Saturday, July 2, 1955 at Friedrichsfelde, East Berlin
With the devastation of the end of the Second World War still fresh on their minds, many East Berliners were eagerly waiting for some kind of positivity to present itself as they continued to clear away debris and mitigate housing shortages. This finally arrived on August 27, 1954 when the Parliament of East Berlin decided on the ambitious plan to build a zoo despite the many hardships that confronted the city at that time.
When the Allies carved up the city after WWII, Berlin’s original zoo, dating back to the 1840s, had wound up in the British Sector of Occupation and it was becoming a constant thorn in the GDR’s side that their citizens were journeying over to West Berlin when they wanted to visit a zoo. After all, a zoo can somehow be seen as a part of a ‘real’ capital; and since the East German Government had declared East Berlin its de facto capital, what better reason was there for them to erect their own?
The plan was quickly put into action and the place chosen for this development was the overgrown Schlosspark Friedrichsfelde, which is about seven miles east of Berlin’s city center. This area’s home to the Friedrichsfelde Palace which was built under the reign of Elector Friedrich III of Brandenburg (who’d later become the first King in Prussia, Friedrich I), as well as the residence of Prince Augustus Ferdinand who was the youngest brother of Frederick the Great. The land offered an exceptionally spacious 410 acres (160 hectares) to work with, dwarfing the 85 acre (35 hectares) zoo in West Berlin.
What’s interesting about the construction of the Tierpark is the fact that it was actually built by the citizens of East Berlin themselves. Because construction workers couldn’t be taken away from important job sites that were essential to post-WWII rebuilding and redevelopment, the East Berlin City Council called on volunteers. Men and women grabbed their shovels and headed up to Friedrichsfelde, sometimes going before or after their ‘real’ jobs to pitch in. Thousands of East Berliners, including pupils and college students, put in over 100,000 working hours of their free time to build the zoo.
After just seven months of construction, the zoo became the new home to some 400 animals when it opened on July 2, 1955. It’d quickly begin to boast the fact that it had more exotic animals than the zoo in West Berlin, thanks to the ‘socialist brother countries’ like China who supplied the alligator, “Mao”, and Vietnam who provided the female elephant, “Kosko”. Tigers and polar bears from the Soviet Union would eventually follow too.
Today over 9,000 animals live in Tierpark Berlin and over 1.5 million Berliners and tourists visit annually.
It was on May 12, 1949 that the Berlin Airlift, one of the largest humanitarian aid efforts in European history, came to an end.
Out of response to the Western Allies’ (United Kingdom, the United States, and France) introduction of the new Deutsche Mark into their occupied sectors of Berlin, which the Soviet Union saw as a clear violation (of the Potsdam Agreement of 1945) to treat Germany as a single economic unit, the Soviets responded by shutting down all rail and highway links across their zone of occupation, which stretched between the Western zones of Germany and the Western sectors of Berlin. Two and a half million Berliners living in the American, British, and French sectors now had enough food and coal to last for just a little over a month, since most of Berlin’s power had been coming from the Soviet’s sector and zone of occupation.
In a show of strength against the Soviets, President Harry S. Truman of the United States, and British Prime Minister Clement Attlee authorized a full-scale airlift to fly food and supplies to the beleaguered Berliners. At the height of the Airlift, as targets were being met and exceeded, 1500 flights from the USA and UK (including the British Commonwealth nations) flew into Berlin per day bringing in an around 4,500 tons of supplies.
In the end, after 10 months and 23 days, 594 supply aircrafts would land on average in Berlin per day, which totaled 277,804 flights that brought in nearly 2.5 million tons of supplies.
One of the heroes of the Airlift – and who will always be considered as one of the most beloved figures in Berlin’s Cold War history – was American Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen of Utah, who casually started out dropping candy that was wrapped in handkerchiefs to kids he saw watching his plane from the ground. To no surprise, he became an immediate sensation and started a trend for Allied pilots to drop candy and chocolate bars on their landing approaches. Despite the basic necessities that Halvorsen and the rest of the Allied pilots were flying in, he nonetheless would quickly and heroically become known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber.”
To commemorate last year’s 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift, Gail was honored at the baseball fields on the grounds of the former Tempelhof Airport, where he and so many other Allied pilots risked their lives to supply and thus save the free people of Berlin from 1948-1949.
After the Kingdom of Prussia was established in 1701, its kings – especially Frederick the Great – would quickly transform it into a formidable military state and expand its hegemony deep into current day Poland and across what is much of northern Germany today. And it would be this so-called “Iron Kingdom” that would create a single unified German state for the first time in 1871.
Unfortunately for Prussia, its reputation would be tarnished after Hitler came to power in 1933 as the National Socialists would fuse this ‘old glorious’ history to their ‘new’ regime, making it obvious to the western Allies by the end of WWII that – according to historian Christopher Clark – Nazism was merely the latest manifestation of ‘Prussianism’. As a matter of fact, as early as 1943, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt told a joint session of Congress in September of that year, “This is one thing I want to make perfectly clear: “When Hitler and the Nazis go out, the Prussian military clique must go with them. The war-breeding gangs of militarists must be rooted out of Germany.”
After Nazi Germany signed the unconditional surrender at the end of WWII, it didn’t take the occupying Allies long to quickly see that this defeated corpse that was Prussia needed to finally be ended. The Allied Control Council – established under Part II, Section A, Point 1 of the Potsdam Agreement of 1945 – soon began to discuss its future in the summer of 1946 when a member of the British Allied Control Authority submitted a memorandum to the Council putting the case against Prussia rather succinctly:
“I need not point out that Prussia has been a menace to European security for the last two hundred years. The survival of the Prussian State, even if only in name, would provide a basis for any irredentist claims which the German people may later seek to put forward, would strengthen German militarist ambitions, and would encourage the revival of an authoritarian, centralised Germany which in the interests of all it is vital to prevent.”
Therefore, it was on this day – February 25, 1947 – that the Allied Control Council issued Control Council Law Number 46 liquidating the State of Prussia, its central Government, and all its agencies. Technically the Nazis had already done this when they issued the “Law on the Reconstruction of the Reich” on January 30, 1934 which dissolved all federal states and placed them under the authority of governors who were now going to be appointed by Hitler himself, but Control Council Law 46 had now made the dissolution of Prussia official.
Today, its name is rarely seen, only a handful of structures exist to remind us of its past, and Prussia’s once humongous territory has now been divided up among nine federal states within the borders of current day Germany.
Saturday, April 3, 1948 at the White House in Washington D.C.
WWII had ended just over two years earlier and the winter of 1946-1947 had been the worst one in living memory. With mass starvation, chaos and the spread of communism riddling Western Europe since the end of the war, a comprehensive system of economic aid for Europe had now finally come to the fore.
Its official title was the European Recovery Program (ERP), but history and the world would better know it as the ‘Marshall Plan’, named after Secretary of State George C. Marshall – one of the most highly respected and most popular persons in the United States at that time.
What Secretary Marshall and President Truman were proposing was not military action, but an economic plan that would involve a delay in the withdrawal of American forces from Europe and a program of financial aid that would pump anywhere between $8-17 billion dollars into the economies of receptive countries. This money would then be used to buy food, resources and other goods from the United States in the hopes that it would help them combat mass starvation, rejuvenate their economies, rebuild utterly destroyed areas, and prevent their democracies from rapidly moving toward the Left – something that was seen as a real danger at the time.
Therefore, it was on this day 72 years ago that U.S. President Harry S. Truman signed the Marshall Plan, initially granting $13 billion dollars in economic assistance to 16 European nations. With this coming a little over a year after Greece and Turkey had been granted $400 million dollars in aid, no other president in U.S. history has ever approved so much money to aid people who weren’t Americans.
The success of the Plan has been criticized by modern historians who argue that some recipient nations had already been experiencing economic recovery, while others negatively argue that it strengthened American economic imperialism abroad. Yet, what’s important to keep in mind is that this stimulus came at a time when a psychological boost was badly needed as countries were still struggling to cope with the economic and human aftermath of WWII, as well as the terrible aforementioned winter.
In short, many people at that time – who were living history forward and not backward – understood the Marshall Plan as a compassionate program and found it to be a real badge of honor for the Truman administration.
“Some of the White House Staff suggested to President Truman that they didn’t much like the idea of General Marshall getting credit for it, but Truman was very firm on that: ‘The Congress will do anything that George Marshall wants. If my name is on it, it will probably become controversial. I don’t want it to become controversial. I want it to succeed. It will be called the Marshall Plan and we will have no more talk about changing the name.’”
– Administrative Assistant to the President, George M. Elsey, on President Truman
The highly anticipated ‘unconditional surrender’ is finally signed by the Government of Japan: Today, 73 years ago: Sunday, September 2, 1945 on the USS Missouri in the Tokyo Bay.
Aboard the deck of the ship named after President Truman’s beloved home state – the USS Missouri – Japanese officials arrived to sign the surrender documents that would finally and officially bring World War II to a close.
The scene surrounding this ceremony in Tokyo Bay was awe-striking.
With a fleet of navy ships anchored in the Bay, while American flags rippled in the wind, the colossal figure that was General Douglas MacArthur conspicuously appeared aboard the USS Missouri.
Today, it might be hard for us to understand the aura surrounding General MacArthur at that time. Called to active duty in the U.S. Army as major general, and named as the commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) as early as July 1941, Americans would collectively come to see him as a kind of God – an infallible God – who had averted failure on several occasions and led successful campaigns – primarily in the Philippines – all the way up until the end of WWII in the Pacific.
The General only stood around 5 feet 9 inches tall, but many have said that – if you’d stood in his presence – it would’ve felt as if he were standing around 6 feet 6 inches tall. And he had all the props: The open collar shirt, the sun glasses, the crunched hat, and pipe. Furthermore, he took unclear directives and interpreted them in his own way. General Douglas MacArthur was the modern day ‘American Caesar.’
As the ‘American Caesar’ stood on the Missouri’s deck monitoring the proceedings, his face was so expressionless that he looked as though he was – as historian A.J. Baime would say – “(already) a bust that would sit in a museum.”
Finally, after it’d been proclaimed by President Roosevelt in 1943, reconfirmed by President Truman at Potsdam in the summer of 1945, slightly revised in the second week of August 1945, and finally ‘agreed to be accepted’ on August 14, 1945, unconditional surrender was a signature away.
The Japanese government (on behalf of the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mamoru Shigemitsu – and on behalf of the Japanese armed forces, Yoshijiro Umezu) officially accepted the Potsdam Declaration by signing the highly anticipated unconditional surrender on this day: Sunday, September 2, 1945.
World War II was now over. Victory in Japan – or V-J Day – could officially be celebrated, and General Douglas MacArthur had now become the supreme ruler of 80 million people in Japan.
“The Big Three” at the start of the Potsdam Conference:
Joseph Stalin, Harry S. Truman, and Winston Churchill
Day 1 of the Potsdam Conference:
Tuesday, July 17, 1945, at the Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, Germany.
Shortly after Nazi Germany signed the unconditional surrender on 7./8. May 1945, American President Harry S. Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin decided to meet in Berlin to discuss what to do with a defeated Germany and how to pursue Allied strategy in an endless war in the Pacific Theater. Furthermore, Germany’s eastern borders, reparations, and a number of other matters faced the postwar world – matters that this so-called ‘anti-Hitler coalition’ would have to confront head on.
History commonly refers to this summit as the Potsdam Conference, but it is officially called the ‘Three Power Conference of Berlin’ since the anti-Hitler coalition’s initial intention was to meet in the formal defeated capital of the Third Reich. However, because WWII had left Berlin in a state of ruin by the summer of 1945, the Americans, British and Soviets quickly realized that they would have to seek other alternatives.
The still intact Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, just beyond Berlin’s southwest border, was ultimately chosen as the location for the Conference.
Completed in 1917, this was the final residence built by the House of Hohenzollern during its 500 years of dynastic rule in Brandenburg. It was named after Princess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin who was the wife of the last Crown Prince of Prussia, Prince Wilhelm (who would have become King of Prussia and German Emperor if Germany hadn’t surrendered at the end of WWI). Unlike most of the Hohenzollern palaces in Berlin and Brandenburg – like the Charlottenburg and Sanssouci Palaces – Cecilienhof’s history was interestingly made while the head of the House of Hohenzollern (Wilhelm) lived a private and secluded life with his family for most of the interwar years. Unfortunately for this former royal family, they would leave the palace before the Soviet advancement at the end of WWII in Europe – and thus abandon their jewel residence that included any valuable possessions that happened to be left behind.
Quickly occupied by units of Ivan Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front during the Battle of Berlin, the Soviets quickly realized that Cecilienhof could provide ample space and modern amenities; and most importantly, they saw Cecilienhof’s lakeside seclusion on the grounds of Potsdam’s Neuer Garten Park could fulfill the requirements needed to protect the three most powerful men on earth from 17 July – 2 August 1945.
Truman and Stalin Meet for the First Time
On the morning of the Conference’s first plenary session, President Truman and Soviet Dictator Stalin met each other for the very first time at the “Truman Villa” in Babelsberg, an eastern district of Potsdam where the Big Three took up their residence during the summit.
“Promptly a few minutes before 12:00, I looked up from my desk and there stood Stalin in the doorway,” the President wrote in his diary. “I got to my feet and advanced to meet him; he put out his hand and smiled. I did the same, we shook, I greeted Molotov (Foreign Minister) and the interpreter…”
As Truman’s biographer, David McCullough, would write: “He was the absolute dictator of over 180 million people of 170 nationalities in a country representing one-sixth of the earth’s surface, the Generalissimo of gigantic, victorious armies, and Harry Truman, like nearly everyone meeting him for the first time, was amazed to find how small he actually was: ‘A little bit of a squirt,’ Truman described him, as Stalin stood 5’5″(165cm).”
“I can deal with Stalin…He’s honest but smart as hell…,” Truman would later write about Stalin. The Generalissimo, on the other hand, was less sanguine. He once told an aide that Truman was “worthless” and had pretty much already determined that he’d surrender nothing of any kind when the bargaining would begin at Cecilienhof.
The First of Thirteen Plenary Session is Called to Order
At 5:10PM, President Harry S. Truman, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin entered the conference room through their own separate doors (a maneuver meant to eliminate the problem as to who would set first foot in the conference room if all three had come in together) and sat down with their foreign ministers, various advisers, and interpreters at the large oak table to determine the fate of the post-WWII world.
At Stalin’s suggestion, the Soviet and British immediately and collectively confirmed President Truman as Chairman of the Conference. Truman gladly and modestly accepted this confirmation and began to present some of the proposals that he and his Secretary of State, Jimmy Byrnes, had prepared on their journey across the Atlantic for consideration. Byrnes would later write, “It was evident that the other heads of government appreciated the President’s efforts in having proposals (on the first day) ready for discussion.”
Before the first plenary session was adjourned, the Big Three had agreed on the political and economic principles upon which to discuss the treatment of Germany after WWII. These would famously become known as the “Four D’s”: Democratization, Demilitarization, Denazification, Decentralization. They also had begun to discuss the political future of Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and Italy. Furthermore, the three nations began to consider how to divide up the German Navy, a topic they all were eager to talk about.
Following this first day of talks, the three leaders retired next door to the Weißer Salon. This large, bright and cheerful room was the Crown Prince’s and Crown Prince’s wife’s music room. During the Conference, though, it served as the Soviet’s reception hall where Stalin’s delegation had prepared a lavish and elaborate buffet for the Americans and the British.
From what President Truman would write in his diary, it became clear that the Soviets really knew how to put on a buffet at day’s end: “The table was set with everything you could think of…Goose liver, caviar, every kind of meat one could imagine, along with cheeses of different shapes and colors, and endless wine and vodka.”
Needless to say, it was a pleasant end to a short, first day.