On June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered his greatest speech at the Berlin Wall. The powerful voice of JFK resounded in the war-torn Berlin – ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ Back in 1963, America was talking about tearing down walls not building them. The sentiments were so powerful that they would be echoed by another president, Ronald Reagan, 24 years later in his famous “tear down this wall” speech.
Berlin had been a source of political tension between Russia and the U.S. since the end of World War II. However, Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev thought the inauguration of Kennedy in 1961 presented an opportunity for the Soviet Union across the globe, but especially with regards to West Berlin, the very existence of which the Soviets resented.
Khrushchev was confrontational and petulant with JFK. “The positions of the U.S.A., Britain, and France have proved to be especially vulnerable in West Berlin,” Nikita Khrushchev warned. “These powers…cannot fail to realize that sooner or later the occupation regime in that city must be ended. It is necessary to go ahead with bringing the aggressive-minded imperialists to their senses, and compelling them to reckon with the real situation. And would they balk, then we will take resolute measures. We will sign a peace treaty with the German Democratic Republic [East Germany].”
When they met in Vienna in the spring of 1961 Khrushchev bullied the young president: “It is up to the U.S. to decide whether there will be war or peace.” “If that’s true,” Kennedy responded, “it’s going to be a cold winter.”
Then on August 3, 1961, the Berlin Wall suddenly went up—much to Kennedy’s relief. “Why would Khrushchev put up a wall if he really intended to seize West Berlin?” Kennedy wondered.
“There wouldn’t be any need of a wall if he planned to occupy the whole city. This is his way out of his predicament. It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.”
A year later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Berlin was still on the president’s mind: he feared that if he attacked/invaded Cuba the Russians might counterpunch by seizing Berlin. Kennedy was able to defuse the crisis by promising not to invade Cuba with Khrushchev promising to remove the missiles in Cuba.
The summer of 1963 was kind of a victory lap for Kennedy. The previous October he had faced down the Russians over missiles in Cuba and had prevailed over Khrushchev.
The month of June was to be the highlight of Kennedy’s presidency. On June 11 he gave his civil rights speech where he called on Americans to take the high ground in the battle for civil rights: “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.”
In August he would sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which sought to find an end to the madness that had embraced the two nuclear powers and nearly led to catastrophe in Cuba. “Freedom is indivisible,” Kennedy concluded, “and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were on the front lines for almost two decades. All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Ich bin ein Berliner Speech, June 26, 1963
I am proud to come to this city as the guest of your distinguished Mayor, who has symbolized throughout the world the fighting spirit of West Berlin. And I am proud to visit the Federal Republic with your distinguished Chancellor who for so many years has committed Germany to democracy and freedom and progress, and to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed.
Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was “civis Romanus sum”. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner”.
I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!
There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.
Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.
What is true of this city is true of Germany – real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people. You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.
Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.
All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner”.
Op 21 November 1963 het die president Kennedy na Dallas, Texas per vliegtuig vertrek vir ‘n veldtogverskyning. Op 22 November het Kennedy, saam met sy vrou en die Texas-goewerneur John Connally, deur juigende skares in die sentrum van Dallas in ‘n Lincoln Continental-cabrio gery.
‘n Vier-en-twintig jarige pakhuiswerker, met die naam Lee Harvey Oswald, ‘n voormalige Marine met Sowjet-simpatie, het bo uit ‘n gebou op die motor losgebrand en die president raakgeskiet. Kennedy is kort daarna in die ouderdom van 46 in die Parkland Memorial Hospital oorlede … Hy het in 1961 president geword.
The president with the vision was John F. Kennedy. At the height of the Cold War in 1963, he went to Berlin, a city divided into West Berlin and East Berlin. The British, French and Americans on one the West’s side and the Russians were on the East’s side.
John F. Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president, negotiated the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and initiated the Alliance for Progress. He was assassinated in 1963.
Who Was John F. Kennedy?
John F. Kennedy served in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate before becoming the 35th president in 1961. As president, Kennedy faced a number of foreign crises, especially in Cuba and Berlin, but managed to secure such achievements as the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and the Alliance for Progress. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts. Both the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys were wealthy and prominent Irish Catholic Boston families. Kennedy’s paternal grandfather, P.J. Kennedy, was a wealthy banker and liquor trader, and his maternal grandfather, John E. Fitzgerald, nicknamed “Honey Fitz,” was a skilled politician who served as a congressman and as the mayor of Boston.
Kennedy’s mother, Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, was a Boston debutante, and his father, Joseph Kennedy Sr., was a successful banker who made a fortune on the stock market after World War I. Joe Kennedy Sr. went on to a government career as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and as an ambassador to Great Britain.
John, nicknamed “Jack,” was the second oldest of a group of nine extraordinary siblings. His brothers and sisters include Eunice, the founder of the Special Olympics; Robert, a U.S. Attorney General, and Ted, one of the most powerful senators in American history. The Kennedy children remained close-knit and supportive of each other throughout their entire lives.
On November 21, 1963, President Kennedy flew to Dallas, Texas for a campaign appearance. The next day, November 22, Kennedy, along with his wife and Texas governor John Connally, rode through cheering crowds in downtown Dallas in a Lincoln Continental convertible. From an upstairs window of the Texas School Book Depository building, a 24-year-old warehouse worker named Lee Harvey Oswald, a former Marine with Soviet sympathies, fired upon the car, hitting the president twice. Kennedy died at Parkland Memorial Hospital shortly thereafter, at age 46……
Release of Assassination Documents
On October 26, 2017, President Donald Trump ordered the release of 2,800 records related to the Kennedy assassination. The move came at the expiration of a 25-year waiting period signed into law in 1992, which allowed the declassification of the documents provided that doing so would not hurt intelligence, military operations or foreign relations.