East German uprising of 1953

The East German uprising of 1953 (German: Volksaufstand vom 17. Juni 1953 ) began with a strike action by East Berlin construction workers on 16 June, and turned into a widespread uprising against the German Democratic Republic government the next day. It involved more than one million people in about 700 localities.[1]

The uprising in East Berlin was violently suppressed by tanks of the Soviet occupation forces, and the Kasernierte Volkspolizei. In spite of the intervention of Soviet troops, the wave of strikes and protests were not easily brought under control. There were demonstrations in more than 500 towns and villages after 17 June.

The date, 17 June, was celebrated as a public holiday in West Germany up until the German reunification, after which it was replaced by German Unity Day, celebrated annually on 3 October. Strikes and working class networks, particularly relating to the old Social Democratic Party of Germany, anti-fascist resistance networks and trade unions played a key role in the unfolding of the uprising.[2] The event has always been significantly downplayed in the Soviet Union.

East German uprising of 1953
Part of the Cold War
08 Workers Revolt in Berlin - Flickr - The Central Intelligence Agency

East Berliners throwing rocks at Soviet tanks
Date16–17 June 1953
Throughout East Germany
Result Uprising suppressed
Commanders and leaders
  • 20,000 soldiers
  • 8,000 police
1,500,000 demonstrators
Casualties and losses
5 police killed
  • 55–125 killed
  • 17 missing


In July 1952, the second party conference of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) took place in East Berlin. General Secretary Walter Ulbricht expressed the need for "systematic implementation of Socialism"; it was decided that the process of Sovietization should be intensified and the importance of the state expanded. The party was acting on demands made by Soviet premier Joseph Stalin.[1]

East Germany originally consisted of five states (i.e., Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia). In 1952, these states were abolished and the East was divided into 14 administrative districts called Bezirke. This division marked an assault on the remaining middle stratum of the republic; farmers who owned land, small business owners, and tradesmen were forced to give up their independence through raised charges.

This decision was made amid the background of the catastrophic economic situation in the country. In the course of the militarisation pushed by Soviet authorities, direct and indirect military expenditures rose and already made up around 11 percent of the national budget in 1952. Together with reparation payments, this totaled over 20 percent of the budget. The economic policies of the SED favored the development of heavy industry at the expense of the production of food and consumer goods, all of which resulted in a severe crisis in supplying the public with goods. Electricity was turned off in factories and public buildings at the onset of darkness every evening (during peak period).

The dramatic increase of emigration, Republikflucht ("desertion from the republic"), in the first half of 1953, already high since the establishment of the GDR, constituted a serious economic and social problem. Another factor that contributed to an already complicated political situation was the high number of political prisoners in the GDR. Suppression of the illegal organisation Junge Gemeinde ("young congregation"), wrongly perceived as the central youth organisation of the Evangelical Church, played a role here. Numerous trainee pastors were brutally beaten and imprisoned, e.g. Johannes Hamel and Fritz Hoffmann. Ecclesiastic recreation centres were closed and taken over by the Free German Youth (e.g. Schloss Mansfeld and Huberhaus Wernigerode). High school students who belonged to a church were often brutally beaten and expelled by the school authorities, sometimes even shortly before school graduation.

Within this complicated background, the decision to raise the work norms (in short the principle 'more work for the same salary') was perceived as a provocation, which would conceivably lead to the deterioration of living standards. The Central Committee decided to address the economic difficulties with a package of changes, which included higher taxes and higher prices, and—most significantly—an increase of the work quotas by 10 percent.[3]

These changes were coming into force by 30 June, Ulbricht's 60th birthday. Issued as a suggestion, it became in effect a direction that was introduced in all the state-owned enterprises (so-called volkseigene Betriebe) and if the new quotas were not met then workers would have to face a reduction of salaries. The decision was taken on 13–14 May, and the Council of Ministers approved it on 28 May.

Following Stalin's death on 5 March 1953 and the massive increase in emigration, the new Soviet government decided to ease the policies Stalin had demanded. On 4 June, the Soviet government, alarmed at reports of unrest, summoned East German leaders to Moscow. Georgy Malenkov warned them that if policy direction were not corrected immediately, there would be a catastrophe.[4] After intense discussion the East German party eased policies and publicly admitted that mistakes had been made. However, according to the historian of East Germany, Manfred Wilke, that admission may have had the unintended effect of inflaming public opinion rather than easing tensions.[1]


16 June

On the morning of 16 June, 300 East Berlin construction workers went on strike and marched down Stalinallee, now Karl-Marx-Allee, towards government buildings after their superiors announced a pay cut if they did not meet their work quota. Things started with a discussion by shop stewards as regards how to respond to recent increase in their work quotas. However, this soon turned into a mass demonstration, which gathered more workers from construction sites as they marched first to the headquarters of the Free German Trade Union Federation.

However, dissatisfied with the response there, the protest swelled to over ten thousand as they marched to House of Ministries on Leipziger Strasse, the home of the Council of Ministers of East Germany.[2] They bore banners with such slogans as "We demand a quota reduction!"[2] More political demands were developed such as "Workers join us!" "Unity is Strength!" "We want free elections!" and "We want to be free, not slaves."[2] They then demanded that Walter Ulbricht come out to speak to them. When a minor official informed the crowd that their original demand about quotas had been met, this failed to satisfy the protestors who started developing other demands until a young engineer made the suggestion that they put out a call for general strike the next day.

These events were reported by the West Berlin-based Radio in the American Sector which helped spread news of the intended strike: "The uprising actually began on 16 June 1953, when construction workers in East Berlin marched down what was then Stalinallee to the seat of the Communist government, demanding that it rescind an increase in work hours and calling for a general strike the next day."[1] RIAS, however, was initially controlled by the U.S. Information Control Division, with the ICD itself as a department of the U.S. Office of Military Government, formed in 1945 from the Psychological Warfare Division. Also independent networks which had been formed within the old Social Democratic Party of Germany, which had been forcibly merged into the SED, the trade unions and the Union of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime – which had recently been dissolved by the authorities - were an element in this self-organisation.[2]

17 June

Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F005191-0040, Berlin, Aufstand, sowjetischer Panzer
Soviet T-34-85 in East Berlin, 17 June

Early on 17 June, 40,000 protesters had gathered in East Berlin, with more arriving throughout the morning. Many protests were held throughout East Germany with at least some work stoppages and protests in virtually all industrial centers and large cities in the country. Joint strike committees were established in Hennigsdorf, Görlitz, Cottbus, and Gera.

The original demands of the protesters, such as the reinstatement of the previous lower work quotas, turned into political demands. SED functionaries took to the streets and began arguing with small groups of protesters. Eventually, the workers demanded the resignation of the East German government. The government decided to violently suppress the uprising and turned to the Soviet Union for military support. In total, around 16 Soviet divisions with 20,000 soldiers as well as 8,000 Kasernierte Volkspolizei members were used to quell the uprising.

Bundesarchiv Bild 175-14676, Leipzig, Reichsgericht, russischer Panzer
Soviet IS-2 tank in Leipzig, 17 June

In East Berlin, major clashes occurred along Unter den Linden (between the Brandenburger Tor and Marx-Engels-Platz), where Soviet troops and Volkspolizei opened fire,[5] and around Potsdamer Platz, where several people were killed by the Volkspolizei.[6] It is still unclear how many people died during the uprising or were sentenced to death in the aftermath. The number of known victims is 55;[7] other estimates put the number of victims at least 125.[8]

Earlier West German estimates of the number of people killed were considerably higher: according to the West German Ministry for Inter-German affairs in 1966, 513 people (including 116 "functionaries of the SED regime") were killed in the uprising, 106 people were executed under martial law or later condemned to death, 1,838 were injured, and 5,100 were arrested (1,200 of these were later sentenced to an average of 5 years in penal camps). It also was alleged that 17 or 18 Soviet soldiers were executed for refusing to shoot demonstrating workers,[9] but these reports remain unconfirmed by post-1990 research.[10]


On 18 June, Neues Deutschland, the official party publication of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and the daily national newspaper, published an article on its front page titled "Was ist in Berlin geschehen? (What occurred in Berlin?)" that explained the strike and subsequent uprising to be a direct result of the attempts by "western agencies" to disrupt the national stability and legitimacy of the SED.[11]

Other archived editions of Neues Deutschland document similar comments made by party officials that condemned the influence of American popular culture on German youth. The prominence of American films and music in both East and West Berlin influenced the rise of a subculture of youth commonly known as Halbstarke (lit. half-strengths). American films of the era like The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause were viewed by the GDR as romanticizing public disobedience and rebellion, as well as encouraging violent crime. Continued occurrences of crime and uprisings by German youths would eventually lead to the decision by SED party officials to begin construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.[12]


In memory of the 1953 East German rebellion, West Germany established 17 June as a national holiday, called Day of German Unity. Upon German reunification in October 1990, it was moved to 3 October, the date of formal reunification. The extension of the Unter den Linden boulevard to the west of the Brandenburg Gate, called Charlottenburger Chaussee, was renamed Straße des 17. Juni ("17 June Street") following the 1953 rebellion.

The event is commemorated in "Die Lösung", a poem by Bertolt Brecht. Other prominent GDR authors who dealt with the uprising include Stefan Heym (Fünf Tage im Juni / "Five Days in June", Munich 1974) and Heiner Müller (Wolokolamsker Chaussee III: Das Duell / "Volokolamsk Highway III: The Duel", 1985/86).

West German group Alphaville mention the date explicitly as "the seventeenth of June" but without reference to the year in their 1984 song "Summer in Berlin," from the album Forever Young. When the compilation album Alphaville Amiga Compilation was assembled for release in East Germany in 1988, the song "Summer in Berlin" was submitted for inclusion, but rejected "for political reasons."[13]

The 1966 Günter Grass play The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising depicts Brecht preparing a production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus against the background of the events of 1953.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Alison Smale (17 June 2013). "60 Years Later, Germany Recalls Its Anti-Soviet Revolt". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e Dale, Gareth. "East German rising 17 June 1953". academia.edu. Jacobin Magazine. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
  3. ^ Wasserstein, Barbarism & Civilization p. 494.
  4. ^ Otto Grotewohl's notes on meetings between the leaders 2–4 June 1953; see Ostermann, Uprising pages 137–138
  5. ^ 17juni53.de: Lagebericht NR. 168 des Operativstabes PDVP (in German), entries 14.32 and 14.42
  6. ^ victims include Horst Bernhagen, Edgar Krawetzke, Gerhard Schulze, Oskar Pohl, Gerhard Santura: 17juni53.de: Tote des 17. Juni 1953 (in German)
  7. ^ DeutschlandRadio Online, Koeln, Germany. "17juni53.de: Tote des 17. Juni 1953 (in German)". Retrieved 21 November 2014.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Tobias Zehnder (30 March 2003). "17juni53.com: Der Volksaufstand (in German)". Archived from the original on 1 February 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  9. ^ DeutschlandRadio Online, Koeln, Germany. "17juni53.de: Die Opfer des Aufstandes (in German, click on the link)". Retrieved 21 November 2014.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ DeutschlandRadio Online, Koeln, Germany. "17juni53.de: Vermeintliche und ungeklärte Todesfälle: Bezirk Magdeburg (in German)". Retrieved 21 November 2014.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Neues Deutschland, Do. 18. Juni 1953, Jahrgang 8
  12. ^ Poiger, U. G. (2000). Jazz, Rock, and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany. Berkeley: University of California. p. 180.
  13. ^ Alphaville Discography


  • Baring, Arnulf. Uprising in East Germany: June 17, 1953 (Cornell University Press, 1972)
  • Harman, Chris, Class Struggles in Eastern Europe, 1945–1983 (London, 1988) ISBN 0-906224-47-0
  • Millington, Richard (2014). State, Society and Memories of the Uprising of 17 June 1953 in the GDR. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Ostermann, Christian F.; Malcolm Byrne. Uprising in East Germany, 1953. Central European University Press.
  • Ostermann, Christian F. "" Keeping the Pot Simmering": The United States and the East German Uprising of 1953." German Studies Review (1996): 61–89. in JSTOR
  • Ostermann, Christian F. The United States, the East German Uprising of 1953, and the Limits of Rollback (Working Paper #11. Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1994) online
  • Richie, Alexandra. Faust's Metropolis: a History of Berlin. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1998, ch 14
  • Sperber, Jonathan. "17 June 1953: Revisiting a German Revolution" German History (2004) 22#4 pp. 619–643.
  • Tusa, Ann . The Last Division: a History of Berlin, 1945-1989. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1997.
  • Watry, David M. Diplomacy at the Brink: Eisenhower, Churchill, and Eden in the Cold War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2014.
  • Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk: 17. Juni 1953. Geschichte eines Aufstands. Beck, München 2013.

External links

10th Guards Uralsko-Lvovskaya Tank Division

The 10th Guards Uralsko-Lvovskaya Volunteer Tank Division, also known at the Ural-Lvov Tank Division, is a tank division of the Russian Ground Forces and part of the Moscow Military District's 20th Guards Army. The division traces its heritage back to 1943, during World War II. It is headquartered and based at Boguchar, 160 kilometres south of Voronezh, Voronezh Oblast.

Its complete formal designation is: "The 10th Guards Tank Ural-L'vov the Order of October Revolution Red Banner, the Order of Suvorov and the Order of Kutuzov Volunteer division in the name of Marshal of the Soviet Union R.A. Malinovsky" (Russian: 10 гвардейская танковая Уральско-Львовская ордена Октябрьской революции Краснознаменная орденов Суворова и Кутузова добровольческая дивизия имени Маршала Советского Союза Р. А. Малиновского).Reports indicate that the Division has been reduced in status to a mobilisable base for the storage of weapons and equipment, (which in wartime would become a tank brigade), during the 2009 Russian Ground Forces reorganisation. In 2015, it was reformed as the 1st Separate Ural-Lvov Tank Brigade.

1954 FIFA World Cup

The 1954 FIFA World Cup, the fifth staging of the FIFA World Cup, was held in Switzerland from 16 June to 4 July. Switzerland was chosen as hosts in July 1946. The tournament set a number of all-time records for goal-scoring, including the highest average number of goals scored per game. The tournament was won by West Germany, who defeated Hungary 3–2 in the final, giving them their first title.

Erna Dorn

Erna Dorn (17 July 1911 – 1 August 1953) was a victim of the politicised justice system in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). She is believed to be the only female to have been sentenced and executed in the aftermath of the East German uprising of 1953.According to records she claimed to have worked in the political department at Ravensbrück concentration camp and to have been responsible for the deaths of between eighty and ninety inmates. She was sentenced to death on 22 June 1953 by the district court at Halle, found guilty of war mongering and boycott incitement against the German Democratic Republic: she was executed by guillotine two months later. On 22 March 1994 the conviction and sentence were posthumously revoked.There is much that remains unclear about Erna Dorn. Although she was executed as Erna Dorn, no records have surfaced identifying her by that name from before 1945. Surviving sources depend heavily on court files containing records of investigations and researches created during the four years prior to her execution, between 1949 and 1953. Her testimony during this period appears to have become ever more outlandish. There are also suggestions that some of what appears in these East German official records is uncorroborated and might be based on statements inaccurately attributed to Dorn by interrogators. Two alternative birth names that appeared were Erna Kaminski and Erna Brüser. Towards the end she came up with more (apparently fictitious) identities for herself. There is an alternative birth date of 28 August 1913. Also, between 1945 and 1949 she was married, and may be identified in sources by her married name as Erna Gewald. (An earlier marriage, between 1935 and 1943, to a Communist activist called Erich Brüser, seems to have been another fiction.)

Ernst Hornig

Ernst Hornig (25 August 1894 – 5 December 1976) was Germany "Praeses" and Bishop of the Evangelical Church of Silesia. He was appointed to the Bishopric in 1946, and because of frontier changes mandated the previous year he undertook his episcopal duties in respect of Silesia from Görlitz.

Hungarian Revolution of 1956

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (Hungarian: 1956-os forradalom), or the Hungarian Uprising, was a nationwide revolution against the Hungarian People's Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956. Leaderless when it first began, it was the first major threat to Soviet control since the Red Army drove Nazi Germany from its territory at the End of World War II in Europe.

The revolt began as a student protest, which attracted thousands as they marched through central Budapest to the Hungarian Parliament building, calling out on the streets using a van with loudspeakers. A student delegation, entering the radio building to try to broadcast the students' demands, was detained. When the delegation's release was demanded by the protesters outside, they were fired upon from within the building by the State Security Police, known as the ÁVH (acronym for Állam Védelmi Hatóság, literally "State Protection Authority"). One student died and was wrapped in a flag and held above the crowd. This was the start of the revolution. As the news spread, disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.

The revolt spread quickly across Hungary, and the government collapsed. Thousands organised into militias, battling the ÁVH and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned, and former political prisoners were released and armed. Radical impromptu workers' councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People's Party and demanded political changes. A new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped, and a sense of normality began to return.

Initially appearing open to negotiating a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to crush the revolution. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. The Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions, while strengthening control over the Eastern Bloc, alienated many Western Marxists, leading to splits and/or considerable losses of membership for communist parties in capitalist states.

Public discussion about the revolution was suppressed in Hungary for more than 30 years. Since the thaw of the 1980s, it has been a subject of intense study and debate. At the inauguration of the Third Hungarian Republic in 1989, 23 October was declared a national holiday.

Konrad Adenauer

Konrad Hermann Joseph Adenauer (German: [ˈkɔnʁaːt ˈʔaːdənaʊ̯ɐ] (listen); 5 January 1876 – 19 April 1967) was a German statesman who served as the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) from 1949 to 1963. He was co-founder and first leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) (until 1966), a Christian Democratic party that under his leadership became one of the most influential parties in the country.

In the early years of the Federal Republic he switched focus from denazification to recovery and led his country from the ruins of World War II to becoming a productive and prosperous nation that forged close relations with France, the United Kingdom and the United States. During his years in power, West Germany achieved democracy, stability, international respect and economic prosperity ("Wirtschaftswunder", German for "economic miracle").Adenauer belied his age by his intense work habits and his uncanny political instinct. He displayed a strong dedication to a broad vision of market-based liberal democracy and anti-communism. A shrewd politician, Adenauer was deeply committed to a Western-oriented foreign policy and restoring the position of West Germany on the world stage. He worked to restore the West German economy from the destruction of World War II to a central position in Europe, presiding over the German Economic Miracle together with his Minister of Economics, Ludwig Erhard. He was a driving force behind West Germany becoming the first German state to re-establish a national military (the Bundeswehr) in 1955. He came to terms with France, which made possible the economic unification of Western Europe. Adenauer opposed rival East Germany and made his nation a member of NATO and a firm ally of the United States.

Adenauer, who was Chancellor until age 87, was dubbed "Der Alte" ("the elder"). British politician and historian Roy Jenkins says he was "the oldest statesman ever to function in elected office." He remains the oldest head of government for a major country.A devout Roman Catholic and member of the Catholic Centre Party, he was a leading politician in the Weimar Republic, serving as Mayor of Cologne (1917–1933) and as president of the Prussian State Council (1922–1933).

The Silent Revolution (2018 film)

The Silent Revolution (German: Das schweigende Klassenzimmer) is a 2018 German drama film directed by Lars Kraume. The film tells the story of a high school class in the German Democratic Republic, who have a moment of silence in their classroom for the victims of the Hungarian revolution of 1956. This small act of solidarity has unforeseen consequences, both for the children, as for their parents, and the school board.

Frozen conflicts
Foreign policy
See also
Annexed as, or
into, SSRs
Satellite states
Annexing SSRs
Revolts and
Cold War events
Post-Cold War topics

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.