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Historical Introduction

Arial view of Berlin border wall is seen in this 1978 file picture. The agency that manages the records of former East Germany´´ dreaded secret police has uncovered an order for border guards to fire on escaping citizens that is far more explicit than others on record, an official said in remarks published Saturday, Aug. 11, 2007. AP

The German Democratic Republic was established in 1949 and designated by Soviet authorities to become an example of the Socialist system. This state, established in the Soviet Zone of occupied Germany after defeating the Nazis, resorted to extensive violence from the beginning. The invading Red Army had already subjected Germany’s civil population to criminal violence, including murder, rape and robbery. The ensuing political terror targeted not only Nazis, but Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and other democratic parties. Tens of thousands were arrested and interned in former Nazi concentration camps, where death rates were comparable to the previous regime. The Socialist system founded after suppressing political dissidents was soon surpassed by West Germany’s economic and social development. This led to an East German uprising in 1953, which was crushed by Soviet tanks. At least 50 people were killed in clashes and 10.000 arrested. As residents escaped to the West in growing numbers, the Berlin wall was erected in 1961. Under orders from GDR authorities, border guards shot dead at least 133 people attempting to cross the border. In the following decades, East Germans were terrorized by the ultra-efficient STASI intelligence agency. Potential dissidents and resisters were persistently tracked down and persecuted. Despite the atmosphere of fear thus generated, East Germany’s Communist system collapsed within months in 1989.