The Berlin Wall closed to stop the exodus to the West
But machine guns at highway checkpoints, armed patrols of 15 or 20 police officers on trains, vigorous propaganda, show trials accusing “traitors” of luring East Germans to the West, and a fear campaign of a polio epidemic raging in Federal Germany, were unable to verify the trend.
Much of the credit for the increased exodus, according to the refugees themselves, goes to Soviet Premier Khrushchev and his colleagues.
The Communists’ repeated insistence after June 1961 on “settling” the German question before the end of the year convinced a growing number of East Germans that their loophole would soon be completely closed.
Whatever their various reasons for wanting to leave, they felt the time to act had come.
The global total of four million refugees is necessarily an estimate, since between 1946 and 1949 no figure was retained.
It also ignores the thousands – perhaps a million – more who fled but never registered as refugees.
The comparisons put the four million figure into perspective.
It equals the population of Tunisia or Ecuador, and exceeds that of Norway or Bolivia.
That’s twice the population of New Zealand, two and a half times that of Jordan, and almost three times that of Nicaragua.
Time lapse scale, total figure means someone escaped East Germany every three minutes, rain or shine, day or night, year after year.
Berlin is the preferred escape route due to the strict control measures imposed by the Communists along the border with West Germany.
But escaping anywhere is a dangerous business.
Since December 1957, long prison sentences have been handed down to those caught and the death penalty is possible.
Friends and relatives of those who escape are often punished.
A Communist court found a former East German police lieutenant guilty of treason and sentenced him to death in May 1960.
He was arrested while trying to help his wife and daughter escape to West Germany.
FOR some, escape comes only after months of inspired planning and careful preparation. Their stories often rival works of fiction for courage and cunning.
There is the story of the Communist policeman on duty aboard an elevated train going from East Berlin to West Berlin. He spotted a damaged sewing machine on the ground in the back of a car. It was anchored to a heating pipe by a chain and a sturdy padlock. All the passengers looked up when he asked the owner to speak.
The policeman rushed to consult the driver and try to find a hacksaw.
As the train entered a station in West Berlin, an elderly woman, beaming with triumph, pulled a key from under her apron, unlocked the padlock, and quickly left with her machine.
There was the professor who only left East Berlin for good after countless preparatory trips over a period of several years – until he finally moved his entire library to West Berlin, a few pounds at a time.
For pure gall, few can match Gerhard L., a shepherd from the outskirts of Berlin who lazily wandered West Berlin one day and took his flock of 400 sheep with him.
For the most part, however, theft is the result of an impromptu decision and represents the sacrifice of all valuable possessions.
They flee by train, metro, car, bicycle or on foot, taking with them only the contents of their pockets.
SOME East Germans fled to find employment in the flourishing prosperity of the Federal Republic.
Others have left because of chronic shortages of food and consumer goods.
The majority, however, have mainly sought to escape the political oppression of a communist regime.
Deprived of their right to a real election in East Germany, they decided to “vote with their feet”.
In recent years, the largest increase in the number of refugees has directly followed the campaign in the Soviet zone which brought all of East Germany’s farmland and much of its industry back into collective rule.
For the Communists, the long and constant drain on human resources had dramatic consequences. This is one of the main causes of the serious economic problems that the East German regime is currently facing. Almost 50 percent. Among the refugees are under 25, and 90 percent. are under 50 – the cream of the Soviet zone’s labor force.
The Communist Party’s concern over the labor shortage manifested itself in April 1961, when the official newspapers began calling on retirees and housewives to join the workforce.
For several years, appeals to women and children to help on farms at harvest time have been commonplace.
THE high percentage of technicians and professionals who have fled has compounded the economic problem.
In 1961, the regime was forced to completely abandon its ailing aviation industry. There were simply too few skilled workers and engineers to continue.
The exodus of doctors and dentists has given rise to a growing health problem.
Since 1945, around 4,500 doctors have left the Eastern Zone.
A team of British public health experts who visited East Germany in late 1960 reported that there were only 75 doctors per 100,000 people, compared to 131 per 100,000 Germans from the ‘Where is.
The substantial privileges granted to key professionals by the Communists did little to stop the flow.
The ranks of East German intellectuals, including the privileged “new” intelligentsia, were increasingly exhausted by departures.
A significant number of writers, artists, professors, scientists, teachers and students figure in the monthly refugee count.
In 1958, 3,300 teachers fled; 65 percent. of them turned out to be “new teachers” who had received all their professional training under the communist regime.
The tide of refugees has fluctuated widely over the years, often in clear reaction to political and economic developments, and sometimes for no apparent reason.
But a cause-and-effect indicator has always been shown to be valid.
Whenever a specific population group has been selected for “correction” by political or ideological measures, the reaction has manifested itself in an increase in refugee statistics.