Germany - The Walls Came Tumbling Down

The Revolt of 1953

Although the events of June 1953 are not directly related to the rise or fall of the German borders, they serve to provide reasons why the DDR regime introduced their extensive system of spying, intimidation and imprisonment of people who were seen to be a threat to the government.

The revolt against the leadership of the DDR resulted from the regime's intention to increase production without an increase in wages.
The slogan, "First work more, then live better" caused outrage, especially amongst construction workers.
There were strikes which soon turned into wider demands for change.

A strike banner is displayed in East Germany, June 16th 1953

On the 17th June 1953 there were large demonstrations in many locations and state buildings were stormed.
The demands of the demonstrators were highly political:

  • Free elections
  • The lifting of border regulations
  • Freedom for poliitical prisoners

The revolt of the 17th June 1953 was spontaneous; it surprised the DDR's secret services (and those of West Germany).
The Americans were also surprised but used the events to develop a psychological warfare plan that would further destabilise the situation in East Germany.
The central element of the plan was a food relief program for the East Germans who could collect packages of lard, peas, flour and pasturised milk from 35 locations in West Berlin (which was still accessible from East Berlin).

June 1953, East Germany.......Demonstrators demand free elections

The East German government was unable to quell the demonstrations and had discussed evacuation plans if the counter-revolutionaries (demonstrators) won.
However, the Soviet occupation forces declared martial law and used massive military force (6 Soviet divisions with more than 20,000 troops) to suppress the rioting and support the East German regime. Details of casualties vary but 55 demonstrators were confirmed dead (with estimates sometimes reaching 500) together with approximately 10 DDR officials who were killed on the streets and in the storming of buildings (with some estimates are as high as 100).

The events of June 17th 1953 in various East German cities

In the days and weeks that followed, approximately 15,000 were arrested and over 2,000 were sentenced.
22 people were sentenced to death.........18 by the Soviets and 4 by the DDR (who carried out 2).

The following short (2:16min) film gives a clear picture of the events and consequences of the uprising.

A detailed description of these events (in a PDF) can be read or downloaded by clicking this link (action depends on your brower settings).