Needy Germans Irritated JFK, Tapes Reveal 'He Got Awfully Fed Up with Adenauer and All that Berlin'

This week's release of interviews with former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy has revealed a new side of the demure fashion icon. Among the unsparing criticism of her husband's political contemporaries were also a few comments about the Germans, who were apparently the source of great aggravation.

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She said Martin Luther King was "phony," called former French President Charles de Gaulle an "egomaniac" and had harsh words for her husband's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. In a new book that unveils private interviews for the first time with former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, unpleasant opinions about a number of political figures are revealed´-- and the Germans aren't spared, either.

Released this week, "Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy" documents previously unheard conversations with the grieving widow in the spring and summer of 1964. Recorded in her Washington home by historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., they offer an intimate glimpse into the personal and political lives of the Kennedy family during their three years in the White House.

With a frankness uncharacteristic of her discreet public persona, Mrs. Kennedy offered up humorous -- though sometimes prickly -- descriptions and private reflections, which can also be heard on audio discs that come with the book or are provided digitally with the e-book. Among her unflattering comments about other world leaders -- such as the "kind of pushy, horrible" future Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi -- she also revealed that her husband had often been exasperated by relations with Germany.

"Jack used to say sort of what a bitter old man Adenauer was, or how he had to be pried," she said, describing relations with the first West German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer. "He got awfully fed up with Adenauer and all that Berlin," she says. Later in the book, though, Kennedy says her husband "sort of admired" the chancellor.

Coveting Adenauer's Interpreter

President Kennedy also apparently "hated" and "really disliked" the German ambassador to the United States from 1958 to 1962, Wilhelm Grewe, his wife said.

The president was also fed up with the German insecurities about the Cold War. During the discussion, interviewer Schlesinger, who had also served as a White House aide during Kennedy's presidency, stated that "the Germans wanted reassurance all the time and it got to be a pain in the neck." To this, Mrs. Kennedy replied: "And you know, how much more of it can you do than reassure them? Well, he really did it, obviously, when he went to Berlin."

Though Kennedy tended not to bring his worries home to his wife, "that was one that just irritated him, so he'd say, 'What do you have to do to show the Germans that you care?' (and) that we would defend Berlin," she said.

The only flattering thing said about Adenauer during the interviews was that his interpreter was among the best two Kennedy had met. The interpreter was so good, in fact, that Kennedy asked if he could "borrow" him from Adenauer during visits to Germany.

Turning Point in Berlin

After the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall, political vulnerability had sparked great anxiety in West Germany, particularly in isolated West Berlin. The situation prompted some needy behavior on the part of the Germans, Jackie said. Often "the least tiny thing could happen -- some colonel could drop his hat on the autobahn and … Adenauer would start flaming up all over again, and saying that we were going to pull out, and the ambassador here, Grewe, would come running in," she explained. "And Jack really got irritated with the Germans."

German officials were also suspected of leaking comments about their "lack of confidence" in America's commitment to protect them from communist aggressors, she added.

But during the president's June 1963 visit to West Berlin, during which he gave his now famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech to an overjoyed public, JFK "finally did convince them," his wife said, adding that "he was really happy after that."

Mrs. Kennedy did not accompany her husband on the state visit to Berlin due to pregnancy (she would soon give birth prematurely to their son Patrick, who died just days later). But in her opinion, "Berlin was to him the most unbelievable" event of its kind in his career.

After the interviews with Schlesinger, during which her husband's assassination was not discussed, the tapes were sealed off for almost 50 years. Already a fashion icon, Mrs. Kennedy would go on to gain further celebrity after her marriage to Greek shipping mogul Aristotle Onassis and in her career as a literary editor after his death in 1975. Since Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis never wrote her memoirs before daying in 1994 at the age of 64, Schlesinger's interviews offer some of the most poignant insights into America's "Camelot era" ever made available.

--kla

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