Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023


At roughly 5 pm on 24 June 1948, the day the Russians started the blockade of the Western Sectors of Berlin, the American Military Governor in Germany General Lucius D. Clay responded to a question from a reporter about whether the city could be supplied entirely from the air. Clay gave a clear an decisive answer; he said: "Absolutely not."

Yet on the next day he instituted the airlift. His change of heart can be traced back to one man, a forgotten hero if there ever was one: Air Commodore Reginald Waite.

Waite's contribution to the Berlin Airlift was decisive. Prior to his intervention, the Allies were divided over whether to withdraw their garrisons from Berlin or try to fight their way down the autobahn. Waite's calculations showing that an airlift could sufficiently replenish Berlin's stockpiles of necessary goods to buy the Allies time to negotiate were absolutely critical to the decision to launch the Airlift -- yet there are history books about the Airlift that do not even mention his name. This is largely due to the fact that Waite was the consummate staff officer -- a thinker, a planner, a man in the background rather than a charismatic leader.

Reginald "Rex" Waite was born 30 June 1901. He escaped the slaughter of the First World War by being too young for conscription, but joined the newly formed Royal Air Force in 1920. He was one of the first cadets to attend the newly established RAF college Cranwell earning his commission in 1921. In the interwar years he served in various positions with Coastal Command, rising to commander of 224 Squadron 1937-1938, then equipped with Ansons and serving in a reconnaissance role. 

Just before the start of the war, however, Waite was selected to serve as the RAF officer assigned to the Admiralty's Operations Room, probably a tribute to his understanding of naval concerns, issues and operational procedures learned in service with Coastal Command. He left this position in 1942 to serve as station commander at St Eval in Cornwall, a Coastal Command station. His next posting was as commander of the Coastal Command station in Nassau, a position he held for nearly two years. In 1944, however, he was called back to the UK to assist in planning the D-Day invasion, serving at Supreme HQ, Allied Expeditionary Force 1944-1946. During this period, following Germany's unconditional surrender, he was in charge of disarming the Luftwaffe. That task complete, he was appointed Director of the Air Branch, Allied Control Commission in Berlin 1947 - 1949. At the end of the Airlift he went on to command RAF Bircham Newton and ended his long career as Assistant Chief of Staff, Allied Air Forces, Central Europe, retiring in 1953.

During his service in Germany he developed a (not always shared) sympathy for the plight of German refugees and disbanded service members. He was also one of the British officers who early recognized the Russian threat. Already in 1947 he described in correspondence with fellow officers the need to counter Soviet "machinations." [Source: biography of Waite in the British Berlin Airlift Association website] In April 1948, he was the senior British officer responsible for investigating the crash of a British civilian airliner after a collision with a Soviet Yak fighter. 

Perhaps it was this work which altered Waite early to Soviet intentions. The accident had been caused by a Soviet Yak fighter conducting aerobatic maneuvers and buzzing the passenger liner while it was on landing approach to Berlin. The wreckage of the Yak was found still entangled with the wing of the British European Airline Dakota. Yet the Soviets blandly claimed their "innocent training aircraft" had been "attacked" by an aggressive passenger liner.

In any case, with the Soviets playing "cat-and-mouse" with Allied access routes into Berlin, Waite started to do some calculations on whether it would be possible to supply the 2.2 million civilians living in the Western Sectors of Berlin in addition to the Western garrisons by air. His calculations suggested it could be done and two days before the Soviets imposed their blockade on Berlin, Waite showed his calculations to the British Berlin Commandant, Lt. General Herbert. The army general dismissed his plans as impossible.

Waite went back to the proverbial drawing boards and worked all night to refine his calculations and plan. When he presented these to Herbert the next day the blockade had started and Herbert was willing to let Waite speak with the British Military Governor, Sir Brian Robertson. The latter was impressed enough to agree to show the plans to his American counterpart, General Lucius D. Clay. Waite convinced Clay that he had been wrong to dismiss an airlift as out of the question as he had in the press conference. He decided to go ahead and start flying, giving the necessary orders to the USAFE.

Nor did Waite's role in the Airlift stop there. Waite is credited with identifying the eight airfields in the Western Zones that could be used for supplying Berlin. As a former Coastal Command pilot, he suggested and reconnoitered the suitability of the Havel for receiving Flying Boats. Waite was the one to suggest these aircraft were ideal for carrying salt. In addition, he was influential in flying small kerosene stoves so Berliners could cook without electricity and also sewing machines and materials so they could repair clothes.

Waite described his job during the airlift as follows:

Nobody could have a more interesting job than I have at the moment. As soon as the ‘Airlift’ begun General Robertson appointed the G.O.C. British Troops as the ‘dictator’ of our besieged sector and sent me over to him as a sort of Chief of Staff with a roving commission, which involves everything from the daily demanding, recording and forecasting of supplies for the city to co-ordination of the Military Government Troops and Civil organisations in the complete rearrangement of life for siege conditions.  In the last six months I think I have had to work harder than for the past 28 years but it has been great fun working with the first rate team we have had in Berlin.” [Source: British Berlin Airlift Association website]

Waite was said to "bubble with enthusiasm and imagination."  Another observer claimed that "ideas were always flowing from him." The Daily Telegraph journalist Edwin Tetlow described watching Waite work, saying: "His head was bowed over a tiny pocket book, and he was making drawings and calculations with the stub of a pencil." [Source: Giles Milton, Checkmate in Berlin, Henry Holt, 2021, 255-256.]

In "Cold Peace" I attempt to give Waite his due and to portray him in accordance with the historical record.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023


 In late August 1948, the Western Allies believed Stalin had signaled via diplomatic channels a readiness for compromise on the "Berlin crisis." The military governors were given instructions to meet again in the Allied Control Commission and hammer out the details of an agreement in the first week of September. Historians would later characterize the resulting negotiations as nothing more than the usual Soviet tactics of misleading and bamboozling their counterparts, but at the time rumors of a "break through" were rampant. It was at this moment, when the West seemed eager to "do a deal" with Stalin that Ernst Reuter threw down the gauntlet and forced the West to respect the wishes of the Berliners.

Speaking before a crowd of roughly 300,000 Berliners assembled in front of the Reichstag, Reuter called out:

Today is the day on which not the diplomats and generals speak and negotiate. Today is the day on which the people of Berlin lift up their voice. ... It is time for the world to see what Berliners really want. And we say clearly: in all the deals and counter-deals we don't want to be a trading object!

You cannot exchange us, you cannot trade us in, and you cannot sell us!

People of the world, look to this city and recognize that this city and its people cannot be sacrificed! People of the world, do your duty and support us not only with the roar of aircraft, not only with the transport of goods, but also with a steadfast and unwavering commitment to our common ideals -- ideals which alone can secure our future and yours! People of the world, look to Berlin!*

It was a decisive moment. Thereafter, no one in Washington or London dared to "do a deal" that did not take the will of the Berliners for freedom from Soviet oppression into account.  It was also a decisive moment the transition of Germany from an enemy to an ally. But just who was Ernst Reuter and how did he come to be the spokesman for Berlin

Technically, on the date of Reuter's speech, 9 September 1948, Ernst Reuter was the elected but "unseated" mayor of Berlin. He had been elected in June 1947, but the Soviets simply vetoed the election and would not allow him to take his seat as mayor. Elections did not hold any weight in the Soviet Union... 

Reuter's colleagues, however, respected him and continued to defer to him. Then in December 1948, after the city had been torn in two by the blockade, Reuter won re-election by a huge margin and although the SPD had taken 64.5% of the votes, formed a coalition with the other democratic parties to rule Berlin jointly through the crisis -- much as Churchill had done in 1940.

Yet there is irony in Reuter becoming the voice of freedom and democracy in the face of Soviet aggression because as a young man Reuter had actively supported the Bolshevik Revolution. At the start of WWI, he had been a pacifist, but was drafted. Serving on the Eastern Front, he was wounded and taken prisoner by the Russians. He was still in captivity when in October 1917 Lenin and Trotsky launched the Bolshevik Revolution and Reuter formed a Soviet among the prisoners to support the revolution. Thereafter he was named a "Peoples' Commissar" to help form the Volga Commissariat for German Affairs.

He soon returned to Germany, however, where he joined the Communist Party and advocated revolution for Germany as well. This put him in conflict with the party leadership at the time and despite Lenin's patronage he was expelled from the Communist Party. He briefly joined the Independent Socialist Party and then returned to the Social Democratic Party to which he had belonged before the First World War. 

In 1926, Ernst Reuter was given responsibility for Berlin's transportation system by the Berlin city government. He consolidated the transportation systems into a single organization the Berliner Verkehrs Betrieb (BVG) and introduced a number of efficient innovations and extended the subway network. From 1931 to 1933, he was mayor of Magdeburg. He was elected to the Reichstag in 1933 and immediately fell foul of the Nazis. He was interned in the Concentration Camp at Lichenberg for two years. On his release, he went into exile in Turkey.

Reuter was appointed to the faculty of the University of Ankara and there founded the school of urban planning. At the end of the war, he returned to Berlin and in the first post-war election was elected to the Berlin City Council with responsibility for transportation again. He was elected mayor a year later and re-elected (as noted above) in 1948 and again in 1951. He was acting Lord Mayor of Berlin at the time of his sudden death from a heart attack on 29 September 1953. 

Yet the bare resume of his life explains neither why the Soviets were so afraid of his influence that they vetoed his election nor how he rose to so effectively embody the spirit of a free Berlin in the post-war era. Reuter's influence must rest on a powerful charisma that inspired and motivated others. 

* Translated and condensed by the author based on the original text of the speech in German.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023


 Karl Liebherr is a necessary character. In a book about the Communist attempt to take control of Berlin and drive the protectors of democracy out, there has to be at least one enthusiastically Communist character.


 Excerpt 1:

“How can you represent “the people” if only 10% of the population votes for you?” [Karl's father asked.]

“Because we are on the side of progress!”

“How does destroying our industrial capacity further progress?” The elder Liebherr wanted to know.

“The Soviets suffered immeasurably in the war. They have the right to reparations!” 

“Agreed! Even the Americans agree. The Western Allies invented the idea of reparations after the last war, remember? No one is questioning the right of the Soviet Union to reparations, but there must be limitsa clear point at which they stop. Furthermore, Germany has to have a way to pay them. Slowing down to add emphasis to his words, Jakob Liebherr declared. “For the last two years, the Soviets have been systematically vandalizing or dismantling our factories, power plants, laboratories and workshops. In doing so, they have destroyed our ability to manufacture industrial products and thereby our ability to earn the currency with which to pay them the reparations they want.”

“Don’t be a capitalist stooge!” Karl shot back. “You are saying that reparations should be paid from profits. Profits are theft. The Soviets are securing reparations by taking from the capitalists the means of production and so enabling the Soviet Union to become a great industrial nation.”

“That might have been true if the factories they dismantled here were being rebuilt and operated in the Soviet Unionwhich they are not. Furthermore, even if they did re-assemble the factories, the price would be the impoverishment of Germany, making it perpetually dependent on hand-outs from the West.” Jakob dropped his voice. “That, Karl, might be in the interests of the Soviet Union, but it is not in the interests of Germany or the German people.” 

“Defending the Socialist Motherland is in the interests of all working people,” Karl countered, more flustered by his father’s calm than his earlier anger. 

“That’s what they taught you in the Lubjanka, Karl. It is not your own brain or heart speaking.” Liebherr pinned his son to his chair with his eyes.

After several long seconds, Karl broke free. He jumped to his feet. “How do you know what is in my heart and brain?” 

His father gazed at him unwaveringly. Karl spun about, grabbed his coat and without bothering to put it on plunged out the door, slamming it behind him.

One of the striking things about Berlin during the Blockade and Airlift is that the Berliners did not vote "for the banana" -- unlike what happened forty years later. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the residents of East Germany turned their backs on Socialism because they wanted a higher standard of living. They wanted a Mercedes Benz (or at least a Volkswagen) rather than a Trabbi. They wanted the internationally recognized and powerful D-Mark, not their aluminum currency that was worthless on the exchange markets. They wanted Levis and Legosteins, Barbie Dolls and, yes, bananas. That they also got a well-functioning democracy with rule-of-law on top of all that was just the icing on the cake.

In contrast, Berliners in 1948/49 were willing to endur hunger and hardship for the sake of democracy. As one of the put it: 

It is wonderful to live in a city that prefers death to slavery, that has decided to suffer more deprivations rather than dictatorship. [Ruth Andreas-Friedrich quoted in Richard Reeve's Daring Young Men, Simon and Schuster, 2010, 178]
The struggle for the "hearts and minds" of Berliners that took place between 1946 and 1949 included a great deal of material bribery on the part of the Soviets. The Soviet Military Administration and their puppets the Socialist Unity Party shamelessly offered better rations, jobs and housing to those who were politically loyal. It introduced a new currency at exchange rates that were not the same for all, but beneficial to political friends and ruinous to political opponents (or anyone suspected of harboring doubts about Socialism). Yet the salient point is that this bribery did not work.

At the height of the Blockade when residents of West Berlin were living on rations providing just 1,600 calories a day consisting of powered potatoes, powered vegetables, powdered milk and eggs, and canned meat or fish, just 3.3% of the population registered to draw Eastern rations which offered fresh milk, fresh eggs, fresh potatoes and fresh fruits and vegetables.  

Mayor Ernst Reuter expressed the position of the Berliners eloquently when he feared the Western Powers might decide to withdraw from West Berlin in exchange from Russian concessions elsewhere:

Nobody can barter us. Nobody can negotiate us.  Nobody can sell us...People of the world! Do your duty and help us not just with the [Airlift] but rather with the steadfast and invincible vow to our common ideals.[Reuter's speech of 9 September 1948, translation by the author]

The Battle for Berlin of 1948-1949 was not a clash of arms or economies but of ideas. And that is the reason why at least one character in "Bridge to Tomorrow" had to express the ideas with which the Soviets tried to seduce and confuse the Berliners. Karl is that character.

Yet he isn't a marionette either. Actually he is a victim. Conscripted into the Wehrmacht as a 18 year old, he was taken prisoner on the Eastern Front. There he escaped the horrors and the death around him by embracing Communism and "drinking the cool aid" offered by his tormentors. Karl has been "brain washed" in one of the most notorious centers for torture in human history: the prison of the KGB, the Lubjanka. And sometimes, just sometimes, a flicker of emotion can undermine his devotion to the Party and Stalin.

Excerpt 2:

“Don’t go to this Assembly, Vati!” Karl ordered.

“What do you mean?” His father asked astonished. “I’m a member of the City Council. I voted last night on the decision that is to be debated today. Of course, I must attend.”

“It’s a waste of time!” Karl countered. “By going, you only make a public spectacle of yourself! You will be photographed by the press, and everyone will know where you stand.”

“I’m not ashamed of where I stand, Karl.”

“This is like voting against Hitler’s Enabling Law all over again, isn’t it?” The way Karl asked the rhetorical question made it sound like something shameful.

Jakob, however, was proud of having voted against Hitler’s Enabling Law. “Yes,” he answered steadily. “There are many parallels, which is exactly why I intend to go.” He started for the door, but his son blocked his way. 

“Don’t you remember where your vote against Hitler’s Enabling Law got you?”

“Do you think I can forget two years in a Concentration Camp?” 

“Apparently you can! And the worst of it is that you never give a thought to anyone but yourself and your image! You don’t care about the consequences of your grandstanding for Mutti and me, do you?”

“Oh, so that’s what this is all about,” Jakob scoffed. “You think my public opposition to the SMAD might hurt your career in the SED. Well, Im sorry, Karl. Youre a big boy now. Youll have to deal with that yourself.”

“I can! I’m not worried about myself! It’s Mutti, I worry about. You honestly don’t give a damn about what happens to her, do you? No, of course, not! Just like in ’33! All you think about is your public image!”

“Karl! How dare you talk to your father like that!” Trude reared up.  

“Dare? It’s past time that someone stood up to him! I watched you suffer while he was in the KZ!” Karl told his mother furiously. “I watched you cry in despair. I watched you beg neighbours and relatives for help. I watched you humble yourself before the Nazis and try to playnice little Hausfrauin the hope—”

Trude slapped her son hard. “Stop it! I’m not proud of what I did, but you have no right to judge me!”

“I’m not judging you!” Karl shouted. “I’m trying to stop it from happening all over again. Don’t you see? Are you both idiots? The SMAD has issued a decree and they will enforce it. The SED will enforce it. The police will enforce it. The Red Army will enforce it. Why do you have to go through this puppet theatre of defiance?”

“You think a meeting of the City Assembly is ‘puppet theatre’?” His father asked back. He did not raise his voice, yet he asked the question with acute intensity. He spoke slowly and deliberately, the apparent calm of his voice underlining the depth of his shock and outrage.  

“What else is it?” Karl shot back unintimidated. “Such quaint institutions have no place in a Farmers and Workers State. The Vanguard of the Proletariat knows what is best and should be obeyed without this bourgeois charade of democracy.”

“In that case, we can at least go on record as standing up for the Four-Power Agreements that the Soviets themselves signed.”

“Why?” Karl insisted. “What difference will that make? Four-Power government is dead. The Western Powers have ripped it up in favour of protecting the interests of their monied classes.”

Jakob refused to discuss his son’s Soviet disinformation. “Our stand will show the world that we know what is at stake and that we care about liberty.”

“Vati! I’m warning you not to go!” Karl was still shouting. He sounded enraged, but something in his tone had subtly changed. Both his parents recognised it. Jakob’s eyes locked with his son’s, and he saw terror in them. His son was afraid for him.