A Cold War Tale That Ended Peacefully by George Brose (Tanzania)
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I’ll Show You My Country’s Nobel Laureate if You Show Me Yours
by George Brose (Tanzania 1965-67)
After my two years of Peace Corps service in Moshi, Tanzania and Loitokitok, Kenya, I was drafted into the US Army in April, 1968. We had been told in Peace Corps training that former Peace Corps Volunteers could not serve in intelligence units and likewise former intel specialists could not go into the Peace Corps for a number of years after leaving either service. It was supposedly federal law. After a year of training in German at the Army Language School in Arlington, VA, I was sent to Germany, but not yet assigned to a unit over there.
When I got to Heidelberg I was told I would be sent to an intel unit on the East German border. When I heard that I politely told the duty officer that he might want to check the regulations about my going to that unit. His reply was something like “We make our own regulations over here. Who was I, a lowly E-4 (slightly above Private First Class), to contradict an officer who could decide my fate for the next two years?” He got up from his desk and went into another office with my file and came back a few minutes later saying I would go instead to the 5th Psychological Operations Battalion in Boeblingen, about 10 Km south of Stuttgart.
And there I spent those two years primarily reading foreign newspapers and keeping my jeep clean, trying to see who might be a person of interest who would support American involvement in a particular country. That gave me a lot of time to read East German papers as well as translations of radio broadcasts from all over the world. In that time I occasionally read some news about Tanzania in Neues Deutschland, the East German daily. One guy in particular wrote several stories about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, which was my old bailiwick on the Dark Continent. I even saved those clippings, which was breaking the Army rules. One of my duties was “ash and trash,” which meant burning all the old newspapers and clippings after writing reports. But somehow I saved a few of them. I thought nothing of this when I found those clippings many years later. Perhaps I owe some time at Ft. Leavenworth.
Fast forward to 2006
I went back to East Africa to train mediators in the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya. I took an extra week after those travels, and went to the island of Zanzibar to relax and see the place. About the third day I was there, while walking down a street I saw an older European fellow conversing in fairly good Swahili. Not having conversed with many people of my culture for over six weeks, I politely asked where he had acquired his Swahili, and he told me he had been a teacher in Zanzibar with an East German volunteer program many years before. He also mentioned that he had been transferred to Moshi in 1967, a few months after I had left that town, so he knew some people I had known back then. We decided to meet the next day to tell our stories in more detail over some coffee when he could break free from his travel group.
The following is taken from my logbook notes on that encounter
Met a Hemingway look alike, Eckhard Schulz at a food stand near the fish market speaking Swahili to the vendor. I greeted him and we both sort of had that “Where are you from” look on our faces. He asked what nationality I thought he was, and I think I guessed German. We began a conversation in German, English and some Swahili.
He was a biology teacher from the city of Magdeburg in the former East Germany. (That was the former home of my Aunt Emma Morgenthau.) He came to Zanzibar right after the revolution in 1964. I asked him if he knew Gottfried Lessing the former husband of Doris Lessing (Nobel Laureate Literature 2007). Eckhard, a bit surprised that I would know that replied that he had met him at several functions. Lessing was the East German Consul General in Zanzibar. He would eventually ‘disappear’ in Idi Amin’s Uganda.
Eckhard is a part-time historian of the German presence in East Africa, and has been to several out-of-the-way places that I’ve also visited like Lake Chala and Taita where there were WWI skirmishes between the Allied forces and the Germans. He told me about the Robert Koch (Nobel Prize 1905 Medicine) Room in the old hospital in Dar Es Salaam where Koch had spent some time in the 1890s. Herr Schulz was transferred from Zanzibar to Moshi to teach at Old Moshi Secondary replacing the biology teacher Ian Smith (I knew him) when Smith had been killed in a car wreck. (I hadn’t known this.) He also knew Frank Poppelton and Pat Hemingway (son of Nobel Laureate Ernest for Literature 1960). He didn’t know Dr. Balletto* lived near Moshi, but he had heard of his WW II adventure on Mt. Kenya. We had both been to the WWI graveyard in Moshi. He confirmed that a number of British soldiers had died on March 21, 1916 at the Battle of Moshi that included the bombing of the town from the air. Fortunately the Brits had only one plane and one bomb. I believe I saw a grave for a Royal Marine pilot killed there.
We had talked only briefly over coffee, but had so much in common we agreed to meet again the next day at 5:00PM at the coffee house on the waterfront.
During our first meeting, a young Swiss couple was sitting next to us. He was an M.D. who will work with AIDS patients, and she was a biology teacher on their way to work in Iringa on the Tanzania mainland. They had come there to learn some Swahili, and were feeling frustrated with the teaching. Eckhard and I both gave the young woman some tips for teaching biology in East African secondary schools. I had taught the subject for three years in Zimbabwe under basically the same system as that in East Africa.
Another story about Gottfried Lessing, according to Eckhard
Lessing fled the Nazi’s in the late ’30s. He was a Communist. Somehow he came to South Africa where he met Doris. He is a character in several of her early books — the Martha Quest novels. Their marriage eventually ended and he returned to East Germany after WWII where he joined the Party and became a member of the diplomatic corps.
He was assigned to Zanzibar after their revolution in 1964. The Arabs and Indians were singled out by the Afro Shirazi party as the enemies of the state, and were killed when they could be found. Many were literally driven into the ocean. Others shot and buried in mass graves.
Now Indians and Arabs are back in Zanzibar. Survivors and children of survivors. One guy, a UC Berkeley grad runs a coffee house in Stone Town, the old quarter of Zanzibar town. For almost three years after 1964, the island was shut down to western visitors, however the Russians, East Germans, Czechoslovakians, and Chinese were very much a presence. This was the time of liberation wars in southern Africa, and Zanzibar became a warehouse and forwarding point for arms shipments to various liberation groups. Southern Tanzania became a training ground for these groups, like Freelimo and Swapo.
Freelimo were fighting in Mozambique under Eduardo Mondolane, a professor at Syracuse University on leave of absence to run a revolution. He was an invited speaker at my Peace Corps training program. Mondolane was eventually blown up by supporters of Samora Machel, who was in turn killed in a plane crash that is thought to have been orchestrated by the South African government. The Southwest Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) and the African National Congress (ANC) had offices in Tanzania. At that time there were several other South African organizations struggling for recognition as the representatives of the South African people in the anti-Apartheid struggle. The ANC became the official party and the others had to leave Tanzania.
The other organizations lost out in that power struggle and with it their credentials to be working in Tanzania. They were effectively stateless and persona non grata.
At that time I was living just inside Kenya near the Tanzania border. One afternoon about six men showed up on my front-door step asking for help to get to Nairobi about 150 miles through the bush. They had a piece of paper with my name on it. They were from one of the discredited political groups. They were not equipped to be in the bush where I lived. They were in nice clothes, maybe sport jackets if I recall fully.
They had been dropped off at the Kenya border at a very remote post which may not even have been manned at the time. Somehow they had met the Northern Tanzania Regional Peace Corps Rep., himself a politically active person. He suggested to them that they cross the border where I lived, because it was for the most part unguarded, and I might be able to help them get to Nairobi. He was assuming a lot. I was able to borrow the school’s Land Rover, with a lot of reluctance from the headmaster, an uptight Brit, who was inclined to do the right thing. I took them through the bush to Nairobi where they said they had a contact. The headmaster also made a very hot phone call to that regional director and told him never again to show his face on our school grounds. The regional director’s act was his own, not one of the Peace Corps as far as I am concerned.
I arranged for the men to meet me on the edge of the village, so it would appear that I was giving some hitchhikers a lift. They were very distinguishable in appearance from their multi-racial makeup. I know now they were Cape Coloureds (by South African distinction). I’m not sure what political group they were affiliated with, but it was in late 1967. A few months later while in Nairobi, I saw them on the street, but they did not act like they recognized me, and I did not try to remind them. Maybe they felt they were protecting me.
Getting back to the story that Eckhard was telling me about Gottfried Lessing however, from my notes —
Herr Schulz told me yesterday that a historian friend of his in Berlin has access to East German archives that indicate that Gottfried Lessing was secretly in negotiation at this time with representatives of the South African government. What either of them had to talk about would be most interesting to know, and how contact was initially made, because both sides were literally speaking with the Devil from their philosophical positions.
I must relate some of this to Herr Schulz this afternoon. I had gotten into Zanzibar for a few days in 1967 with another Peace Corps Volunteer. We were on a tightly supervised visit. A guide picked us up at the airport and stayed with us most of the time. At night we had some opportunity to walk around on our own in town. I remember passing the Chinese consulate. The windows on the second floor were open, even the Chinese needed to cool off at the end of a hot day, and we could see the interior walls painted red and a portrait of Mao Tse Tung hanging beneficently over the room while “The East Is Red” rose from loudspeakers out into the night. This was the time of the Cultural Revolution back in China and the build up in Viet Nam on our side of the Bamboo Curtain.
I got back to my hotel that first evening after meeting Eckhard Schulz, and some memories of my time in Germany reading those accounts of the East German writer on Kilimanjaro began creeping into my mind. I wondered if by chance that writer was my new acquaintance. I couldn’t wait to meet him the next day.
I do not have a lot of details about that meeting except the following:
“Had my second meeting with Herr Schulz and determined that I had clipped an article from Neuesdeutshland that he had written about 1969 or 1970. He said he wrote over 200 articles for them and has also written two books.”
Today in 2021 I’m trying to pull from my memory and notes a bit of that conversation. I told him that technically I was probably spying on him from my desk in Boeblingen, West Germany. We both had a laugh about that. I asked if he had had to be vetted by the Stasi before being allowed out of East Germany. His reply was, didn’t I have to be vetted by the FBI? He was right. In those days any Peace Corps Volunteer underwent a background check that involved the FBI knocking on doors around any address where we had formerly lived. My neighbors recounted this to me when I got home. I asked Eckhard how he became interested in Africa to want to go there as a biology teacher. He said that as a Young Pioneer, the Communist equivalent of the Boy Scouts he had collected trading cards that featured information about Africa. I had collected baseball cards. What was he doing now in Africa? He was acting as a self-employed tour guide for Germans who had lived in Tanganyika the former German colony. Many had stayed under supervision between the wars. The British had taken over the protectorate after WWI. He said they were able to find some of the old farms where these Germans had lived. Inside some of the houses there were still old cast iron stoves that had been made in Germany. This is how he paid his way back to Africa. We eventually parted ways that night and have never corresponded since then. Several years later I found one of those clippings I have mentioned earlier, and unfortunately it turned out that he was not the writer of that article. But still it helped me to gather those memories of what was going on in that time and how it affected all of us in so many ways since then.
In conclusion Eckhard Schulz and I both had a laugh that here in Zanzibar we met, old cold warriors who never lifted a weapon in anger, meeting in a former revolutionary country that is now being seduced by capitalism. What else could be more revolutionary?
Link to an article by Eckhard Schulz on Kilimanjaro auf deutsch.
Eckhard Schulz and George Brose — Zanzibar 2007
One CommentLeave a comment
George, Thank you for this intriguing story. I hope you pull more recollection of your fascinating life and share them with the rest of the Peace Cars world.
And thank you John for making it possible for George to share his fascinating story.