Through the Iron Curtain:
West German Activists and the 1961 San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace
By Jared R. Donelly
Article published on 1 September 2020
zuletzt geändert am 2 September 2020
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In front of the red walls of the Kremlin on October 3, 1961, Reiner Steinweg, a young peace activist from the small West German town of Hohenhausen, handed out hundreds of antimilitary leaflets to crowd of enthusiastic Russians. Steinweg, along with peace activists from all over the Western world, had accomplished something no one had ever done before; he had walked through the Iron Curtain to protest militarism and nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War. The incredible story of this march, known as the American-European March for Peace, highlights the transnational cooperation of peace activists in the United States, Britain, and West Germany in the early 1960s.

This article investigates collaboration between West German peace activists and members of peace organizations outside of West Germany with particular attention to the transfer of information between them and exchange of tactics and methods of protest from one another. Importantly, it studies the creation of the transnational social space that allowed this communication to take place. By examining the cooperation between the organizers of the Committee for Nonviolent Action’s 1960-1961 American-European March for Peace, I will demonstrate how the West German and American activists coordinated and developed non-violent protest strategies. While the West German activists learned from and adopted some of the protest methods of peace organizations in Great Britain and the United States, they created their own culture of protest and with it developed a distinct set of tactics and “rules of engagement” for their organizations. (1)

The Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) was formed in the United States in 1957 to protest against the U.S. government’s nuclear weapons programs. The CVNA was one of the first peace organizations to employ nonviolent direct action, in particular civil disobedience, in the United States. They used nonviolent direct action in their protests against nuclear arms and while they were not the largest or perhaps most influential American anti-nuclear organization, they were certainly one of the most dramatic. (2)

The idea to walk across America and Europe to promote peace came about after CNVA members protested against the construction of Polaris submarines equipped with nuclear weapons in New London, Connecticut in 1960. Feeling that the embryonic peace movement could do more, they decided on a march that would include dozens of people spending weeks walking through the U.S. and European countries, most importantly communist countries such as the German Democratic Republic, Poland, and the Soviet Union, carrying signs, leafleting, talking with locals about unilateral disarmament and peace, and demonstrating at military installations. The CNVA organizers knew this would take a high level of organization and international support but they believed in the power of peace and nonviolence and knew that if they could get into the Soviet Union they would make history. (3)

The CVNA American-European March for Peace began on a rainy December 1, 1960, in San Francisco. The march was led by American peace activist Bradford Lyttle, the CNVA coordinator for the peace walk and part of the group which originally developed the idea. As an avowed pacifist, Lyttle had objected to military service and was sentenced to nine months in prison for refusing to cooperate with the Selective Service Law. Lyttle had also served four and a half months in prison in 1960 because of his actions during the CNVA’s protest against a missile base in Omaha, Nebraska. (4) His devotion would prove critical over the next ten months on the long walk to Moscow.

Led by Bradford Lyttle, around 100 people started the march that December with the goal to raise awareness of peaceful alternatives to the Cold War policies of military deterrence and promote peaceful, nonviolent solutions to international conflicts and Cold War tensions. They were “walking to stimulate people all over the world to think about the problem of international peace.” (5) Their “program for peace” was based on the belief that “military power is immoral and will not work” and urged “that people demand and governments adopt moral policies that will lead to lasting peace, not to war.” (6) To create a lasting peace they asked the governments of the world to renounce militarism and nuclear weapons. They called for unilateral disarmament, the end of conscription, and a universal guarantee of civil rights, among other things. (7) Furthermore, they implored people everywhere to encourage their government to take these steps. For example people could influence their government by refusing to pay taxes that supported military programs, refuse to serve in the military (conscientious objection), protest and demonstrate at military installations and industries, or participate in local and national peace organizations. (8)

Much like the peace activists in the West German protest movements, nonviolence was at the core of everything activists on the CVNA American-European March for Peace did. The CNVA leadership emphasized Gandhian nonviolence in all actions. In its most extreme form this meant enduring physical abuse and violence without responding with violence in word or deed. (9) The CNVA also promoted direct action and this primarily took the form of civil disobedience. In previous protests demonstrations in the United States, members of the CNVA had climbed the gates of a missile base in Omaha, Nebraska, and trespassed onto a submarine base to board nuclear armed vessels in New London, Connecticut. In both cases members were arrested and several served time in prison for their actions. (10) In an outline of the basic policy for the peace walk, the European CNVA organizing committee in London wrote:

Their aim is to take their message to the people in each country, and they hope to do this with the cooperation of the authorities in each case. But should any country prevent the team’s entrance, or should they be admitted, but prevented from handing out their leaflets or carrying their banners, they will have no alternative but to protest through some form of non-violent civil disobedience, such as remaining at the border or facing arrest rather than allow their basic message to be obscured. (11)

The direct action tactic of civil disobedience, coupled with nonviolence, constituted a dramatic and efficacious protest strategy that the CVNA American-European March for Peace utilized in Europe.
Along with a central organizing committee in the U.S. the CNVA also coordinated with organizing committees in each European country along the route. The CNVA quickly realized that organizing the European section of the march would be very complex and reached out to European peace activists for help and created a central organizing committee for the European portion that would coordinate the efforts of each national committee. These European committees assisted with a myriad of logistical issues from visa applications and correspondence with the local and state authorities to accommodations and food. Another important function of these committees was to contact local antinuclear and peace groups so that they could participate in the march and the various gatherings and protest activities. This contact and cooperation with other international peace organizations provided invaluable opportunities for the activists from each country to share ideas and discuss protest strategies and tactics.

The European central organizing committee consisted of April Carter, a member of both the CND and Committee of 100, as well as Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, and Bayard Rustin, American civil rights activist and member of the CVNA Executive Committee. In their role these activists had oversight of the European portion of the march. (12) They were chosen by the CNVA to serve as the organizers for the European leg of the march because the Americans recognized that it was essential to have activists who had extensive experience with peace work in Europe. Their knowledge of the political situation in each country, familiarity with the various peace movements, and, most importantly, their international networks and personal connections with activists in France, Belgium, and West Germany would be immeasurably beneficial to the march. (13) They had all been working with one another since the mid 1950s in the international conscientious objection organization, the War Resisters’ International (WRI). Along with the chair of the CVNA, American peace activist A.J. Muste, this group stayed in constant contact with the marchers and made most of the strategic decisions. (14)

The West German organizing committee worked closely with A.J. Muste and the organizing committee in London several months before the march reached the Federal Republic in mid July. The CNVA insisted that anyone involved in the walk had to be in full accord with three points: “unilateral disarmament and opposition to nuclear war preparation by any and every country; the commitment in principle for walkers to commit civil disobedience if, where and when necessary; direct appeal to people everywhere to call on their respective governments for unilateral initiative.” (15) Each of the West German organizing committee members were selected because of their experience in the West German peace movement. They had all worked with Carter, Brock, and Rustin in the WRI and had developed strong relationships. Furthermore, all of the members of the West German organizing committee were involved in the West German conscientious objection movement and were members of the Internationale der Kriegsdienstgegner (IdK) or the Verband der Kriegsdienstverweigerer (VK). They were also all involved in the antinuclear movement known as the Easter March or Ostermarsch, and were considered leaders in the West German peace movement. The committee included Helga Stolle, Konrad Tempel, Dr. Andreas Buro, Herbert Stubenrauch, and Heinz Kloppenburg. (16)
Easter March 1960:
( in the middle Helga Stolle )

The European central organizing committee believed it was especially important to include Konrad Tempel and Helga Stolle in the West German planning committee. In a letter to CNVA Chair, AJ Muste, April Carter and Bayard Rustin wrote, “It is essential we get [the] support of Helga and Konrad if [the] March is to have any worthwhile support in W. Germany: their Easter March organization now includes all the most dynamic and politically sound groups and individuals in North and Central Germany, and has achieved the miracle of bringing the VK and IdK together.” (17) Furthermore, Carter and Rustin pointed out that “Konrad represents the most vital and active part of the German Peace movement [and] we decide in working through him especially since he has the confidence of [Martin] Niemoller and several other older and respected leaders.” (18)

When the CNVA began coordinating with the West German activists a number of problems arose. Because the march organizers had not yet received permission to enter East Germany the West German activists were concerned about going forward with planning the West German section of the walk. They believed it would be a serious mistake for the walk to enter the Federal Republic unless it had advance permission to enter the GDR, and that if the walk was not allowed into East Germany, the resulting publicity would be very harmful to the already tense East/West relationship. The West Germans were also concerned about the effect on the September Federal elections if the march went wrong; they worried the resulting political grandstanding would swing votes in favor of the right. (19) Furthermore, if a demonstration was held at the border protesting the DDR’s decision it would serve only to intensify Cold War tensions between the two German states.(20) Helga Stolle explained that if the march failed to reach the East and the walkers were stopped at the East German border “it would strengthen hostilities and prejudices between the East and West. [Because of this] we were a bit reluctant to have the march come.” (21)

Konrad Tempel and Heinz Kloppenberg advised the European committee that if the march was refused entry into East Germany then it should try to enter the Eastern Bloc through Austria or Scandinavia. The possibility of the march becoming political ammunition if it was stalled at the border was a very serious concern for them. The Executive committee replied that while “an alternate route is not precluded, but a single or simple rebuff at the East German border is not considered sufficient to cause a change of plan. The committee recommends that the walk persevere at the East German border for some length of time and that civil disobedience at that point be considered and tried before any consideration of change of route.” (22)

The West German organizers also feared the consequences if the march was allowed to enter East Germany. (23) They believed that if the march was allowed to enter the DDR and was welcomed by the East German Peace Council, an organ of the East German government, the West German peace activists and their respective organizations could be labeled communist sympathizers by the West German press. The West Germans were also very concerned about the possibility of the East German Peace Council attempting to hijack the march in order to raise their own message and attack the policies of the Western governments.xxiii This was a very real concern as Tempel, Buro, and Stolle had dealt with a similar situation with communists attempting to hijack the message of the Ostermarsch in West Germany. (24)

When Tempel and Stolle joined in organizing the march it seemed to them that everything had already been decided. The often got the impression that the Americans were not careful enough to listen to their European counter parts before they made a decision. Stolle recalled that “When we heard about it we only had the possibility to help when they came through West Germany rather than plan anything about the march.” (25) April Carter and Bayard Rustin recognized the discomfort of West German activists and informed the Executive Committee that “It was clear that the German group felt that the American Committee should have consulted in advance with European Pacifists who would be directly affected by the March, and should take into account the advice and fears of National Committees who would have to bear the repercussions of the March on their movement after the Americans had returned home.” (26) However, the West Germans understood that the Peace Walk was coming to Germany even if they did not provide organizational assistance, “the only other option was to say no and leave them in the street. So we helped organize the march in Germany but we were a bit afraid of what might happen at the border.” (27)

Helga Stolle and Konrad Tempel handled most of the correspondence and West German promotion for the march; they sent a number of flyers advertising the march to peace organizations and activists, asking for support and donations. (28) Their goal was to raise enough money to support each West German activist on the march in full and pay back the CVNA for the funds spent in preparation for West German participation. (29) The West German organizing committee felt that it was very important to completely support its activists. In its view, securing adequate funding for protest actions prior to the events was an important element of a successful protest campaign.

The West German organizing committee had helped prepare the march route by securing permission to hold gatherings and leaflet in the towns and cities they would pass through. (30) In each town along the way the committee had also arranged for a local peace activist to assist the marchers. These local activists helped coordinate logistical issues such as food and housing as well as organizing meetings and demonstrations. (31) Many opened their homes to the marchers and gave whatever assistance they could.

Another important role for the West German organizing committee was the recruitment and training of West German march participants. The European organizing committee wanted to ensure that the new marchers were well versed in a number of nonviolent tactics such as “how to face arrest non-violently, the use of a silent vigil, the effectiveness of fasting in a given situation, and attitude toward Police.” (32) They also wanted to make sure that all were familiar with the pacifist writings of Henry David Thoreau and Gandhi. (33) Konrad Tempel was chosen to be responsible for the traning of the West German march participants. Tempel’s training sessions included: self discipline, cooperation, and accepting or not accepting leadership. He had a particularly difficult portion of the training where he asked all the men to roll up their pant leg. He had a needle and asked them to hurt themselves to show their wiliness to sacrifice by sticking themselves with the needle. And all the men were about to do it. Konrad said “Stop what you are doing! You are trusting me without using your brain. Every leader needs your brain.” He taught many cooperation exercises, a lot of non-violent techniques, and focused on confidence building within the group. (34)

In the Federal Republic of Germany a number of West German peace activists joined the march. These included a number of young student activist who had been chosen to participate by the West German committee such as 23 year old Franziska Mentzel from West Berlin who had participated in the 1961 Ostermarsch from Düsseldorf to Dortmund, 20 year old Johannes Meyer from Hamburg who had been part of the Ostermarsch from the beginning in 1960 and was a member of the Internationale der Kriegsdienstgegner, and 22 year old Reiner Steinweg of Hohenhausen, also part of the 1961 Düsseldorf to Dortmund Ostermarsch and a member of the Verband der Kriegsdienstverweigerer. They all spoke English and had proven track records in peace work in West Germany. (35) Furthermore, each of the West German members selected by the planning committee had participated in two weekends of mandatory training to prepare them for the various political and social issues they might encounter on the march. (36) Their language skills proved invaluable to the peace walk as they were frequently called upon to translate during meetings, demonstrations, and impromptu gatherings. (37) They were also essential when dealing with the government and police in East and West Germany.

The international cooperation for the march also highlighted significant differences in the way the West German and American activists planned and executed protest actions. From the beginning the West German activists were shocked by the way the Americans dealt with people in positions of authority. They were also shocked by what they believed to be an irresponsible lack of planning for the march. The fact that the Americans had not worked out a detailed written agreement with the government of each country on the march route or that the CVNA had not collected enough money to finance the march beforehand stunned the West Germans. (38) This difference in attitude was highlighted a number of times during the march. To the horror of the West German activists, the Americans often operated by the policy of ‘it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission’ when dealing with the complex regulations and prohibitions in the West German towns and cities. They felt that everyone should march in step and stay in organized columns. The West Germans also preferred that the marchers ask permission to stop for lunch and short breaks. At the same time the American activists could not believe their eyes when a West German marcher would stop the first policeman they saw when entering a town and ask “whether we could have three, two or one leafleter on each side of the street; whether we could cross the street to get more leaflets; how often pedestrian crossings were provided; whether we should walk on the sidewalk or on the pavement edge; whether we should proceed in ones or twos.” (39)

At one point as the marchers walked through the Federal Republic a number of West German activists joined the march with their own brightly painted signs. They carried signs with slogans from the West German antinuclear protest movement Ostermarsch such as “Besser Ko-Existenz als No-Existenz” (“Better Coexistence than No existence”) and “Was willst Du verteidigen, wenn nichts übrigbleibt?” (“What do you want to defend when there is nothing left?”). (40)
Interestingly, the police did not want to allow the signs carried by the West German activists with the Ostermarsch slogans. The police claimed that the signs with Ostermarsch slogans had not been approved and therefore could not be carried on the peace march. The marchers protested this restriction and eventually the police agreed to allow them to carry the signs as long as they were only carried at shoulder height. (41) This incident is quite strange because the West Germans had carried signs with these very slogans on five separate marches that were spread all across the Federal Republic just three months earlier.

Most likely the police were simply trying to maintain as much control as possible over the march but one has to wonder what the German activists thought about the situation. When confronted with this restriction the Americans had simply refused to comply and negotiated with the authorities over the issue. Once they had resolved the issue the activists marched on. Later in the day the police tried to stop the marchers from leafleting in Wuppertal. When they pressed the police to show them a copy of the law or regulation that stipulated where they could pass out leaflets the police had no answer. The officers then consulted with their superiors and eventually gave in and allowed the marchers to continue leafleting. (42) Each time the marchers were confronted with restrictions by the local authorities they refused to be intimidated or dissuaded and ultimately got their way. For the West German activists this regular confrontation with authority must have been quite an experience.

While the West Germans were often uncomfortable with the way the Americans dealt with authority, they respected their passion for the movement and were very impressed with their nonviolent direct-action tactics of civil disobedience. Because the marchers had not been allowed to demonstrate at any military establishments in the Federal Republic they decided to defy the authorities and stage demonstrations before they left. There was some discussion within the group and with the organizing committees about how many demonstrations should be attempted and where. The CVNA chairman, A.J. Muste, did not want to risk losing the march before reaching a communist country if the marchers were deported or imprisoned so he advised only one demonstration. The group eventually decided on four demonstrations; the Defense Ministry in Bonn, the NATO barracks at Dortmund-Brakel, the Niedersachsen recruiting headquarters in Hannover, and the military base at Bergen-Hohne. (43) The marchers sent a press release to news outlets and wrote to the police in each location notifying them of the demonstrations that would take place that Thursday, detailing exactly what they were planning to do. (44) They explained that the demonstrations would be peaceful and nonviolent; every demonstrator would be governed by a discipline of nonviolence in word and deed. (45)

The demonstrations at Bergen-Hohne and Hannover went smoothly and were unhindered by the police. The demonstrations in Bonn and Dortmund were a different matter. In Bonn the activists were apprehended by the police as soon as they left the house where they were staying. The police asked them to get in a waiting van and instead of cooperating with the police they sat down and had to be carried into the van. At the police station an officer questioned them and asked them if they knew that the planned demonstration at the Defense Ministry was forbidden. The marchers said they were aware and were then informed that they would be punished if they proceeded with the demonstration. Much to their surprise, the activists were released and all their leaflets and signs were returned to them. (46)

The marchers then went to the square in front of the West German Defense Ministry and began to tell the crowd why they were there and what they were about. As soon as they raised their signs they were confiscated by the police and the marchers were arrested. In front of a large crowd of onlookers and German press they went limp in the hands of the police and were once again bodily loaded into the police van. At their trial the marchers received a sentence of 25 DM fine each or one day in jail. They refused to pay the fine and after some confusion the court decided to simply let them go free. (47) Apparently the police and the court could not understand why the activists would willingly disobey an order against the demonstration even though they knew they would be punished. One of the marchers, American Barton Stone, remarked “In my opinion it is of great urgency that direct action and the concept of civil disobedience be made commonplace in the minds of the German people. For this reason I greatly respect and appreciate the German citizens who participated in the four demonstrations here at the risk of much greater punishment then the foreigners, and the many other German people who have courageously helped us.” (48)

At the missile base at Dortmund-Brakel the situation played out a bit differently. When the marchers, along with a local march supporter, approached the main gate and began the demonstration they were immediately stopped by waiting police. The police said that they were on base property and that it was forbidden to demonstrate. The marchers pointed out that they were on a public road and cars and pedestrians had been going past the main gate all morning. To this the police responded that they had special orders to not allow anyone with signs or leaflets to demonstrate at the gate, but they could not produce any written order or regulation supporting their claim. When the activists decided to disobey the police and continue with the demonstration, the men were taken by the police and loaded into the police van. The rest of the group immediately sat down and all signs and some leaflets were confiscated. After sitting in protest for an hour, the remaining women attempted to continue on to the main gate of the base. All of their leaflets were confiscated before they reached the main gate but they were allowed to stand in silent vigil. (49)

After their interrogation at the police station, the men were informed that they could stand at the gate but they were not allowed to hold signs or pass out leaflets. (50) This did not deter the men and as soon as they could they returned to the base with new signs and more leaflets. These were immediately confiscated by the police and after several more attempts to pass out leaflets one of the demonstrators was again arrested and his limp body was loaded into the police van. This process was repeated and eventually the police allowed the demonstrators to hand out their leaflets to the passing pedestrians and soldiers. With all of their signs confiscated the demonstrators made cloth signs and attached them to their jackets in defiance of the police orders. At this point the authorities had had enough and they were all arrested and carried by hand into the police van to be transported to the police station where they were not released until later that evening. l All the while the German press filmed and took photos of the demonstration and the acts of nonviolence when the demonstrators were arrested. (51)

The demonstrations at the Defense Ministry in Bonn and the military base at Dortmund-Brakel were successful in a number of ways. First, the marchers were able to create dramatic scenes with their nonviolent direct-action tactics of civil disobedience that were witnessed by a large number of onlookers and German press. (52) This was exactly the kind of attention the activists wanted. Second, their civil disobedience coupled with nonviolence surprised the West German authorities and in a way forced them to reconsider how they viewed peace activists. (53) Third, and perhaps the most important, the efficacy of nonviolent civil disobedience had a significant impact on the West German activists involved. The experience taught Reiner Steinweg that civil disobedience worked and the actions of just a few can break through the indifference, blind belief in authority, and lack of moral courage to stand up for one’s beliefs that seemed to paralyze West German society. (54) Furthermore, the success of the demonstrations’ nonviolent tactics resounded through the rest of the West German peace movement as well. In a report to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News in London, Helga Stolle wrote “the impressive non-violent behavior in the civil disobedience actions in Bonn and Dortmund will have impressed our pacifists too. Maybe after that we will find a better echo in demanding more actions of this manner.” (55) These protest events exemplify the significance and importance of transnational cooperation to the development of the West German protest culture. The American marchers showed the West Germans how nonviolent civil disobedience can make even a small protest action have an impact and, thanks to the media, reach thousands with their message.

When the march crossed over into the German Democratic Republic at the Helmstedt-Marienborn border crossing on August 7 the activists were excited and a bit apprehensive about going behind the Iron Curtain. (56) The East Germans welcomed them as a group but East German authorities were not very happy to host activists from West Germany. It seems that the East German authorities were worried about the presence of the West German activists and often insinuated that they were sent as spies for the Adenauer government. One American marcher wrote that, “GDR officials were also very much against having Konrad Tempel around – a West German Quaker and student who had done a lot of organizing for us, and had obtained an East German visa on his own and joined us. He understood East Germans and spoke in their idiom far too effectively for the official’s comfort.” (57) The other West German marchers were also closely watched but none were individually detained or arrested while they marched through the GDR. (58)

At times the West German organizers were concerned that the Americans became too emboldened by their success in dealing the authorities and that they would eventually push too hard and seriously jeopardize the march. In the German Democratic Republic the marchers pushed the authorities to the limit and the concerns of the West German activists were confirmed. (59) The march was plagued with problems in the GDR that primarily came from the state-sponsored German Peace Committee.(60) The German Peace Committee was eager to join the march and capitalize on the moment to push their message for peace, often carrying their own signs and passing out their own leaflets.(61) lxi The problem was that East German message of peace called for West German disarmament and condemned the “militarism” of the Federal Republic and the United States while at the same time not saying anything about the nuclear weapons and military buildup in East Germany and other communist countries. (62) The high-jacking of their march was something the activists could not abide and they constantly objected to the actions of the East German participants. The marchers believed that the integrity of the peace walk was being compromised and they frequently resorted to noncooperation and would sit down and halt the march in protest.(63) This action would earn them a brief respite from the East German signs and leaflets but they always came back. By the time the march reached the outskirts of East Berlin on Sunday, August 13, the tension between the Peace Committee of the GDR and the marchers was nearing the boiling point.

Early that Sunday morning, East German workers under police guard sealed off the borders of West Berlin with barbed wire. This was the reaction of GDR, under the leadership of Walter Ulbricht, to the flood of people fleeing the GDR to West Berlin. (64) The heightened tensions between the East and the West seemed to be coming to a head in Berlin and many feared war between the superpowers. West Berliners gathered in protest at the border at the Brandenburg Gate, the very place the CVNA had planned to march a few days later to symbolize the walk’s crossing into the communist East. (65) At the same time many East Berliners congregated and protested the closing of the border. (66)

The members the march for peace found themselves in the middle of a very tense political situation. To make things even more difficult, their only source of information was the German Peace Committee leaders with whom they had been having so many problems. (67) It was not until later that night that the marchers were able to get in contact with A.J. Muste who advised them that the situation was very dangerous and to not try and walk from East to West Berlin. Muste asked them to stay where they were and that he would try to reach them the next day. (68)

That same night a representative from the East German Ministry of the Interior arrived to meet with Bradford Lyttle. He outlined the situation in Berlin and said that under no circumstances would the march be allowed to enter Berlin. Furthermore, the government would send buses the following morning that would take them to Stalinstadt on the East German-Polish border where the marchers would cross into Poland and continue the walk for peace. After talking with the team, Lyttle informed the government representative that they rejected the East German government’s proposal and offered to walk around Berlin instead of entering West Berlin through the Brandenburg Gate. (69) The representative from the East German Ministry of the Interior flatly refused to negotiate and informed the marchers that buses would arrive in the morning to take them to the Polish border. When the buses arrived the marchers refused to board them and once again their limp bodies were carried into the waiting vehicles as they practiced nonviolent noncooperation. Because they would not comply, the East Germans decided to deport the marchers back to West Germany instead of taking them to Stalinstadt near the Polish border. (70)

At the time it seemed that the march was over. They did not know if the Polish government would allow them to enter the country to continue the walk and, based on the response of the East German authorities, the marchers feared that their goal of reaching Moscow was in jeopardy. (71) The West German activists on the march felt that the Americans had pushed the East German authorities into an impossible situation. (72) West German activist Andreas Buro ( picture shows him 40 years later)) spoke with the team and got the impression that “…the group did not understand the really difficult and explosive situation in Berlin and the DDR.” (73) Furthermore, because of this lack of understanding, the group’s perception of the East German authorities, and their treatment of the marchers, was inaccurate. Helga Stolle reported, “It seemed to him [Buro] as if the group understood the behavior of the officials from the [East German] Peace Council and the police as a special oppression against the March itself, and not as an outcome of the really new and unforeseeable situation.” (74)

The West German organizing committee felt very strongly that marchers had been “too inflexible” and that this was because of a lack of preparation. The West German committee “often got the impression that their knowledge of the Eastern countries and their understanding of their way to live and to act was too small to react adequately to the political possibilities without obscuring the idea of the march or jeopardizing to complete [sic] the March to Moscow.” (75) Unlike many of the activists on the peace walk, each of the West German team members who all had experience in peace work and had been specifically trained in preparation for this march. The Americans, however, did not seem to be prepared to deal with potential issues that could, and often did, arise on the march. The West German committee reported:
The team members were not all experienced in peace work as they were said to be. Most Americans and some Europeans had not been trained or briefed by their National Committees, so they came without any certain expectations while those trained had learned to demand a certain behavior from themselves and therefore had certain ideas about the way the group and individuals should act, what knowledge they ought to have, and how decisions should be found. In fact there was a serious lack of willingness to learn about […] the special conditions of the foreign countries and to act according to these conditions. (76)

Furthermore, the committee wrote that in some cases the marchers chose not to utilize the experience of the West German activists: “Those who were experienced in the march were not willing to listen to the opinion of the new comers, who often knew the situation in their own country better than the veteran walkers.” (77) The combination of inadequate training and a willingness to defy the authorities when they believed the integrity of the march was at risk could, at times, end up putting the whole project in jeopardy. In short, the West Germans believed that while the group was in the GDR they “demanded too much from the officials, overestimated their own power and meaning and underestimate[d] the difficult situation of the authorities in a communist totalitarian state.”(78)

After several days of negotiation the marchers secured visas to enter Poland and continue the walk for peace. (79) lxxix The team had learned their lesson and decided to be more compliant with the authorities for the rest of the march. (80) They would not practice civil disobedience for the rest of the walk but would always work to resolve any issues with nonviolence and reasonable discussion. After reflection the team realized that civil disobedience simply did not work in the East because there was no audience for the act and, instead of imprisonment for their actions, they were simply deported out of the country. (81) As it turned out the marchers did not encounter the same problems in Poland and the Soviet Union as they had in France, the FRG, or the GDR. The Soviets, not wanting to seem hostile to the international peace movement, welcomed the marchers to campaign in the Soviet Union and influenced Poland to do the same. (82) .

The members of the American-European March for Peace were able to achieve their goal and enter the Soviet Union in late September, 1961. During their march across the Soviet Union they were met with friendly curiosity from the local peasants and had a number of opportunities to talk with the people about peace and nuclear disarmament. (83) lxxxiii After 5000 miles, seven countries, and ten months of walking, the march reached Moscow October 3, 1961. In Moscow they handed out thousands of leaflets and spoke to large crowds every night. They were shuttled around by Soviet officials the entire five days they were there but for the most part they were allowed speak about their cause without restriction. (84) They found the Russian people to be very welcoming and quite curious about their message. The activists were delighted to discover that even behind the Iron Curtain people were eager to hear their message about peace and disarmament. (85)

At the same time the march proved to many West German activists that transnational cooperation was possible and could be a very effective way of promoting a message. This was the first time that many of them had interacted with American peace activists on a personal level and after walking and doing peace work together nearly five months across four countries they believed that they had achieved something great and had raised the bar for international cooperation. While they did not always agree with the methods and tactics of the American activists, the West Germans could not deny the efficacy of nonviolent direct action and were particularly impressed with the civil disobedience tactics employed by the Americans. Helga Stolle was particularly influenced by the Americans’ flexibility, especially after they had passed through the Iron Curtain, “Their willingness to adapt to the changing situation in the East was impressive.” (86) Furthermore, Andreas Buro, one of the West German organizers, felt that the Americans’ lack of political awareness was actually somewhat of a strength because it helped them focus on a common goal; no atomic weapons regardless of existing political factors. (87)

Up to this point neither the conscientious objection groups nor the Ostermarsch movement had used civil disobedience as a protest tactic. The primary methods of protest employed by these activists were organized vigils, such as the protest vigil against atomic weapons Mahnwache in 1958 organized by the Aktionskreis für Gewaltlosigkeit under the leadership of Helga Stolle and Konrad Tempel, leafleting campaigns, such as the Aktion 4/3 campaign by the VK to raise awareness about the constitutional right to conscientiously object to military service, and protest marches, best exemplified by the Ostermarch events of 1960 and 1961 against nuclear weapons. In every case the protest organizations worked within the law and were careful to comply with local authorities. This was important to the conscientious objection organizations and the Ostermarsch movement because they did not want to be branded as lawless hooligans and lose their potential for influence in the public sphere. Nonviolence was always a part of their protest culture but civil disobedience, possibly because they had not yet seen it put to use, was not a common tactic used by the West German peace movement.

The ideas of direct action through nonviolent civil disobedience that were put to use during the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace had a strong effect on the West German peace activists. (88) In fact, the Executive Committee of the VK, including Helga Stolle, Konrad Tempel, and Wilhelm Keller, met in Hamburg September 10, 1961 and decided to set up an initiative committee to attempt to found a German Komitee der 100. (89) This group was based on the British “Committee of 100” that was organized in 1960 by the famous British pacifist Bertrand Russell and other antiwar activists. The organization would be dedicated to the use of mass nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience and had worked with the West German peace activists to coordinate events. The goal was to found a West German organization that was interested in direct action and could explore the possibility of employing nonviolent civil disobedience. (90) At the demonstrations in Bonn and Dortmund-Brakel during San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace the West German activists saw first-hand how powerful nonviolent civil disobedience could be. Furthermore, they recognized that when civil disobedience was performed in a spirit of nonviolence it was not identified as dangerous lawlessness but rather as a peaceful way to bring attention to their message against war and nuclear weapons.

This march also confirmed for the West German activists the importance of careful planning and thorough training. Even though the march was not terminated just outside of East Berlin, it very well could have been and that was the kind of risk the West Germans did not want to take. Most importantly the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace was an excellent opportunity for the West German activists to establish and develop personal and institutional connections like never before. Those who participated in the organizing and coordinating efforts of the march gained valuable experience in transnational cooperation that would pay dividends for the West German peace movement. The five West German activists who walked from the West German-French border in Aachen all the way to Moscow learned quite a bit about their neighbors to the East and discovered first hand that peace was a genuine concern for those living behind the Iron Curtain. After returning to West Germany, these activists, when confronted by cynics telling them to go preach peace and disarmament to the Soviets, could say with confidence “We have gone to the Soviet Union and we protested for peace and disarmament in front of the Kremlin!”

1 The influence of American forms of protest on the protest movements in the Federal Republic of Germany has been a topic of discussion among German historians.
See Martin Klimke, The Other Alliance: Student Protest in West Germany and the United States in the Global Sixties, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010);
Holger Nehring, “Americanized Protests? The British and West German Protests against Nuclear Weapons and the Pacifist Roots of the West German New Left, 1957-64,” in Decentering America, (edited by Jessica C. E. Gienow-Hecht, New York: Berghahn Books, 2007), 210-252;
Philipp Gassert “Atlantic Alliances: Cross-Cultural Communication and the 1960s Student Revolution,” in Culture and International History, (eds. Jessica C. E. Gienow-Hecht and Frank Schumacher, New York: Berghahn Books, 2003), 135-156;
Wolfgang Kraushaar, “Die transatlantische Protestkultur: Der zivile Ungehorsam als amerikanisches Exempel und als bundesdeutsche Adapation,” in Westbindungen: Amerika in der Bundesrepublik, (eds. Heinz Bude and Bernd Greiner, Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1999), 257-284.

2 Lawrence S. Wittner, Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954-1970, (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1997), 249.

3 Bradford Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands; The Story of the San Francisco to Moscow March for Peace, (Raymond, N.H.: Greenleaf Books, 1966), 2-3

4 “Biographical Sketch of Bradford James Lyttle,” Committee for Nonviolent Action (hereafter CNVA) Papers, Series 6, Box 14, Swarthmore College Peace Collection (hereafter SCPC).

5 und 6 Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands, 17.

7 Committee For Nonviolent Action Bulletin, November 10, 1960, Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung (Hereafter HIS), TEM 500,03.

8 “Basic Policy of San Francisco to Moscow Walk,” HIS, TEM 500,03.

9 Committee For Nonviolent Action Bulletin, 10 November 1960, HIS, TEM 500,03

10 Wittner, Resisting the Bomb, 249.

11 “Basic Policy of San Francisco to Moscow Walk,” HIS, TEM 500,03

12 und 13 Minutes of Executive Committee meeting January 6, 1961. CNVA Papers, Series 1, Box 1, SCPC.

14 The Dutch born Reverend A.J. Muste was one of the most famous American peace activists and had been involved in nonviolent protest activities for decades. He was also well known for his work in the labor movement and the civil rights movement. Jo Ann Robinson, Abraham Went Out: A Biography of A.J. Muste, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981).

15 The Dutch born Reverend A.J. Muste was one of the most famous American peace activists and had been involved in nonviolent protest activities for decades. He was also well known for his work in the labor movement and the civil rights movement. Jo Ann Robinson, Abraham Went Out: A Biography of A.J. Muste, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981).

16 Minutes of Executive Committee meeting April 20, 1961. CNVA Papers, Series 1, Box 1, SCPC.

17 Confidential Memo from April Carter and Bayard Rustin to AJ Muste April 22 and 23, 1961, CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 14, SCPC.

18 Memo from April Carter and Bayard Rustin to AJ Muste April 13, 1961, CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 14, SCPC.

19 “Report on meeting held in Germany,” April 22 and 23, 1961, CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 14, SCPC.

20 Minutes of Executive Committee meeting May 23, 1961. CNVA Papers, Series 1, Box 1, SCPC.

21 Konrad and Helga Tempel, interview by author, Ahrensburg, Germany, July 24, 2013.

22 “ Minutes of Executive Committee meeting May 4, 1961. CNVA Papers, Series 1, Box 1, SCPC Collection.

23 “Report on meeting held in Germany,” April 22 and 23, 1961, CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 14, SCPC.

24 und 25, 27 Konrad and Helga Tempel, interview by author, Ahrensburg, Germany, July 24, 2013

26 “Report on meeting held in Germany,” 22 and 23 April 1961, CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 14, SCPC.

28 Letter from Helga Stolle to West German peace workers and peace organizations June 1961, TEM 600,03.

29 Each of the West German participants needed around 800-1000 DM for the march from the Federal Republic to Moscow. Interestingly the organizers wrote that it would be embarrassing if they could not support their marchers despite the Wirtshaftswunder. Letter from Helga Stolle to West German peace workers and peace organizations June 1961, TEM 600,03.

30 Dr. Andreas Buro, interview by author, Grävenwiesbach, Germany, July 16, 2013.

31 Lehmann, We Walked to Moscow, 47.

32 und 33 “Training for Team Members,” April 28, 1961, CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 14, SCPC.

34 Konrad and Helga Tempel, interview by author, Ahrensburg, Germany, July 24, 2013

35 “History of the San Francisco to Moscow March for Peace” HIS, TEM 500,03.

36 Letter from Helga Stolle to West German peace workers and peace organizations June 1961, TEM 600, 03.

37 Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands, 111.

38 und 39 Lehmann, We Walked to Moscow, 44.

40 “Slogans für den Ostermarsch” HIS TEM 100, 04.

41 and 42 Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands, 110. bzw 111

43 The influence of the West German activists can be seen in the selection of the demonstration locations. The military base at Bergen-Hohne and the NATO barracks at Dortmund-Brakel were both locations that the 1961 Ostermarsch had focused on just a few months earlier. Protokoll über die Arbeitssitzung des Zentralen Ausschusses für den Ostermarsch, January 20/21 1961, HIS, TEM 200, 02; Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands, 112-114.

44 “Report, Dortmund-Brakel Protestdemonstration,” 1961,CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 16, SCPC.

45 Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands, 114-115.

46 Letter from Jack Smith to Neil Haworth 3 August 1961, CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 15, SCPC.

47 “Demonstranten gegen Aufrüstung in Bonn zu Geldstrafen verurteilt,” Westdeutsches Tageblatt, August 4, 1961.

48 Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands, 117-118, quote from page 118.

49 und 50 “Report, Dortmund-Brakel Protestdemonstration,” 1961, CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 16, SCPC.

51 “Polizei verhinderte ‘Demonstration’ von Atomwaffengegnern in Brakel,” Dortmunder Tageblatt, August 4, 1961. Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands, 120-121.

52 “Demonstranten gegen Aufrüstung in Bonn zu Geldstrafen verurteilt,” Westdeutsches Tageblatt, August 4, 1961.

53 Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands, 118, 121.

54 Steinweg, Der Grosse Marsch Von San Francisco nach Moskau,, 8.

55 Letter to Hugh Brock from Helga Stolle August 16, 1961. HIS TEM 500, 03.

56 Minutes of Executive Committee meeting August 21, 1961. CNVA Papers, Series 1, Box 1, SCPC.

57 Lehmann, We Walked to Moscow, 51.

58 “Bulletin Copy East Germany,” CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 16, SCPC.

59 Letter to Hugh Brock from Helga Stolle August 16, 1961. HIS TEM 500, 03.

60 Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands, 130-133.

61 Konrad and Helga Tempel, interview by author, Ahrensburg, Germany, July 24, 2013; Minutes of Executive Committee meeting August 21, 1961. CNVA Papers, Series 1, Box 1, SCPC.

62 Letter to Hugh Brock from Helga Stolle August 16, 1961. HIS TEM 500, 03.

63 “Bulletin Copy East Germany,” CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 16, SCPC.

64 By the time the border was closed almost 160,000 people fled to West Berlin in 1961 alone. Dennis L. Bark, and David Gress, A History of West Germany, vol. 1, From Shadow to Substance: 1945-1963 (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1989), 464-470.

65 Pertti Ahonen, Death at the Berlin Wall (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 21-22; Lehmann, We Walked to Moscow, 52.

66 Around 60,000 East Berliners worked in West Berlin and almost all of these Grenzgänger were cut off from their places of employment literally overnight. Ahonen, Death at the Berlin Wall, 21-22.

67 “Bulletin Copy East Germany,” CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 16, SCPC.

68 Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands, 138.

69 “Bulletin Copy East Germany,” CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 16, SCPC.

70 Minutes of Executive Committee meeting August 21, 1961. CNVA Papers, Series 1, Box 1, SCPC; “Report of telephone conversation with A.J. Muste in West Berlin, August 16, 1961, CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 14, SCPC.

71 “Bulletin Copy East Germany,” CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 16, SCPC.

72 Letter to Hugh Brock from Heinz Kraschutzki August 15, 1961, HIS TEM 600, 06.

73 – 78 Letter to Hugh Brock from Helga Stolle August 16, 1961, HIS TEM 500, 03.

79 Minutes of Executive Committee meeting August 21, 1961. CNVA Papers, Series 1, Box 1, SCPC.

80 Lyttle, You Come with Naked Hands, 149.

81 “Report of telephone conversation with A.J. Muste in West Berlin, August 20, 1961, CNVA Papers, Series 6, Box 14, SCPC.

82 For an excellent overview of the march with analysis of Soviet, Polish, and East German sources see Wernicke and Wittner, “Lifting the Iron Curtain: The Peace March to Moscow of 1960-1961

83 Steinweg, Der Grosse Marsch von San Francisco Nach Moskau, 18-19.

84 Wernicke and Wittner, “Lifting the Iron Curtain: The Peace March to Moscow of 1960-1961,”, 914.

85 Steinweg, Der Grosse Marsch von San Francisco Nach Moskau, 24-26.

86 Konrad and Helga Tempel, interview by author, Ahrensburg, Germany, July 24, 2013.

87 Dr. Andreas Buro, interview by author, Grävenwiesbach, Germany, July 16, 2013.

88 Letter from Christopher Farley to Helga Stolle, October 8, 196, HIS, TEM 100, 01.

89-90 Letter to Bertrand Russell at the Committee of 100 from Helga Stolle and Wilhelm Keller, September 10, 1961, HIS, TEM 700, 02.

See also:
March from San Francisco to Moscow - 1960-1961 (1)

San Francisco- Moskau - Marsch 1960-1961 (2)

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