- Uprising of 1953 in East Germany
The Uprising of 1953 in East Germany took place in June 1953. A strike by
Berlinconstruction workers on June 16turned into a widespread uprising against the socialist German Democratic Republicgovernment the next day. The uprising in Berlin was violently suppressed by tanks of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany(ГСВГ, Группа советских войск в Германии) and the " Volkspolizei". In spite of the intervention of Soviet troops, the wave of strikes and protests was not easily brought under control. Even after june 17, there were demonstrations in more than 500 towns and villages.
Background of the events
In July 1952 the second party conference (less important than party congress) of the
Socialist Unity Party of Germany(SED) took place in East Berlin. By Walter Ulbricht's catchwords, there was the "systematic implementation of Socialism" („planmäßiger Aufbau des Sozialismus“) taking place; it was decided that the process of Sovietizationshould be intensified and the importance of the state expanded.
This meant for example the division of the five "Länder" into 14 regions ("Bezirke") plus East Berlin, most importantly, an assault on remaining middle strata of the
GDR: peasants and small business/handicraft firm owners, who were to give up their independence by raised charges.
This decision was made on the background of the catastrophic economic situation in the country. In the course of the
militarisationpushed by Soviet authorities, direct and indirect military expenditures rose and already made up around 11% of the national budget in 1952. Together with reparation payments, this totaled over 20% of the budget. The economic policies of the SED favoured development of heavy industryat the expense of food and consumer goods industries, all of which resulted in a severe crisis in supplying the public with goods. Electricitywas turned off at the onset of darkness every evening (during peak period).
The dramatic increase of emigration (
Republikflucht, brain drain) in the first half-year of 1953, already high since the establishment of the GDR, constituted a serious economic and social problem. Another factor that contributed to an already complicated political situation was the high number of political prisoners in the GDR. Repressions against the illegal organisation "Young Congregation" ("Junge Gemeinde"), wrongly perceived as the central youth organisation of the evangelical church, played a role here. Numerous trainee pastors were imprisoned (Johannes Hamel, Fritz Hoffmann). Ecclesiastic recreation centres were closed and taken over by the FDJ(e.g. Schloss Mansfeld, Huberhaus Wernigerode). High school students who belonged to church were often expelled by the school authorities, sometimes even shortly before school graduation.
Within this complicated background, the decision to raise the work norms (in short the principle 'more work for the same salary') was perceived as a provocation, which would conceivably lead to deterioration of the living standard. The Central Committee decided to address the economic difficulties with a package of changes, which included higher taxes and higher prices, and — most significantly — an increase of the work norms by 10% [Wasserstein, "Barbarism & Civilization" page 494.] . These changes were to come into force by June 30, 1953: Ulbricht's 60th birthday. Issued as a suggestion, it became in effect a direction that was introduced in all the state-owned enterprises (so-called "volkseigene Betriebe") and if the new quotas were not met then workers would have to face a reduction of salaries. The decision was taken on May 13-14, 1953, and the Council of Ministers approved it on May 28.
At the beginning of June, the Soviet government was alarmed at reports of unrest, and Ulbricht was summoned to Moscow.
Georgy Malenkovwarned him that if policy direction was not corrected immediately, there would be a catastrophe. [Otto Grotewohl's notes on meetings between the leaders 2 – 4 June, 1953; see Ostermann, "Uprising" pages 137 – 138]
June 16, between 60 and 80 East Berlinconstruction workers went on strike after their superiors announced a pay cut if they didn't meet their work quota. Their numbers quickly swelled and a general strike and protests were called for the next day. The West Berlin-based Radio in the American Sectorreported about the Berlin events and thus probably helped to incite the uprising in other parts of East Germany.
By dawn on
June 17, 400,000 protesters had gathered in East Berlin, with more arriving throughout the morning. Many protests were held throughout East Germanywith at least some work stoppages and protests in virtually all industrial centers and large cities in the country.
The original demands of the protesters, such as the reinstatement of the previous lower work quotas, turned into political demands. SED functionaries took to the streets and began arguing with small groups of protesters. Eventually, the workers demanded the resignation of the East German government. The government decided to use force to stop the uprising and turned to the Soviet Union for military support. In total, around 16 Soviet divisions with 20,000 soldiers as well as 8,000 "Kasernierte Volkspolizei" members were committed.
In Berlin, major clashes occurred along
Unter den Linden(between Brandenburger Torand Marx-Engels-Platz), where Soviet troops and Volkspolizei opened fire [ [http://www.17juni53.de/chronik/530617/53-06-17_pdvp-stab.pdf 17juni53.de: Lagebericht NR. 168 des Operativstabes PDVP (in German)] , entries 14.32 and 14.42] , and around Potsdamer Platz, where several people were killed by the Volkspolizei [victims include Horst Bernhagen, Edgar Krawetzke, Gerhard Schulze, Oskar Pohl, Gerhard Santura: [http://www.17juni53.de/tote/index.html 17juni53.de: Tote des 17. Juni 1953 (in German)] ] . It is still unclear how many people died during the uprising, and by the death sentences which followed. The number of known victims is 55 [ [http://www.17juni53.de/tote/recherche.html 17juni53.de: Tote des 17. Juni 1953 (in German)] ] . Other estimates put the number of victims at at least 125 [ [http://www.17juni1953.com/aufstand.html 17juni53."com": Der Volksaufstand (in German)] ] . Earlier West German estimates of the number of people killed were considerably higher: According to the West German Ministry for Inter-German affairs in 1966, 383 people were killed in the uprising, including 116 "functionaries of the SED regime", 106 people were executed under martial law or later condemned to death, 1,838 injured, and 5,100 arrested, 1,200 of these later being sentenced to a total of 6,000 years in penal camps. It was also alleged that 17 or 18 Soviet soldiers were executed for refusing to shoot demonstrating workers [ [http://www.17juni53.de/tote/recherche.html 17juni53.de: Die Opfer des Aufstandes (in German, click on the link)] ] , but these reports remain unconfirmed by post-1990 research [ [http://www.17juni53.de/tote/magdeburg.html 17juni53.de: Vermeintliche und ungeklärte Todesfälle: Bezirk Magdeburg (in German)] ] .
In memory of the 1953 East German rebellion,
West Germanyestablished 17 Juneas a national holiday, called "Day of German Unity". Upon German reunificationin October 1990, it was moved to 3 October, the date of formal reunification. The extension of the boulevard" Unter den Linden" to the west of the Brandenburg Gate, called "Charlottenburger Chaussee", was renamed Straße des 17. Juni(English: "17th June Street") following the 1953 rebellion.
The event is perhaps best remembered in the following poem by
:After the uprising of the 17th June:The Secretary of the Writers Union:Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee:Stating that the people:Had forfeited the confidence of the government:And could win it back only:By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier:In that case for the government:To dissolve the people:And elect another?
Other prominent GDR authors who dealt with the uprising include
Stefan Heym("Fünf Tage im Juni" / "Five Days in June", Munich 1974) and Heiner Müller("Wolokolamsker Chaussee III: Das Duell" / "Volokolamsk Highway III: The Duel", 1985/86). The uprising is also mentioned, albeit subtly, in the 1984 song "Summer in Berlin" by German synthpopband Alphaville.
Monday demonstrations in GDR
* [http://www.ib.hu-berlin.de/~pbruhn/juni1953.htm Bibliographical Database of the International Literature on the Uprising of June 17th 1953 in the GDR]
* Ulrich Mählert. Der 17. Juni 1953, ein Aufstand für Einheit, Recht und Freiheit. Berlin: J.H.W.Dietz, 2003.
* [http://libcom.org/history/1953-the-east-german-uprising 1953: The East German uprising] on libcom.org
* Alexandra Richie. "Faust's Metropolis: a History of Berlin". New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1998.
* Ann Tusa. "The Last Division: a History of Berlin, 1945-1989". Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1997.
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2997736.stm BBC:] Berliner recalls East German uprising (by Ray Furlong)
* [http://www.ib.hu-berlin.de/~pbruhn/juniaugb.htm Der 16. Juni 1953 bleibt mir unvergesslich] Eyewitness report by Peter Bruhn (in German)
* Hope M. Harrison. "Driving the Soviets up the Wall: Soviet-East German Relations, 1953-1961."
*Christian F Ostermann. "Uprising in East Germany, 1953: The Cold War, the German Question, and the First Major Upheaval..." Central European University Press: 2003.
* [http://www.volksaufstand-1953.de/english/english.htm June 17th 1953: Personal memories of the strike leader and political prisoner Karl-Heinz Pahling]
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