Dictionary of East European History since 1945

By Joseph Held | Go to book overview

Soviet authorities had made an attempt to force the Western Allies out of the German capital. The occasion was provided by the municipal elections held in the Western sector of the city. Although over 85 percent of the city's population cast their votes and the Social Democrats won a majority on the new council, the Soviet commander refused to accept the results. The Soviet armed forces began to interfere with land, water, and air traffic in and out of the city. On April 5, a Soviet military aircraft collided with a British civilian airliner killing all aboard. On June 24, the Soviet army simply stopped all land traffic coming from the West into the city.

The Western response was swift. On June 26, a joint airlift of the three Western powers began to supply the city with vital necessities. The airlift, although often difficult and dangerous, was maintained until, in May 1949, the Soviet Union finally realized the futility of the blockade and lifted it. While the blockade was on, the East German communists, encouraged by their Soviet patron, attempted to take over the administration of the entire city. The Soviet commander also attempted to veto the election of Ernst Reuter, a Social Democrat, as mayor. The majority of the city council was moved to the Western sector. The minority, consisting only of members of the German Communist party, remained in East Berlin. On November 30, they established a separate city council, headed by Friedrich Ebert (see Ebert, Friedrich), the son of the first president of the Weimar Republic, who had long sympathized with the communists.

Although the blockade was eventually lifted, Berlin remained for a long time subject to Soviet blackmail whenever a crisis in relations between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union emerged. In each instance, the West expressed its unmistakable determination to maintain the city's status quo and invariably the Soviet Union and its East German puppets retreated.


Bibliography

Keesing Research Report, Germany and Eastern Europe Since 1945: From the Potsdam Agreement to Chancellor Brandt's Ostpolitik ( New York, 1973); Malzahn Manfred, Germany 1945-1949: A Sourcebook ( London, 1991); Pittman Avril, From Ostpolitik to Reunification: West German-Soviet Political Relations Since 1974 ( Cambridge, England, 1992).

Berlin Wall. During the 1950s, wave after wave of East Germans decided to seek a better, freer life in the West and escaped from East Germany. The confrontations between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies, as well as the obviously subordinate position of East Germany to Soviet interests, contributed to this phenomenon. Above all, continued shortages of even the simplest necessities of life and a closely regulated society, ruled by the iron fist of the German Communist party and its secret police, added to general dissatisfaction. Since East Germany's borders were closely watched, the only line of escape was through Berlin. It often meant the crossing from one side of a street to the other, or taking the subway from one part of the city to another.

On August 13, 1961, East German soldiers sealed off East Berlin from the Western sectors of the city. At first, the barricade consisted mostly of barbed wire, but

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