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46 Years: East Germany's Berlin Wall to America's Border Wall

by Magnifico Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 04:21:48 AM EST

Spiegel Online has published the discovery of a written order for East German soldiers to shoot people trying to flee across the border to the West. The seven-page document from the Stasi archives is being published to coincide with the "46th anniversary of the start of construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961".

The order, dated October 1, 1973 were given to "Stasi agents tasked with infiltrating regular units of border guards to prevent their colleages from defecting" and they read:

"It is your duty to use your combat ... skills in such a way as to overcome the cunning of the border breacher, to challenge or liquidate him in order to thwart the planned border breach..."

"Don't hesitate to use your weapon even when border breaches happen with women and children, which traitors have often exploited in the past."

The article, New Find Evokes Horrors of the Berlin Wall, reopens old wounds in the country's history and could serve as a reminder that the past is never truly forgotten. The order is not a new disovery; it was published in a history book in 1997. What is new, however, is the reaction in Germany.

From the diaries - afew

The document is now front-page news in German papers and there have been "calls for fresh prosecutions of former East German officials". I have written on occasion before that I find great comfort in history and the re-discovery of this Stasi shoot-to-kill order and the reaction it is receiving now from Germans is no exception. Here's why:

"For me this is proof that there always was a firing order at the border," Günter Nooke, human rights adviser to the German government, told the ZDF television channel. The German Democratic Republic was ruled by people who had issued orders to shoot at women and children, he said. "Today that would count as crimes against humanity, that's a case for the International Criminal Court in The Hague."

Despite having never voted for George W. Bush or his Republican enablers in Congress, have I and many other of my fellow Americans been "good" Germans Americans since Bush was allowed to take office? If, after 18 years since the Berlin Wall fell, the members of the East German communist dictatorship could be subject to fresh prosecutions, then maybe someday surviving members of the Bush regime will be brought to account for their alleged crimes against humanity?

Marianne Birthler, head of the government's authority which manages the Stasi files, said: "This discovery is important because to this day officials kept denying that there was a firing order at the Berlin Wall, and we haven't come across an instruction as explicit, clear and unlimited as this one."

From CIA black site prisons to torture to Guantánamo Bay detainment camp to the Abu Ghraib prison, there has been little if any accountability in the upper ranks of the American government. Written orders following down the chain of command have not been made public.

Of course whether the rediscovery of written orders of shoot-to-kill from 1973 will, indeed, open up new criminal investigation is in doubt. As memories of the Wall fade, so do the cries for justice. The strategy of running out the clock may prove to be effective once again, which returns me once again to my comfort in history. Even if the criminals escape justice, history can still hold them accountable. As the Spiegel article explains:

Peter FechterIt was always obvious that East Germany's border guards were ordered to shoot at people trying to flee to the West. Had no such order existed, they wouldn't have killed an estimated 1,100 defectors making desperate bids for freedom across the Berlin Wall or the minefields of the 860-mile border between East and West Germany. Most of those victims were shot -- 18-year-old Peter Fechter, for example, who bled to death at the foot of the Wall in August 1962 after guards fired into his back as he tried to escape.

But after the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, East Germany's former leaders and top Stasi secret service officials insisted there had been no shoot-to-kill order, and the absence of evidence to the contrary helped many of them to escape prosecution or get away with only lenient sentences in a series of trials.

There was a shoot-to-kill order and the criminals who issued it likely will not escape quietly into history. Egon Krenz, East Germany's last leader, said "There was no kill order or firing order as you call it... I know that, not from files but from my own experience. Such an order would have been in breach of the law of the GDR." The abuses the world has witnessed allegedly by the hands of the Bush regime are a breach of the law of the United States too. History has proved Krenz and those in the East German government to be liars. If not proven in court, history will prove George W. Bush and his regime to be liars too.

Of all sad ironies, the United States is building its own wall along its border with Mexico. East Germany shot Peter Fetcher to keep him from trying to leave and America is likely planning to shoot Pedro Cerca to keep him from trying to enter. Construction of the border wall, according to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, is to start this fall in Texas and is already well underway in Arizona.

Washington aims to have "operational control" of the border by 2013 by building the 700-mile (1,120-km) wall along parts of the frontier and creating a "virtual fence" in desert areas with drones, sensors, cameras, satellite technology and vehicle barriers.

The East German government would have been proud of such a wall.


DW-World has a few stories about the shoot-to-kill orders too. Here's one, German Politicians Call for Probe into GDR Shoot-to-Kill Policy:

German politicians joined together in outrage Monday over the resurfacing of a document detailing the shoot-to-kill policy of East German border guards during the Cold War and called for a judicial inquiry and criminal investigation.

"This must be investigated further", said Social Democrat leader Kurt Beck. "The whole political system of the GDR is tainted by murder."

Here's another story DW-World has about the documents, Document Shows East German Guards Had Shoot-to-Kill Orders:

The seven-page order, dated October 1, 1973 and found last week in the regional archive office in the eastern city of Magdeburg, shows that the Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, had told guards that they must "stop or liquidate" would-be dissidents.


Monday is the 46th anniversary of the start of construction of the Berlin Wall, which cleaved the city in half and symbolized the Cold War until it was toppled amid joyous scenes on November 9, 1989. Some 133 people were killed trying to cross it into West Berlin.

by Magnifico on Mon Aug 13th, 2007 at 09:56:36 PM EST
Not to mention the wall that divides Israel and the West Bank. Or the walls that surround the gated communities of the rich.

Walls as territory dividers, not buildings, essentially indicate and preserve large economic dislocations. On one side are usually the poorer and the other side the richer. They are usually built by the richer, and mispromoted as being for security.

In the unusual case of the Berlin Wall, it was the rich in power imprisoning the source of their wealth - controlled labour. But it was still an indicator of economic dislocation.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Aug 14th, 2007 at 05:54:31 AM EST
I saw somewhere that this document was actually rediscovered in the 90ies but was resurfacing now for some reason. Has anyone been following this story in detail? Someone german perhaps?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Aug 14th, 2007 at 12:07:04 PM EST
haven't really been following, but you are right, the document itself was discovered in 1993 - but apparently never made it past the academic circles in which it had been found.
by PeWi on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 05:46:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I happen to know someone who wrote about it in the 90's, he's torn between anger and joy right now.

/Funny how things work out.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu

by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Thu Aug 16th, 2007 at 09:12:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
because: (1) The Berlin Wall was built to keep EG citizens in, the US border wall/fence is to keep non-citizens from entering the country without lawful permission, i.e., illegally. (2) The US doesn't shoot people, as a matter of policy, for entering the country illegally.  At worst, they just get deported to their country of origin, often by commercial air.  Two border patrol officers are doing time for firing on a drug smuggler who was entering illegally.

When my Mexican and other Latin friends ask me, that's what I tell them too, and there's certainly a lot of angst over the issues.  I don't have a problem with people entering the country to work.  They should be able to come and go freely and safely, depending on the nation's ability to absorb the additional workforce, but there has to be a process and it should be followed. It really doesn't do justice to the US's illegal immigration problem to compare Walls in this manner.

The US has the largest immigrant/migrant population in the world, (38 million and growing), so we need to look at other, more rational reasons to criticize. There is ample opportunity and better reasons.

What would constitute a fair (fair to American citizens and fair to prospective migrants/immigrants) policy?


I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Aug 14th, 2007 at 12:23:42 PM EST
That sounds like a tankerful of msm kool aid, with the million excuses built in and the basic facts left out:  Human rights, human necessity, no market BS unless the "market" is willing to truly "trickle down" to the world poor.  

"Freely and Safely" would be a truly human policy,  the same as we are granted, when we go to Mexico with our piece of paper.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Tue Aug 14th, 2007 at 12:45:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What are the basic facts?

Most Americans go to Mexico with documents and for tourism, which the Mexican government supports because tourism is the 3rd or 4th largest contributor to the economy, or as semi-residents with retirement salaries, that also contribute to the economy.  However, don't try to get a job in Mexico with your tourist visa or Amcit passport.  You can't (a few do so illegally). Mexicans can get visas to enter the US and can usually stay 6 months as tourists if they wish. However, most of the people we are discussing don't want to enter for tourism, obviously.

"Freely and safely" means not having to trek across an insufferable desert (without the kool aid)or become the victim of criminals and unscrupulous human smugglers. It also means a regulated guest worker program and a work environment where humane treatment, and fair pay for labor is enforced.  Tell me you like the system that prevails without the wall and before border enforcement began in earnest.  I dare you to go through what these people go through both before and after they arrive in the US illegally.  Support for this system is a nod for continued 3rd class status, and exploitation.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Aug 14th, 2007 at 01:21:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Please read your writing with a critical mind and find the excuses and the contradictions.  They are in plain sight.

The world is pretty sick/bleeding to death---because--- of US "favors".

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Tue Aug 14th, 2007 at 01:43:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A kind and fair offer.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Aug 14th, 2007 at 02:07:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know what you are reading but your comments seem to apply to something not here.
by BJ Lange (langebj@gmail.com) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 06:00:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
See my comments below under afew's comment.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 02:05:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Meta - you seem to make comments to statements not being made.
by BJ Lange (langebj@gmail.com) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 06:01:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Berlin Wall was built to keep EG citizens in, the US border wall/fence is to keep non-citizens from entering the country without lawful permission, i.e., illegally.

That's a particularly US-centric view, Gringo. You insist on the word "illegal" with regard to the Latin American poor who migrate, the "illegal aliens", or, as you say later the US's illegal immigration problem, which is a fine way of demonising people whose only crime is to be in need and to hope for a better life somewhere else.

You're also US-centric, I think, when you blithely ignore the fact that it was just as "illegal" for East Germans to attempt to cross the border. You appear to show considerably higher respect for US law than East German law. We in the "West" may have been invited to see our side of the Iron Curtain as the home of legality, and Warsaw Pact countries as somehow naturally lawless -- and, above all, the wish to get out and come to the "West" as naturally legitimate -- that we can forget that there were strict East-German laws against crossing into West Germany.

So we're talking about two populations so desperate to cross a line to find (they believe) a better life, that they will defy the law and make the attempt, ie illegally. To prevent them, a wall is built. That looks to me like a fair amount of basic similarity.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 04:14:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
About 13 years ago I was on business in the Texas border city of El Paso. It was about 8 AM and my associate who was driving along the highway that runs along the Rio Grande River slowed down as did the other vehicles to allow a stream of Mexican citizens to cross over the shallow river and the highway to go to work in El Paso. These are illegal and undocumented workers. Some like these commute back and forth and others have come over permanently. I did not see any border guards with orders to shoot on sight.

There is absolutely no comparison between the U.S. illegal alien problem and what communist East Germany did to their own citizens. The only comparison is that both situations involve a physical wall. I have a fence running around my property to keep my dog from escaping. How would you categorize me?

by BJ Lange (langebj@gmail.com) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 06:14:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How would you categorize me?

As someone who has not paid the slightest attention to what I wrote.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 08:58:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your analogy of East German border crossing to illegal crossing "into" (key word here) the United States had no relevance. If you had made the analogy of East Germany to say Mexico it would be more relevant.

Also people attempting to cross over from East Germany to West Germany were ordered to be shot. That is not happening in the U.S. situation.

So I assume that according to your assessment any walling of people in or out of a territory is the same. That should include my fencing my dog in as well.

by BJ Lange (langebj@gmail.com) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 09:32:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not my analogy, but Magnifico's, that Gringo objected to on, it seems to me, US-centric grounds.

You are saying, in fact, no more than Gringo, and you are persisting in misunderstanding what I say. So:

  1. Both you and Gringo reserve the use of -- and indeed stress -- the word "illegal" with ref to immigrants attempting to enter the US. I am saying that the insistence on "illegal immigration", "illegal aliens", "illegals" in official and semi-official communication, abundantly echoed by the media, is both demeaning and demonising towards people who are simply desperate and trying to (they hope) find a better life.

  2. Neither you nor Gringo seem to understand that it was just as (if not more so) contrary to the law for E. Germans to cross into West Germany, as for Latin Americans to cross into the US. Both of you, at least, use "illegal" only for migrants into the US. This seems to me revelatory of a certain blind spot.

  3. I concluded by pointing out a "basic similarity" between the two cases. It did not include (please read) shooting on sight.

Lastly, your dog is not a human being. If I were a Mexican or an East German, I might feel insulted by your analogy.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 10:00:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I hear what you say afew. I am fully aware of the contradictions in terms and circumstances, but would challenge you to arrive at better ones. The issue of illegal immigration is a very divisive one for both Americans and Latins. First of all "illegal", while accurate, is perhaps harsh. Most migrant advocacy groups that favor an open border policy prefer to ignore the  issues of law altogether.  The spin is reversed and the term of choice is "undocumented workers" or even better just "immigrants", where those who have documents and waited years in a queue are lumped together with those who, it is assumed, must be truly more desperate because they jumped the queue and came without permission.  

I say that mostly as a way to clarify the use of terms, but must also state that I am truely pulled in many directions over the issue of Latin American "undocumented" workers.  The fact that I have had a familial association with the Mexican people for most of my life and live part time in both the US and Mexico, sometimes causes me more internal conflict over the issues than it does enlightenment. Believe me, it's not always one way or the other.

The issues are very complex because they involve matters of policy and decisions by governments (all governments, not just the US), socio-economic conditions (again in all countries), perceptions and expectations (the gamut), prejudice, discrimination, , you name it.  I mention this not as an excuse for not supporting an open border policy, but as a way of saying the solution to the problems of Latin America's poor is not as simple as opening the US's borders.  Before one is tempted to endorse a particular policy he/she should really study the issues carefully.  Clearly we have a problem but the best solution is not obvious.

Perhaps, I should try writing a diary on America's immigration problems and we, as a group, could discuss the issues and propose solutions, a la the energy diaries.  I would much prefer doing that, as a much more productive activity, than bantering back and forth and accusing each other various things.  I would only hope that participants keep an open mind and offer solutions that might actually work, as in things we believe should be reasonable acceptable or at least that could be sold, over time, to the majority of those most affected. To be honest, I am not willing to waste time endorsing pie in the sky solutions that have no chance of being adopted. Whatever, reasonable solution we arrive at should be vetted as much as possible and offered to select American congressmen.  Any takers?

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 01:39:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you articulated this very well. We as a country were asleep at the switch and for too long did not enforce existing laws, because we wanted these illegals. We literally opened to door to let them in. I would agree that we can't simply round them up and deport them. They have been generally very productive and hard working people. They have established roots here and families - and the children that they gave birth to here are U.S. citizens.

I would agree that there needs to be greater enforcement - mostly to keep out criminal elements such as drug smugglers. But we also need to have a path for citizenship for those who are her illegally. The only humane solution to stemming the tide of illegals coming here is to do a better job of economic development in their home countries so that they do not have to leave.

by BJ Lange (langebj@gmail.com) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 09:27:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US has, in proportion, roughly the same size immigrant population as Ireland, to pick a random example. It's not unique.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 06:06:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, Ireland may have more percentage wise - 14.1 vs. 12.9 for the US as of 2005.  It's the issues, circumstances and perceptions of problems that need to be discussed really.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 06:42:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"The Berlin Wall was built to keep EG citizens in"

afew commented on this already, but I wanted to point it out as well. the "Anti-Faschistische-Schutzmauer" as it was also called in the soviet propaganda, which you seem to be hooked on, was indeed only penetrable in one direction. West to East. (and you had to pay 24DM per person and day for the "privilege" to visit. The direction the guards were looking was entirely inwards - to the East.

Afterall it was possible for us after weeks of applying for a visa and hours of waiting on the boarder to cross the wall - in silence, because they were listening into the conversations you had in your car - the most favourite part of a GDR boardercontrol guard, w

My aunt meanwhile did not know on the morning of the funeral of her father in 1983 if the permission to join us in the west would be granted. (It was her first visit she wasn;t allowed to come at her Mothers funeral 10 years earlier)
They made it so, that she missed the funeral and was only able to join us after the ceremony. (She had  decided to live in the GDR on her own free will and valition in the early 60ies, before the wall was built - never considering wanting to leave her chosen place or residence and husband behind.)

Wall's are terrible things, and should all be torn down. They split families and friends, neigbours and history, cause grief and only provide a false sense of security. Their harm on the community is greater than the benefits they might provide.

by PeWi on Wed Aug 15th, 2007 at 06:55:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is about the legality (or not) of orders given to underlings. That comparison might become acutely important in the future.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Aug 17th, 2007 at 06:38:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
America's Berlin Wall.
And yes this site has recently changed in light of grassroots proliferation over the net.  


Consistently and repeatedly the US enforcement of immigration laws has purposely been reduced to zero up until public backlash has promoted immigration "raids", operations in which publicity is at a maximum and deportations are nil.  This promotes our "left" to ramp up their "Oh, these poor immigrants" program to promote further non-enforcement.

The corridor, being an electronically controlled access road will be a de-facto Berlin Wall.  Our wall will not be at the southern border it will extend straight through it.

by Lasthorseman on Tue Aug 14th, 2007 at 06:10:41 PM EST

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