Posts Tagged ‘cold war’

November 9, 1989: The Fall of the Wall

Sightseers view a remaining part of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin Wall Research Topic in ProQuest eLibrary


For 28 years, the Berlin Wall stood as a symbol of Communism and the Cold War. Erected in August 1961, the Wall was built to keep East Germans, especially professionals and skilled workers, from defecting to the West.  Those who sought to escape were “shot on sight.”  November 9, 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall.  It was on that night the East German government announced the passing of a law allowing East Germans to travel to the west side of Berlin.  Many made the trip that very night and, within a few days the barrier was gone and along with it the misery and isolation felt by East Berliners.

Berlin had been divided into East and West during the Berlin Blockade (June 1948-May 1949) with the East being under Soviet control. Originally a barbed wire barrier, it was 12-foot high and fortified with concrete by the Soviets and fiercely guarded with guards in machine gun towers.  During its existence, the Berlin Wall saw nearly 5000 people attempt to escape East Germany.  The area surrounding the Wall became known as the “death strip” (Todesstreifen).

The Wall was the focus of two iconic presidential speeches condemning it. Almost two years after the erection of the Wall President John F. Kennedy delivered his “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a citizen of Berlin.) speech in June 1963 declaring U.S. support for the people of West Berlin and West Germany. In June 1987, two years from the fall, President Ronald Reagan implored Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Tiring of Communism, Eastern bloc countries began to see reforms.  In opening its border with Austria, Communist Hungary was the first to see transformation.  The Soviet “iron curtain” began to collapse.  The demise of the Berlin Wall was the death knell.  In 1990 Germany was reunified, and the Cold War effectively came to an end.

Today in History: Accused Spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Are Executed

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, separated by heavy wire screen as they leave U.S. Court House after being found guilty by jury. [Public domain], Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection via Wikimedia Commons

On June 19, 1953,  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg , a married couple convicted of conspiring to pass atomic weapons secrets to the Soviet Union, were executed. The Rosenbergs had plead innocent, but Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, testified against them, and a U.S. Court of Appeals jury found them guilty. Greenglass and a courier for the espionage ring were given lighter sentences as was Klaus Fuchs, a physicist and atomic spy convicted of supplying information to the Soviets. In spite of a stay of execution by Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas and worldwide protests for clemency, the Rosenbergs became the first U.S. citizens to be executed for espionage.

The Rosenbergs were executed by the electric chair at Sing Sing prison in New York, leaving behind two young sons.

According to a newspaper account at the time, “[i]t took three shocks of 2,000 volts each to electrocute [Mr.] Rosenberg. Four jolts swept through Mrs. Rosenberg and still she was not dead. A fifth was ordered.”

Declassified documents released in 1995 provide evidence that Julius Rosenberg–who used the code name Liberal–was selling secrets to the Soviets. However, David Greenglass admitted years later that he and his wife’s trial testimony about Ethel Rosenberg’s role in the espionage activity was false.

But the question remains–why did the other convincted spies receive serve short jail sentences while the Rosenbergs were executed?

Want to learn more about this fascinating spy case? Click on the 1950’s tab in SIRS Decades to get an overview of this time period and access primary source materials–such as letters, declassified government documents, editorial cartoons and photographs–to complete your understanding of just how the Cold War and Red Scare affected the trial. You can also visit SIRS Issues Researcher and type in the Subject Heading Rosenberg (Julius and Ethel) case to access additional editorially-selected materials.

Did the Rosenbergs deserve to die? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.