By Professor of History Dr. Sander Diamond
Epic-making change rarely comes without conflict. Such was not the case 25 years ago this month when the Berlin Wall opened.
Some people approached 1989 with consternation, subscribing to the vision held out by George Orwell in his bestseller, 1984. In truth, what happened Nov. 9, 1989, set in motion a train of events that would have caught Orwell short. It is a day when nearly all of the legacies of the 20th century began to dissolve, literally overnight, and without conflict.
On that fateful day, one may say that the Cold War ended, the German Question was put to rest with the reunification of the two Germanys the following October and the re-establishment of a long-divided Berlin as its capital, the retreat of the Red Army from Central and Eastern Europe, the creation of democratic nations in place of communist ones, the unimaginable collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 and soon its dismemberment into independent states, and China, drawing lessons from the fate of the USSR, emerging into an economic giant leaving its communist political leadership intact. Just as the outbreak of World War I marked the end of an age, so did the opening of the Berlin Wall.
The history of the Berlin Wall began in 1945 when a defeated Germany was divided into Four Zones of Occupation: one each to the British, French, Americans, and Russians. In 1949, the French, British, and American zones were collapsed into the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). In turn, the Russians created the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Berlin was also divided into four zones and on Aug. 13, 1961, Berliners awakened to find a wall of separation being built and soon it divided the city in two, a small version of the Iron Curtain. Escape was nearly impossible from the Eastern sector. The western occupiers protested; there was talk of war, but soon the Berlin Wall became a fact of life.
However, in the mid-1980s, internal changes in Moscow—with the advent of Mikhail Gorbachev and his policy of Glasnost— set into motion an unexpected tidal wave of changes helped along by the election of a Polish-born Pope and Ronald Reagan’s more aggressive foreign policy. In the late 1980s, the winds of change swept into the shipyards of Gdansk, the former city of Danzig, Hitler’s casus belli for war in 1939; into Budapest; and in 1989, the Lutheran churches of East Germany. In short order, the Houses that Stalin Built in the wake of World War II started to waver on their foundations and the GDR fell off its pedestal. With the Old Guard gone, the GDR’s guards stepped aside as people with pick axes chipped away at the hated wall Nov. 9.
The end of the Berlin Wall opened the path to rebuild a divided nation. Today, Germany is an economic giant and Berlin is again a world-class city with its museums, theaters, off-beat sections, and rebuilt Parliament— the old Reichstag with its glass dome as a symbol of its new transparency.Rarely has a transition from one period to another gone so smoothly.
Only a small section of the Berlin Wall still stands, a tourist attraction, while a bronze line in the pavement reveals where the entire wall stood.
Nearby this last piece of the wall are the former Luftwaffe headquarters; the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of the Prussians who unified Germany in 1870; the newly built Memorial to the Six Million Murdered Jews of Europe; a memorial to those killed trying to flee East Germany; and below the surface, the Fȕhrerbunker, where Hitler committed suicide.
While unity permitted Germany to move on, it will never escape its past.
An opinion piece by Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
It has been 80 years since Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of the ill-fated Weimar Republic by its aging president, Paul von Hindenburg, a much venerated general who stopped the Russian advance into Germany in the fall of 1914. The old gentleman thought little of the man the papers once dubbed “The Bavarian Corporal,” whose face was known to millions through countless public speeches and National Socialist of Nazi campaign posters that dotted the very troubled German landscape. When asked what he thought of Hitler who was a message carrier or runner in the trenches of France during the Great War, Hindenburg responded, “Under the Empire, I would not have appointed him a mailman.”
Hitler’s appointment set into motion a train of events that changed the world in ways unimaginable on Jan. 30, 1933: the creation of the most brutal dictatorships in history; the Third Reich; the mass extermination of two-thirds of European Jewry; a war that cost the lives of an estimated 56 million people, including more than 30 million in Soviet Russia and at least 20 percent of the population of Poland; the United States emerging as a superpower after 1945; the Cold War; atomic bomb; radar; and near total destruction of Germany, both its physical and moral ruination. Eighty years later, the system he created, Hitlerism, is a synonym for evil, while Auschwitz, not the Reich, is his monument.
In the eight decades since Hitler came to power, he and the Germans have been put under a microscope in an effort to understand how a nation descended into such darkness. Most agree that Hitler seized upon the major currents of his era, when the Germans believed they had been cheated out of victory in the Great War. He used traditional German idealism, and its militarist and authoritarian traditions, to achieve his ends. This being said, his most recent biographer, Ian Kershaw, whose massive two volume work is the gold standard, believes a question still remains: How could a self-styled messiah, an ill-educated beerhall demagogue who was initially dismissed as an oddity come to exercise unlimited power over a well-educated nation known for its poets, thinkers, and scientists in the middle of the 20th century? Some scholars argue that he expressed the deepest desires of his people who were willing to look away when the terrible secrets were revealed. Others maintain he was an aberration. The answer is found somewhere in the middle.
Today, Germany is open and democratic, its rebuilt parliament’s glass dome symbolizing its openness and transparency. Germany is the economic engine of the European Union and led by its first female chancellor, Dr. Merkel. But Hitler and Hitlerism will always be with the Germans and the world and fortunately, we have not tried to bury the past. Instead we have derived lessons from it. The Holocaust Museum and Memorial in Washington is far more than what its name implies. In central Berlin, the recently opened Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe and other memorials are daily reminders of what was set in motion Jan. 30, 1933, the extant concentration camps sitting silently as reminders of what humankind is capable of doing.
For many people, Jan. 30 will just be another day, marked by a small article in the media. But some—the Germans, Israelis and World Jewry—will look at it differently. Old black and white images from a film taken Jan. 30, 1933 revealed the future. In one window, a joyful Hitler can be seen looking down on a Nazi-organized, torch-lit parade. In the other window, Hindenburg, his face frozen. Perhaps Paul von Hindenburg saw the future and had to know there was no turning back. A year later he died of old age and shortly thereafter, his beloved army took a personal oath of loyalty to the Bavarian Corporal, now Der Führer.
How does a Keuka degree fit into daily military life?
Just ask U.S. Air Force Capt. Ryan Maddox ’07, who graduated with a B.A. in math and a B.S. in business management, and now serves as operations officer for the U.S. Air Force 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron, which includes four officers and 461 enlisted airmen at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. Maddox is second-in-command to the squadron commander.
“I handle operations and she handles the personnel—the pats on the back and the kicks in the butt, so to speak,” he said. “We provide munitions support and we do maintenance. Let’s say after flying, a part gets damaged and needs repair. We repair it through metal fabrication.”
In addition, the squadron handles what Maddox calls “deep tissue maintenance,” such that after every 400 flight hours logged by a particular plane, it will spend from 7-20 days in the base hangar getting stripped down for more intensive analysis or repairs.
“As far as business is concerned, maintenance and munitions is pretty much like any other business. We have a product, a process, customers, logistics, and a supply chain. I market my product to my customers – other squadrons – so they get what they want and I’m able to supply it. It’s almost a direct correlation [to business].” (more…)