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Proof of Deadly Policy

Article based on news reports (jg)August 13, 2007

German newspapers commented on the discovery of evidence of written orders to East German border soldiers to shoot people, including women and children, fleeing to the West.

Construction of the Berlin Wall began 46 years agoImage: AP

The document proving that the Stasi were ordered to shoot and kill East Germans fleeing to West Germany comes as the unified country is about to commemorate the 46th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall.

The document, written in October 1973, is intended only for operatives of the intelligence service, the Stasi, working within border guard units and not at the rank-and-file. It urges: "Don't shy away from using your weapon, even if the breach of the border involves women and children."

Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung commented: "It is an old psychological truth that there are things that are easier to do than to say. … The Stasi apparatus expressed in words what it was prepared to do: to shoot at women and children. That is, besides the possible legal consequences, an important piece of information about the GDR and the extent of its moral decay."

August 17, 1962 the dying Peter Fechter is carried away by East German border guards
The number of people killed fleeing to the West is still not known for sureImage: AP

The daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote: "The persistence with which the one-time leaders of the GDR deny the existence of an order to shoot on the border between the two Germanys, has become reminiscent of the macabre discussion about whether Hitler himself actually gave the order to exterminate the Jews in Europe. That, too, was never found."

The FAZ commentator added: "Just as it would have been absolutely inconceivable for the killing machinery to be set in motion by state authorities without an order from 'the very top," so, too, could nothing have happened at East Germany's 'anti-fascist protection wall' without an order. And what kind of officer is supposed to have given the order on his own authority? Secretly recruited Stasi commandos, as it has just been shown again, had to ensure that an order that allegedly did not exist had to be rigorously enforced."

Editorialists from Eastern Germany's Sächsische Zeitung focused on the continued denial by the former leaders of the communist regime of any order to shoot.

"No one can credibly continue to maintain that the GDR had no radical orders to kill its own citizens," the paper opined. "Hundreds of people did not survive their attempts to escape to West Germany. But there are some former functionaries of the communist state who deny this very order to kill. Some of them are still politically active today."

School children stand in front of crosses marking victims of Wall in Berlin
Former communist leaders still deny any official shoot-to-kill policyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The Stuttgarter Nachrichten stressed the historical significance of the find and questioned the timing of its release. "It was no coincidence that it has been revealed just before the anniversary of the building of the Wall that there was an order to shoot at the border between East and West Germany," the paper wrote. "The document was found some time ago. But the Stasi archive has shown its historical expertise by publishing it now. As a result today's anniversary will make more of an impact on public consciousness."

The paper also called for the German government not to forget the deaths that took place while the country was divided. "Again and again people, particularly in the East, have been calling for the files to finally be closed, this shows just how wrong that is," the daily said. "We should be doing the opposite. It is in German interest to keep the memory of what has happened alive."

Bonn's General-Anzeiger saw the discovery of the document as a vindication of the importance of the secret police archive run by Marianne Birthler and stressed its significance for German politics. "Just as with research on National Socialism, the same approach must be adopted with respect to the second dark chapter of German history: to explain how it was possible for the GDR to sustain its regime for 28 years," the Bonn paper wrote. "That is why the politics of the unified Germany needs the insights of the Stasi archive -- at the very least to rebut irresponsible perversions of history that risk being disseminated about the socialist dictatorship, above all in the Left Party."