Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Oral History Interview with
Elbridge Durbrow

United States Foreign Service officer, 1930-68, including service as liaison secretary at the U.N. Monetary and Financial Conference, Bretton Woods, N.H., 1944; chief, Eastern European Division, State Department, 1944-46; counselor of embassy, Moscow, U.S.S.R., 1946-48; deputy for Foreign Affairs, National War College, 1948-50; chief, Division of Foreign Service Personnel, State Department, 1950; and minister counselor, American Embassy, Rome, Italy, 1952-54.
Elbridge Durbrow
Washington, D.C.
May 31, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie

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NOTICE
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened April, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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Oral History Interview with
Elbridge Durbrow

Washington, D.C.
May 31, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie

 

[1]

MCKINZIE: Mr. Ambassador, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your work in the Eastern European Division in the State Department in 1944 and 1945 when the war was coming to a close, and the kind of things with which you personally dealt; and I'd be interested to know about what postwar planning activities were

 

[2]

going on?

DURBROW: Well, in Ď44 and '45 obviously we were going to win the war. The Eastern European Division dealt with Poland, the Baltic States and the Soviet Union. The Baltic States had already been swallowed up in 1940, but we in the United States did not recognize the Soviet conquest so we had our problems with our Soviet Allies at the time. How were you going to get those countries unstuck from the annexation of 1940? How were you going to get a truly democratic Polish Government that could get along with the Soviet version of a Polish Government, the Lublin Government, which had already been created by that time in Moscow? So, a good part of our problems were, how do we get things restored which were already going to go the other way; because

 

[3]

with the decisions made at the Teheran and Yalta Conferences the big question was what is Poland going to look like territorially after the war? The Soviets claimed, and quite correctly, that during the Bolshevik Revolution the Allied Powers had pushed the frontiers in the East a little bit further than history would deem it appropriate. So that sort of thing is what we were basically dealing with. That was part of postwar planning. We drew up position papers for these various conferences, Teheran in '43, of course, and then Yalta, and the various other conferences like the Quebec meeting between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill -- things like that.

MCKINZIE: Some of the people who were involved in some of the conferences, particularly the Yalta

 

[4]

Conferences -- I'm thinking now particularly of Charles Bohlen -- they said they didn't think President Roosevelt paid much attention to background work that was done within the Department. That he tended to sort of, I guess the phrase these days is, "play it by the seat of his pants" when he got to a place like Yalta.

DURBROW: That is correct. Because the President was his own Secretary of State. He hardly got along with Mr. [Cordell] Hull toward the last three or four years Mr. Hull was there. FDR dealt with whatever he did in the Department, basically through Mr. [Sumner] Welles the Under Secretary. So, we were asked to get up position papers and we did, and we thrashed them over with the Secretary eventually, and they were put in the briefing book. Chip Bohlen was in on these

 

[5]

things although he was attached to the White House at the time. He would bring certain points that were worked out in these position papers to the President's attention or to Harry Hopkins' attention; and so we got some input. But, as far as I recall from what others told me who were at Yalta -- Freeman Matthews, Chip Bohlen and others, FDR didn't take the trouble to read the books or only read ones that the members of the staff suggested, unless he felt he had to go deeper. Like the important matter of the Oder-Neisse Line between Poland and Germany. I worked very hard on that with a lot of my colleagues in the State Department -- the geographer, and people of that kind, and the historian -- trying to establish, for instance, what the ethnic and historical frontiers of Poland were over the centuries in

 

[6]

the West and matters of that kind. At the Teheran Conference, and particularly at Yalta, it had been agreed that they were going to lop off the Eastern part of Poland to give it to the Soviet Union, including East Prussia and places like that in Germany. Give them Koenigsberg and other areas. The Danzig Corridor was going to disappear. How could we get an equitable -- not just a compensatory -- swap with German territory for Polish territory that Stalin insisted on taking in the East. For instance the town of Lvov -- Lemberg it's called in English -- Lvov down in Southeast Poland had been Polish for just centuries -- never been Ukrainian or Russian or anything else for any length of time. There was also oil in that area, not very much; but oil had been discovered there and there was some production. Stalin was looking for oil and that

 

[7]

sort of thing, so the allied leaders decided, at Stalin's insistence, to give the Lvov area to the Soviet Union. What should we do in the West? So, we worked out the maps, that are now published in the Foreign Relations of the United States, of two different Oder-Neisse lines in that area. Since much of Eastern Germany had never been Polish we tried to not take too much territory from the Germans on the theory, rightly or wrongly, just because then it was supposed to be a nice thing to do. The German Nazis were a bunch of mean scoundrels and that sort of thing, but will this grab of basically historic German territory be the seed to World War III? Perhaps, because the Germans will want to retake these territories in the future? Most of that area had been either Germans, or Prussians for centuries.

 

[8]

So we prepared all the studies we possibly could and drew these various lines, which incidentally, brings in President Truman. This dilemma was finally settled at Potsdam. I didn't like that settlement. I was very much against it. I thought it was wrong, and I still think it was ethnically wrong, historically wrong; but in any event, to make a long story short, even [Stanislaw] Mikolajczyk, who was at Potsdam in the wings said, in effect after much allied pressure, "Go ahead, let's buy it; but I don't think it's correct, etc., etc." Jimmy Dunn, who was Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Chip Bohlen and some of the other State Department experts sat up one night at Potsdam -- so they told me later -- with Mikolajczyk, and finally he said, in effect, "Well, if you can't get anything better, if we

 

[9]

get free elections and all the other promises made by Stalin and company at Yalta, I'll buy the Oder-Neisse line," which the Soviet insisted upon. There are two Neisse Rivers, by the way; so one of our maps that we worked out was the further East. But in any event that was the sort of thing we tried to work out; but the more Western version was agreed to.

Churchill at Teheran, as I understand it, said you've got to compensate "Uncle Joe" for Poland territory taken in 1920 and at the time of the Soviet revolution. That will make him more amenable. So FDR said, "Yes."

Well, that's when the Curzon line came in. The Curzon line was the eastern Polish boundary suggested by Lord Curzon in 1917 or '18, during World War I, as a boundary between the Soviet Union and the to be restored Poland. This was

 

[10]

necessary because Poland had been divided for over 100 years between the Germans and czarist Russia until World War I. There were two suggested lines that Lord Curzon and his team drew up in the late 1910's. One excluded Lvov and the other included Lvov on the eastern side of the frontier. Well, Churchill said, in effect, as I understand it, "Oh, there isn't very much oil down there anyway." We agreed to give the U.S.S.R. the western Curzon line, which gave the Soviet more territory including the whole Lvov area.

That, incidentally, brought them in closer touch with the territory of Czechoslovakia with whom they were playing cunning games, particularly with [Eduard] Benes and company, but not at all with [General Wladyslaw] Sikorski and the Poles So that's the way that thing came out. Now we

 

[11]

worked hard on that sort of planning, and it's because of that type of work that I happened to be on a short second assignment in Moscow in 1945 after the Yalta Conference to advise Ambassador Harriman on Polish matters. Since I had been following all these things, we did have position papers which helped out some.

MCKINZIE: A lot of historians these days are concerned with the kind of frame of mind that various people in the Government were in about Soviet intentions in Eastern Europe about the time of Yalta and the months thereafter. They make the point, for example, that Averell Harriman was by no means very optimistic about the future Soviet conduct, but on the other hand Harry Hopkins seemed to be pretty much optimistic about the future and, indeed, Franklin Roosevelt apparently

 

[12]

was fairly optimistic about the ability of the United States to cooperate with the Soviets. What about the Eastern European Division in the State Department?

DURBROW: Well, we'd been there before -- George Kennan, Chip Bohlen, and several others, including myself, all went to Moscow with Ambassador Bill [William] Bullitt's mission in 1934 when we first recognized the Soviet Union. It was recognized in '33, but the Embassy staff went in in March of 1934. We'd been through the whole 1935-38 purge period. We had seen the cruelties of that period. We knew how "Uncle Joe" (Stalin) was handling things internally. The Litvinov-Roosevelt agreements of 1933 were not lived up to at all. Bill Bullitt went in there very hopeful, optimistic, and bending over backwards

 

[13]

to see if he could find the Achilles' heel and get them to be more friendly -- more cooperative with the West. Our feeling about the 1933 accords was: "We don't care what happens in your country, you can have communism, Leninism, name it. It's your business, but just don't bother us." In common terms, "no monkey business in our country," etc. -- but these accords were all broken. We'd seen agreements broken before. I stayed there myself until the end of 1937. So you couldn't help but be skeptical about agreements they made. Other agreements that they had made with other countries were broken, were not lived up to, were not implemented properly the way they read to us and to the other countries. All of us couldn't help but be very skeptical based on their past record. So, come 1944-45 we were very concerned over the basic

 

[14]

optimism of a lot of people about our Russian allies. People forgot that it was the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 that opened up and brought on World War II. People also forget that the Soviets and Nazis divided Poland and everything else right down the middle in a cold-blooded deal -- the Baltic States included, which of course, the Soviets got the next year. Then, by chance, those same people turned out to be our allies, as Hitler jumped on them and Russia was thrown on the side of the British and French. Then we were hit by the Japanese and thus strange circumstances brought us together as allies, not any basic common interests except get Hitler.

MCKINZIE: Would you call that kind of an unnatural lineup to begin with?

 

[15]

DURBROW: Yes. So it was very much in our interest, we felt, to be sure that we took a long, long, tough look at everything in 1944 and 1945. And that's one thing Mr. Truman did do -- one thing I admired him for, incidentally; as the years went on and he was elected President, my respect went up for him. So, our attitude was along those lines.

Now, it's worthwhile to recall that the word came to us from the White House in April 1943 to be sure and read the Saturday Evening Post article by Forrest Davis, who was the Foreign Editor of the Saturday Evening Post. We got the word in the Eastern Division to read the Saturday Evening Post article because it reflected FDR's way to handle relations with the Soviets. The overall idea behind FDR's thinking we were told was roughly as follows:

 

[16]

Chance brought us together on the same side when the Japanese attacked and the German attack on the Soviet, and all that sort of business. So here is a God-given opportunity to try to show the Soviets we have nothing against what they do in their own country. We are not trying to take anything from them and we can cooperate someway or the other. So I'm going to bend over backwards to try to do what I can to appease them, if you will, try to win them over.

And that was the "Grand Design." Bob [Robert] Murphy talks about in his book -- it was Roosevelt's idea.

Now, I'm sure Truman had read that and knew that Forrest Davis had spent a weekend in the White House secretly, and was given all this thinking of FDR in '43. And it was, when you look at it, a statesman-like an idea roughly along these lines -- here's a chance and it may not work, but this is a God-given opportunity

 

[17]

to try to turn these fellows around -- the Bolsheviks, the Soviets, whatever you want to call them. And FDR felt as President of the United States I've got to try that. But it didn't work. We in the Division said, "Try it, but be sure you look every horse in the face very carefully and count his teeth and everything else, because remember the past, etc., etc." So that was our point of view. We had been burned; we'd been there. We'd seen these things happening all the time and by 1944 they had gone back on a lot of things. We'd made deals in Moscow with them and it just didn't pan out. Mr. Hull went to Moscow for the first Moscow Conference in October 1942. Then we saw the Teheran results. All these agreements, and understandings, and things of that kind just weren't lived up to -- only a few were;

 

[18]

but not all of them. So that was the attitude of the "pros," who have to deal with these things on a day to day basis. Watch out, watch out, doublecheck, be sure you find out what the score is going to be before you sign on the dotted line.

MCKINZIE: Do you recall anything about the relationship of your people in the Eastern European Affairs Division with the people who were in Western European Affairs? Were you pretty much of a mind on this subject?

DURBROW: Oh, yes.

MCKINZIE: You didn't have internal trouble of any significance.

DURBROW: The ones we did have were higher up -- not the "pros." A fellow I learned to admire greatly,

 

[19]

by the way, was Dean Acheson, but not in the "42-'43 period -- he basically changed in '44, not so for Ben Cohen who was the counsel of the Department. Mr. Hull, was also very skeptical; he'd been burned. He had been in Moscow in October of '43 and he just didn't trust them at all. But Welles was willing to give the Soviets a chance and play the game of the White House. He was in the favor of the White House, particularly Mrs. Roosevelt. He was never very strong on the -- "Let's be very careful how we get along or what we do with the Soviets." His attitude was, "let's bend over a little bit the way that FDR wants to." But not Jimmy Dunn and Doc [H. Freeman] Mathews, Hugh Cumming...

MCKINZIE: Jack [John] Hickerson.

DURBROW: Yes, Jack Hickerson, and all those chaps --

 

[20]

we were on the same floor, and we all knew each other very well. We read each other's mail so to speak, our telegrams; or we'd hobnob on memoranda and position papers -- things of that kind. We had our disagreements, of course we did -- you were bound to have -- but we'd iron those out as in the family. Then we'd take it up to the top and get our position approved, thrown out the window, or a compromise would be worked out at the top.

MCKINZIE: Could you tell me a little bit about the mission you made to Moscow then, after the Yalta Conference?

DURBROW: Well, at the Yalta Conference there was this very special agreement called the Polish...

MCKINZIE: Dealing with compositional level in government, I'd say.

 

[21]

DURBROW: Yes. The Polish Agreement. It had a fancier name than that. It went into great detail on how we were going to set up a democratic (in our sense of the word) government in Poland after the war. In the meantime the Lublin Poles, created in Moscow, tutored in Moscow, and trained in Moscow, had moved into Lublin, which is a Polish city in Eastern Poland; and they were on the spot. The London Government which we recognized, was in London, the government-in-exile. And you know, the Poles and Russians have never liked each other for centuries, literally centuries, and the same thing between the Germans and the Poles. The two countries had been dividing up Poland off and on for years. There was not love lost between them. The problem was to try to see, on the basis of the Yalta agreement which was quite detailed, how we could get a truly democratic

 

[22]

government. Of course have some Lublin fellows in the government, if you have to -- but we had been helping the exile government and they'd been fighting on our side with the remnants the Polish Army left on the Western front, their Air Force and that sort of thing; so, our problem was how to help our Polish allies to set up an independent democratic government in Poland. This was the reason we made this special agreement on Poland at Yalta. Of course, I dealt with a lot of this. I had served in Poland, among other things. The Secretary or somebody decided -- I guess Harriman did -- that he'd like to have me come over to be an adviser to him in these coming negotiations, to fill out the details in the agreements we had reached at Yalta. Well, again, that turned out to be a very fine piece of paper -- like a lot of other pieces of paper at Yalta. Incidentally, the

 

[23]

original draft of the Polish agreement was written by the American delegation in Yalta, based on one of our position papers. The original draft at Yalta, after arguing back and forth on the particular questions, was done by our delegation, so the text originally was English. The Russians translated it. "Uncle Joe" Stalin went over it and made suggestions; and there finally was an agreed text in a Russian and English version. When we got to Moscow and argued this thing out, the text in the agreement goes something as follows: "In the first instance," consultations will be held in Moscow with the Lublin Poles, the London Poles and the underground Poles in Poland. Well, that phrase "in the first instance" to the British and ourselves, meant all of them at the same time. There were no semi-colons or colons in between the

 

[24]

Lublin Poles, and the underground. We said, "Now, we've got a group of Poles that we'd like all of us to consult with -- Mikolajczyk, and several others who are representative, and you, Molotov, can name others from the Lublin side, and we will name some others from the underground, who represent the London Poles -- the so-called Free Poles -- and bring them here and put them in a pit, so to speak. Then we could try to iron out with them what they want in government that will be representative, democratic, and self-determining, so to speak. Almost immediately Molotov stated -- Vishinsky was there, too, a good part of the time -- "This language means in the first instance the Lublin Poles -- when we get their ideas then we are going to ask these other London fellows to come in." The thing all fell apart on that.

 

[25]

MCKINZIE: They were then arguing the grammatical syntax of the agreement.

DURBROW: The semantics of it. "In the first instance" to us meant that all three would be there together, and we would thrash it out and we would be the supervisors -- the referees if you will -- the three governments, the British, the Russians, and ourselves. We just argued on that to beat the devil for days on end, days on end, and got little else going otherwise.

Then, the other thing was what kind of men could we recommend from the underground who the Soviets insisted must be "non-reactionary, not right wing anti-Soviet, anti-Communist people" and that sort of thing. Well, I regret this very much because those we recommended were executed by the Soviets. I had worked up the basic list of underground representatives. I worked with

 

[26]

the British here in Washington and the Polish embassy, London version in Washington. The latter worked with their people in London before we went to Moscow. The Poles gave the British and ourselves an agreed list of men of some stature in the underground secret government inside Poland. These men were reputed to be quite effective, and they had reputations of being levelheaded, not reactionary, not anti-Communist; but they weren't pro-Communist -- the Lublin boys would handle that side of the picture. We gave the Soviets the list when we first got to Moscow and said Prime Minister Mikolajczyk also wanted a couple of his cabinet members to be present. We told Molotov here is a list of some fifteen names of underground men that we have doublechecked and agreed between us that they are good, representative,

 

[27]

straightforward Poles and not anti-Communist, anti-Soviet, anti-Russian, nor pro-Nazi. They are very good representatives of the people on the spot. They are behind the lines (parts of Poland weren't completely liberated yet), and you will have to get in touch with them, because your armies are advancing. The London government will get word to them, through their channels ordering them to surface if you approve this list.

Well, Molotov looked the list over and thanked us and promised to look into it. Meeting after meeting went by and we kept asking, "What about the list? Did you agree with it? Have the men come out?"

"Yes, it seems like a pretty good list," said the Soviets. "Tell them to surface and to contact certain people of ours," which they did.

 

[28]

We kept asking are they going to come here with the rest of them? No reply, no word at all, until all of a sudden we got hints from the Soviets that they allegedly were not what they were purported to be: objective, good representatives, not anti-Soviet, and so forth, but were pretty bad people. They distrusted them. They didn't think they were representative at all as we had announced them to be etc., etc.

However, it was not till the San Francisco United Nations Conference at the end of May or early June that Molotov told Stettinius and others of our delegation that all these men had been found to be traitorous and all had been executed. A fine ending to the list that we gave them to fulfill the conditions of the Polish agreement of Yalta in perfectly good faith. But the Soviets found them to be all

 

[29]

sorts of pro-Nazi -- everything that you could find wrong in a person in Poland at that time; reactionary, right wing, pro-German, etc. Therefore all were executed: So, those were the kinds of problems we had to deal with at the Moscow Conference, and the problems just went on and on. Hopkins went over there in June and nothing was accomplished. They tried it in San Francisco and nothing got done. It just didn't work until they got a half-baked arrangement at Potsdam. Mikolajczyk and a few of his other cabinet members were put in there but that lasted a very short time. There were no free, supervised secret elections whatsoever, as called for by Yalta. They wouldn't let the press go out and see the voting process on election day. They had the foreign press all cooped up in Warsaw, and so the agreement to hold free, supervised elections never

 

[30]

was carried out.

MCKINZIE: Were you involved in those negotiations at which the Soviets refused to allow the press to go in?

DURBROW: No. By that time we had Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane in Warsaw and he tried his best to implement the agreements at that end. I was back in Washington on my regular job as the Chief of the East European Division by that time. I came back with Ambassador Harriman -- April 16th, (I think), 1945 -- and he was going to Washington, and then on to San Francisco to attend the United Nations Conference in San Francisco.

MCKINZIE: You mentioned that you were in Moscow at the time President Roosevelt died.

DURBROW: Yes. On April 12th Harriman's daughter

 

[31]

Katherine was having a party at Spaso House for some of the staff; a chap was being transferred, and so many of the staff were there. The party went on till after midnight. About midnight or shortly thereafter, they called up from the code room, and asked for either the Ambassador or Minister George Kennan, who was the Deputy Chief of Mission, Kennan went to the phone and got the word that a flash had just been received that President Roosevelt had died at Warm Springs.

Well, Harriman said to Kennan, "You better tell the Soviets about this before they hear it on the radio or something. They ought to be informed by us." George Kennan phoned and got the officer of the day in the Kremlin and told him the sad news. About twenty minutes later the phone rang again and the officer of the day

 

[32]

said he had told Molotov. Molotov had told Stalin. Stalin had asked Molotov to come over at once to the Ambassador's residence, Spaso House, to present the preliminary condolences on behalf of the Soviet Government on the death of President Roosevelt.

Now Molotov got there about two-fifteen or two-thirty, a.m. and he came in very solemnly -- incidentally, Molotov when saying something he didn't like to do or wasn't sure exactly how to say it, stuttered pretty badly, and he stuttered in expressing these condolences. The most extraordinary thing about it was that he spent three minutes of the twenty minutes he was in Spaso House expressing deep sincere regrets and sympathy of the Soviet Government on the loss of a great world leader. The rest of the time he was following up on his question

 

[33]

to Ambassador Harriman: "By the way Mr. Ambassador, do you know this new President Truman?"

"Yes, I know him. I know him quite well, but not as well as I knew FDR."

"What is he like?" Thus, Molotov spent quite some time -- about eighteen minutes or so -- trying to get all the impressions that Ambassador Harriman could give him about this new man they would have to deal with.

To go back a bit, during the Polish discussions, in the first days of April, after our meetings in the Kremlin one night the British Ambassador, Archibald Clark Kerr, and Ambassador Harriman were asked by Molotov to come to a corner because he wanted to tell them something privately. It turned out that he told them that he regretted very much but Stalin had decided that he had to have Molotov stay in

 

[34]

Moscow to present the budget to the Supreme Soviet, the so-called parliament over there, which, of course, is a rubber stamp organization completely. Molotov in his whole career never had had anything to do with budgeting, and budgets there are not worked out the way ours are. The leaders just work up what they want -- work up their plans, and the Supreme Soviet puts the rubber stamp on it. But Molotov insisted that because the war was going to be over and there was a lot of reconstruction budgeting that had to be done, Stalin insisted that Molotov present the budget to the Supreme Soviet. Well we knew that was a complete phony -- what Stalin probably didn't want was to have such a high ranking politburo member go to San Francisco. But Roosevelt had insisted that somebody of stature come to the Conference from the ruling

 

[35]

Politburo. Roosevelt wanted to have someone who could make decisions or discuss things fairly freely, without having to report back to Moscow every time he opened his mouth. So, we were counting on Molotov, then Foreign Minister and a member of the Politburo, to be there. Well, this was a blow; so, during the condolences meeting on the morning of April 13th, Harriman got the very bright idea of saying something along the following lines: "Mr. Commissar, I really don't know Mr. Truman that well and naturally it's of concern to you and your great leader. Don't you think maybe your leader can get somebody else to present the budget to the Supreme Soviet so that the original plans that FDR had counted on could be carried out. You know, that you were definitely expected to be there and represent your leader. Go to the San Francisco Conference and

 

[36]

you can stop on the way in Washington and meet President Truman, and stay as long as you want seeing him."

Molotov said he'd pass that on to Stalin. He didn't say "yes" or "no"; but the next day Harriman was invited to the Kremlin about noon to have Stalin express officially the condolences of the Soviet Government about the death of Roosevelt. Harriman suggested again to Stalin that he get somebody else to present the budget, and spare Molotov so he could carry out the original intention to go to San Francisco. Stalin agreed on the spot. I think Molotov obviously told him this suggestion when he reported back that night. So, he was ready for it and said, "Yes." But Stalin said he couldn't fly across the Atlantic; it was too dangerous. Planes come down and you have to fly over enemy territory, so, could we get

 

[37]

a plane to take him to Washington, and then back to San Francisco via Siberia and Alaska, which we did. Averell Harriman had at his disposal a converted Liberator bomber -- converted into a very plush passenger compartment in the lower fuselage. He told Stalin he would check if he could get another one just exactly like the one Harriman was going to fly back into Washington and San Francisco via Italy, Casablanca, the Azores, and Newfoundland. He could arrange to have Molotov to come through Siberia and Alaska.

It takes much longer to go that way. So, we both left on the same morning, I think it was April 15th or 16th about six o'clock in the morning. We arrived in Washington about 48 or 50 hours later, and we stopped and spent part of the night in Casablanca. Molotov got

 

[38]

here two days after we had arrived. So, I being Chief of the Eastern European Division, and, among many others, had done a lot of the arranging for where Molotov was going to stay, at the Blair House (incidentally, across from the White House -- and across from the old State Department in those days). I went out with our greeting party to the airport to meet him, and escorted him back in another car to Blair House, where there was quite a secret police guard, which incidentally, turned out to be pretty amusing.

I'd worked out with our Secret Service the arrangements and so forth, so that they were going to have the place guarded within an inch of their lives. I had been working on it two days at least since I got back, to make sure everything was right on that score, and I got back to Blair House ahead of the Molotov group

 

[39]

with the GPU, (the Soviet Secret Police) contingent in plainclothes. I told them I was going to take them in and they could case the joint. When they arrived at Blair House, and there were about seven of them in two cars, I was already there. We were guiding them to where it was, and I had told our official drivers to get behind my car, so as to get there first. I got to the top of the stairs and the GPU guys jumped out of their cars, ran into Blair House without saying "yea" or "nay" to anybody. I followed them around and they tried the windows, tried this, pulled the drawers out, dashed up and down stairs, cased the joint ten minutes before Molotov was going to arrive. As it was happening, one of my Secret Service friends I had been working with said, "Looks like colleagues!!"

 

[40]

MCKINZIE: So they had the job done by the time he got there.

Were you there that evening when President Truman came to Blair House to pay his respects?

DURBROW: No, I was not there then. I didn't stay any longer than to get him tucked in. Then when he went to see the President during the day, I went over to the White House, but I was not in the room when he talked to Mr. Molotov on substantive matters. That's the reports that you've mentioned: that Mr. Truman was very, very firm, particularly on the Polish agreement which just was not going to go well at all. I think he also asked him -- we wanted to find out about those fifteen names we had given them. Where were those men? Why hadn't they been brought to Moscow or somewhere? Anyway, Mr. Truman was pretty darn tough, and when Molotov came out of

 

[41]

the President's office he was a very serious looking person, I'd say -- a bit concerned.

MCKINZIE: I would imagine so.

DURBROW: Yes.

MCKINZIE: What then was your next major duty so far as Poland was concerned? I know you went to Moscow in 1946 as counselor in the Embassy there. Did you follow this Polish question through until such time as you went to...

DURBROW: Yes.

MCKINZIE: I assume that that was your major concern at that period?

DURBROW: Well, it was our overall relations with the Soviet Union, too; but the Polish thing was important on account of the Polish vote in our

 

[42]

country -- the many citizens in our country of Polish origin. This was a very sticky one for us politically, and morally, too, as a matter of fact. Particularly when Molotov told our delegation in San Francisco, in early June I think, about those whose names we had given the Soviets. When we kept asking where were these fellows whose names we'd given, he finally announced that he had found out that those men were very bad actors. Something to the effect that, "They were very reactionary, pro-German, Nazi, Fascist-type, and had been working behind the backs of the Red Army in Warsaw stymieing their operations, etc., etc." -- all the nasty things you could dream up against any group of men. Therefore, Molotov announced that they had been tried and executed. That wasn't a very good way to start a democratic, free, self-determined Polish

 

[43]

Government. But we worked on that goal and finally the so-called elections took place. They weren't free or anything of that sort. No supervision -- all the basic caveats we had in the Polish agreement were not lived up to.

The government was set up -- Mikolajczyk (the Premier of the non-Communist Government) was in the government as a Minister, and a couple of other fellows (I've forgotten their names now) were in it, too, but they didn't last very long. They were just so boxed in they couldn't do anything, so they finally left, and Lublin and Moscow got its way. So, that's where Poland is today.

MCKINZIE: Historians, of course, who never have to deal with the realities of the moment, are very interested sometimes in what they call policy

 

[44]

alternatives. Do you recall at that time any policy alternatives which were advanced strongly, to that which was actually happening, and how they might have been handled?

DURBROW: Well, unfortunately, in regard to Rumania -- Averell Harriman went down to Rumania and worked like the dickens to carry out parts of the Yalta Agreements. For instance, these control commissions. The Soviets had insisted in the Yalta agreement that the Allied Control Commissions of liberated territories -- all of Eastern Europe and Italy -- would be called Allied (Soviet) Control Commissions. Well, as I understand it, our delegation at Yalta didn't like that very much. We're all working together -- we're all equals, what the heck; but the Soviets insisted on putting "Soviet" in the official text. So, when

 

[45]

we all implemented the Declaration of Liberated Europe -- which is a very good document to read, it just couldn't be nicer -- all countries were going to be liberated. They were all going to have a chance to vote for whom they wanted, set up their own government, be aided in this process, and everything was to be fine and beautiful as democratic, free governments chosen by the people themselves. As soon as we started trying to apply this Declaration of Liberated Europe it didn't work. The Soviet was in the chair of all the Allied Control Commissions in the Eastern region, and just wouldn't put some things on the agenda, wouldn't call meetings. He just ran it, and said, "You agreed at Yalta to say the Soviets would be the principal one, it's in the language -- Allied (Soviet) Control Commission." So, Averell Harriman went down and

 

[46]

talked about the Control Commission problems in Rumania; and got nowhere.

And, incidently -- I know Harriman will say this himself -- he went over there, as Bullitt had way back in 1933, as others had done also, bending over backwards to try to convince the Soviets "we want to take nothing from you, and we are not trying to stop you from running your own affairs in your own way, but let's not try to spread your type of thinking, morality, and government around the world." So, Averell did try to bend over backwards. He saw Stalin a great deal. We did give them a lot of lend-lease, and other aid, and all sorts of other things -- more than they needed, really. We ran the convoys into Murmansk and got a lot of men killed, and ships sunk, and things like that. We ran a "pipeline" of supply ships all the way

 

[47]

around South Africa, up into the Persian Gulf; and the Persians let us use their railway to bring tens of thousands of supplies for the Soviets, and which we also maintained, and so forth. By 1945, or I think it was in 1946, Averell Harriman was bitterly anti-Soviet and said so in many nationwide speeches when he retired as Ambassador to the U.S.S.R. FDR, just before his death, in February or March was getting very, very concerned and skeptical about his grand design to bend over backwards in order to convince the Kremlin of our peaceful intentions. The best source to get that from is, obviously, Hyde Park.

In the exchange of telegrams between Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt over the General [Lyman L.] Lemnitzer and Allen Dulles negotiations to get the German Army in Northern Italy -- General

 

[48]

[Karl] Wolff -- to surrender ahead of time, Stalin though we were trying to make peace with the Germans and then turn around and let them turn east and run over the Red Army. The exchange was just one of the most scathing things that you have ever seen from Stalin's point of view; and so FDR was getting very skeptical about things. The Polish thing was going badly, this was going badly and that was going badly -- in other words the Yalta agreements weren't being implemented as we expected. The Allied Control Commissions weren't working properly etc; and so FDR was changing his point of view a great deal at the time, as was Averell Harriman -- not because of that -- but he too had been burned, as Bill Bullitt had been burned on the Litvinov-Roosevelt agreements in 1933. When Harriman came back here in 1946 and resigned as

 

[49]

Ambassador, as I have said, he stumped the country talking to Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, and all sorts of groups, saying, "You canít trust the Soviets. They are just not our allies," this and that and the other things. The cold war was on and we knew it. Anybody who had been there could see it. Some were saying, "Well, they canít -- they wouldnít do that." Well, they did. Thatís just the point.

MCKINZIE: It was a big problem, too, because public opinion at that point was still very much pro-Soviet as a result of the war effort.

DURBROW: Oh, definitely. OWI was putting out all these nice things about our great Allies and that sort of thing. But Averell was just as bitter as some of us "old timers" were since the

 

[50]

the beginning, having been burned in 1934-39.

MCKINZIE: Perhaps you could add something to the record about the problem of a proposed Soviet loan, which, as I understand it, originated in '45, or perhaps even a little earlier than that It's difficult sometimes historically to tell where the first idea of the six billion dollar Russian loan came from, and if that became an important issue in the Division of Eastern European Affairs? It evidently got buried on Emilio Collado's desk at one point.

DURBROW: I don't recall that. I know Collado, of course.

Well, again, we were being so euchered out of all the things we hoped to get from Yalta, Teheran, etc., etc., etc. -- the Potsdam agreements and what. You can't buy them off,

 

[51]

again, and they are not going to change their spots. Now, this is what happened in 1933, and what happened in 1934, Ď35 and Ď36 with the Roosevelt-Litvinov accords; what happened when they signed up with Hitler in 1939. Six billion dollars is not going to change the score. They are out to get everything they possibly can to advance everything up to the Iron Curtain, as Churchill called it, and hold it -- no democratic governments, no free election, none of those things. No freedom of speech, no press freedoms, and so forth. Its why, a lot of the -- call them do-gooders, if you will -- people argued that they had spilled so much blood -- and they did, no question about it -- and fought for their land, so why not give them a loan. But that was not going to change it.

 

[52]

MCKINZIE: It was your own feeling, too, that this was six billion dollars that wasn't going to make any difference.

DURBROW: No. It wasn't going to make any difference at all. We have had literally scores. of agreements in black and white that read one way to us and another way to them. Like all their agreements; like Vietnam's today. It's the same thing; [Henry] Kissinger's last January.

The UNRRA came in, and they really used UNRRA to the "enth degree." And in 1944 at the Bretton Woods Conference -- I attended as an adviser to Dean Acheson, who was the number two on our delegation (Morgenthau was the number one U.S. delegate to the Bretton Woods Conference) -- we had our problems with them up there, too. They never did join the

 

[53]

World Bank or the Monetary Fund, as you know, but Morgenthau was sure they would. I for one, having lived in Moscow, and having done economic reporting there on my first three years assignment, had followed some of these economic and financial things pretty closely. So I kept advising Dean Acheson that the Soviets were not going to tell what their gold production or reserves were, because they use those for subversive activities around the world, and for other reasons. Therefore, since the carrying out of the gold reserve and production stipulations of the agreement were the main foundations of an agreement, based on the gold standard, and so forth, and tying the currencies into that measuring stick made it certain the Soviets would not go along. They never did join.

 

[54]

Stepanov, the Soviet delegate at Bretton Woods, came down here after the Conference in September and October 1944. We spent about two months (I was there again as adviser to Dean Acheson, who was Assistant Secretary of State for, basically, economic and monetary affairs) trying to get a settlement of U.S.-Soviet lend-lease. We got nowhere despite Acheson's fine efforts. We haven't got one yet today. So, that was another straw in the wind of the ways things were going.

And that's why I say Dean Acheson was greatly maligned because of his friendship with [and he was a friend of) [Alger] Hiss. The guy was a nice fellow, he thought, and that's why he stuck up for his friend and said in effect, "I'm not going to comment on the accusations

 

[55]

against my friend Hiss. The man's innocent until he's proven guilty." Because of this loyalty to a friend, Acheson got the reputation of being very liberal, leftish, and so forth. He was certainly open-minded. He tried to bend over backwards and carry out FDR's grand design; but when in 1944 he saw the operations going on in Bretton Woods, and then with the same delegate trying to negotiate the end of the lend-lease down here for two months, he saw the handwriting on the wall.

One of the nicest commendations I ever received in my whole career was a letter from Dean Acheson to the Secretary of State, and he said pass this on to the White House. "Durbrow was very helpful in advising me and he turned out to be right," something to that effect.

 

[56]

So Dean Acheson learned the hard way, like lots of people did later.

I did, too, when I went to Moscow in 1934. Heck, then I didn't know what the hell Marxists really were. They had a different system and I didn't like it very well, but we weren't going to try to overthrow them or anything else like that. But as you saw things unrolling in front of your eyes, you began to realize that it was just something you couldn't condone, respect, or want to live with. So everybody got burned, or most of them did. But Dean Acheson wasn't a six billion dollar loan man, but I'll bet Ben Cohen was. (He was then Counselor at the State Department.) Ben Cohen was always saying, "Let's give them a chance." Ben was that type. He would say something like, "After all, " in his very slow way, "Durbrow, you know, you can't

 

[57]

make an omelet without breaking some eggs," and "we don't like their system, but we can't change it either. So let's see how we can get along, you know." So, the six billion dollars idea came from men of that school. Harry Hopkins played the same record.

MCKINZIE: Yes, I know he did.

DURBROW: Although I didn't know him well at all, I know he played that game -- FDR's game of trying to bend over backwards to Soviet demands and then give them a break and compromise this, compromise that, thinking we can work it out someway later.

MCKINZIE: You mentioned that you did a lot of work with the economic reporting at the Embassy in the thirties. Averell Harriman at one point argued that the Soviet loan wasn't really necessary, internally, for the Soviet Union; that they had

 

[58]

huge gold reserves -- perhaps one of the largest gold reserves in the world -- and that they could, in fact, use that gold if they needed to make foreign purchases. But that for him wasn't the important thing; the important thing was that the loan be tied to political agreements which would guarantee cooperation. He said that was more important than the actual business end of any kind of Soviet loan. Can you confirm that?

DURBROW: Sure I can. But, what's more, their whole internal structure -- financial, economic and political, of course -- is quite different than our way of operating, our way of balancing budgets. They have their five-year plans etc. They got "Sputnik" in the air before we got an orbiting vehicle of some kind. They just decided they were going to do it; so they just

 

[59]

didn't build frigidaires or this, that or the other -- automobiles for the public or trucks, whatever they decided not to build. They put all their scientists, resources, brains etc., to get a "Sputnik" in the air and to get an ICBM. They can do it; they don't have to care about the budget, public opinion, or what it costs in human effort or resources -- orders from on high say, "just do it:" Here we might object saying too much steel goes into this. Some Soviet minister might say, "Well, we need the steel for the railway, forget about it: But another would say, "The big boss wants it, so we'll build the railway next year or in the next five-year plan. A six billion dollar loan, given them in foreign currency, of course, was to buy all sorts of advanced machinery but it wasn't going to help them internally at all. As

 

[60]

you said Averell Harriman said, they had plenty of gold to buy what they wanted and needed, and UNRRA could help them out on some of those things. So the big loan idea was another unrealistic "beautiful thought."

MCKINZIE: How did you happen to get appointed to be counselor at the Embassy at Moscow? Was this a natural move out of the job that you had?

DURBROW: Yes. Well, at that time under the Rogers Bill, which is the grandfather bill of our Foreign Service, it was provided that those who were in Foreign Service were supposed to be abroad a good part of the time representing the Government. Therefore, you could not be on official station in Washington more than four years at a time -- three years plus one, if the Secretary said he needed you and asked special

 

[61]

dispensation to keep you on for another year. And, technically, you couldn't draw any salary after four years and one day of being on a job in Washington. Well, my time was up and so I had to be transferred somewhere. Well, I'd been dealing with Russia, Poland, and the Baltic States, and all that sort of thing, so I was sent there on my second full tour. Bedell Smith was Ambassador then.

MCKINZIE: You were there, obviously, when George Marshall came to Moscow in 1947.

DURBROW: Yes.

MCKINZIE: May I ask a question preliminary to that? Did you get involved at all in the negotiations with the Soviets over the withdrawal of their troops from northern Iran?

 

[62]

DURBROW: Not directly. But the Soviet-sponsored Tudeh Party in Northern Iran was disturbing to say the least, so we were working on it. (It was the Kremlin's first postwar effort to use the phony, contrived Soviet-run civil war which are now known as Wars of "National Liberation" e.g. Greece, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Yemen, etc.) We were saying, "They are going to get down to the Persian Gulf yet on this one. That's what the Czars always wanted for centuries." And the deal that they had made with Hitler, you know, gave them that "right" to go down there -- the 1939 agreement.

MCKINZIE: The Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement.

DURBROW: Yes. The Molotov-Ribbentrop one. So one feared here was the opening wedge to the territory they were going to take over through

 

[63]

the Soviet-created Tudeh Party. The Soviets had troops there and that sort of thing. So, for instance, what would you do basically in the Eastern European Division. You see a telegram come in or some situation develops, as the Tudeh operation in Iran. So you draft a memorandum to the next higher echelon saying, "This looks like a pretty tough one coming up. We better watch out for it" and then you suggest that you think "it means something along these lines." The suggestion is either rejected, thought about, compromised, or added to. And then you may draft a policy telegram, or directive, or dispatch. But in this case, we in Moscow worked with George Allen, our Ambassador, out there in Teheran who was doing a very fine job. He really did an excellent job. That particular problem was negotiated primarily

 

[64]

in Teheran and partly in Moscow. Bedell Smith and I worked on it from,the Moscow end. But it was George Allen who basically won the battle by getting Washington to go along with his realistic suggestions despite the "let's not disturb Moscow" attitude by many.

MCKINZIE: Could you tell me a little bit about George Marshall's visit there in 1947?

DURBROW: Well, that was part of the same series of the Council of Foreign Ministers' meetings. I've forgotten, the fifth or sixth. I've forgotten where all the rest of them were, but this one was in March of 1947. The British, the French, and ourselves were there, and of course, the Soviets, and again trying to settle all these Yalta problems, but particularly the German problem. That was still the big one that

 

[65]

was not getting anywhere; we had lost several others. The Soviets were consolidating their position more and more in Eastern Germany. We were trying to get a united Germany along the lines we agreed to at Teheran, Yalta, and so forth; and that's what the conference was really all about -- the German question. We'd given up on Poland -- too late on that. It had happened and we recognized the new Government. The Iron Curtain was there, operating along Soviet lines, Communist lines, Marxist-Leninist lines, if you will. So, we were worrying about Germany, and that was what the '47 Council of Foreign Ministers meeting was all about; and we got nowhere there as well.

MCKINZIE: I've read a number of places that many of the people on the U.S. side who were involved,

 

[66]

concluded after the fact that the reason they weren't getting anyplace was that the Soviets had concluded that the status quo was serving their purposes. That the deterioration of Germany was proceeding apace, and that the deterioration of the rest of Europe was going on to their benefit, and, therefore, regardless of negotiating skills or concessions or anything else that might have been made at that Moscow Conference, they weren't going to give in because they saw the whole thing going their own direction. Is this consistent with your analysis?

DURBROW: Oh, very consistent. No doubt about it. We knew it, and Bedell Smith knew it, and Marshall knew it, and all of them knew it, which was the West's concern; how can we save them, or stem the tide.

 

[67]

Ernie Bevin was the British Foreign Minister. He was a great person -- a manual laborer, talked with a cockney accent, had a delightful sense of humor, was tough as nails, and did his homework. At the '47 Moscow Conference one of the most amusing things I ever run into in diplomacy took place when Molotov made a long speech, a tirade on how they spilt blood against the Nazi, and the Fascist beasts, and this and that, and how they fought the Germans in 1914, etc., etc., etc., and therefore, the Soviets and the other victors had to make sure that there were no more revanchists and so forth, in Germany. They could have no military government, etc., etc., and he went on for a good twenty minutes about how they had to be made to do all these things, and using Socialist terms -- rights of the working

 

[68]

class, nationalization, and that sort of thing. It was a round table meeting and I could see Bevin across the table getting a running translation from his Russian translator, and while the official translation took place after Molotov's long tirade, Bevin was smacking his lips, and chomping his jaw, chafing at the bit. He wanted to say something. And when the translation was all over and he had time to get his thoughts even more boiled up, Bevin said, "I'm an old Socialist and, Mr. Molotov, I talked that kind of language in 1906 when you were just a little bit of a boy. I know all those Socialist terms -- those high sounding things. We learned they are good things for the public to fall for, but they don't work and you know it. So let's get on with our real business --

 

[69]

the settlement of the German question." And he went on and just talked the hell out of him.

MCKINZIE: Did Molotov respond?

DURBROW: Yes, he did. Oh, the way he stuttered; but he stopped his Marxist-Leninist verbiage.

MCKINZIE: Could you tell me a little about the Secretaries up to this point? From the end of the war it was Stettinius, and going on to Byrnes, and then to Marshall -- three very distinct types of men. Maybe the question is of two natures? Could you say something about the way they affected your morale and feelings and then, perhaps, something about their influence on policy?

DURBROW: Well, as you know, FDR was his own Foreign Minister -- Secretary of State. A format aided and abetted by Harry Hopkins who was very active

 

[70]

in that field. FDR put Stettinius in, obviously, to just have a nice fellow over there that was a good salesman. He had been, basically, a salesman for United States Steel Corporation; he got to be chairman of the board of that company, but he came up the salesman's route. He was a "yes man" -- the client is always right. So, Stettinius was the opposite of Cordell Hull. For instance, Mr. Hull when he was seeing the Soviet Ambassador, always asked for me -- Mr. Hull never did learn my name. Joe [Cecil W.] Gray, his executive assistant, was a Foreign Service officer and a friend of mine, so when Mr. Hull had something to do with the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe he would buzz Joe on the squawk box and say, "Joe, bring that 'Russian man' down." So, the "Russian man" would show up, and the Secretary would tell me what he had in

 

[71]

mind; what the problem was, if any.

He would say, "The Soviet Ambassador is coming.to see me. Have you any idea what he's going to talk about -- what he wants from us?"

I came up with what I could on the spot; "Might be this, I don't know."

And he'd say, "Well, he's coming here at eleven o'clock or two o'clock," whatever time it was. "Think it over and come down and let me know ahead of time, or give Joe a little note and any highlights or points on things he might bring up." I very seldom guessed it right, by the way. But, he would say, "I want you to be there." He would say, "You know, I got burned on my visit over there in 1943. Mr. Molotov and these other fellows like Vishinsky, I just can't trust them." Perhaps I shouldn't tell this story that he told me at least five times.

 

[72]

It's a rough old Tennessee story, but, despite the language, it typifies Mr. Hull's tough realism.

He would say, "Young man, when you've been burned like this you've got to be careful, got to be very careful. As we say in Tennessee, when you get in a pissiní contest with a skunk be sure you've got plenty of piss. So you go upstairs to your office and think up some piss to throw back at that guy today."

MCKINZIE: Sounds like Cordell Hull.

DURBROW: Yes, he was a wonderful guy. He was the guy who had been burned. He'd been on the job since '33. He knew something about foreign affairs; he'd been in the right places. He knew the problems around the world. He was just a damn good American, like Harry Truman by the way. They were just damn good,

 

[73]

solid Americans.

So, when Stettinius came in, having come up the salesman route -- oh, by the way, Hull would always say, "Come down and sit in back of the Soviet ambassador, so that you can wave your fingers at me and I can be on the lookout for the left hook in whatever the Ambassador's going to suggest. Don't go too far, but shake your head or do something that he won't see." Usually I'd just take a little finger and...

MCKINZIE: You mean you'd sit sort of where the Ambassador couldn't see you and where Hull could see you?

DURBROW: Yes, alongside him, but a little bit back, and so Hull could see me. We worked out the different signals.

 

[74]

With Stettinius, now, the client was always right. So, he'd say, "I'm having this fellow" -- meaning the Soviet Ambassador -- "down here. Please come down; I want you here, too." He was not only the glad-handing, client's always right type, but, hell, very informal. I was just a little pip-squeak, way down the line; chief of a division. There were many echelons above me. Nevertheless, after he had been there three or four weeks he said, "Durby, please don't call me Mr. Secretary anymore, call me Ed." Not only did he say this to me, but to everybody else he was "Ed" ("Brother Ed," as we called him). And not knowing "Brother Ed" too well, I didn't tell him of the Hull system. I don't know why I hadn't suggested the first couple of times I was there that I should sit in a special position behind

 

[75]

the Ambassador somewhat and shake my head or something to warn him of possible pitfalls. So Secretary Stettinius would imply:

"Why, Mr. Ainbassador, it sounds reasonable to me; however, I haven't got the details, but now I'm sure we can work out something. Now, just tell me again. We can work out something, of course. Yes, yes, we are all Allies who are fighting a war, etc." He was not going to sign that day or anything like that, but he was often sold a bill of goods by the Soviet ambassador: Stettinius never did his homework. So that was the kind of Secretary he was. You couldn't have respect for him -- but a nice, pleasant fellow. He wasn't trying to be pro-Communist or pro-anything. He was just being good to the client.

Hull would say, "Good God, Durbrow, what

 

[76]

the hell is wrong? That doesn't sound like a good proposition," whatever it was. He said, "Hell, we have had other propositions which sounded good," and so on, but, "How about this, how about that?"

Then, if I could think of a possible loophole, Mr. Hull would say, "Good God, I never thought about that."

The next Secretary, Byrnes, I hardly knew; I was abroad.

MCKINZIE: I wonder if anybody really knew Byrnes?

DURBROW: Chip Bohlen knows him. Chip speaks very highly of him. By the way, he did today, as a matter of fact, in a speech. And in his book...

MCKINZIE: He had a chapter on him. He said he was an underrated Secretary of State.

DURBROW: Yes.

 

[77]

MCKINZIE: But he did work very closely with the people in the Department, I think.

DURBROW: Yes.

MCKINZIE: He was close to Bohlen, and Cohen, and a couple of other people, I would say.

DURBROW: Yes. But, again, I hardly knew him. I was not in the Department, and Byrnes was in just a comparatively short time. He was the great compromiser -- that was his reputation.

MCKINZIE: Politician.

DURBROW: Politician. The great political compromiser. So, he went about his dealings, with the Soviets in particular, in ways such as -- "Well, let's see now, we don't like this and they don't like our point of view. Not let's see how we can get a consensus, a meeting on common grounds." He had by instinct,

 

[78]

training, and experience that approach to doing business. Well, with this Soviet operator on the other side who's going to break every damn agreement they made since 1917, if you will, that's not a good way to operate; so Byrnes didn't get any more out of them than anybody else. I did not know him well at all; never worked with him. So, unfortunately I can't give any details. But, as I said, Chip knew him. Seemed to like him.

MCKINZIE: Yes. How then was it different with George Marshall?

DURBROW: George Marshall was a very formal, hard to get to know, hard to get close to (not that I expected to get close to him), very reserved person.

 

[79]

MCKINZIE: Did he know what he was doing at the Moscow meetings in those negotiations?

DURBROW: Yes. He had earlier been given the impossible job -- due to Pat Hurley, incidently, who tried to compromise the Chinese problem by getting Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung together. Not to go into the full details, but Pat Hurley was in Moscow just after Truman took over on the 13th of April. He was en route to Moscow when FDR died. Pat Hurley saw Stalin and Molotov with Harriman and went on to his job in Chungking. Both in '43 and '45 Hurley had reported to Washington that he had the assurances of Molotov that while Mao Tse-tung called himself a Communist, he wasn't a Communist. "He can call himself anything he wants, but he's not a Communist.

 

[80]

We don't recognize him as a Communist. We like Chiang Kai-shek and if you want to try to bring together Chiang Kai-shek and Mao, that's okay by us. We are not backing Mao up." So, Marshall, on the basis of that advice from Pat Hurley, took the job of trying to get them together -- make a compromise -- and it just didn't work. He got burned.

Now, to get back to '47. He had been burned in dealings with -- not the Soviet Union directly -- but with the Mao boys, and by Pat Hurley's assurances that Molotov and Stalin had nothing to do with Mao. He was a great man, obviously. He studied his position papers, reading them carefully. He would comment on them and say, "I don't like that. I want to give more -- or why should we?" -- that sort of thing before he got to the meetings.

 

[81]

He came there and stayed at Spaso House with Bedell Smith. Our delegation used the ballroom as an office for our operations, basically for security reasons -- hoping to avoid bugging and that sort of thing. Bedell Smith was a great admirer of Marshall; it amounted to adoration almost. Bedell Smith was the toughest guy I ever had to deal with. He was a private in World War I. He came up to the rank of full four-star general. He, as you know, was Ike's Chief of Staff -- his hatchet man. So Bedell was tougher than nails. But as for Marshall, he was awed by him. This surprised the devil out of me, to see how much awe Bedell had for Marshall. He gave up his bedroom for him; he bent over backwards to accommodate him. They had to open up the back door to the residence as only official visitors

 

[82]

and high ranking delegates from our delegation could come in the front door of Spaso House when Marshall was there, so he would not be disturbed.

Marshall was very firm in the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting of 1947 in Moscow. He did his homework -- wasn't rough and nasty, but was very firm. So, I had respect for him because he knew what he was doing, what his instructions were. He knew what the President wanted and he did his darnedest to try and carry the instructions out.

MCKINZIE: After that was over, were you surprised then to learn about the Marshall plan?

DURBROW: Oh, no. The Marshall plan was actually dreamed up by Acheson and Chip Bohlen, with, of course, Marshall's encouragement.

 

[83]

MCKINZIE: Could you tell me how you happened to learn about this?

DURBROW: Well, I can't remember the name of the little college down at...

MCKINZIE: The Mississippi speech is that right?

DURBROW: ...that Acheson gave.

MCKINZIE: Yes. Cleveland, Mississippi.

DURBROW: Cleveland, Mississippi that's it. Well I came back on consultation out of Moscow in '47, February I guess it was, and I went to see Dean Acheson. As I've said, I got to know him very well at Bretton Woods. I called on him first thing and he said, "Well, Durby, you're just fresh out of Moscow, so I want to bounce some ideas off you. Confidentially I'm going to make a speech tomorrow as a trial

 

[84]

balloon and here's roughly the outline -- Chip wrote a good part of it by the way -- and then Acheson outlined it with the text in front of him. I had no idea what he was going to talk about.

"What do you think about it? What do you think about your Soviet clients? Do you think they'll come in on it?"

I said, "I don't think so. No."

He said, "I agree with you."

So, that was the trial balloon. This was picked up by the press, but it wasn't splashed. It wasn't that the Department had told all the press to go down there to listen to it; but, of course, the President was going along with this way to handle the thing. It didn't get any bad reaction, and it was reported slightly here and there and elsewhere. So, on

 

[85]

the basis of that, then they went on and developed the whole darn thing -- the June 5th speech, the Marshall plan, and so on.

MCKINZIE: But you had an inkling that this was coming by virtue of him bouncing this idea off of you?

DURBROW: Oh, certainly -- "If this works we're going to try this. I'm sure the President will go along. We're going to work this out. We're just testing the atmosphere now to see whether it's going to blow back in our face or not." That was his Cleveland speech. So, we knew it was on the burner, on the front burner, actually; and it was going to pop sooner or later. Marshal, of course, went along with it and was all for it.

 

[86]

MCKINZIE: You were back in Moscow, I take it, at the time of the Paris meetings of what later became the old EEC, when the Soviets took a fairly sizable delegation to Paris. Do you recall the atmosphere back in the Embassy in Moscow while all that was going on? That wasn't supposed to happen quite that way?

DURBROW: No, it wasn't supposed to happen, but they were testing the wind to see what it was all about, and they went there. The Czechs said they'd join.

MCKINZIE: For a short time they did.

DURBROW: Well, but the Czechs said they would like to join. They told the Russians, and I've forgotten, when eventually the Soviet delegation went to Paris, if that was before or after, the

 

[87]

Czechs said "yes."

MCKINZIE: Well, they said that afterwards.

DURBROW: Here's the point. They did say "yes," and they hoped they could be in on it -- and [Jan] Masaryk -- I'd known Masaryk quite well. For one reason I ran into him here and there and whatnot. We both liked to tell stories, some punchy stories, that sort of thing. He was a great storyteller -- a great guy. So. I knew him quite well, socially and officially. We knew the Czech delegation was coming in to Moscow to get their orders to join or not to join. So, Bedell Smith said, "I can't go out there. The Soviets turned down the whole Marshall plan thing, but you do know Masaryk."

I said, "Yes, he'll recognize me and say

 

[88]

'hello Durby' or something like that. If I get a chance I'll ask him the question." So, I went out to represent my Ambassador at the Moscow airport when the Czechs came in, and I wormed my way up to the front. I had been in Moscow a long time; they all knew me and the police weren't stopping me, so to speak. So, I got in with a large group of official greeters. Jan saw me and said, "Hello, Durby, how are you," and so on.

I said, "Fine. How are you? What's the score?" He told me curtly that they were going to have to pull away from the Marshall Plan.

MCKINZIE: He was very blunt.

DURBROW: Oh, yes, he didn't want to talk at any length to an "imperialist representative."

 

[89]

He could get himself in serious trouble. So we learned informally that the Soviets were going to force the Czechs to not join.

MCKINZIE: You were relatively certain, too, that the Soviets would never because of the...

DURBROW: Because of alleged interference in their internal affairs -- or call it what you will -- which they don't like.

MCKINZIE: I guess, you were there at the time the Berlin Airlift began, weren't you? I wonder if you could perhaps talk a little bit about that, and maybe some of the events that transpired there before?

DURBROW: Well, that was a very disturbing thing. Of course, the Czech coup plus the Berlin Airlift was the "straw that broke the back" of

 

[90]

resistance to NATO and everything else, and induced Mr. Truman to make some of the best decisions ever made in favor of the United States with which I was connected in one way or the other.

MCKINZIE: You are speaking now of the creation of NATO when you say...

DURBROW: Oh, not just NATO, but the use of the atom bomb, the first one. And other decisions that he took which were fantastic. They took a lot of guts. After all by the bomb decision we saved so many mission of American lives in the assault on Japan. The Germans or some other nation, somebody else, was going to get a bomb anyway, so why not use it to save our boys' lives. All the other decisions -- NATO,

 

[91]

the Truman Doctrine, all that sort of thing. So, the Berlin Airlift -- it was really a blockade -- came and that was just about the last straw I think for the President and everybody else. A lot of people said, "Let's let an armored division, go down the autobahn and bring the supplies in." Bedell Smith, oddly enough, was dead against doing that.

MCKINZIE: I think Lucius Clay was for it.

DURBROW: Yes. Lucius Clay was for it. Bedell argued back and forth by telegrams with Clay on this thing. He said, "Now the Soviets would make us look like monkeys. They would see to it that all the culverts all of a sudden 'collapsed' -- little bits of bridges would be 'washed out.' You couldn't get over the roads unless we used treaded trucks. Yes,

 

[92]

they will make you look like monkeys. Fly it in." We, in Moscow, were very much concerned about that, naturally. It was another "proof of the pudding" that the Soviets were not going to live up to the Potsdam agreements or any other agreement. We made a stupid mistake way back in 1943-44 at the European Advisory Council in London when Winant was the head of our EAC delegation, in not stating in writing, in the agreements that we worked out with the British and the Soviets, that we would have assured road access, canal access, and rail access to Berlin. We did draw up the maps and set up agreed air corridors. But Winant's attitude was to the effect that "they are not going to block us, they're our allies." Winant was a really nice guy but very naive, to say the least. A real do-gooder with a

 

[93]

bend-over-backwards liberal attitude about the Soviets: "Oh, gosh, you know, let's not be too harsh because that will cause them to go the other way. They are not going to do something like that." I guess that's why the poor fellow shot himself; he realized that all his dreams had not come true or had gone completely sour. We did not stipulate assured ground access to Berlin in the EAC agreements of 1943-44.

MCKINZIE: In a period of crisis like that occasioned by the Berlin blockade, how did that affect life in the Embassy in Moscow? Did it make any difference at all?

DURBROW: No, except to confirm your worst fears about getting on with them.

 

[94]

MCKINZIE: You know people are very tense, even in places here in town, for example?

DURBROW: Yes. But after all in the Soviet Union you are safer there on the street than you are anywhere else, no matter what the relations are between the two countries. If they have a riot against the Embassy it will be officially organized and well done. The placards are all printed ahead of time and all that sort of thing. So you are never going to get really hurt, physically I mean, or anything like that. So, you just go ahead as usual. You go to the Bolshoi Theater, ballet, or whatever -- business as usual. The man in the street has nothing to do about it. You weren't about to see many Russians anyway. The ones you were allowed to see we call "tame Russians,"

 

[95]

by the way. They have permission from the secret police to see foreigners, and we therefore called them tame Russians. So, they still came around, and we saw them, and wined and dined them as much as we could. What the Government does and what the people have to say about it or know about it, usually is the difference between black and white.

MCKINZIE: You came back to the War College in 1948, didn't you?

DURBROW: Yes.

MCKINZIE: Was there any particular reason why you decided to do that?

DURBROW: Well, I didn't decide it. Foreign Service officers donít come they get sent. Like

 

[96]

in the Army, you get sent to your next post. George Kennan actually recommended me. George was the First Deputy Commandant for Foreign Affairs in 1946-47, and then Maynard Barnes came in for one year after that. Barnes had no interest in it; he didn't care, and didn't want to get interested in the College's operations. I had been in Moscow three times and George was the one that recommended me to take over the job. They wanted somebody that had been recently in Moscow and could follow up some of the things that George was working in -- the curriculum and that sort of thing.

MCKINZIE: Yes, I imagine that would be pleasant. And then you went to Rome.

DURBROW: No, I went to a very tiresome job, Chief of Personnel of the Foreign Service for two years,

 

[97]

'50-'52.

MCKINZIE: Yes. I see that here, I'm sorry that was my error. I didn't do my homework properly.

DURBROW: I lost all my old friends and made no new ones on that thankless job. I pushed the bodies around; "Why did you send me there Durby, I don't deserve that?" etc, etc.

MCKINZIE: Did you sort of feel that was a little less of being at the center of the action?

DURBROW: Oh, yes. Sure, I said, "God, George, I don't know anything about personnel." But all my friends -- Chip Bohlen, Walt Butterworth, all the other guys in and around George Kennan -- said, "Listen a minute. These damned administrators have taken over so many things from the career Service. They don't

 

[98]

know anything about the Foreign Service -- what the problems are abroad family-wise, and personnel-wise, and morale-wise, and in a place like Moscow, and so forth. Why the hell don't you take it, Durby; and you could throw some of your experience in there and stop some of these administrative guys who sit in Washington and tell you what to do in Basel or somewhere, or Timbuktu?"

So, I said, "All right, I'll be a good boy and take it." I'm glad I did it. It was a rather unique experience in my career; but thank God, I got out in '52. Joe McCarthy took over after that.

MCKINZIE: Yes, and as a result you didn't have to play with his people.

DURBROW: I've got to go.

 

[99]

MCKINZIE: Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador. I've enjoyed talking to you.

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List of Subjects Discussed

    Acheson, Dean:

      and Marshall plan, inception of, 83-85
      and Soviet Union, 54-55
    Allen, George, and Soviet Troops in Iran, 63, 64

    Berlin blockade:

      Smith, Bedell and Lucius Clay, views of, 91-93
    Bevin, Ernest, and Foreign Ministers meeting in 1947, 67-69
    Blair House, Molotov's visit to, April 1945, 39-40
    Bohlen, Charles, 4-5
    Bullitt, William, and Moscow mission, 12
    Byrnes, James F., and Soviet Union, 76-78

    Cohen, Benjamin, and U. S. policy toward Soviet Union, 56-57
    Cold War, origins of, 48-49
    Council of Foreign Ministers meeting, March 1947, 65-69

    Declaration of Liberated Europe, 45
    Durbrow, Elbridge:

      and Hull, Cordell, 70-73, 75
      and Foreign Service personnel, assignments of, 97-98
      and Marshall plan, role in, 83-84
      and Molotov, Vyacheslav, 38-40
      and Stettinius, Edward, 28, 69-70, 73-75
      and War College, 95-96

    Germany, and Moscow Conference in 1947, 67-69
    Gray, Cecil W., 70

    Harriman, W. Averell:

      and Molotov, V. M., April 1945, 35-36
      and Roosevelt, F.D., death of, 30-33
      and Stalin, Joseph, 46-47
    Hopkins, Harry, and U.S. policy towards Soviet Union, 57
    Hull, Cordell:
      and Roosevelt, Franklin D., 4
      U.S. policy towards Soviet Union, role in, 70-73, 75-76
    Hurley, Patrick, and China mission, 79-80

    Iran, and Soviet Troops in, 62-64

    Kennan, George, and Roosevelt, F. D., death of, 31

    Lane, Arthur Bliss, 30

    Marshall, George C., at Moscow Conference in 1947, 81-82
    Marshall plan:

      inception of, 83-85
      Soviet Union's reaction to, 85-89
    Masaryk, Jan, and Marshall plan, 87-89
    Mikolojczyk, Stanislow, 8-9, 24, 26, 29, 43
    Molotov, Vyacheslav:
      and Roosevelt, Franklin D., death of, 32-33
      and U.N. Charter Conference, 39-40

    Poland:

      postwar boundaries issue, 2-10, 21
      postwar government in, 21-30, 43
    Potsdam Conference, 8

    Roosevelt, Franklin D., and Soviet Union, 15-17, 19
    Rumania, in 1945, 44-46

    Smith, Bedell, and Marshall, George C., 81
    Soviet Union:

      and U.N. Charter Conference, 33-40
      and U.S. diplomatic recognition in 1930's, 12-13
      and U.S. loan (proposed), 50-54, 58-60
    Stalin, Joseph, and wartime agreements, 47-48
    Stetinnius, Edward, 70, 74-75

    Truman, Harry S.:

      and Molotov meeting, April 1945, 40-41

    Wells, Sumner, 19

      and Roosevelt, Franklin D., 4

    Yalta Conference, and Polish question, 3-7

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