Tragedy in Siegerland
BILLION-DOLLAR CALCULATIONS AND OVER-ALL STATISTICS ARE ESS L easy for the human mind to grasp than individual tragedies. My visit to Siegerland in the southeast comer of the British zone en- abled me to appraise in human terms the effect of the blueprint for dismantlement drawn p in Berlin without regard foru the social and political consequences, or the ruin it brings to innocent people.
Siegerland takes its name from a river which flows into the Rhine below Bonn, winding first through a beautiful valley at the edge of the Westerwald— the western forest which extends south- ward into Hesse in the United States zone.
The town of Siegen, which like Rome is built on seven hills, is seven hundred years old and the center of an ancient industry based on the iron ores of the surrounding hills. These ore deposits, although not abundant according to modern standards, are of good quality and have been mined since the fourth century B.C. A cen- tury ago, before Prussia had forged the modern German state, the ironmasters of Siegen had begun to develop a modern, highly specialized industry. Even today nearly all of the Siegen factories are small and individually owned, and have always depended on skill, enterprise, and hard work, not on large capital assets or gov- ernment favors, for their existence.
The Siegen workers, who usually spend their whole lives in one factory, and apprentice their sons there, feel themselves part of the enterprise in which they work. Many of the factory owners started as workers and class divisions are almost nonexistent. Some of the workers own small tracts of poor land cleared on the forest hillsides, or garden plots, and graze a cow on the common land.
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Some come to work in Siegen from little villages ten or twenty miles away in the forest, depending on industry for a part, but not all, of their income.
Neither Nazis nor Communists had ever been able to make headway in the town and villages of Siegerland where almost every- one has a stake in free private enterprise, and almost all the people are devout Protestants.
Here in a word was the Germany of pre-Hitler and pre-Prussian days. The peaceful Germany which gave America some of her best citizens: a deeply religious, industrious, and hardworking people among whom skillful farmers, artisans, and engineers predominate. Yet, Siegerland had been marked out for destruction. Twenty-eight factories had been or were to be dismantled, and a third of the working population deprived of its main income. The Russians could hardly have done a better job in destroying private property, free enterprise and the free institutions built upon it, and in pre- paring the way for Communism, than the British were doing in Siegerland.
Driving to Siegen from Frankfurt for the first time, on a lovely September morning, I first crossed the Taunus Range which once formed the limits of the Roman Empire. I stopped at Saalburg to see the Roman fort there, which had been one of a chain of forti- fied posts stretching between the Rhine and the Danube. The Saalburg fort was restored by Kaiser Wilhelm, and was never bombed, so it looks much the same as it did nearly two thousand years ago when Roman legions guarded the gates of the Empire from the Teutonic tribes to the north.
There is a museum at Saalburg stocked with spears, swords and armor, pottery, old shoes, and other relics of the days before the Franks, who were to give their name to the future kingdom of France, burst the barriers of the Empire and entered Gaul. The Romans are long since forgotten, but the wars between Teutons and Latins seem to go on forever, although the people of South Germany and Northern France are of similar mixed ancestry.
From Saalburg the road winds downward and passes through picturesque Old World cities and villages before entering the green Westerwald. As we drew near to Siegen the glorious woods of pine, fir, and beech were broken by small villages close to ancient iron works, and green meadows where the cattle owned by the peasants grazed on the common land as in centuries past.
As in Roman times, as in the Middle Ages, as in the terrible days
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when the Thirty Years’ War between Protestants and Catholics drenched these lands in blood, and as in early modern times when Siegen formed part of the domain of the Princes of Orange, the people are part farmers, part miners, ironworkers and leather- workers. There has also always been hunting in the forest but the soil is too poor for the little farms to support the people. Today they produce only enough food to feed Siegerland forty days in the year. Part of the living of the population always had to be gained in the forges of Siegen and its surrounding villages.
Before the war, in spite of its belching factory chimneys, Siegen still had a medieval appearance with narrow streets of Hans Chris- tian Andersen houses, a fine old Rathaus and the strong walled castle of the Princes of Orange-Nassau dominating the town.
Two bombing attacks completely destroyed more than half of the town altogether, and partially destroyed another quarter of it. The old Evangelical Church of St. Nicholas was reduced to a shell, and many other beautiful buildings wiped out. But war could not impair the beauty of the wooded hills and meadows which sur- round the Siegen Valley.
Many factories had been bombed and many people killed and maimed in the air raids, while others had died in the fierce fighting which occurred before the Nazis blew up the bridges and died or retreated northward. Those who survived had started to work again, expecting they could at long last live in peace in the fruits of their labor, however hard the task of reconstruction. But in the fall of 1948, they had to fear something worse even than bombing: the ruin of their land by the conquerors who were busy removing the machinery without which they could no longer earn their bread. One of the oldest industrial centers in Europe was being destroyed by dismantlement.
Although never a center of war industries, nor a Nazi strong- hold, Siegerland had been marked down for relatively heavier losses of productive capacity than any other area I visited, or heard of, in Germany. It only covered 43 square miles and had some 35,000 inhabitants, but was losing 25 factories. Several neighboring vil- lages were also having their factories dismantled, bringing the total figure to 28. Originally there had een 29 on the list, but one, belonging to a Catholic, a rarity in Siegen, had been saved by the intervention of a Catholic Cardinal.
The ruin of one enterprise affected many others dependent on it for supplies or as customers. At least a quarter of the population
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was losing its income, and even before dismantlement there were already fifteen hundred unemployed.
Siegen not only had its own population to take care of, includ- ing sixteen hundred disabled people, and widows and orphans of the fallen and of those still held in Russia as prisoners of war. It also had a large number of expellees from the East of Germany to house and feed. A large transient camp had been established in its damaged barracks, through which nearly a quarter of a million of these destitute victims of racial persecution had already passed, and kept on coming. Three thousand German refugees were per- manently quartered on the town and had to be provided with food, clothing, and furniture, as well as precious space in the bombed houses and cellars where most of the population lived.
It was in Siegen that I learned that in Germany as a whole only one of every four or five children has a bed of its own, and that five million children are orphans, half of whom come from the lost Eastern territories.
Siegen’s hinterland, from which it had formerly derived food, was now in the French zone where all agricultural produce which could be wrung out of the peasants is taken for French consump- tion. So in 1946 the Siegen population had starved and even in 1947 it had had to exist on less than 1,000 calories a day. Tuber- culosis had increased alarmingly. Children of fourteen and fifteen who were already working looked no more than ten or eleven years old, so stunted was their growth.
The local British reparations officer hated his job and told me he felt like a criminal, especially because Siegen reminded him of his own North Country England. “A miniature Sheffield,” he called it. He told me that all his life until now he had been en- gaged in constructing, having been apprenticed in a Lancashire engineering works at the age of twelve and having worked his way up to an executive position. “I just can’t feel it’s right to destroy machinery.” he said, “but if I didn’t keep this job someone else would take it; and at least I try to carry out the dismantlement program with as little damage as possible.”
As against this kind and decent Englishman I was told about the local Gauleiter, the British military governor of the area who had left-wing sympathies and had carried through many high- handed acts, and took a malicious joy in ruining the Germans under a “socialist” cover. His personal reputation was also unsavory, for he had sent a man to prison on a false charge to clear the way
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for his seduction of a German woman. The victim, whose name was Zezulak, spoke good English and acted as interpreter for the Germans. He had a wife and child whom he was obviously devoted to, and he had had no interest in the woman the governor coveted, but had protected her from the English major’s rude advances. This all sounds like a grade C movie, but such things do happen, and the truth of the story was attested to by the doctor who had subsequently performed an abortion for the lady at the British major’s expense.
The factories being dismantled in Siegen were producing mining and railway equipment, pipes and flanges, welding torches and cutting machinery, rolling-mill equipment, food-processing ma- chinery, steel containers for the transport of gas, fittings for the automobile industry, kitchen utensils, garbage containers, and other necessary articles for a peacetime economy. The one really big plant dismantled was the Waldrich Iron and Steel Works, shipped to Czechoslovakia. One smaller plant which had manufactured munitions, the Inko Works which had made flame throwers, and whose owner was a Nazi, was not to be dismantled and was pro- ducing typewriters.
Many Siegen factories had already lost their most valuable ma- chinery through the “multilateral deliveries” demanded by the British for their own use. In other factories also the most necessary machinery was now being removed even when they were not “on the list” for total destruction.
There was, for instance, the case of Herr Steinmetz, whom found up a tree picking apples in the garden behind his small fac- tory on a Saturday afternoon. In addition to losing half his sheet scrubbing and shearing machines, his crane was to be removed the following Monday. He had offered to supply a new crane instead of the old one, so that his factory would not be put out of com- mission for months by his inability to get a motor to work the new one he had managed to buy. The offer had been refused although the old crane would have to be cut in two to get it down. The old crane must be delivered to the scrap heap although Herr Steinmetz had a hundred thousand dollars worth of orders to ful- fill. Unable now to fill his orders from Holland and Belgium for sheet-metal-working machinery, such foreign exchange would be lost to the German economy and American taxpayers.
The decisions of the British authorities in Düsseldorf were quite incalculable. In another case they accepted a new crane instead of
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the old one scheduled for dismantlement, but decreed that the new one should at once be converted into scrap!
Most of the machinery I saw being dismantled in Siegen would never be set up and utilized in other countries. Having been built for a special purpose, and much of it being too old to be used by any other workers than the skilled men of Siegen who ad worked on it for decades, it was of no use to anyone else. Yet many ma- chines could not be replaced because they were made only in the Russian zone.
In every one of the nine Siegen factories I personally visited, the representatives of the countries entitled to reparations had ex- pressed no interest in acquiring the dismantled machines. It was all taken away to rust at the depot. The same was true of most of the others scheduled for dismantlement. The British were taking away the livelihood of thousands of people for no rhyme or reason — except vengeance, or, in some cases, for the advantage of Ger- many’s British competitors in European markets.
Saddest of all was my sight of Herr Fuchs, an old man of sixty- eight who had lost his only son in the war, ho had never taken a holiday in his life, and whose whole being was wrapped up in his factory which had produced nothing but stowing pipes for the Ruhr mines— the pipes of highly resistant steel which are used to blow rubble by air pressure into the empty paces left after the coal has been mined, to prevent collapse of the walls.
Every bit of machinery had already been taken out of Herr Fuchs’ plant and his life’s work wrecked. And to what purpose, thought, as we stood in the empty building, and he told e, with tears in his eyes, that after his son had fallen in the war, and his factory had been bombed and left with only walls standing, he and his faithful workers had just managed to rebuild it and repair the machines, when the British ordered it to be dismantled.
Although the Bizonal coal commission had placed Herr Fuchs’ factory on the list of essential factories, and although no foreign country wanted his machinery and it was now rotting away at the storage depot, he had been ruined and his 130 workers and their families deprived of their livelihood. I was close to tears myself as I said good-bye to poor old Herr Fuchs as the sun went down be- hind the mountains in sad Siegerland.
Herr Fuchs was too old to start again.
Others, like Herr Hensch, whose factory I visited the same day, made me think that all the cruelty and stupidity of Allied occupa-
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tion policies could not permanently down the German people. However hard we tried to turn them into paupers, they would in- sist on trying to go on working.
Faced with utter ruin, for the British had already torn down his furnaces and dismantled almost all his machines, Fritz Hensch was going somehow or other to start over again. His factory, the Siegerthaler Works in the village of Eisenfeld, made vacuum equip- ment (giant pressure cookers) for the food industry, and flanges for large pipes. He had been allowed to keep a few machines for a few weeks longer to complete an order for the Iraq Petroleum Company because no British factory could supply the large diam- eter flanges required. But as soon as this order was fulfilled dis- mantlement was to be completed. His ten cranes and all his butt- welding machinery, specially built for his factory and useless to anyone else, was to be put on the scrap heap.
Hensch had started life as an apprentice without a cent, since he was one of ten children of a tailor. Through the years he had built up his own factory, adding machine after machine through his own efforts, each built to his specifications for a special purpose. Pro- duction was so efficiently arranged that each worker could help himself by means of the many small cranes built into the roof.
Here was a man who loved his machines, knew every detail of every process in his factory, and had a craftman’s pride in his pr od- ucts. Middle-aged, thin and wiry, with keen intelligent eyes, Hensch was a living embodiment of the spirit of free enterprise which will not be killed however hard we try to extinguish it in Germany.
The 300 tons of machinery being dismantled was valued at half a million marks in 1938 and would cost one and a half million marks to replace today, but the British had put it down on the repa- rations list as worth only 160,000. Hensch had no money to replace the machinery scheduled for destruction, but e was building new furnace out of the bricks torn out of the dismantled one and left lying around; and he had managed to borrow one new ring- bending machine from a friend in another town. He was starting again. He was the living embodiment of the German people who, knocked out and kicked while down, refusing to die, stagger to their feet and start struggling again.
The Bender brothers, whose factory I also visited, were like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, fat and short with faces so alike that I could not tell one from the other. They were old and seemed re- signed to the fate which was stripping their factory bare, although,
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like Herr Fuchs’, it manufactured stowing pipes for the Ruhr mines, and 90 per cent of Bizonia’s production of this essential product would be wiped out when the Benders’ machinery followed Fuchs’ to the scrap heap.
One of the Bender brothers had a son who was as eloquent as his father and uncle were dumb. This young Bender had been a prisoner of war in the States, spoke slangy colloquial American with great fluency and hoped eventually to be able to emigrate to America where he has relatives. He was certain that the Bender factory was being dismantled by mistake, but owing to British competition. The dismantlement list referred to “boile rs, tanks and oil pipes” and did not mention stowing pipes. Young Bender suggested that some ignorant British official did not know the difference between one kind of pipe and another, but knew that the British wanted to wipe out German competition in oil pipe lines and had therefore put Benders on the dismantlement list.
It was this young Bender who also first drew my attention to the fact that dismantlement on a big scale had begun following the currency reform of June 1948 which had wiped out all savings. If it had been carried out sooner the factory owners might still have been able to get new machinery, and German competition would still have been dangerous to the British.
Dismantlement, like bombing, or the rain, takes no account of the just and the unjust. The factories to be torn down had evi- dently been selected by rule of thumb, not by any idea of punish- ing the guilty any more than of preserving the elements most likely to contribute to the conversion of Germany into a democracy. The case of the Weber family, with whom I stayed in Siegen and whom I came to know well, is an illustration.
While her four sons were away fighting on the Russian front, the widow Weber and her teen-age daughter Margarita, had got into trouble with the Nazi authorities on account of their kindness to the French and Russian prisoners assigned to work in the Weber factory. Frau Weber could not forbear from occasionally giving good warm meal to the poor wretches who worked in the factory by day and slept in a little house t the bottom of her garden. One a of the prisoners was a young Frenchman who used to talk to Margarita from the barred window of his prison as she worked in the evenings in the Weber vegetable patch. René was frail and unaccustomed to hard physical labor, so kind-hearted Frau Weber, seeing him one day staggering under a heavy load, had assigned
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him to clerical work. Soon he was being invited into the Weber house and started giving French lessons to Margarita. The young couple fell in love. Unfortunately, a azi workman in the factory N heard of this “fraternization” with the enemy and reported it to the authorities. Frau Weber was severely reprimanded and René was removed to another factory in Siegen where he was so brutally treated that he ran away, and, after being caught, was assigned to a punishment camp in Poland. Here he developed tuberculosis and was sent to a prison hospital in Cologne. On Christmas Eve of 1944 Margarita traveled there with a cake and a few apples which she tried to smuggle in to her lover. She was caught and sent to prison for six months by the Nazis, and a Nazi manager was installed in the Weber factory.
One of Frau Weber’s sons, Otto, on leave from the Russian front at the time, tried to commit suicide but survived with the loss of one eye. Later the Weber factory was bombed to the ground. Their house, also bombed, was saved from complete des- truction by Russian prisoners who, remembering Frau Weber’s kindness, rushed to put out the flames. At the war’s end these former prisoners also saved Frau Weber from being robbed by the many other ex-prisoners who now became displaced persons.
The second of Frau Weber’s sons, Günther, died of starvation in April 1946, after working for two years as a Russian prisoner in the stone quarries near Kuibyshev. One of his comrades, who later returned to Siegen, told the Webers that Günther, who had been a big man weighing 260 pounds, had been reduced to a living skeleton weighing 48 pounds before he died. A Russian doctor had tried to save his life after he collapsed and was sent to a hospital, but it was too late. Frau Weber had loved Günther best of all her sons. He was, she told me often, the boy with the sweetest disposition, the strongest and most loving. All the rest of her days she would live with he thought of the agonies het had suffered before dying of hunger, and remembering him, she would weep even when the rest of the family was happy.
The youngest Weber boy, Helmuth, is today slowly dying in hospital from the injuries he sustained during and fter the war. His kidneys having been injured while a soldier, the disease was rendered incurable by the treatment he received after the war’s end. As an American prisoner of war, although ill, he was kept for months sleeping on the cold wet ground without even a tent to cover him. His shrunken kidneys now no longer function to
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clear the bloodstream of poisonous matter, and the doctors expect he will go mad or blind before he dies.
Erhardt came home after three years at the Russian front as private, and a year and a half of slave labor. He had first worked in a coal mine at Karaganda in Siberia, 800 miles from the Chinese frontier. After he had been discovered throwing dirt instead of coal into the tubs, he was beaten and threatened with death. This had meant little to him. “Many of us,” he said, “had reached the point at which one no longer cares whether one lives or dies.”
After it was found that he was a qualified engineer, Erhardt had been taken out of the mines but he had already developed water swelling in his feet through starvation and was sent to a hospital on the Volga. The patients here were all Germans and they were as badly starved as before. Sometimes they received no bread for month and existed entirely on spoonfuls of gruel given them morn- ing and evening and a midday bowl of watery soup. When they complained to the woman doctor in charge she told them to go to Hitler for food. Finally, in November 1945, when his weight had sunk to 92 pounds and he could not stand upright Erhardt had been sent home to die. But he had gradually recovered under his mother’s care. When I met him he was still terribly emaciated, with deep sunken eyes, still a young man but one who smiled rarely and talked very little. When I asked him what had sustained him through his terrible experiences, he said simply that it was the hope of coming home. He had fought through the whole war, been at Dunkirk and in occupied France, marched thousands of miles and refused a commission because he hated the army, but he had done his duty as a man and a German and felt the ruin of his country as deeply as his family’s personal losses.
Margarita had meanwhile married her René, who had been sent home by the Germans after he became useless as a slave laborer, but had rushed back to Siegen from France to find his love, imme- diately the war ended.
René Devilliers was slim and elegant, witty, intellectual, and so- phisticated. Margarita was like a little girl in a fairy tale, simply dressed, without make-up, gay and sweet, with her heart on her sleeve. I have rarely seen two young people so much in love and so devoted to one another. Margarita had a kidney ailment as the legacy of her ill treatment in prison, and René was tubercular, but they were both radiantly happy, and when they visited the Weber house the sad atmosphere gave way to gaiety.
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Erhardt and René, so different in temperament, one so very French and the other so very German, were good friends— better friends than Erhardt and his brother Otto who was the black sheep of the family, and earned his living by his wits rather than by hard work. René and Erhardt had both fought and suffered and endured the horrors of forced labor and hunger as prisoners of war, and al- though they had been on opposite sides they understood and re- spected each other while Margarita adored them both. Each repre- sented in his own way the best qualities of their two nations. Er- hardt complained that René, being a Frenchman, did not know how to work hard, while René said Erhardt was married to his fac- tory and had never learned to enjoy life.
I used to think, while staying with the Webers, that I had the whole picture of Germany and France in that household. If only the two nations could get together and combine their virtues and their talents, the Germans putting diligence and endurance into the French, and the French teaching the Germans the graces of life, Europe could be made peaceful and strong. In fact, there is not really so wide a gap between the South Germans and the Northern French. René came from the Vosges district on the other side of the Rhine and in ages past his ancestors and Erhardt’s were one people.
As soon as he was able to walk and work, Erhardt had started to dig out the machinery from under the debris of the Weber Works, and repair t with the aid of the skilled workers who from genera-i tion to generation had worked for the Weber family. By 1947 the factory was working again producing welding torches, gas cutting ma- chines, and other badly needed reconstruction machinery, and em- ploying a hundred workers. Frau Weber now had German refugees from the East to feed and care for instead of Russian and French prisoners. Otto was married and had a child. The vegetable and flower gardens which were Frau Weber’s pride were both bloom - ing. New red brick walls were rising where the original bombed-out buildings had stood. For a few months it had seemed that the Webers’ troubles were ended, although Frau Weber’s dearest son, Günther, would never come home and Helmuth was slowly dying.
Then the ritish ordered B the Weber works dismantled. All Er- hardt’s gallant labors had gone for nothing. He and his family were to be ruined. Margarita and René would also be destitute, for René having married a German had to give up the career of an officer
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in the French Army, which his father had followed before him, and was also working for Webers.
The residual value of the Weber Works was calculated at only 36,000 marks, but the cost of replacing the machinery to be sent to the scrap heap was 750,000, a sum way beyond the reach of the family, for they had not hoarded before currency reform, but sold all the product of their factory. The annual production of their works, according to the orders on their books, was five times its dismantled value.
The planned destruction of the Weber Works could affect many other firms, since Webers supplied the welding and cutting equip- ment and sheet-metal-working machinery required to start up pro- duction again after dismantlement. This was proved by the fact that the Webers ad received ordersh from other countries for their machine tools but had been refused permission to export by the Allied authorities because of the need for their products in Ger- many. Czechs, Yugoslavs, Belgians, Indians, and representatives of other countries entitled to reparations had inspected the Weber Works, but none had desired to acquire the machinery, much of which was old and all of which required skilled labor to operate. The whole equipment to be dismantled was destined for the scrap heap.
I spent hours watching the Weber workers, who were working night and day in two long shifts to earn as much as possible before being deprived of their livelihood. One of them said to me: “We thought that after Hitler’s overthrow the German workers would be helped. Now we must assume the contrary. England and America evidently want to destroy us. Why else would they be taking away our jobs?”
In an appeal which Erhardt Weber subsequently sent to the ECA authorities in Frankfurt he wrote:
This is a last hour appeal to the victors of this war not to create new wounds, and by senseless destruction create more misery. At this hour when reconstruction of Europe is required and can be carried out only by substantial sacrifices, lend a helping hand to the peaceful will o work for it.
Dismantlement of the Weber Works was to begin on October 2, a few days ahead of my first visit to Siegen. I was so disturbed by this injustice, and had by then already come to feel such sym-
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pathy for the Weber family and their workers, that I decided to go to Detmold and appeal to Mr. Whitham, the British official re- sponsible for reparations shipments.
Erhardt drove me there in his ancient Mercedes which was liable to break down occasionally but was the only one of their automo- biles which had not been confiscated by the British. On the way north he told me what the men of Hitler’s armies had gone through in Russia, both during and after the war. A reserved and embittered young man whose best years had been spent in fighting, and whose experiences in Russia as a prisoner had been too terrible to talk about even to his family, he slowly relaxed and unburdened himself to me, after I had convinced him that I, too, knew the bitterness of existence in Soviet Russia. He had served three years on the Rus- sian front before being wounded and taken prisoner. He had been starved and frozen and had suffered about as much as a human be- ing can bear, both physically and mentally. I began to understand that his absorption in the Weber factory was his defense against memories which would otherwise make life unendurable.
We passed out of Siegerland into Sauerland and thence through the flat plains of Hanoverian territory. Every now and again in Sauerland Erhardt would point to the ugly naked hills where for- ests had once flourished, but which had been stripped bare by the British, who had not spared even the young trees and had left noth- ing but raw stumps.
We spent the night at Bad Oyenhausen, headquarters of the British Army of the Rhine, where I had a friend whom I had not seen since 1938 in Singapore, and who was now a brigadier in charge of all British Army automobile transport.
British quarters at Bad Oyenhausen were surrounded by barbed wire to keep out “the natives.” Erhardt was probably the first Ger- man whom Joss and his wife had received in their house. But one had to admit that the British were better than the Americans in at least one respect. They allowed their soldiers to marry German girls and live with them in camp, whereas the United States did not permit such marriages unless an officer or GI was about to re- turn home. It was also true that although the British army of occu- pation was enjoying far better material conditions than the British at home, their allowances of food were far below the United States standard. In respect to housing and personnel services they were, however, exacting a higher toll from the Germans than the Ameri- can occupation forces.
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Erhardt spoke little the whole evening while I argued with Joss and his wife, who nice as they were, often resorted to the stock British argument when confronted by examples of our treatment of the Germans: “We won the war, didn’t we?” But next morning, on our way to see Mr. Whitham at Detmold, Erhardt remarked that it was kind of funny that the British used this phrase so often since, whoever had won the war, it certainly wasn’t England.
Joss had warned me that Mr. Whitham was a tough nut to crack; that he even insisted on dismantling factories needed by the British Army for repairs nd equipment. “Be very American,” he had said to me, “but don’t lose your temper. Try to appeal to him as a gentleman and maybe, though I doubt it, you will save Herr Weber’s factory.”
I succeeded with Mr. Whitham, though only after more than an hour’s arg ument and only temporarily. He finally agreed to suspend the dismantlement order, but would not say for how many weeks. In the course of our discussion during which Erhardt waited out- side because Whitham did not wish to see him, this British official who wielded such great power waved his hand toward the window and said, “These Germans still have more resources than we have.”
Arriving back at Siegen at midnight we found that dismantle- ment, which had started that morning, had been stopped in the afternoon. Knowing that I had secured only a suspension of sen- tence, I determined to see what could be done with the Industry and Commerce Division of the Bizone administration in Frank- furt. But first I spent a few days more in Siegen seeing other fac- tories, and also visiting the barracks where thousands of German expellees were being cared for in Siegen. Other flüchtlinge, as the Germans call the millions of poor wretches expelled from their homes in Silesia, the Sudetenland and other Eastern territories, were housed in private homes. A considerable number of them were working in the factories marked down for destruction.
The other family I came to know well in Siegen were the Bar- tens who owned the ancient firm of Achenbach Söhne. This mod- ern iron and steel works had grown out of a forge which began working the iron ores of the Westerwald in 1452. It had begun its development as a modern factory in 1846, before Bismarck had been heard of, and while Siegen was still part of a principality of the house of Orange which today rules Holland. Achenbach pro- duced high quality rolling-mill equipment which used to be ex- ported all over Europe and which is so well known that a British
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Birmingham firm today advertises the quality of its products by showing a picture with the Achenbach name on its machinery. This part of the plant had already been dismantled and shipped to England. Now Achenbach was also to lose the special purpose machine tools used exclusively for the production of spare loco- motive parts. Achenbach was producing 90 per cent of the piston ring requirements of Bizonia’s railways, but dismantlement was scheduled to begin in December. The absurdity of the proceeding was apparent since this department of Achenbach had been placed on the list of “absolu tely essential plants” to be immediately re - constructed following dismantlement. Allied officials concerned with the reconstruction of the German transport system had re- cently visited Achenbach’s to find out how quickly it could get production going again. But, as old Dr. Barten pointed out, the British were not only removing his machinery; they were also going to tear down and destroy the three cranes which were built into the roof of his railway plant, and this damage was irreparable at the present time. (As I learned later in Stuttgart, the reparations branch of the United States Military Government was busy there dismantling one of the few factories in Western Germany which makes cranes.)
Repeated protests to the British authorities had been unavailing, although several British officers had admitted that an error had almost certainly been made in the first place. There is hardly ever any way of getting errors on the dismantlement list corrected. One office refers the matter to another, and no one can r will take the responsibility of canceling an order once given.
Achenbach’s was a larger enterprise than the Weber Works and had employed three hundred workers. The residual value of its equipment was set at only 17,000 Reichsmarks, but its replacement value at 1948 prices was 3,000,000 D marks. Before the war its monthly output was 250,000 marks a month— a larger figure than the total value of its dismantled machinery as calculated by the reparations authorities. Thus Achenbach’s could have produced in a ingle months new equipment worth more than the total being destroyed. Dismantlement in this and many other cases could have been aptly described as “Operation Killing the Goose.”
When I visited the Achenbach factory I was struck by the num- ber of young women working there. When I spoke to them I found they were all refugees from the East, whom the Bartens were hous- ing as well as training. They were quick and able workers and some
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were already earning 1.20 marks an hour turning out piston rings. A large roportion of the expellees are women, since the Poles and Czechs and Yugoslavs kept many German men as slave laborers while throwing out the women and children. These women, shortly to lose their jobs through dismantlement just after having acquired the means to support themselves and their children, would have to return to the crowded refugee camps again to become paupers.
Even the machines on which boy apprentices were being taught to be engineers were to be taken away. Thirty youngsters whom I saw as immersed in their work as if they were constructing toy airplanes, were to be deprived of the opportunity to learn a trade. The Achenbach foreman, having a brother in Milwaukee who sends him food parcels, feels very friendly to America. But, he said to me, how can we or the British hope to save Europe from communism if we drive the German workers to despair by our policies, and de- prive their sons of technical training?
Later in the day I visited some of the refugee workers in the temporary homes constructed for them close to the factory. Here I talked to an old gaunt worker from Silesia called Winter. He had been a blacksmith with his own small forge in a village near Glatz where the population was part German and part Polish. He had been on friendly terms with the Polish peasants of his district, and they had tried to save him from expropriation. But the Polish Communist government had thrown him out of his house together with his wife and his grandchildren, and they had all walked hundreds of miles before they got to Berlin. There he had managed to find work, but the Russians soon came and dismantled the fac- tory where he had a job. So they had started again on their travels and ended up at Siegen. Now for the third time the old blacksmith faced destitution just when he had expected to live out the rest of his life in peace.
The Bartens were better off than the Webers in some respects. There was a better chance of saving their factory, as I found out later in Frankfurt. The only Barten son, a tall handsome young man with a gay temperament, had come home safe from the wars, and was newly married to a charming girl from the Saar. Young Barten had endured the hardships of the Russian front like so many others of the men I talked to in Siegen, but he had not been a Russian prisoner of war like Erhardt Weber, and there were no such shadows of death and horror at the Bartens as those which darkened the Weber home. On one occasion I asked young
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Barten and his wife how they managed to be so happy in spite of the ruin which threatened them, and he said: “We younger Germans who have survived the war have learned to live in danger; we know how good it is to be alive, whatever the future may bring.”
Barten senior was stout, red faced and kindly; the type of Ger- man who is represented in caricatures as swilling beer in some sum- mer cafe on the Rhine, but was energetic and intelligent and kindhearted. His wife is a Berliner and looked almost young enough to be his daughter. Fair, elegant and witty, with a lovely singing voice, she had the same happy temperament as her son. She did not mind so much that the British had requisitioned the Barten home and were keeping its twelve rooms for the use of two bache- lors, but she longed to get her piano back. When I happened to be invited in for a drink by the two British officials who occupied the Barten house, I asked them whether they did not think they might let Frau Barten have the use of the piano which meant so much to her. They protested that although they could not play themselves, it was used when they entertained, and I should re- member that the British in Siegen had precious little to amuse them. This was of course quite true. If the pattern of occupation had followed normal lines, with the conquerors billeted in the houses of the conquered instead of throwing them out of their homes for an indefinite period, whether or not the whole space requisitioned was needed, the British Tommies and American GI’s, officers, and civilians, as well as the Germans, would have been far happier. The race discrimination policy adopted by both the British and Americans was almost as hard on the occupying forces as the occupied. True, the original “nonfraternization” rules had been modified, but a great gulf still separated the conquerors from the conquered in both zones.
In Siegen the racial bar meant that the handful of Britishers there had nothing much to do in their leisure hours, if they were married men unwilling to seek the only companionship possible: association with ladies of easy virtue. In a small community like Siegen, where almost everyone knows everyone else, and where puritanical Protestant morality was little undermined by the Nazis and has not been destroyed even by defeat and hunger, fräuleins,” in the accepted occupation meaning of the term, are few and hard to come by. On the other hand the British reparations people were naturally not persona grata with the Germans, while the resident British “governor,” as I have already mentioned, was extremely un -
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popular both on account of his reputed seductions by pressure, and his suspected Communist sympathies. So it was seldom that the lonely British occupation officials entered a German home.
There were no British military forces in Siegerland, which was part of the area occupied by Belgian troops. The latter, while oc- cupying a great deal of precious housing space, were doing profitable black-market business. Like the French they are unham- pered by the regulations and customs controls which rendered the import and sale of cigarettes, cognac, coffee, and other luxuries, and the export of German manufactures or currency, hazardous for the Americans and the British. The Belgians were on better per- sonal terms with the Germans than the British or Americans, since there was less of language barrier as well as no regulation “master race” behavior. The Germans regarded them as a minor pest, since although they complained of their dirtiness and drunkenness, they were not concerned with dismantlement, and their cigarette and coffee black-marketing brought prices down. Compared with the Belgians even the French soldiers in Germany looked smart— which is saying a lot. Frenchmen, whatever their other vices, rarely drink too much, but the Belgians I saw in Siegen were as drunk as they were irty and unmilitary in appearance. Nor did they maked any pretense of ever intending to fight. They frankly told the Ger- mans that if war came they would at once run away.
I spent a few more days in Siegerland after my return with Erhardt Weber from Detmold. I visited many factories, talked to the workers and visited their homes; spent a few hours in the mu- seum in the castle where there was also an exhibition of striking paintings of Russia done by returned prisoners of war; visited René and Margarita in their home a few miles away in the French zone, and spent another day in the French zone with Otto and Helmuth. I now felt as if I had known these people all my life; I was ad- mitted to the intimacy of their family quarrels, and came to ap- preciate the ood and bad qualities of each member of the family.g The differences in their characters and outlook were as great as their solidarity as a family. Poor Frau Weber used to sigh for her husband who had known how to reconcile these differences among her sons, while she could only bewail them and mourn the death of Günther who had had the virtues of each and the vices of none. The curious thing in the Weber family was that only the men quarreled. Otto’s wife, Margarita, and Frau Weber lived on the most amicable terms.
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I returned to Frankfurt, determined to see what could be done to save the people of the town and forest villages, whose troubles I had come to feel were my concern. Surely, I thought, either the Anglo-American officials engaged in restoring the railways and in- creasing coal production, or the ECA authorities, would be inter- ested in stopping the destruction of some of the Siegen factories.
The first morning in Frankfurt I left the Press Center bright and early to visit the Commerce and Industry ivision of Bicom, the joint Anglo-American administration of the combined British and American zones. Frankfurt is the de facto capital of Bizonia and the Bipartite offices are situated in the huge I. G. Farben building which we refrained from bombing during the war. It is not much smaller than the Pentagon and, since the various departments are continually playing General Post, you have to be employed there to know where to find what any day in the week. However, there is always the fun of traveling up and down in the moving boxes accommodating two persons, which take the place of ele- vators or escalators in the most modern German buildings.
Finally, I located the brigadier supposed to be at the head of the British section of the Bipartite Commerce and Industry Divi- sion. I could accomplish this feat because I was an American cor- respondent and could wander about the corridors at will. But few Germans, permitted to enter the buildings only if they got a pass, and able to get a pass only if they knew exactly whom they needed to see, could succeed in putting their grievance or appeal before the proper authorities. To make it just so much more difficult for them, the Information desk is situated inside, so that they cannot find out whom they want to see and here they are to be found, until after they get the permit which allows them to pass the sen- tries at the door. Not that the girls at the Information desk usually know anything, but at least you can consult the book giving the names and locations of the any and varied departments; although the rooms given are rarely the right ones, you can start out and eventually find what you want.
The British brigadier was amiable and quite decent as well he might be since he didn’t seem to be doing anything, and his oom and anteroom were empty of visitors. He told me he had just been appointed to his job, and as yet didn’t know the faintest thing about it. “Go and see Mr. Radford, further along the corridor,” he suggested. “He’s the fellow who knows all about German n- dustry.”
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So I walked along the corridor and found Mr. Radford. Unfortu- nately, Mr. Radford hadn’t the slightest interest in my story. He made it clear at once that he was a Vansittartist— the British equivalent of one of the Morgenthau Boys. He smiled coldly when I started to tell him about Siegen, and said: “I have fought twice against Germany and lost my brothers in the war. This time, I assure you, we are going to make the Germans pay.”
It was obviously useless to argue with a man like Radford, even about the outstanding case of Achenbach, although as deputy head of the British Section of the Bipartite Commerce and Industry Divi- sion, he was supposed to be concerned with reconstruction rather than vengeance.
So I left him and sought out his American counterpart, Mr. Messler. Here I had a totally different reception. Mr. Messler was very much interested, although he told me that the decisions of the Military Government reparations authorities in Berlin were “outside the terms of reference” of the Frank furt authorities. Here for the first time I was up against the disastrous duality of Ameri- can occupation policies. The officials concerned with reconstruc- tion of the German economy had nothing to do with the repara- tions authorities whose mandate was to destroy Germany’s capacity for self-support.
Messler sent for a Mr. Yule who was in charge, among other things, of the reconstruction of the German railways. Mr. Yule proved to be one of the most active, well-informed and unpreju- diced United States officials I met in Germany. He said that he knew Achenbach’s production was absolutely essential to the rail - ways; that it was quite true that it produced almost the whole of the Bizonia railways’ piston rings, and that its dismantlement would be disastrous. Mr. Yule took me off to see the two United States technical experts concerned with Reichsbahn supplies, Mr. Pumphrey and Mr. Hartlaub, on leave of absence from the Penn- sylvania and New York Central railways to help the German rail- ways overcome the difficulties which threatened to block European recovery.
Unlike the offices of the big shots with military titles, the room and anteroom occupied by Mr. Pumphrey and Mr. Hartlaub were full of Germans, and wonder of wonders, both these Americans spoke German themselves. They were actually dealing directly with the Germans and helping them solve their problems and ours. It was a refreshing experience, for most United States officials in
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Germany seemed only to deal with the Germans through their sec- retaries, and it was almost as hard for a German to get to see an American official as for the proverbial camel to pass through the needle’s eye.
I told these Americans that I was a Readers’ Digest corre- spondent, but that I had come to see them, not as a writer eeking information, but in order to tell them some facts I had learned of immediate concern to them, and indeed to all Americans. Since I am not an engineer and could not therefore give them all the details, I suggested they should talk to Dr. Barten.
All three immediately agreed and asked me to try and get Barten to come over from Siegen the following day. They warned me, as Mr. Messler had done, that reparations deliveries were outside their sphere, but they nevertheless made it clear that they were prepared to fight to prevent the Morgenthau boys in Berlin from dis- mantling, or permitting the British to dismantle, the factories most essential to the reconstruction of the railways.
Dr. Barten will never forget his meeting with these American technical experts. They were the first Americans he had met, and he was overwhelmed; not only by the contrast between the way they received him and the manner in which he was accustomed to be treated by the British, but also by the difference between American and German officials.
Beaming with joy as we left the I. G. Farben building after the interview, he said:
“Really, we Germans have something to learn from America. It’s almost incredible! Those American gentlemen didn’t even keep me waiting a half hour or so to show their importance, as German bureaucrat would certainly have done. And they talked to me so kindly, as if I were a friend, without any pompousness or formality. Perhaps this American democracy really means some- thing. Ach, its unbelievable how I was treated. I want to get back home to tell everyone about it.”
Dr. Barten wanted to take me off to have dinner at a German restaurant with him and Zezulak, who had accompanied him from Siegen as interpreter, but whose services had hardly been neces- sary since Hartlaub spoke German fluently, and both Pumphrey and Yule were sufficiently conversant with the language. I insisted that they should both, instead, come with me to Schuman Hall, the Post Exchange cafeteria where there are no race or class dis- tinctions, and GI’s and officers can both bring their German
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guests. Here again Dr. Barten waxed enthusiastic over American ways. “How sensible it was to take a tray and wait on yourself.” “How extraordinary to see American officers standing in line be - hind GI’s. ” “How friendly everyone seemed.” “How unexpected to see Germans and Americans sitting down together. One could not imagine such a thing happening in the British zone where no Germans are admitted to British restaurants and clubs.”
“Wirklich, wir könnten on den Amerikanernv viel gutes lernen,” he repeated again, too busy observing the noisy crowded cafeteria, to eat his sandwiches. He had received a practical lesson in democ- racy worth more than a thousand lectures, or any amount of radio and newspaper propaganda. He had seen the reality of American democracy, usually obscured by Military Government, and had met Americans who behaved as if they were at home, instead of as conquerors ruling over a beaten people.
I was not, of course, satisfied by the prospect that Achenbach’s would in all probability be saved. Dr. Barten’s plant was only one of the most obviously indefensible examples of dismantlement in Siegerland, but the United States railways experts whom I had found to be so keen on their reconstruction job, could not help the Webers, or Hensch, or others, the destruction of whose factories constituted sabotage of the Marshall Plan, but was not of direct concern to the railways.
My next appeal, accordingly, was to the ECA authorities. Thanks to Mr. Haroldson, the State Department representative in Frank- furt and one of the real liberals I met in Germany, I met Mr. Collisson, the ECA representative in Germany, and Commander Paul F. Griffin, USNR, who had just arrived from Washington with the experts of the Humphrey Committee charged by Congress to find out which plants on the dismantlement list could better contribute to European reconstruction by being left in Germany.
I first asked the ECA representatives whether they intended to get information direct from the Germans, or would deal with them only through Military Government. I was assured that “the door is open here to anyone who has information to give us which bears upon the European Recovery Program.”
I welcomed this statement and subsequently passed it on to the Germans in the Ruhr and the French zone, with the result that the ECA offices in Frankfurt received quite a stream of letters and visits from the German industrialists and labor leaders I met in my travels. I made it quite clear, of course, that Mr. Collisson and
126 THE HIGH COST OF VENGEANCE
his colleagues could not be approached by just anyone who had grievance; that their competence extended only to such cases where the question of European recovery was involved.
For the moment, however, I was still concerned mainly ith en- listing ECA’s interest in the Siegerland tragedy. After hearing my story with great patience and interest, Mr. Collisson agreed to re- ceive a deputation from Siegen.
A week or two later, after I had left Frankfurt for the Ruhr, five representatives of Siegerland industries were received by Mr. Col- lisson, who, after hearing them state their case, promised that Sie- gen would soon be visited by the ECA technical experts.
Actually the ECA experts visited Siegen twice. The first time, the British refused to allow the Siegen people to have their own inter- preter and the factory owners who could speak no English were at a serious disadvantage. Those, like Erhardt Weber, who under- stands English moderately well, heard the British interpreter giving false information to the delegation, but did not know whether his protest, in halting English, was understood or not. However, Mr. Lewis, the ECA expert, made a great impression in Siegen, for he arrived early in the morning and worked without let-up all day, noting everything and refusing British offers of hospitality. He was, it seemed, a man with a big and difficult job to do, working ten to twelve hours a day, showing favor to none, an impartial highly qualified expert making the detailed survey assigned o him and caring nothing for anything but his job.
After my return to the United States I received a letter from Hans Zezulak, informing me that members of the Humphrey Com- mittee had visited Siegen on December 3 and 4 and inspected four- teen of the plants on the dismantlement list. Mr. Lewis came again, but this time he was accompanied by Frederick V. Geier of the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company, who was said to be brother-in-law of Albert Einstein. Mr. Geier, Zezulak wrote, seemed to be very well nformed in every detail and when a British Militaryi Government interpreter was offered him, declined on the ground that he spoke German fluently. This turned the tables on the Brit- ish who had refused to let the Germans have an interpreter on the occasion of Mr. Lewis’ first visit. As Zezulak reported to me: “So the British left their interpreter behind and all the firms spoke German to him, and the British could not follow the conversation and the people could speak what they liked freely. It was a great day indeed.”.
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Whether or not Paul Hoffman or Washington would make proper use of it, there seemed no doubt from the example of Siegen that Mr. Geier and Mr. Lewis and their colleagues must have pro- vided Washington with the material to make an intelligent and realistic decision about dismantlement.
I visited Siegen again after visiting the Ruhr in October, and was detained there for a week, having developed an inflammation of the lungs— no doubt on account of my too strenuous investigation of dismantlement in Düsseldorf, Dortmund, and Essen. During my stay in bed at the Weber house I got to know this family better than many old friends, and also had frequent visits from the Bar- tens, Senior and Junior. Even Mr. Paisley, the British reparations officer, came to visit me and became distantly friendly with the Webers, once he realized that they did not account him personally responsible for dismantlement. He said I was probably depriving him of his job by my activities on behalf of Siegen, but he did not resent this and was himself longing for the day when he would be working to create instead of to destroy. One evening, in his pres- ence, the Webers told me that many Siegen people were asking if there was not something they could do for me in gratitude for my attempts to save the town. I said, laughing, that I thought they ought to erect a gold statue to me in the market place, if it proved that I really had saved Siegerland from destruction. Paisley there- upon remarked that if so the statue should represent e standing with my foot on his dead body.
This joke had a sequel which touched me very much. Just before I left Germany the Bartens, Senior and Junior, Erhardt Weber, and Zezulak arrived in Frankfurt with a small bronze replica of the huge old medieval statue of an ironworker which used to stand be- side the bridge over the river Sieg. On it they had had inscribed: “In friendly remembrance of the visit of Mrs. Freda Utley to Sieger - land, and her successful efforts in saving the existence of the indus- tries of the district.”
They told me it was not a gift only from themselves, but was in- tended to express the gratitude of many others. The statue weighed at least a hundred pounds and, as I was flying back to the United States, I had to leave it to be sent n to me. I only hoped that had really helped to save the livelihood of the people of Siegerland, and not merely postponed the day of their ruin.
Erhardt Weber now looked more gaunt than ever. His brother was in the hospital and had been given up for lost by the doctors.
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Otto, the unstable though charming and gay member of the Weber family, had taken to drink and no longer did any work. He saw no sense in working, since Germans were apparently doomed to be- come paupers. Why struggle? He would gather such few rosebuds as might come his way and forget his own and others’ sorrows in alcohol.
Erhardt was of stiffer fiber. Whether or not the Weber factory would finally be dismantled, he was continuing to rebuild it. An- other red brick wall had gone up. Three buildings would soon be restored. In spite of Otto’s protests that it was senseless to recon - struct if all the machinery was to be taken away; in spite of Hel- muth’s contention that the only way to make money in Germany today is by buying and selling on or off the black market, Erhardt, head of the family (or its dictator as his brothers said) insisted on work, and yet more work. If the British took away all the fruits of his and his workers’ labors, he for one, was not going to give up hope. Grimly and ilently, insisting that works must go on, and sparing himself least of anyone, Erhardt refused to say die. He epit- omized the best of the German spirit, which seems indomitable, perhaps because it has never been softened by facile conquests and easy living. Erhardt had never been a Nazi and had refused a com- mission in the German Army, but he was a patriot in the best sense. No one I met in Germany made me realize as vividly as Erhardt the bitter sorrow which the destruction and virtual enslavement of their country means to the Germans.
Old beyond his years, unmarried and with no time for the women attracted by his aloofness and lean good looks, he was a lover of music and poetry, with a gentle sense of humor under his reserve; loved less by his mother than her weaker sons, given to few words or expressions of affection, but sensitive and intelligent, Erhardt had an unconquerable spirit. He might die of overwork but he would never surrender to Giant Despair.
Germans like Erhardt Weber and other Siegerlanders, given the chance to utilize their energies and talents for peace instead of the wars they fight but never want, are capable of rebuilding Germany and teaching Western Europe how to live by its own labors, instead of depending upon the revenues from vanishing colonial empires or the American subsidies which have taken their place.