Fifty years ago this weekend the Berlin Wall was erected. A long, murderous nightmare began for East Germany’s citizens, imprisoned for decades by their own country behind barbed wire, concrete, explosives and guns. It would end only in 1989. (I still find it astonishing that many young people have never heard of the Berlin Wall, or even of the Cold War. What are our history teachers doing, to fail their students so badly?)
Here’s how the Berlin Wall started.
And here’s how it ended.
About 5,000 people made it across the Berlin Wall to freedom during its existence. No-one knows how many people died in the attempt. It’s believed that at least 136 perished, but the total may be much higher. The East German authorities didn’t make public the records of how many tried and were arrested, or shot, or blown up in minefields; and it’s believed that they deliberately failed to record many such statistics.
The Berlin Wall was, and will always be, one of the ultimate symbols of the evil of communism. President Reagan was right to refer to the Soviet Union as an ‘evil empire’ – the citizens of the former Warsaw Pact, enslaved by that empire, can and do bear witness to the truth of that label. When a state is so bereft of legitimacy that it must imprison its own citizens to stop them fleeing to greener pastures, that says it all, right there.
Thanks be to God that the Wall is no more. May those who died upon it, rest in peace: and let us never forget the terrible, tragic reality of their sacrifice.