MOSCOW, Aug. 25 (UPI, The Washington Post) — Forty-six years ago, in August 1961, the Berlin Wall was built.
As a teenager I would walk along the wall wondering if — but never quite believing — it would fall. My father was stationed in Germany; my mother was German. We had family in the East.
I would follow the Wall as far as I could go. I would stand on a viewing platform, just west of the Brandenburg Gate on the Western side, and look at the NVA (East German) soldiers who were watching me with binoculars.
At Checkpoint Charlie I would stare at the young U.S. and Soviet soldiers facing each other. Entering the Museum at Checkpoint Charlie, I would view photographs of those brave men and women who had tried to escape. Most were captured or killed. Most victims were still unknown.
It would be some years before I myself would become a cadet. In between, I would serve as a courier for the underground movement. The Wall, the documents I carried, the faces on the walls in the museum, the brave U.S. soldiers confronting the Soviet enemy — all of these things played a role in my becoming a cold warrior.
When President Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, proclaiming, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” those behind the Iron Curtain began to believe; but many political leaders in Western Europe smiled in polite embarrassment.
They of course knew better; as often they were wrong.
When communism fell in 1989, former East German Apparatchiks insisted there were no “shoot to kill” orders at the inner-German border. They claimed local commanders “might” have given individual shoot orders. During the Berlin Politburo Trials of 1997, Egon Krenz, the last East German general secretary, stated “there was never a specific shooting order against escapees.”
Most of us knew this was a lie. Now we have proof it was.
A document in the former East German Secret Police Archives in Magdeburg shows that starting in 1968 members of the Secret Police infiltrated the regular East German Border guards. This document came from the First Central Division of the Ministry of State Security (the feared Stasi). Stasi operatives were charged with handling civilian border escapees brutally and using all means necessary to stop them.
“It is your responsibility to protect the border. … Do not hesitate to use your weapon. Use extreme force even when women and children are present. Do not let them dissuade you. The traitors have often used women and children to try to weaken the spirit of our great army.” “Make sure you stop the traitors — liquidate them if necessary.”
Each Stasi operative had to sign a directive promising to fulfill their order “with maximum success.” These operatives were also tasked to spy on their comrades. “Watch for any conspirative behavior, and report it immediately.” “Pay special attention to any diversion from our stated political and ideological goals. Is anyone watching West German TV? Do they seem to be reading Western press? Are they showing negative behavior towards positively behaved comrades?”
Fine stuff from one of modern history’s truly despicable regimes.
The killing orders were first given in April 1972 and renewed in October 1973 — just three weeks after East Germany joined the United Nations. But even earlier, the SED (East German Communist Party) Politburo had planted the seed with orders dated August 1961, just days after the Wall’s beginning, to “use all means” to protect its borders.
In the ’90s partial documents were found suggesting specific “shoot to kill” orders existed. The documents were not complete; they also showed no link to the central East German regime. The special operative units used to infiltrate the East German army were disbanded in 1985.
Between 1961 and 1989, 2,800 East German soldiers escaped to the West. The exact number of civilians murdered at the border is unknown. The Museum at Checkpoint Charlie has details on 1,245 civilians murdered. The first murdered was Gunter Litfin. He was 24.
Eighteen years later the East German Communist Party — later renamed the Party of German Socialism — has morphed into Germany’s die Linke (the Left). Die Linke is an amalgam of former Communists, dissatisfied labor unionists and some genuine lefties. It gets around 8 percent of the vote in German elections. The percentage of their vote in East Germany is a staggering 25 percent.
Die Linke is headed by Oskar Lafontaine, a former leftist premier of the Saarland. Lafontaine is despised by many. He took 8 percent of the vote to help bring down the Schroeder government in 2005. In the early ’90s he was chairman of Germany’s Social Democratic Party before being ousted by the former Chancellor — who could not stand him either. Even then, Lafontaine flirted with East Germany’s communists — taking an official visit there.
Given East Germany’s sick history, it is hard to fathom why anyone would be prepared to carry the mantle for this murderous former regime.
I for one pay tribute to the memory of its many victims.
(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he sits on the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party.)