Moments In History: August 13th, 1961

berlin wall

 

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

 August 13th, 1961

Construction of the Berlin Wall

In the early morning hours of August 13th, 1961, East and West Berliners were awoken to the sounds of shovels digging into the streets, as well as the unwrapping of barbed wire strands and the pouring of concrete. All along the demarcation line running through the middle of Berlin, work was being undertaken in an attempt to permanently seal off the communist east from the capitalistic west.

Eastern Germany had been experiencing a “Brain Drain” since the 50’s. This was due to the flight of disillusioned young and intelligent East Germans who were emigrating to the West in hopes of political asylum, better jobs, and freedom from the communist regime.  The communist government, fearing a total collapse of their economic output, finally received the go-ahead from their Soviet counterparts. Construction began at once around the demarcation line, a fortified area running through the middle of Berlin, in order to stop the flow of people trying to escape from the communist regime.

The Eastern German government dubbed the project the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart, whereas the West Germans referred to it as The Wall of Shame.  The Berlin Wall would come to represent the starkest difference between a free and open society vs. a society bent not on keeping others out but keeping its own people locked in. The Berlin Wall would remain a barrier that hundreds of thousands of people would attempt to cross, with only a few thousand being successful enough to make it to the other side and as many as two hundred deaths in the process. It would remain until November 9th, 1989, when after twenty-eight years of separation between East and West Berlin, the Wall’s gates were flung opened. Many people became so emboldened by this that they finally began to mount the wall, and a short time later the crowds began to tear it down.

The Berlin Wall’s destruction was in part to the Soviet Union quickly losing control over the countries of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Hungary, who each began the deconstruction of their separating border fences. Today marks the 58th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s construction, and later this year will mark the 30th anniversary of its fall.

If you found this post interesting and would like to learn more on this topic, the Union University Library offers numerous books and films related to this subject: