Imagine a world in which you could go to sleep living in freedom, and wake up behind prison walls…and you didn’t leave your home. That is exactly what happened to the people who lived in East Berlin. The Berlin Wall was erected overnight on August 13, 1961. The people of East Berlin were prisoners in their own city. Many of them had friends and family members who lived in West Berlin, but they were no longer allowed to go and see them, nor could the West Berliners come to East Berlin to see the inhabitants of that part of the city. The people in East Berlin were in a panic, and yet nothing could be done to free themselves from their plight. At least, not until they began to get very creative.
Many attempts were made in an effort to escape their captors, and many of those failed, but it would be the successful attempts at escape that would stay in our minds all these years. It was the successful attempts that were written about and celebrated in history, because those people won against a tyrannical government. One such escape was captured in pictures. Early in the construction, before most people even knew what was going on, Willy Finder figured it out and took steps to get his family out. His was a daring plan,but the people of West Berlin were willing to help pull it off. Willy’s wife was the first to go. I con only imagine how she must have felt. The plan required her to jump from the window ledge of their 4th story apartment, into a net held by residents and firemen in West Berlin. These apartments were along Bernauer Straße (street) in Berlin. The building actually saddled the border between East and West Berlin. After the wall was first constructed in 1961, many residents escaped through these apartment blocks, in this manner. So many, in fact, that the Soviets finally bricked up the windows and raided the apartments, evicting the people who lived there. After his mother jumped, four year old Michael Finder was tossed by his father to the waiting net below. There was no time to explain all this to his son…no time to reassure him. His daddy simply had to toss in out the window. Then Willy Finder made the jump himself. Theirs was a successful escape, one of many, and this infuriated the Soviet Union, because this was a part of the Soviet occupation zone formed after the reconstruction that followed World War II.
The Soviet occupation zone in Germany, and in Berlin, was suffering from numerous movements of educated individuals from their sectors toward the West throughout the 1950s. This movement, thought to be a brain drain, encouraged the Soviet Union to begin construction of a “Fascist Protection Wall” that was supposed to keep East Germans protected from “Fascism” that the Western Allies had “not eradicated in their sectors.” Of course, the reality was that the wall, later called the Berlin Wall, was designed to keep East Germans from emigrating to the West. The apartments where the Finders lived were later torn down and the Berlin Wall that most of us picture in the news reels, and have chunks of in our museums all over the world, was erected. Nevertheless, between 1945 and 1988, around 4 million East Germans migrated to the West. The majority…as many as 3½ million people left between 1945 and the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Of those, most simply walked across the border. After 1952, they exited through West Berlin. After the border was fortified and the Berlin Wall was constructed, the number of illegal border crossings fell drastically. The numbers fell further as border defenses were improved over the following decades. In 1961, 8,507 people fled across the border, most of them through West Berlin. The construction of the Berlin Wall that year reduced the number of escapees by 75% to around 2,300 per year for the rest of the decade. The Wall changed Berlin from being one of the easiest places to cross the border, from the East, to being one of the most difficult. The wall was finally torn down on June 13, 1990, and the German people were again free to move around the country.
As we all know, today is the 11th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in United States history. September 11, 2001 was as horrible as it gets, but while it was designed to destroy us, the terrorists did not understand the strength of this country and it’s people. The people of this nation are survivors. When we are attacked, we fight back. We do not give up. The attacks resulted in the deaths of 2977 innocent victims, and 19 hijackers…who I like to think of as executed. These misguided men thought they were doing something great, but they had a rude awakening when they hit eternity. The fires from the planes were nothing compared to the fires of hell.
What followed the attacks was some of the greatest displays of heroics known to mankind. Rescue workers, from police, firemen, and port authority, to ordinary people sprang into action. They were the ones not running from the building, they were running into the building, or staying in the building instead of running to escape. These people valued the life of others over and above their own…knowing that their actions would most likely bring their own death. What kind of person is so selfless? Their actions went so against the normal reaction to this kind of situation. Normally your reaction is to save yourself…run…survive, but not these people. They chose to save others…to go into the buildings…to rescue, to sacrifice themselves so that others would survive. That is the greatest gift, as the Bible says in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And many of these people didn’t even know the people that they were laying down their lives for. In the face of hate, these heroes loved their fellow man, and did everything in their power to save them.
Everyday, rescue workers and ordinary people make the choice to put others ahead of themselves. Sometimes it is life threatening situations, and sometimes it is saving structures and forests, but the actions are the same. Without regard for their own lives these heroes rush in to save. Today, we remember all those who were lost in the horrible attacks of September 11, 2001, rescue workers and innocent victims alike. It doesn’t matter how their lives were lost. What matters is that their lives were precious and taken from them far too soon. What matters is that they stood bravely in the face of hate, and showed the world that love wins in the end. Those people, those innocent victims and rescue workers deserve to be remembered forever. Their attackers don’t. They chose their fate. They embodied the face of hate that brought out the love…the very best in the people of this country. In the face of hate, our people showed love to one another. There is no greater love on this earth.