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Dr Richard Millington and Magdeburg.

Preserving the memory of an uprising against the communist regime in 1950s East Germany has led to a University of Chester academic speaking in a city which was one of the main centres of the unrest and featuring on its regional TV.

Dr Richard Millington, Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader for German, recently presented a public lecture at Magdeburg City Hall on ‘The Collective Memory of the Magdeburg Uprising of 17 June 1953’, after being invited by the head of the City Archive. The lecture was recorded by the independent TV station Offener Kanal Magdeburg and broadcast in early August.

Among the audience were eyewitnesses who revealed, in the discussion after the talk, their experiences of the day. Presented in German, in July, it shared some of Dr Millington’s extensive research, and was part of the Archive’s summer seminar series of lectures on the history of the city.

Dr Millington said: “On 17 June 1953, more than 500,000 people protested in East Germany against the communist regime. Magdeburg was a centre of the uprising and a particular flashpoint - several police officers and demonstrators were killed in exchanges of gunfire. The uprising ended in the afternoon of 17 June, 1953, when Soviet tanks and troops arrived to break up the demonstrations and restore order. 

“In 2008, I spent 10 months in Magdeburg interviewing people who had witnessed or taken part in the demonstrations. I also conducted archival research into how the uprising was remembered by ordinary people in the city in later years.

“It was a great honour for me to be able to present my research to the people of the city. They had helped me so much throughout my project, so it was nice to be able to give something back to them. The response was very positive and it was fascinating after my talk to hear people, one after the other say ‘I was there and this is what I remember’.”

He added: “The uprising of 17 June 1953 marks a turning point in East German history. The state had only been founded four years prior to the unrest, and the protests showed that ordinary people had had enough of the repression of the regime. After the uprising, however, the government cracked down hard. One of its main measures was to expand its political security service - the Stasi - exponentially. In later decades, this would lead to a society of mass surveillance, with one Stasi informer for approximately every 100 citizens.”


Dr Richard Millington.
Dr Richard Millington.

The lecture is available to watch at:

Dr Millington has worked in the Department of Languages and Cultures at the University since 2012. His published work includes State, Society and Memories of the Uprising of 17 June 1953 in the GDR (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

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