A young refugee lies dying in a pool of blood beside a wall.
The place: Berlin.
The year: 1962.
The Wall: the final plug in an iron curtain running from the Baltic to the Black Sea, 12 feet high and built of concrete blocks, topped with barbed wire and guarded by police.
The Wall cuts through the city like a monstrous growth.
Until The Wall was built in August 1961, Berlin had been the main escape-route from the Communist Iron Curtain. Through it more than 3 million refugees from East Berlin and East Germany had found a way to freedom. These were not refugees from hunger or poverty. They were fleeing from oppression of the mind. Most were young.
Then on the 13th of August 1961, the escape-route was closed, first by barbed wire and then by the erection of a wall. The purpose of the wall? Not to keep the West out, but to keep the East Berliners in – undoubtedly the longest prison wall in history.
But still they came: first through holes in the barbed wire, then jumping from windows overlooking the Western Sector, forcing the East Germans to brick up windows and move people out of their homes, then by tunnels laboriously dug under the Wall.
By these and other means more than 12,000 people escaped in the first year after the Wall was built.
But some did not escape: the 18 year old Peter Fechter was one.
West Berlin is deep in the heart of the Soviet-controlled East Germany. It’s a vital outpost of freedom, but not for the first time its very existence is threatened by Russia. Mr Krushchev wants to expel the British, American and French garrisons, which guarantee the West Berliners’ freedom. This threat to West Berlin and its 2 ¼ million free men and women is a threat to free people everywhere. For, if these people’s rights can be snuffed out by Communism, so can anyone’s rights anywhere. If Berlin is given up, no free people can be safe.
Berlin is a world problem.
But what is the background of this problem?
Why is it that the West have garrisons in Berlin?
Firstly, the Western powers’ right to be in Berlin is absolute. It derives from Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1945. As the victorious British and Americans from the West and the Russians from the East met along this line, the Western Allies withdrew behind agreed boundaries, drawn to give each of the powers – Britain, America, France and Russia – approximately equal areas of responsibility.
By the same agreement, Berlin, Germany’s pre-war capital, was divided into 4 sectors, but to be administered as a whole.
Access to Berlin from the main Western Zone was guaranteed by means of road, rail and air routes.
This was Germany in 1945 – an utterly defeated nation that had to be put on its feet again. Twice in 30 years Germany had been the cockpit of world war. This must not happen again.
And at first in Berlin the 4 powers worked together to get life going again. Essential services began to function. Disease and sickness were checked. The future of Germany, and thus the West thought the peace of Europe depended on treating the country as a political and economic whole. This had been agreed by Stalin, Churchill and Truman at the Potsdam Conference.
Yet only a few months after this agreement, Russia showed she had other intentions.
The pitifully small supplies coming into Berlin from the surrounding Soviet Zone were dwindling. So the West decided it had to send the 2 ¼ million people of West Berlin every item needed to maintain life, using the agreed road and rail routes through the Soviet Zone.
But the Russians cut this road and this railway.
West Berlin faced starvation.
So much for the agreement to treat Germany as an economic whole. The Russians’ true policy was revealed: to get the West out of Berlin and perpetuate the division of Germany.
The West gave a determined answer to this cruel blockade. The land routes might be closed but the air was open. Every available plane was pressed into service to carry food and the necessities of life into the blockaded city.
Even flying boats were used, landing on Berlin’s lakes. The British, American and French Air Forces together kept West Berlin alive. Every need of the beleaguered people had to be supplied by air. The narrow air lanes were crowded with 600 planes a day.
Then, after 9 months, the Russians lifted the blockade and traffic flowed again. Russia’s first attempt to capture Berlin for Communism had been met firmly and defeated.
Life in West Berlin began to return to normal. But “normal”, in a situation like Berlin, has a special meaning.
It was clear now that the joint 4 powered-government abandoned by Russia would not return. Some barriers would not come down. Traffic flowed uneasily between East and West Berlin and the Brandenburg Gate marked the division between 2 ways of life.
East Berlin, like East Germany, and the whole Communist world, is a city of rallies, of exhortation. Germany has had all this before under Hitler in the 1930s.
But this organised enthusiasm is not typical of the feelings of most of the East Germans. In 1953 the East Berliners revolted against their rulers. They were answered by Russian tanks – in a way that became only too familiar in Hungary 3 years later.
The refugees fled in thousands and they found West Berlin to be a very different city from East Berlin – a city concerned more with reconstruction than rallies. For with British, French, American and West German aid, West Berlin was raising itself from the ruins and taking on a prosperous look. New flats were replacing the devastation of the war, thriving industries were established and the shops were full.
In 1955 the West Berliners lit and inextinguishable flame in the heart of their city: Freedom. Rights. Peace.
The West had always been prepared to negotiate the future of all Germany as well as of Berlin.
Harold MacMillan: “We are unshaken in our conviction that all outstanding international questions should be settled, not by the use or threat of force, but by peaceful means through negotiation. We remain ready to take part in such negotiations at any suitable time in the future.”
Commentator: And here Willy Brandt, West Berlin’s mayor told his fellow citizens, “West Berlin is important not only to us, not only to West Germany, but to Europe and to the world.”
But in Paris in 1960 Mr Krushchev made it clear that he was not in a negotiating mood.
At the Kennedy-Krushchev meeting in Vienna in 1961, the atmosphere seemed better. But it soon became clear that behind Mr Krushchev’s smiles his determination to dislodge the West from Berlin was unchanged.
Berlin is now an island surrounded by Soviet armed strength. The West for its part knows it has every legal right to be in West Berlin and to station its troop in the city. These troops are a provocation to no one. But to West Berlin their very presence guarantees the city’s continued existence as an outpost of freedom. And this freedom is dearly cherished.
In free elections West Berliners have repeatedly given Communist candidates derisory votes, and there are no free people anywhere in the world that are qualified to judge the virtues of Communism than the West Berliners who live within its very border, and until the Wall was built, could see for themselves what it means.
The empty streets of East Berlin.
The stucco peeling from the wall of the Stalinallee showplace.
Behind the Stalinallee Market – once all Berlin’s busier shopping area. After more than 15 years of Communist reconstruction – still empty, derelict, desolation. And in it symbolises the apathy and despair of Communist East Berlin. Even the tramlines are deserted, for the terminus is the Wall – a wall of shame, built to keep the people prisoners, built as a final denial of a people’s right to choose for themselves the life they will lead.
To this hideous monument, visitors have come from all over the world, almost unable to believe that such a thing could exist. One visitor was British Foreign Secretary Lord Home.
After his visit, Lord Home described what he had seen as cruel and inhuman. He defined the British foreign policy towards Berlin and said it consisted of recognising 3 undeniable rights for the people of West Berlin.
Lord Home: “The right of the people to live a life of their own choosing, the right of the people to have the Allies in Berlin to defend their freedom, and the right of unhindered access to the city.”
Commentator: These then are the rights that West Berliners enjoy today. They are the rights that the West is determined that they shall continue to enjoy. This is the meaning of West Berlin today.