Sunday, November 8, 2009

Walls (Part 2)

On this twentieth anniversary of the opening of East Germany's borders to the West, it seems appropriate to continue this series in discussion about the Berlin Wall...

After World War II, Germany was divided into zones, each of which were controlled by one of four war “winners” – The United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The goal of the first three was to return Germany to economic and government independence. But it was immediately clear that the Soviet Union had no intent to honor this part of the agreement, as they began to make plans and take action as if to make Germany their own. Within a few years, the US, Britain and France combined their three zones into one and funneled funds toward German reconstruction. The Soviets did not participate.

Curiously, the city of Berlin itself lay deep within the Soviet zone. As part of the original agreement, the city itself was divided into four occupation zones – one for each of the aforementioned nations. It is important to understand that Berlin became divided into two cultures and two governments – with all of this taking place within the Soviet occupation zone. As the city of Berlin evolved into East and West, it should be noted that West Berlin was an island of democracy, surrounded entirely by a Communist-controlled nation.

In 1948, over a reconstruction disagreement, East Germany blockaded the import of food and supplies to West Berlin. Because West Berlin was geographically surrounded by East Germany, an airlift of goods was put into place by various western nations (including the United States).

A great experiment was now put in place – one which could not have been designed or implemented more thoroughly in a laboratory environment. East Berlin operated under a restrictive Communist regime (and struggled), while West Germany implemented a western capitalist-style economy (which thrived and grew). It is no surprise that people in East Germany found themselves wanting to emigrate to the more prosperous West Germany.

Until 1952, people were allowed to pass freely between East and West Germany. As the two political experiments began to grow apart from each other, the Soviets began to restrict movement across the border. Stalin directed that the border between the two be closed, and barbed wire was erected between the two nations. The borders between East and West Berlin remained open up to this point, though. People wishing to immigrate (illegally) from East to West simply went to East Berlin, rode the subway or walked into West Berlin, and then took a flight out of Berlin to the western half of Germany. Thus, they escaped through the “island” of democracy which was surrounded on all sides by Communism.

By 1956, the Soviet leaders back in Moscow had seen enough. The Soviet East German ambassador Mikhail Pervuhkin said, "the presence in Berlin of an open and essentially uncontrolled border between the socialist and capitalist worlds unwittingly prompts the population to make a comparison between both parts of the city, which unfortunately, does not always turn out in favor of the Democratic [East] Berlin." Additionally, Germany began to see a “siphoning off” of their most educated and talented workforce, with millions of engineers, doctors, teachers and lawyers leaving for the West.

On August 1, 1961, Nikita Khrushchev, Premier of the Soviet Union, suggested the placement of a wall between East and West Berlin. On August 13, at midnight, streets began to be torn up along the dividing line, barbed wire was set in place, and soldiers were placed with orders to shoot any defectors. Shortly thereafter, construction of the Berlin Wall began. The U.S. administration of John F. Kennedy put up a weak protest and eventually informed the Soviets that the States considered the Wall “a fact of international life” and did not challenge it (even though many families had been split up, with little recourse, by the sudden border placement). Curiously, the border was only closed in one direction. Anyone wishing to travel from West to East was allowed to pass.

…(to be continued)…

1 comment:

Joshua said...

To be continued??? But the next part is so awesome!