The Berlin Airlift was an astonishing chapter in history, which grew out of a jostle for power at the end of World War II. The Cold War, in effect, started before the end of the conflict with Nazi Germany. The Allies had long been considering how to carve Europe up.
In October 1944, for instance, Winston Churchill wrote a plan on a scrap of paper which gave 90 per cent of Romania, half of Yugoslavia, half of Hungary and three-quarters of Bulgaria to Stalin.Stalin took the note – they were meeting in Moscow – and put a tick against it. Such are the negotiations among the victors in war. However, Germany was less easy to carve up and what happened in Berlin between 1945 and 1950 set the tone for the next half a century.
The allies – the United States, the British, the French and the Soviet Union - first divided Berlin and Germany into four zones. But it was a tense stand off and, when the three western countries amalgamated their sectors and introduced a new currency, the Deutschmark, Stalin reacted by closing off access to west Berlin. This meant the only way in was by air. Between June 1948 and August 1949 – a period which included a cruel winter – huge quantities of supplies were flown in to keep the more than two million occupants of West Berlin alive. In all the allies made a remarkable 266,600 mercy flights.
It is against the background of this blockade that Kati Fabian has set her love story, Eagles Over Berlin, and her feel for the events seem intensely personal. She is originally from Hungary, where Stalin would later act against a popular uprising. Fabian links in chapters on her main characters, pilot John Carpenter and Holocaust survivor Esther Kohlberg, with glimpses of real life meetings and speeches featuring major allied and German soldiers and politicians. And it was a fascinating time.
However, occasionally the book’s political message gets in the way. In the author’s note, Fabian draws parallels with the current state of Iraq, an analogy which might sit uneasy with many opponents of that conflict in the US and Europe.
And the author notes: “History shows us that wherever the Americans have arrived, democracy, freedom, civil rights and progress flourished in their footsteps.”
That sort of message continues through a tale where all Americans are heroes and the Russians – who had suffered hugely in the war with the Nazis – are all untrustworthy. Fabian’s passion for her subject shines through but sometimes it seems more intense than the love between the two characters at the heart of her story.
Greg Lewis-freelance UK journalist who has worked for The Observer, The Sun, Private Eye and The Big Issue and actually a reviewer of BookPleasures.com
Canada, October 23, 2005