Transatlantic institutions organizing German-American elite networking since the early 1950s
Author » Anne Zetsche, Northumbria University Published: November 28, 2012 Updated: February 28, 2013
The Cold War era witnessed an increasing transnational interconnectedness of individuals and organizations in the cultural, economic and political sphere. In this period, two organizations, the Atlantik-Brücke and the American Council on Germany, established themselves as influential facilitators, enabling German-American elite networking throughout the second half of the twentieth century and beyond. The two organizations brought together influential politicians and businesspeople, as well as representatives of the media and the academic world.
Efforts in this regard commenced in the early days of the Cold War, only a few years after the end of World War II. In 1949, two American citizens and two Germans began developing the plan to found the Atlantik-Brücke in West Germany and a sister organization, the American Council on Germany (ACG), in the United States. Their plan was to use these two organizations as vehicles to foster amicable relations between the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America. Only a few years prior, Americans and Germans had faced each other as enemies during World War II and many segments of German society, including West German elites, held strong, long-standing anti-American sentiments. The U.S. public in turn was skeptical as to whether Germans could indeed be denazified and convinced to develop a democratic system. Thus, in order to forge a strong Western alliance against Soviet Communism that included West Germany it was critical to overcome mutual prejudices and counter anti-Americanism in Western Europe. It was to be one of the central tasks of the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG to achieve this in West Germany.
Individuals at the Founding of the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG
One of the founders of the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG was Eric M. Warburg. He was a Jewish-American banker originally from Hamburg where his ancestors had founded the family’s banking house in 1798. Due to Nazi Aryanisation and expropriation policies, the Warburg family lost the company in 1938 and immigrated to the United States, settling in New York. In spite of the terror of the Nazi regime, Eric Warburg was very attached to Hamburg. He became a vibrant transatlantic commuter after World War II, living both in Hamburg and in New York. In the intertwined histories of the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG, Warburg played a special role, becoming their leading facilitator and mediator.
Not long after his escape from the Nazis, Warburg met Christopher Emmet, a wealthy publicist and political activist who shared Warburg’s strong anti-communist stance and attachment to pre-Nazi Germany. On the German side of this transatlantic relationship, Warburg and Emmet were joined by Marion Countess Dönhoff, a journalist at the liberal West German weekly Die Zeit, and by Erik Blumenfeld, a Christian Democratic politician and businessmen. There were two main characteristics shared by the original core founders of the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG: firstly, each one of the founding quartet belonged to an elite – economic, social or political – and was therefore well-connected with political, diplomatic, business and media circles in both the United States and Germany. Secondly, there was a congruence of basic dispositions among them, namely a staunch anti-communist stance, a transatlantic orientation, and an endorsement of Germany’s integration into the West.
The Western powers sought the economic and political integration of Western Europe to overcome the devastation of Europe, to revive the world economy, and to thwart nationalism and militarism in Europe after World War II. Germany was considered Europe’s economic powerhouse and thus pivotal in the reconstruction process. West Germany also needed to be on board with security and defense policies in order to face the formidable opponent of Soviet Communism. Since the Federal Republic shared a border with the communist bloc, the young state was extremely vulnerable to potential Soviet aggression and was at the same time strategically important within the Western bloc. Elite organizations like the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG were valuable vehicles to bring West Germany on board for this ambitious Cold War project.
Thus, in 1952 and 1954 respectively, the ACG and the Atlantik-Brücke were incorporated and granted non-profit status with the approval of John J. McCloy, U.S. High Commissioner to Germany (1949-1952). His wife Ellen McCloy was one of signatories of the ACG’s certificate of incorporation and served as its director for a number of years. The Atlantik-Brücke (originally Transatlantik-Brücke) was incorporated and registered in Hamburg.
The main purpose of both organizations was to inform Germans and Americans about the respective other country, to counter mutual prejudices, and thus contributing to the development of amicable relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States in the postwar era. This was to be achieved by all means deemed appropriate, but with a special focus on arranging personal meetings and talks between representatives of both countries’ business, political, academic, and media elites. One way was to sponsor lectures and provide speakers on issues relating to Germany and the United States. Another method was organizing visiting tours of German politicians, academics, and journalists to the United States and of American representatives to West Germany. Among the Germans who came to the U.S. under the sponsorship of the ACG were Max Brauer, a former Social Democratic mayor of Hamburg, Willy Brandt, the first Social Democratic Chancellor and former mayor of West Berlin, and Franz Josef Strauss, a member of the West German federal government in the 1950s and 1960s and later minister president of the German federal state of Bavaria. American visitors to the Federal Republic were less prominent. Annual reports of the Atlantik-Brücke explicitly mention George Nebolsine of the New York law firm Coudert Brothers and member of the International Chamber of Commerce, and the diplomats Henry J. Tasca, William C. Trimble, and Nedville E. Nordness.
In the late 1950s the officers of the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG sought ways of institutionalizing personal encounters between key Americans and Germans. Thus they established the German-American Conferences modeled on the British-German Königswinter Conferences and the Bilderberg Conferences. The former brought together English and German elites and were organized by the German-English Society (later German-British Society). The latter were organized by the Bilderberg Group, founded by Joseph Retinger, Paul van Zeeland and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. Those conferences began in 1954 and were informal, off-the-record meetings of American and West European representatives of business, media, academia and politics. Each of these conference series was important for the coordination of Western elites during the Cold War era. Bilderberg was critical in paving the way for continental European integration and the German-British effort was important for reconciling the European wartime enemies.
From 1959 onwards, the German-American Conferences took place biennially, alternating between venues in West Germany and the United States. At the first conference in Bonn, 24 Americans came together with 27 Germans, among them such prominent individuals as Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and John J. McCloy on the American side, and Willy Brandt, Arnold Bergstraesser (considered to be one of the founding fathers of postwar political science in Germany), and Kurt Georg Kiesinger (third Christian Democratic Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and former minister president of the federal state Baden-Württemberg) on the German side. By 1974 the size of the delegations had increased continuously, reaching 73 American and 63 German participants.
A central goal in selecting the delegations was to arrange for a balanced, bipartisan group of politicians, always including representatives of the Social and Christian Democrats (e.g. Fritz Erler, Kurt Birrenbach) on the German side and both Democratic and Republican senators and representatives (e.g. Henry S. Reuss, Jacob Javits) on the American side, along with academics, journalists, and businessmen. Prominent American academics attending several of the German-American conferences included Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Representatives of major media outlets were Marion Countess Dönhoff of Germany’s major liberal weekly Die Zeit, Kurt Becker, editor of the conservative daily newspaper Die Welt, and Hellmut Jaesrich, editor of the anticommunist cultural magazine Der Monat. The business community was prominently represented by John J. McCloy, the president of the Chase Manhattan Bank, and Herman Georg Kaiser, an oil producer from Tulsa, Oklahoma. From Germany, Gotthard von Falkenhausen and Eric Warburg represented the financial sector and Alexander Menne, a member of the executive board of Farbwerke Hoechst, represented German industry.
Officers of the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG were mainly in charge of selecting the delegates for the conferences. However, Shepard Stone of the Ford Foundation also had an influential say in this process. In the late 1950s and 1960s he was director of the foundation’s international program and thus responsible for allocating funds to the ACG to facilitate the German-American conferences. Shepard Stone was deeply attached to Germany as he had pursued graduate studies in Berlin in the Weimar period, earning a doctoral degree in history. After World War II he returned to Germany as a public affairs officer of the U.S. High Commission. Stone’s continuing interest in German affairs and friendship with Eric Warburg and Marion Dönhoff regularly brought him to Germany, and he was a frequent participant in the German-American conferences.
The German-American Conferences and Cold War Politics
All matters discussed during the conferences stood under the headline “East-West tensions” in the earlier period and later “East-West issues” signaling the beginning of détente, but always maintaining a special focus on U.S.-German relations. The debates from the late 1950s to the early/mid-1970s can be categorized as follows: firstly, bilateral relations between the U.S. and the FRG; secondly, Germany’s relation with the Western alliance; thirdly, Europe and the United States in the Atlantic Alliance; and last but not least, relations between the West, the East, and the developing world. The conferences served three central purposes: firstly, developing a German-American network of elites; secondly, building consensus on key issues of the Cold War period; and thirdly, forming a common Western, transatlantic identity among West Germans and Americans.
Another emphasis of both groups’ activities in the United States and Germany was the production of studies and other publications (among others, The Vanishing Swastika, the Bridge, Meet Germany, a Newsletter, Hans Wallenberg’s report Democratic Institutions, and the reports on the German-American Conferences). Studies aimed at informing Germans about developments in the United States and American international policies on the one hand, and at informing the American people about West Germany’s progress in denazification, democratization, and re-education on the other. The overall aim of these activities was first and foremost improving each country’s and people’s image in the eyes of the counterpart’s elites and wider public.
The sources and amounts of available funds to the ACG and the Atlantik-Brücke differed considerably. Whereas the latter selected its members very carefully by way of cooptation especially among businessmen and CEOs to secure sound funding of its enterprise, the former opened membership or affiliation to basically anyone who had an interest in Germany. As a result, the ACG depended heavily, at least for its everyday business, on the fortune of the organization’s executive vice president Christopher Emmet. Emmet personally provided the salaries of ACG secretaries and set up the organization’s offices in his private apartment in New York’s upper Westside. In addition, the ACG relied on funds granted by the Ford Foundation especially for the biannual German-American conferences as well as for the publication of a number of studies. The Atlantik-Brücke in turn benefitted immensely from public funds for its publications and the realization of the German-American conferences. The Federal Press and Information Agency (Bundespresse- und Informationsamt, BPA) supported mainly publication efforts of the organization and the Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) regularly granted funds for the conferences.
Politics, Business and Membership Growth
Membership of the Atlantik-Brücke grew from 12 in 1954 to 65 in 1974. Among them were representatives of companies like Mannesmann, Esso, Farbwerke Hoechst, Daimler Benz, Deutsche Bank, and Schering. Those members were expected to be willing and able to pay annual membership fees of 3000 to 5000 DM (approx. $750 to $1,250 in 1955, equivalent to approx. $6,475 to $10,793 today). Since the business community always accounted for the majority of Atlantik-Brücke membership compared to members from academia, media and politics, the organization operated on secure financial footing compared to its American counterpart. The ACG had not even established formal membership like its German sister organization. The people affiliated with the ACG in the 1950s up to the mid-1970s were mostly academics, intellectuals, and journalists. It posed a great difficulty for ACG officers to attract business people willing and able to contribute financially to the organization at least until the mid-1970s. When Christopher Emmet, the ACG’s “heart and soul,” passed away in 1974, the group’s affiliates and directors were mostly comprised of Emmet’s circle of friends and acquaintances who shared an interest in U.S.-German relations and Germany itself. Emmet had enlisted most of them during his frequent visits to the meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. Another group of prominent members represented the military. Several leading figures of the U.S. occupying forces and U.S. High Commission personnel joined the ACG, in addition to ranking politicians and U.S. diplomats. The ACG’s long term president, George N. Shuster had served as Land Commissioner for Bavaria during 1950-51. In 1963, Lucius D. Clay, former military governor of the U.S. zone in Germany, 1947-49, joined the ACG as honorary chairman. George McGhee, the former ambassador to Germany prominently represented U.S. diplomacy when he became director of the organization in 1969.
Although the Atlantik-Brücke had initially ruled out board membership for active politicians, they were prominently represented. Erik Blumenfeld, for example, was an influential Christian Democratic leader in Hamburg. In 1958 he was elected CDU chairman of the federal city state of Hamburg and three years later he became a member of the Bundestag.In the course of the 1960s and 1970s more politicians joined the Atlantik-Brücke and became active members of the board: Kurt Birrenbach (CDU), Fritz Erler (SPD), W. Alexander Menne (FDP), and Helmut Schmidt (SPD). Thus, through their members and affiliates both organizations have been very well-connected with political, diplomatic, and business elites.
Besides individual and corporate contributions, both organizations relied on funding from public and private institutions and agencies. On the German side federal agencies like the Foreign Office, the Press and Information Agency, and the Chancellery provided funding for publications and supported the German-American conferences. On the American side additional funds were provided almost exclusively by the Ford Foundation.
Although both groups were incorporated as private associations with the objective of furthering German-American relations in the postwar era, their membership profile and sources of funding clearly illustrate that they were not operating at great distance from either public politics or official diplomacy. On the contrary, the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG represent two prominent actors in a transnational elite networking project with the aim of forging a strong anti-communist Atlantic Alliance among the Western European states and the United States of America. In this endeavor to back up public with private authority, the Atlantik-Brücke and the ACG functioned as major conduits of both transnational and transcultural exchange and transfer processes.