At Least 136 People Lost Lives at Berlin Wall, Study Shows | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 08.08.2008
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At Least 136 People Lost Lives at Berlin Wall, Study Shows

With the anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s construction looming, a new study confirmed the death of at least 136 people at the Cold War barrier.

The Berlin Wall is the sight of painful memories for many families

A new study provides haunting details of the Berlin Wall's victims

As the 47th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall approaches, the Potsdam Center for Historical Research has revealed the findings of its research, detailing at least 136 deaths at the Berlin Wall following its construction on Aug. 13, 1961.

With the study led by Hans-Hermann Hertle, the number of deaths that occurred at the Cold War barrier -- the subject of great debate for many years -- has now been broken down to offer concrete details: 98 victims were GDR fugitives, who were either shot, killed in an accident or took their own lives while trying to get over the wall.

30 people from the East and West also died under these circumstances, although they did not intend to flee.

Victims mostly young

The Berlin Wall before it was destroyed

Despite the wall's tight security, thousands of people managed to escape.

The study shows that the majority of victims were young men between the ages of 16 and 30. Eight children were also among the victims, five of which were preschoolers or elementary students who drowned in the waters at the border. One baby, whose parents were successful in escaping, was smothered. Eight of the victims were women.

Separating East and West Germany for 28 years, the Berlin Wall was tightly guarded by GDR soldiers, 8 of which died while on duty. The soldiers were either killed by deserters, comrades, fugitives, people assisting those trying to escape, and in one case, by a West Berlin police officer.

New numbers rooted in fact

Bernd Neumann

Bernd Neumann, Minister of Culture, financially supported the research.

Hertle, whose research team studied 374 cases, told the DPA news agency that the data previously collected by the Central Registry of State Judicial Administrations in Salzgitter was too low because it only counted the number of deaths caused through the application of force. Those who drowned were not captured, although almost half of the escape attempts in Berlin were over the water.

According to Hans-Hermann Hertle, the newly unveiled numbers are based on exhaustive investigations, the first ever analysis of files from the wall protection proceedings and on contemporary witness interviews. With the new study, the death toll has risen by two.

Funded through Bernd Neumann, Minister of Culture, the research by the Potsdam Center for Historical Research was unable to clarify the circumstances surrounding 15 cases. An additional 16 suspicious cases are still to be examined.

In addition to the 136 deaths at the Berlin Wall, at least 48 predominantly elderly people from both the East and the West died either during or after border checks in and around Berlin primarily as the consequence of a heart attack.

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