*** East German worker riots 1953

The Cold War: East German Worker Riots--Suppression

East German worker demonstrator supression
Figure 1.--Here we see Communist demonststors after Red Army troops supressed the East German eorkrs.Nitce all the red flags. The banner reads, "Our answer to provocateurs: Firm trust in the government!" The Communist East German caption read "Thousands of Berliners demonstrated on the afternoon of June 26, 1953. Karl-Marx-Allee [Stalinallee] headed to the House of Ministries on Leipziger Strasse and thereby expressed their trust in the government and the Socialist Unity Party (SED). Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl spoke to them." This was 11 days after Soviet troops brutally suppressed the demonstrators, killing unarmed workers. They may be marching over blood-strained streets. These workers look like university students. What is unclear is to what extent they were voluntarily participating in the demonstration. We suspect that some really believed. Others probably understood that support for the SED was necessary for their futures. We have no idea which motivationn was more important. The Soviet firing on unarmed workers does not seem to have bothered them. The placard in the background shows Walter Ulbricht, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party. He was an important figure in the creation of the Weimar-era German Communist Party (KPD) and then in the early development and establishment of the SED.

The East German workers were brutally suppressed. Soviet High Commissioner for Germany Vladimir Semyonov as disturbnces developed ordered Soviet troops and tanks in East Germany be moved toward East Berlin. Soviet troops entered East Berlin in force (early morning June 17). Red Arm military vehicles reached the area, followed by tanks to prevent what looked like thev crods seizing cointrol of the Government. Red Army troops quickly took control from the unarmed workers. They cleared out and cordoned off thev area around the Government buildings in the city center. The Soviets the shut down tram and metro traffic to prevent more demonsratirs swelling the crowds. They closed the check points to West Berlin. Next the Soviets declared martial law (about 1:00 pm). 【Ostermann, p. 164】 Then the unthinkable happened. The Red Army soon joined by the Stasi and Volkspolizeipened fire on the workers. This was what evil Tsarist and capitalist regimes did, not rightous Socilaist authorities. The Soviets while shocked, reacted immediately by sending tanks into the streets and ordering Red Army troops to fire on the demonstrators. At the time, the Soviet leadership was involved in a struggle for power following Stalin's death. The arrest of KGB Director Lavrentii Beria has been explained on his attitude toward Germany, although obviously other more practical matters were involved, namely the fear of other Politburo members for their safety. The question of Germany was a very sensitive one in Moscow. The War was still very fresh in the minds of Soviet leadership. The NAZIs had come very close to destroying the Soviet Union. And the Soviet victory required a national effort of massive prportions. A substanhtial part of the country lay in ruins. The Soviet Union suffered over 25 million casulties in the War. The Soviets were not about to relinquish control of Germany. Soviet troops backed by tanks and the East German Stasi/Volkspolize opened fire on the rioters, killing many, and injuring many more. They even fired into West Berlin. This first occured outside East Berlin police headquarters. And not just armed police, but Red Army tanks fired on the unarmed workers. What occured can not be called fightingb as the worketrs were unarmed. Clashed coninued into the night. The tanks and troops firedg directly into crowds with automatic weapons. Executions and mass arrests followed. The most prominent execution was West Berlin worker Willi Gottling. That first night Red Army soldiers, the Volkspolizei, and the Stasi began arresting hundreds. Some 10,000 people are believed to have been detained or arrested. Some 40 people were executed. This may not include the Red Army soldiers who refused orders to fire on unarmed demonstrators. 【Of Flowers】


Ostermann, Christian. "Introduction" Uprising in East Germany, 1953: The Cold War, the German Question, and the First Major Upheaval behind the Iron Curtain (Central European University Press: Budapest, 2001). This volume is part of of the National Security Archive Cold War Document Reader series.

"Of Flowers and Murder," Discover (Feb 1, 1999).

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Created: 3:05 AM 8/23/2012
Last updated: 9:09 PM 1/7/2024