Was West Germany really a beacon of freedom?

The DDR was an ‘inhumane regime’, one that built a wall in 1961 to stop the whole population fleeing to the ‘freedom’ of the West, a land flowing with milk and honey and useless consumer goods. Or so the sustained propaganda would have us believe, propagated by those who invaded and occupied East Germany and then called it ‘reunification’.

So it’s useful to gain some perspective on this and see precisely who was preventing whom from crossing over. Let us go back to the early days of the two Germanies. The Western powers were squashed into western rump of Germany and the suburban ring of the western part of Berlin, which they had seized after the Red Army had taken Berlin. Suspicious of those atheistic, barbarian communists, these powers fostered a number of measures in the new German Federal Republic.

By 1950, the Korean War was underway and rabid McCarthyism was dominating not only US politics but all those parts of the world now under its imperial sway. So Konrad Adenauer, chancellor of West Germany, proposed a combined European force with a German contingent, which would be sent to attack the communists in the east. In barely a few years after the Second World War, West Germany was on the path to rearmament. Back home, the West German government announced a new decree concerning ‘Anti-Democratic Activities by Public Employees’ – a McCarthyist code for anyone who was vaguely left. Actually, anyone who was not openly and vocally anti-communist was subjected to defamation and discrimination. For example, the Roman Catholic writer, Reinhold Schneider, wrote couple of articles urging public debate on rearmament and the need to come to an understanding with East Germany. Given the repression of public debate in the West, he published them in East Germany. After that ‘mistake’, most West German avenues for Schneider to express his views were closed to him. Newspapers, magazines and radio refused to deal with him.

In this context, former Nazis – convinced anti-communists all – were given favourable treatment for positions in the civil service. This was the result of removing the restrictions on ‘incriminated’ persons (the so-called ‘article 131’), that is, people who had actively worked in the Third Reich. In fact, since they had suffered so, they were to be given preferential treatment for jobs. The universities were therefore instructed, whenever a vacancy occurred, to check with a list provided by the Ministry of the Interior to see whether someone with this past was available so that he or she could be given preferential treatment for the post ahead of better qualified candidates. Once in positions of influence, these ‘ex-’Nazis worked hard to ensure their buddies gained posts elsewhere.

Further, the police were deployed to prevent West Germans from making contact with the East. In 1950, the police arrested more than 10,000 young West Germans at the border. They were returning from a meeting in East Berlin and were held at the border for over 24 hours until they agreed to register their names and undergo a ‘health’ examination. The following year, in May, the police arrested another large group, again over 10,000, which was returning from a ‘Meeting on Germany’ in East Berlin. This group refused to register their names, so they were held under arrest for more than 48 hours. Another event was on the calendar later in the year, the ‘Third Youth and Student World Peace Festival’ (5-9 August). This time, the West German government ordered the police to close the border, which was at this time open and through which free passage was possible. And in May of 1952, a member of the Free German Youth was shot dead by police during a banned protest in Essen.

(source: Rolf Wiggershaus, The Frankfurt School, 1986, pp. 443-4)

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