June 16, 1953

The 1953 East German Uprising

The 1953 East German Uprising is considered one of the precursors to the 1956 Revolution, with the critical difference that this attempt by the East Germans was stamped out by Soviet troops at the outset, meaning that it was limited to a general strike and smaller disturbances. Consequently, the uprising had no significant achievements in contrast to the Hungarian Revolution, which resulted in a democratic coalition government and also saw widespread armed resistance to the Soviet occupation.

What made the East German Uprising possible was the relaxation of political oppression in the countries occupied by Soviet forces as a result of Joseph Stalin’s death. From an ideological perspective, however, there are many similarities between the East German Uprising and the Hungarian Revolution. The East Germans also demanded free elections June 16, 1953, as well as a rise in living standards, which is all the more interesting since they had the highest standards of living throughout the Eastern Bloc. But if we consider that the workers saw a 10 percent reduction in their wages on that day, then this demand becomes much more understandable. The strike that began in East Berlin spread throughout East Germany by the second day, with more than 400,000 people participating. By this time there were also demands for German reunification and the release of political prisoners. The situation became more tense with each passing hour as the East German communist leadership no longer had control of the situation. The East German party leader was convinced that West German provocateurs were behind the discontent, which of course was not the case. The reasons for the uprising were simply that the people were dissatisfied with their living conditions and political repression.

Arrests began on June 17, 1956, while in central Berlin the police used clubs against the crowds who retaliated with rocks and sticks, as many people were injured in these clashes. During all of this a youth climbed the Brandenburg Gate, which at the time symbolized the separation of the two German states, and tore the red flag from it to cheers from the crowd. Plans to erect the German national flag in its place were stopped by the Soviet troops who fired upon anyone trying to climb the structure. The 500,000 strong Soviet Army in East Germany was called to quell the rebellion, firing upon protestors, occupying strategic junctions and declaring martial law. Numerous people were killed on this day, the result of which was that silence fell over East Germany the following day, a silence that was the result of death and terror.

Bence Csatári