Bridge provides a lesson from the past | Rich Elfers

As of last Friday evening, Enumclaw was cut off from Buckley, Bonney Lake and Sumner by the White River Bridge closure. What was once a 10-minute drive has now increased to 45.

  • Thursday, April 21, 2016 3:15pm
  • Opinion

As of last Friday evening, Enumclaw was cut off from Buckley, Bonney Lake and Sumner by the White River Bridge closure. What was once a 10-minute drive has now increased to 45.

This temporary closure to repair the damaged bridge is a nuisance for both sides of the river. But it brings to mind two times in recent history when more than a bridge was closed. Experiencing what we are feeling can give us a deeper insight into major historical events.

Post-World War II Berlin experienced such a split with the sudden creation of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The victorious Allies had divided Berlin into four parts after the defeat of Nazi Germany, just as Germany had been divided into four sectors. Berlin was solidly within the boundary of the Soviet sector. Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union controlled East Berlin. France, Britain and the United States shared West Berlin.

Before the wall was constructed, Berliners were able to live in East Berlin and take the train to West Berlin to go to work. Similarly, it was not uncommon for West Berliners to freely visit their relatives and friends in East Berlin. Since Berlin was the weak spot in the Iron Curtain between the USSR and the West, many young and highly educated professionals – doctors, lawyers, teachers and skilled workers – fled to freedom in the West through Berlin. By 1961 when the Wall was set up, 20 percent of the East German population, or 3.5 million people, had fled to the West through Berlin.

At midnight on Aug. 12, 1961, East German soldiers began to shut off access between East and West Berlin. By Sunday, Aug. 13, the Wall was sealed. If someone was visiting a relative or friend in East Berlin, they were trapped and could not return to West Berlin without great personal risk. Workers who had jobs in West Berlin, but who lived in East Berlin, were now unemployed. The Wall suddenly separated families.

This situation would continue, with some exceptions, to separate the city for 28 years, until 1989 when people could again pass freely from East to West. The Berlin Wall was torn down and by October 1990 Germany was reunified into one nation.

A second example of sudden separation between a previously open city came to Jerusalem in 1948 after the creation of the state of Israel. Jordan, Egypt and Syria fought a war against newly-created Israel between 1947-48. In 1949, Jordan and Israel divided Jerusalem. Jordan took control of East Jerusalem and Israel took control of West Jerusalem. Approximately 700,000 Palestinian Arabs either fled or were expelled from Israel during what Arabs call the Nabka – “the catastrophe.” Many are refugees to this day, living in camps in the Arab states along Israel’s borders.

I lived in the Arab suburbs of East Jerusalem for two months during the summer of 1969, working on an archaeological dig in the southern part of the Old City. This was two years after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War where, in six days, Israel took East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights from its Arab neighbors.

I remember very clearly a Jewish friend pointing out to me the walls that had divided East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem between 1948-67. The day our group left for home, a Christian religious fanatic tried to destroy one of the Muslim mosques on the Temple Mount to allow for the building of a new Jewish Temple. This created a major international crisis.

While travel is now possible between West and East Jerusalem, the area remains a focal point of tension between Palestinian Arabs and Jews.

While we wait the remainder of our week to re-link with Buckley and points east, we can be grateful that our forced separation was not as long lasting nor as destructive as when Berlin and Jerusalem were divided. We can also be grateful that while the bridge closure is a major nuisance, it does not qualify as an international incident, nor will it be in place for decades as the divisions between Berlin and Jerusalem were.

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