post-war. Since the winding down of the war, many Germans fled west-ward from areas that were occupied by the Soviets. The number of refugees that left the GDR grew throughout the 1950’s. Half of these refugees were young people and over 60 per cent were a part of the working class. In response, the GDR enforced the border between the West and the East with guards and a barbed-wire fence. Opposition by the East Germans was met with bloody suppression. In August 1961, 47,433 people wanted to seek refuge in West Berlin from East Berlin looking for better job opportunities and economic freedom. Then on August 13th of that year, GDR State Council chairman Walter Ulbricht began the construction of a wall between West and East Berlin. The GDR called their project the “Antifascist Defence Rampart.” This was two months after he had said at an international conference “Nobody has the intention to build a wall!” (Gehler, 2011)
Many didn’t realize how permeant the new arrangement was as the wall was being built that early August morning. During the first week thousands of Easterners applied for passes to cross but were rejected. The GDR was criticized for worsening the division of Germany but they had achieved their goal of ending the steady flight of refugees from their country. The Berlin wall separated friends and families overnight, and many Easterners who worked in the West lost their jobs. Easterners were also aggrieved to be cut off from the popular social and shopping destinations of the West. The wall was continuously strengthened, beginning with barbed wire leading to concrete walls. The Soviets then moved in armored guards to protect the wall from escapees at all costs. Successful escapes were most common in the first few months of the walls life so the wall was re-enforced with minefields, observation towers, guard dogs, machine guns, and additional patrols. The wall was “nearly impregnable” but that didn’t prevent thousands from attempting to flee the West. An estimated 200 people died at the wall, this includes those caught up in cross-fire, accidental deaths, unidentified bodies found in the river, and suicides by border patrol. The tensions at the wall between the US and USSR peaked in October of 1961 at Checkpoint Charlie when East German officials began to deny US diplomats unrestricted access to East Berlin. This sparked a 16 hour standoff between US and Soviet tanks and armed troops.
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- Spring '12
- Cold War, Eastern Bloc