Wednesday, December 28, 2011

(60) The Berlin Wall: Fifty Years Since Its Construction.......A Monument to Allied Resolve and Ashes of Soviet Communism and the Cold War

An eyeball to eyeball standoff between East and West at Checkpoint Charlie October 1961

A standoff between American and Soviet tanks at Checkpoint Charlie October 1961 
(Click on photo to magnify.)


        It was August 13, 1961. John Kennedy was well past his first 100 days in office and in the middle of his first year as president. He was yet to be tested with a major crisis. Nikita Khrushchev considered him soft and weak. France, Britain, and the United States each occupied a zone in the rest of Germany, but granted their zones of occupation self government, which was called the Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany for short in the early 1950s. Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Italy were the founding members of the European Economic Community or Common Market in 1957. As a customs union, these former World War II antagonists could then trade with each other as though they were one country with no trade barriers among them. That accelerated recovery from the war and the resulting industrial and commercial growth was considered to be an economic miracle.  Today it has expanded into most of western Europe, including Poland and the Baltic states, now called the European Union.

       At the same time the Soviet Union occupied Eastern Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, & Montenegro) and Albania where the dictator, Joseph Stalin set up puppet governments subservient to Moscow. The economies there were stagnant economically and still recovering from the ravages of World War II. Nikita Khrushchev had already crushed a major uprising in Poznan, Poland and a full blown revolution in Hungary in 1956. Berlin, the former capital of Nazi Germany was in the heart of the former Russian Zone of occupation and behind the Iron Curtain separating Communist Europe from free Europe. By previous agreements made in 1945, it too was divided into four zones of occupation (United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union). Three of the zones later became West Berlin, a part of West Germany and the largest zone, East Berlin under the misnomer of “Democratic Republic of Germany” or East Germany. Everyone was supposed to have free access to the city.

        This right of access allowed refugees to go from the Communist countries to West Berlin and freedom. By the summer of 1961, refugees from the Communist countries were streaming into West Berlin. This clearly contradicted propaganda about the communist world being a workers' paradise with democracy, freedom, justice, and prosperity. Thus the Soviet Union ordered the construction of a wall across the boundary between free West Berlin and communist East Berlin to keep the people from escaping. At first it was simply rolls of barbed wire while they constructed the wall.  Thus the communist bloc became one gigantic prison and a symbol of Communism.  At the same time it is also a symbol of man's yearning to be have the basic freedoms we take for granted........religion, speech, press, assembly,   Of course, Communist propaganda stated that it was built to keep out capitalist agitators bent on destroying their system.

       This wall had a marked influence on my life. I was finishing my six month tour of active duty in Ft. Monmouth, NJ. President Kennedy, as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces, extended active duty commitments like mine by a year as part of a buildup in Western Europe and sent many reserve units to France and Germany as a show of force. I was sent to Orleans, France as a Signal Officer in the Transceiver and Radio Sections of the 269th Signal Company. Our mission was to maintain communications for the supply lines going from French ports to the front lines in Western Germany. The overall mission was to be ready to defend Western Europe in case of a Russian onslaught and to be a deterrent against that ever happening in the first place because that would mean World War III and a nuclear holocaust. It was a great experience for me and I had the chance to travel all over Europe, Egypt, and the Holy Land on my leaves. By 1962 we were sending advisers to Vietnam.

The Brandenburg Gate April 1963

Berlin Wall Germany East West Communism Oppression

      In August 1962 my mother and I had the opportunity to visit Berlin. We left our car at the Frankfurt airport and flew into an old and small airport in Berlin, used to airlift supplies to a blockaded Berlin in 1948-49.  My mother had friends there, the Henning family. We had dinner with them and stayed at their home. The next day we went on a bus tour along both sides of the wall.

        The wall was about ten feet high with barbed wire at the top, snaking about a hundred miles through the sprawling city.  It went across streets and in many cases buildings were part of the wall after the windows were bricked in. Sentries were posted in towers along the wall, poised to shoot on sight anyone who tried to scale the wall.  Below East German police (volpos) hold a refugee they killed.  Thus we saw crude wreathed memorials (above and below) to the approximately 300 who were shot and killed in attempts to escape to freedom as shown below.  Over the years refugees built clandestine tunnels underneath the wall. The Communists claimed that they had to build the wall to protect East Berlin from the “imperialists”. They even made the famous landmark, the Brandenburg Gate a part of the wall shown above in lacing it with barbed wire with guards behind it.  Berlin was so important in the Cold War that President Kennedy gave a very memorable speech there in 1963 ("Ich bin ein Berliner.")  and President Reagan gave a great one in 1987 ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall").

East German police make an opening in the wall November 1989

It was liberty or death to many who attempted to escape across the Berlin Wall - a 2004  monument to the 300 fallen.
        The Contrast Between West Berlin and East Berlin. To pass through Checkpoint Charlie (at the beginning of the article) in our tour bus on the American side into East Berlin, we were required to wear our uniforms to emphasize our right of free access. The East German police made it as difficult as possible for us, pure harassment......collecting our passports and making us wait. East Berlin was stark with considerable evidence of the war. Some ruins were still evident and reconstruction was obviously slow. Commerce was clearly underdeveloped. The people seemed to be sullen and depressed. West Berlin, on the other hand, was vibrant and bustling........similar to any other city of western Europe with the neon signs, the lights, the ads, the department stores, etc. Except for a bombed out church left as a monument, reconstruction was almost complete.

An escapee to West Berlin communicating with her mother in Communist East Berlin.
            A member of our Gallia County, Ohio community had a part in the history of the Berlin Wall.  He was stationed in the military garrison there as an MP in 1974.  As a dashing 24 year old youth, he had some off duty adventures when he would often go into East Berlin and live it up a little.  He could buy East German marks very cheap on the black market and then dine in the best restaurants of East Berlin and enjoy good German beer in the bars.  He befriended some people there.  One asked him for a favor that appealed to his anti-communist fervor and eagerness to help.  He gave the friend a key to the trunk of his car and someone on the other side of the wall received a duplicate.  So whenever the off duty MP stopped in the restaurant, a refugee would be loaded into his trunk and someone would unload the refugee on the other side of the Wall.  

To this day, Bill Medley has no idea how many East German people he brought to freedom. He never met any person he helped escape to freedom.  Finally he was caught by the East German police (Volpo), who turned him over to the Soviet military.  It was an international incident, but for the sake of detente the Russians did not make a global crisis over it and did not want to disrupt the delicate negotiations to reduce tensions .  The incident did hit the news wires around the world and was mentioned on at least one national television news program.  The State Department and the military authorities negotiated his release after a week of interrogation.  Needless to say, he got into trouble with his military superiors.  Nevertheless, Medley demonstrated a big heart with courage and daring despite personal risk.

Thus he is part of the lore of the Berlin Wall along with the famous “Mole”, Hasso Herschel, who escaped from East Germany in 1961 by using a borrowed passport and smuggled more than 1,000 people across the Berlin Wall over the next decade using tunnels and hiding them in cars.  This inspired the 2001 film, “The Tunnel”.

        The Wall Comes Tumbling Down. One landmark very salient in my mind was the point where the wall passed directly in front of Resurrection Church. Over the main portal is a statue of Christ peering over the wall from East Berlin. It seemed to convey a message of hope.......that “One day Berlin will be free.”

        Indeed the Berlin Wall did come down on November 9, 1989 after Hungary opened its borders on September 10 to East German refugees and the satellite countries were let go by the Soviet Union. Hundreds of jubilant people made the first breach and knocked down the wall with sledge hammers and their own hands. Many took bricks as souvenirs. On October 3, 1990 Germany was reunited as one of the strongest democracies in Europe. However, it was very costly over several years to bring the underdeveloped East Germany up to the level of West Germany.

       Since the wall became the symbol of Communism during the Cold War, this event marked the end of Communism in Western Europe and the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union which took its place on the ash heap of history in 1991. From 1961 to 1989, the wall seemed to be impregnable. No one expected the fall of Communism in Europe. It seemed to be sudden. It happened so the point of being miraculous. It was very reminiscent of the walls of Jericho that came tumbling down after the Israelites followed God's command and marched around the walls seven times on the seventh day.
East German police make an opening in the wall November 1989
Triumph and Jubilation as the Berlin Wall comes tumbling down, reminiscent of the walls of Jericho.

        Pope John Paul II, President Reagan, and Avery Dulles, a Catholic and the Director of the CIA worked together to undermine Communism in Europe, particularly in Poland. The Vatican gave the United States considerable information and the CIA channeled money to help Solidarity in Poland with its activities as printing presses, funds, etc. In addition Pope John Paul challenged the regimes and inspired the Solidarity Movement.  At Fatima, Mary asked that the Pope in union with the bishops consecrate the world to her Immaculate Heart. That Blessed Pope John Paul II did on October 16, 1983 (See  the  complete  text  at  Only six years later, the wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed two years after that.  Did Mary have a part in all of this?

         Today, portions of the Wall remain as well as the Checkpoint Charlie Museum…….monuments of the sacrifices made by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations and its troops.  More than once were we on the brink of a nuclear holocaust (see, and; prayer must have prevailed.  The Cold War taught us the value of vigilance and the fact that freedom is not free.  It must be upheld.  Some old threats remain and new threats arise, particularly radical Islam……Iran, Al Qaida, the Taliban, and other forms of terrorism.  The world still must cope with Communist China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, and Cuba, while some other countries have leftist socialism (see  Cuba is weak and after the Castro brothers die, there should be significant liberalization. China is evolving toward considerable free enterprise and will be weak in the future.  The country's “One Child” policy mandates abortion after the first child and causes infanticide of female babies because male babies are favored in the culture. Thus there is already a shortage of women as the population ages and even decreases.


          For a history of the Berlin Wall see

For a great web photo exhibition in color see  

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