96. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Chancellor Adenauer’s Proposal for a Plebiscite in West Berlin; German
  • Participation in Contingency Planning


  • Dr. Heinrich von Brentano, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • Mr. Franz Krapf, Minister, German Embassy
  • Dr. Heinz Weber, Interpreter
  • Secretary Herter
  • Under Secretary Livingston T. Merchant
  • Assistant Secretary Foy D. Kohler
  • Mr. Martin J. HillenbrandGER

The Secretary began by reading to Foreign Minister Von Brentano a proposed statement1 expressing his regrets over the unfortunate incident which had occurred earlier today at the National Gallery of Art (the press had reported that someone had drawn several swastikas over the Chancellor’s signature in the Gallery’s guest book). Von Brentano expressed his thanks and commented that it was stupid to say, as the UPI report had done, that only members of the Chancellor’s own party or a press photographer had had the opportunity to draw in the swastikas.

Von Brentano said that he had had a further discussion with Chancellor Adenauer and Ambassador Grewe before their departure for the West Coast, and he had a number of points to make in extension of the conversation with the Chancellor at the Secretary’s home yesterday evening. [Page 241] With reference to the proposal for a plebiscite in West Berlin first made yesterday by the Chancellor in his speech at the National Press Club, the Germans were now thinking not in terms of a formal highly-organized plebiscite but rather in terms of an action to be prepared by the political parties in West Berlin. A more formal type of plebiscite involving an elaborate machinery and with implied juridical as well as political connotations could scarcely be arranged in time to precede the Summit meeting. Moreover, it might be considered as prejudging a subsequent plebiscite in East Germany. A cable had been sent to Bonn for repetition to Berlin requesting reactions from the local authorities and Foreign Office representatives in the city. Von Brentano said that he was certain his people in Berlin would get in touch with the American authorities there to exchange views.

The Secretary said that when he first heard of the proposal the reports had appeared a little confused. It had seemed that the Germans intended to ask the occupying powers to conduct the plebiscite. Now, as he understood it, the Germans were thinking in terms of something to be arranged by the people of Berlin themselves. If it were carried out, he could only hope that the outcome would be as pronounced as in the 1958 elections.2 Von Brentano commented that, if his people in Berlin had any doubts about the outcome, they would obviously not want to have the action initiated. There was no question but that 96% of the population would still favor the present regime, but perhaps their total participation might be less than in 1958. These factors would have to be considered in arriving at a decision.

Another question which he had discussed with the Chancellor, Von Brentano continued, was the desirability of bringing the Federal Republic more intimately into Allied contingency planning. The German Government would like to bring its Defense Ministry into the picture where its cooperation was desirable, and the Chancellor had asked that instructions be issued to this effect.

Mr. Kohler commented that we have tried to bring the Germans more closely into contingency planning. As an example of legitimate German interest in the subject he pointed to the discussions over alert measures in the Federal Republic. Legislation on this subject has not yet been enacted. Action of this type is relevant in proving the seriousness of Western intentions. Von Brentano said he fully agreed. It was unfortunate that the two-thirds majority required in the Bundestag to amend the basic law was not in sight. The SPD was taking a very rigid position. This made it very difficult for the Federal Republic which, he believed, [Page 242] was alone among the NATO countries in lacking emergency powers legislation. After his return to Bonn he intended to make another effort, and would conduct personal discussions with the opposition. In the past the Foreign Office had exercised restraint in this matter and left it largely to the Ministry of the Interior. If the Foreign Office had intervened actively, it would perhaps have looked as if the Government feared that war was imminent.

Returning to the plebiscite proposal, the Secretary said that a difficult aspect would be the formulation of the specific question to be put forward in such an informal plebiscite. He was sorry that the Chancellor on the previous evening had seemed annoyed when the thought was expressed that the procedures used in such a plebiscite might set the pattern for a plebiscite in East Germany. We still believed that the answer to Soviet emphasis on a separate peace treaty should be a proposal for a plebiscite in East Germany.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 559, CF 1610. Drafted by Hillenbrand and approved in S on March 25. See also Document 97.
  2. Not found.
  3. Regarding the outcome of the December 7, 1958, West Berlin elections, see vol. VIII, Document 99.