Construction soldier

A construction soldier (German: Bausoldat, abbreviation: BS) was a non-fighting member of the units of the National People's Army (NVA) of the German Democratic Republic. The Bausoldat service offered GDR citizens a possibility to refuse military service with weapons. However, it was not a civilian alternative to military service. Service as a Bausoldat could have adverse effects on future training and career development opportunities.

Before the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, military service in the GDR was voluntary, though the Free German Youth and public schools mounted intensive recruitment drives and service in the NVA was often a prerequisite for career advancement. Compulsory service had been introduced earlier in West Germany (1956)—one year after the Federal Armed Forces were established—but the GDR held back from this step until 1962. The reason was partly that the authorities feared that conscription would swell the ranks of GDR citizens fleeing to the West. The situation changed when the border was sealed in August 1961, and five months later the government announced a mandatory service term of 18 months for men.

There was, at first, no alternative service for conscientious objectors. This changed in 1964 when, under pressure from the national Protestant church, the GDR's National Defense Council authorized 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 "construction soldiers" wore uniforms and lived in barracks under military discipline, but were not required to bear arms and received no combat training. In theory, they were to be used only for civilian construction projects. The GDR therefore became the only Warsaw Pact country to provide a non-combat alternative for conscientious objectors. However, fearing that other soldiers would be contaminated by pacifist ideas, the government took care to segregate the construction units from regular conscripts. Moreover, conscripts who chose the alternative service option often faced discrimination later in life, including denial of opportunities for higher education.

Prominent former construction soldiers

See also

External links

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