68 years ago today, large sections of the German Democratic Republic’s citizens went on strike in protest against an increase in working hours, which was intended to rebuild the state’s ailing finances. This went down in the history books as the June 17 Uprising. Demonstration marches formed in many cities, and demonstrators occupied numerous SED administrative buildings. The police were overwhelmed by the mass of dissatisfied citizens and the uprising could only be put down by the arrival of Soviet troops. In response, the Soviet occupiers declared martial law and officially resumed governing the GDR. In the bloody clashes between police and demonstrators, 55 people lost their lives.

For the SED leadership, the uprising of the workers, who were its main political target, was a traumatic experience. In response, the regime’s surveillance apparatus was further expanded to suppress the opposition and system critics, and the police force was strengthened and better equipped. Through the intervention of Soviet troops, the citizens of the GDR became aware that the SED was part of the Soviet system and that its regime could only be maintained by force of arms. Western countries criticized the violent repression of the uprising. In honor of the victims of the uprising, June 17 served as German Unity Day, the national holiday of the Federal Republic of Germany, until 1990.