Berlin: The Wall

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The scream of sirens and the clank ot steel on cobblestones echoed down the mean, dark streets. Frightened East Berliners peeked from behind their curtains to see military convoys stretching for blocks. First came the motorcycle outriders, then jeeps, trucks and buses crammed with grim, steel-helmeted East German troops. Rattling in their wake were the tanks — squat Russian-built T-34s and T-54s. At each major intersection, a platoon peeled off and ground to a halt, guns at the ready. The rest headed on for the sector border, the 25-mile frontier that cuts through the heart of Berlin like a jagged piece of glass. As the troops arrived at scores of border points, cargo trucks were already unloading rolls of barbed wire, concrete posts, wooden horses, stone blocks, picks and shovels. When dawn came four hours later, a wall divided East Berlin from West for the first time in eight years.

The wall was illegal, immoral and strangely revealing—illegal because it violated the Communists' solemn contracts to permit free movement throughout the city; immoral because it virtually jailed millions of innocent people; revealing because it advertised to all the world the failure of East Germany's Communist system, and the abject misery of a people who could only be kept within its borders by bullets, bayonets and barricades.

Just in Time. For Walter Ulbricht, East Germany's goat-bearded, Communist boss, the wall was utterly necessary to preserve the very life of his dismal satrapy. For seldom had history witnessed so great an exodus as had been flowing Westward in great clotted spurts. "You are sharing in the Great Socialist Experiment," Ulbricht cried to his people in 1949, as he cut their food ration and trimmed away their liberties. Far from sharing Ulbricht's enthusiasm, almost 3,500,000 East Germans—no less than 20% of the post-World War II population—fled to the West in the eleven years that followed. In the first eleven days of August 1961 alone, 16,500 sought haven in West Berlin; the refugees included an East German Supreme Court judge, East German policemen, soldiers, physicians, lawyers, engineers, farmers, workers, merchants—the lifeblood of any country.

Even as the 80,000 East German Volkspolizei (People's Police) and Volksarmee (People's Army) troops were erecting their barricades across most of the 80 border-transit points last week, desperate clusters of East Berliners were still trying to break out to freedom. Only a few were successful. One elderly man and wife crawled on hands and knees across a cemetery near the boundary as "Vopos" strung barbed wire only 20 yds. away. A young married couple swam the Teltow Canal with their four-year-old child perched on his father's shoulders. A couple of East Germans returning from a late movie, saw the tanks, sprinted across to the American sector just in time.

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