The book launched officially in April, but with global supply chains disrupted by the pandemic, it took a while before it was available outside of the UK. But now The Human Rights Dictatorship: Socialism, Global Solidarity and Revolution in East Germany is available everywhere that books are sold. If you want to buy a copy, it can be ordered from independent booksellers pretty much anywhere.
It is also a huge help to ask your local library to order a copy!
From the blurbs on the back:
‘In this pioneering book, Richardson-Little upends conventional wisdom that human rights are the natural enemy of authoritarian regimes. With great range and verve, he shows how the East German socialist state used human rights ideologically and diplomatically to stabilize and legitimate its fledging socialist republic, and only in the last decade of the regime did human rights emerge a source of dissent and resistance against the state. This is a model revisionist account of the protean and multi-directional nature of human rights under socialism.’
Paul Betts – University of Oxford
‘Finally a book on human rights history by someone deeply conversant with socialist thought, state-socialist regimes, and current human rights historiography. This is a rare and valuable book as well as a good read. It will be a reference point for years to come.’
Lora Wildenthal – Rice University, Texas
‘By showing the centrality of human rights to both the legitimacy and the downfall of the GDR, The Human Rights Dictatorship makes a major contribution to the global history of human rights. In this richly textured history, Ned Richardson-Little shows how East Germans instrumentalized human rights in the name of numerous shifting ideals: socialism, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism, Christianity, peace, the environment, democracy, and ultimately, the creation of a unified German state.’
Celia Donert – University of Liverpool
‘Eagerly anticipated, Ned Richardson-Little’s book breaks important new ground. Overcoming simple narratives of the GDR’s erosion, he impressively uncovers the multiple meanings with which East German actors infused human rights – including state elites seeking to buttress their socialist project. Richly nuanced, the book advances our understanding of the twisted trajectory of human rights history in the 20th century.’
Jan Eckel – Eberhard Karls-Universität Tübingen
The Lichtgrenze commemorating the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall- November 9, 2014.
From our perspective today, it is easy to see November 9, 1989 as the end of the German Democratic Republic. In most of the coverage of the anniversaries, that date is synonymous with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of monopoly rule by the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and the end of the feared Ministry of State Security, the Stasi. In retrospect, it is clear that the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9 was a decisive breaking point, after which the SED could never recover its capacity to rule.
But on November 10, 1989, this was far from obvious for all involved. In the early hours that day it was still unclear what exactly had happened overnight. SED officials still believed they could re-impose controls on cross border travel. The Soviet Union had yet to comment on the events or indicate if it would intervene. While earlier mass protests had been tolerated, Egon Krenz, leader of the SED since late October when he had deposed Erich Honecker, had praised the violent crackdown at Tiananmen Square earlier in the year leading some to fear violence could still come. That the opening of the border would usher in a peaceful transition to pluralistic democracy and later reunification was hardly certain.
“Auf der Flucht erschossen” by Jimmy Fell
On August 24, 1961, Günter Litfin was shot to death by East German transport police as he tried to cross the border to West Berlin. A tailor from Weissensee, the 24-year-old Litfin had climbed over the Berlin Wall, built only 11 days earlier, near the Charité Hospital. Police fired warning shots at Litfin while he was on solid ground, but once he jumped into the Humboldt Harbour and began swimming for West Berlin, they took proper aim and hit their target. His corpse was pulled from the water a few hours later by East German firefighters.
Early in the morning of February 6, 1989, Chris Gueffroy became the last person to be shot to death while crossing the Berlin Wall. The 20-year-old waiter decided to leave East Germany on the cusp of being conscripted into the National People’s Army. With his friend Christian Gaudian, Gueffroy hoped to cross the Britz Canal to the West Berlin district of Neukölln – they erroneously believed that the order to use deadly force at the border had been suspended. Border guards opened fire on the pair as they scaled the final layer of border fencing. Gueffroy was hit twice in the chest and died immediately.
Litfin and Gueffroy are often mistakenly referred to as the first and last victims of the Berlin Wall, but this sad distinction actually belongs to two others. The 58-year-old widow Ida Siekmann died of injuries from jumping from a building on Bernauerstrasse to cross the Wall two days before Litfin was shot. At the other end, Winfried Freudenberg was killed over a month later than Gueffroy when his makeshift balloon failed during the border crossing and he fatally crashed in the West Berlin suburb of Zehlendorf.
This error is important, not for the sake of historical pedantry, but because it speaks to how the Berlin Wall is understood in the popular imagination. When we think of the Berlin Wall, the imagined victim is usually a young man, gunned down by border guards as he fled for freedom. The most famous of all the Berlin Wall victims, Peter Fechter, embodies this image. Fechter, 18, was shot as he tried to cross the border near Checkpoint Charlie in 1962, little more than a year after the Wall’s construction. He lay wounded and screaming in pain in the death strip for forty minutes until he bled to death. His monument on Zimmerstrasse eulogizes his plight: “…he only wanted freedom.”
The death of Peter Fechter. East Berlin. August 17, 1962.