A daring action of a Kashmiri young man. He was the first to protest against the Berlin Wall erected 50 years ago
50 years ago on Aug. 13, 1961 construction of 43 km of wall began. Almost three decades later in Nov.1989 Germans tore down the Berlin wall.
The Berlin wall memorial and documentation center at Bernauer Street is almost filled with visitors.
As I look around, a blown up BW image showing a young man, well dressed, holding a mike, surrounded by people, behind him a scruffy wall that in fact should not be there because it does not only match the surroundings, it also blocks the way to a church building behind it, catches my sight.
Something about the appearance of the young man seems familiar to me. I push my way through the visitors to be closer to the exhibited image and read the texts in German and English underneath.
A sort of chord struck me as I read the lines “…the Indian Zutshi…! “ I started to find the facts about this episode in German archives:
A 33 year old chemical engineer TapeshwarNath Zutshi drove in the summer 1962 with commuter train to East Berlin, around his neck a signboard announcing “Humans behind the iron curtain! The first steps to freedom overcome your fear and speak out the truth!”
Zutshi was arrested by the east-German authorities. After five days of cross-examination he was set free into the west. This action had made him a known figure. He intended something greater and inspired others to join him. He wanted to become the first woodpecker of the Berlin wall!
Zutshi had announced his action earlier. Like his idol Mahatma Gandhi, he wanted to proceed against the wall at the Bernauer Street, directly at the spot where the Church of Reconciliation had got separated from its congregation community.
Armed with hammer and chisel he planned to tear down the wall. No doubt he knew that it could only be a symbolic gesture, but he had to hazard the consequences of imprisonment in East- Berlin. Together with Prof. Berthold Rubin from Cologne with rightist leanings, he informed the public of their planned action.
Several functions connected to this action had proceeded at the campus and the Berlin senate too had got to do with it. Nevertheless it was not only a private protest; international news agencies had already dispatched the reports.
Zutshi, who introduced himself as citizen of the world, not as an Indian, had chosen October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday as the day of action. Prior to it he had sent a written message on the then East German chancellor Walter Ulbricht saying: “The wall proves that you are in power without approval of the population. I request you to shoot exactly the same way at me as you shoot shameless at the fleeing refugees.”
The three allied commanders and the West-Berlin senator of Interior affairs Heinrich Albertz forbade the action just one day before. “In order to maintain civil order and security. Not to protect the wall,” he said.
On the night of 1-2 Oct. Prof. Berthold Rubin was arrested by the West Berlin police as he had begun to chisel the wall at the indicated spot.
On the midday of October 2, 1962, about one thousand West Berliners, mostly young people and students, assembled at Bernauer Street in front of the Reconciliation Church. Zutshi and Rubin gave a press statement that they would not go ahead with the action but instead join together on the same spot every week-end to pray. They summoned others to join them. During the meeting lasting two hours, an improvised prayer was held.
(*)The three allied forces, also included British and US in the west against the Russian east-block)
The East Berlin regime had positioned a heavy machine-gun at the tower of the Reconciliation Church and doubled the strength of the border posts.
On the following weekend about 300 persons had followed Zutshi’s call. The silent demonstration broken occasionally by a song “brother to the sun, to the freedom…” was countered by East Berlin propaganda with communist songs.
From a loud speaker wagon, kept at his disposal by Berlin senate, Zutshi spoke to his supporters.
The East Berlin press had reacted sharply and discredited Zutshi. Nevertheless he had succeeded in mobilizing hundreds of young people non-violently against inhumanity of the wall.
T.N.Zutshi’s courageous act during cold war is permanently exhibited at the memorial and documentation center at Bernauer Street at Berlin.
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