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East German abuse

April 1, 2010

Following the scandals of child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church and private schools in western Germany, new revelations have now emerged about abuse in former communist East Germany.

The former Torgau juvenile detention center
Allegations of abuse are not limited to the Catholic ChurchImage: DW

Apparently there were numerous instances of child sex abuse at state-run homes and institutions in former East Germany, according to a report published Friday in the Berlin newspaper Der Tagespiegel.

In a letter to Family Affairs Minister Kristina Schroeder, a conservative parliamentarian, Manfred Kolbe, has requested that representatives of a memorial center for a once notorious East German juvenile detention center should be allowed to participate in a planned government roundtable debate on sexual abuse, scheduled to convene for the first time on April 23.

"The topic needs to be dealt with at the national level," Kolbe told the Tagespiegel newspaper.

In light of the latest revelations from the Catholic Church and elsewhere, the memorial group, known as the "Gedenkstätte Geschlossener Jugendwerkhof Torgau" recently called on former residents of the facility, who had been sexually abused, to come forward with their stories.

A young girl in the GDR reading a book
The topic of child sex abuse was taboo in East GermanyImage: picture-alliance / ZB

So far, 25 people have responded, relating experiences of forced sexual contact at the detention center, said Gabriele Beyler, the head of the Torgau memorial. But, Beyler added, the cases revealed so far of sexual abuse against 6-to-17-year-olds in a number of different juvenile homes in former East Germany are only the tip of the iceberg.

Resistance was futile

Heidemarie Puls, a former resident at the prison-like Torgau facility, told Germany's ARD public broadcaster in an interview that "we were at the mercy of the educators." Any attempt to resist the wardens, attendants or instructors at the juvenile center was futile, she said. Puls was sent to the closed institution at the age of 14 because she allegedly resisted authority.

There were 474 children's homes in former communist East Germany; of these, 38 were so-called special homes for children and 32 were juvenile detention centers for "difficult" adolescents.


Editor: Susan Houlton