• Page 1 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 1 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Information Series ALBERT E. HEMSING Interviewed by: Robert Amerson Initial interview date: April 18, 1989 Copyright 1998 ADST Entrance Into USIA Via Marshall Plan Information Work Q: Mr. Hemsing's distinguished career with the U.S. Information Agency is a story of success and achievement in positions ranging from Motion Picture Officer, to Area ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 2 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 2 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Our information chief was Waldemar Nielsen. His deputies were Eugene Rachlis and Hugh Sutherland. Peter Handen, a cracker- jack architect, headed exhibits. Lemuel Graves ran press; Dick Driscoll was in charge of radio. Our executive officer was Jim West, who later married Mary McCarthy, the writer. Nils Nilson was in charge of motion pictures and I was his deputy. It was a great shop, ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 3 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 3 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    In October 1955 I shipped off to Washington the original negatives of the 260 films ECA/MSA had produced since 1947, closed the shop, and left for Washington myself to work for IMS, the motion picture service of USIA. Some years later, in Berlin, I got to know Ted Streibert better, when he made several trips there on behalf of the General Mills Company. I ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 4 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 4 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Incidentally, I was not born in New York, though I grew up there. I was born in the Ruhr area, in Wuppertal. My parents brought me to America when I was two, and my brother, Paul, was twelve. They were victims of the 1923 German inflation. They had saved up enough on my father's skilled machinist's wages to buy the small apartment house they ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 5 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 5 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    I started at OWI in January 1943. At first Jacoby asked me to screen hundreds of existing American shorts and documentaries, with a view to selecting those relatively few that carried a useful message for overseas audiences. We then wrote new narrations and sometimes re-edited the films. I became quite good at writing film narrations and learned the fundamentals of film editing. Along with ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 6 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 6 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    As the war came to an end, OWI operations abroad ground to a halt so suddenly that many a mess was left around the world. One such mess was in the UK where OWI had conducted a large film program. In November 1946 Herb Edwards asked me to go to London ("for one or two months at most") to bring some order into the ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 7 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 7 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    I could not have come back at a worse moment. Congress had just slashed State's information budget to shreds. Along with several dozen others, I got the sack in June 1947. A demobilized colonel got my job. Begins Teaching At CCNY Film Institute New York and the entire country were in the midst of the post-war recession. I determined to stay in motion picture ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 8 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 8 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    I really should not take us to Paris without describing the job interview that got me there. Harry Martin came to New York to look me over, accompanied by Stuart Schulberg, head of the Marshall Plan's motion picture unit. Stu, I knew, was the son of B.P. Schulberg, the pioneer Hollywood producer, and brother of Budd, the writer. Later on, incidentally, Stu would become ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 9 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 9 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    After about six months, I was promoted to chief of IMS' Overseas Operations Division, at GS-16. My Foreign Service rank remained FSS-1. I worked for Turner Shelton and his deputy Tony Guarco. It was a trying time for many reasons. The Agency had not yet recovered from the McCarthy period, and in particular, not IMS. Shelton eagerly applied the "Red List" to screen out ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 10 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 10 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    June and July of 1958 I sweated out at the Sanz School on 14th Street, learning German four hours a day, one-on-one, with a wonderful teacher, an older Austrian mountain-climber with a horrible accent. But he gave me what I needed: grammar, and drill in specialized vocabulary. He made up word lists on his own time for me—political, journalistic and economic vocabulary, and social ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 11 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 11 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    If this was "press handling", I was going to be OK; it was more like directing a film. And, in fact, the logistics, coordination and "people skill" required in motion picture work always stood me in good stead in Berlin. The Berlin drama, from the Ultimatum to the Wall, to President Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" visit, always played out on two very different ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 12 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 12 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Q: With the Brandenburg Gate in the background, no doubt. HEMSING: Exactly. 1961: East German Refugee "Hemorrhage" Peaks — Q: That eased off, then, gradually, without anything more serious coming by way of confrontation. What else about Berlin? That was the time when many refugees were coming across. In 1961, it reached an apex of some kind. HEMSING: Quite right. First of all, why ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 13 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 13 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    HEMSING: A summer weekend in August. For that reason, and, I'm afraid, for other, profounder reasons, Western reaction to the building of the Wall was painfully slow and uncertain. All the Western Allies dragged their feet, we more than the rest. This made a profoundly negative impression on the people of West Berlin and on Willy Brandt, the Mayor. In fact, I'm convinced it ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 14 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 14 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Edward R. Murrow By Accident Came To Berlin The Night The Wall Went Up Adding To Suspicion Of Advance U.S. Knowledge Ed Murrow. As you may remember, Edward R. Murrow, the new director of USIA, came to Berlin on the night of August 12, 1961. The visit had been planned weeks ahead, which is something else that Berlin journalists refused to believe. Q: Which ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 15 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 15 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Soon I had dozens of phone calls from various reporters telling me (rather than asking) that barbed wire was being strung along the downtown sector-to-sector border, and presumably else- where; and about the angry reaction of the crowds there. I used my second telephone, connected via the U.S. Mission switchboard, to try to get confirmation from the U.S. Army and U.S. Mission duty officers ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 16 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 16 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    But even a quick protest was not to be. We had worked out tripartite agreed language for the protest, with the British group along only reluctantly. I was just ready to issue it to the press, when a telephone call came to Al Lightner, in his office, over an open, non-secure line. The call was from Assistant Secretary of State Foy Kohler. I couldn't ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 17 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 17 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    The reality of Berlin life, that thousands in East Berlin came to work in West Berlin every day, that West Berliners also worked in the East, and that tens of thousands crossed the sector-to-sector border every day to visit family and friends, that seemed not to have dawned upon Washington until the Wall went up. Briefed on these facts, the President is reported to ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 18 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 18 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Q: Great. HEMSING: Their march through West Berlin was sheer theater. It got a tremendous response. Kennedy Sends VP Johnson To Berlin: Some Misfires Of The Johnson Visit; Bohlen's Briefing And Johnson's Own Insensitivity The previous day, at the City Hall, the crowd had fired up the Vice President. He had departed from his prepared text and pledged "our lives, our fortunes and our ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 19 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 19 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    HEMSING: That visit, in February 1962, I found very trying. It was my first experience of the ruthless, athletic Kennedy gang in action, and of the, to me, dismaying projection of American imperial power abroad; that and the manipulation of the media. His advance men, to give you but one example, had spotted a high school on the route the motorcade would take from ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 20 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 20 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    That opportunity came the evening of October 22, when the U.S. Minister and Mrs. Lightner were held up by Volpos at Checkpoint Charlie, on their way to an East Berlin theater performance. They were in their own car, a Volkswagen, with U.S. Army plates. In accordance with practice, Lightner refused to show the Volpos his diplomatic passport because the U.S. Army plate was supposed ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 21 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 21 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    When Ed Murrow came to Berlin he became so involved with the Wall that he probably forgot I was only the acting PAO. Furthermore I was not unfamiliar to him. About a year before the Wall, when Ed was on a year's sabbatical from CBS, I found him strolling along the Kudamm one Saturday afternoon. I introduced myself, and invited him home for dinner ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 22 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 22 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    He was dead wrong about the path the small White House pool press bus should take with him and me on it, as we left the welcoming ceremonies at the Tegel Airport in the French Sector. To have the pool bus at the planeside on arrival, and yet to insert it up front in the motorcade, the bus, as rehearsed, would briefly move on ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 23 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 23 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Berliners' Reaction Five Months LaterTo Kennedy's Assassination HEMSING: On that very same spot, of course, I also witnessed what will always give me a chilling memory: the spontaneous public memorial to the President, the day after he was murdered. It was a twilight ceremony in the same Rathaus Square where the President had spoken only so recently. Mayor Brandt gave a very moving speech. ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 24 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 24 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    His reply was, "Well, I want you, and I told Washington so." A few hours later Don Wilson called me to confirm the assignment. So much for the "independence" of USIA. My theory then was, a theory I could never check out, that someone at State had bad-mouthed the USIA officer slated to go to Bonn—probably because he had done his job too well ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 25 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 25 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    In a carefully-guarded plan, on a given day, we notified six German-American Institutes, and the mayors in those cities, and the Minister-Presidents of the states in which they were located, and the Cultural Office of the Bonn government, that these centers would have to go out of business; that we needed to withdraw our support and would no longer be able to supply USIS ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 26 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 26 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    This soon became counter-productive. I wanted to limit our response to cooperation in more controlled situations—say where a professor asked for someone to participate in his seminar—not where students would run an open-to-all meeting to have an American to throw bricks at. The Ambassador only relented when he himself experienced what we were up against. At a Cologne University ceremony the Rector had to ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 27 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 27 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    The hotel rooms in Cologne for which John Clyne had so savagely negotiated with the German government's press office—rooms for the White House press, were just as savagely dismissed as inadequate by the Washington advance men—"advance" by one day only. Nothing would do but that the White House press be housed in the Petersberg, the splendid hilltop castle-hotel on the other side of the ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 28 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 28 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    A sad note in my Bonn tour was the Administration's, the Embassy's and, especially, the Ambassador's inability to cope with the changing climate in Bonn. You will recall that Erhard's term as Chancellor, 1963-66, was really an extension of the Adenauer era of warm U.S.-German relations. Then came the "Big Coalition," Chancellor Kiesinger (CDU) and Willy Brandt (SPD) as Foreign Minister. It was a ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 29 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 29 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Our last stop but one was Dallas. We were looking at the school book warehouse where President Kennedy had been shot when knots of people around TV sets alerted us to the news that Martin Luther King had been murdered. A coincidence that truly shook us up. We hurried home when our daughter, Josephine phoned to say that she could smell 14th street burning ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 30 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 30 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    I found Frank an amazingly quick learner for someone who had come to the job, as Agency director, with no foreign affairs background and almost no overseas experience. He also had good instincts. When he asked James Burnham to take a look at our USIS libraries in Europe, to see if the collections were "balanced," I told Frank about my last image of Burnham. ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 31 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 31 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Starting as he did from there, it is almost a miracle that he came to understand our Agency's mission and limitations so soon. Thank God for the flywheel of bureaucracy that political appointees rile against at first. Q: Shakespeare came in as part of the Nixon Administration, and he learned that there were limitations. A very bright guy, indeed. That is fascinating. Perhaps we ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 32 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 32 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Even on media output I urged caution. I had just seen a near-final cut of Bruce Hershensohn's hour-long Vietnam opus, in color, at a Washington screening. I found it incredibly naive. But all I said at the meeting was that such an investment of resources in the slow-moving film medium—the film had been in production nearly a year—was a gamble. Events moved too fast. ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 33 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 33 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    The then director of the Southeast Asia Area, the first political appointee on the Assistant Director level of the Agency, as far as I know—put there because his area included Vietnam—came to see me about an upcoming inspection in his area. It was Hong Kong, and he wanted the PAO there fired, he said. I explained that he already had the authority to transfer ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 34 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 34 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    HEMSING: Another weird turn of fate. I had only sporadically kept in touch with Irving Kristol since our college days. He was then editor of Commentary, now of Public Interest. On a trip to New York to see our daughter, I called Irving and we had lunch. Irving had always hated to go abroad, except to England. He questioned me about life overseas and ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 35 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 35 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Q: The largest, I believe. HEMSING: Yes. Remember that at about that time we made a gift to the Indian Government of $2.5 billion dollars worth of rupees, 25 percent of the entire Indian currency in circulation. The sum was left over from our food aid to India, after the previous five years of famine. Q: The so-called Public 480 Law. HEMSING: Yes. But ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 36 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 36 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    HEMSING: Yes. India was a total immersion in the Third World for Esther and me, and until this day we're glad not to have left the Foreign Service without this correction of our Europe-centered experience. I found that I liked the Indians, but almost in inverse proportion to their socio-economic status. Some of the people on top were pretty intolerable. But Esther and I ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 37 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 37 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Soon Dave Schneider arrived and he was equally horrified. We marched into the pool house and remonstrated with Pat, saying he must wait until he got back home to say his piece. "All right, since you leave me nothing to say, I'll say nothing," was the reply. My guess is that, had we not stopped him, he would probably never have been named as ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 38 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 38 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    You see, I was the first RFE director not to have been appointed by the CIA. RFE and Radio Liberty were then being funded openly, in the State Department budget, and they had been put under an oversight board, the Board for International Broadcasting. But the American personnel at RFE had changed hardly at all. They all had been on the CIA payroll at ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 39 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 39 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    But the antagonism between Mikelson and me grew apace, fanned by his erratic, long-distance, intervention on programming. I was asked to resign, but insisted on being fired. Simultaneously he also removed the director of Radio Liberty. That double-whammy finally woke up the hitherto complacent Board from its inattention. A few months later the Board gave Mikelson the choice between moving to Munich himself, and ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 40 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 40 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    1978: After Some Time Away From Work, Hemsing Accepts Offer To Return To Germany On Contract As Director of America Haus in Freiburg HEMSING: Yes. Our life in New York was fine, but I was bored without work, a failing on my part. Fortunately, Alec Klieforth called me one day. We were old friends from Berlin where he had been the RIAS director. At ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 41 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 41 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Recapturing Old Marshall Plan FilmsTo Show In U.S. HEMSING: That's correct, Bob. Two years ago, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the launching of the Marshall Plan, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States (in Washington) asked me to help them with their commemorative plans, as a consultant. They mounted two large traveling exhibits, one in the U.S., the other in Europe, ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 42 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 42 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    HEMSING: For somebody who came up, obviously, on the information side of USIA, it may surprise some—probably not you, Bob—that I think the more important part of the Agency's work is not information, but the cultural side: exchange of persons, lectures, seminars, libraries, and so on. I used to hotly defend the idea of USIA as a separate agency, and that was right in ...

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18
  • Page 43 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    Page 43 of Interview with Albert E. Hemsing

    And as for USIA's frantic pursuit of ever more selective "target-audiences", let's be a little more humble and realistic. The scruffy youngster reading a book at some USIS library today, may be the Gandhi of tomorrow, Mahatma I mean. Q: That seems a good note on which to end this interview. Thank you. End of interview

    • Contributor: Amerson, Robert - Hemsing, Albert E.
    • Original Format: Manuscripts/Mixed Material
    • Date: 1989-04-18