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August 12, 2007
East German Shoot-to-Kill Order Is Found
By JUDY DEMPSEY
BERLIN, Aug. 12 - Seventeen years after German reunification, archivists have found the first written proof that East German border guards were ordered to shoot to kill at anyone trying to escape to West Germany, including women and children.
The seven-page order, dated Oct. 1, 1973, was discovered last week in the regional archive office in the eastern German city of Magdeburg. Though it is unsigned, it shows that the Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, had told guards that they must "stop or liquidate" anyone trying to cross the border.
"Do not hesitate to use your firearm, not even when the border is breached in the company of women and children, which is a tactic the traitors have often used," the document said.
The discovery of the written order, which has stunned politicians here across the political spectrum, comes just before the 46th anniversary of the erection of the Berlin Wall, which divided the city and became the symbol of the cold war. It was erected on Aug. 13, 1961, and remained for 28 years until it was toppled on Nov. 9, 1989, paving the way for the reunification of the city and the two Germanies.
The number of East Germans who successfully crossed the sealed border, in Berlin or elsewhere, during those 28 years is unknown. The Center for Contemporary Historical Research in Potsdam, near Berlin, said that the number of people who were killed by border guards as they tried to flee across the border was between 270 to 780.
Politicians from eastern Germany said today that they had no doubt that the shoot-to-kill document was authentic. But some were skeptical that any former senior Stasi officers or Communist officials would be prosecuted because of it.
Wolfgang Thierse, a leading Social Democrat from eastern Berlin who has a seat in parliament, said that because the document bore no names, it would be difficult to initiate any new trials.
Ever since reunification, former East German Communist Party leaders and senior functionaries have repeatedly denied that the Stasi, one of the largest and most pervasive of the secret police organizations in the former Communist Eastern Europe, had given any shoot-to-kill orders.
But today, Marianne Birthler, director of the government office that manages the millions of former Stasis files, said the newly located document offered firm evidence that the top leadership expected that anyone trying to flee would be killed.
"The document is so important because the political leaders of the time continue to deny there was an order to shoot," Ms. Birthler told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, the leading conservative newspaper.
Egon Krenz, the last Communist leader of East Germany, denied once again today that was any such order.
"There was no order to kill, or as they call it, an order to shoot to kill," he is quoted as saying in an interview to be published Monday in Bild Zeitung, a mass-circulation daily newspaper. "I don't know this from files. I know this from my own experience. Such an order would have contradicted East German law."
Mr. Krenz was convicted of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of East Germans trying to flee across the Berlin Wall, and was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. He was released in 2003 after serving four years.
According to the newly located document, the orders were issued to a special Stasi unit. The unit had been attached to the regular East German border guards in the Magdeburg region, which bordered West Germany. The Stasi unit was charged with preventing border guards from fleeing to the West with their families.
Ronald Pofalla, general secretary of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Party, told the newspaper BZ in Berlin, "On the eve of the anniversary of the construction of the wall, it is a lesson to all of those who want to let the barbarity of the Communist regime be consigned to the annals of history."
Thomas Steg, a spokesman for the government, said, "The federal government will continue to support the efforts to address the working of the East German Communist dictatorship."
Edited by User 199,179 on Aug 12, 2007 6:58 PM