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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

      4 June

      The American president, John F. Kennedy, and Soviet party leader Nikita Khrushchev meet at a summit in Vienna. In view of the American disaster in the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, Khrushchev feels the time is ripe to put pressure on the United States in Europe as well. more
    • 1961

      6 June

      Washington: Upon his return to the United States, John F. Kennedy uses a radio and television address to report on the 'very full and frank exchange of views' with Khrushchev in Vienna. more
    • 1961

      6 June

      In East Berlin, the SED Politburo reviews Khrushchev's meeting with Kennedy in Vienna and decides to draw up a "German peace plan" that is to be presented to the Volkskammer (parliament) by Walter Ulbricht in the first week of July. more
    • 1961

      7 June

      Marienfelde Reception Centre (transit camp)
      At the Marienfelde Reception Centre in West Berlin, a 31-year-old man gives this account of his experiences: "We, my wife and I, both research assistants at the Institute for X at the Y University, never held Marxist opinions and were for this reason always restricted in our professional advancement. more
    • 1961

      11 June

      East Berlin: The main organ of the SED, "Neues Deutschland", publishes the text of the memorandum on the German and Berlin questions that Khrushchev handed to the American president after the talks in Vienna (see 3-4 June 1961). Only now does the general public hear of Khrushchev's new ultimatum and his undisguised threat to take action against West Berlin in six months' time. more
    • 1961

      12 June

      East Berlin: In an interview with William Randolph Hearst, the editor in chief of an American news agency, about the current political situation in Germany, Ulbricht answers the former's written questions along the same lines as the Soviet memorandum on the signing of a peace treaty with Germany and the transformation of West Berlin into a "Free City". more
    • 1961

      15 June

      At an international press conference in front of 300 journalists in the "House of Ministries" in East Berlin, GDR State Council leader Walter Ulbricht hails the Soviet proposals for a peace treaty and calls for West Berlin to be neutralised. more
    • 1961

      15 June

      In a radio and television address, Khrushchev summarises his meeting with the American president, John F. Kennedy, in Vienna. He stresses the Soviet desire for an "honest disarmament" with the same conditions for all countries. Khrushchev says that complete disarmament and strict controls at every step are fundamental requirements for the success of an international agreement. more
    • 1961

      16 June

      East Berlin: "Ulbricht demands complete air sovereignty - GDR wants simultaneous solution to the Berlin question and the refugee problem" is the headline given by Annamarie Doherr to her report on Ulbricht's press conference in the newspaper "Frankfurter Rundschau". more
    • 1961

      16 June

      On this day and the following, Western politicians react to the speech given by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on 15 June 1961: the British foreign minister, Lord Home, says in Chicago that the Berlin crisis is no more than a consequence of the fact that communism in the Soviet zone has failed in fair competition with the free society. In Geneva, the French foreign minister, Couve de Murville, warns Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko of the serious consequences that would arise from every attempt of the Ulbricht government to close off Western access routes to Berlin.
    • 1961

      16 June

      The chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary party, Heinrich Krone, is in Paris for political talks with the French government. In his diary, he writes about his conversation with the French president: more
    • 1961

      17 June

      Bonn: This year’s appeal by the Committee for an Indivisible Germany to mark the uprising on June 17 1953 contains the following words: "Unity and freedom: that is the motto for 17 June 1961. It is a call to the German people to stand by Berlin and our compatriots on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It is a call to prove to the world that the moral resistance against the division of our fatherland and the oppression of millions of our fellow citizens is becoming stronger, not weaker. At a time when the free peoples and their prominent representatives are supporting Berlin more resolutely than ever, it is the duty of every German to demonstrate for unity and freedom." more
    • 1961

      17 June

      East Berlin: In a 19-page internal letter, Walter Ulbricht, at the behest of the SED Central Committee, calls for a "change in work" on the part of the 1st Secretaries of the SED district administrations. In order to strengthen the GDR politically and economically as a "bastion of peace", he writes, a "concentrated, goal-directed political and economic effort" has to be made. He goes on to say that there is only one fundamental principle: "The criterion for this change in work is the fulfilment of the economic plan in all its parts and the removal of disruptions to the economy. It is imperative to wage a resolute war against illegal emigration." more
    • 1961

      18 June

      Washington: The Four-Power Working Group on the German question, made up of representatives from the USA, Great Britain, France and West Germany, meets at the US State Department for one of its secret consultations. The meeting is overshadowed by press reports claiming that there are considerable differences over the Berlin question, especially between the USA and Great Britain.
    • 1961

      18 June

      Moscow: In the Soviet capital, Party-controlled media have begun a widespread campaign of statements agreeing with the foreign policy ideas put forward by Premier Khrushchev in his radio and television address of 15 June. more
    • 1961

      19 June

      In Washington, John McCloy, President Kennedy’s special adviser on disarmament, and the Soviet deputy foreign minister, Valerian A. Sorin, begin informal talks on procedural issues for future disarmament negotiations between the USA and the Soviet Union. These negotiations were interrupted in the summer of 1960.
    • 1961

      19 June

      Willy Brandt, Berlin’s ruling mayor and SPD candidate for the chancellorship, again rejects the Soviet plans for turning West Berlin into a "free city". Brandt says that Berlin will never be allowed to become a "free-to-take city" ["vogelfreie Stadt"] because this would be the first step towards the city’s being annexed by the totalitarian SED regime.
    • 1961

      20 June

      In East Berlin, the SED Politburo holds a meeting – for ten hours. Ulbricht tells the Politburo members and candidates that the head of the Politburo office has a German translation of the Russian transcription of the talks between Khrushchev and Kennedy available for their perusal; they are not to be given copies. more
    • 1961

      21 June

      Moscow: Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gives a speech at the Kremlin to mark the 20th anniversary of the attack by Hitler’s Germany on the Soviet Union. In it, he again calls for the signing of a peace treaty and denounces the "West German revanchists" who oppose the Soviet proposals. more
    • 1961

      22 June

      Washington: In response to Khrushchev’s speech, American Foreign Minister Dean Rusk gives a statement on the Berlin question in which he underlines the legitimacy of the presence of the Western Allies in the city. "The United States and its allies have assumed certain basic obligations to protect the freedom of the people of West Berlin. Western forces are in the city by right and remain there to protect those freedoms." more
    • 1961

      23 June

      The main SED organ, "Neues Deutschland", publishes the "Appeal to All Collective Farmers, Agricultural Workers and Tractor Drivers, All Members of the Parties United in the National Front and Mass Organisations, Local People’s Representatives, Their Councils and Staff Members, and the Entire Village Population". In it, the Central Committee of the SED, the Council of Ministers of the GDR and the Presidency of the National Council of the National Front call on the entire rural population of the GDR to make good all the delays in their work in the fields caused by bad weather and to make every effort to bring in the harvest. more
    • 1961

      24 June

      According to the German Press Agency (dpa), the pressure of the persistently bad balance of payments has caused the government in London to consider reviewing the foreign exchange costs for British troops in West Germany. The day before, the "Financial Times" wrote: "There is obviously now an intention to tell the Germans that Great Britain can no longer afford its present share of military costs and that it would unreasonable to expect this in view of the states of the British and West German economies."
    • 1961

      24 June

      The editor in chief of the newspaper "Frankfurter Rundschau", Karl Gerold, describes the present conflict between East and West as a "great war of nerves" that exceeds in intensity any other diplomatic action of the past few years. more
    • 1961

      25 June

      The British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, is disquieted by the lack of agreement on the German question among the Western Powers. In his view, public opinion in France and the United States in particular seems to tend increasingly towards a hardline approach to the stance of the Soviet Union. He writes in his diary: "...we may drift into disaster over Berlin – a terrible diplomatic defeat or (out of sheer incompetence) into a nuclear war."
    • 1961

      26 June

      During a visit to West Germany, NATO Secretary General Dirk Stikker speaks on NATO’s views on the German and Berlin problems: more
    • 1961

      27 June

      East Berlin: Walter Ulbricht informs the SED Politburo about his letter to the presidium of the CPSU in which he proposes calling a meeting of the Political Advisory Committee of the Warsaw Pact States "to discuss the organisational and political preparations for signing a peace treaty with Germany".
    • 1961

      27 June

      London: At question time in the British House of Commons, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan answers a query about newspaper reports claiming that he had indicated to Kennedy a modification in the British stance on Berlin. more
    • 1961

      28 June

      Report by the West Berlin police: "The situation on the sector and zone border remains unchanged. Interzone traffic is normal. more
    • 1961

      28 June

      In Moscow, for the fourth time in two weeks, Premier Khrushchev states his determination to sign a separate peace treaty with the GDR. more
    • 1961

      28 June

      At his weekly press conference in Washington, American President John F. Kennedy speaks about the Soviet plans for a peace treaty: more
    • 1961

      28 June

      In Bonn, State Secretary Felix von Eckhardt announces the preparedness of the West German government to send food aid to the GDR. more
    • 1961

      29 June

      Marienfelde Reception Centre, mealtime.
      At the Marienfelde Reception Centre in West Berlin, a 20-year-old female photographer speaks about her reasons for escaping: more
    • 1961

      30 June

      At the end of the 3rd legislature period of the West German Bundestag, the parliamentary speaker, Eugen Gerstenmaier (CDU), delivers a statement on the German question on behalf of parliament. In it, he stresses the similarities between the foreign policies of CDU and SPD. The Speaker also notes that more than 2.6 million refugees from East Germany have voted with their feet for those who could no longer leave East Germany. more
    • June 1961

      In June 1961, altogether 19,198 people have escaped from the GDR and East Berlin to West Germany or West Berlin; a good half of them are people under 25 years of age.
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