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September 7, 1964

Discussion in '"Today in History", Literature & Media Review' started by Martin Antonenko, Sep 7, 2022.

  1. Martin Antonenko A Fixture

    Spade Soldiers...

    On September 7, 1964, the National Defense Council of the GDR ordered that there should be unarmed military service as a so-called "construction soldier". The central sentence of the order reads: "Conscripts who refuse military service with weapons for religious beliefs or similar reasons are called up for service in the construction units."

    The order will be announced on September 16th in the GDR's legal gazette and will take effect retrospectively on September 1st...:


    The GDR is thus the only state in the "Warsaw Pact" that grants its citizens the option of "unarmed service"! In all other Warsaw Pact states, the only alternative is: "Army or prison!"

    Anyone who refuses military service is called up as a construction soldier in the GDR for 18 months. The unarmed soldiers are initially used for the construction of military facilities, later also as nurses or kitchen helpers.

    The construction soldiers are members of the Nationale Volksarmee (National People's Army, NVA). Because a spade is depicted on the epaulettes of their uniform, they are also called "spade soldiers"...:


    The spade on the shoulder boards of the first conscripts is still goldish - which always leads to misunderstandings:


    Do higher ranks have to salute these soldiers now? (In the GDR only officers had golden rank insignia!)


    So the spade icons are rushed to be recolored to "army grey"...:


    The first 220 construction soldiers are drafted in November 1964.

    Essentially, their service consists initially in regular engineering units or by working for other military requirements. Even working at the GDR state border - as in the next picture in 1980 - is not taboo!


    The generation of conflicts of conscience as a result is expressly intended by the state and party leadership!

    In contrast to "normal" soldiers who have to swear an oath of allegiance...



    ... construction soldiers make a "Gelöbnis"!

    "I vow to always serve the German Democratic Republic, my fatherland, faithfully and to use my strength to increase its defense readiness."

    "I swear: As a member of the construction units, I will actively contribute through good work performance to the fact that the National People's Army can defend the socialist state against all enemies and achieve victory alongside the Soviet army and the armies of the socialist countries allied with us."

    "I vow to be honest, brave, disciplined, and vigilant, to obey my superiors unconditionally, to carry out their orders with all determination, and to always strictly guard military and government secrets."

    "I pledge to conscientiously acquire the knowledge necessary to fulfill my duties, to comply with legal and military regulations, and to uphold the honor of our republic and my unit everywhere."

    Anyone who rejects this “vow” because of the clear state and military reference has to face coercive measures and severe penalties – up to and including imprisonment! – to be expected!

    The service of the construction soldiers is tough - usually tougher than that of the "normal" members of the NVA - and everyday life (e.g. regularly at weekends) is determined by all kinds of harassment and humiliation by superiors.


    The next picture - according to the original caption - shows construction soldiers who are used to work together with convicts...:


    Nevertheless, a total of around 15,000 men refuse to do military service in the GDR and take on the drudgery as "construction soldiers" - and also the later professional disadvantages that are usually associated with it, for example in terms of university places or jobs.

    Conditions did not improve until around 1975, and construction soldiers were used as janitors, auxiliary heaters and service personnel in NVA convalescent homes.

    "What does he who carries a spade as a flag believe in?" sings the legendary rock band "Renft" in their song "Belief Questions" in 1974.


    In doing so, the band breaks a taboo: the song is dedicated to the East German construction workers, whose existence the GDR prefers to keep public.

    Two band members (Gerulf Pannert and Christian Kunert) were jailed for nine months for "undermining military forces and anti-state agitation". The song and the band are banned.

    The existence of the se spade soldiers is an almost unknown chapter of GDR history in the West. I hope I was able to shed some light with this post...
  2. Nap A Fixture

    Definitely a clever way of using manpower


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