Mike Burke was the head of CIA operations in Germany during the Cold War. A few years later he was hired by CBS to buy and sell ideas and programming in Europe for a new organization, CBS Europe, a front useful to both CBS and the CIA. For the network, the European arm would have a valid commercial purpose; but for American intelligence purposes, a number of its business contacts were former members of the German intelligence ring.
Because of the Cold War, German ex-Nazis and Americans were gathering intelligence on the Soviet Union at the same time. The German spies in the Soviet bloc were under the command of Wehrmacht Major General Reinhard Gehlen. Their outfit was known as the Gehlenapparat. They were supposed to report to the CIA, but the operatives did not work only for the United States.
It was a strange deal our government made. The German spies worked primarily for the West German government, not for the Americans. Although the United States provided the funds, the reports always went first to the Chancellor of Germany—at the time Konrad Adenauer, who had been Gehlen’s previous boss. The staff was composed of many men who had served or been in the Nazi party. It was an uncomfortable ideological partnership.
It was also important to the Americans that the German film industry be reconstituted. The Nazis had taken over the production of the German newsreels and fictional films. To fill the postwar distribution vacuum, Washington secretly refinanced a film corporation in Munich, Constantin Film AG. It was necessary for CBS to maintain commercial relations with Constantin as a market for CBS re-runs. It was also a fine cover story for Burke who wore two hats.
High in the echelons of Constantin Film AG was Klaus Hardt. When I told Mike I needed a distributor for the two films I had made in France, he called Hardt and asked him to see me. I sent my two films ahead and made a date with the purchasing head of Constantin in Munich.
On an April day, I met Otto Kramer, the chief of the organization. Although he greeted me in excellent English, as soon as the business discussions started he spoke only German. Klaus Hardt was the interpreter.
“Mr. Wolff, we have no interest in your film on the war in Europe. However, we would agree to distribute a German version of Kamikaze.”
(Two months later the Japanese had no interest in Kamikaze but showed much interest in Caucasians killing each other in Europe.)
“We will give you the standard deal for distribution. But we will do something you will not find with other distributors. We will give you an honest ticket count. We will not fudge our books. You will get a fair accounting.”
I was delighted. But Kramer continued: “In Germany it is necessary that the producer buy the accompanying short subject. I have such a short subject on the habits of caterpillars. It was made by my shatz”.
Klaus translated: “Shatz means mistress. And it will cost you ten thousand American dollars.”
I didn’t have ten thousand dollars.
Klaus saw my face. So did Otto Kramer. But he was adamant. “After you give Constantin the ten thousand we will make a version in German without cost to you.”
Then Hardt said something in German I did not understand. But his tone was one I never used to a boss or a commanding officer. I think he was chagrined by the immorality of underwriting the shatz’s film.
A pause. Kramer said nothing. But Klaus did.
“Mr. Kramer misspoke. Later, he will take the first ten thousand from the initial gross receipts. You needn’t pay now. After that you will share and the accounting will be accurate.”
The tone of the rebuke made it clear to me that Klaus had worked for Burke in the CIA-Gehlen Organization. Klaus was also wearing two hats.
I agreed to the terms. After a genial goodbye to Kramer, Hardt and I left for a cup of coffee. On the way to the bar I noticed he limped. He saw that I noticed.
“I had frostbite in the war and lost four toes on one foot.”
“I just escaped a bad frostbite,” I said. “I still have an unusable left big toe.”
“Where were you?” he asked.
“The Ardennes. Near a small town, Marche.”
Without hesitation he added, “We were stopped just short of Marche”.
I had a flash of memory. This German and this American might have been shooting at each other.
Klaus Hardt had just saved me ten thousand dollars. On the other hand the 116th Panzer grenadiers were an SS division whose officers may have killed American prisoners in the Bulge. And with Klaus’ excellent English and his sharp retort to Kramer, he could not have been just another German draftee. He was officer material.
Which Klaus Hardt? He might have become my first German friend. But not so long as I remembered crawling in the snow on December 24, 1944, and the discovery of the corpses on Christmas Day. Three Germans frozen into comma form and Hyman Lipsky, sliced longitudinally near the chicken coop.
It was turbulent; a booming, buzzing confusion. Yet the past— fear and hatred—overrode the reasonable, the affable, the offer of friendship. My mind surrendered to my reflexes.
“Thank you Klaus. I appreciate your help with Otto Kramer. But I think I’ll go directly to the airport. “
“I’ll get you a taxi. Give my regards to Mike Burke.”
I never talked to Burke about the meeting. I never talked to Klaus again, although he called me once when I was back in Paris. Years later I tried to track him down, but Burke was dead and the new, independent Constantin had no record of Hardt.
General-Major Reinhard Gehlen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinhard_Gehlen
At the time the French Government would not permit the export of French francs. The money I made from the two features had to remain in the country. While we wanted to buy a small apartment on the Left Bank, our closest friends, Paul André Falcoz and his pharmacist wife Marie Andrée persuaded us to refurbish a dairy farm in the Loire, a district southwest of Paris.
Paul André was a member of the shadow cabinet of Pierre Mendes-France, the head of the Radical Socialist party. The party was neither radical nor socialist. It consisted mainly of bankers, les barbus, who were against President Charles de Gaulle. Paul André wanted to run for a seat in the National Assembly, and France had a “rotten borough” system. Unlike America where a candidate has to run from the district in which he lives, in France the aspirant only has to own property in the area.
That’s why Paul chose the Loiret. Marie André saw a business opportunity in scientific milking.
In the late fifties, French herds still contained cows with tuberculosis. To kill the germs French milk had to be pasteurized at a high temperature. The milk became thick and no byproducts were possible.
If we put barbed wire fences around each field we owned and screened the stock we bought, we could have a herd of non-tubercular cows, separated from the tubercular animals on neighboring farms. Our milk could be pasteurized at a lower temperature and would taste less thick. Since Mme. Falcoz was slightly overweight, yogurt and pot cheese would be available for her, and for sale in France for the first time.
I was enthusiastic and wrote to the United States Department of Agriculture for advice and pamphlets. A new cow barn was erected and new milking machines were bought. It was expensive. Our milk would have to be sold at a higher price.
We were not alone in the idea. The Rothschild’s had much larger farms and were going through the same process.
Many French prices and salaries were based on a cost-of-living index. One of the most significant figures in the index was the price of milk. If it were to be raised, government pensions and other indices would have to be changed.
An appeal had to be made to the government agency controlling the cost of milk. Paul André and the Rothschilds made the request. The functionary asked, “Why should the parents of French children have to pay more for the milk they feed their babies?”
And then the process was explained—if tubercular cows were excluded and the milk from healthy cows carefully managed, pasteurized milk at lower temperatures would lead to better health, better new food products for the French, and perhaps even to some export business.
Finally the governmental chief understood. He exclaimed:
Not just “du lait ordinaire – ordinary milk— but du lait, appellation controlée!”
Unfortunately the peasant running the farm had little use for US Department of Agriculture procedures and the farm went broke. He went hunting on the week when he should have been spreading phosphates on the fields. Fortunately, years later, the French government seized a small section of our land for access to a highway under eminent domain and my investment was returned to me.
Meanwhile I tried to sell my films outside France.
For a short time I had two offices, one at the Museum, the other at the CBS building. I was in an office next door to a man who never said hello and was constantly on the phone. His voice was low.
The Cold War was overheated with threats of nuclear exchanges. Undercover, as a United Nations force, America was at war with North Korea—a country itself under the cover of Communist China.
CBS was under attack by anti-communist forces. The networks were accused of harboring communists, and of including Marxist tenets in both drama and news.
There were two sets of accusers, the government and the private sector. The government’s investigators included the House Un-American Activities Committee and the staff of Joseph McCarthy, a Senator from Wisconsin, in his second term of office.
McCarthy was investigating us and we were investigating him. His first term had been undistinguished. He had taken a bribe from Pepsi Cola to lead the fight for continued government regulation of sugar prices. McCarthy successfully kept the government ceiling on the price of sugar. His dalliance was so embarrassingly blatant that his fellow senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, and Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois sarcastically dubbed him the “Pepsi-Cola Kid.” At the time I knew nothing of this. Decades later, when I interviewed Frank Stanton for the oral history section of Columbia University I learned the details of Stanton’s back channel connections in the Senate. The president of the corporation had talked to Nelson and Dirksen.
Because of the scandal and the approaching campaign for re-election, Senator McCarthy consulted with his closest advisers, including a priest who suggested that he begin a campaign to rid the government of communists. The more he thought about it, the more he saw the hunt for subversives was a sure-fire issue.
In his second term he went from obscurity to notoriety.
The rise and fall of McCarthy is a story often told, but in a small way it touched me personally. As part of the Senator’s inquiry he sent his researchers into the Overseas Library Program, a program run by the government that sent some thirty thousand books to foreign libraries. The Senators minions found communist propaganda and books written by subversive “anti-anti-communists” A few hundred books were eliminated, and some were burned.
The same Overseas Library Program circulated free books to the soldiers fighting in Korea. One was a reprint of my novel The Friend. It was in soft cover, but the dimensions were reversed; the normal horizontal and vertical dimensions were twisted so that the book could slip more easily into a soldier’s back pocket. Crown Publishers told me they had printed ten thousand copies and were back-ordered. They had changed the title to ATTACK and added on the cover “HE FIRED LOW TO BREAK BONES AND SPILL GUTS!!!” It did no good to argue that the quotation appeared nowhere in the book. Also, there would be no royalty since the novel was given free to the armed forces. Crown also told me the book was under government review.
My personal nuisance was minor compared to CBS’s problem. One threat to its revenue came early from two supermarket operators in Syracuse New York who stocked groceries from General Foods and General Mills. The operators went to these companies and told them they would not buy their goods if the food giants continued to sponsor programs containing reds or fellow travelers on the networks. (The programs they underwrote were mostly soap operas.) A number of radio and television stations affiliated with the company applauded the men from Syracuse.
Because broadcasters had to defend their business and their profits, CBS did two things: It required everyone to sign a loyalty oath—and the quiet man in the office next to mine was hired to make a list of writers and people who must not be hired.
It was called the Blacklist. It ruined many lives and careers.
The Truman Administration invented something called a loyalty oath. The government required that its employees sign a paper stating more or less they had never been communists and they were not members of the Communist Party of the United States. If they lied they could not be sent to prison, only fired.
What was good enough for the employees of the Federal Government was good enough for CBS News. Ed Murrow signed it, and so did the rest of the news division. The American Bar association, the American Medical Association and the National Education Association had instituted their own loyalty tests as well.
For some reason the paper had not been given to me.
The oath was something detestable, but it was in the open. The next step was done secretly.
There were so many attackers that compiling of the blacklist was a problem. Stanton and Paley found a solution. If there were a basic list of Communists (and one accessible to McCarthy) it had to be the one kept by the FBI in Quantico. J. Edgar Hoover had compiled the list (and also one on McCarthy’s drunkenness and homosexuality.)
CBS got access to the FBI’s blacklisting document by shrewd capitalistic enterprise. It hired away the man in charge of the names compiled by the FBI. He was the man in the office next door to me, recently a high official at Quantico. The producers of the shows would submit cast and writing credits to him, and he would get on the phone to his former employees. If the name passed the government, CBS was allowed to employ the actor or writer. If it didn’t the person was not hired. Nobody could have a more damning list than the FBI, and CBS bought it.
Other networks paid more attention to the credits than to the program. If CBS gave on-screen name credit, the other broadcasters could use the cleared talent.
I was in the men’s room with him when the man next door finally talked to me. “Wolff, somehow we never got a signed loyalty oath from you.”
“Since Murrow signed it, I’ll sign it too.”
“My younger brother was killed. I found his name listed in that book you wrote. That regimental history.”
“Really? What was his name?”
He told me, but I didn’t remember.
“You don’t have to sign the loyalty oath. Not after what you and he went through. You’re loyal.”
“Following this page is a list of the men who died in the actions of the 334th Infantry Regiment,” p. 225, Fortune Favored the Brave, A History of the 334th Infantry 84th Division, by Cpl. Perry S. Wolff, Mannheim Press, 1945