No, that is not the case. On the contrary, this revolution has had a very important outcome. Berlin’s workers have accomplished what British diplomacy and American efforts were unable to bring about: on the eve of the Four-Power Talks, they have shown the entire world the weakness of the foundation supporting the power of the Kremlin and its instruments in East Germany (and presumably in all people’s democracies). It has become clear that this territory, as whose advocate and patron saint they like to style themselves, hates and despises them whole-heartedly, indeed, that they cannot rely even on the People’s Police. Moreover, it has become evident that with the right instinct for the totalitarian regime’s moments of weakness, one can inflict heavy blows on it – not to mention that this system has suffered a complete shipwreck: politically, economically, and psychologically. Finally, one more thing has become very clear to everyone, namely that German unity must now be the most important step in subsequent political developments.
That 17th of June has revealed a picture that can no longer be erased: the radiant faces of those Germans who lived for years in apprehension and bondage and who suddenly, as though intoxicated, rose up, tore down the foreign placards, burned the red flags, demanded a free vote on reunification . . . And who now quietly return to their workplaces again, filled with new anxieties. Many of us in the Federal Republic may have only realized during these days that what is happening over there concerns us all, and not only the people who are engaged in the negotiations. June 17th has provided irrefutable proof that German unity is a historical necessity. We know now that the day will come when Berlin is the German capital once again. The East German workers have restored this faith to us, and faith is the highest degree of certainty.
For a moment, there was the question of the Soviet response: would it be a continuation of the change in course or intensified terror? A decision has been made in favor of a change in course. Let us listen to the declarations by the central organ of the SED after those events. The paper Neues Deutschland wrote on June 18: “Of course we, the party of the working class, must ponder the weighty question of how it could come to pass that significant segments of Berlin’s working population – undoubtedly honorable and well-intentioned people – were filled with such discontent that they failed to notice how they were being used by fascist powers? There is no doubt that our party is guilty of serious shortcomings here. It must learn to respect the masses much more, to listen to what they have to say, to be concerned about their daily lives.”
On June 22, the SED Central Committee clearly stated in conclusion that “when masses of workers misunderstand the party, it is the fault of the party, not the workers.” Under the chairmanship of Minister President Grotewohl, a number of concessions were made to the population in the context of pursuing the “New Course.” The Kremlin thus wants to continue making the Eastern Zone “annexable” because it wants the neutralization of all of Germany [Gesamtdeutschland] in return. Reimann stated this very clearly in his press conference in Bonn on June 18, the day after the uprising, by quoting once again – nearly verbatim – the passage that runs like a red thread through the four Soviet notes of last year as the primary demand. The basis of the peace treaty, he said, must be that “Germany will not enter into any military alliances or coalitions that are aimed against states that were at war with Germany.”
Things must not be looking too good for Moscow if it is willing to suffer this Berlin setback – which is likely to have repercussions for the satellite states – for the sake of the potential European Defense Community. We know, however, how quickly the Soviet reinforcement divisions were catapulted across the Oder last week. This shall be a warning to us. Germany as a whole shall not be forced to defend itself one day with stones against red tanks – like the Germans in the Eastern Zone.
Source: Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, “Steine gegen rote Panzer” [“Stones against Red Tanks”], Die Zeit (June 25, 1953).
Translation: Thomas Dunlap