Today in History for 25th June 2018

Historical Events

1500 – Pope Alexander VI accept Treaty of Granada
1646 – Thomas Fairfax’s New Model Army occupies Oxford
1864 – Battle of Petersburg: Union forces begin digging tunnels under Confederate lines
1950 – North Korea invades South Korea, beginning the Korean War
1951 – 1st color TV broadcast-CBS’ Arthur Godfrey from NYC to 4 cities
1966 – Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” single goes #1 and stays #1 for 2 weeks

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Famous Birthdays

1907 – J Hans D Jensen, German physicist (atomic nucleus-Nobel 1963)
1925 – Ziggy Talent, singer (Vaughn Monroe Show), born in Manchester, New Hampshire
1964 – Phil Emery, cricketer (NSW wicket-keeper, Australia 1994)
1969 – Alina Ivanova, Ukraine, race walker (indoor 3K world record)
1972 – Mike Kroeger, Canadian musician (Nickelback)
1979 – Richard Hughes, Scottish footballer

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Famous Deaths

1830 – Ephraim McDowell, American Physician (pioneered abdominal surgery), dies at 58
1986 – Gery Florizoone, Flemish poet, dies at 63
1988 – Axis Sally, [Mildred E Gillars], US nazi propagandist (WWII), dies
1996 – Ray Howard-Jones, artist, dies at 93
2002 – Jean Corbeil, Canadian politician (b. 1934)
2011 – Margaret Tyzack, English actress (b. 1931)

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Today in History for 24th June 2018

Historical Events

1527 – Gustaaf I begins Reformation in Sweden, taking Catholic possessions
1748 – The Kingswood School is opened by John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley in Bristol. The school later moved to Bath
1866 – Second Battle at Custozza: the Austrian Imperial army, joined by the Venetian Army decisively defeated the Italian army, despite the Italians’ strong numerical advantage
1910 – 50th British Golf Open: James Braid shoots a 299 at St Andrews Scot
1970 – US Senate votes overwhelmingly to repeal Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
1983 – 7th Space Shuttle Mission-Challenger 2 lands at Edwards AFB

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Famous Birthdays

1832 – Edward Harland, American Brigadier General (Union Army), born in Norwich, Connecticut (d. 1915)
1906 – Willard Maas, American educator and experimental filmmaker (d. 1971)
1908 – Guru Gopinath, Indian classical dancer (d 1987)
1915 – Charles James Dunn, Japanese scholar
1922 – Jack Carter [Chakrin], American comedian and actor, born in Brooklyn New York (d. 2015)
1973 – Alexander Beyer, German actor

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Famous Deaths

1673 – John of Paffenrode, ruler of Ghussigny/poet, dies in battle
1913 – Frank Lynes, American composer, dies at 55
1938 – “Digger” Robertson, cricketer (Test for Australia 1885), dies
1973 – George “Bud” Hamilton, American film make-up artist (Westmore family), dies from a heart attack at 55
2009 – Roméo LeBlanc, 25th Governor General of Canada (b. 1927)
2013 – Alan Myers, American rock drummer (Devo), dies of cancer at 58

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Today in History for 23rd June 2018

Historical Events

1860 – US Congress establishes Government Printing Office
1917 – Ernie Shore replaces Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth with a runner on, he throws him out and retires all 26 he faces for a perfect game
1926 – 8th government of Briand van France forms
1947 – US President Truman’s veto of Taft-Hartley Act overridden by Congress
1972 – 22nd Berlin International Film Festival: “The Canterbury Tales” wins the Golden Bear
1980 – West German wins European soccer title (2-1 against Belgium)

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Famous Birthdays

1904 – Quintin McMillan, cricketer (South African leg spinner 1929-32)
1936 – Costas Simitis, Prime Minister of Greece
1945 – John Garang, Sudanese leader and politician (d. 2005)
1947 – Bryan Brown, actor (F/X, Gorillas in the Mist, Kim, Tai-Pan), born in Sydney, New South Wales
1956 – Tony Hill, American football player
1978 – Frédéric Leclercq, French bassist (DragonForce)

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Famous Deaths

1806 – Mathurin Jacques Brisson, French naturalist (b. 1723)
1888 – Emil Naumann, composer, dies at 60
1895 – Joseph Paul Skelly, composer, dies at 44
1958 – Edvard Armas Jarnefeldt, composer, dies at 88
1982 – Vincent Chin, Chinese-American hate crime victim (b. 1955)
2001 – Corinne Calvet, French actress (Phantom of Hollywood, Apache Uprising), dies of a cerebral hemorrhage at 76

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Today in History for 22nd June 2018

Historical Events

1596 – Cornelis de Houtmans fleet reaches Banten Java
1875 – Garonne Flood: great damage in Verdun and Toulouse, kills about 1,000
1947 – 12″ rain in 42 mins (Holt, MO)
1959 – “Class” by Chubby Checker peaks at #38
1973 – Skylab 2’s astronauts land
1984 – Carl Pohlad becomes CEO of Minnesota Twins

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Famous Birthdays

1674 – Jean Philippe Eugène de Mérode, Belgian marquis of Westerloo, born in Brussels (d. 1732)
1896 – Francis C Denebrink, US Naval officer (WW I, WW II, Korea)
1906 – Anne Morrow Lindbergh, American author and aviator (Gift from the Sea), born in Englewood, New Jersey
1911 – Guus Jansen, jazz pianist (Net als Toen)
1947 – Howard Kaylan, founding member of The Turtles
1964 – Mike Edwards, British rock vocalist (Jesus Jones-Devil you Know)

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Famous Deaths

1903 – George White, African American resident of Delaware, lynched
1931 – Armand Fallières, French president (1906-13), dies at 89
1950 – Julio Fonseca, composer, dies at 65
1996 – Arthur “T-Boy” Ross, American songwriter, brother of Diana, found murdered at 47
1996 – Tertius Metcalf, businessman, dies at 63
2014 – Teenie Hodges, American rhythm and blues guitarist, dies from complications from emphysema at 68

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Consumptive Chic: When Tuberculosis was the Height of Fashion

Consumptive Chic: When Tuberculosis was the Height of Fashion

Carolyn A. Day

During the late 18th century the physical effects of tuberculosis became the ideals of beauty for the fashionable woman.

The idea of disease as fashionable, or at least as something to be emulated, remains a familiar one: think of the heroin chic of the 1990s or the underground Pro Ana movement, which glorifies anorexia. The idea, however, that tuberculosis – a disease characterised by wasting, diarrhoea, coughing and the spitting of blood – could enhance its victim’s beauty is less relatable. Yet, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, cultural ideas about beauty intertwined with the reality of tuberculosis (known as consumption or phthisis), allowing the ravages of the illness to be seen as markers of beauty. Tuberculosis became the site of a battle between professional and popular ideologies of disease – a conflict that played out both in beauty practices and dress.During the 18th century, diseases such as melancholia, gout and tuberculosis became associated with the upper echelons of society. Physicians argued that there was a relationship between certain illnesses and the sensibilities of the fashionable elite. The middle and upper classes were believed to have more highly refined nervous systems and, as a consequence, a greater share of sensibility (the ability of the nervous system to accept sensations and convey the body’s will). This made them susceptible to certain illnesses and there was a growing concern that the lifestyles and nervous systems of these groups were creating a scourge of ill health among them. As one physician suggested, the ‘great and opulent’ were subject to the whims of fashion ‘in their choice of diseases’. The statesman and essayist Sir William Temple lamented the faddish nature of certain diseases in 1809, likening the trends for illness and their treatments as being ‘very much seen or heard of at one season, disappearing in another’. Others complained of the growing popularity of nervous disorders, dubbed in 1799 ‘a modern invention’.If diseases could be fashionable, then they could become targets for emulation. The Scottish doctor James Adair carped in 1790 that ‘people of no rank and slender means’ attempted to transgress social boundaries by ‘fashionably ruining themselves’. More significantly, he pointed to ‘the pale of distinction’ as the mark to be copied by those seeking to become ‘people of fashion’. This connection between the ‘pale of distinction’ and fashionable illness was especially apt, as tuberculosis was distinguished by a translucent complexion. Its allure lay in its symptoms, which coincided with contemporary ideals of attractiveness: rosy cheeks and lips coupled with pale skin were considered beautiful. Tuberculosis brought about a consumptive pallor accompanied by a hectic flush (the product of a constant fever). Charlotte Brontë acknowledged the phenomenon in 1849: ‘Consumption, I am aware, is a flattering malady.’A victim enhancedDuring the 19th century, tuberculosis supplanted the great epidemics (such as plague or smallpox) in the public’s imagination. Depictions of tuberculosis diverged from those of other diseases such as smallpox, cholera and typhoid. Tuberculosis found its distinction in two key differences: the way the illness manifested itself in the body and its social distribution. Although it physically altered the sufferer, it was not disfiguring in the way that smallpox or cholera were. Instead, with its wasting and pallor, the disease seemed to enhance its victim by amplifying those qualities already seen as attractive. Tuberculosis was also different from other illnesses due to its chronic nature and constant presence. Unlike sudden, acute maladies that manifested in sweeping epidemics, tuberculosis was ever-present, in all classes, at all times, seemingly indiscriminate in the way it claimed its victims, afflicting the denizens of mansions as well as tenements. The disease was rampant in urban centres, though not limited to the city, and showed little respect for gender, status, age or occupation.By the 19th century, tuberculosis had almost become two distinct and seemingly unrelated afflictions, as victims from the more prosperous classes were lauded while poorer victims were stigmatised. There was a connection between the disease and the unhealthy living conditions of the urban environment, such as smoke, dust, dirt and damp. Among the lower classes tuberculosis was seen as the result of poor air quality, drunkenness or material deprivation, hallmarks of their lifestyles, which in turn fostered a negative perception of the illness in this group. Members of the lower orders were presented, by social reformers and medical investigators, as the architects of their own demise and so tuberculosis was never presented as an attractive disease in the poor.On the other hand, there was an equally strong tradition that associated the disease with the best and brightest members of society, those intelligent and beautiful individuals who seemed so prominent in the ranks of its victims. In the more prosperous classes, then, consumption was viewed primarily as the consequence of a hereditary defect, one complicated by ‘exciting’ causes, and the association between the illness and the sophisticated lifestyle of the beau monde was widely accepted. This benign view of the disease only offered the affluent victim limited control over the circumstances that provoked the illness. As a consequence, representations of tuberculosis in the middle and upper classes were remarkably positive, ignoring the unpleasant realities, in part, because beauty was thought to be one of the significant signs of a predisposition to the illness.Medical references to symptoms repeatedly describe the consumptive body as slight, thin, delicate and slender in make, with a narrow chest, projecting clavicles and shoulder blades that gave the appearance of wings. The complexion was fine and delicate, criss-crossed by blue veins, with clear, smooth and nearly transparent skin of an almost brilliant whiteness, only relieved by the ‘bloom of the rose’ – the flush of the fever. As descriptions of the ideal feminine form in the 19th century tended to bear a striking similarity to those provided for consumption, the accounts of these symptoms show how the disease beautified as it destroyed. As one medical treatise asserted of the disease in 1842: ‘Death seems to array his victim for the tomb with all the attributes of physical loveliness.’Sense and sentimentalismEarly Victorian ideas of beauty were heavily influenced by sentimentalism, which believed that emotional authenticity was revealed not through overt demonstration but through subtle exterior signs and subdued behaviour. The ideology of sentimentalism defined not only personal feelings and emotions but also the physical manifestations of those sentiments. Sentimentalism provided one avenue for escaping difficult social realities, concealing reality through a refusal to acknowledge the harsher aspects of a situation. This permitted the further elevation of consumption as an ideal of beauty. Sentimentalism emerged as an influential force in middle-class culture in the 1830s and elevated the notion that the exterior revealed the character beneath, making beauty a signifier of moral virtue. These notions were reinforced by medical investigators who held that: ‘Goodness and beauty in woman will accordingly be found to bear a strict relation to each other; and the latter will be seen always to be the external sign of the former.’ The physical symptoms of consumption could now be rationalised as reflecting the victim’s moral virtue. Consumptive women were increasingly presented as too good and too beautiful to live.The face, considered the most transparent part of the body, permitted access to a woman’s feelings, as revealed in her smile, her complexion and her eyes. Since, in the sentimental tradition, the eyes were styled ‘windows of the soul’ and were thought to ‘speak’ because they revealed the emotions and were ‘the seat … of intellect and love’, they also enhanced the beauty of the consumptive. Large pupils, in particular, were both a ‘mark of beauty’ and a sign of disease. One work, detailing the markers for the tubercular constitution, stated that the most consistent indicator was ‘that the pupils of the eyes are uncommonly large and … the eye-lashes are long and glossy’. The author of this medical treatise then advocated a method of achieving this look, suggesting the use of belladonna to dilate the eyes.Popular works of advice also promoted an endless list of cosmetics to darken the lashes and even the draw on the blue veins, which were so prominent in those suffering from tuberculosis. The whiteness of the complexion was enhanced by the contrast of the veins, the ‘faint tinge of blue’ thought to give ‘delicacy to the white, and mingles with the … carnation’. Fashionable women often used cosmetic enhancements to achieve this look, although The Mirror of the Graces, by ‘A Lady of Distinction’, railed against the practice in 1830, arguing that women were drawing ‘the meandering vein through the fictitious alabaster with as fictitious a dye’.The limitations of cosmetics – that they could not create what was not already present but could ‘only assist nature’ – were also an issue. The use of paints seems to have raised the most ire, as the application of metallic oxides, advertised as ‘pearl white’, were roundly condemned. Such cosmetics were, however, also thought to bring about the consumptive illness that naturally provided the fair pallor. The Art of Beauty argued that white paints, made from extracts of bismuth, lead or tin, were capable of penetrating ‘through the pores of the skin, acting, by degrees, on the … lungs, and inducing diseases’. A Treatise on Pulmonary Consumption vehemently asserted, meanwhile, that ‘the chemicals of the toilet … very materially assist the messenger of death’. Despite these complaints, cosmetics remained an important – but controversial – element of the lady’s toilette.In addition, the outcry against the overt use of cosmetics was also tied the notion that beauty was something natural to a woman of virtue. As a result, tuberculosis, with its ability to enhance female beauty without deception, became a way of manifesting a virtuous character, while naturally achieving beauty.Dropping the shoulderThe tradition of sentimental beauty went beyond the face and took the appearance of the woman as a whole to be an expression of her character. The fashions of the period, therefore, emulated the consumptive build. The bodice was ornamented to heighten the appearance of length: decorative elements were applied to highlight and narrow the shoulders and emphasise and elongate the pointed waist; the heavy corseting made the upper body appear delicate, thin and weak, in a manner reminiscent of the consumptive torso. Bodices were close-fitting and their armholes were set very low off the shoulders, with tight-fitting sleeves, cut on the cross, which prohibited the wearer from lifting her arms above a right angle. The drop-shouldered style also forced a round-shouldered posture, which emulated the bowed silhouette of the consumptive.In sentimental dress, the waist – and, indeed, the torso as a whole – was narrower than it had been in the previous decade. As a result, the corset remained an indispensable component of style. In the ideals laid down in the literature of conduct and beauty, it was clear what was expected of middle- and upper-class women: softness, delicacy, weakness and modesty, combined with a small waist and curving shoulders – all features which matched the debilitating effects of tuberculosis.As with make-up, however, sentimental fashions were also believed not just to emulate but to produce tuberculosis in those who wore them. This was particularly true of the physical distortion caused by corseting, as ‘deformities of the chest’ were ‘commonly ranked among the exciting causes of consumption’. Yet, despite voluminous writings against the ruinous use of the corset, young women continued to wear them, much to the frustration of one physician, who complained bitterly in 1842 that it was ‘vain to expect, that the warning voice of the physician will be listened to in preference to the dictates of fashion’. Health Made Easy for Young People (1845) asserted that consumption would be the inevitable result for those women whose chests were bound up ‘to make them look pretty’ and considered the practice ‘Monstrous!’Stooping, too, was presented as both the architect and indicator of tuberculosis. Young women were warned ‘that an inactive sedentary mode of life appears to dispose to the formation of tubercles … by the habit of stooping, hurting the lungs in the same manner with malformation of the chest’. Cold and Consumption in 1847 located the fault in women’s education: ‘The sickly school girl, with her pallid countenance and stooping gait, would seem to predict her fate – pulmonary disease.’ Middle- and upper-class women were considered more susceptible to tuberculosis than men due to their upbringing. Some doctors, such as John Tricker Conquest, expressed their disgust over the type of ‘lady-like’ upbringing that guaranteed the illness, writing: ‘That horrid word “lady-like”, haunts the poor girls of the middle and higher classes through years which should be devoted to physical education, and leaves them, at last, the prey of deformity and disease … Fashion is the war cry of tyranny.’When the idea of illness as character-illuminating is combined with sentimental culture as a whole, it is easy to see how consumption could invade the popular ideals of beauty and fashion.Tuberculosis would gradually lose its positive associations, however. The proliferation of the disease in the slums of industrial England, the growing awareness of this circumstance and the flourishing of works that identified the disease with moral transgressions all helped alter the ideology surrounding tuberculosis. Once these associations were established, the disease could no longer be rationalised as acceptable for respectable women. By the end of the 1840s tuberculosis had become tainted by poverty and promiscuity, connections that continued through the end of the century and beyond.During the second half of the 19th century, then, the notions that dominated the lower-class perception of the disease – the ones that saw tuberculosis as the result of moral and hygienic shortcomings, complicated by filthy and crowded living and working conditions – gained purchase and were increasingly applied at all levels of society. This gradually became the dominant image of the illness, particularly with the growing focus on public health in the middle of the 19th century. The introduction and eventual acceptance of the germ theory of disease would make this hygienic model, with its moral undertones, the sole explanation for tuberculosis. Health became a desirable goal in the face of fears over biological degeneracy, leading to a stigmatisation of tuberculosis and a change in the coping strategies employed by society at large.Carolyn A. Day is Associate Professor at Furman University, South Carolina and the author of Consumptive Chic: A History of Beauty, Fashion and Disease (Bloomsbury, 2017).

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Today in History for 21st June 2018

Historical Events

1879 – Frank W. Woolworth opens his 1st successful “F. W. Woolworth Great Five Cent Store” on North Queen Street, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
1913 – Tiny Broadwick is 1st woman to parachute from an airplane
1941 – 2nd French troops occupies Damascus Syria
1970 – 70th US Golf Open: Tony Jacklin shoots a 281 at Hazeltine National Minn
1975 – West Indies beat Australia by 17 runs to win Cricket World Cup
1978 – The British Army shoots dead 3 Provisional Irish Republican Army volunteers and a passing Ulster Volunteer Force member at a postal depot on Ballysillan Road, Belfast; it is claimed that the PIRA volunteers were about to launch a bomb attack

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Famous Birthdays

1882 – Lluís Companys, Spanish politician, 123rd President of the Generalitat of Catalonia (1933-40), born in El Tarròs, Urgell, Catalonia, Spain (d. 1940)
1896 – Dorothy Stickney, American actress (And So They Were Married), born in Dickinson, North Dakota (d. 1998)
1924 – Jean Laplanche, French psychoanalytic thinker, born in Paris (d. 2012)
1957 – Berke Breathed, cartoonist (Vegetarian, Bloom County, Outland)
1961 – Joko Widodo, Indonesian politician (President of Indonesia 2014), born in Surakarta
1980 – Sendy Rleal, Dominican baseball player

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Famous Deaths

1738 – Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend, English statesman (b. 1674)
1979 – Julian Orchard, actor (Perfect Friday, Bless this House), dies at 49
1997 – Art Prysock, jazz musician, dies at 68
1999 – Karl Krolow, German poet and translator, dies at 84
2005 – Jaime Cardinal Sin, Filipino Catholic Archbishop of Manila (b. 1928)
2011 – Robert Kroetsch, Canadian author (b. 1927)

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Day of Dissent in the DDR

Day of Dissent in the DDR

Richard Millington

Opposition to the East German regime was apparent from the beginning and would almost bring down the system just a few years after its creation.

The first uprising in the Eastern Bloc took place on 17 June 1953. On that day, up to one million citizens of East Germany demonstrated for the removal of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED), for better living conditions, free elections and the reunification of Germany. In more than 700 cities, towns and villages, protesters vented their fury at the SED and its leader Walter Ulbricht. Only the arrival of Soviet tanks and troops in the late afternoon saved the regime from catastrophe.The ‘construction of socialism’The causes of the uprising can be traced to the decisions taken at the second party conference of the SED in 1952. It was then that Ulbricht declared that the time was right to begin the ‘construction of socialism’ in East Germany. What this meant in practice was that the Party would remodel the country’s economy and society in the image of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Investment in heavy industry, with the aim of modernising society, took precedence over spending on consumer goods, while farmers and private businesses were forced to collectivise and nationalise. The Party also cracked down on political opponents. Dissenters were labelled ‘class enemies’ and faced punishments ranging from blacklisting to spells in prisons, such as the notorious ‘Yellow Misery’ in Bautzen, so called because of its yellow-brick buildings.By early 1953, East Germany’s economy was under severe strain. Since 1952 state planners had been pouring every penny into heavy industry. They had not budgeted, however, for the Soviet Union’s demand that East Germany establish its own army to bear some of the burden for its defence. This reduced the state’s surplus funds even more and citizens began to feel the effects. There was little fuel available for cars, motorcycles or tractors. Citizens faced queues for basic foodstuffs, such as butter and bread, a direct result of the fact that many farmers had moved to West Germany rather than implement collectivisation. The quality of food available also left a lot to be desired. East Berliners complained that their biscuits smelled and tasted of petrol. At the same time, West Germany’s economy was entering a period of boom, soon to be known as the Wirtschaftswunder, or ‘Economic Miracle’. It is little wonder that between 1952 and 1953 approximately 513,000 East Germans voted with their feet and moved across the border in search of a better standard of living and freedom from oppression.When those who remained complained about the quality of their lives, the Party responded with slogans such as ‘First work harder, then live better’, which appeased nobody. The SED, however, did not react to the economic crisis simply with propaganda. On 14 May 1953 it increased production quotas for industrial workers by ten per cent. Workers would now have to work harder to achieve their quota-fulfilment bonuses, which many relied upon to support an adequate standard of living. The Party’s aim was to increase industrial output, while also reducing the bonuses paid. What the SED achieved, however, was the further alienation of workers whose interests it claimed to represent.The ‘New Course’It was against this background of impending economic ruin and popular dissatisfaction that Ulbricht was called to Moscow on 2 June 1953 by Lavrenti Beria, Georgi Malenkov and Vyacheslav Molotov, the troika of leaders who had overseen Soviet affairs since Stalin’s death on 5 March 1953. Ulbricht received a severe dressing down from his masters. The Soviet ambassador to East Germany, Vladimir Semyonov, warned Ulbricht that, unless he took immediate measures, there would soon be no one left in East Germany. Ulbricht was shocked, but, determined to cling to power, he complied with Moscow’s orders.On 11 June 1953 the SED announced its ‘New Course’, a political programme designed to mitigate the repressive measures taken during the ‘construction of socialism’. The Party admitted explicitly that it had made mistakes and that these would be corrected. This admission infuriated countless citizens who had suffered because of the regime’s obsessive Stalinist campaign. Ulbricht, however, stopped short of resigning. This angered many. As the figurehead of a regime that had brought them such suffering, Ulbricht was hated by large swathes of East German society.Workers’ uprisingThe announcement of the Party’s political volte-face did not immediately trigger the East German uprising. The initial spark for this came on the Stalinallee in East Berlin on 16 June 1953. Here, thousands of construction workers were building a showpiece boulevard of ‘palaces for the working class’ in the Stalinist architectural style. Like many others, the SED’s admission of its mistakes had angered them, too. But they were most furious about what the ‘New Course’ did not include. There was no mention of the increased production quotas for industrial workers such as themselves. The SED still felt this measure necessary to improve the standard of living. Therefore, the quota increase stood and there was talk of little else on the building sites along the Stalinallee. Several construction workers had written to the SED leadership on 15 June 1953 to explain that they felt they were still being penalised. In response, the SED reduced the quotas to their previous level. The Party was, however, slow to notify workers of this. It was clearly unaware of the anger on the Stalinallee. Turning up for their shifts on 16 June 1953 and unaware of the Party’s response to their letter, construction workers on the Stalinallee were greeted with an article titled ‘Yes, of course the decrees about raising the working quotas are completely correct’ in the trade union newspaper Die Tribüne. Unfortunately for the SED, this article had gone to print before it had reduced the quotas. The workers were apoplectic. They regarded this article as the Party leadership’s official response to their letter. They downed tools and set off for the House of Ministries in the centre of East Berlin. Although the SED sent loudspeaker cars racing through the streets to inform workers of the quota reduction, it was too late.As the workers from the Stalinallee marched through the city, citizens from other walks of life joined their ranks. Many saw the workers’ protest as their opportunity to vent their anger with the SED regime. Some were simply curious about what was happening. Workers chanted for fairer production quotas, while others demanded Ulbricht’s head. What had begun as a protest about working conditions was mutating into a demonstration against the regime. At about 1.30pm a crowd of approximately 10,000 reached the House of Ministries and demanded to talk to Ulbricht. Several junior SED officials and the Minister for Mining and Metallurgy, Fritz Selbmann, attempted to appease the demonstrators. They failed. Only a verbal reckoning with Ulbricht would satisfy them. When it became apparent that the SED leader was not in the building, several protesters gave speeches. One demanded the government reduce the quotas, lower food prices, improve living standards, free all political prisoners and hold pan-German elections. Another called for a general strike to take place the following day. The crowd approved and resolved to spread the word across East Germany. To this end, a few workers crossed into West Berlin and headed for the building housing the American-run radio station RIAS (Radio in the American Sector). The station broadcast news, political and cultural content and was an important weapon in the ideological war between the two Germanys. It was popular with many East Germans who rejected the overtly propagandistic offerings of their own radio stations and who were prepared to defy SED demands not to listen to it.People’s uprisingOn the morning of 17 June 1953, East Germany was abuzz with talk of the previous day’s events in East Berlin. RIAS had broadcast reports throughout the night and day trippers and commuters had brought home tales of what they had seen and heard in the capital. Few industrial workers on early shifts across the country bothered to start work. Instead they declared solidarity with the East Berlin construction workers and went on strike. SED factory representatives were mocked as they tried to convince strikers that they were striking against themselves. The workers simply did not believe the ‘People’s Own Factories’ belonged to them. Chanting ‘Reduce the quotas’ and ‘Follow the Berliners’, the striking workers left factory premises and headed to city and town centres, where they intended to call Party leaders to account. Along the way, thousands of citizens joined them. The workers’ uprising had become a people’s uprising. By the afternoon of 17 June 1953, almost one million East Germans in over 700 locations were demanding the removal of Ulbricht and his SED, better living and working conditions, free elections and the reunification of Germany.There were demonstrations and unrest in all East Germany’s large cities – East Berlin, Dresden, Erfurt, Halle, Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz), Leipzig, Magdeburg, Potsdam, Rostock and Zwickau. In East Berlin, approximately 150,000 protesters gathered. Eyewitnesses reported a demonstration ten kilometres long. Protesters stormed and ransacked SED and Free German Youth offices in an orgy of destruction. They tore down SED and Soviet flags, including the one on top of the Brandenburg Gate. Propaganda placards and other physical symbols of the regime were burned. Border fences between the two parts of the city were destroyed. The nine-story Columbus House on Potsdamer Platz, which housed a state-owned department store, was razed to the ground. Attempts to invade the building of the SED Central Committee failed thanks only to its Soviet guards.In Magdeburg, strikes began in the ‘Ernst Thälmann’ Heavy Machinery Combine. Approximately 12,000 workers marched to the city centre, where other citizens joined them. They chanted anti-SED slogans as the Karl-Marx-Straße street sign was torn down and the former name of the street – Broadway – was daubed onto the wall where the sign had once been. A major flashpoint of the unrest in Magdeburg was the prison in the south of the city. There, demonstrators demanded the release of all political prisoners. When this demand was rejected, a firefight broke out between police officers and demonstrators, who used weapons taken from People’s Policemen. Three officers and several passers-by were killed. In Dresden, approximately 60,000 demonstrators called for the SED government to be punished and for Germany to be reunited. In Halle, thousands of protesters demanded better living conditions. SED offices were stormed and there were loud cheers when demonstrators threw copies of Ulbricht’s biography out of the windows. Protesters laid siege to the main political prison in the city centre, a redbrick building colloquially known as the ‘Red Ox’. They broke through the main door but were fired upon as they reached the inner courtyard. Several died. In Leipzig, approximately 100,000 people chanted ‘Spitzbart, Bauch und Brille sind nicht des Volkes Wille!’ (‘A goatee beard, a paunch and spectacles are not what the people want’), an allusion to Ulbricht’s facial hair, President Wilhelm Pieck’s portly appearance and Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl’s poor eyesight. Such scenes were repeated in towns and cities across East Germany. Yet, despite the protesters’ demands, they generally made no concerted efforts to carry out a revolution. They did not try to link up with others in different localities to co-ordinate the overthrow of the regime. When Party buildings were stormed, it was to completely ransack them, rather than to attempt to set up alternative political organisations. Where strike committees formed, they generally only represented small groups of workers and made little effort to lead the thousands who were on the streets. Only in the town of Görlitz did a ‘City Committee’ form. This 20-man body sought the support of the 40,000-strong crowd in the town centre in its attempts to take over the political organisation of the town. But Görlitz was the exception rather than the rule. Citizens’ commitment to the demonstrations also varied. Some were prepared to attack Party buildings and beat up SED functionaries. But many milled about on the fringe of the demonstrations and went home at the first sign of trouble. Outbreaks of rain also cleared many protesters off the streets.In the late afternoon of 17 June Soviet troops arrived to ensure the survival of the SED regime. Even though the Party’s security forces had been placed on high alert after the previous day’s events in East Berlin, the scale of the uprising overwhelmed them and the regime did not yet dispose of its own army. The nearest thing it had was the Kasernierte Volkspolizei (KVP), or ‘Barracked People’s Police’. But KVP units were not deployed because of fears that they might declare solidarity with the protesters. It was left to the Soviet army to disperse the mainly unarmed crowds with their tanks and machine guns. Many protesters had hoped the West would come to their rescue, but the United States and its allies did not dare intervene and risk an armed confrontation with the Soviet Union. The first popular uprising in the Eastern Bloc was over. Approximately 34 demonstrators, passers-by or bystanders, as well as five policemen and other regime functionaries, were dead.AftermathEven before the last pockets of resistance had been mopped up, the SED propaganda machine went into overdrive. In the print and broadcast media, the Party sought to convince citizens that the uprising had been an attempted fascist putsch, instigated by former Nazis, West German spies and the CIA. According to the SED, it was only thanks to its leadership and the ‘help’ of Soviet ‘friends’ that a return to fascism had been averted. This narrative of the uprising remained unchanged to the very end of the regime’s existence and was frequently used in the propaganda war against the West. Few but the most ardent SED supporters, however, believed it.Although much of the demonstrators’ anger had been directed at Walter Ulbricht, Moscow kept faith with him. The Kremlin wanted an experienced hand to steady the ship. Buoyed by this, Ulbricht purged the SED of his rivals, accusing them of having been in league with the ‘fascists’. Ironically, the uprising enabled him to tighten his grip on power. In late June 1953, SED ministers, including Ulbricht (who was roundly booed), visited factories to attempt to win back workers’ support. But the uprising had taught East Germans that the SED regime could only remain in power for as long as the Soviet forces were there to defend it. In the eyes of ordinary citizens the Party was politically bankrupt. It would never enjoy popular support.The ghost of 1953The spectre of the June uprising haunted the SED until its demise. In late 1989, faced with growing demonstrations, the Minister for State Security, Erich Mielke, anxiously asked his advisers: ‘Do you think that 17 June will break out again tomorrow?’ Party functionaries were permanently afraid that they would once again face angry mobs of disgruntled citizens. In the months and years that followed, the regime took steps to ensure that what had happened in June 1953 would never be repeated. Factories and other workplaces were ordered to form armed workers’ militia groups. Their main task was to put a stop to strikes before they could spread. Special units of the People’s Police were trained to deal with riots and equipped with firearms, armoured cars and light artillery. Finally, the State Security Service, or Stasi, was remodelled and billions of marks were spent on improving its effectiveness and recruiting officers and informers. In the wake of the uprising, the Stasi was heavily criticised. Since its inception in 1950, its role had been to judge the mood of citizens. Yet the uprising had taken it completely by surprise. Whereas before 1953 the Stasi had operated as a kind of jack-of-all-trades information service, after the uprising it was assigned the task of preventing a repeat of the unrest. This meant nipping all forms of opposition in the bud. The expansion of the Stasi after the June uprising eventually led to there being one Stasi informer for every 66 citizens in East Germany, a far higher ratio than the KGB or the Gestapo ever enjoyed.Yet the SED did not respond to the events of 1953 simply by increasing surveillance and repression. The Party resolved never to let living standards and workers’ satisfaction fall to a point at which a repeat of the uprising would become a possibility. As a result, it heavily subsidised the cost of living. For example, a bread roll or a tram ticket cost more or less the same in 1989 as they had done in 1953. Workers were appeased to the extent that one could repeatedly turn up for work drunk and face little sanction. Some scholars argue that this programme of subsidisation and the effect that the appeasement of workers had on productivity ultimately led to the regime’s bankruptcy in the 1980s.The SED regime also tightly controlled what citizens were able to learn about the uprising. The unrest had been so widespread that it would have been absurd to deny its occurrence. But the Party did attempt to suppress memories and awareness of it, hoping that the matter would eventually fade into obscurity. Thus, although the Party’s account of an attempted fascist putsch appeared in history books and school textbooks, no more than three or four short paragraphs covered it. Moreover, many teachers were so afraid of saying something that contravened the Party line that they often did not raise the subject at all. When the uprising was referenced in print or broadcast media, no detailed accounts ever appeared. The unrest was alluded to only as a vague serious of unspecific incidents instigated by faceless ‘spies, thugs and fascists’.The Party’s attempts to encourage the disappearance of the memory of the uprising from the public consciousness were, however, thwarted by West Germany. On 3 July 1953, the West German parliament voted in favour of declaring 17 June a national holiday, henceforth to be known as the ‘Day of German Unity’. Each year, West German politicians and anti-communists commemorated this day as a symbol of what they believed to be the East German citizens’ desire for democracy, freedom and a united Germany. The uprising became a stick with which West Germany could annually beat the SED regime. The fact that these commemorations were often broadcast on radio and television ensured that listening and watching East Germans were reminded annually of what had happened on that day in June 1953.East-West divideYet evidence suggests that the uprising of 17 June 1953 held little meaning for the ordinary citizens of both West and East Germany. In the West, the day became just another holiday. West German political commentators even debated during the 1980s whether the day had become a Cold War relic that was hindering West-East rapprochement. In East Germany, the events of 17 June 1953 meant little to most people, other than those who (or whose family) had directly suffered because of their participation in the unrest. For many, the uprising was something that had happened for just a few hours one afternoon, but which had made no perceivable impact on their lives. The Berlin Wall, on the other hand, was much more present in their minds because its effect on their personal freedom was clear and concrete. That said, citizens did not shy away from reminding the East German regime of what had happened in 1953. The files of the Stasi and the People’s Police contain numerous reports of disgruntled citizens threatening a ‘second 17 June’ or warning Party officials that ‘on the next 17 June, we will succeed’. Graffiti proclaiming ‘Long Live 17 June’ or ‘Remember the Victims of 1953’ often appeared around the anniversary of the uprising each year. Other related incidents also occurred, such as the slashing of the tyres of 17 cars in Magdeburg city centre on 17 June 1973. But such expressions of dissent represented citizens simply letting off steam. None attempted to instigate a second uprising.When Germany was formally reunified on 3 October 1990, this date became the ‘Day of German Unity’. The major annual commemorations of 17 June ceased and it lost its status as a national holiday. In 2003, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the uprising, there were indications that the events were fading from public consciousness. A survey revealed that nearly half of Germans had no idea what had happened on 17 June 1953. More recently, however, there have been attempts to increase public awareness and knowledge of the uprising by recasting the events as part of a broader narrative of German political resistance against oppressive regimes. In 2013, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed the uprising as a ‘significant landmark’ in joint-German history, suggesting that commemoration of the uprising of 17 June 1953 now has a political role to play in encouraging eastern and western Germans to regard their divided history as something that unites them.Richard Millington is Lecturer in German at the University of Chester and the author of State, Society and Memories of the Uprising of 17 June 1953 in the GDR (Palgrave, 2014).

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Today in History for 20th June 2018

Historical Events

1893 – Lizzie Borden acquitted of the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts
1896 – 10th U.S. Women’s National Championship: Elisabeth Moore beats Juliette Atkinson (6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2)
1965 – Sandra Haynie wins LPGA Cosmopolitan Golf Open
1975 – “Jaws”, based on the book by Peter Benchley, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Roy Scheider is released
1994 – Bomb attack on Islamic temple in Mashad Iran (70 killed)
1994 – US Fairchild Hospital Air Force Base massacre, former gunman kills 5 and injures 22

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Famous Birthdays

1887 – Arnaut Colnot, painter and graphic artist
1953 – Raul Ramirez, tennis player
1958 – Kelly Johnson [Bernadette], Edmonton, London, guitarist (Girlschool), (d. 2007)
1970 – Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco
1970 – Andrea Nahles, German politician
1972 – Paras Mhambrey, Indian cricket pace bowler (Test v England 1996)

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Famous Deaths

885 – Bernard Plantapilosa, Count of Auvergne (b. 841)
1846 – Pieter Adams, architect of Rotterdam, dies at about 67
1888 – Cesare Dominiceti, composer, dies at 66
1953 – Hendrik de Man, sociologist (Belgian Working people Party), dies at 67
1984 – Estelle Winwood, actress (Miracle on 34th Street), dies at 99
1995 – Henry Iliffe Cozens, English Royal Air Force pilot, dies at 91

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