From the Stars and Stripes archives
Ghosts of a past decade march in Berlin
By DWIGHT SCHEAR | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 21, 1950
GERMAN YOUTH IS marching again. On Sunday, May 28 — Whitsunday, normally in Germany as elsewhere: a quiet religious holiday — historic Unter den Linden and other broad avenues of Eastern Berlin will ring with the massed tramp of tens of thousands of feet in militant step. The drums, the bugles, the bright uniforms and flags will give Berlin. and indeed the world, cause to wonder if the ghosts of a decade ago have not risen from the land between the Oder and the Elbe.
In a remodeled office on the third floor of a bomb-scarred building in East Berlin last week. a blond young man in a blue uniform dictated messages to a secretary, studied documents on his desk and in between the rush of business, answered the questions of a reporter from the Western side of town, where Guenther Schlesinger intends some day to establish his new office.
Schlesinger's phone rang constantly. As press chief and official spokesman for the "Free German Youth" (FDJ), he is a very important young man.
"How could I say," Schlesinger said, "whether or not other youth organizations (than the FDJ) would be permitted in Eastern Germany? The question has never come up. No other youth organization has ever asked for permission to organize.
"After seeing the great success of our united organization, the German youth became certain that there is no need for any other."
According to Schlesinger, the FDJ now has 1,133,309 members in Eastern Germany, not including the "Young Pioneers," the junior FDJ organization for children aged 6 to 14. HICOG officials estimate that the combined FDJ and "Young Pioneers" number about 2.000,000.
A detailed HICOG report says the FDJ "has actually been expanded into the official 'mass organization' for youth in the Soviet Zone, with bold eyes cast in the direction of West German youth as well.
"Every means," the report also said, "ranging from direct and indirect pressure to exploitation of youth's natural love for pageantry and flag-waving, has been applied by Communist leaders to gather the Soviet Zone youth into a coherent hierarchic organization over which they exercise the control."
Schlesinger says: "Our organization of course developed its strength independent of the occupation power. But it has received financial assistance from the Soviet Union and other democratic powers."
How does one join the FDJ? A boy "joins" by playing football (soccer). His team is automatically an FDJ sport club. A young factory worker "joins" because the trade union to which he must belong is, for its younger members, interwoven with and indistinguishable from the FDJ. A student "joins" because by refusing to do so lie cannot qualify for a university scholarship. (Schlesinger says 108,000 FDJ members have received scholarships.) A first-grader "joins" because his teacher tells him that every good little boy is a "Young Pioneer."
Little choice is left, and with the consolidation of the Communist hold on all phases of Soviet Zone life, the choice is growing less every day. The church remains almost the sole field of organized activity outside the all-embracing FDJ open to East German youth. Schlesinger dismisses the church groups as "strictly religious" and "not actually youth organizations."
ACCORDING TO THE comprehensive HICOG report on the FDJ, an intensified campaign is now under way "to recruit by fair or foul means every last Soviet Zone child into the 'state' youth movement."
Spring brought new splashes of color to the drab but heavily crowded streets of downtown East Berlin, the most dazzling of which were the bright blue shirts of young FDJ street orators
To display the ardor of its youthful political zealots — and perhaps in the hope that sparks of their enthusiasm would take hold with the passing sidewalk crowds — the FDJ Central Committee ordered blue shirt enthusiasts to hold public street corner "discussions" on "vital topics" such as the unemployment crisis to West Berlin, the "warmongering" of the Western Powers and the future of the "German democratic republic."
A few bold blue shirts tested their slogans on West-sector street corners. West Berlin police, under orders to ban Communist demonstrations in the West sectors as long as a similar ban prevails on democratic demonstrations in the Soviet Sector, acted swiftly. Seventy FDJ members were arrested in West Berlin within a single week. It was without doubt fortunate for the intruders that the police were able to move in a hurry. Many of the arrests were in effect protective custody. West Berliners have little patience with their fellow countrymen who speak for the Soviets, and in rubble-strewn Berlin, missiles are always at hand.
Those FDJers who deliberately court martyrdom in the Western sectors, as well as those who make the speeches and wave the banners in East Berlin, are not considered typical of the organization's rank-and-file. Western observers are convinced that the vast majority of the members have little enthusiasm for the political aims of the FDJ. They follow the blue banners because there are no other banners to follow.
"It is estimated," the HICOG report stated, "that only about five per cent of FDJ members are convinced and zealous workers for the cause."
That five percent, however — that hard core of burning fanatics — have proved themselves as trusted and hard-working components of the overall Communist machine. They have made the FDJ without doubt the most successful of the Soviet Zone "mass organizations" and can guarantee communism a continuing cadre of leaders in Germany, regardless of the future, above ground or under ground.
Although the official age limit of the FDJ is 25, most of its top functionaries are older: These are classified as "friends of the youth." Ask Schlesinger what sort of "graduates" the FDJ seeks to turn out and he will answer with such stock Kremlin slogans as, "fighters for the peace" and "those who know they are a part of a great community."
In addition to "sports evenings," "literature evenings" and the like, every FDJ member, according to Schlesinger, is supposed to attend at least one evening of political discussion a week.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the training now being given hundreds of thousands of young East Germans is the relationship of the FDJ and those parts of the "people's police" which are in effect military organizations.
Political activity of both organizations is closely coordinated, and, according to U.S. officials, there are indications that all eligible male FDJ members will soon undergo two months of basic training with the "police" units.
"There is evidence," the HICOG report said, "that FDJ leaders, who have already given proof of their street-brawling capabilities in the Berlin S-bahn strike of May and June, 1949, are being instructed in guerrilla warfare."
The FDJ grew out of so-called youth committees established by Soviet officers on the heels of the German capitulation. Central control is maintained through a tight chain of command and there has been no evidence of any independent discussion or any deviation from the line laid down by the central committee. The organization's constitution provides for expulsion for any breach of discipline.
U.S. officials estimate that the FDJ has recruited perhaps 50,000 members in Western Germany. Schlesinger predicts that this same number will come from Western zones to the Berlin Whitsunday meeting. However, he claims that many of these will represent organizations other than the FDJ.
"The FDJ," he said, "will work continuously on the development of our organization in Western Germany. However it is very difficult over there because the Adenauer government interferes with our work."
For months, the FDJ has devoted its main efforts to preparing for its gigantic May 28 show in Berlin. Sharp reaction by Allied leaders and the West Berlin population to FDJ threats to storm the Western sectors on that date has resulted in repeated assurances that only a peaceful demonstration is planned.
The assurances may be valid this time. But. those who remember the assurances of the last. regime which organized a marching German youth believe that in Berlin, most especially, vigilance is the price of freedom.