After the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Allied Powers divided Germany into territories or zones. The German capital of Berlin was divided into military zones as well. These zones would be governed by the military of the assigned country.
But there was conflict among the Russian leadership and the British, French, and American allies. Russia wanted a buffer against western invasion, and started establishing communism in eastern countries, as well as East Germany. Great Britain, France and the United States – which adhered to capitalism, did not want communism to expand.
To send a message of strength and belief in communism, Russian leadership closed Berlin in 1948 and blocked all pathways in and out of the city. They hoped this action would drive the Allied forces out of their zones. Then, the Soviets could completely take over Berlin without opposition.
As food and supplies were blocked, people in West Berlin began to experience shortages of essential goods. However, the Allies didn’t evacuate the city as the Soviets had hoped. The Allies saw their presence in Berlin as a barrier to prevent the Soviet Union from spreading communism further into Western Europe. So, the Allied countries decided to bring supplies to the people of Berlin by air.
Beginning June 26, 1948, giant cargo planes were loaded with food, fuel, medicine, and other supplies. The planes flew over the occupied zone using routes that weren’t under Soviet control. As they flew over Berlin, they dropped their cargo to the desperate, starving people below.
This operation was known as the “Berlin airlift.” The Berlin airlift was intended to be a short-term solution, but the Soviets wouldn’t lift their blockade. The airlift continued for more than a year.
Airlift: Transporting cargo or passengers by aircraft when access by land is difficult.
Notes for Teacher:
This lesson is designed to assist students in thinking about others.
How did U.S. Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen affect the well-being of the children of Berlin? Why did he think it was important to think of the children?
What can you do to demonstrate kindness to others in need of resources? How is your well-being affected when others are in need?
Read students the following sentence: “The harshness of the war was being forgotten in the smiles of the children of Berlin.” Have students write a reflection on the meaning of this sentence.
Read the following passage to the students.
After the Soviet Union restricted all vehicles in and out of Berlin in 1948, the Allies began to drop supplies by air. Giant cargo planes were loaded with food and other goods. The planes flew over the occupied zone through open air channels. As they flew over Berlin, they dropped their cargo. This operation was known as the “Berlin airlift.”
While the airlifts were going on, one cargo pilot discovered a very special mission of his own. U.S. Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen was at a Berlin airfield when he met some German children. The children were used to American soldiers having chocolate bars and chewing gum. Children commonly would ask the soldiers to share their rationed sweets.
However, this group of children just watched him in silence. He offered the group two sticks of gum. He watched as the children carefully broke the gum into small pieces so each child could have a taste. Ask students why the children would break the gum into pieces.
This touched Halvorsen, and he promised to drop candy to the children on his next flight. “Watch for me, I’ll wiggle the wings,” he told them. He asked other pilots to donate their gum and candy rations. As his plane flew over the group of waiting children, he “wiggled” the wings. The crew dropped candy and gum attached to small, white handkerchief parachutes. This continued every day.
Soon, newspapers learned what he was doing. They printed his story. People in the U.S. began to flood Halvorsen with candy donations.
The American people opened their hearts to the children of Germany. The harshness of the war was being forgotten in the smiles of the children of Berlin.
This pack of chewing gum is like the ones dropped to the children of Berlin. Show students the chewing gum image below.
- Talk with children about what food they think is special. If they had been a class in 1948, what treat could they have sent to “The Candy Bomber” for the children of Berlin?
- Do a survey of students for their favorite treats. Have students analyze the data gathered to rank the most popular treat. Treats can be any food the student enjoys and considers special. This could be fruits, vegetables, drinks, etc. Give students the option of what food items to collect data about.
- Have students do a cost analysis for purchasing 100 treats to send to the children of Berlin. How much money would need to be raised? How could they raise the money? What are some other ways they could get the treats for the children?
- Discuss with students about countries today where children don’t have resources for food or supplies. Research the country and brainstorm ideas of what resources the students could give. Research what agency will help deliver the donations. (This could be expanded to be a service learning event for students to donate treats to a local food bank.)
- Have students design posters for donations.
- Write letters to the local newspaper editor to persuade people to donate.
- Create a video to persuade people to donate.
- Have students write letters to the children who will receive the treat. What would they think was important to tell the children?
- STEM Connection: Have teams of students design a parachute to safely drop the treat. Have trials for which design hits the targets.
- Read students the following sentence. “The harshness of the war was being forgotten in the smiles of the children of Berlin.” Have students write a reflection on what is the meaning of the sentence.