The Division of Berlin
by Ted Kelly
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev: Premier of the Soviet Union during
the Berlin crisis.
Walter Ulbricht: Chancellor of East Germany during the Berlin
Dean Rusk: United States Secretary of State during the Berlin
John F. Kennedy: President of the United States during the Berlin
Willy Brandt: Mayor of West Berlin during the Berlin crisis.
On August 13th, 1961, East Germany, in cooperation with the Soviet
Union, erected a barrier around West Berlin in order to curb the
flow of East German refugees into West Berlin and West Germany.
Building a wall which divided the city of Berlin was a major
task with major implications for the citizens of East and West
Germany and the world. Nikita Khrushchev and Walter Ulbricht were
uncontestedly able to construct the Berlin Wall only through a
breakdown in Western Allied resolve to prevent them from doing
Western Allies' failure to respond to the construction of
the Berlin Wall caused
much suffering and anxiety for West Berliners who assumed that
the West had abandoned them in the face of Eastern Bloc aggression.
-June 3rd and 4th, 1961, Vienna Conference between Kennedy
Khrushchev demands that the Western Allies conduct a
peace treaty with East
and West Germany. Allies are given 6 months to do so,
or else the Soviet Union
and East Germany would conduct a separate peace treaty
-June 8, 1961: Khrushchev sends a telegram to the Western
Allies protesting West German plans to hold a government meeting in West Berlin.
Khrushchev argues that West Berlin is on East German soil, and that therefore,
the West German
government would be violating the sovereign borders
of East Germany.
-June 9, 1961: Kennedy orders West Germany to conduct the
government meeting on West German soil.
-June15, 1961: Khrushchev threatens the Western Allies with
Bloc military might if they planned, after the completion
of a Soviet/East German
peace treaty, to "violate" East German borders
through trying to access West
-June 25, 1961: Kennedy announces a build-up of conventional,
non-conventional, military weapons. (non-nuclear vs.
-August 9, 1961: Kennedy expresses fear of an East German
uprising over impending Soviet/East German measures insighting
conflict. Official US policy is announced by the White
House: the Western
Allies will not respond to impending Soviet/East German
The West had accepted the presence of the Berlin Wall form
the very start and had therefore indirectly contributed to a divided
-August 14th, 1961: 6,000 workers converge on the Schoneberg
(West Berlin City Hall).
-August 16, 1961: Mass rally at Schoneberg Rathaus--250,000
Interesting accounts of the Berlin crisis of 1961:
-August 13, 1961: Dean Rusk's statement that the Western
Allies will only issue "vigorous protests through appropriate
channels" to the
building of the Berlin Wall.
-August 14, 1961: Willy Brandt sends a letter to Kennedy
warning him of
low West Berlin moral due to the Western Allies' inaction.
-August 19, 1961: Vice President Johnson and General Clay
visit Berlin. Johnson
speaks to West Berliners. He reassures West Berliners
that the Western Allies
would protect them from an Eastern Bloc advancement
into West Berlin. Also,
Johnson states that the Allies will not be "belligerent"
but would be "firm" in
dealing with Soviet/East German activity in Berlin.
The West therefore
accepts the status quo in Berlin.
In backing down to Eastern Bloc threats, Kennedy had permitted
the Berlin Wall to be constructed. However, he was faced with
a difficult choice: If he, and the Western Allies, had been "belligerent",
nuclear war quite possibly could have been the result.
And in backing down, as he did, Kennedy lost a major Cold War
Cate, Curtis, The Ides of August
Wyden, Peter, Wall: The Inside Story of Divided Berlin