After the Liberation
Nach der Befreiung
Originally published in 2008 in Germany by Horlemann
Author: Walter Skrobanek
Translator: Hoang Tung 2022
Published by: Siriporn Skrobanek
Copyright@ Siriporn Skrobanek
Foreword by the editors
Contemporary witnesses are a very special species of reporters: between the topicality of the
journalistic newspaper article and the necessary condensation of historical consideration, they provide
us with an excerpt of the condition humaine by being in the right place at the right time, often not
entirely voluntarily, and by involving us in retrospect in the process of creating the description itself
and in their own involvement.
Walter Skrobanek, born in Graz in 1941, grew up in the Wiesbaden area, studied political
science, sociology and history at the University of Heidelberg in the second half of the 1960s with a
regional focus on South and Southeast Asia, and graduated in the summer of 1972 with a doctorate on
Buddhist politics in Thailand. Before his studies, he worked as a freelance journalist and local editor for
various daily newspapers in the Mainz area until 1968. In 1973, he came to Saigon with his Thai wife
Siriporn, whom he had met during a joint research project in Thailand, and began working for the
children's aid organisation terre des hommes. From 1976 onwards, he lived in Bangkok as terre des
hommes coordinator for Southeast Asia until his retirement in 2006, where he died six months later of a
His diary, which begins in Saigon on 28 April 1975, was obviously written out of a clear sense
that history was now being made and happening around him. It depicts the contradiction of quite
different perspectives in its own daily leaps and attempts to combine them in the unity of the
empathetic and deliberate observer and actor. The diary was kept but forgotten until his retirement
approached in spring 2006 and he came across it again. He was thrilled to find it in good condition and
began editing it for publication. Sudden illness and death caught up with him as he was editing it in
Bangkok in the late summer of 2006 and prevented him from supplementing his contemporary witness
role with that of the reflective observer and from fulfilling his intention to examine his own naturally
time-bound assessments and judgements from the sum of his life. So it has fallen to us as editors to
publish it in its vivid incompleteness as a contemporary document. It was supplemented by an
introduction by his wife Siriporn to classify the author's attitude towards Vietnam and commented on
by Rüdiger Siebert in an epilogue. To explain terre des hommes' activities in Vietnam, an information for
donors from 1976 is printed in the appendix. All subheadings were inserted by the editors.
Many have contributed to the fact that with the publication of the diary, a long-cherished wish
of Walter's could be realised: Ursula Pattberg, Ute Sodemann, Stefan Bub and Gerhard Köberlin
encouraged Siriporn Skrobanek to make the diary available to others. She had witnessed the liberation
of Saigon and found the original manuscripts, notes and photos in their finca and made them available
to the editors. Her preface was translated from English by Stefan Bub.
Peter Strack, with the help of Stefan Bub, Cornelia Dernbach and Doris Wächter, took care of
the laborious task of recording the manuscript and making the first editorial revisions. Two other terre
des hommes staff members, The and Tho, were able to provide a lot of advice with their cultural,
linguistic, historical and local knowledge.
The editors have had a professional and personal relationship with Walter Skrobanek for
decades: Walter Skrobanek was a founding member of the supporting association of the Southeast Asia
Information Centre (Südostasien Informationsstelle) in 1983, whose activities he supported in the 1980s
and 1990s and for whose quarterly journal Südostasien Informationen he wrote several articles. The
Southeast Asia Information Centre had helped to establish the Asia Foundation in 1991. The director of
the Goethe-Institut Vietnam had already worked with Walter and Siriporn Skrobanek in a research
project in Thailand in the 1970s and had many conversations with him during his travels in recent years.
The very special humane and political quality of Walter Skrobanek's "critical solidarity", one of
the finer achievements of the German left, and his deep and accurate insight into a dramatic upheaval
and key situation in Vietnam have motivated us both as editors to make this diary accessible to today's
Peter Franke Dr. Peter J. Bumke
Asienstiftung, Essen Goethe-Institute Vietnam
Thirty years later
Preliminary remark by Siriporn Skrobanek
In February 2006, Walter and I visited Vietnam together for the last time. After arriving at the
airport in Hanoi, we were taken to Lang Son, where Walter inaugurated a day-care centre for children
and visited the construction of a youth home. We visited a memorial in the community where the first
meeting of the resistance against the French colonial power had taken place. Walter had deep respect
for the Vietnamese and especially for those who ideologically prepared and practically implemented
the struggle for national liberation. He admired the young fighters who today hold important
government posts and continue to drive progress in Vietnam. We enjoyed our trip to Muang Lat, a
district on the border with Laos where Thais and other ethnic minorities live. Walter had been able to
convince the people in charge there to build boarding schools for boys and girls who live far from
school, in the Thai style house on poles.
At the welcome party there were performances by the young people of different ethnic groups
and we drank local wine together. A wood fire blazed high in the dark sky and warmed us in the winter
cold. Late at night, we said our goodbyes and walked to our accommodation. No one knew that this
would be goodbye to Walter forever.
The next day we continued our journey, full of hope that we would come back together to
continue working on our unfinished book about Vietnam, a book about a country where we had spent
part of our lives and which had once been our home. From Than Hoa to Dalat, every place we visited
seemed like a gift to Walter in gratitude for his 30 years of friendship to Vietnam and its people.
It was a rainy day when Walter and I arrived in Saigon in 1973. From Tan Son Nhat airport we
were taken to a three-storey building, the terre des hommes office. We were able to stay in a tiny room
on the second floor until we found our own flat. On the top floor of the building was a facility for
malnourished orphans who came from the orphanages that were mushrooming in and around Saigon.
The environment was totally unsuitable for a feeding project for babies and toddlers, so Walter's most
urgent task was to find another house for it. After a long search and many persistent negotiations, the
office and nursery were able to move to a beautiful villa with a garden on Minh Mang Street. The babies
were now housed in a one-storey house, surrounded by small offices and the main kitchen. The new
premises were very nice and we lived together like a small community, with people of different ages,
abilities, skin colour and culture. It was a daily social and work interaction between international staff,
traditionalists, young idealists, widows and orphans. For almost two years, we encountered life and
death together. We were united by the dream that we could soon leave the visitations of war behind us.
We longed for the day that would bring peace to each of us and new life to suffering Vietnam.
In April 1975, fear was our companion. The already familiar noise of battle now came closer and
closer and with it the reports of areas being taken by the Giai Phong (the liberation army). I went to
Vientiane with Milo Roten (the terre des hommes representative for Vietnam in Germany) to look for a
safe place in neighbouring Laos for the disabled children who had just returned from Germany. The
children were taken from the newly completed facility in Dalat to Laos, where they stayed until after
the liberation of Saigon. The others lived in unsafe conditions in Saigon.
Many of the Western embassies began to evacuate their citizens. Walter decided to stay, hoping
that he could hand over the Centre to the new government and so the work would continue under new
management. His decision reassured our Vietnamese friends who were facing an uncertain future. The
closure of many international institutions and the rush of people in front of the US Embassy marked the
beginning of a new chapter in Vietnam's history.
On the day the liberation army entered Saigon, Walter and other European friends were advised
to stay at the terre des hommes social medical centre. The Red Cross was painted on its roof to protect
it from shelling from both sides. That evening, accompanied by terre des hommes employees, I drove
around by car to see how the situation was developing. The streets of Saigon were full of looted goods
and military uniforms. In the Cho Long business district, we saw women sewing the star onto the
liberators' flag. People bought them and hoisted them in front of their houses, otherwise everything
was normal. In our street, many hung the flag upside down, and Walter showed them how to hang it
properly. I left Ho Chi Minh City in September 1975, Walter stayed on and handed over the Centre to the
new government. We did not see each other again until shortly before Christmas 1975 in Bangkok.
In 1986, I visited Hanoi at the invitation of the General Secretariat of the Vietnamese Women's
Union to attend a women's conference. There I had the opportunity to talk to some of the dignitaries
Walter and I had only seen from afar on the day the liberation of Saigon was celebrated in front of the
presidential palace in 1975. Hanoi was dark and full of bicycles, and after the long years of war, people
cherished the hope of a better future. After the conference, the Women's Union arranged for me to visit
Ho Chi Minh City. I visited the Social Medical Centre on Minh Mang Street and was also able to meet
Tung, one of our close friends, who lived with his wife in a tiny room in a dilapidated house. When I
entered, I could not hold back my tears. They were tears of joy, but also of sadness at the way fate had
played with us. A few years later, Walter and I met them again, together with their first daughter, at the
former Café Boda, the only luxury there was after the liberation. They fought hard to find a new future
for their family.
After my first visit to Hanoi, Walter went with Milo Roten to pave a way for humanitarian aid to
Vietnam, a Vietnam where suffering and deprivation appeared in a different light. He was full of
admiration for the strength of the people and their perseverance. In the years that followed, Walter
always returned after each trip to Vietnam full of hope for the country.
Bangkok, December 2007
Note of the translator for After the Liberation
Walter Skrobanek's German diary was published in 2008, but it was not until 2021, which are
thirteen years later that I resolved to translating it into English, then Vietnamese. It took so long just
because before that time my German was not sufficient to do translation work, although I know Walter
recorded in his diary many images, many events and many thoughts that he shared and experienced
with me while working at the Social Medical Centre of terre des hommes in Saigon 46 years ago.
Walter's diary focuses on 1975 and the event of the liberation of Saigon. But for me, it was the
1970s, a whole period of youth full of enthusiasm, eager to dedicate and devoted indeed to life and the
humans, in a war context, where life itself and the humans were crushed by a raging war. The terre des
hommes Social Medical Centre offered me the chance and the means to realise that aspiration. There I
met, shared ideas and worked with seniors, both men and women, and young people of my age, who
may have different goals but all desiring to be in the service to life and the humans.
Everyone was a friend, a teacher of each other, to bring together knowledge and efforts to the
service of the humans. The work did not stop after eight hours at the Centre, it continued with
discussions over dinner with Walter and his wife Siriporn and even into the curfew hour. It spilled over
weekends cycling to Binh Dong in District 8 to visit the daycare centre that Dung and Ty had established
for the needy local community with the support of terre des hommes. It was back again in endless Sunday
afternoons talking with Mr. Khuong, the elder but witty secretary whom Walter greatly respected and
trusted. And many others, whose working or helping relationships (namely, the young paraplegic
people) turned into close friendships lasting to this day.
I have chosen social work as my reason for living. So later, due to the ups and downs of times,
having to leave terre des hommes to work with the Red Cross, I remained faithful to the ideal of serving
people. But the impression that Walter and the terre des hommes’ fellows left on me is still as strong as
ever. That motivated me to translate Walter's Diary into other languages, Vietnamese included.
The glossary has been complemented and improved to help readers better understand the
events taking place in 1975 and mentioned in the Diary.
Ho Chi Minh City
Preface for After the Liberation
Walter Skrobanek had arrived Saigon in the late 1973 as the coordinator of the Social Medical
Centre of terre des homes. He witnessed the Liberation of Saigon in April 1975 and lived under the new
regime until the end of that year in order to hand over the Social Medical Centre of terre des homes to
the new authority. Nach der Befreirung (After the Liberation) was the diary he wrote to describe the
daily development of Saigon after the liberation. After his retirement in April 2006 he found the
manuscript and started to edit the diary but due to his illness and untimely departed in October 2006
the diary left unfinished.
I shared the original manuscript with the circle of German friends: Dr. Peter Bumke, Peter
Franke, Stefan Bub, and Rudige Siebert who took initiative to have post mortem publication of Walter’s
diary. Nach der Befreifung was launched at the Goethe Institute in Vietnam in 2007. After fifteen years
of the German publication I was surprised to learn that our most sincere and dearest Vietnamese friend
and colleague Hoang Tung took great effort to translate the book into English and Vietnamese. We
reviewed the manuscript and made some minor alteration for the accuracy of information.
I have deep admiration for the meticulous translation of Hoang Tung from Walter’s personal
historical document; and deep appreciation of Max Ediger who also witnessed the Fall of Saigon and
stayed for one year in Saigon after the liberation, for his editing work. I believe that After the Liberation
will generate understanding on the struggle of people to go on with their lives after Vietnam (American)
May 31, 2022
The last hours of the old regime 29/4/1975 3
The flag of the National Liberation Front over the government palace 1/5/1975 4-6
After the first joy, fear of the future2/5/1975 7-8
In the new district administration of Phu Nhuan 3/5/1975 9 - 10
With the foreign journalists at the Continental 4/5/1975 11 - 13
The Military Management Committee introduces itself 7/5/1975 14 - 15
Letter to the revolutionary authority 10/5/1975 16 - 17
Decadence, lack of leadership and propaganda 11/5/1975 18 - 19
Rehearsals of the liberation ceremony – Rumours about the closure of the Centre 13/5/1975 20 - 21
“Nothing is more valuable than independence and freedom” 15/5/1975 22 - 26
“Reunited under the same roof” 17/5/1975 27
Birthday celebration for Ho Chi Minh 19/5/1975 29
Visit by the supervisory authorities 20/5/1975 30
The notion of "liberation" is fully justified 21/5/1975 31
Many children from orphanages return to their families 22/5/1975 32
Signs of opposition to liberation 23/5/1975 33 - 34
Warlords in the province 24/5/1975 35 - 36
Cultural revolution with very conceited men and accordions 25/5/1975 37
How will it go on? 26/5/1975 38
Of iconoclasts and people's courts27/5/1975 39 - 40
Interim balance for Saigon 28/5/1975 41 - 42
In the cinema 29/5/1975 43 - 44
Saigon – from the rotten pearl to the village 31/5/1975 45
Children’s Day 1/6/1975 46 - 47
Hard tactics against system opponents and criminals 4/6/1975 48 - 49
News from provinces 50
Waiting for authorisations 5/6/1975 51
Thoughts on the future of the Social Medical Centre 7/6/1975 52
53 - 54
“Non-political means reactionary” 7/6/1975
A little more socialism, a little less neutrality 10/6/1975 56
The military continues to govern 11/6/1975 57
Normalization in the social and health fields 12/6/1975 58 - 59
Changeover to Indochina Time 14/6/1975 60 - 61
Bags full of banknotes 17/6/1975 62
Fight for hearts 18/6/1975 63 - 64
Attempts to prevent kindergarten closure 19/6/1975 65
Escape in culture 22/6/1975 66 - 67
Lack of political education 24/6/1975 68
Pressure creates counter pressure 28/6/1975 69 -70
A pagoda as a restricted military area 29/6/1975 71
Two months after the liberation 1/7/1975 73 -74
Assassinations of liberation fighters increase 4/7/1975 75
CIA neurosis and chauvinism 8/7/1975 76
End of terre des hommes work in Vietnam? 10/7/1975 77
Witnessing a piece of history 15/7/1975 78 - 79
Sad to have to initiate the end of the work oneself 17/7/1975 80
Permission for a birthday dinner 18/7/1975 81 - 85
One of the last meeting points of the Saigon Bourgeoisie 20/7/1975 86
Departure with question mark 22/7/1975 87 - 88
The Socio-Medical Centre under state control 24/7/1975 89 - 90
“I am the Revolution” 31/7/1975 91
The social and medical work lies fallow 1/8/1975 92 - 94
Return of the evacuated children from Laos 3/8/75 95
Theory and practice of revolutionary management 7/8/1975 96
Corruption on the rise 10/8/1975 97
Progress in the press – Bloodletting among the Centre's medical staff 11/8/1975 99
Waiting for reunification 12/8/1975 100
Saigon busy as ever 13/8/1975
The new government structure is becoming clearer 16/8/1975 101 - 103
“Wait and see” 26/8/1975
Factional struggles hinder the reconstruction work 27/8/1975 105 - 106
Concern that nothing happens during the celebrations 2/9/1975 107
Talk with the Vietnamese Red Cross 4/9/1975
The prospect of success of the wait is not ruled out 4/9/1975 108 - 109
Posing with watch and motorcycle 7/9/1975 110
Shops become consumer cooperatives 8/9/1975 111
Ambulance transport during curfew hours 10/9/1975 112
Ordered demonstration against merchant capital 12/9/1975 113
Letter to Milo Roten in Germany 114
Inadequate supply 19/9/1975 115
Visit to the Deputy Minister of Health 20/9/1975
Children's parties and currency reform 21/9/1975 116 - 117
Proposals for new projects 25/9/1975 118
Rumours and neuroses during the currency reform 25/9/1975 119
The feeling of having soiled oneself 1/10/1975 120 - 122
"Excuse me, this does not affect us" 6/10/1975 123
Farewell to Siriporn 8/10/75
Upholding the flag of the revolution 9/10/75 124 - 125
Vietnam is one 10/10/75 126
City walk 12/10/75 127
Difficult return to the countryside 13/10/1975 128
Liberation, but no revolution 14/10/1975
Local control of health care 15/10/75 129 - 130
132 - 133
136 - 137
Difficult return of a guerrilla fighter 16/10/75 140
"Answer at the weekend whether permission is possible or not". 20/10/75 141
A mixture of joy and plagued sense of responsibility 25/10/75 142 - 143
A semi-independent solution for Southern Vietnam? 27/10/75 144
"You've probably been here so long that you believe the stories". 29/10/75 145
Gunfire and rumours of battle 30/10/75 146
Clarification for terre des hommes 6/11/75 148
Negotiations for reunification 12/11/75 151
The task now is to build socialism 18/11/75 152
Inventory of the dwelling-house 24/11/75 153
Bitterness of the population 1/12/75 154 - 155
Situation in orphanages 2/12/75 156
Who has the power today? 3/12/1975 157
The economic situation is getting more unpleasant 6/12/75 158 – 160
Facts will count: the basis for further cooperation with terre des hommes 9/12/75
Collapse and new beginning 161 - 163
Comments on Walter Skrobanek's Vietnam Diary
By Rüdiger Siebert 164 - 166
Documentation 167 - 169
Excerpts from the terre des hommes information for donors in 1977
Vietnam - Our contribution to reconstruction and world peace
After the Liberation
So that you know that life goes on
Diary from Vietnam 1975
Since yesterday, Sunday, Saigon has been cut off from the outside world. In a quiet evening
hour – the American station is still playing popular schmaltzy music – I feel like sending you a few more
lines so that you know that life still goes on.
Today, Monday, brought us many new things. For example, the adventurous return of our staff
who brought milk and medicines to the refugees in Vung Tau. We thought they were already "on the
other side". Because on Saturday afternoon, the forces of the National Liberation Front (FNL) had cut
off the road between Saigon and Vung Tau. This was a few hours after a minibus from the Centre with
seven of our people had left for the refugee camps there. We only realised on Sunday that a return was
unlikely, when a second group of terre des hommes staff wanted to leave for Vung Tau. The minibus only
got as far as the turn-off of the Bien Hoa highway to Vung Tau. The military police only allowed them to
return to Saigon immediately. But they alm
ost didn't make it back to Saigon because FNL troops were already fighting at the Saigon Bridge.
Through gunfire, the terre des hommes Red Cross van found its way to the Centre. On Sunday evening,
the FNL radio station already reported the capture of the two towns of Long Thanh and Phuoc Le on the
road to Saigon.
So we were quite astonished when the group of seven that had already travelled to Vung Tau
on Saturday arrived back in the Centre today, without the car of course. They had left it in the courtyard
of the post office in Vung Tau and taken a huge detour by boat and taxi to Saigon. They spent the night
in the open. Fortunately, they had terre des hommes identity cards with them, otherwise they would not
have been let through as supposed refugees.
Today, an executive committee of the terre des hommes Social Medical Centre has also been
established, which will make all decisions of principle. This executive committee will meet weekly and
hopefully anticipate in its structure what has not yet been achieved politically in South Vietnam. It is
composed of all responsible project leaders and a staff representative. During the meeting, one of the
first monsoon thunderstorms of this year hit and rocket impacts could be heard among the roar of
thunder. However, we continued with the meeting. After it ended, the noise of the planes and the impact
of the bombs became unusually sharp. One could hardly tell what was thunder and what was
detonation. Only two hours before, we had decided to evacuate the babies and toddlers of the Dieu
Quang orphanage to our crèche. At that very moment, they arrived. We had made this decision at the
request of the orphanage management because the orphanage is located at the southern entrance to
Saigon and close to the South Vietnamese central radar station, which has already been shelled several
times. A few minutes later, more babies arrived at the Centre's central crèche. They were the children
of the "Poor Families Programme" from the house across the street, which was to be evacuated in case
of an alarm. A special crisis team at the Centre had drawn up these plans.
The transit youngsters, who were temporarily accommodated with us until their final
accommodation, plus the paraplegic children still in Saigon and some of the staff, stood in the meantime
on the ramparts of the bunker trench that we had dug the week before against rocket attacks. They
watched the rising fighter planes, the plumes of smoke over the Saigon airport that had just been
bombed, and tried to figure out what kind of war ordnance, bombs, rockets, flak or machine guns might
have fired that somehow resembled New Year's Eve fireworks. Other staff listened to the news on
several transistor devices. But it remained unclear on whose account the evening's fireworks were. The
radio was broadcasting the speeches of the outgoing President Huong and the new President Minh.
Later it became clear that it had not been a live broadcast. The president, the senate and the
parliament had already left the Independence Palace at that time. Otherwise, they would have been hit
by the bombs of the groups that opposed the appointment of the neutralist president.
At the Centre, many staff, friends and children poured in. The door was sealed. The panic
subsided when it became known that the FNL was not planning a missile attack on Saigon. It stands
three kilometres from Saigon, still waiting for a negotiator. Everyone hopes that General Minh can be
that partner. I went home, connected by telephone day and night to the Centre, where there is also a
round-the-clock telephone service.
Then the American radio station sounded: "Your attention, please. A 24-hour curfew has been
announced with immediate effect. All persons are requested to remain where they are." No one knows
yet whether the curfew will be lifted tomorrow morning. The next day will show how our work can
The last hours of the old regime
Today was an unusual and tragic holiday because the curfew continued beyond the announced 24 hours.
But since it was not very strictly observed, whoever wanted or needed to come to the Centre did.
During the night, no one got much sleep. Reconnaissance planes and helicopters were constantly circling
over the city. I sat down on the balcony in the dark and looked up at the slightly overcast sky, where a veiled moon
shone down on the scene of the city as if in worry. A later attempt to sleep was unsuccessful. At half past three,
heavy rocket impacts jolted us from sleep. The airport was on fire again. Everyone in our house moved to the
ground floor. The phone rang every 20 minutes. At four o'clock I was informed that the Crèche babies were
moving to the bunker trench. I heard later that they only stayed there for half an hour, because the detonations
had subsided and ants were badly affecting the staff and the children. They still had two hours to sleep.
You could watch the war fromthe roof. Fire over the airport. Reconnaissance planes making their rounds. In
the Centre, red crosses had been painted wherever possible. For during the night session in the bunker trench, a
reconnaissance helicopter had flown in close to check out the situation. The barbed wire entanglement over the
entrance door was also removed. Rumours circulated that the FNL was already in Phu Lam and in Gia Dinh. Some staff
in fact almost good humour after the night's efforts. Then, late in the morning, the incessant roar of the helicopters
began. We only heard later over the radio that the evacuation of the remaining Americans and Vietnamese political
and went home to catch up on sleep. In vain: no sooner had I fallen asleep than then I was woken up again by heavy
rocket fire, forcing me down to the ground floor. That same noon, we also lost our landlord. On hondas, he and his
whole family hurriedly left his adjoining house to hide in Cholon – perhaps with a "proletarian" relative.
My nervousness increased with the noise of the helicopters, the detonations and the uncertainty in the air. It
is difficult to estimate the distance of the impacts. One missile hit a house about a kilometre from the Centre. By chance,
a terre des hommes car just passed by and took the injured to hospital. No one could take care of the dead. No one knows
how many have died in the last 24 hours. A staff member at the Centre was going a bit crazy. All the soldiers had
disappeared from the streets. The FNL would soon move in and peace would be there. One told that the US embassy
was on fire. No one really knew if this was true. In any case, in the evening, the fighter planes of the South Vietnamese
government were still flying overhead and the rattle of machine guns could be heard in the streets.
We don't know any more than the BBC, "Voice of America" and "Voice of Vietnam" (Hanoi) stations broadcast
in English. The American station in Saigon seems to have stopped its music programme and short news bulletins at half
past ten last night. Probably the last man has now been taken away with the helicopters that continue to buzz around
If I had not intervened, we would have had an American helicopter visit even to the Centre. Michael Ardin, a
Swiss whowantedtoget his adoptedchildat thelast minute, was bynowreadyfor anythingout of fear: toinvitesome
children with heart disease, his adopted child and the paraplegics on a US helicopter if the possibility existed. I had to
stop the landing in a sharp tone, because I am concerned about more than a few children who would like to leave the
Whoever – especially at this moment – pacts with the United States can finally pack up in Vietnam. I thought
of the many babies in the Crèche, of all those who cannot go, of the staff, and also of our continuing work as a non-
had been evacuated with a social organisation shortly before. He was supposed to follow with the other children. But it
was too late. He is afraid. His voice sounds as if he has been drinking a lot. Rockets hit every 20 seconds.
The flag of the National Liberation Front over the government palace
Since yesterday, the flag of the National Liberation Front, a golden star on a red-blue
background, has been flying over the Independence Palace, which, for about two decades, had housed
the presidents of the old system that had come to an end.
As since the beginning of the offensive, no one had believed it would happen so quickly. But the
old system collapsed like a house of cards after the political leaders and their close associates left the
country. The last day, 30 April, was hard for all of Saigon. The scale of the fighting was contained, but
the tension of nerves was at its peak. With revolutionary troops at the gates of the city, the newly
appointed president did not even have time to appoint a cabinet and form a government. All he could
do was declare unconditional surrender. The news came over the radio around noon on 30 April. It was
not yet called "unconditional surrender", but "ceasefire". But it was clear that there was nothing to
When the news of the end of the war came over the radio, most people were in a state of great
joy. Nervousness disappeared and people hugged each other. In the Centre, too, all faces brightened.
Even those who had always shown fear of a communist regime had apparently come to terms with the
fact that they would also be able to live under this regime. I warned the people in the Centre: the struggle
is not over yet. Someone said that the greatest follies were the last deaths of a war. But there were
obviously still many. I had not forgotten Air Marshal Ky's air raid on the airport. In fact, the impacts of
rockets, artillery and machine guns could be heard continuously. The old system was in its last
convulsions, but it was not dead yet. From the doorway of the Centre, hordes of people could be seen
looting a neighbouring American nightclub, taking practically everything that was not nailed down –
even the battens of the roof structure. It occurred to me that the dispossessed were now taking back
what the exploiters had stolen from them. But surely the method was bourgeois. The strongest looters
were also the most successful. Both President Minh and the revolutionary government had strictly
forbidden looting. But neither of the two authorities had been able to establish themselves. On the
street, I saw people carrying hospital beds down Cach Mang Street. Later I learned that the Adventist
Hospital, once Saigon's American army hospital, had been hopelessly looted and destroyed in those few
hours. There was no authority left after the American doctors and administrators had been evacuated
by helicopter at the last minute. There was insufficient preparation for a handover into Vietnamese
The noise of the gunfire was now getting closer and closer. I had stayed at the Centre because
after the announcement of the ceasefire, a period of power vacuum had arisen in which returning home
would have been life-threatening. Soldiers of the old Thieu regime were standing in front of the always
locked door of the Centre and wanted to loot. We managed to convince them that people lived here and
that the house had not been abandoned. So they moved on.
Slowly, the front moved along Cach Mang Street towards the Centre. By now we knew to
distinguish the pointed rifle fire of the FNL from that of the regime that was coming to an end. Bullets
rained down on the roof of the Centre. We took cover in the rooms. When heavy gunfire also became
unbearably loud, orders were given to immediately evacuate all the children to the bunker trench.
There we had two unusual guests. One was the teacher who taught the transit boys the traditional
martial art of Vovinam and was a soldier in his normal profession. Already without weapons, he had
fled on the Honda to the safe Centre of terre des hommes to answer the call of the National Liberation
Front to give up fighting. He changed clothes at the Centre and went into hiding among the many
children, staff and their relatives. The second was Hue Nhat, who had arrived an hour earlier in a
minibus labelled "Chao Hoa Binh" (Welcome for Peace) and then went to visit more friends. He had
made his enthusiasm public too soon. Soldiers of the old regime, who were in retreat, had shot at the
van, grazing Hue Nhat's belly and hand. Also in the Centre itself, after the ceasefire was announced, we
had sent out two cars with nurses, social workers and medicines to pick up injured people in the streets
and take them to the hospitals. The first van had returned shortly afterwards. However, the second one
had not yet returned during fierce shooting in our area. I was very worried about the group.
They finally returned as people flooded back out of their homes and shelters into the main
streets. I had been cautious so far because I didn't want to take the risk of being mistaken for an
American GI. But now I was also stepping out of the Centre. It was clear: the Phu Nhuan district near the
airport had been conquered. The tanks and trucks of the National Liberation Front with the flags I had
seen so often in Europe as a symbol of the Third World struggle against neo-imperialism drove slowly
through the street. People waved and greeted the soldiers. A little later, on a street corner, about 200
metres from the Centre, stood two North Vietnamese soldiers in their typical unit uniforms and without
rank insignia. And everyone who saw them found them amiable, honest and somewhat naïve with their
interest in a city as big as Saigon, which they had never seen before.
The joy and relief we experienced in Phu Nhuan could not be shared by Dr Ariel, our French-
Indian doctor. He lives near the presidential palace and the private house of the outgoing President
Minh. After the capture of Phu Nhuan district, I was on the phone with him, he was only three kilometres
away, and heard heavy machine gun fire over his phone. Ariel had to hang up. His house was under fire
from government soldiers who were holed up in a high school opposite and had still not given up. When
the National Liberation Front forces had rooted out this pocket of resistance, Ariel was almost arrested
by the revolutionary troops as an enemy. Only with a lot of persuasion and help from neighbours could
a misunderstanding be avoided.
We returned home. The curfew was still in force, but only during the night from 6 pm to 6 am.
The government's order to hang flags on the houses as a sign of loyalty to the new government kept us
busy in the evening. A night of long sleep, with all gunfire silenced, brought us May 1, the first day under
the regime of the revolutionary government of South Vietnam.
Obviously the revolutionaries, many of them peasant sons, had not thought of the problem of
traffic regulation. Our intention to get to know more of the new government through a city tour brought
us into a huge traffic jam after five minutes. People on thousands of Hondas and cars were on the road,
either out of the same interest as we were, or to return to their homes with bag and baggage from safer
hiding places, or to report to their workplaces as the government had ordered. North Vietnamese
regular troops, who did not know Saigon, and local sympathetic youths, who did not know anything
about traffic control, tried to regulate the traffic. They waved their red-banded shotguns around and
fired in the air when they absolutely could not make themselves heard.
Despite the traffic chaos, where traffic signs no longer applied and the one-way streets of the
time were always driven in the opposite direction, we found all the people very polite and controlled,
as if the population had changed something about their character from one day to the next. We
managed to get as far as the Independence Palace, where a huge North Vietnamese army camp had
sprung up with tanks and cannons. We were somewhat unusual spectators, as the number of foreigners
in Saigon had now dwindled to a few thousand. No one said Nguoi My, which means North American,
any more; most believed we were French, now better regarded. Only once were we asked by a North
Vietnamese soldier. It was in front of the house of Ariel, whom we were supposed to pick up.
We had obviously been looking around too carefully. The bullet holes in his house and also a
dead body that was still lying on the side of the road from the day before and that no one had taken
away. It was a looter who had been shot on the spot by the revolutionary troops. When I announced my
German nationality, the soldier, who belonged to a – indeed – somewhat grim-looking group, was
We had little time to listen to the chants of the student demonstrators and could only wave to
the participants. We returned much too late, as I had scheduled a meeting with the Centre's leaders for
ten o'clock. The meeting showed how quickly even the more conservative members of the Centre had
adjusted to the new situation. We decided to continue all programmes in the same way for the time
being, but additionally to expand our medical service to alleviate the immediate need of the sick and
injured. At the same moment, the first Liberation Front car arrived at the Centre. It was a Red Cross van
from the Phu Nhuan revolutionary community committee, which asked us for bandages and medicines
– and of course received them.
Then, late in the afternoon, the Centre was occupied by regular North Vietnamese troops. First
a delegate from the political department came and inspected the Centre, later another troop came and
asked if some soldiers could be accommodated in the Centre. We accepted. And soon a lively
conversation developed with the staff and the children. All this had happened in my absence. When I
too greeted the group, I found a leader of the group who was both friendly and diplomatic,
complimenting us more than quizzing us. He explained to us that they now wanted to get to know the
area and identify opponents of the new system.
The latter startled us somewhat, as did the news that four of President Thieu's associates had
already been publicly executed in front of the palace that morning. I nevertheless asked all our staff to
give the revolutionary troops all the help they could at the Centre and not to express their secret fears
about all that might still lie ahead. Apparently this was soon no longer a problem. When I called the
Centre again in the evening, a good atmosphere had apparently already developed, nobody showed fear
any more, although most of the small streets around the Centre were occupied by regular and FNL
troops. In the evening it turned out why. The Milan Hotel and brothel opposite had been made the
regional military headquarters for our district. We hoped that with such close contact we would have
less to fear than if we had remained in anonymity.
After the first joy, fear of the future
The only news the BBC was able to report from Vietnam due to the general news blackout was
that life was returning to normal. In fact, more shops are open than yesterday, there is a lot of traffic in
the streets and for our Centre, work goes on more or less as usual.
But it is at least very obvious that the new regime is formed by the National Liberation Front.
Saigon is fully flagged. Flags with the golden star on a red and blue background are flying from all the
houses, just as the government had ordered. Who will rule the city and how this will be done is still
unclear. The Provisional Revolutionary Government does not seem to be in the city yet. A central
military command is not yet known. The new people are also hardly known in the local administration.
Only the streets are full of vehicles of the new regime. The uniformed men are obviously North
Vietnamese regular troops. The non-uniformed ones are South Vietnamese sympathisers of the FNL,
but one does not quite know how to classify them. To many, they don't look any different from the Nhan
Vien Tu Ve (the former civil self-defence), only unlike them, they now wear FNL insignia and a red ribbon
on their rifle.
Today we had two contacts with the National Liberation Front. I wanted to know what is being
done in medical terms by Phu Nhuan municipality, especially as we have already had two visits to the
Centre from a group asking for first aid materials. In the rotten building, where the somewhat
capricious girls of the local government once sat, we found a young man in military fatigues today, who
looked as if he had not sat at a writing desk for a long time. We later learnt that he was the president of
the local government. We offered our medical help and soon agreed that a paediatric dispensary could
be set up in the terre des hommes Social Medical Centre. In later conversation, it turned out to be a man
from the South who was well acquainted with terre des hommes. During the Tet Offensive, he had
worked in terre des hommes-Vietnam's refugee aid, but had then gone underground. The former student
from Saigon had completely shed the habitus of a city dweller. A man who was used to hardship, but
nevertheless had not lost a friendly cordiality.
Then we went to the Lam Ty Ni orphanage, which had become the headquarters of the district
(Quan) leaders. The people in charge here were even younger. All armed with shotguns, young men and
girls swung themselves onto the jeep and curved through the surrounding streets – with whatever
mission. A young man with the image of Ho Chi Minh on his chest, but with the attitude of a young
student bourgeois, posed – albeit hesitantly – as a doctor.
Meanwhile, the older children of the orphanage, all wearing FNL insignia, ran through the yard
with powdered milk and other foodstuffs as "FNL auxiliaries". A lot of spectacle, a lot of grim faces and
show, which the old – allegedly corrupt – orphanage administration was obviously reluctant to submit
to. But she had no choice, especially since the secretary of the orphanage, who had long been a cadre
of the FNL, had long seen through the corruption of the German-trained director.
So that day we got to know two sides of the local FNL authorities. They cannot be the final
administrators of the country. The chaos in Saigon is still indescribable: on the street, in the market,
etc. No one really knows where he stands and what future policy will be. The reactionaries can still
openly say what they think about all that is yet to come. And even the curfew has now been lifted.
After the initial joy over the regained peace, fear for the future is now mixed into the mood.
Rumours are circulating in the city. The executions that allegedly took place in front of the presidential
palace have not yet been confirmed. But there are already meetings of the small street communities
where political indoctrination is allegedly practised and where people are advised to get up at five in
the morning, do early morning sports and join community activities, such as organising rubbish
As a new measure that has a negative impact on the Centre, doctors now have to work the full
day at their jobs, shedding the sloppiness of the old system. As a result, we have lost Dr. Chinh, who was
in charge of the medical section of the "Programme for Poor Families" and was only working half days.
From tomorrow, students who are working with us and are only formally enrolled in the
university are required to report to their colleges for work distribution. As a result, the refugee
assistance programme, which had been organised mainly by three of these students, is in jeopardy.
Likewise, the programme for medical-social help for disabled children loses its head, namely Mr Tung,
who is also still studying.
In the new district administration of Phu Nhuan
In Vietnam it is beginning to become apparent that a new character is influencing life. This was
evident in the Phu Nhuan municipal government. In the past, I very rarely had anything to do with this
office, to have changes made to the family book, to certify signatures, etc. I was reluctant to step foot
over this threshold because the municipal administration had become the epitome of Vietnamese red
tape for me. A flood of people always crowded at the counters and allowed themselves to be sent around
by bored officers. Young typists in beautiful ao dai were bitchy and often harassed people who did not
know much about all the official decrees. Then the deputy chief of district had to give the signature. He
looked like he had already gotten quite wealthy from his job. And I still remember with a mixture of
anger and amusement that afterwards you had to go to a separate department, which still put the stamp
on the documents that were anyway already signed. As a foreigner, I calmly submitted to my fate, which
I myself had chosen, in contrast to the Vietnamese people.
So today I was again in the district administration because of the establishment of the
dispensary, which the Social Medical Centre had decided after the liberation of South Vietnam. But
there were no longer the thick-skinned civil servants to be seen, but young people armed with rifles,
and also a somewhat older-looking woman in a black jacket and trousers, her skin tanned by the sun,
her hair plaited in a short braid. This time there was even tea for us, probably somewhat unusual
visitors. We had to wait because the one we wanted to meet again wasn't there. But after a while we
were called into the main building. It gave the impression of a military warehouse: ammunition,
weapons and uniforms were stored in different corners. In another room, the Liberation fighters were
eating rice. We went into the room of the chief, whom I had met earlier. Next to the desk there was now
a large bed with a mosquito net because you had to be on duty day and night. The room reeked of stale
smoke, as if meetings had taken place half the night. They apologized for the lack of hospitality these
days, even so tea was served again.
Then entered two men who were introduced to us as high cadres of the revolution. For the first
time, they were older people. The speaker wore a green uniform, again without a badge of rank. His
strikingly cut, very gaunt face suggested that the goal of a strenuous struggle and life had been achieved
for him. Ariel translated from Vietnamese. The conversation began with the traditional ceremonial of
inquiring for my health and the well-being of my family. I replied that my family and all members of the
Centre were doing well, had survived all the battles of the last few days and were now happy that peace
Our conversation was largely an exchange of explanations. Whole lines of thought were put
forward, as is good Vietnamese way. Our interlocutor began to describe in long words the heroic
struggle for independence of the Vietnamese people. Now the goal is achieved. I replied that it had
always been my intention to avoid terre des hommes grafting its programmes on from outside, but that
my aim was always to develop the planning together with the Vietnamese collaborators in order to do
what would be most beneficial for the children in Vietnam. This answer, which tried to push aside the
sometimes neo-colonialist approach at terre des hommes, seemed to impress very much.
My interlocutor began to address me as 'Anh ban' (that means brother or friend). He did not
care too much about the detail of the dispensary. He confessed he was a military and could not tell us
too much about the details. Still, he tried to give us advice and promised to announce the opening of the
dispensary in Phu Nhuan. The other comrade from the National Liberation Front was silent until the
end. He had merely listened, observed and occasionally nodded his head in approval. Only at the end
did he say a short word. He congratulated me for staying here as a German, but expressed his regret
that the West German embassy had also been robbed during the pillage. A grenade was thrown into the
embassy and many people were killed. It was the first time I heard of this incident.
After the conversation it was clear to us that we could continue our previous work for a while,
but that there would soon be more control by the state. We should think about what is necessary for
the Vietnamese society. In case certain plans were in conflict with the revolutionary government, no
change would be forced, but our interlocutors would only try to talk about that. We were advised
against an immediate trip to the countryside by foreigners because the state communication system
had not yet been set up. It could happen that, for example, a pass issued in Saigon is suspected to be a
forgery in Dalat.
Vietnam also presented a new picture in other respects. The refined urban culture can no
longer be recognized on the Vietnamese radio. Instead, revolutionary reports and appeals as well as
Vietnamese march and revolution music are played at a loud volume. The music programmes used to
be full of sentimental chants. Now they are proud and simple songs of a peasant people who have
conquered the cities.
With the foreign journalists at the Continental
For the first time since the liberation, I was with Siriporn in the centre of Saigon today, also with
the practical intention of learning more from the foreign journalists, almost all of whom are at the
Continental Hotel. However, the information we received from them was meager. The more
conservative journalists were apparently resting and lazing around, the more progressive ones engaged
in somewhat embarrassing radicalism.
We visited Dietrich Mummenday, the Asia correspondent for the “Welt”, who had been in
Saigon for almost five weeks. He was sitting at the breakfast table at 10:30 a.m., in stark contrast to the
early wake-up recommendations that the revolutionary provisional government had issued to the
Vietnamese people. Since he seems to be the only journalist of a German daily newspaper in Saigon, he
worked like a horse in the last days before the liberation. The question that tormented him most was
whether his latest report on the liberation of the city – the one before the news blackout – could still be
wired through. Since the teleprinters died, he has become lazy. He thinks he needs resting. We talked
about things past, experiences, details of the last few days. Otherwise, Mummenday laughed at the
bustling activity of the younger journalists who go to Long Thanh to take pictures, for example. For
Mummenday this is all over.
A photographer from the "Spiegel" is sitting opposite. He complacently looks at contact sheets
of his pictures, which he proudly reports that he succeeded without a light-meter. He has a tape of the
interim speech from the Independence Palace on the Liberation Day. He feels like a revolutionary, but
obviously does not notice that there is more difference between his life and that of the revolutionaries
than between the class opponents in Vietnam. He is wearing a polo shirt with the maple leaf of the
Canadian national flag on which he has affixed the Ho Chi Minh badge. He treats the waiters like stupid
donkeys, a young German variant of colonialist manners with locals. Of course he is arrogant, because
he knows how world history is developing, and he feels that the "Spiegel" is on the better side than the
Later Tiziano Terzani also arrives, the Southeast Asia correspondent of the "Spiegel", who
received not only a halo because he was recently expelled from the country by the former Thieu
government for radical newspaper articles, but also because of his aging "Playboy beauty". I knew him
before, during a visit to the Centre, where I had a lot of respect for the way he asked. He was in the
process of organizing an international press club, which would then be accredited by the Revolutionary
It seems also to me that the new government will soon have to be established in order to present
a clear policy. The old system has already found its way around quite well: prostitutes, beggars, street
boys and thefts are increasing, especially in the vicinity of the Continental Hotel.
At least, the leadership of the "Military Management Committee" and its members have been
announced today, including the Minister for Economic Affairs of the Provisional Revolutionary
Government. Hopefully the socio-economic direction will soon become clearer.
Today we have put together everything that our employee Hieu can take with him for his return
to Da Nang tomorrow: medicines, milk and money, all in small quantities. But at least, the bus service
is working again. Twelve hours the trip to Da Nang, as before, the official price is still a bit high: 13.000
đồng, about 2,5$. But that's no wonder, given the rising gasoline prices. We hope for his answer soon.
The Vietnamese television continues to broadcast films about war and liberation with many
shootings and deaths, about the destructiveness of the Americans and Nixon cartoons, in which the
President's tears turn into B52 bombers. The militaristic impression is getting a little too much for me.
"Radio of Liberation" has also been broadcasting in English and French since this evening. Here the style
is different because South Vietnam presents itself to other countries. In addition to the news, there are
revolutionary songs and traditional folk music. It's a shame that the technicians at the Saigon radio
station are not yet able to operate the device.
Saigon with no government visible
In Bo Y te (Health Ministry) people are jobless. The functionaries must be punctually at their
office. But since there is still no minister and health policy guidelines are missing, they sit at their clean
desks or stand around in the aisles and chat. Our wish to find out more about the future of terre des
hommes remained unfulfilled. The Minister of Health will probably not be there for talks for a few
It is a bit disappointing that a revolution has been made but nothing concrete has happened yet.
Everything works as if there is no central authority. The old life somehow goes on under difficult
conditions. The black market in the small alley in front of our Centre is flourishing so strongly that it
was hardly possible for us to get through with the car this morning. Gasoline prices soar because there
is no replenishment; the same goes for bread and other foodstuffs. There is still plunder. If the members
of the Liberation Front happen to catch someone doing it, the martial law applies. Maria said that a 15-
year-old boy was shot on the spot in this way and then hung on a telegraph pole as a deterrent. When
his mother tried to detach and bury him, the revolutionary forces forbade it. The corpse must be hanged
for a few days.
I have doubts whether the Liberation Front is really supported by a considerable proportion of
the Saigon population. As far as I know, there was nobody in our Centre who had secretly already been
a member. Even for Tuong in Da Nang things were not going very well. He always dreamed that the
liberation would come soon, because almost all of his friends were with the FNL or in prisons of the
Thieu regime. The transition between the old and the new system seems to work the way it works only
because the Thieu government has spread such unbelievable horror stories about the Viet Cong that
the population will be prepared for the worst if orders are not carried out. But the FNL has so far held
back in every respect, apart from the shootings of fleeing looters. Thus, the stories that the ousted
regime's propaganda had previously circulated are constantly proven to be lies.
We welcomed the new system with high expectations and a lot of hope, even at the risk of a
possible bombing of Saigon. If these hopes and expectations are not fulfilled, it is like a stab in the heart
and an unfortunate confirmation of what the reactionaries have always said.
There are now rumours that we are no longer welcome here and should be closed. Allegedly a
military hospital has been set up in the SOS Children's Village in Dalat. The new North Vietnamese
director of Dalat Civil Hospital has apparently asked whether the building for the paraplegic children
could be used for general hospital purposes. The Buddhist nun, whom we know and appreciate well and
who had previously worked with Prof. Erich Wulff in Huế, now wants to return to an island for
meditation. She has serious doubts that her social worker training centre would still be accepted. She
was part of the Buddhist opposition to the Thieu government.
I finally want to know if everything is correct. As for the future of terre des hommes, I would like
to visit the Military Management Committee (MMC) and ask whether terre des hommes's presence is
welcome and desired. I hope so, though. Because terre des hommes had always tried in Vietnam to be
politically neutral and not to work too closely with the imperialist humanitarian organisations. Were all
of these risks worth it? I would abandon my tents in Vietnam as soon as possible if the organisation was
no more than tolerated in those days and weeks. I don't feel like living in a country where my presence
is seen as a thorn in the side.
The Military Management Committee introduces itself
Today the Military Management Committee (MMC) for Ho Chi Minh City presented itself to the
public. As before, a military administration instead of a civil government, of which no one knows where
it is at all.
All public associations, schools, universities and authorities were called upon to take part in the
rally at eight o'clock in the morning. There were tens of thousands who gathered in front of the
Independence Palace, where the military administration now resides. I saw the meeting on television
that evening: thousands of banners and pictures of the national hero Ho Chi Minh. The head of the MMC
gave a half-hour speech. It is Lieutenant General Tran Van Tra, the military chief of the Tet Offensive,
incidentally a South Vietnamese, also in the typical green uniform with the green pith helmet. It is
difficult to distinguish in the street whether a soldier belongs to the regular North Vietnamese troops or
to the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. On the television screen, where one must assume
censored images, the manifestation seemed a bit tired. General Tra is not a charismatic person. He read
off his speech. The population usually only applauds when the other militaries have started on the
balcony. It was also said that participation was more or less forced for some associations. I cannot
confirm this. In any case, our students did not take part, but worked in the Centre.
Day by day, the pessimism about the new regime is becoming more evident. There is also a lack
of understanding among the left-wing members of the Centre about the true news that a 12-year-old
boy was shot while fleeing for stealing 250 VNP, a few pfennigs.
A journalist at the Continental, Mr. Köster from Westdeutscher Rundfunk, had also seen a
similar execution. Two men had snatched the bag from a woman. Another FNL woman who had seen
this called out to them to stop. When the men ignored her words, she drew the pistol and shot them on
If socialism wants to promote humanism, which I sincerely believe, then such measures would
have to be dispensed with. This form of martial execution may be popular, but it is deeply medieval and
can only be seen as a new reflex of the brutalisation of Vietnamese society. And what is most
regrettable, it does not serve at all to build a more humane society.
Such stories feed doubts. The journalists do not yet have these doubts. They live in the city's
grand hotels and enjoy the freedom to go anywhere. They only receive their information from the MMC.
They do not see the small quarters where songs are practiced to strengthen the "revolutionary spirit",
they do not see the unwillingness of the students to clean the streets, they do not notice the burgeoning
secret fears of the Vietnamese.
The SOS Children's Village had already gotten the consent that the children would be allowed
to return to Dalat in military trucks. Margrit went to see Mr. Kutin because she had learned that the
Dalat Children's Village had already been converted into a military hospital. She met a very demoralised
Kutin, who on the same day had had very bad experiences in Saigon: Accompanied by a fighter from
the National Liberation Front, he had visited a military security office on Vo Tanh Street. Even the
accompanying revolutionary would have been barely allowed in, although he has been fighting for an
independent Vietnam for 30 years. The security guards were probably all North Vietnamese officers.
There was a heated argument between the two revolutionaries in front of Mr. Kutin. He was treated
badly. Among other things, he was told that he would have to report here between May 10th and 15th –
like all foreigners. There are rumours that all foreigners have to leave the country. The fact that the
embassies have to change their staff if they want to come back has already been announced on the
radio. After all, Kutin was let go without a word and without a goodbye.
There is increasing evidence that a serious conflict could arise between the military of the north
and the FNL of South Vietnam. That would also explain why not only is no clear government policy
promulgated, but the civilian government does not appear either. The ideas of both groups should be
There are some indications that the country should be reunified as soon as possible under the
regime of the purists from North Vietnam. The other alternative that the journalists speak of is a
neutral, non-aligned South Vietnam with socialists and nationalists at the political top.
At the moment it is difficult to assess whether the clashes between the camps could lead to
direct fighting. Mr. Kutin has already been told that he has to clear some houses in his Saigon Children's
Village because a defense line with bunkers etc. has to be built here. Because in his speech today General
Tra called on the population to be vigilant in order to prevent a military attack by the reactionaries. I
did not want to see such a civil war between two socialist groups in Vietnam.
Letter to the revolutionary authority
The new regime shows itself from two sides: In all offices there are military members who
belong to the MMC. They are very friendly and feel uncomfortable in the upholstered furniture of the
old administration. So far, their job has been war – in the mud and in the jungle. They still wear the
same uniform, rubber-tire sandals. Administration in offices is not their business. But you get a warm
welcome, even if their answers are not very informative. You don't seem to know exactly how to
proceed. For everything they first need a letter of the MMC.
We have now written such a letter in order to be able to continue the work of terre des hommes.
A revolutionary sits in front of the iron grating and advises the little people who come with their
problems and hope that they will be solved here. This is also where we drop off our letter. We don't
know when the answer will come. But we hope it is positive.
The new regime also makes many people fearful of the future. Margrit yesterday met the
former Secretary General of the Ministry of Health along with some revolutionaries. He did not dare to
identify himself as her friend in front of his companions. This could not have escaped the
revolutionaries either. Her former secretary apologized for this behavior. One must understand that
the previous friendship cannot be shown at the moment.
Another case: during a meeting of the terre des hommes’ “Programme for Poor Families”, I
suggested to social workers to take part in the political meetings of their ward and to speak out to
support a good development of the revolution. A social worker replied that in her ward people were
written down who only asked that the FNL cadre go a little closer to the microphone or stand in the
The same social worker who had organized a small kindergarten and medical dispensary was
told at the city district administration (Quan) to continue her work, but in Khom the pagoda boss, who
is said to have been a revolutionary for 13 years, has banned her to continue this work. If she wants to
continue, she must have a paper from the MMC. And she'll never get that. In the discussion, another
social worker advised that people should be reserved and cautious in such meetings. The series of
indications that a Stalinist system could begin can go on.
The conflict between North and South Vietnamese revolutionary politicians seems to be
emerging more clearly at the moment, which is perhaps the reason for all the indecisions and
contradictions. You never hear directly from the PRG, much less that they are appearing in Saigon.
Statements by the PRG – for example on the use of South Vietnamese airspace – are disseminated by
the Military Management Committee Saigon/GiaDinh. A few days ago, Foreign Minister Binh issued a
statement that reunification could not be achieved so quickly because of the cultural and economic
differences. Today, however, the Voice of Vietnam (Hanoi) reported that the flag of the FNL and North
Vietnam will flutter on all public buildings during the victory celebrations next week.
Radio Hanoi reports on Ho Chi Minh's legacy, which is supported by the Soviet Union: namely,
his desire for the immediate reunification of Vietnam. In contrast, China has issued a statement to the
United Nations that the PRG is the only legitimate representation of South Vietnam.
The revolutionaries and their sympathizers pretend that the conflict between the Soviet Union
and China does not exist. They explain the lack of a clear government policy positively: The people must
first organise themselves. The politicisation of the city quarters must be carried out by the cadres, who
in turn collect data for the political future of the people during their work and motivate the population
to cooperate. As we have been told, those who could implement the direction of revolutionary work
need not fear about continuing their work. For us that would mean in concrete terms: Finding out for
ourselves where the will and the needs of the people lie and aligning our work accordingly. Continuing
alienation, imperialism and deviation from government policy would automatically remove the ground
for continuing our work.
Is this consistent socialist policy, especially since all questions of the general political line must
first be worked out? This seems to me to be more of a reason given by sympathizers who cannot admit
that they themselves were disappointed by the immobility in which the revolution found itself after
liberation. There must already be plans in the heads of the politicized cadres of the National Liberation
Front that need to be communicated and put up for critical discussion.
Anyway, we have started to find out for ourselves where the interests of the people lie. During
the discussion of the orphanage programme it was decided today to actively participate in the
dissolution of the orphanages. A special working group has been set up for this purpose. Its task is to
find out the children who have been abandoned due to social causes, who still have parents and whose
families are ready to take them back home. If this is a financial problem, terre des hommes can help.
Since today, foreigners have been called upon to contact the Foreign Ministry within two
weeks. Most of the documents had been looted or lost there before the FNL could occupy the building.
Foreigners are also requested not to use radio stations or receivers. Does that mean one cannot listen
to the radio anymore? Travelling outside of Ho Chi Minh City is now only possible with permission from
the MMC. On Monday, we will clarify our personal affairs at the Foreign Ministry.
The information policy is very regrettable. The propaganda sheet Saigon Giai Phong cannot
satisfy the public's need for information. The radio also provides very limited information. As the Thieu
government had already ordered, it is now prohibited to listen to hostile radio stations. This includes
the BBC, which was accused by the Thieu administration of pro-communist unilateralism.
Decadence, lack of leadership and propaganda
Today I ventured my first walk through the main street of Saigon from the Continental Hotel to
the Saigon market, which the more daring journalists had already done. Everything was back as before.
The street stalls had spread even more because no more police bans were issued. Apart from the waste
production of American culture, which also incites the North Vietnamese soldiers to buy, the new
system has also led to the inclusion of FNL emblems and North Vietnamese flags.
The North Vietnamese flag has only been sold since yesterday, when it was announced in Saigon
that the liberation of the South will be celebrated for three days from next Thursday. The FNL and North
Vietnamese flags are mandatory, as is the image of Ho Chi Minh. The flag I bought was only down from
700 to 600 VNP. The six mangoes I bought for Mummenday cost 1000 VNP, almost double the price my
wife Siriporn had told me.
Mummenday accompanied us because, like most journalists, he became bored. With the
enthusiasts, hope on the new system is fading. They don't even know what comes from their stories in
the press centres of the capitalist world. So they enjoy themselves with girls or with good food, which
is still cheap for them because they exchange their money on the black market. In the meantime, their
radius of movement is restricted to the territory of Saigon/Gia Dinh, unless they manage to obtain a
special permit. This arrangement for all foreigners is posted at the Foreign Affairs Department, which
is now called the Foreign Affairs Section of the Military Administration Commission of Saigon/Gia Dinh.
The city is now becoming even more decadent with a freedom that appears to be caused by a
political vacuum or, in other words, a lack of leadership. It increasingly affects the FNL and North
Vietnamese soldiers as well. They buy with Ho Chi Minh-Piasters, which are not officially authorised in
South Vietnam. Nobody wants dollars anymore. Today we were asked whether we wanted to exchange
dollars for piasters. What's more, we were also offered Ho Chi Minh piasters. Exchange rate 1 to 1000 to
the Saigon Piaster.
The North Vietnamese soldiers seem overwhelmed by the supply of goods from the South,
including many things from looted houses. The absurdity of the current situation is only too clear here.
The looters are shot by the revolutionaries, but the looted goods are bought by the revolutionaries. The
revolutionaries have closed the nightclubs, but they themselves are in contact with prostitutes. Ho Chi
Minh would turn around in the grave if he knew that his own soldiers were consorting with the same
girls that were frequented by American military personnel a few weeks ago.
Today, Tung came to us, one of our best social workers, who comes from an upper-class family.
His father died in an assassination attempt, probably because he had represented South Vietnam at the
Indochina Conference in Geneva in 1954. No one knows which side killed him. Tung, modest as ever,
came by bicycle and reported half-amused about the seizure of his brother-in-law's pharmaceutical
company. He had never told us about his social background, so we first learned about this company.
Also no one from us knew that parts of his family had fled to America.
He had refused to take over the company, which was still working. A friend of his brother-in-
law acted as manager. Tung merely lived in the house. The reason for the takeover of the company by
the Revolution was as follows: Since the owners had left the country, the company would be under the
management of the MMC until their return. Later, the soldiers came a second time to make inventory.
It was only with much hassle that Tung, who came a little later, could secure his own belongings,
including a cassette recorder and a moped.
The service personnel were sent home – "freed" against their will. Tung fully agreed to it
nevertheless. He merely complained about the rude tone of some soldiers and their attempt to
intimidate him. The revolutionaries have gone through privations and risked their lives, while the
bourgeois class in Saigon has led a good life. Tung has found a friend to live with. He doesn't have very
much left, just some relatives, some personal things and his desire to retreat to a remote field to run a
subsistence economy. Depressive romance of a son of the bourgeoisie, who could just as well have had
an executive position in the economic planning council of the revolutionary government if he were not
also a modest idealist, whom the propaganda machine of political dishonesty oppresses, as an idealist
probably cheated by the revolution, which so far is not so socialist.
What Tung knows about socialism is probably more than the socialist revolutionaries know, at
least in theory. In the elite school "Marie Curie", which French colonialism had left in Saigon, he learned
socialist economy with a French teacher – a capital of knowledge he did not want to miss. But it is also
not the lived revolution of those who fought for independence in the jungle and have now taken over
the decadent and capitalist cities.
The revolutionaries' political propaganda machine works incessantly. I can't listen to it
anymore, the story of the forced exodus of the Vietnamese to the US, which was allegedly run by the
government of US President Ford. If there had been more opportunities to escape, many more people
would have left the country. Journalists have told me that two hours after the last US helicopter left
Saigon, the roof of the US embassy was black with people waiting for an evacuation opportunity.
Socialism does not need to put up such lies. The anti-communist propaganda of the Americans and the
Thieu government was reason enough for so many people, especially the better classes, to leave the
country. There is no doubt about it, fearing communist retaliation, of which nothing has been seen so
Rehearsals of the liberation ceremony – Rumours about the closure of the Centre
Yesterday an unknown man with a North Vietnamese accent entered the dispensary of terre des
hommes on the back of the actual Centre. He asked a cleaner about working conditions and about terre
des hommes. He also asked what she would do if she didn't get a salary at the end of the month: "Keep
working!" she said. Later, he also addressed similar questions to Ms. Anh, the director of the
"Programme for Poor Families". The answers were largely the same. Later in the morning someone
came to the Centre and pretended to be a member of the revolutionary district committee of Phu Nhuan.
He inquired about our dispensary and then disappeared again. Around eleven o'clock an unknown man
called the Centre and asked if terre des hommes had already been "taken over" by the revolution. We
readily indicated that this was not the case. He announced that he would come later to carry out the
takeover. But no one came yesterday, nor today.
Since then rumours have circulated about the closure of the Centre. One of our employees
claimed to have already seen the letter that the takeover of terre des hommes was approved by the MMC.
In the meantime, I have given up thinking about such non-binding information. But perhaps it would be
sociologically and historically not uninteresting to gather all the rumours and examine what has proved
to be true.
Meanwhile, the city was preparing for the liberation celebrations. The radio broadcast the
political slogans and taught the population selected revolutionary songs. Last night the military
practiced the parade. When we drove home about midnight a journalist we had with us for dinner, the
whole city centre was blocked. Tanks, armoured reconnaissance vehicles, cannons, guns and – you
might hardly believe it – 18 SAM rockets rolled down Cach Mang Street near the presidential palace.
There, the soldiers on the vehicles saluted in the empty night, as if the members of the government
team, which have not yet been seen in Saigon, were already sitting on the grandstands under
The whole spectacle at midnight left a martial but also revolutionary impression due to the
large FNL flags, which were placed on the jeeps running in between. Awakened by the rattle of the
tanks, startled neighbours looked at the scene with astonished faces. The safety precautions were very
low. We were even allowed to overtake the convoy of the SAM missiles with our car.
This morning we picked up our passports again at the Foreign Office. We left them there
yesterday, because we wanted to follow the call of the MMC, according to which all foreigners have to
register. Many students, who speak foreign languages, served the foreigners at the registration. They
are kind and ignorant. So since today, we have two large sheets of paper showing that we are allowed
to travel in the Saigon/Gia Dinh region for three months. Military facilities and forbidden districts are
excluded. In order to escape this limitation, I thought of making a special request, for example, to visit
Danang. The students on duty could only tell me that such applications cannot be made yet.
Our Vietnamese-speaking Indo-French doctor had even more difficulties. He was told that he
could not register here at all, but only with the police for foreigners. By chance he met two former class
friends from the French elite school Jean Jacques Rousseau in Saigon. They were now cadres of the
National Liberation Front. Quite quickly, it was now possible for him to register with the Foreign
Ministry – like for us.
Two American organizations have already been taken over, including the “Foster Parents
Plan”. The American director had already gone away two weeks ago, distributing two-month salaries
to the employees, but at the same time apparently advised the Vietnamese employees not to give up the
position. The authorization for funds and administration had since been transferred to the Vietnamese
employees. They were quite amazed when they wanted to come to work on Monday morning and the
door was locked. The FNL had confiscated the building and its contents.
Most of our employees are afraid that the same thing will happen to us. Almost no one thinks
they can get a salary by the end of this month. A delegation of the National Liberation Front is expected
to arrive in the Centre at any moment. According to my assessment, such a step would be short-sighted.
Moreover, neither the MMC nor the PRG has so far developed a policy for those for whom we have
committed in our social engagement. The orphanages are doing much worse than they were before
because state and humanitarian aids have been cut. The children with heart disease need regular
monitoring, but the services in the hospitals are still completely inadequate. In order to place a catheter
in the Cho Ray Hospital, the MMC must approve it. The vacuum in public services is enormous at the
moment and would be increased by a forced termination of our work.
Uncertainty and worry contribute to the fact that nobody feels much courage and enthusiasm
for the work anymore. The staff of the Centre no longer see any sense in their work and drag themselves
through the day. In my opinion, the reports by the FNL and the North Vietnamese broadcaster Voice of
Vietnam are in a remarkable contradiction to what I see. A report from the Voice of Vietnam radio station
at six in the morning about the joy of an old woman: In … Ban Co, the populated residential quarter for
working people in the Southern sector of Saigon. Stepping down from the rostrum, she wept away her tears
with a trembling hand and said: ‘Yesterday, I and some other women in the hamlet cooked rice for the
liberation army men. As I began to speak, I recognised them among the audience of the meeting and they
looked so kind, that I forgot everything, I would like to say’. After a pause she went on: ‘You don’t know
what life under the puppet regime was like. Nguyen Van Thieu’s men spied on you every moment. Even
people living in the same house don’t trust each other.’
Miss Han, a 3rd year student of the faculty of Science of Saigon University was standing just at Phan
Dinh Phung Primary School. She said: ‘Oh, how beautiful Hanoi is on television and how well our army
fought. The return of the revolution has completely changed the face of Saigon. Everywhere I see joy and
enthusiasm.’ She also told me, that her family has hoisted the flag of revolution in the top of a puppet
administrative office in the 3rd district. Many of her friends took also part in the homeguard, in the
distribution of leaflets and other work. And that many young men and women, and every one of them, each
in his and her way, expressed their joy as being assigned some new work in the new regime.
The president of the people’s revolutionary committee of Ban Co Quarter is Mrs. Tran Huu Han, a
teacher at Phan Dinh Phung Primary School, who is held in high esteem in the quarter for her staunch
struggle against the Thieu regime. On behalf of the revolutionary power, she declared abolition of the old
regime and the beginning of new Life in Ban Co. She said: ‘Thanks to the courageous struggle of the
liberation combatants and the uprising of the entire people, we have been liberated and Ho Chi Minh has
been liberated. Ban Co has now returned to all of us.’ And this for a Giai Phong Press Agency report entitled
Joy in the working people’s quarter of Saigon.
“Nothing is more valuable than independence and freedom”
For many people in Saigon today had begun in preparation meetings, buses and long queues.
Many had not slept at all during the night. Days earlier, activists had prepared the three-day
celebrations for the National Liberation Front's victory over American imperialism that began today.
Squads of painters had brushed new slogans on the house walls and designed banderoles. The army had
rehearsed the parades during the nights. Yesterday, the whole city centre around the Independence
Palace was closed off.
Television began broadcasting the parade already at seven in the morning. A little later, the
salute shots were heard. We wanted an authentic impression. By car we drove through the passable
streets, colorful of flags of North and South Vietnam, as close as possible to the Independence Palace
and then walked closer. Saigon has not seen so many people gathered for many years, perhaps for
decades. Light pressure from the revolutionaries, curiosity and a lot of enthusiasm were probably the
reasons why the place in front of the Independence Palace was crowded with people. With red banners,
slogans and flags, they greeted the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) and representatives
of the North Vietnamese government, which for the first time ever presented itself to the public in
Saigon. Many people had been waiting here since five o'clock in the morning. A heavy downpour had
soaked them and the lawn as well. Many of them were already tired and hungry.
But after the speeches in which President Nguyen Huu Tho summoned the practical
implementation of reunification, first came the march of the military, the workers and the students.
Compared to North Vietnamese parades, as you can now see on television, this was a rather liberal
festival. People left the tanks only a thin path to go in two rows. Market women sold ice cream and
drinks between the workers' moves. Flowers were thrown in front of the stands and on to the stands.
An old woman wearing the typical Vietnamese hat, who happened to push her way to the stands, hugged
Foreign Minister Binh. A female Indian journalist cheered with President Tho.
Around ten o’clock, when the guests of honor had withdrawn somewhat from the gallery
because of the now burning sun, the delegations had not yet finished their march. There came the
Buddhist monks and the youth, again and again with the flags of the FNL and North Vietnam. President
Nguyen Huu Tho repeatedly came to the gallery and congratulated Vietnam on its independence.
Independence is the motive that has united everyone in this now-ended struggle. It also stood on the
stand under the larger-than-life portrait of President Ho Chi Minh: Khong Co Gi Qui Hon Doc Lap Tu Do
(Nothing is more valuable than independence and freedom). Little is heard of socialism. The next few
days will show, as many hope, what course the new government, which has presented itself so
spectacularly today, is going to take.
The rest of today was also a feast for Saigon. In front of the Independence Palace, where many
food stalls and vendors had settled, huge crowds of people were seen until late evening. In the
afternoon, hunting flyers displayed the art of Vietnamese flyers above the sky of Saigon. In the evening
there was a huge fireworks display, which had been announced by individual fireworks since the
Saigon, 15 May 1975
Pictures of the official celebration of the Independence
All photos by Walter and Siriporn Skrobanek
Red flags decorating the streets; here at the Continental Hotel
The main post office
Honorary tribune at the place of Independence
Honorary tribune with the larger-than-life portrait of Ho-Chi-Minh and the statement “Nothing is more
valuable than Independence and Freedom”.
Parade with armoured reconnaissance vehicles before the tribune …
… Soil Air Missile (SAM) …
… Food vendor by a street stall …
Youth with flags of the FNL and North Vietnam …
… and children.
The western journalists, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly discouraged. Their first
enthusiasm for the revolution has vanished. Especially now that journalists could come from the
communist countries and in a few days would be fed a wealth of information. The western journalists
who had survived the hardships of the last days of the Thieu regime were also still waiting for a way to
get their news out of the country. It is said that they will be given exit visas tomorrow and there is a
rumour that planes would take them to Vientiane in the next few days. Mr. Gallasch from the "Spiegel",
still seen raising the fist of the workers' movement on a North Vietnamese tank on the day of liberation,
wishes the socialists to come as quickly as possible so that a good policy can finally be made. He is also
angry that he is not invited to the FNL reception this evening, but his colleague, the Italian Terzani, is.
His completely one-sided report was read out on Radio Hanoi before it was received by the editorial
board of the "Spiegel". Terzani is now the "black sheep" or rather the "red sheep" in the colony of
western journalists, because he has abandoned the journalistic principle of critical distance and has
thus also bought access to many high cadres.
Who rules the city to this day? The authority remains almost invisible. Traffic is meanwhile
regulated by pupils and students. There are no policemen. The regular military units do not intervene,
although they are seen everywhere in jeeps and trucks. Last Sunday, I saw an accident. There was no
police force to intervene for the injured child. The driver himself picked up the child from the road and
brought him to a nearby hospital.
Nobody cares much about one-way streets. The traffic signs of the old system are ineffective.
But because the gasoline is so expensive, there is less traffic. The black-clad cadres are less common,
but more so the green-clad regular soldiers, of whom people can never know if they are from the North
or from the South.
There are few political cadres in the offices. There are hardly any orders that need to be
executed. To implement these few, either the old cadres of the Thieu regime or the sympathizers of the
revolution are used. There are no systematic house searches, no closing of the black market, no
prohibition of prostitution, no closing time.
Is this the great freedom without great order? But it goes quite well. But perhaps most people
are worried silently that the great order will be proclaimed soon. And that is why the great freedom has
not yet become chaos.
“Reunited under the same roof”
Excerpt from Nguyen Huu Tho’s speech published in Voice of Vietnam today: Our people have
gone through the August Revolution, gone through many stages of struggle and won many victories. But
our victory today is the complete victory and our joy today is also complete, because the southern part of
our country has been completely liberated. From now on, our country is no longer partitioned. And the
North and the South are together under the same roof again. Right at this moment, Saigon/Gia Dinh, Hue,
Hanoi together with the rest of the country like a great heart have the same beat, the same irradiation and
enjoy the most glorious hours in our history. The great and wonderful epic of the Vietnamese Revolution is
resounding throughout our country. The great victory we have just won opened a new era in the history of
our Vietnam… For the first time in more than a century our country has got rid of foreign occupational
troops and has been swept clean of all aggressors. The independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity
of our country have been fully restored. Our people has become the real master of its country and its destiny.
From now on eternal peace will be established in our country. From now on our rich and beautiful country
from Lang Son to Cap Ca Mau will be a single stretch of land. There will be no more grief of separation, nor
sufferings caused by the US imperialists. From now on there will be no reactionary force, which can prevent
our people from living in peace, independence and freedom, from building a plentiful and happy life and
from reunifying our country.
South Vietnam may be proud of its name as the iron force of the homeland and Saigon/Gia Dinh is
proud with bearing the name of Ho Chi Minh. We are fully aware that the historical victory of epochal
significance of our people is a victory of our entire nation. It is a continuation and brilliant conclusion of
the extremely valiant struggle of our people, which began 30 years ago with the August Revolution.
Independence and freedom have triumphed with the invincible strength and the unshakable will for unity of
our entire nation (…) expressed in Ho Chi Minh’s thoughts: ‘Nothing is more precious than independence
and freedom’. Vietnam is one country. The Vietnamese are one Nation. Rivers may run right (…) but this
truth may never change. Independence and Freedom have been completely triumphant thanks to the
correct, creative, independent and sovereign leadership of the vanguard revolutionary party, which has
developed to the highest degree the composite strength of the Vietnamese Revolution. This displays a
strength and broad national unity, the moral and material strength of the people and the armed forces on
the one hand and the strength of our time and the strength of international solidarity on the others. The
victory of our people is also the victory of militant solidarity between Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The
victory of all forces of socialism, national independence of the whole progressive mankind struggling
against imperialism and supporting Vietnam. The victory of our people and armed forces has dealt a
crushing blow at the most powerful and the most ringleader of imperialism and greatly stimulating the
national liberation movements against imperialism throughout the world.
In this sacred moment, we are thinking with boundless love and profound gratitude of the great
president Ho Chi Minh. The picture of today’s celebrations prove that we have translated his last teachings
into reality. ‘No matter what difficulties and hardships lie ahead, our people are sure of total victory. The
US imperialists will certainly have to quit. Our fatherland will certainly be reunified. Our fellow countrymen
in the South and in the North will certainly be reunited under the same roof’…”
Most of the liberation front's sympathizers reject the theory that there are ideological and
conceptual differences between North and South Vietnamese politicians as a rumour spread by the US
However, a comparison of the speeches by Le Duan, Secretary General of the North Vietnamese
Workers' Party, and by Nguyen Huu Tho, President of the FNL, both delivered on the occasion of the
liberation of South Vietnam, reveals clear differences. In Nguyen Huu Tho's speech, there is never any
talk that socialism will be the guiding thread of future politics. Le Duan, on the other hand, repeatedly
mentions Marxism-Leninism. Nguyen Huu Tho talks about (South) Vietnam holding a peaceful and non-
aligned foreign policy. Le Duan speaks of friendship above all with the socialist countries. There is
agreement on both speeches about the great victory over American imperialism and the leading role of
President Ho Chi Minh. This unity is perhaps the only thing that determines the cohesion of the FNL, in
which, as we know, the nationalists and the various religious groups are also represented. Ho Chi Minh's
word "Nothing is more valuable than independence and freedom", which is now on many walls and on
many banners, symbolizes this political united front. North Vietnam is obviously aware that socialism
has not gained much ground in South Vietnam and that only the need for independence is the common
bracket. It therefore requires a longer period of political training for the cadres in South Vietnam until
a socialist policy can be openly written on the banner. A second reason for South Vietnam's reserve with
regard to socialism seems to be an attempt to continue verbally adhering to the Paris ceasefire
agreement of 1973.
The lack of clarity in the political line may also be the reason for the absence of a political
programme to this day. Apart from the intended nationalization of banks, transport and
communication systems, no clear declarations of intent have been made in domestic policy. All other
plans seem to be conjectures spread by not-so-important political cadres and spread as rumours in the
wildfire, because the public's need for information is not yet satisfied. These rumours say, for example,
that there will soon be people’s tribunals, that reactionaries will be identified by night house searches,
that aid from capitalist countries will be refused, that the officials of the old regime will not receive
salaries as punishment for three months. Those who follow the politics of the liberation front from
distance hope for a South Vietnamese solution. They forget "Uncle Ho’s" will: the reunification of
Vietnam, which is also the goal of the FNL.
Birthday celebration for Ho Chi Minh
The celebrations for the 85th birthday of Ho Chi Minh were somewhat disappointing, after the
rumours even beforehand said that the embalmed body of "Uncle Ho" would come to Saigon. Nobody really
knew what was going on. It wasn't even clear whether it was an official holiday or not, this Monday. It
seemed that the energy of the revolutionaries was somewhat exhausted with the victory celebrations of
last Thursday. There were always large crowds in front of the Independence Palace, there were also some
student moves, but nothing programmatic happened. Various people wanted to know that a programme
was imminent that was just being delayed. But nothing of the sort happened.
The cult of personality only flourished on the radio and in the newspaper. In each house you can
see now the picture of Ho Chi Minh. If you didn't have a picture yet, the birthday edition of the newspaper
"Saigon Liberated" had included one for free. At the post office there should be special stamps for the 85th
birthday of Ho Chi Minh. The coveted stamps were no longer available in the post office itself, allegedly sold
out. However, there were many stalls in front of the post office where the stamps were sold at a much higher
price. The new stamps clearly identify a state authority in South Vietnam: Cong Hoa Mien Nam Viet Nam
(Republic of South Vietnam). In the evening there was singing and dancing in some post halls for invited
guests in honor of Uncle Ho.
Radio Hanoi reported that a statuette of Ho Chi Minh wrapped in red cloth was found in the
interrogation office of the Thieu secret police in Hue. The interrogation documents revealed that this
statuette belonged to an old woman who had been arrested with her entire family and taken to Con Son on
the Prison Island. Radio Hanoi also reported that US soldiers and Vietnamese puppet soldiers had carried
out raids on the villages, based on images of Ho Chi Minh. An old man was arrested and asked to give the
picture. The man replied: "You will never find the image, because it is in all our hearts."
Indeed, Ho Chi Minh is truly the hero of the entire Vietnamese people, regardless of the political
hue. A national hero to whom showing respect is a conflict of conscience for almost no Vietnamese. That's
how I felt. If I had been forced to hang up the image of President Thieu, I might have left the country and
quit the service at terre des hommes. But the picture of Ho Chi Minh has been hanging unsolicited in our
house for many days.
Visit by the supervisory authorities
Today we had for the first time official visit from the medical social department of the MMC
Saigon/Gia Dinh. Four people came, but they gave a picture of the strange double hierarchy that now reigns
in the offices. The old officials who have expertise and experience but no power, and the new
revolutionaries who have power but do not know the details. For the study of the details, they are therefore
always dependent on the expertise of the officials of the former regime. The conversation was opened by
Chi (Sister) Mai, who was the real focus. Chi Mai is the representative of the revolution. Unpretentious,
without any knowledge of French, unboastful. The only sign of her belonging to the revolution is a green
cloth cap. Otherwise white blouse and black trousers. No badges and emblems. After inspecting our
facilities, she asked us to continue working and do better than before.
The country is still without central government authority. It is split into many MMCs that operate
relatively independently of each other. Chi Mai, for example, could not make statements for activities that
are outside Saigon/Gia Dinh. For us, the problem remains to visit orphanages located outside Saigon and
bring help. Tan, for example, got his ID card taken in Long Binh yesterday because he allegedly did not have
a travel permit. However, he was told by the local authorities in Saigon that revolutionary authorities in
Long Binh did not have the right to take his ID card. Our nurse, Lee, who is supposed to go to Tuy Hoa, had
a similar experience. No one was really in charge of confirming that he was allowed to go to Tuy Hoa.
Neither the Phu Nhuan district administration, nor the Ministry of Social Affairs or the Ministry of Health.
Finally, it was said, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, I had had enough of it and suggested that
people simply try to go to Tuy Hoa to get a paper from the authorities there.
The notion of "liberation" is fully justified
There are still a lot of people mocking the notion of "liberation" of South Vietnam. But the term is
fully justified. It is clear in the use of language that this is a liberation from foreign aggression. Vietnam has
managed to eliminate the American military presence in South Vietnam. Up to the last moment this
presence existed, albeit in a very refined way. Of course it is not true that it has been a fight against
American soldiers all the time. American soldiers' wear and tear had become extravagant and politically
too costly. Since the Paris Armistice Agreement of 1973, the American presence has been limited to a rather
invisible role, but one that was not insignificant: Imports of war materiel, training of soldiers and officers,
repair of war materiel, localization of enemy positions, anti-communist development aid, financial
dependence on the US development agency US-AID and finally pro-American propaganda work.
Apparently, no more than about 5,000 Americans were needed for this, so not much more than there were
already French people here.
The opportune hour had struck for Vietnam when public opinion in the US split. On the one hand,
the anti-communist, militaristic position of the US forces in Vietnam and their representatives in the
Pentagon, on the other hand the united front of the left-liberal and the (reactionary) isolationist America.
In Vietnam, for example, until the last hour, an American image has continued that no longer existed in the
USA in this one-sided form. And in the end that one-sided American image was really nothing more than a
paper tiger. The militarists had their hands tied and lacked the technical power to maintain their position
in Vietnam. The people of Vietnam were tired of all this war: Give up, flee or shoot to death because you
have no choice but to die. Many people committed suicide before they knew if the liberators from the jungle
had really planned their end.
Until the last minute, the Saigon Post published sayings in every issue that the Saigon army lacked
not bravery and combat readiness, but only material help. But that was obviously not true. There was a lack
of both morality and weapons. The lack of morality was the responsibility of the leadership itself. The Thieu
regime was corrupt. And after the resignation of the president, all, including the generals and majors, took
flight with the money gained from corruption. The tickets to the USA were already booked when the same
people were still spreading slogans of persistence. As strong as Air Marshal Ky had promoted a fight to the
death, so fast was he out of the country. The old regime was over. Had it not been so, the FNL would not
have won the victory so quickly and without great sacrifices.
When the last American helicopter took off from the city of Saigon, the bell of freedom from foreign
occupation of Vietnam began to strike. The last battles before the capture of the city were bloody, but still
marginal compared to the full extent of the war, which brought peace and independence. Independence
was not so clear in the first few minutes for those who did not sympathize with the front. But the faces of
the green soldiers from the north, their mild yet unbelievably disciplined traits quickly brought to mind
that Vietnam is a country. Ho Chi Minh was called to witness this very soon.
Critics speak of a North Vietnamese "conquest" of South Vietnam. But to this day, no one knows
how much of the North Vietnamese share of this offensive was. Moreover, the moral claim of the North to
unite Vietnam together with parts of the South seems to me to be regarded as definitely higher than the
moral claim of anti-communist forces that the USA itself had formed in the first place and created without
a basis among the people, which sneers at the ideals of the so-called Free World. The Liberation Front in
the south, on the other hand, may be only an avant-garde minority, but it is a people's army. It could never
have survived if it had not had the support of the people. A people's army that wanted to realize the will of
a unified socialist Vietnam according to the words of President Ho Chi Minh. With determination and
discipline, and with the help of arms from the brothers from the north, this was possible.
Independence is achieved. It is important to preserve it now, because even socialist countries are
not free from the temptations of power politics. The new social order also has to be fought for first. Only
then will Vietnam be completely liberated.
Many children from orphanages return to their families
For days now, I have noticed that the young people in revolutionary clothing and posture have
more and more disappeared from the street picture. You see a lot more regular military than in the
early days. Apparently the revolutionary enthusiasm and superficial radicalism of young people who
had just worked as civil defense under the Thieu regime had become too much for the MMC. In the
orphanage Lam Ty Ni, which we had described on one of the first days, the calm has also returned.
Apart from a few young people who obviously no longer have a clearly describable task, the orphanage
is left to itself. Little of the great promises of medical care and material gifts to the orphanage has come
true. There is now only a dispensary of the FNL in the vicinity, in which medicines from North Vietnam
The orphanages, however, seem to be adjusting to the new policy that can only be guessed.
Perhaps motivated by our relevant initiatives, an incredible number of poor orphans are now able to
return to their families. Sometimes we just have to cover the costs of the journey to the home town. In
Lam Ty Ni, a group of 28 children is waiting for our support. They were children, mainly from Quang
Tri, who had been gathered by an opportunist Buddhist social worker during the spring offensive in
Danang and then taken to Saigon. The same social worker now feels part of the National Liberation
Front. I only hope that the revolutionaries have eyes to see who is really fighting for the goals of
independence and socialism or who just wants to cook his own soup. In any case, we wondered why the
28 children were so desperate to go home right now. The answer was not very clear. Supposedly
because the parents lived in FNL areas or were deported by North Vietnamese. The orphanage director,
who previously belonged to the pro-government wing of the Buddhist Order, denied that they might
have been sent to orphanages because their parents worked with the “Vietcong”. I had heard about this
many times before, although not in relation to the orphanage Lam Ty Ni. We should talk to the 28 kids
themselves before they go back.
Today we received the reply from the MMC that the presence of the organization terre des
hommes is considered useful in the construction of the country. This has calmed us down a bit after all
the wild rumours of the last few days. So the great carnage is still not happening. However, the so-called
civil liberties remain restricted. There is a Saigon newspaper, Saigon Giai Phong, the organ of the
Central Committee of the National Liberation Front, as well as two papers from North Vietnam. Today
it was also announced that all political parties from the period of the old system have been dissolved
and that weapons stored by them must be handed over. The one-party system is obviously developing.
It is not yet clear whether it will be the Workers' Party of North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front
of South Vietnam.
Signs of opposition to liberation
The socialist construction of the country is still pending. So far, much more seems like a secret
society wants to develop a democratic policy, which is absurd after all. The western journalists who
were supposed to leave the country today have been badly attacked again. We had called the
Continental at noon to see if Mummenday was still there. "He has already left the country," we were
told. When Siriporn came back from the city and reported that she saw a taxi bus coming back to the
hotel with all the journalists ready to travel, we tried to inquire again about the wellbeing of
Mummendays. "He went out," we were told this time. When we asked more specifically, it said: "Yes,
he has returned from the airport, but is not in his room at the moment." I do not want to know in what
mood the journalists are in view of such disorganization. Several days ago, the departure was
"imminent", one could only "not yet indicate the time".
This morning it was no longer possible for foreigners to get into the city centre. Pale faces trying
to do so on foot or by car were sent back without explanation. In the afternoon, Siriporn was in town
and asked for Agfa films. The business owner, an anti-communist refugee from North Vietnam,
responded bitterly that it no longer made sense to have these films in stock. After the liberation, nobody
had the freedom to send the films abroad for development. Siriporn also asked about the reason for the
closure of the city centre, especially the Tu Do Street (Liberty Street) for foreigners. Shrug. In the
evening, two versions of why the blockade took place were circulating in the Centre: Burns of
reactionary books or a tense meeting between representatives of two Catholic factions.
Three days earlier, the first self-immolation had taken place in the city centre as a protest
against the liberation and had apparently been much observed and photographed by foreign
journalists. The incident happened just before a soldier statue in front of the parliament. The
monument, symbol of the anti-communist struggle of Thieu’s dictatorship, had been destroyed by the
Liberation Front. According to journalists’ statements, the self-destruction of a person was such a
sacred act that no one dissuaded the young man. Not even the soldiers who were also present. Later,
only the films were taken out of the cameras of the journalists. As I heard, not all. There are still
undestroyed films of the incident in the hands of journalists. The resistance to liberation seems to be
intensifying. There are increasing rumours of attacks, murders and assassination attempts against
soldiers of the liberation movement. Margrit reported from the SOS Children's Village that liberation
soldiers refused to transfer a comrade who had stepped on a mine to a former US hospital. He was
treated at an FNL field hospital at the airport. And it was only due to the fact that no other driver was
there, that Mr. Kutin, head of the Children's Village, made himself available as a driver.
The visit of four men in the Centre, one with a rifle, was also somewhat mysterious this
afternoon. The leader pretended to belong to the district administration (Quan) and asked again about
our new dispensary. This was now the third representative of the local administration to show
ignorance. He claimed that he had just gone for a walk and had no ordre de mission. He just wanted to
give us the advice to get permission for the dispensary. I found this particularly funny because we had
set up the dispensary on the proposal of the local administration. When I pointed this out, he asked if I
had a paper for it. People are still asking for papers. The overbearing thing of all this is that there are
always some bigwigs who claim to be the state authority but don't have the slightest idea of what to do.
But this will probably soon stop when the state authority has formed better. When we asked for his
name, he said that one of us had already written down his name in Quan, the former Xa. Not the trace
of it. After some kind words and courtesy clichés, the group with the gun left.
Tonight, I went around the corner for a moment to buy cigarettes. I found a still open store and
asked for my brand, Bastos with filters. The price 550 VNP – almost three times as much as before the
liberation. It is said that the factory, a French colonial company, has stopped production. The last
cigarettes on the market are sold for a while for horrendous prices. I switched to a new brand: There
are 13 cigarettes in a plastic bag labeled Nam-Ky. On the cigarette paper is the word Baykham. Maybe
they're hand-made, at least this new brand looks like it. At first, this shop thought I was an American. I
explained that there are no more Americans in Vietnam. Then it was assumed that I was French. When
I recognized myself as a German, one immediately asked: East German? I said yes for fun. However, it
did not seem to surprise people to see the foreigners from the other half of the world in their streets
after the liberation. Indeed, there are already East German journalists in Saigon.
Television brings a lot of new stuff, especially about the history of the war of independence, about the
fight of the Viet Minh, about the battle of Dien Bien Phu, documentaries about the US bombing of North
Vietnam and the quality of the defense. The cartoons are never pure entertainment, but are always also
politically instructive. They use traditional cultural patterns. On 21st May, Siriporn saw a ballet
performance that combined traditional expression and modern forms of expression and called in a very
special way to remain faithful to his own group (nation?, class?).
Warlords in the province
Today, two of our employees reported on their two-day trip to orphanages in the Mekong Delta
up to Mo Cay, which ended last night. In large parts of the route, the area was not controlled by regular
troops, but by maquisards (underground fighters). Both of our employees felt that their safety was thus
threatened. During controls on the bus, it was almost always these two young men who repeatedly
attracted the attention of the maquisards, obviously because of their foreign appearance. When they
arrived in Truc Giang, they loaded milk and medicine onto a small vehicle and drove to the orphanage
there. As soon as they arrived there was already a group of maquisards with their rifles. They observed
the activities of our employees without words and inspected the orphanage. Only later did they ask who
they were. In the Bach Van Buddhist orphanage nearby, they immediately spread out that the Catholics
in Truc Giang had again received a gift, so one should go there to have a share. The Maquisards'
suspicion was unjustified. We also planned to visit the orphanage Bach Van. After the orphanage Truc
Giang offered the terre des hommes guests a room, it was inspected twice by the maquisards. Even at 11
o'clock at night, they knocked on the door of the orphanage again to check. The director dared not open
because she feared for the safety of the terre des hommes helpers.
Our staff had the impression that the maquisards in the Truc Giang area were particularly
fanatical. Apparently, official letters are insignificant to them. There is almost no authority that they
recognize. They are probably also subordinate to a regional MMC, but if they don't like a stranger's
nose, then they can cause quite a bit of trouble. "What are you working here? Social? Then why don't
you cut your hair?" The maquisards, who know little more than their shotgun and their former life as
peasant sons, show that they now have power in their hands. It seems that they themselves are not very
disciplined. How else would it be possible that our group was checked twice by different groups only
100 meters apart. The maquisards don't ask for ID cards very long. They simply want to know from
strangers what these have to do in their area.
If the reporting of our two employees is correct, then one must assume that a national-state
identification in South Vietnam did not occur through the FNL, but that the principle of the warlords in
the creation of MMCs presents itself again. This has always been present and is now continuing in battles
between the Hoa Hao sect and the FNL in the Mekong, which have been reported again. The Hoa Hao
sect had only previously fought with the troops of President Thieu.
I don't think Western journalists know about all these things. This leads to garbled accounts.
Today, a group of 80 Western journalists have actually been flown from Saigon to Vientiane, and a
Reuters correspondent has reported – according to the BBC – that one can move freely. He has probably
omitted the fact that this is only allowed for foreigners in the Saigon area and, according to the reports
of our employees, is probably not possible in the Mekong Delta for security reasons. Perhaps the word
of the high-ranking official in the Xa is now easier to understand, according to which foreigners should
not yet travel to Dalat for security reasons. It wasn't just an excuse. A central state authority capable of
disciplining the regional groups and warlords apparently does not yet exist.
We have now considered contacting all MMCs where we are to be active and obtaining their
consent. The scope of terre des hommes goes far beyond the scope of a single MMC. Positive statements
by the local authorities at least reduce the risk to our employees, though by no means eliminate it.
Radio Hanoi does not seem to take the truth very seriously in the political reporting in the
English service. Citing Czech journalists, it was said that prices on the Saigon market have fallen to a
quarter of the price under the puppet regime. That is not the case. Prices for almost all food products
have risen compared to before. But it may be that the Czech journalist did not even see the truth.
Siriporn has already noticed that regular FNL soldiers were leaving the market with huge quantities of
potatoes, while it was too expensive for us to buy a single kilo. It is possible that market women sell the
goods to FNL members at a cheaper price, although the reasons for this are not entirely clear to me.
Cigarettes and beer are no longer produced by machines, so prices are soaring. Butter will no longer
exist in the future because it has been imported. I also have doubts about bread production, because
wheat flour is largely imported. Gasoline prices are still around 1000 VNP compared to 240 under the
Thieu regime. The gasoline is no longer even pure gasoline, but mixed with petroleum and is sold on the
gray market. Officially there are supposedly coupons to buy gasoline at favorable conditions, but we
have not yet had that privilege, but we are trying to get it with the comrades of the MMC in the Ministry
of Finance. In view of the general price increase, it is not entirely clear why the salaries of officials
should be reduced in whole or in part, at least for a few months. We are waiting to see if this is really
the case, if we maintain the rumours and what the information from other provinces says.
Cultural revolution with very conceited men and accordions
Yesterday and today we realized why foreigners were denied access to the city centre three
days ago. The new system began to channel and restrict the mental consumption of the population.
Yesterday, the newspaper Saigon Giai Phong reported that a one kilometer long student procession has
asked people to hand over all reactionary books and magazines as well as obscene publications to the
revolutionary authorities. The aim is to eradicate counter-revolutionary ideas and initiate a new
cultural revolution to replace the decadent culture of the American imperialism. Today there were also
posters in our little alley with the following wording: "Take books and magazines with sexual,
reactionary and destructive content and bring them to the revolutionary authorities. You are therefore
acting realistically to build a foundation for a new culture."
There is no doubt that South Vietnamese culture needs to change if it is to promote progressive
social thinking. Unfortunately, the method used by authoritarian emperors 2000 years ago, as well as
Hitler, seems to me to be completely unsuitable for achieving this goal. Progress has never been
achieved by reducing information, only by broadening it. The attraction, which has apparently so far
come from reactionary writings, can only be reduced by their losing significance in the lives of people,
but not by being eliminated by the revolutionary authorities.
I have been wondering why the white foreigners were prevented from observing this event. It
may be that the action was not an action of the MMC, but really an action of the students, although
accepted by the government. However, the government at least wanted to avoid foreigners seeing that.
Regular soldiers, in any case, were designated to keep bleach faces away.
Now that the Western journalists have taken the liberty to report something new about
Vietnam, as they have been able to leave the country, they too confirm that life has not yet returned to
normal, that the banks are still closed, that there is no postal service outside Vietnam and that they
have not been able to speak to senior government representatives. But the news threatens to get wrong
again. The BBC spoke of an overwhelming North Vietnamese presence. That may be true for the
soldiers, but not for the bureaucracy. As far as I myself have met FNL cadres in the ministries, they were
all South Vietnamese. I also dare to doubt whether the BBC correspondent can distinguish who is South
Vietnamese and who is North Vietnamese.
Today, the television has brought a contribution to the cultural revolution, which the students
have already hinted at. It was the broadcast of the performance of a North Vietnamese variety group,
which is currently guest in Saigon in a cinema. Obviously, the North Vietnamese artists wanted to make
an effort to offer something appropriate for the sophisticated taste of Saigon. I just didn't know why
there was applause at all. The Vietnamese culture seems to have perished even more in North Vietnam
than in South Vietnam. Probably because the traditional culture had been regarded as out of date and
oriented itself towards other artistic products of socialist countries, as it seemed to me especially Russia
and East Germany. This is how you saw a very conceited guy singing to the accordion, of course in dark
suit and tie. Or a revolutionary in his shirt sleeves, whose smile no one took seriously. However, a
female singer in ao dai reminded people with her solo rather of an Italian opera star, what was passed
off as dances of ethnic minorities from Vietnam, more of performances in a nightclub. I have to say that
the few performances that were broadcast on television must have probably been selected badly,
because other musical products from North Vietnam, which can now also be heard here, are artistically
quite well developed.
How will it go on?
With the uncertainty about the future, the indecision about the line of South Vietnam and the
continuation of the catastrophic economic situation, the political tension in the country is also growing.
The joy of a recovered peace and independence is over. How will it go on?
Meanwhile, news is growing about opposition to – yes, I don't really know what – North
Vietnamese influence or communism? Ariel reported today that three regular soldiers of the FNL, while
they were shopping in the Saigon market, were struck down by an unknown man in the street with a
submachine gun. Our two employees, who are involved in the material aid for orphanages, do not dare
to go to Ca Mau in the south for the time being because allegedly the fighting between the FNL and Hoa
Hao has come close to the road leading to the south. Ariel told about a dinner invitation, which was also
attended by a FNL fighter who was very well trained and had also spent ten years in the Soviet Union.
"We in the south are not like the people in Hanoi. The FNL people are much more liberal. They won't tell
the population what shirt to wear. We are having a lot of trouble with people from the North right now."
He did not want to elaborate on this.
In the Centre, people were discussing today about an incident, which proves the negative
aspect of the "Cultural Revolution". It occurred near the centre in a lending library where radical
students wanted to get rid of trashy literature and American decadence. The owner did not agree. He
invoked his cousin, who was a regular soldier from North Vietnam and who was in his house just at that
time. When the students didn't give in, he set off a hand grenade. It is alleged that several people died
in the explosion, which was interpreted as suicide in political protest. Including soldiers of the FNL and
students who sympathized with the Liberation Front.
Today we also received new messages from Dalat from the German director of the SOS
Children's Village, who had gone there to prepare the return of his children to Dalat. Since he did not
have a travel permit, he was arrested as soon as he entered Dalat. He was lucky not to be kept in
custody. Specifically, he could not do anything at all, it just means: wait. However, the organization of
the new society in Dalat is already quite advanced. The cadres also said almost disparagingly that Saigon
was not yet organized. They were very well informed about the regulations in Saigon. The SOS chief
had the impression that the political power of the North Vietnamese in Dalat was undisputed, even if
this did not please the political cadres of the South Vietnamese FNL. In Dalat there is an extremely
unfriendly wind blowing against foreigners, so that the impression arose that no foreigner would have
to work in the SOS Children's Village in the future.