An East German Medallion commemorating the Construction of the Berlin Wall. Could we have kept it from being minted?
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 354
which presents a collection of recently declassified government documents about the period just before the building of the Berlin Wall.
"One of the few remaining puzzles about the U.S. reaction to the Wall," says the eBriefing Book, "concerns the performance of U.S. intelligence during the lead-up to the sector border closing."
The National Archive hosted a conference on the Berlin Wall, entitled "From Vienna to Checkpoint Charlie: The Berlin Crisis of 1961".
The conference was held on October 27, 2011. It was accompanied by the publication of newly released declassified documents under the title of "A City Torn Apart: Building the Berlin Wall".
NATO likewise released a number of previously classified documents on the Berlin Crisis and the Berlin Wall.
- Hagen Koch, a former member of the East German Stasi, confirms a part of the legend. "If the Americans had let General (Lucius D.) Clay knock down our barbed-wire barriers, we were under orders to do nothing,” Koch said. “Most of DDR personnel believed the Americans would call our bluff. They didn’t. It might have been different if the American president was Reagan instead of Kennedy.”
- The West-German commentator on Soviet Affairs Wolfgang Leonhard stated "We know now — we learned later from refugees — that the leadership in East Berlin would have backed down if the West had stood up to them."
— Newsweek , volume 114 (1989), p. 38; Michael R. Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev (1960-1961), New York: Harper Collins, 1991, p. 282.
- Peter Wyden’s non-fiction book Wall: The Inside Story of Divided Berlin (1989) confirms the other half of the legend upon which the novel is based.
— Wyden, p. 91.
- On Wednesday 9 August, four days prior to the construction of the Wall, Colonel Ernest Von Pawel, the Chief of the U.S. Military Liaison Mission to the Commander Group of Soviet Forces Germany predicted the construction of a wall at the weekly meeting of the Berlin Watch Committee, but he had no hard evidence to back up his prediction.
— Wyden, pp. 92-93.
- Unlike the Chief of USMLM, LTC Thomas McCord, the Chief of the 513th Military Intelligence Group (Berlin), had a HUMINT source who predicted the correct date of the start of construction. A report had come in from a new source on 6 August, a week before construction. The source was a functionary in the SED.
— Wyden, p. 93.
- The French also had a source who told his case officer that “They’re going to erect barriers right in the middle of Berlin.” This source, unfortunately, had no information about the date of the operation.
In an interview on Amazon, Kempe explains why Kennedy did nothing. He says that his "book builds the best cases to date that Kennedy acquiesced to the border closure and the building of the Wall. The record shows that in many respects he wrote the script that Khrushchev followed—as long as Khrushchev restricted his actions to Soviet-controlled East Berlin and East Germany, Kennedy would accept his actions. Kennedy falsely believed that if East Germany could end its refugee stampede, Khrushchev might become a more willing negotiator on a set of other issues. It was a tragic misreading of the man and of the situation. Berlin paid for it—as did tens of millions of people."
- While Kennedy projected a face of shocked depression to the press and the public, his sense of relief at the building of the Wall was evident to those who were closest to him.
— Kempe, p. 379.
- The Frenchman Georges Pâques (1914-1994), who spied for the Soviets for over 20 years, and who had access to Allied contingency plans for Berlin that were agreed upon at the Foreign Ministers' Conference in early August 1961, reportedly passed these on to the Soviets. This let the Soviets know that if they and/or the East Germans were to build a "barrier" to close off East Berlin, the Western Allies were not prepared to use force to stop them.
— Honoré M. Catudal, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall Crisis, Berlin: Berlin Verlag, 1980, pp. 244-245.
- "As I understand your question, there are people in West Germany who wish that we would mobilize the construction workers of the capital of the GDR for the purpose of erecting a wall. I am not aware of the existence of any such intention. The construction workers of our capital are primarily engaged in the building of housing, and all their efforts are directed toward this goal. No one has the intention of building a wall."
— Walter Ulbricht, Press Conference on 15 June 1961
- Egon Bahr, the Press spokesman for the Berlin Senate, led at that time by Mayor Willy Brandt, recalls that, in the first week after the Wall went up, the Berlin evening newspaper Der Abend printed a story which suggested that the allies had known in advance about the Wall and had decided not to do anything about it. Bahr demanded that the U.S. issue a denial of the story within thirty minutes. Bahr got his denial even a bit faster than he had demanded.
Egon Bahr, Zu meiner Zeit, Munich: Karl Blessing Verlag, 1996, p. 134.
- Lucius D. Clay, the former military governor of the U.S. Zone, Germany (1947–49) and the "father" of the Berlin Airlift (1948–1949), felt that "we might have been able to have stopped the Wall from being built that night," if the American Commandant of Berlin had taken action, "even if he had been in violation of his instructions, he would have succeeded and he would have been forgiven and he would have become a very great man."
— Michael R. Beschloss, p. 281.
- The senior statesman Dean Acheson, former U.S. Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman (1949 to 1953), was of the same opinion. "If we had acted vigorously … we might have been able to accomplish something."
— Beschloss, p. 281.
- Military Police Lieutenant Vern Pike—like many of those stationed in Berlin at the time—believed that "Kennedy and Johnson could have simply pushed the wall down before it was built without the Soviets doing much more than whimper about it."
—Frederick Kempe, Berlin 1961, p. 388.
- Hagen Koch, a former member of the East German Stasi, confirmed Pike's belief "that the communist gambled and won in putting up The Wall in 1961.”
- Campaigning for election as Chancellor of Germany in Nuremberg, West Berlin's Mayor Willy Brandt said that the streams of refugees pouring into Berlin every day were driven by the fear that "the Iron Curtain will be cemented shut" and that they will be left "locked into a giant prison. They are agonizingly worried that they might be forgotten or sacrificed on the altar of indifference and lost opportunities."
— Kempe, p. 338.
- In her talks with Gorbachev in the Kremlin, Margaret Thatcher told the Soviet leader: "The reunification of Germany is not in the interests of Britain and Western Europe." She could not say this publicly, because it was counter to NATO policy. "We don’t want a united Germany … because such development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security."
— Michael Binyon, "What Thatcher and Gorbachev really thought when the Berlin Wall came down," The Times, September 11, 2009.