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Chronicle 1961

In the night of the 12 to the 13 of August, Walter Ulbricht, as SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Ger.: Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands)) party leader and Chairman of the National Defence Council of the GDR, (German Democratic Republic [East Germany]. (Ger.: Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR)) gave the order to seal off the sector border in Berlin. Having obtained the agreement of the Soviet Union a few days previously, and with the support of the Soviet troops in the GDR, the regime closed off the last route for escape from the Party dictatorship: in the early morning of August 13, border police started ripping up streets in the middle of Berlin, pieces of asphalt and paving stones were piled up to form barricades, concrete posts were driven into the ground and barbed-wire barriers erected. more
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    • 1961

      1 May

      In Washington, information is growing about measures the GDR might take to stem the flow of refugees. A department head from the East German Foreign Ministry who has left the GDR and been flown to the USA reports that concrete plans to prevent the exodus have been in the pipeline in East Berlin since January 1961. more
    • 1961

      2 May

      The Supreme Defence Council in Moscow meets to discuss the military measures necessary if there is a new Berlin crisis. The commander-in-chief of the Group of Soviet Armed Forces in Germany is present. more
    • 1961

      5 May

      After some initial hitches, the Americans also succeed in carrying out a manned space flight. The altogether 15-minute flight by the astronaut Alan B. Shepard prompts US President Kennedy to announce on 25 May that the USA would send a man to land on the moon at the end of the decade and bring him back safe and sound as well. more
    • 1961

      8 May

      NATO’s ministerial spring meeting begins in Oslo. The foreign ministers of the three Western Powers reaffirm their conviction "that a peaceful and just solution for the problem of Germany including Berlin is to be found only on the basis of self-determination." more
    • 1961

      13 May

      The Federal Minister of All-German Affairs, Ernst Lemmer, speaks about the exodus of refugees from the GDR in a RIAS radio address: "If a million people, in peacetime, flee their native country like thieves in the night, leaving behind everything they own, the situation must be unbearable. There is a continuous and flagrant violation of human rights going on here." Speech by Ernst Lemmer, Minister of All-German Affairs, about the wave of GDR refugees to the West, 17 May 1961 (in German)
    • 1961

      19 May

      The Soviet ambassador to East Berlin, Mikhail Pervuchin, informs Foreign Minister Gromyko about plans by the SED leadership to immediately close the border between East and West Berlin, against Soviet policy. more
    • 1961

      24 May

      An internal analysis of the SED security apparatus concludes that the flow of refugees from the GDR has a variety of causes: political reasons ("lack of faith in the correctness of Party and government policies"), family ties, personal reasons such as the hope of a better, easier and freer life in the West, and a thirst for adventure on the part of young people. It says ninety-five percent of those leaving used the route via West Berlin. It adjudges that GDR security forces are not able to cope with these problems on their own. Report by a work team in the department for security issues of the SED Central Committee on the reasons for people leaving the GDR, 24 May 1961 (in German)
    • 1961

      26 May

      At a Presidium meeting of the CPSU Central Committee, Nikita Khrushchev says that the main concerns in Berlin were stopping the flow of refugees and ending the Western Powers’ occupation regime in the city. Khrushchev stresses, however, that this did not mean attacking West Berlin or blockading it again. more
    • 1961

      27 May

      A 28-year-old arts scholar from Greifswald who has fled to the West describes the constrained situation in which academics find themselves because of the way every kind of research is geared to the requirements of "socialist construction" in the GDR. Report by a GDR refugee, 27 May 1961 (in German)
    • 1961

      28 May

      In an article in the Soviet daily "Izvestiya" bearing the by-line of N. Polianov, the author emphasises the demand for a peace treaty, saying that Berlin is like "a pistol pointed at the breast of the socialist states".
    • 1961

      31 May

      On the way to his meeting with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna on 4 June, US President Kennedy arrives in Paris to talk with the French president. Because the West’s military strength in Berlin itself is hopelessly inferior, Charles de Gaulle urges that a tough front should be put up to Khrushchev. He says it must be made clear to the CPSU leader that a Soviet military action in Berlin, however limited in intention, could lead to a major war, even a nuclear one.


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    • May 1961

      In May 1961, 17,791 people flee from the GDR. Of these, 50 percent are young people under the age of 25.
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