Letter from Katherine Fite to Mr. and Mrs. Emerson Fite, July 27, 1945. K. Lincoln Papers, War Crimes File. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum & Library)
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Friday, July 27th
And a Happy birthday tomorrow.
Dearest Mother and Daddy,
This time I've been to Potsdam and Berlin! I am groggy with fatigue and a million impressions, but I must start putting it on paper and you must save the letter. Berlin this morning, the Cumberland Hotel this evening. And when I told the little maid who brought me tea and sandwiches, she said were you really, and sidled out of the room and I had to run after her to tip her. The British are so decent I think they hate to hear what happened to the Germans - they know too well what it means.
Berlin is fantastic, like something out of another world. The destruction in the center of the city is colossal - those enormous Teutonic buildings in ruins, and I mean ruins. It's staggering and unreal. (You realize of course how few people have been into Berlin). And the people, dull and stolid, expressionless I mean, seem unreal, and one wonders what the routine of their daily lives is. And every once in a while that horrible stench of sewage and I suppose corpses. The rubble is still in huge piles on the sidewalks. Sometimes you see piles of bricks that have been pulled out - and lines of women passing bricks down the line, and the people are not badly dressed and you see umbrellas and raincoats.
The destruction is bad out in the Charlottesburg area too - they say that took one night to destroy. But the thing that you can't forget is the hundreds and hundreds of people on the move in and out of the city and on the roads around Potsdam. All their worldly goods in baby carriages, little wagons, big wagons, some going into the city, some coming out and as Justice Jackson said "Where in God's name are they going?" Occasionally they have tubercular looking horses - but mostly they're pulling their own wagons. And you see them eating picnic suppers, and where will they sleep? I saw one lady running a comb through her hair as she rested.
The German Communist Party headquarters are prominently and well lodged in Potsdam and Berlin with bright red banners - one we saw was flying the American flag also! We saw a huge picture of Stalin across the big avenue going into Berlin, and at another place enormous pictures of Stalin, Truman and Churchill (they'll have to change that one) and across the street a huge painting in shades of brown of the famous photo of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta or Teheran. Everywhere of course are Russian signs - some in Russian, some in German.
I got started in the wrong order because Berlin was uppermost in my mind. Let's go back to the fact that the Justice flew over to see Mr. Byrnes and Mr. McCloy and some Control Council people and took me along - me and his secretary (woman) and his military aide and the Colonel who runs our trips. I'm blase about flying now - so the trip itself seems uneventful excepting that we saw the beaches of Dunkirk and they looked very naked and exposed - just a long line of beach. It took four hours to Potsdam where we were met by an officer from Mr. McCloy's office (McCloy is Assistant Secretary of War). At the airport, the British, American and Soviet flags are flying, the American on the highest pole, which I don't understand, as I think the airport is in the British zone.
Anyway we had to have Soviet permission to bring the plane in and Soviet passes to move around. I have mine as documentary proof that I was there - the red flag superimposed on British and American. On the drive to Potsdam we first saw the Germans plodding along the roads and Soviet sentries every six inches (the President was expected back from Frankfurt). Potsdam is badly, badly destroyed and smells like a charnel house. The compound for the Conference is however an untouched part not technically Potsdam, I think, a very pleasant suburb with tree-lined streets and villas, the Hollywood of Berlin. (Everyone cleaned out of the compound). First you see British soldiers in one zone, then Americans and millions of Russians. They have Russian WAC's for traffic cops, brawny looking damsels in short skirts waving green and yellow flags.
We were "billeted" in a none to clean house in army cots with army blankets, sheets, towels, soap, and even toothbrushes, but a warning not to drink the water - so I skipped tooth brushing. Mr. McCloy entertained the Justice and me at dinner - with his two colonels, General Betts, the Judge Advocate over here, and Mr. Fahy - recently made legal adviser to Gen. Clay. Mr. Fahy was Solicitor General and is a lovely soft-spoken man. At dinner we heard the result of the British election - which seems to have startled everyone and means a new Attorney General in the midst of our negotiations.
After dinner we went to the "White House" where Mr. Byrnes has his office. They took me right along with them but I remained mute. Byrnes has a slow southern drawl and looks just like an Irishman. I think we have a good Secretary of State. Back from there to Mr. McCloy's for more talk and to bed to be up by 8:30 their time, 6:30 ours. So I have had little sleep, having worked 11:30 the night before I left. Then after breakfast into Berlin as I have told you.
One thing I skipped in that account is Hitler's Reichskanzlei - which was obviously a magnificent building - now largely ruins, though the first floor rooms remain. Saw Hitler's magnificent office - with his desk just dumped over in a heap with all the other rubbish. Got rooting around in the debris and discovered personal letters and office notes etc. (this not in Hitler's own room). Why, I said, a historian would go crazy. I had at first started looking for souvenirs - printed documents etc. I quickly discarded that for original documents in the rubbish. I turned up written notes, personal letters to some sort of an SS guard his father had written him (he knew the Fuehrer would be safe as long as he was with him) and what appears to have been an index to some files. I shall have them translated in the morning. Some larger books with lists of names I had to discard in the interests of discretion - we were after all in the Soviet zone in a building guarded by the Soviets.
There were literally yards and yards of movie film just kicking around. Mr. Fahy got interested and was going to see what could be done to have someone go in and sift the rubbish out. I suppose any actual documents in any quantity are already in Moscow. Lots of unused medals were found in the building - legal tender to the Soviet guards is a cigarette. I have a German mother's medal with swastika, and a picture was taken of the justice presenting it to me. Some of the men got medals for the Eastern Front, 1941-1942.
We flew back by way of Frankfurt to drop off Gen. Betts and Mr. Fahy. Frankfurt they say is just about the worst ruins. But when we flew low over the city it was bumpy and the plane was banking and I was interested in my tummy. Over Belgium we climbed 12,000 feet into snow to avoid wind or clouds or something and just got into more clouds. Over the Channel it cleared. We saw the V-1 bomb sites and obstacles on the beaches and from mid-Channel, looking at both coasts, the Channel seemed very narrow.
So now to bed. I'm tired. To Cambridge Sunday with the Justice to visit Prof. Lauterpacht. Am I or am I not having a remarkable time? 3 letters received from you, the last the 19th arrived the 25th. How are mine doing? Army may be slower than commercial, but it's so much cheaper. Yes, 6 cts postage is right.
All my love,