Reminiscences of 1951 Berlin Youth Festival
by Ray Ellis On June 6, 72 delegates to the 3rd Festival of Youth and Students for Peace and Friendship held in Berlin in 1951, commemorated this event at the Cypriot Club in Sydney. At the reunion, former delegates hugged, kissed, laughed, and a few shed tears, as they moved around the hall, gazing at one another's identity tags for recognition of those fellow Australians who, 50 years before, defied the Government of the day and travelled to Berlin. In that same year Winston Churchill had launched the Cold War in an infamous speech at Fulton in the US. He called for struggle against the Soviet Union, the former ally of both Britain and America in the war against fascism. Despite the Cold War hysteria, 141 Australians joined thousands of other young people from all over the world to join hands for peace in Berlin. At the reunion only a few croaky voices attempted to sing the stirring Festival songs — "We are the youth, and the world ..." But all present strongly re-affirmed a motion calling for world peace. Sadly, a number of delegates have died. Several were too ill to travel and others on the aged pension could not get the cash together to make it to the reunion. The proceedings were recorded by radio and TV crews, and delegates interviewed related persecution, job sackings and hardships resulting from their journey for peace. All agreed that the Berlin Festival was an important gathering that contributed to maintaining peace at that time. Another two days of events followed the initial reunion luncheon. The oldies have now departed for their homes all around Australia and New Zealand, but proud of their contribution to world peace.
* * *RAY ELLIS told The Guardian something of his story in getting to and from Berlin. He travelled to London by working on a cargo ship before joining the delegation that had assembled in Italy. But in Italy, the passports of the Australians were confiscated. They were issued only with a certificate of identification. At that time Australian passports were stamped "Not for travel to the Soviet Union" and the other socialist countries of Eastern Europe. The socialist countries were to be out of bounds to interested travellers who wanted to go and see for themselves. As I arrived in Italy after the passports of others had been confiscated I was able to retain mine which was stamped "Valid for Soviet Occupied Austria." So I travelled to "Soviet Occupied Austria" and from there by train to socialist Czechoslovakia and then on to Berlin, the capital city of what was then the German Democratic Republic. On the train journey we saw for ourselves the destruction of the city of Dresden which had been a great cultural centre of Germany. Not a single wall had been left standing when it was firebombed by British and US planes. As the Soviet Red Army advanced it declared Dresden to be an open city to which refugees could go and be safe. Red Army forces would by-pass the city and not attack it. This information was continuously being broadcast in German by Russian radio. In the full knowledge of these circumstances and precisely at this time, the British and US planes firebombed the city. An estimated 120,000 people, mainly women and children lost their lives. This loss of life equalled the number of Japanese who only a short time later lost their lives in the A-bombing of Hiroshima. The bombing of Dresden was one of the greatest atrocities of the war. Eventually, Dresden was rebuilt with the centre of the city being restored exactly as it had been before the firebombing. At the Berlin Festival people from many countries speaking many languages, came together. Everyone wanted to talk and make friends. People used gestures in an attempt to talk. There were great smiles and much laughter. After Berlin I went to London and was faced with the fact that because I had come by cargo ship I did not have a return ticket. This was the period of the great migration to Australia and I faced the fact that there was an 18 months waiting list for travel to Australia. However, I did find a way of returning and soon found work again as a toolmaker. I went to work in the shipyards of Garden Island in Sydney. One day I was approached by the foreman with an envelope marked "Top Secret" and was informed that I was the only one to open the envelope and that at the end of the shift I had to return the sealed envelope to be deposited in the company's safe overnight. It turned out to be the blueprints for the manufacture of a jig to be used for the final grinding of turbine blades for the newest Australian destroyers being produced at the time. It was the angle of the vanes that was critical and was "Top Secret". After one week, the foreman approached me as white as a ghost and shaking like a leaf. He told me that I had 10 minutes to pack up my personal things and would then be accompanied off the Island by ASIO security. Why? I asked. "You are a red spy and have been behind the Iron Curtain". I told him that I wasn't going and went to see the union rep. The union refused to accept my sacking and for three days the management, the union (and I presume ASIO) were in conference and I was eventually transferred off the "Top Secret" job. During these days one of the ASIO men blurted out "We don't know how Ellis travelled from Britain to Australia (after the Berlin Festival). He probably came in a Russian submarine." Just for the record, ASIO can delete that piece of nonsense from my file if that is what it records. I can assure ASIO that I did not travel by submarine, Russian or otherwise. It was a perfectly legitimate journey except that on arrival it once again turned out that I missed going through customs! Maybe someone in ASIO wants to spend a little more time at taxpayers' expense working on some other theory. Altogether 13 World Festivals of Youth and Students have been held, the last in Havana, Cuba in 1997. Following the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of Eastern Europe there has been a temporary breakdown in the cycle of these great Festivals. They provided an opportunity for young men and women to come together to pledge their support and solidarity for peace and friendship. These causes have yet to be achieved so the need for such Festivals remains and in the times ahead will almost certainly be revived. In the future, however, those who travel to them may not experience the same travel difficulties and persecution that was experienced by those who made the journey to Berlin in 1951.