Analysis: Germany debates Stasi killings

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Germany Correspondent  |  Aug. 13, 2007 at 12:02 PM
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BERLIN, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- Forty-six years ago on Monday, East German soldiers began building the Berlin Wall that would divide a city in two and become the symbol of the Cold War. The wall's anniversary coincides with new revelations over ordered killings and spy missions of the Communist regime's secret police.

After a vigil service Monday, Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit took a few steps toward a strip of dark gray concrete in Berlin's Bernauer Strasse, laying down a bouquet of flowers in honor of the people who were killed trying to escape the communist regime for the West.

Bernauer Strasse was one of the most notorious spots of the 103-mile wall inside the city; because the houses were in the East, and the accompanying sidewalk to the back wall in the West, many people on the first days of the Wall jumped out of their windows -- some into freedom, others to their death. Outside Berlin, the 860-mile border between East and West Germany was fortified with fences, minefields and watchtowers, from where guards could open fire at escapees.

Some 133 people died trying to cross the Wall inside Berlin; experts estimate that the total number of people shot by East German border guards during East Germany's existence towers at more than 1,000.

However, former Stasi officers and East German politicians like Egon Krenz, the state's last leader, still deny that official orders existed to kill people trying to flee to West Germany.

Over the weekend, however, officials uncovered a new document in the archives of the Stasi -- the country's feared secret police -- that proves that East German spies had a clear shoot-to-kill order from the communist regime.

Dated Oct. 1, 1973, the seven-page order from a Stasi official to his spy in a border unit near Magdeburg reads that guards had the duty to "stop or liquidate" East German soldiers defecting to the West. The spy belonged to a Stasi special unit given the task of infiltrating border guards and preventing defections by regular soldiers.

"Don’t hesitate to use your weapon even when border breaches happen with women and children, which traitors have often exploited in the past," reads the order, which was countersigned by the spy.

“This discovery is so important because to this day officials kept denying that there was a firing order at the Berlin Wall,” Marianne Birthler, head of the BSTU, a federal agency designed to manage the Stasi files, told the weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, adding the order was unique in its explicitness.

Ronald Pofalla, the general secretary of the Christian Democratic Union, the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, called the discovery of the firing order "frightening evidence of how inhuman this system was."

On Monday, judicial officials in Germany said they were investigating whether the new document would justify opening new cases against former Stasi members. Several senior Stasi agents and political leaders have been tried after German reunification, but most got a lenient sentence, partly because they vowed that no kill order was ever given and no such order was ever found.

Because the order was addressed only to a small group of spies, and not to the entire army, observers doubt that it can revive a lawsuit against the top Politburo members.

The media hype that surrounded the discovery in Germany, however, shows that the country is far from coming to terms with its Stasi past. And another anniversary is coming up in the next few days: On Aug. 17, it will be 45 years after the killing of Peter Fechter, one of the first and most tragic victims of the Berlin Wall.

Fechter in 1962 wanted to flee over a section of the wall in Zimmerstrasse, near Checkpoint Charlie. However, just as he was climbing up, a soldier opened fire, hitting Fechter in his pelvis. The man fell back into the so-called death-strip on the Eastern side, where he remained in view of several hundred Western onlookers. Despite his screams, he received no medical help either from Eastern or Western soldiers, who were too scared to intervene. Fechter's screams started to fade away and after roughly an hour, he bled to death. He was only 18 years old.

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