The Reading Room

Victims at the Berlin Wall 1961-1989

A must read book….

I recently had the good fortune to visit the Mauerpark in Berlin, a remarkable tribute to the days of a divided city and nation. Whilst there I saw this book at the museum and was immediately struck by the gravity of its cover and contents. Looking back I wondered if part of the effect of that was from being by the remnants of the Wall itself but upon reading it back in England I realised it wasn’t. It is a desperately sad book.

The Mauerpark contains a tribute to all of those who died trying to escape the East German regime, it is a simple, yet very moving collage of human life from the very young to the elderly set in the middle of a green park once known as the ‘death strip’. The faces within those cabinets are those which appear on the book’s cover, black and white portraits of people who never asked for any of it, their lives cut short and covered up to preserve the public image of a disgraced ideal.

This unique book records for posterity, the lives of the Wall’s victims. Each one afforded the attention any life deserves, from their date of birth to work, relationships and the background to their deaths. It gives an essential light and life to an otherwise historical statistic and it is the fact that these victims were so ordinary that makes them and their deaths so important to remember.

There are certain familiar, tragic themes which run throughout the pages; some came from broken families or relationships, some attempted to escape fuelled by a dependency on drink and virtually all, bar the two schoolboys and elderly woman, driven by a hatred of the regime and a desire to ‘go west’. If blatant murder of one’s own citizens were not enough than the subsequent cover up’s by the state police fuelled the hatred by citizens on both sides of the divide. Parents being told dreadful lies about the deaths of their children, encouraged to ‘believe’ when doubt was cast. It was beyond wicked and subsequent post-Wall trials for those accused of shooting these people did little or nothing to right so many wrongs. The East German government was well aware of West Berlin’s registering of these deaths, it knew the ramifications for the regime on both sides of the border and the damage it did to not only themselves but also their Soviet paymasters. Shots fired against the wall, stray bullets hitting houses in the West, bodies floating in the river all made their covering up harder and drove the regime to nullify the protestations of the victims families. To do this the Stasi took complete control of the victims bodies and their possessions, autopsy’s were changed and those who were not fatally injured were swiftly sent to isolation rooms in police hospitals before being transferred to Stasi prison hospitals to await their fate.

It is difficult reading in places, young men trapped in barbed wire, shot whilst swimming innocently, shot in the back, left for dead in no man’s land or murdered for ‘acting suspiciously’. Despite its awfulness it is an incredibly important book. It delivers a hammer blow to those who seek to divide us through concrete ideals and a reminder that in the end,

 

 

Categories: The Reading Room

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