• Weird History

How One Heartbreaking Photo Captured The Inhumanity Of The Berlin Wall

On August 13, 1961, the Berlin Wall was officially constructed, separating communist East Germany from capitalist West Germany. It was another ratcheting up of the tensions of the Cold War. That same day, a photographer snapped an image of an unknown East German soldier helping a little boy through the Berlin Wall. Though we don't know that soldier's name or his ultimate fate, we do know that – despite his orders – he decided to aid a helpless child the day the Berlin Wall was built.

From 1949 to 1961, more than 2.5 million people fled East Germany for opportunities in the West. That all stopped the day the Wall was built. The separation lasted until 1989, when Mr. Gorbachev tore down that Wall. During its nearly three decades in existence, almost 200 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Thankfully, the little boy in this photo wasn't one of them.

  • One East German Soldier Flouted His Orders To Reunite A Little Boy With His Family

    Photo: Unknown / Rare Historical Photos / GNUF

    In this unbelievably evocative image from the day the Berlin Wall was officially erected – August 13, 1961 – an East German soldier attempts to help a little boy who has been separated from his parents through the barbed wire. This was incredibly dangerous, given that East German officials had given orders that no one – including children – was to cross the Wall in either direction once it went up. 

    The day this photograph was taken and the Wall was erected, German soldiers, armed with machine guns, monitored East German laborers working on the construction. Some sources report some workers cried as they bricked up and barbed off their exit point into West Germany.

    • Rather Than Being Commended, The Soldier Was Punished For His Compassion

      Photo: The Central Intelligence Agency / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

      Descriptions of the famous photo of the soldier helping the young boy often come with the caption "no one knows what became of him" with regard to the soldier. This is a slightly unsettling pronouncement, given it's also reported that the soldier's commanding officer saw what he did and pulled him out of his unit. Whether he was slapped on the wrist, commended in secret, or shot and killed – no one, aside from the soldier and those closest to him, can know for sure.

      Another soldier managed to triumphantly escape East Germany that day. Pictured above (and here, as well, if you'd like another angle), Conrad Schumann, a 19-year-old East German soldier, gleefully leaps over the barbed wire fence to his freedom.

      • The Berlin Wall Was Kind Of Like The Wonka Chocolate Factory – Nobody Goes In And Nobody Comes Out

        Photo: GeorgeLouis / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

        From 1949 until 1961 – the year the Berlin Wall was constructed – around 2.5 million Germans fled from East to West Germany via Berlin. Before the construction of the Wall, the differences between the two Germanys were primarily ideological and fell along the general lines of the Cold War; East Germany adopted communism in the wake of WWII, and West Germany aligned itself with the pro-democratic, pro-capitalist West. As a result, millions of refugees tried to make their way from East to West Germany.

        Until 1961, that is, when East German leadership decided it needed to protect itself and its citizens from "fascist elements conspiring to prevent the 'will of the people' in building a socialist state in East Germany." In reality, the Wall prevented the massive surge of eager East Germans from leaving the Eastern Bloc. To ensure everyone stayed where they belonged, guard towers were built to monitor the Wall 24/7. By the time it was finally brought down in 1989, some 200 people had died trying to cross it.