Berlin: The Wall

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Ulbricht's close ally was the Red army and its local commander, powerful, squat Marshal Georgy Zhukov, whose troops helped get the newspapers, power plants and factories going again, and supplied the necessary pressure to force local leaders to line up behind the Moscow-trained German Communists. In return Moscow got Ulbricht's unstinting support 'for the wholesale looting of East Germany, a maneuver that began with the arrival of the very first Soviet regiments. The looting was called reparations, and before it was over, between $11 billion and $18 billion in German equipment—railroads, factories, barges, even plumbing from a jail—had been hauled away for the benefit of Russia's backward and war-devastated economy.

Party "United." Ulbricht approved wholeheartedly. "The Soviet Union is justified in claiming reparations. It is our obligation to fulfill these claims punctually," he told his aides. He was too busy consolidating his new political gains to worry overmuch about the rape of his country.* By early 1946 he had swallowed up the only major opposition to a complete Communist takeover, the huge, old Social Democratic Party. At a mass meeting packed with Ulbricht's followers, the Social Democratic Party was killed and the Socialist Unity Party (S.E.D.)—Communist to the core—was constructed.

Getting a Title. Ulbricht's land did not become a "nation" until three years later, after the long Soviet struggle to force the U.S. and its Western allies out of Berlin had failed. Moscow did not give up easily; week after week, in the four-power Kommandatura that administered the city, Soviet Marshal Vasily Sokolovsky vetoed, bellowed, threatened, cajoled, then finally walked out. With that, the Soviet blockade began. When it, too, proved fruitless after the West's mammoth airlift, Moscow gave its puppet Ulbricht "sovereignty" and a new national name for his trapped millions: the German Democratic Republic.

That was in October 1949. Already Communism's East German boss had laid the foundations for a decade of terror, repression, poverty and hunger for the 17.4 million people whose fate he had inherited. Ulbricht began "building socialism" with tried and true techniques: a Five-Year Plan, nationalization of industry, merciless stamping out of opposition political groups, throttling of the press and radio, farm delivery quotas and the buildup of a paramilitary police force—the Volkspolizei—that spent much time drilling with submachine guns, no time at all giving traffic tickets.

Then, in June 1953, after Stalin had died, Moscow ordered Ulbricht's S.E.D. to admit publicly that it had been too harsh. Food ration cards, taken away as punishment, were returned to thousands, and Protestant church groups, recently expelled from schools, were reinstated.

To the politically sensitive East Germans, it all seemed a confession of weakness ; many thought that the Russians had decided to abandon their Ulbricht puppet. Suddenly, on June 16, East Germany's workers were in the streets; thousands went on strike, marched in Communism's East Berlin showcase boulevard, Stalin-allee. Spontaneously, the nation was seething with revolt.

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