by Ted Kelly, UCSB, March 1999
Walls have traditionally served two purposes in society, either to prevent undesirable elements such as potential intruders from accessing a designated safe area, or to prevent what is interpreted as a potentially harmful or unacceptable component from joining the greater whole, as exemplified by the United States penal system, and perhaps more poignantly, by Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Walls therefore constitute a dual representation, either as a tangible manifestation of the innate psychological need of all living beings for physical security, or as an ignominious display of the failure of diplomacy, of effective communication between individuals. The Berlin Wall, though advertised by its creators as serving a defensive purpose--to protect the Eastern Bloc from western "aggression"--and thus as a representation of the former function of a wall, was, from its inception on 13 August, 1961, to its eventual demise during the German reunification process of 1989, actually a convoluted representation of the latter function of a wall. The Wall confined the population of the GDR, who posed a threat not to the outside world but to East Germany, inside East German borders, and thus served only to violate human rights. In offering limited resistance to controversial Soviet and East German demands and resolutions for the future of post war Germany during 1961, President Kennedy and the Western Allied occupational forces granted Nikita Khrushchev and Walter Ulbricht free reign to construct the Berlin Wall. Moreover, the Western Allies effectively deserted West Berlin citizens whom they had vowed to protect, and officially condoned the status quo of a Berlin which would be divided for more than a quarter of a century.
In the span of 16 years, from the conclusion of World War II to 1961, a total of four million refugees fled the German Democratic Republic for the West. With such a large migration taking place over a relatively short period of time it is important to understand exactly why so many individuals sought to escape the DDR. According to John Keller, many GDR citizens decamped because they either feared for their lives or despised the brutal repression which they experienced under the despotic rule of Walter Ulbricht. Keller states that during Ulbricht's incumbency, 16 million citizens of East Germany were denied the rights, integral to any democratic republic such as West Germany, of free elections and free speech; openly voicing dissent against DDR policies was, according to Keller, a sure way to find one's self in an East German work camp or penitentiary. What's more, there was no escape for the citizens of the German Democratic Republic from the vigilant oculus of the state. By 1957, following Ulbricht's appointment of Erich Mielke to the position East German Minister of State Security, there existed thirteen thousand secret police, as well as one hundred and fifty thousand private citizens on the East German government payroll with seemingly ubiquitous ears and eyes. In effect, "there was...not a citizen in the DDR who could claim not to be under the surveillance of at least one [informant]". For others, political pressure was only a secondary reason for wanting to leave the Soviet Zone. In mid-March, 1961, a group of East German refugees explained that inter-country travel restrictions recently implemented by the DDR had only partially inspired them to make a break for the west, while the lack of thorough and unbiased educational opportunities for their children had clinched it; education in East Germany, explained the refugees, was limited in scope to communist rhetoric and propaganda. Government collectivization of farm land similarly contributed to the frustrations of DDR citizens. In the Spring of 1960, the state seized all privately owned farms and converted them into agricultural production cooperatives, on which one time owners were forced to work as wage laborers. By 1960, the percentage of individually owned, arable land in East Germany had dropped from 94 percent in 1950, to a mere 8 percent, evoking strong, often tragic responses from the victims. In one case, the loss of his property had driven one farmer to suicide. Obviously, there were good reasons for East Germans to leave for the west.
Long standing tensions between the superpowers over the German question can be traced back to World War II, and the Western Allies' decision to delay the establishment of a second European front. General Eisenhower's motives for tarrying an invasion of Western Europe were well founded, as logistics provided a major hurdle for decisive Allied military action. Nazi Germany's General Rommel, in anticipation of an Allied amphibious assault, had masterminded an elaborate Western European coastal defense system known as the "Atlantic Wall", which, although somewhat outdated in its effectiveness against the military tactics of the day, had necessitated vast numbers of Allied troops and highly specialized training programs to overcome. As Allied soldiers trained in Britain, Soviet regiments faced technologically superior Nazi forces in Eastern Europe, and thus paid a severe and lopsided price for Eisenhower's procrastination; while the United States, England and France lost a combined total of 790,000 troops during World War II, the Soviet Union had suffered 7.5 million non-civilian casualties, and over 7.5 million civilian casualties. Consequently, Stalin, as Khrushchev, was hesitant to consider the Western Allies, whom he saw as having contributed little to victory in Central Europe, as equals in discussions over post war policy in Germany.
At the Vienna Conference of June 3rd and 4th, 1961, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev presented his requests for the future of East Germany and West Berlin to President Kennedy. Khrushchev demanded a meeting between the four occupying powers convene in order to sign a peace treaty with East and West Germany which would defuse tensions between these two countries, and between the superpowers. Khrushchev claimed that the Western Allies, contrary to post war agreements between the four occupying powers to demilitarize Germany, had allowed West Germany to rearm to an extent that was "clearly in excess of defense needs", and thus presented a threat to the Eastern Bloc. The Soviet premier explained that a treaty would insure permanent bilateral demilitarization in East and West Germany, in order that "German soil [would] never again give birth to forces that could plunge the world into a new and even more devastating war". Khrushchev also requested that West Berlin become a "free city". According to the "free city" mandate, Western Allied occupation rights in West Berlin would cease, as the original intent of cooperative occupation of the western zone had, according to Khrushchev, "lost all connection with the purposes for which it was established"; the Soviet premier asserted that the Western Allies had long been utilizing West Berlin as a base for hostile activities directed towards the Eastern Bloc. The "free city" statute would also end unhindered access to West Berlin for the Allies who would now be forced to seek the permission of the East German government to cross its sovereign borders; any attempt by the Western Powers to violate the sovereign territory of the DDR after West Berlin's conversion, Khrushchev warned, would be viewed "as an act of aggression". The Western Allies were given a six month moratorium, after which, if they had failed to conclude the requested treaty, the Soviet Union would sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany. All details aside, Khrushchev informed Kennedy that an Allied presence in the Western Zone would no longer be tolerated by Eastern Bloc countries.
Newly elected President Kennedy, eager to prove himself both to US citizens and Khrushchev as a strong, steadfast leader who would stand firm for Allied interests in Berlin, solidly disagreed to the conditions presented by the Soviet premier. Kennedy's bullheadedness spurred on angry threats from Khrushchev who exclaimed that the United States was "crazy" if it wanted to chance a war with the Soviet Union over West Berlin. Consequently, in the days immediately following the Vienna Conference, the prospect of nuclear war worried Kennedy; in conversations with his closest advisors, the President admitted that it would be a grave moral lapse to risk the lives of millions of Americans simply to preserve Allied access rights in West Berlin. Yet he faced a dilemma. In taking a softer stance with Khrushchev, Kennedy stood to lose vital Allied bargaining power in that Khrushchev most likely would perceive the United States as backing down under the weight of Soviet threats. Thus, it was decided that American prestige would not succumb to body counts; Kennedy put the lives of millions of people on the line--in what he perceived as a one in five chance for nuclear war--to preserve occupation rights in West Berlin. The fait of humankind hung in the balance as the superpowers stood nose to nose waiting for the other to flinch.
Although Kennedy feared presenting an ineffectual Allied response to the Soviet Union, this is exactly what the West succeeded in doing. On June 8th, the USSR sent a telegram to the three occupying powers protesting West German plans to hold a June 16th session of the Bundesrat in West Berlin. The Soviets charged that, due to West Berlin's location in East Germany, West Berlin had never fallen under the jurisdiction of West Germany. Therefore, the Federal Republic's insistence on holding a West German governmental session within East German borders constituted, according to the telegram, "unlawful interference" of the FRG in West Berlin matters, and similarly, a "major new provocation against the USSR, [and] the GDR". Although West Germany protested the telegram, on June 9th the three Western powers, questioning Western nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union, yielded to Khrushchev's demands and pressured West Germany into canceling the June 16th conference. All told, the Eastern Bloc directly challenged Allied political links to West Berlin, and Kennedy backed down. Khrushchev had scored his first victory, and thus gained confidence in proceeding with aggressive military posturing towards East Germany's rights in West Berlin.
In a June 15th television and radio address to Eastern Bloc countries, Khrushchev reasserted his rights to sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany noting that the Western Allies, at the end of World War II, had concluded peace treaties with all other Axis countries, yet had failed to do so with Germany. He warned that if any country violated the terms of the upcoming settlement--access rights to West Berlin would, after the treaty was signed, be under the jurisdiction of East Germany-- "it [would] assume the full responsibility for the consequences of the aggression and [would] receive a proper rebuff". Moreover, Khrushchev announced that Western saber-rattling no longer constituted a viable deterrent for the USSR in proceeding with the pact. In this address, the Soviet Premier failed to mention the West's six month deadline, and only emphasized Soviet plans for West Berlin. Thus, he seems to have concluded from Kennedy's response to the June 8th telegram that the Allies would shrink from Soviet power plays, and therefore, that West Berlin was ripe for the taking.
Walter Ulbricht, in a press conference on the same day, also failed to mention plans to include the Western powers in the upcoming German peace treaty, but did make reference towards hindering Allied access rights in West Berlin. When asked by the Bonn Junge Presse correspondent what measures would be taken at the peace treaty's conclusion, Ulbricht responded that he would check all provocative western activity in West Berlin. West Berlin, according to Ulbricht, should not be utilized by "occupational forces...by [western spies], or by radio stations of the organizers of the cold war, or by other measures which might serve the preparations of war". In other words, he would no longer tolerate an Allied presence in the western sector. Ulbricht stated that he would also, under the guise of civilian safety, shut down Tempelhof airfield; in the event of an East German land blockade, Tempelhof airfield was the sole connection linking West Berliners to West Germany. Finally, Ulbricht announced that, as of August 1st, the DDR would regulate all commercial, private and military flights coming in and out of East Germany. When asked to comment on West German newspaper articles warning of western military reprisals for impending Eastern Bloc actions, Ulbricht confidently stated that "such threats...have no effect on us; it is a waste of ink to publish this sort of thing". Ulbricht, as Khrushchev, was very confident in the Eastern Bloc's ability to once again intimidate the West into capitulation.
For the remainder of June and July, Khrushchev further augmented his already blatantly aggressive stance on the Berlin crisis. In a June 21st speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Blitzkrieg invasion of Russia, Khrushchev responded to US thundering to resume nuclear weapons testing with threats to schedule nuclear tests of his own. He added that whoever threatened the Eastern Block with military force would hold all of the blame for the resulting hostilities. Once again there was no mention of plans to include Western occupying powers in an upcoming settlement, only a reassertion that by the end of 1961, regardless of Allied warnings, the Soviet Union would sign a separate peace treaty with the German Democratic Republic. This speech was succeeded, on June 26th--ironically, on the 13th anniversary of the beginning of the Berlin airlift--by another Soviet announcement that a USSR/East German treaty would be completed in 1961. However, on this occasion, Khrushchev eagerly communicated that the Soviet Union was now in a position of sufficient military strength to enforce the upcoming pact. The Soviet Premier was sending clear and repeated messages to the Allies that he would without hesitation answer the West, threat for threat.
On June 28th, the East German government announced that as of August 1st, 1961, all foreign aircraft utilizing East German airspace must register with DDR authorities. Within a matter of days, it was further revealed that Soviet troops would be positioned on the East/West German border to enforce the provisions of the upcoming East German/Soviet treaty. Ulbricht was taking his first steps in securing East German borders from Western infiltration. At a July 2nd reception at the Kremlin, Khrushchev, responding to the British Ambassador to the Soviet Union's assertion that a peaceful solution to the Berlin crisis hinged on the unreserved cooperation of all four powers, offhandedly stated that "only six...H-bombs...would be quite enough to annihilate the British Isles and nine would take care of France". This was followed, on the 8th of July, by an announcement that the Soviet military budget would be increased by a third. By mid-July, 1961, the Soviet Union and East Germany were apparently ready, willing and quite possibly able to wage all out thermonuclear war in defense of the upcoming treaty.
In the face of blatant and unabashed Soviet/East German threats, US policy makers moved further towards military options to defend Western interests in Berlin. On June 28th, Kennedy issued a statement in which he warned, "[the Berlin crisis] is not...a question of technical legal rights....It involves the peace and security of the people of West Berlin....the Soviets", he continued, "would make a grave mistake if they suppose that Allied...determination can be undermined by threats or fresh aggressive acts. There is peace in Germany and in Berlin....If it is disturbed", Kennedy concluded, "it will be the direct Soviet responsibility". On June 29th, 1961, during a meeting of the National Security Council, the "Acheson Report" became the subject of hot debate. The Acheson Report recommended that if access routes to West Berlin were blocked, in addition to activating one million American military reservists, Western coalition forces should send an armored column to break the blockade and continue into West Berlin. Kennedy, considering the Acheson proposal too brash a move in such a volatile situation, but also concerned that Khrushchev was beginning to doubt Western resolve--as he obviously was, instead contemplated a massive global increase in US nuclear and conventional forces. Still, a few weeks after the NSC meeting, Kennedy seriously rethought this position. On July 19th, Kennedy admitted that if the Soviets signed a separate peace treaty with the DDR, "the United States was not going to war over the question of whether East German officials [could] examine the papers of US personnel traveling in East Germany". Kennedy apparently wanted to keep the possibility of negotiations alive, and therefore refused to match Soviet nuclear threats; in a July 25th address to the nation, after dubbing West Berlin "a testing place of Western courage and will", Kennedy announced a $3.5 billion dollar budget increase for domestic conventional weapons and civil defense programs. Kennedy once again yielded to Soviet threats; there would be no direct challenge to Eastern Bloc policy in Berlin, only token posturing.
In the midst of stewing political debates over Berlin, the true victims, Berlin citizens, harbored grave misgivings of their own. As politicians on both sides of the Atlantic worried about the outbreak of war, many DDR refugees who found themselves in West Berlin during the months of June and July stated, surprisingly enough, that it was not the possibility of a military conflict which had encouraged their flight, but increasing GDR limitations on individual expression and employment opportunities. One refugee explained that he had been threatened with legal reprisals and eventually arrested after arguing with his supervisor about nation wide butter shortages. Another refugee, who had lived in East Berlin but worked as a West Berlin auto mechanic stated that in the past few months he had been repeatedly pressured by DDR officials to quit his job in the West and seek employment in the Soviet zone. However, the same job in East Berlin, according to the refugee, offered a significantly lower rate of pay than in West Berlin. As DDR officials continued to harass the auto mechanic, he emigrated to West Berlin. In another case, an East German Supreme Court judge fled to the West in order to escape what he perceived as ruthless and unjust East German legal system. He explained that in order to discourage its workforce from seeking employment in West Berlin, the GDR had been conducting "show trials" in which sentences of up to fifteen years in length were handed down to those suspected of "promoting West German war preparations". The logic being that if East Germans were working in the West, and West Germany was bent on waging war with East Germany, these individuals were accessories to western aggression. The former Supreme Court judge no longer wanted to associate himself with the East German legal system, and, ironically enough, sought a judicial post in the Western sector. Life was difficult in East Germany during the months of June and July, 1961, and as the days edged ever closer to the zero hour, it was clearly becoming worse.
In the months immediately preceding the Wall, newspapers and televisions in the Soviet Zone constantly updated their audiences to the volatile political exchanges unfolding between the superpowers. Thus, fear of war and of being locked behind GDR borders was common among East Germans. During July, 1961, the DDR, claiming that West German tourists had been transporting polio into East Germany, began monitoring all trains bound for West Berlin. Every second passenger was questioned as to his/her intentions for traveling outside East Germany, while every 12th passenger was taken from the train for further questioning. Those suspected as potential refugees were immediately incarcerated. According to a New York Times reporter, out of the 2,600 refugees which had checked in to Marienfelde refugee center on July 11, 1961, the vast majority had expressed fear that "the door [would] soon be slammed shut in their faces", and further, anticipated an "East/West military showdown" to result. Horst Metzler, a 26 year old East German, stated that he and his wife had left for West Berlin after DDR officials had told them that life would be different in East Germany following the Soviet/GDR peace treaty. He then revealed that the definition of "different", according to he and everybody he had spoken with about the incident, was that the DDR planned in some way to cordon off East Germany from the rest of the world. Another East German, after learning of a DDR proposal to issue identity cards listing the owner's district and limiting travel to within this district stated that she had fled to West Berlin "before it [became] too late". And, as if consciously finishing this woman's sentence, a man from Leipzig, while talking to a New York Times reporter stated, "once this hole to freedom is closed, [East Germans] might as well take a rope and hang [themselves]".
By early August, fear had metamorphosed into rampant paranoia among East Germans. As plans to construct the Berlin Wall were kept a secret, accurate sources of information to explain various East German official actions were non-existent, leaving DDR citizens only with their imaginations to construct possible scenarios. Kollow, a fisherman residing on East Germany's Baltic Coast stood anxiously by as local DDR policemen were reassigned in ever increasing numbers to Berlin; "something's going to happen", he said. His worries were reinforced by a woman living near Kollow's home who nervously informed the fisherman that all East German busses previously running from East Germany to Berlin had been commandeered by DDR police. By nightfall on August 12, as unsubstantiated rumors were increasingly confirmed by escalations in suspicious GDR activity, East Germans expressed varied reactions. In the first place, many individuals simply could not conceive that the GDR would actually seal off the border. Klaus Bruckner, an East German factory employee, having learned that convoys of East German military trucks were heading towards Berlin, ran to tell his companions, who responded, "is that all?....Relax, they're just on another one of their night maneuvers". Another individual, Kurt Gohlke, after overhearing rumors about DDR plans to erect a barrier between East and West Berlin, hurried off to tell his uncle. His uncle responded, "you're out of your mind!...Even Ulbricht wouldn't dare try such a damn fool thing as that". Still others expressed faith in the West to intercede on their behalf. A 50 year old East German stated that since Berlin had persevered through the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49, there was nothing to worry about, and that he had no intention of leaving for the West. Finally, a few individuals were angry with the "Grenzgangers", East Germans who crossed the border to work in West Berlin, accusing them of "unpatriotic sabotage," as every day after work they returned to East Berlin with western marks--worth on average up to five times the value of Eastern marks--and bought up scarce East Berlin commodities, and thus necessitated an East/West Berlin barrier. East German emotions were approaching critical mass.
In his book, Germany, the Wall and Berlin, John Keller states that "on the night of 12/13 August 1961, 16-million Germans in the Soviet Zone and in East Berlin vanished completely behind the Iron Curtain and were cast into the blackest tyranny". As East German military vehicles rolled into East Berlin, the city's population was fast asleep, anticipating the worst but not expecting alarm clocks to stir them from dreams into a very real and decided nightmare. It was on this night that the construction of the Berlin Wall began.
On the morning of August 13th, the vast majority of East Berliners were utterly shocked by the appearance of the barrier. One man, in the process of moving his and his fiancee's possessions from their home in East Berlin to an apartment they had recently purchased in West Berlin, woke up on the morning of August 13th in his West Berlin flat and discovered his wife-to-be permanently trapped behind rows of barbed wire. Another individual, Kurt Sedlacek, an East Berliner who was also in the Western sector on the morning of August 13th, was taken aback as he watched East German construction workers, under the protection of heavily armed border guards, stretch spools of barbed wire across the East/West Berlin border. Sedlacek told some companions that he intended to return to his home in East Berlin, and was warned that once he crossed over, it was unlikely that he would ever be permitted to return to the West. He dismissed his comrades' admonishings as delusion, and left for East Berlin stating, "you'll see, I'll be back [in West Berlin] next week". Karl Gunkel, an East Berlin window washer employed in West Berlin, mounted his bicycle on the morning of August 13th, and headed for the western sector to begin his day's work. As he neared the border, Gunkel was stopped by East German police and ordered to return home. He ignored their advice and proceeded to another border crossing only to find rows of barbed wire and armed guards blocking his path. He rushed home in a state of utter panic. East Berliners could not believe that the DDR had closed the border.
Anger was also common among East Berliners. By mid-day, on the 13th, crowds had converged on the border shouting "Hang Ulbricht!", "open the border!" and "Ivan go home!". Some individuals became so irate that East German police hurdled tear gas grenades and turned high pressure hoses on the crowds to disburse the rowdy demonstrators. One man, a former proponent of DDR dogma, felt that East German political ideology had badly failed its citizens. He stated, "what kind of socialism is it that needs to wall itself in so that its people wont run off?". Most East Germans expressed exactly this sentiment. A group of individuals angrily advised a West German man that if the Three Powers were not going to challenge DDR misconduct, then they might as well get out of West Berlin. After the West German had explained that any direct confrontation might result in war, the East Germans responded, "we'd rather perish in an atomic war than go on living under Ulbricht". In a matter of hours, citizens of the GDR had become captives of the Ulbricht regime, and they were furious.
The possibility of war also weighed heavily on the minds of many East Germans. On the morning of August 13th, Kollow, the East German fisherman, woke up a West German house guest after learning of the border's closing. He warned the man that he should leave immediately for West Germany because war was sure to result; the western powers, Kollow told his visitor, would undoubtedly retaliate for the DDR's actions. An East German woman in Kollow's village worried that a civil war might erupt between East and West Germany over the emergence of the barrier, and that her son would be injured or killed in the fighting.
Still other East Germans decided that they would not sit idly by and watch their world close in around them, and therefore chose to jump the border. One East German couple, upon discovering an uncompleted and temporarily unguarded section of the barricade, stated to each other, "now or never", and crossed over to West Berlin. Another individual, while making a break for the West, was tackled by East German grepos. After a long struggle, the man succeeded in grabbing one of the officer's rifles, forcing the grepos to temporarily back down. Upon resuming his flight towards the barricade, he was tacked once again, sustained a wound by the rifle's bayonet, and was transported to an East Berlin hospital. Although this man was unable to successfully cross the border, on August 13th, eight hundred refugees safely arrived at Marienfelde refugee camp in West Berlin.
In the days immediately following the barrier's construction, the true weight and consequence of the events of August 13th set in for East Germans; on the following Monday, residents of the Soviet zone appeared as though they had lost all of Sunday's mettle. According to Norman Gelb, many East Berliners spent August 14th at the border, in hopes of spotting loved ones in the now forbidden Western sector. After hours of searching, an elderly woman caught sight of her son on the other side of the barrier, and began to smile uncontrollably, but immediately broke down in tears realizing she could no longer be near him. An East Berlin man, spotting his parents among the crowd massed in the western zone, held his baby high in his arms so his parents could take a last look at their grandson. Within the span of two days East Berliners' anger had fermented into sorrow and defeat. Dan Schorr, a CBS reporter stationed in East Berlin stated, "I saw small groups [of East Berliners] approached by plain clothed police and told to keep walking". "Mostly", he continued, "the people reply[ed] with a look of sullen hatred and walked off". Crowds which only a day earlier had been throwing rocks and shouting obscenities at DDR construction workers and border guards now appeared resigned in the face of superior force.
As for their West Berlin counterparts, they too shared profound emotions over the unfoldings of August 13th. And rightfully so, as the barrier was being constructed around the western zone. Nevertheless, according to Richard L. and Anna J.Merritt, West Berliners reacted mildly to being hemmed inside their city. On August 13th, out of two and one-quarter million residents of the western zone, only ten thousand actually came out to witness the barrier's construction. The Merritts believe these numbers reveal that West Berliners generally were not surprised by the appearance of the partition, and offer two explanations for this reaction. In the first place, any West Berlin citizen, state the Merritts, could have picked up any newspaper and read of impending DDR reprisals, and thus had been aware for an extended period of time that some form of action would be taken by East German officials to curb the flow of GDR refugees. In the second place, the Merritts claim that citizens of the Western zone found early on that access to East Berlin would not be entirely restricted--travel into, but not out of, East Berlin was permitted for a short period of time following the Wall's construction. Therefore, according to the Merritts, initially, the barrier presented neither a drastic shock, nor a substantial impediment to the West Berlin status quo.
The Merritts' analysis tends to downplay the responses of West Berlin citizens, who became quite surprised and angry as they learned of the barrier's construction. For example, several individuals leaving a West Berlin pub in the early morning hours of August 13th, walked outside only to find East German laborers, under the protection of heavily armed soldiers, unloading spools of barbed wire along the border of East and West Berlin. The men's stunned silence quickly gave away to angry shouts; "what in God's name are you doing!...Just wait 'till the Americans get here!", they cried out to the DDR workers. By 5:00am, crowds of enraged West Berliners had converged on the border. "[Y]ou dirty swine!", they yelled to East German police and workers, "you slaves!, you lackeys of the Russians!". Aside from anger, many participants expressed either a strong desire for, or anger at the lack of, western intervention. While inspecting the ever expanding barrier, Willy Brandt was approached by a man who nervously asked the mayor, "when will the Americans come and end this nightmare?". One West Berliner was convinced that if Western Powers did not react immediately, Soviet and East German forces would soon occupy West Berlin. Another individual, Karl Faban, while watching East German workers partition off West Berlin, became enraged at the absence of even a token Allied military presence; he stated, "the Allies knew this was going to happen. That's why they're not doing a damn thing, and wont be doing a damn thing--except maybe going to church and pray for this thing to disappear".
By August 14th, anger at Allied inaction had intensified among the citizens of West Berlin. At mid-day, 2,000 workers from the AEG turbine factory marched to the Schoneberg Rathaus to protest US, British, and French inaction to the previous day's events. By the time the workers reached the Schoneberg Rathaus their numbers had tripled to 6,000, and they were tired of standing by while distant governments failed to issue a an appropriate response; one protester exclaimed, "if the Allies [couldn't] help us in this situation, then we [shouldn't] trust them anymore". Yet another rally commenced at 2:30pm, with 3,000 participants expressing the same frustrations. At this stage anger prevailed over anxiety among West Berliners; a West Berlin policeman commented on the volatile demeanor of the protesters, "these people", he warned, "would go to the border and cause real trouble if any Burgemaster or someone like that gave them the word". Nevertheless, by August 15th, apprehension had overcome outrage among citizens of the Western zone; any vehement faith in the Allies to come to West Berlin's aid had long since simmered, and was now on the verge of dying out completely. People wondered if their one time protectors had simply given-up on them.
In order to curb what he perceived as the first signs of civil unrest in West Berlin, Mayor Willy Brandt, on August 16th, spoke at a mass rally at the Schoneberg Rathaus. Waving banners which stated, "paper protests don't stop tanks!", "ninety hours and no action!", and "betrayed by the West?", 250,000 West Berlin citizens expressed their now steeping fear and anxiety at the West's inaction. Many participants exclaimed that the Allies' silence amounted to nothing less than another Munich Agreement in which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, in 1938, had, in effect, sold out Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler. As their desperation peaked, Mayor Brandt worried that West Berliners would give in to rash impulses such as rioting or rushing the barricade, prompting a military response from Eastern Bloc forces, and thereby setting the stage for full scale war between the superpowers. He therefore announced at the rally that he had sent a letter to Kennedy demanding an immediate and forceful response to the events of August 13th. To this, the crowd cheered wildly, but their exhilaration soon returned to desperation. Clearly, the onus was on the Allies in forestalling disaster in Berlin.
US and Allied inaction to the events of August 13th, 1961, was based upon a policy of capitulation to the Eastern Bloc. United States policy makers feared that by two separate means, the whole of Europe could erupt in war over the volatile Berlin situation. On August 9th, four days prior to the erection of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy worried about a possible repeat of the East German uprising of June,1953. He anticipated that East German citizens would not tolerate impending DDR/Soviet measures to control the East German refugee problem, and would once again take to the streets in protest, vastly increasing the likelihood of war. Conversely, Kennedy worried that political and economic tensions caused by the ever increasing flow of refugees might lead to an "accidental blow-up" which would necessitate hasty military decisions for both superpowers. Most importantly, Kennedy recognized that Khrushchev was risking Soviet hegemony in the Eastern Bloc through delaying seal-off measures in East Germany, and therefore anticipated that some form of a barrier might be constructed between East and West Berlin. Nevertheless, the official White House position of August 9th, 1961, was that "US involvement in any [East German] uprising would quickly involve it into a war with the Soviet Union". The Allies had decided several days prior to the Wall's construction, not to respond to Soviet/East German measures.
On August 13th, US officials received word of the barrier's construction relatively late, and once informed, reacted mildly. US Deputy Undersecretary U. Alexis Johnson commented that fully twelve hours after Soviet/East German activity in Berlin had begun, "[he hadn't] the slightest inkling about what had taken place". Once he had found out, he admitted thinking to himself that "there was nothing [he] could do about it". To a great extent, the Deputy Undersecretary's response characterized the overall US political reaction to Berlin's division. On the morning of August 13th Secretary of State Dean Rusk issued a statement communicating great relief that Eastern Bloc forces had not closed off Allied access routes to West Berlin. Eastern Bloc measures, according to the announcement, had so far involved only East Germany and East Berlin. Consequently, no substantial response to the closing of the border would be issued by the Allies, only "vigorous protests through appropriate channels". Rusk's pose was matched by Assistant Secretary of State, Foy Kohler, who stated that "a threat to West Berlin's lifelines...would be considered casus belli, anything less would not". Kennedy's first response, upon learning of the border's closing, was to ask Dean Rusk if access routes to West Berlin had been obstructed and if there existed a strong Soviet military presence in East Berlin. Once he was informed by Rusk that access routes remained open and that there were only limited numbers of Soviet troops in the Eastern sector, a reassured Kennedy decided that no aggressive statements should be made which would increase the chances of an East German uprising, and augmentation of Soviet troops stationed in East Berlin. Kennedy's policy, in agreement with his advisors, was to stand-by and wait for Eastern Bloc forces to either enter West Berlin or hinder Allied access right thereto. Until such events occurred, however, the West was to remain a disgruntled spectator. Following Rusk's briefing, Kennedy urged the Secretary of State not to cancel his plans to attend a baseball game that afternoon, while the President, currently on a weekend retreat in Massachusetts, went sailing. The West had once again given in.
West Berliners were therefore left in an extremely vulnerable position by Allied forces who traditionally had promised an unwavering commitment to protect the island city from communist infiltration. By the close of August 13th, this covenant had gone unfulfilled. It was only after extreme pressure on the part of West German politicians, and the heightening possibility of war, that the United States stood up in protest, albeit reluctantly and insufficiently, to Eastern Bloc aggressiveness in central Europe.
On August 13th, West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt met with the representatives of the three western powers to urge Allied reprisals for Eastern Bloc aggression. Brandt requested that as a token gesture of the occupying power's solidarity to the citizens of West Berlin, Allied troops should be stationed at the border. After this and all of his other requests for western action were denied by the West Berlin commandants, Brandt was dumbfounded. As mayor of West Berlin it was Brandt's responsibility to maintain order in the city, a task which increased in difficulty as the hours without western intervention passed into days; West Berliners, as the mass rallies and protests suggested, were becoming very desperate, and many, Brandt worried, were on the brink of rioting. On August 14th, Brandt sent a letter to Kennedy warning of two possible outcomes of western inaction. The letter stated that Allied hesitation would lead, in the first place, to an "over-expanded self confidence" on the part of the Soviet Union, and in the second place, to a serious confidence crisis among West Berliners. Brandt's letter and the warnings presented therein were duly noted by Kennedy, who, only after learning of the mass rallies in West Berlin, and being cautioned by Edward R. Murrow that these rallies could potentially insight a war if Allied powers did not intervene to boost West Berlin morale, recognized that the West needed to act. It was then decided that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and Gen. Lucius Clay would visit West Berlin.
Although deemed highly significant to the city's population as a representation of Western guardianship, Vice President and Gen. Clay's tour of West Berlin, in reality, proved to be an official proclamation to the Eastern Bloc of Allied acceptance of the status quo in Berlin. On August 18th, at Andrews Air Force Base, Johnson announced that the primary purpose of his visit was to "assure the people of West Berlin of [the Allies'] firm determination to...to preserve [West Berliner's] freedom and...ties with the free world". To this extent, Johnson and Clay's visit to Berlin's western sector was a resounding success. From the moment Vice President Johnson and Gen. Clay stepped off the plane on August 19th, they were overwhelmed by jubilant West Berliners who tossed bouquets of roses, and showered their visitors with the affection of the genuinely relieved. At the Schoneberg Rathaus, Johnson addressed 380,000 citizens of West Berlin, reassuring them that the Allied powers had not forgotten, and would indeed honor, their commitments to the people of the western sector. He stated, "To the survival and to the creative future of [West Berlin] we Americans have pledged...what our ancestors pledged in forming the United States: our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor". West Berliners, deeply affected by LBJ's presence did not even wait for the translation of Johnson's speech before erupting into enthusiastic cheers and applause. In each and every address immediately before and during his visit, Johnson had made it poignantly clear that West Berlin would be safeguarded by the Allies. However, not once did he mention, or even hint towards retaliatory measures for Eastern Bloc aggression in Central Europe. In a statement given by Johnson on his arrival in West Berlin, he announced Kennedy's decision to increase the number of American occupation troops in the western zone, but finished his address by emphasizing American solidarity with his audience to defend West Berlin. "The Allies", said Johnson, "do not intend to be belligerent, but...do intend to be firm". Apparently, Johnson and Clay had accomplished their primary objectives, the citizens of the Western zone had been satiated. Nonetheless, the implications of their visit stretched far beyond the mere soothing of West Berlin anxieties. Johnson had served official notice to Khrushchev and Ulbricht that the Wall's construction would go uncontested by western powers; the Allies would not be "belligerent", which meant that an offensive military strategy in response to Eastern Bloc tyranny was not being considered. In effect, Johnson had announced that it was time to cut western losses in East Germany and hold fast to what remained of Allied interests in Berlin. The Johnson/Clay visit of August 19th and 20th, as a benchmark in German history, and as the synopsis of Allied Eastern Bloc policy, formally condoned a Berlin which would be divided for the next quarter of a century.
As the cold war was the dominant ingredient in the recipe of foreign policy decision making during the 1960's, Kennedy and the Western Allies should not be chastised for their largely permissive stance during the Berlin crisis. In the geopolitical
cold war "game", where saving national face in most instances came well before contemplating the realities of a nuclear holocaust, Kennedy may have lost a battle, but had won an ethical war. By 1962, Kennedy had learned and applied what he considered to be a valuable lesson from his prior confrontations with Khrushchev: that capitulation is the strategy of the defeated. Yet how valuable a lesson was this really? Kennedy stood tall as Soviet naval vessels sailed towards Cuba, but in the process very nearly ended civilization as we know it, as a last minute decision by Khrushchev was all that stood between peaceful resolution to the Cuban missile crisis and global thermonuclear war. To this extent, Kennedy and the Western Allies are exonerated for capitulating to the Eastern Bloc. Still, it remained, until 1989, when the physical barriers separating East and West Germany were removed, that a nation and a people were left divided.