David Binder dies

The veteran New York Times correspondent, author and former ICWA fellow David Binder—who covered Soviet Bloc countries during the Cold War, as well as the collapse of communism and ensuing Balkans wars—died at age 88 at his home in Evanston, Illinois on Sunday.

His wife, Helga, told the Times the cause was end-stage kidney disease.

David’s ICWA fellowship took place between 1957 and 1960 in Cold War Germany, where he studied the effects of a nation torn between Western Europe and the Soviet Union.

In one of his newsletters, he explored the impact of an influx of refugees from behind the Iron Curtain. Some came legally, but many more through a dangerous crossing of the heavily militarized border between East and West Germany.

“Just to pop up the quiz program fad at home,” he wrote, “here is a ten billion dollar question:  What nation has done the most for refugees during the past 12 months, or for that matter, the past 10 years?  Could it be America, founded by refugees; consecrated again and again through the centuries as a refuge for the freedom-seeking; our McCarran-latticed gates still open a crack to let in quotas of displaced persons, Hungarian revolutionaries, and others? How about Israel, with its 900,000 homeless Arabs? No, the UN has done most of the work there. Canada? Australia? Pakistan? The answer must be the Federal Republic of Germany.”

“Some authorities believe it was once the intention of the Soviets to flood the western zones with refugees and thus create a mass of unemployed malcontents ripe for communism,” he added. “If so, the policy has floundered because in addition to forming a cheap labor supply for West Germany, the continuing exodus of refugees has drained East Germany of an irreplaceable work force.”

David met Helga Wagner, who was studying medicine in East Germany, during his fellowship, ICWA trustee Mary Rusinow said. Her husband, the scholar Denny Rusinow, was also an institute fellow (Austria and Adriatic Europe, 1958-1963) at the time.

“[Then-ICWA Executive Director] Walter Rogers sent Denny to visit David on his way to Vienna, and thus began a long friendship,” Mary said. “Denny’s connection with the head of a TB Sanatorium in West Berlin was instrumental in extracting Helga from the East, and after her recovery, David took her for a very wet honeymoon in Ireland, bringing her back to Oxford in time for a meeting with Walter Rogers and other fellows. What an introduction!”

After his ICWA fellowship, David went on to become a leading Times correspondent, reporting about life in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and other communist Central European countries—including as Berlin correspondent.

Later, as a diplomatic correspondent based in Washington, he continued covering Cold War issues and returned to Central Europe to report on the communist collapse and wars in former Yugoslavia. “After decades of isolation behind a Stalinist wall of rigid Marxism, Albania finally admits a tiny handful of Western journalists,” former institute Executive Director Peter Martin later wrote. “The first Tirana byline on a front-page lead story in The New York Times is that of David Binder, an ICWA fellow who spent years gaining an understanding of Eastern Europe in the 1950s.”

David’s many books include The Other German: Willy Brandt’s Life and Times (1976).

He was born in London in 1931 to American parents. He graduated from Harvard College in 1953, was a Fulbright scholar in Germany at Cologne University, and worked for The Louisville Times in Kentucky, The London Daily Mail and The Minneapolis Tribune before joining the Times.

There will be a gathering to celebrate his life in Washington, DC in late September or early October, former trustee Kitty Hempstone reports. Details to be announced.

Read David’s obituary in the Times here.

Read his ICWA newsletters here.

Image Credit: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/01/business/media/david-binder-dead.html