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June 17, 1953

Just a little history I was reminded of while watching Swing Kids last evening.   Not sure how the connection came, but the German resistance, in this case by young people with a passion for American jazz and swing, reminded me of a little known event of 56 years ago that also involved resistance.  I remember it only because a family member witnessed it.

The event in question is the workers’ uprising in Berlin of June 16-17, 1953.  Some 6,000 people showed up for a protest on the 16th and on the 17th some 17,000 or more took to the streets.  They were met by Soviet and East German tanks who opened fire on them.   Many were killed, thousands arrested.  The uprising was crushed, nevertheless, it planted the seed of future revolts against the Communist regimes of the East Block countries.  There are a number of accounts of the events surrounding the 17th.  And, this YouTube video has photos of the day, including protested taking down the flag from the Brandenburg Gate.

So, what did my eyewitness see?  Hundreds of people listening to speeches in a public square.  And then, the sound of tanks approaching – they entered the square at one side and advanced on the crowd.  Many clambered over a six-foot wall to escape and then they ran.  One thing my eyewitness saw was a young German effectively stopping a tank – by ramming a crowbar into the tank tracks on one side.  Made the tank go around in circles since the jammed track could not advance any more.

My eyewitness, an American who could not afford to be caught in East Berlin, made out and back to the western sector of Berlin.  My eyewitness’ account of this day still gives me the shivers.

One Comment

  1. Caroline says:

    Today the major boulevard running through the center of Tiergarten park in Berlin is called “Strasse des 17 Juni” or “17 June Street.”

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