104. Editorial Note

Early in the morning of August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic introduced control measures that effectively prevented residents of the Soviet Zone and East Berlin from entering West Berlin. At the same time barbed wire and other physical barriers, which eventually became “The Berlin Wall,” were erected to restrict crossings into the Western sectors of the city. For text of the decree imposing these restrictions and text of the Warsaw Pact powers’ declaration of the same day urging the establishment of controls around West Berlin, see Documents on Germany, 1944-1985, pages 773-776.

First reports on these measures were received in Washington by 4 a.m., and in one, telegram 176 from Berlin received at 6:37 a.m., Lightner speculated on the reasons for the restrictions:

“Evidently as a result of increased refugee flow with attendant economic loss to GDR and prestige to Socialist camp, East decided at recent Moscow conference of Warsaw Pact countries to proceed with fait accompli which would drastically disrupt freedom of movement within Berlin and erect frontier with respect entry into West Berlin of Sov Zone and East Berlin residents. In this way East has now taken some of the steps which it had been anticipated would follow from separate peace treaty with GDR.” (Department of State, Central Files, 862.181/8-1361)

In response to the initial reports and telephone conversations with the Mission at Berlin and after conferring with the President at Hyannis Port, Secretary of State Rusk at 12:30 p.m. issued a 3-paragraph statement emphasizing that the restrictions were a violation of the Four-Power status of Berlin and would be the subject of a vigorous protest through appropriate channels. For full text of this statement, see Documents on Germany, 1944-1985, page 776.

Documentation in Department of State files and at the Kennedy Library on the discussions in the Department of State and the telephone conversations between Washington and Hyannis Port and Washington and Berlin in response to the border closing is sparse. However, for two accounts of these activities, based on interviews with the participants, see Cates, The Ides of August, pages 304-307, 317-323, 328-333, and 336-339, and Dulles, The Wall, Acts II and III. While these accounts do not agree on all the details, they are consistent with the limited documentation available in the Department of State and Kennedy Library.