The Death of Peter Fechter by S Mark Gubb

Film of the tragic death of Peter Fechter…

pfToday I had the good fortune to sit and watch a remarkable film by S Mark Gubb about Peter Fechter, an eighteen year old boy whose murder at the foot of the Berlin Wall in 1962 remains one of the Cold War’s most shameful episodes. On display in my local gallery, the film is a re-enactment of the death, shown without sound, it brilliantly captures the slow, agonizing death Fechter suffered as both sides of the Wall as well as outraged locals looked on.

The film manages to capture the feel of the period, its lack of sound highlights the characters from the young guard in the full length trench coat to the press straining to get a photograph. Gubb was clearly struck not so much by the death but by the scenes around it, a death played out to a crowd of onlookers and now shown to captivated audiences fifty four years later.

August 17th 1962 and Peter Fechter, along with his friend joined a group of fellow teenagers in forming a protest against the East German regime with the intent to escape to the West en masse. As the day drew on most of the crowd became jittery and only Fechter and his friend were left to make a run for it. Fechter followed behind his friend, as the East German guards opened fire his friend managed to clear the barbed wire fences and then the eight foot wall to the American sector suffering only minor wounds. Fechter was left behind. As he ran he was hit in the leg by a bullet and fell in the middle of the aptly named no-man’s land.

The bullet had severed an artery leaving Fechter writhing in agony, calling out for help. Guards from both sides looked on, Western soldiers remained still, under strict orders not to cross into East German territory and in what would become one of the most notorious and quoted remarks of the period, one G.I was alleged to have shrugged and declared it ‘not our problem’. An hour wore on, as Fechter slowly bled to death the crowd of onlookers grew more hostile. Eventually a senior East German officer ordered a recovery operation and his soldiers were sent to retrieve Fechter behind a poorly executed smokescreen.

Fechter was hauled into an ambulance where he was declared dead on arrival, the officer and two of his men were awarded bonuses for their role in the recovery, a sick end note to a truly disgusting moment in our combined histories. Gubb’s film invites the viewer to consider the death all these years on. The fact that it could have been set in any number of bloody settings since 1962 says much for the world we live in. Until such time as deaths such as that of Peter Fechter are properly considered we shall never truly evolve into the kind of humanity our planet deserves to host.

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