As I mentioned yesterday, June 17 is the anniversary of my wife Dymphna’s death. Until today, when the translation below arrived in my inbox, I wasn’t aware of any other significant event associated with that date. Now I know that yesterday was the sixty-eighth anniversary of the popular uprising against the communists and the Soviets in the DDR.
Many thanks to Hellequin GB for translating this article from Junge Freiheit:
June 17, 1953: “The sheer hatred of the communists”
Interview June 17, 2021
by Moritz Schwarz
At the end of the war Walther Frielitz fled from Silesia to Thuringia as a child, where he witnessed the popular uprising against SED [Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, Socialist Unity Party] rule on June 17 in 1953 . Today nobody wants to hear the contemporary witnesses. But he fights against oblivion.
Mr. Frielitz, you saw the end of the war….
Walther Frielitz: Yes — I didn’t catch a bullet until June 17, 1953 in Thuringia, even though I didn’t come from there.
Frielitz: My grandfather was a shoe manufacturer in Waldenburg near Breslau. As a trained businessman, my father and my uncle took over the company with around eighty employees. But both were drafted in 1944 — and stayed in the war. When the Red Army approached in 1945, my grandfather decided: “There is a hospital train going west and you are going with us! I was able to get tickets for you guys!” I was nine and it was an enormous sight. The train consisted of many, many cars and was pulled by two locomotives! Wounded, Red Cross personnel and only refugee families with children were allowed to go with them.
So you could escape relatively “comfortably”?
Frielitz: Yes, but when we crossed our feet while we waited, I was amazed: What is there in a row under blankets? — They were dead soldiers! Each time the wounded were unloaded who had not survived the rigors of the transport or who had succumbed to their wounds. In the rush they were simply placed on the platform and the journey continued — just get away from the Russians! We were unloaded near Gera, namely in Weida in Thuringia. And so we were spared from being overrun by the Russians. Because Thuringia was conquered by the Americans and only later handed over to the Russians in exchange for West Berlin.
“Those were terrible pictures”
Wasn’t that a shock then?
Frielitz: It was bad that the Russians took the animals out of people’s stables. The Americans didn’t do that. Which does not mean that they did not steal: The refugees were distributed in Weida and we were quartered in a manor in nearby Mosen, the owner of which had fled to the west. When the Americans came, they just took everything there that was valuable. Then when they evacuated Thuringia, of all people they warned us about the “thieving Russians”. But rightly so, because they now stole from the manor what was not valuable enough to the Americans, i.e. actually everything that was not nailed down.
The Russian soldiers were also dangerous, especially to the women. In any case, the Americans were well cared for by their army, even for us children sometimes something came our way. The Russians, on the other hand, had to rob or starve. They were very, very poor people anyway. We witnessed how they treated their own soldiers: inhuman, absolutely inhuman! If someone did not toe the line or perhaps had stolen, they would be ruthlessly beaten! I thought: My God, they’re killing their own people! Well, they beat them half to death and then they left the poor devils, covered in blood, unconscious on the street. Those were terrible pictures.
You were a middle-class merchant family. Weren’t you afraid of persecution by the Russians and, after the DDR [Deutsche Demokratische Republik, German Democratic Republic] was founded in 1949, by the SED?
Frielitz: Oh, we had lost everything, our house, the factory, everything was gone. We didn’t even think about politics, we were concerned with survival! My mother was happy when she saw her four children go to school again. When I came home from trade school one day sometime later, on June 17, 1953, it was like wildfire: “Did you hear? Strike in Berlin! And it’s starting in Gera, too! We have to go there!” A couple of drivers came with their trucks ready to support the strikes and to carry all who wanted to take part to Gera.
But you said you were apolitical.
Frielitz: We all were. Capitalism, communism — most of them didn’t understand what it was. But everyone had learned by now that one had to be afraid of communism — and what kind of people they were!
“Files flew out of the windows and the SED people fled”
Frielitz: The SED had a lot of dodgy people — all of whom could not be trusted, who cheated others, who had no morals. The communists gave them advantage and influence if they participated. That was how the bottom came up — dissolute guys pestering people. And if you opposed it, you risked [being sent to the] camp!
So you jumped on a truck?
Frielitz: Also to see what was happening in Gera. On the way we saw two men who put up posters for socialism on an advertising column. We stopped the truck and grabbed the two! Then they tipped the bucket of glue over their heads.
Were you involved?
Frielitz: No, I stayed on my truck. But nothing bad happened, the glued-up guys were mocked and chased away. In Gera I jumped off with the others. Oh my goodness! Perhaps it was already happening there! We came to the “House of Youth”: The SED and FDJ [Freie Deutsche Jugend, Free German Youth] people fled through the window. The demonstrators threw everything after them: papers, files, books, telephones, which then crashed into the house wall because of the cables.
I saw others stop a car with five people, probably comrades, and tip it over, so that the five crawled out like drunks. In front of the prison, a daring man drove his truck backwards at full throttle against the gate: Ruuums! The wings crashed off their hinges! The guards threw away their rifles and fled. And the first prisoners came out. While the assembled crowd cheered and cheered enthusiastically. That was a mood you can’t imagine! But then the Russians came: Suddenly the roar of the tanks! That gives you the jeebies.
“One of them jumped on the tank and smashed the machine gun”
Didn’t you realize that they would of course intervene to prevent the SED from being disempowered?
Frielitz: Yes, I had feared that all along, because I knew that Gera had a garrison. However, they probably didn’t really know what to do at first. And then a reckless man jumped on the first colossus, swung a heavy hammer and knocked the Russian’s machine gun aside and smashed the windows of the peephole. The tank turned the turret to sweep it down — but the guy was nimble.
Then the Russian [tank] rolled in front of the prison gate to block the breach. But the truck was quickly placed inside against the wall and then tilted the dump body, and another truck did the same from the outside — so that the prisoners could climb over the wall with the help of this “ramp”. The crowd was thrilled! But there were more and more Russians, and now you could hear gunshots. It was clear to me: let’s get out of here!
That was the end in Gera?
Frielitz: I don’t know, because I’m on a truck that sped back to Weida. This is where things started now: When we arrived, the whole city was on its feet and gathered in front of the town hall. Speeches were made. However, it was clear to me that the same thing as in Gera would soon happen here. This is how it happened: One Russian vehicle after another drove in and started to fire from them!
Sure, we threw stones, too, but that wasn’t too bad. However, I don’t know if the Russians hit anyone. I came to a house that communists were chased from. But they had probably called for help beforehand, because now the Volkspolizei [People’s Police] came, as the DDR security forces were called. And they — Germans! — shot over the heads of the people and some shot onto the pavement in front of us to drive us away. And then suddenly a blow hit my leg!
“Total strangers visited us”
The bullet you spoke of at the beginning?
Frielitz: It probably bounced off the pavement, ran through my leg, luckily missed the bone: The bullet peeped out on the other side. But as I hobbled away, it slipped back into the wound. I took refuge in a doctor’s office. But there, like in the hospital, where the doctor sent me, to my horror everything was already covered in blood! That stood so thick on the floor that it creaked when you walked over it. I don’t know how many people died, at least one died in the hospital.
34 insurgents were shot on June 17, seven executed afterwards and eight died in custody. Were you punished?
Frielitz: Fortunately not. But at first the hospital feared they would pick me up, so they hid me in the basement for two nights. When I was allowed out again, the man who had initially been lying next to me had died. It was Alfred Walter. My God, he was only around thirty and had only come home from a Russian prisoner of war camp. I didn’t feel better at first. An entry and an exit hole — until the doctor realized that the bullet hadn’t passed through, but slipped back and was still stuck in the leg!
Every day complete strangers came to visit us injured. The foreign visitors brought us alcohol and groceries — I’ve never had so many eggs at once! Officially it was visits to the sick, but in reality it was solidarity with us victims and silent protest against the failure of the uprising. Which was quickly crushed by the Red Army in the whole of the DDR.
Even if you participated spontaneously at the time, how do you understand the political goals of June 17th today?
Frielitz: That was hate — really the sheer hatred of the Russians and the Communists, that is, of those who oppressed us, of whom one had to be constantly afraid. Who could put on airs and always took the best for themselves, while we citizens had to stand back and live in want.
“If I remember June 17th, I will only be put off”
Elsewhere, for example in Berlin, it was also about the reunification of Germany.
Frielitz: I didn’t hear about that in Gera and Weida — and that didn’t interest me either. My aim was to get rid of these communists who were beating us up and who were always at the forefront of the cream. They were just dangerous people.
Are today’s communists different people?
Frielitz: That may be, at least one had to beware of the communists of the time — and the Left is just the renamed SED! I have seen what these people are like when they no longer have to pretend. That is why it is so important that June 17th be remembered! But the boys are no longer interested in that today. When I was living near Stuttgart much, much later, a school principal invited me to tell about my experiences. Afterwards he told me that it had never been so quiet in the room! The students listened so spellbound.
Then another director invited me, but had to uninvite me again — the subject was probably not wanted after all. And when I go to our local newspapers and say: For the anniversary, do something about June 17th! Then they just get rid of me. It’s a shame!
I have therefore donated a memorial stone to commemorate the killed Alfred Walter and the injured on June 17th. We inaugurated it in Weida in 2012. This is very important! If politics, the media and the public abandon this day to oblivion, then we just have to remember it!* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Walther Frielitz was born in 1936 in Bad Salzbrunn in Lower Silesia, fled to Thuringia in 1945 and from the DDR to the West in 1957, where he became Allianz’s general agent in Sindelfingen. In 2012 his booklet was published: “What happened on June 17, 1953 in Weida?”