Germany has marked the coup-like overnight building of the Berlin Wall, aimed at preventing further defections to the West by those living in the shadow of East German Communism.
Fifty years ago the German “Democratic” Republic (GDR) or East Germany built a wall around what had been the Soviet Sector of occupied Berlin to prevent the continued brain drain of its citizens to West Berlin, made up of the British, American and French Zones of Occupation.
The Berlin Wall soon became a symbol of the Cold War and Communist oppression, a wall separating neighbour from neighbour, father from son, children from parents, the Telegraph reported. Some were killed as they tried to go around the wall.
Radio Free Europe reports Berlin’s Mayor, Klaus Wowereit, says the wall must not be forgotten:
"It is our shared responsibility to keep the memory alive and pass it on to coming generations as a reminder to stand up for freedom and democracy, to ensure that such injustice may never take place again."
German president Christian Wulff and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who herself grew up in the GDR, were also present. Commemorations began Friday night at a chapel on the notorious former “death strip”; with a 17-hour-long reading about the lives of those killed seeking to cross the Wall.
At least 136 people are recorded as having been murdered on the landmines, barbed wire and machine-gun-infested wall.
The Wikipedia says that some 3, 5 million East Germans left the country, mostly through checkpoints in Berlin, before the building of the wall. The phenomenon, came to be known as people “voting with their feet”. At least 5,000 people did get across the daunting barrier. The East German guards were given the following orders:
"Do not hesitate to use your firearm, not even when the border is breached in the company of women and children, which is a tactic the traitors have often used."
On 12 June, 1987, US President Ronald Reagan called on his Soviet counterpart, President Mikhail Gorbachev, to "tear down this wall."
Ronald Reagan calls for the pulling down of the Berlin Wall.
The Berlin Wall was eventually breached when, under pressure of thousand of its citizens leaving through Czechoslovakia and Hungary, East Germany allowed its citizens to cross the wall on November 9, 1989. Within a year, the Communist regimes of Eastern and Central Europe had been overthrown and multi-party elections had been held.
On a personal note, as one who came from Hungary, one of the “Captive Nations”, I could hardly believe what was happening. When I heard the Austro-Hungarian border had been opened, a border I had crossed fully aware of the machine guns at my back and the landmines next to my car, it seemed like a cheap trick. Later, I thought of it as a miracle.
But it was a tarnished miracle. Despite some 20 years of democracy, I have some regrets. No Communists were ever tried in a Nuremberg Trial or its equivalent. Nor have the ex-Communist nations been able to face their past as South Africa did, in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Instead, those who, informed on, tortured or murdered their fellows live on in comfort and in many cases have been able to prevent publication of what happened.
However, because of German re-unification, some East Germans were found guilty of crimes. The New York Times reported one former border guard received an 18-month suspended sentence for killing a refugee and wounding his fiancé 30 years earlier. Some former East German leaders also received minor sentences.