During the preparations for the first Peace Decade in 1980, a ten-day period of peace activities conducted by the East German Union of Evangelical Churches, youth vicar Harald Bretschneider first used the symbol to summon all Christians to attend nationwide prayers. He also connected the symbol to the pacifist campaign "Make Peace Without Weapons" and to various peace movements in the West.
The symbol was made into cloth badges and was eagerly worn by many East German youths, who used it as a silent protest against the militarization of East German society. From 1980 on, peace groups formed within many churches in East Germany. They demonstrated against the presence of Soviet missiles on East German soil as well as against the degradation of the environment caused by industrial waste. Consequently, in November 1981 East German officials banned the wearing of the badges. The government considered it subversive to its so-called communist peace politics.
Peace activists both in and outside East German churches were labeled as subversive elements. Many youths who persisted in wearing the badges were harassed by the secret police (Stasi), banned from their final exams, and even prosecuted. The East German regime managed to prevent these groups from maturing into political movements, at least for a time. Pacifist and ecological groups remained at the grassroots level and were closely observed by the Stasi. Nevertheless, in the summer and fall of 1989, the opposition peace groups formed the nucleus of the mass protests against the government, which in turn brought an end to communism and the division of Germany.
Beatrice de Graaf
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; Sandford, John. The Sword and the Ploughshare: Autonomous Peace Initiatives in East Germany. London: Merlin Press/European Nuclear Disarmament, 1983.; Schroeder, Klaus. Der SED-Staat: Partei, Staat und Gesellschaft [The SED-State: Party, State and Society]. München: Carl Hanser, 1998.; Silomon, Anke. "Schwerter zu Pflugscharen" und die DDR: Die Friedensarbeit der evangelischen Kirchen in der DDR im Rahmen der Friedensdekaden 1980 bis 1982 ["Swords to Ploughshares" and the GDR: The Peace Activities of the Evangelical Churches in the GDR within the Framework of the Peace Decades 1980 to 1982]. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1999.