply since this is last week of Cabinet meetings.
Harris said MSA/HICOG has no funds available in this amount or for this purpose. Germans then asked if they could unofficially and informally borrow funds for this purpose from productivity program without protest by MSA. Harris discouraged this [Page 1601] suggestion. Germans asked if surplus property funds could be granted to Federal Republic. Harris pointed out that use of such funds would require Congressional approval. Also mentioned possibility use of US surplus commodities. Pointed out, however, that resultant public information regarding purpose of program seemed to be directly contrary to Federal Republic’s desire for strict secrecy.
Germans seemed convinced food shortage was sufficiently serious to warrant extraordinary measures and reiterated humanitarian and political considerations impelled immediate action. (We have no doubt that food shortages do represent critical condition.) Harris stated that food shortage in East Germany was result Soviet-sponsored policies, disastrous economic policies GDR and fact Soviet army draws heavily on local food supply. He pointed out that food shipments would not appreciably alter food intake of Germans and would indirectly benefit Soviet army. He asked if motivation were political, why would Federal Republic not make open offer of food? Germans replied humanitarian aspects of more immediate importance than political and, therefore, desired to keep entire transaction secret because they are certain Soviets would reject shipments if they became aware program sponsored by Federal Republic.
Germans pressed for action this week in view scheduled recess of Cabinet and clearly implied they would take some action even if we refused to support them. Were advised that we needed Washington instructions before taking action.
We are at a loss fully understand German proposal and are not sure it represents fully coordinated plan. Only food surplus which might develop in Germany this summer would be butter. However, farm bloc pressing Erhard, and food shipments, which could include butter and meat, might help coalition politically. Conceivably canned meat in Berlin could be used for such shipments; supplies being replaced from Western Zones. However, as no current meat surplus, doubt if this German proposal could be attributed to pressure from agricultural areas.
Another possible explanation of source of plan is that if government is attacked during campaign for alleged callousness regarding plight of East Zone Germans, Government could point to this program as illustration of quiet effective work.
As Department is aware, one of possibilities being explored by Economic Ministry is to sell agricultural commodities to GDR by revision IZT agreement obtaining from GDR commodities in return for food (see reference telegram; since reference telegram Federal Republic delegate unable to meet with GDR officials).

This seems to us to be more sensible method and, unless you have objection, will inform Federal Republic on July 3 that we do [Page 1602] not see how we can assist them and, if they feel impelled to go ahead with the program but are unable finance food parcel idea themselves we believe the more sensible approach would be to have a direct exchange of goods.

Since preparing above, Deptel 5 has arrived. Our comments on Deptel 5 will follow.2

  1. Telegram 652 reported that Dr. Krautwig and Dr. Woratz of the Federal Ministry of Economy were flying to Berlin on June 26 in order to study the possibility of initiating a food relief program for the Soviet Zone. (462A.62B31/6–2553)
  2. Telegram 5, July 1, noted that a program of offering “substantial food supplies to East Germans” was being considered interdepartmentally and asked if the objections of HICOG Berlin as presented in message BN–2677 of May 11 (Document 707) had been modified by “recent events.” (862B.03/5–1153) Before HICOG was able to reply to telegram 5, the Department sent to Bonn telegram 20, July 2, conveying the message that the PSB had already approved the food program. Telegram 20 requested advice on the implementation of the program. (862B.03/7–253) HICOG replied to both telegrams in telegram 86, July 3, leaving the question posed in telegram 5 unanswered, while recommending that Adenauer be given a central role in implementing the program and proposing that the interzonal pass requirement be waived in order to facilitate the transfer of food parcels into the Soviet Zone. (862B.49/7–353)