East German Uprising of 17 June 1953

 

Is there a parallel between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/who-really-opened-the-berlin-wall/ and the uprising of East German workers in 1953? Maybe. Both confrontations started with relatively small requests for policy change and ended in calls for freedom and democracy. The big difference is that Soviet tanks rolled in 1953, but not in 1989.

Factors in the Uprising of 17 June 1953

In spring of 1953, the East German state budget was in serious trouble. Sixteen percent of the budget supported the military, rearmament, occupation costs and reparations, leaving little for the production of food and consumer goods. In addition, expropriations and land reforms had caused droves of East German farmers to walk away from their farms. There simply was not enough food being produced. Staples continued to be allocated with ration cards in East Germany until 1958. Even with the cards, people could put only half the amount of meat and fat on their table as they had done prior to WWII. Long queues regularly lined up in front of shops. Residential power cuts often began at nightfall to meet the needs of industry during peak hours. And most importantly, price levels in East Germany were well above those in West Germany. While the average income in East Germany in 1952 was 308 marks, one kilo of butter cost 24 marks, one kilo of sugar 12 marks and one kilo of pork 15 marks. http://www.bstu.bund.de/DE/Wissen/DDRGeschichte/17-juni-1953/Ursachen-des-Aufstands/_inhalt.html While a bar of chocolate cost 50 pfennigs in the West, it sold for 8 marks in the East. In short, the prosperity gap between East and West Germany was very obvious to the people in both East and West.

Calls for New Production norms

The East German government recognized that corrections in the centrally planned economy were necessary and proposed to increase taxes and reduce salaries. But on 11 June 1953, the government announced a new direction: There would be no tax or price increases and no more power cuts. Instead, production norms would be raised by 10%. The planned increase in norms translated into a reduction in wages, which triggered widespread discontent among workers.

The Uprising of 17 June 1953 gains momentum

The next day, there were peaceful protests in many villages across the country. On 16 June, workers at two major Berlin construction sites – the gigantic reconstruction project on the Stalinallee, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/karl-marx-allee-post-wwii-flagship-project/ and the new hospital construction project in Berlin-Friedrichshain – dropped their tools and marched in protest to the seat of the government. Not getting any satisfaction, they called for a general strike and a protest meeting at the Strausberger Platz in the Stalinallee (now called Karl-Marx-Alleee) the following day. On 17 June, thousands marched to the seat of the government again. Along the way, more and more workers stopped work and joined in. As the protest gained momentum, demands no longer focused solely on production norms but also on free elections and the resignation of the leadership. Spontaneous protests broke out that day in over 700 cities and towns across East Germany.

Soviet tanks and East German police fired into the crowd. Demonstrators responded with sticks and stones. Many were injured or killed. Others fled to the West. The East German Uprising of 17 June 1953 was bloodily squashed. East Germany did not revolt again until 1989.

Demonstrators throwing rocks at Russian tanks in the Stalinallee during the East German Uprising of 17 June 1953. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Demonstrators throwing rocks at Russian tanks in the Stalinallee during the East German Uprising of 17 June 1953. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

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