August 14, 2007

A Reminder Of Inhumanity

Yesterday had a special and chilling significance for the people of Berlin. Forty-six years ago, the East German government started construction on the barrier that would become the Berlin Wall, a structure that stood for decades to keep communism's victims inside the Soviet-sponsored prison that was East Berlin. That characterization appears especially apt with the discovery yesterday of a seven page order that shows for the first time that the regime gave explicit shoot-to-kill orders to its guards -- and included women and children in the directive:

Now, coinciding with the 46th anniversary of the start of construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, a seven-page document has surfaced in an archive of Stasi files that contains an explicit firing order. It was issued to a special team of Stasi agents tasked with infiltrating regular units of border guards to prevent their colleagues from defecting.

"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," says the order dated October 1, 1973. "Don't hesitate to use your weapon even when border breaches happen with women and children, which traitors have often exploited in the past."

As Der Spiegel notes, the order had been discovered before, and even published on one occasion in 1997. It escaped general notice, however, and former leaders of the defunct regime insisted that no such order ever existed. Its rediscovery has generated calls for new trials for the old Communists who maintained and obeyed those orders. Other directives called for warning shots or shouted calls to stop, but this order doesn't mention any other procedure except to kill people whose only crime was to try to leave the prison the Communists made for Germans in East Berlin.

Ironically, the rediscovery may have come at just the right time. A wave of entertainment has hit Germany that paints the regime in a rosy light. The Left Party, which descends from the Communists who ruled East Germany, have been delighted to see films like Goodby Lenin! (see update) arrive on the scene, as they weave nostalgia for the old days around failing memories of the brutality of the actual nature of their rule.

The note clears away the fog that the Left Party and clueless artistes have created in Germany. Nothing shows the nature of oppressive communism than an order to shoot women and children who rejected it.

UPDATE: The reference to Goodbye Lenin as a nostalgia trip for communism came from the Der Spiegel article. CQ commenters say that's a micharacterization and that the film does not paint East Germany in a good light, and that it's rather good.


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Comments (13)

Posted by stackja1945 [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 14, 2007 7:12 AM

"The note clears away the fog that the Left Party and clueless artistes have created in Germany. "

Meanwhile in NYC and Hollywood, Dems and actors still live in a fog created by the New Deal and perpetuated since by movies and TV of the evil GOP.

Posted by Tom Shipley | August 14, 2007 7:16 AM


My only comment here is that I think you take an unfair swipe at Good Bye Lenin and artistes.

In full disclosure, I have not seen the film. But my understanding of it is a kid is arrested for protesting the East German government. He's released when the government falls to find his mother in a coma. When she awakens, he tries to keep her under the impression that her beloved East German government is still in power.

I don't think this film is excusing what the East Germans did... in fact, the protagonist is against that regime and is shown being arrested for merely protesting it. It doesn't seem to gloss over the harsh nature of the regime. It's telling a story about a son trying to protect his mother from the changing world around them.

Does every film about East Germany have to be a somber telling of how brutal the regime was?

The film is actually suppose to be quite good, so I'm going to make a point of watching it. Then I'll be able to really comment on it. But my intuition tells me you're over-reacting to it.

Posted by jerry | August 14, 2007 7:30 AM

Captain Ed:

During the Second World War Hitler issued an order that all survivors of U-Boat attacks be murdered at sea, an act which goes against the grain of any sailor. Very few U-Boat Commanders obeyed that order and those who did were generally looked down upon by the fellow submariners. What does it say about the nature of Communist East Germany that border guards carried out the shoot to kill order without hesitation?

Tom Shipley: Yes, the Communists in East Germany must have done some good like provide free healthcare to the citizens that it didn't imprison.

Posted by brooklyn | August 14, 2007 7:48 AM

In relation, the dementia regarding our own border in the South continues to be deeply concerning...

This is the expression of a commenter from the Hewitt site:
""We need a WALL! Cattle are not invading our country. Humans are!.....If we only had the courage of the EAST GERMANS! Now, that was a border barrier!"" - roho writes: Tuesday, August, 14, 2007 8:28 AM

He could be kidding of course, but I encounter so many who seem so jaded on the border issue.

Some see this as their only issue, almost as if they are eager to empower Hillary to the Presidency out of bitter anger for the GOP, (who will serve their interest far better then the Democrat alternative).

Even as we see endless examples of improvements:

"Flow Of Illegal Immigrants To U.S. Starts To Slow:
Mexico border fence and Guardsmen complicate crossings"

Posted by docjim505 | August 14, 2007 7:49 AM

RE: Nostalgia for the good ol' days of communism

In grad school, one of the books we had to read for Modern European History was "The Black Book of Communism". I recall one passage (in the forward, if I'm not mistaken) that cited a Western reporter's comments when the Soviet Union collapsed:

"Thanks for trying."

This sums up the attitude of many Western intelligentsia toward that odious regime and Soviet-style communism in general. It wasn't so bad, really; can't make an omelette without breaking eggs; yes, it had some flaws, but the basic principle was sound; the little problems it had were mostly the work of Stalin, who was a monster but in no way characteristic of the system; yadda-yadda-yadda. Our professor put the question to the class point-blank: who was worse, Hitler or Stalin. Everybody reflexively answered, "Hitler"... then pondered the fact that Stalin murdered FAR more people than Hitler ever did (not to excuse Shickelgruber, of course). As I've written here before, many of my fellow students in Latin American history (almost all of whom were too young to really remember the USSR and the Cold War) did their term papers on how wonderful Nicaragua was under Ortega and the Sandinistas, or how great the Cuban social system is, or how nasty the US embargo of Cuba is.

The commies just had better PR, I suppose.

Posted by BillBC | August 14, 2007 9:43 AM

I've seen Goodbye Lenin. It's a fine film. It doesn't evoke nostalgia for Communism, but shows instead that when the East German Communists lost control, the people immediately embraced the values of the West. It makes Communism look old, wornout, stupid, and unpopular, except in the mind of one woman, who is a figure of fun.

Posted by rbj | August 14, 2007 9:46 AM

Then there's the headline in the NY Times when Gorby officially declared the USSR dead:
"The Soviet Union, Born of a Dream, Dies"

More like a nightmare than a dream -- and not the pleasant Tim Burton "A Nightmare Before Christmas" type nightmare either.

Posted by Papabear | August 14, 2007 9:52 AM

Look for a resurgence of this in Europe as the Middle class increasingly attempts to flee collapsing welfare states

Posted by Monique | August 14, 2007 9:55 AM

To Tom: Do see it. I have and it is great. I was going to do into some extra detail about it except you said you were going to see it so I didn't want to ruin it for you. Definitely not a movie extolling the virtues of East Germany.

Posted by Rob | August 14, 2007 11:02 AM

Goodbye Lenin is a good and quirky movie I encourage everyone to see. I really liked it. It clearly portrays the deliniation between pre and post East Germany and it's well done and funny.

Posted by Monique | August 14, 2007 1:01 PM

To Tom: Do see it. I have and it is great. I was going to go into some extra detail about it except you said you were going to see it so I didn't want to ruin it for you. Definitely not a movie extolling the virtues of East Germany. For a really great movie about the building of the Berlin Wall, you should see Der Tunnel. It is based an a true story of courage and desperation. A must-see.

Posted by Mike Richelieu | August 14, 2007 1:48 PM

Hey Captain,

Your narrative "the Berlin Wall, a structure that stood for decades to keep communism's victims inside the Soviet-sponsored prison that was East Berlin" would lead one to believe that the wall encircled East Berlin.

In this day and age, when so many don't know actual history from anecdotes, perhaps it would help to clarify that the wall completely encircled West Berlin, which at the time was well within the borders of East Germany. The result was not really that people tried to break out of the Berlin Wall, it is that they had to break into it in order to have a chance at freedom.

Posted by Alifa | August 15, 2007 1:13 AM

On the subject of films --- don't miss The Lives of Others, whose lead actor was himself under Stasi surveillance. A film worth seeing more than once. The story also reminds us that human decency can come at an awful price.

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