Lifting children to freedom over the barbed wire – should we choose freedom now?

June 17, 2018

August, 1961. First the barbed wire went up surrounding West Berlin, separating those in the Russian sector, and East Germany, from those in the French, British and U.S. sectors, an island of non-communist rule in a sea of communists.

The famous wall of concrete, steel and barbed wire would be built soon. Germans living in Berlin were sometimes trapped by arbitrary lines on a map, lines that meant the difference between freedom and a communist dictatorship.

Why am I thinking of this now? This photo, from the U.S. Information Agency, in the files of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The photo tells a sad story, that should never be repeated.

Berlin residents pass children over the barbed wire separating the free West Berlin from Soviet-occupied West Berlin. August 1961. U.S. National Archives image, from U.S. Information Agency.

Berlin residents pass children over the barbed wire separating the free West Berlin from Soviet-occupied West Berlin. August 1961. U.S. National Archives image, from U.S. Information Agency.

The guard, a “Vopo,” looked the other way. And that made all the difference in that child’s life.

Caption for photo from USIA, on the back of the photo.

Caption for photo from USIA, on the back of the photo.

Why does this image call out to me now, as if from the voice of that child, pleading for help? Does it call to you, too?

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Berlin Wall in the U.S., the FDR Library

March 31, 2014

"Freedom from Fear," sculpture made from cutouts of sections of the Berlin Wall, photo by gwenvasil, FDR Home & Presidential Library Hyde Park, NY, October 20, 2013.

“Freedom from Fear,” sculpture made from cutouts of sections of the Berlin Wall, photo by gwenvasil, FDR Home & Presidential Library Hyde Park, NY, October 20, 2013.

Interesting, perhaps somewhat silly sculpture, found on the grounds of the Roosevelt Family estate in Hyde Park, New York, near the FDR Library and Museum.

Unless and until one knows the rest of the story.

  • These rather free form human forms, covered in what looks like graffiti, were cut from sections of the Berlin Wall, after the collapse of East Germany.
  • This is close to the bust of FDR’s ally in war for peace, Winston Churchill.  Appropriate, because,
  • Sculpture was created by Churchill’s granddaughter, Edwina Sandys.
  • Actually, these  sculptures were arranged together in a suite, in an area now known as Freedom Court
    • “In 2007, a new dimension was added to this hallowed ground by the construction of the Freedom Court. In honor of the friendship between the two legendary leaders, Edwina was instrumental in commissioning a bronze bust of Winston Churchill by sculptor Oscar Nemon, to be placed opposite one of FDR already in existence. The two sculptures flank the entrance to the court so that now and forever the two old wartime allies will be able to look at each other in a dynamic ‘outdoor room’ made of trees and shrubs.”Edwina’s ‘BreakFree’ now stands center stage in the Freedom Court, bearing witness to the ideals these great statesmen stood for, and bringing all three sculptures together in a magical web of connectedness.”
  • Segments of the Berlin Wall from which these cutouts came now stand in Fulton, Missouri, at the National Churchill Museum — the cutout figures were christened “BreakFree” by Edwina Sandys; the wall, from which they came, is called “BreakThrough.”

A few parts of the Berlin Wall are displayed across the U.S.  At Fulton, Missouri, are eight segments, made into liberating art by Edwina Sandys; at Hyde Park, New York, the cutouts from those segments form another artwork dedicated to freedom.  Other pieces of the wall and one of the guard towers, can be seen at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Nice touch to borrow the phrase from FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech for the pedestal.

I found this photo from a Tweet from the FDR Library earlier today, alerting people to the collection of photos at the Flickr site of gwenvasil.  Follow the links, you’ll find other photos worth serious pondering.

More:


August 13, 1961: Berlin Wall

August 13, 2012

51 years ago today.

Soviet-bloc communism disabused us of a lot of ideas, including pointing out that when the amplification was turned up a lot, even Robert Frost could be wrong in the voice of his farmer and neighbor character, because high, concrete and concertina wire fences don’t make good neighbors.

A rock wall in Vermont, like the one Robert Frost wrote about -Wikimedia image

A rock wall in Vermont, like the one Robert Frost wrote about -Wikimedia image

Of course, even in demonstrating Frost in error, the communists made the opening clause of “Mending Fences” more poignant: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall . . .”

Residents of Berlin awoke on August 13, 1961, to discover that the Soviet-dominated East Germany had begun constructing a wall across Berlin, to keep East Berlin residents from escaping the clutches of communism and walking to freedom in West Berlin.

This year I saw a mock up of part of the Berlin Wall next to an exhibit honoring Winston Churchill at the Trout Museum of Art in Appleton, Wisconsin.  A few days later I saw actual portions of the wall, mounted for permanent display at the National Churchill Museum on the Churchill Center in Fulton, Missouri.  A few days later, I saw more sections of the wall, with one of the 300+ guard towers, at the Newseum, in Washington, D.C.  On Each occasion I was reminded of my own  trip to the Wall in 1987, finding next to the boarded-up Reichstag eight wreaths, honoring the eight people who were known to have died trying to cross the wall in the previous six months.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.  That something is freedom.

Please see other Bathtub posts on the topic:

And remember the poet’s telling, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

A wall Robert Frost would not love - Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz, November 1975, from West Berlin - Wikimedia photo

A wall Robert Frost would not love – Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz, November 1975, from West Berlin – Wikimedia photo


August 13, 1961: The Berlin Wall’s 50th anniversary

August 13, 2011

August keeps handing us these dates:  How should the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall be remembered?

AP reports in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the current mayor of Berlin said we must use the Wall to remember that we must stand up for democracy.  Ceremonies in Berlin marked the anniversary and the creation of a new museum there.  I wrote before:

August 13 . . . [marks the 50th] “anniversary” of the erection of the Berlin Wall, the totem of the Cold War that came down in 1989, pushing the end of the Cold War. Residents of Berlin awoke on this day in 1961 to find the communist government of East Germany erecting what would become a 96-mile wall around the “western quarters” of the city — not so much to lay siege to the westerners (that had been tried in 1948, frustrated by the Berlin Airlift) as to keep easterners from “defecting” to the West. The Brandenburg Gate was closed on August 14, and all crossing points were closed on August 26.

From 1961 through 1991 1989, teachers could use the Berlin wall as a simple and clear symbol for the differences between the communist Eastern Bloc, the Soviet Union and her satellite states, and the free West, which included most of the land mass of Germany, England, France, Italy, the United States and other free-market nations — the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries. I suspect most high school kids today know very little about the Wall, why it was there, and what its destruction meant, politically.

This era of history is generally neglected in high school. Many courses fail to go past World War II; in many courses the Cold War is in the curriculum sequenced after the ACT, SAT and state graduation examinations, so students and teachers have tuned out.

But the Wall certain had a sense of drama to it that should make for good lessons. When I visited the wall, in early 1988, late at night, there were eight fresh wreaths honoring eight people who had died trying to cross the Wall in the previous few weeks (in some places it was really a series of walls with space in between to make it easier for the East German guards to shoot people trying to escape) — it’s an image I never forget. Within a year after that, East Germans could travel through Hungary to visit the West, and many “forgot” to return. Within 18 months the wall itself was breached.

The Wall was a great backdrop for speeches, too — President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin in June 1963, and expressed his solidarity with the walled-in people of both West and East Berlin, with the memorable phrase, “Ich bin ein Berliner, which produced astounding cheers from the tens of thousands who came to hear him. There are a few German-to-English translators who argue that some of the reaction was due to the fact that “Berliner” is also an idiomatic phrase in Berlin for a bakery confection like a jelly doughnut — so Kennedy’s words were a double entendre that could mean either “I am a citizen of Berlin,” or “I am a jelly doughnut.”  [Be sure to see the comments . . .  from Vince Treacy (9/28/2010).]  Ronald Reagan went to the same place Kennedy spoke to the Berlin Wall, too, to the Brandenburg Gate, in his famous June 1987 speech which included a plea to the Soviet Union’s Premier Mikhail Gorbachev: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

What do we do appropriately with such memory?

What does the Berlin Wall, and its demise, mean to us today?  What should it mean?


Kennedy said, in the struggle for freedom, we are all citizens of Berlin (Quote of the moment)

June 26, 2011

49 years ago, on June 26, 1962, in Berlin:

President Kennedy addresses Berlin citizens, 6-26-1962 (photographer unidentified)

President John F. Kennedy addressing a crowd in Berlin, Germany, June 26, 1962 - image from NARA and/or Kennedy Library

From the Smithsonian Magazine site:

June 26, 1963: “Ich bin ein Berliner”

In West Berlin, President John F. Kennedy delivers the famous speech in which he declares, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Meaning literally “I am a citizen of Berlin,” the statement shows U.S. solidarity with democratic West Berlin, surrounded by communist territory.

View a video of President Kennedy’s speech at American Rhetoric, Top 100 Speeches.

Audio of the famous line, from the National Archives:

Photos and complete audio, at The Sounds of History.com:

Text and transcript, and other materials, from the Kennedy Library and Museum:

Kennedy’s entire speech was good. It was well drafted and well delivered, taking advantage of the dramatic setting and the dramatic moment. John Kennedy well understood how to give a speech, too.

Below is most of the speech, nearly five minutes’ worth, from a YouTube file — another indication that schools need to open up their filters to allow at least some of the best YouTube material through:

Transcript, from the JFK Library:

I am proud to come to this city as the guest of your distinguished Mayor, who has symbolized throughout the world the fighting spirit of West Berlin. And I am proud to visit the Federal Republic with your distinguished Chancellor who for so many years has committed Germany to democracy and freedom and progress, and to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed.

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was “civis Romanus sum.” Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!

There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.

What is true of this city is true of Germany–real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people. You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.

Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.

All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

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20 years ago, the Berlin Wall fell – reverse domino effect

November 9, 2009

High school sophomores in Texas study world history, and juniors study U.S. history. At 16 and 17 years old, they have difficulty figuring out the fuss over the Berlin Wall. It’s just pictures in their textbook.

The Wall was already three or four years gone when they were born. They don’t remember living with the Soviet Union at all — it’s been Russia to them for their entire lives.

I have some hopes that the celebrations set for this week will aid their understanding, on the 20th anniversary of the breaching and destruction of the wall.

Dominoes set for celebration of the Berlin Wall's destruction.  AP photo by Herbert Knosowski, via Canadian Broadcast System

Caption from CBC: "Dominoes are placed where the Berlin Wall once stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate in the German capital. (Herbert Knosowski/Associated Press)"

An enormous line of giant dominoes is set up along the line where the old wall stood — to be toppled on November 9, the anniversary of the official breaching of the wall.

It’s the “domino theory” in reverse.

About 1,000 plastic foam dominoes will fall to the ground Monday along the route where the Berlin Wall once stood to mark the 20th anniversary of the crumbling of the Cold War barrier.

The 2.3-metre-high blocks, painted by schoolchildren, stretch for 1.5 kilometres in a path near the Brandenburg Gate and the German parliament.

Former Polish leader Lech Walesa, whose pro-democracy movement Solidarity played a key role in ending communism in Eastern Europe, will tip the first domino at 8 p.m. local time.

I made one visit to the wall, late on a night in 1988.  American Airlines explored the possibility of taking over the service authorized from Munich to Berlin.  Soviet and East German rules required passenger flights to stay at a very uncomfortable 10,000 feet.  Pan Am had the route, but Pan Am was in trouble.  We spent a day with Berlin airport authorities and real estate agents trying to figure out how to set up a reservations office and other ground facilities.  European airports tended to force foreign carriers to share gate facilities, which was a problem, and we devoted a lot of time to gathering data for computer lines.

But then, after a smashing dinner of sausage and German-style potatoes in a great, small Berlin pub, we talked our taxi driver into giving us a tour of the wall.  He drove a spot near the Brandenburg gate, and there on a chain link fence keeping westerners from the wall were eight fresh wreaths.  Eight people had died trying to cross from East Berlin to West Berlin in the previous six months.  One wreath for each death.

Just over a year later, the Berlin Wall itself would be gone.

West Berlin acted much like a normal, western European city.  But the wall was there as a constant reminder of the oppression on the other side, a dull fog to constantly dim even the sunniest day.

Old posts on the Berlin Wall here at the bathtub are suddenly popular — usually they get a lot of hits after March when U.S. schools get to the post-World War II era, the Cold War and the Berlin airlift.  I imagine the current popularity has something to do with the anniversary.

I hope somebody has some great video of the dominoes toppling.

Dominoes acerbicly note the irony:  While the U.S. feared nations would fall under communism in a “domino effect,” especially in Southeast Asia (Indochina), communism broke up in a domino effect, as one communist-dominated country after another found freedom near the end of the Cold War.  Why has no one done a serious essay on the domino effect of freedom?

More news and resources:

Famous sign warning visitors leaving West Berlin

A sign of old times, now unneeded

Viral dominoes: Help spread the news:

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