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A construction soldier (German: Bausoldat, BS) was a non-combat role of the National People's Army, the armed forces of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), from 1964 to 1990. Bausoldaten were conscientious objectors who accepted conscription but refused armed service and instead served in unarmed construction units.

HistoryEdit

Before the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, military service in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was entirely voluntary, though intensive recruitment drives were mounted by public schools and the Free German Youth, and service was often a prerequisite for future career advancement. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) had introduced conscription in 1956, one year after the Bundeswehr was established, to maximise military strength for the potential World War III during the Cold War. The GDR authorities were reluctant to introduce conscription, partly because they feared that it would increase the already large number of citizens fleeing to West Germany, known as Republikflucht.[citation needed] The Berlin Wall's construction saw a rapid decrease in emigration to the West and the GDR introduced conscription on 24 January 1962, with all males aged 18 to 60 were required to serve 18-months in the National People's Army (NVA). The decision was met by strong resistance from Christian churches in the GDR, who rejected mandatory military service on pacifist grounds as there were no alternatives for conscientious objectors.

In 1964, Emil Fuchs, a prominent member of the pacifists, managed to negotiate a deal with the GDR government allowing conscientious objectors to be able to serve their conscription in non-combat roles, becoming the only Warsaw Pact country to allow this. The National Defence Council authorised the formation of Baueinheiten (construction units) for men of draft age who "refuse military service with weapons on the grounds of religious viewpoints or for similar reasons". The Bausoldaten or "construction soldiers" wore uniforms and lived in barracks under military discipline like regular soldiers, but were not required to bear arms and received no combat training, and in theory were to be used only for civilian construction projects. They were nicknamed "Spatensoldaten" or "Spati", an abbreviation of the German word for a spade, which was shown on their uniforms. Despite being seen as a victory for conscientious objectors, the Baueinheiten were actually intended to segregate the construction units from regular conscripts, fearing they would be contaminated by pacifist ideas. Former Bausoldaten were actively discriminated against in the GDR, and service as a construction soldier could lead to the denial of opportunities in employment and higher education.

The demand for Baueinheiten grew shortly after their founding as workers were needed for labour in construction projects, and in 1966 four more battalions were set up. Prora on the island of Rügen became the largest concentration of construction soldiers, housing over 500 men for the construction of the Mukran ferry port in Sassnitz. Until 1973, construction soldiers were used to build military installations before churches began protesting their usage, and instead received relatively "civilian" tasks in military institutions such as gardeners, nurses in military hospitals, or in kitchens. During the later years of the GDR, many construction soldiers also worked in large companies suffering from labour shortages, for example in the chemical industry or in lignite mines. By the 1980s, pacifist resistance to mandatory military service rose in favour of an alternative civilian service, and many Bausoldaten belonged to opposition movements to the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany. On 1 January 1990, the construction units were dissolved and 1,500 construction soldiers released, while the remaining members were released from the NVA at the beginning of October 1990, days before the GDR's dissolution and German reunification.

Notable former construction soldiersEdit

See alsoEdit

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