Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
Deep within communist East Germany, the western part of Berlin was an isolated outpost of democracy and became the exit door for hundreds of thousands of freedom-seeking East Germans. To halt this exodus, the East German government began building a barrier between the city's eastern and western sectors that became known as the Berlin Wall. More than 170 people died trying to escape East Germany by crossing over the wall before it was opened in 1989. At the bottom of the page, a young Post writer, Thomas Wolfe -- later better known as Tom -- reports on the Library of Congress's new poetry adviser. An excerpt from The Post of Aug. 14, 1961:
By Flora Lewis
The Washington Post Foreign Service
BERLIN, Aug. 13 --
Reports reached Allied authorities here today that two Soviet divisions have ringed Berlin supporting yesterday's Communist move to bar the Western parts of the city to East Germans.
The reports also said that Soviet forces were moving out of their barracks in East Germany and deploying across the country. They were said to be in battle dress with full equipment, including armor and artillery, and to be moving in small units.
The evident purpose was to cow the East German population and to banish any thoughts of resistance before the startled people could congregate to act. ...
East Berliners, held several hundred yards back from the border by police, milled about in crowds arguing with Communist agitators defending the split of the four-power city. At one point in the afternoon, East German police dispersed a large group of youths on their side of the border with tear gas and smoke bombs.
Later, East German police also used tear gas against a crowd of young West Berliners who were pressing toward the border and shouting, "Put down your guns."
On the western side, West Berlin police kept crowds of grim spectators back from the border and warned them over loud speakers not to create incidents.
West Berlin's mayor, Willy Brandt, asked for "energetic steps" from the three Western powers responsible for Berlin "so that the Communists will have to withdraw their unlawful measures." At the same time, he appealed to the West Berlin population to stay calm and reasonable."
[Gerhard Eisler, East Germany's propaganda chief, said in a Sunday night broadcast...that if the West tried to remove the ban by force, Communist countries would stand together to defend the border.]
The Communists had been expected to take some severe new measures to halt the dramatic flow of refugees streaming into West Berlin from East Germany. The number has already soared over 150,000 this year. In the past 11 years, 3 million East Germans have fled to the West, but the figures suddenly jumped in the last five weeks after renewed threats by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev against West Berlin. ...
"If the border is being closed to keep out Western spies and militarists," a tubby old woman shouted at a young man with a Communist party lapel button, "Why can West Berliners still come here whenever they like while I am forbidden to visit my friends in the West?"
At another corner, sharply dressed boys argued sullenly for freedom against Communists who said, "who says we aren't free here?"
Police finally broke up the talk by taking down the names and addresses of the boys who criticized the Communist regime.