Archive for the ‘Tête-à-Tête’ Category

Kindertransport Memorial in Berlin

Monday, June 19th, 2017

 

Kindertransport (children’s transport) is the German name for a rescue mission that began nine months prior to the outbreak of World War II. Through this effort about 10,000 mainly Jewish children were able to escape from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Danzig and the Polish city of Zvaszyn. Many of the children were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust.

Kindertransport Rescue Mission efforts

After the terrible events of Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938, the British Parliament granted permission for Kindertransports to enter England. The first transports of 196 children left from the Friedrichstrasse rail station. Over the next ten months, ten thousand children travelled in this way through various railway stations in Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Leipzig, Hamburg, Danzig, Koenigsberg, Vienna and Prague, leaving their families behind.

The first Kindertransport train to England left Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station on 30 November 1938. Most of the children on the train were from a Berlin Jewish orphanage that had been burned by the Nazis during Kristallnacht. Others were from Hamburg. The children arrived in Harwich two days later. They were allowed to take only one small suitcase, no valuables, and no more than ten marks in cash. Some children travelled with nothing more than a numbered tag on the front of their clothing and a tag with their name on the back.

 

The children arriving in England in a photo on an info board at Friedrichstrasse rail station. J. Elke Ertle, 2017, www.walled-in-berlin.com

The children arriving in England in a photo on an info board at Friedrichstrasse rail station. J. Elke Ertle, 2017, www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Kindertransports were organized by Jewish communities, Quakers and non-Jewish groups. The Gestapo supervised the children up to the Dutch-German border. Then Dutch volunteers helped them board ferries from Hoek van Holland, Rotterdam, to the British port of Harwich. Once in England, the children were housed in summer camps or taken in by foster families. The Committee for Refugees coordinated the arrangements. Private donations paid for them. The integration of the children into British society was a mixed success. Some children were successfully integrated. Others were exploited as servants or neglected.

While most of the Kindertransports headed to Great Britain, some went to France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The transports continued until Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 and World War II broke out.

Selection of children for the Kindertransport

Many individuals and organizations in Great Britain and the Netherlands were involved in the Kindertransport rescue mission. In Germany, a network of coordinators worked around the clock to prioritize children at risk. These included children with a parent in a concentration camp, teens threatened with deportation, children in Jewish orphanages and children whose parents were no longer able to sustain them.

Trains to Life – Trains to Death Memorial

Commemorating the Kindertransport, a close to life-size bronze sculpture Trains to Life – Trains to Death is located directly adjacent to Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse station. It depicts four boys and three girls. Five of the children look in one direction, two in the opposite way, reflecting the contrasting fates of the children. While many were deported to concentration camps, some were saved by the Kindertransport.

 

"Trains to Life - Trains to Death" Memorial by Frank Meisler at Berlin's Friedrichstrasse railway station. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

“Trains to Life – Trains to Death” Memorial by Frank Meisler at Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Israeli Architect and sculptor Frank Meisler created the “Trains to Life – Trains to Death” sculpture in 2008 and donated it to the city of Berlin. He himself had travelled with a 1939 children’s transport from Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse to England. He created three other sculptures along the children’s route to safety: The “Kindertransport – the departure” memorial in Danzig, Poland, the “Kindertransport – the arrival” sculpture at Liverpool Street Station in London and the “Channel of Life” memorial at Hoek van Holland, Rotterdam. http://www.frank-meisler.com/kindertransport/

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

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Schwerbelastungskoerper for Germania

Monday, June 12th, 2017

 

The Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin (heavy load-bearing body) is a colossal concrete cylinder from the Nazi era. It is the only remaining tangible relic of Adolf Hitler’s vision of transforming Berlin into Germania, the capital of the world. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/germania-hitlers-utopian-quest/ Since 2002, Berlin’s borough of Tempelhof owns this one-of-a-kind concrete tube. Open to the public, the Schwerbelastungskoerper is located on General-Pape-Strasse, not far from Tempelhof airport.

Two enormous structures to anchor Hitler’s Germania

In the summer of 1936, Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, handed Albert Speer, his chief architect, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/albert-speer-designed-for-ruin-value/ two postcard-sized sketches that were about 10 years old. The rough drafts outlined two monumental buildings that were to define Germania: the Great Arch and the Great Hall. The triumphal Great Arch was to honor the soldiers killed in World War I and to be three times as large as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The Great Hall, a gigantic domed assembly hall, was to be Berlin’s most impressive building. It was to be so large that it would eclipse every structure in Berlin.

Why the Schwerbelastungskoeper was built

In March 1928, Albert Speer created Project no. 15: Soils tests to determine whether Berlin’s sandy and swampy soil could support such large monuments. A test cube with 33-foot sides was to be constructed. In the end, it turned out to be a cylinder, close to 100 feet high with a 33-foot diameter underground and a 69-foot diameter above the surface. Between April and November 1941, almost 14,000 U.S. tons of concrete were poured at a cost of 400,000 Reichsmark.

 

Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin-Tempelhof, relic of the Nazi era. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin-Tempelhof, relic of the Nazi era. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

But because of the start of World War II, the Schwerbelastungskoerper remained unfinished. When the heavy load bearing capacity of the soil underneath was finally measured in 1948, the colossus had sunk 19.4 cm (7 inches) in a period of two and a half years. The maximum acceptable settling without additional stabilization of the ground prior to construction was 2 cm. In other words, without additional work, the Great Arch and the Great Hall could not have been built.

The Schwerbelastungskoerper below ground. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Schwerbelastungskoerper below ground. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Fate of the Schwerbelastungskoerper

After the Second World War, plans to blow up the Schwerbelastungskoerper were discarded because of the dangers explosives might have presented to nearby train tracks and apartment buildings. For a while, the German Society for Soil Mechanics used the cylinder to perform various tests on site. But after 1983 the structure was no longer needed and the Schwerbelastungskoerper was abandoned. For a number of years, the cylinder was neglected, and the area around it became overgrown. Now it is open to visitors. From an adjacent observation platform, the visitor can even overlook the area that Hitler once envisioned as the heart of Germania.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

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Germania – Hitler’s Utopian Quest

Monday, June 5th, 2017

 

In 1937, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler assigned his chief architect, Albert Speer, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/albert-speer-designed-for-ruin-value/ the task of developing a plan for transforming Berlin into the “capital of the world.” Hitler envisioned a metropolis with monumental architecture that would rival those ancient Egypt, Babylon, Rome and Athens. He named this utopian dream Germania. The plan was so impressive that even the New York Times described the project as “perhaps the most ambitious planning scheme of the modern era.” https://www.historytoday.com/roger-moorhouse/germania-hitlers-dream-capital

Speer’s model of the proposed Germania

Speer went to work and within a year presented Hitler with a model of his grand design. At the core of the model were two broad boulevards, which would run through the heart of Berlin: a north-south axis and an east-west axis. He called the three-mile long north-south boulevard Prachtstrasse (Street of Magnificence). In the north, the Prachtstrasse terminated in a Volkshalle (People’s Hall); its southern end terminated in a triumphal arch. In Speer’s design, the Volkshalle rose to a height in excess of 700 feet. Its dome was to be sixteen times larger than that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Hall would accommodate 180,000 people.

 

Model of Hitler's proposed Germania. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Model of Hitler’s proposed Germania. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Speer’s triumphal arch was close to 400 feet high so that Paris’ Arc de Triomphe would easily fit inside its opening. Oodles of proposed new civic and commercial buildings along the north/south axis would link these two massive monuments. Roads, would to be realigned, Berlin’s parks would be revamped and two new rail stations would replace three existing timeworn termini. Speer proposed that entire suburbs would to be constructed to provide modern housing so that over 200,000 Berliners could move out of the slums and into the heart of the city. Furthermore, a plethora of new administrative buildings and commercial developments would be constructed. To see a model of Hitler’s utopian metropolis visit Mythos Germany in the Gesundbrunnen subway station. For hours and fees contact www.berliner-unterwelten.de.

Did Germania come to pass?

Albert Speer designed many grand structures in and outside of Berlin. In Berlin, he completed the Olympic Stadium in 1936, Hermann Goering’s Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium) in 1936 – the largest office building in the world at the time with over 4 miles of corridors – and Hitler’s new Reich Chancellery in 1938. But only a tiny fraction of Hitler’s grandiose plans for Germania ever came to pass before the project came to a halt on account of World War II. Today, only Speer’s almost 14,000 U.S. ton Schwerbelastungskoerper (heavy load bearing body) near the Airport Tempelhof still stands. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/schwerbelastungskoerper-for-germania/ It was built to determine whether Berlin’s sandy and swampy soil could support Germania’s large monuments.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

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Albert Speer Designed for Ruin Value

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Albert Speer (1905-1981) was Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. Speer’s career skyrocketed after joining the Nazi Party in 1931. Blessed with strong architectural and organizational skills, he became a powerful man during the Nazi era, both in government and in politics. As part of Hitler’s inner circle, Albert Speer designed many well-known projects. Always on a grand scale, his projects included the Zeppelinfeld Stadium in Nuernberg, the Reich Chancellery and above all, Germania, Hitler’s utopian notion of transforming Berlin into the capital of the world.

Albert Speer (1905-1981) Adolf Hitler's chief architect. Photo courtesy of Spartacus Educational. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Albert Speer (1905-1981) Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. Photo courtesy of Spartacus Educational. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Speer designed for “ruin value.” That meant that buildings had to be constructed in such a way that they would make aesthetically pleasing ruins. It would guarantee, his thinking was, that Nazi Germany ruins would remain symbols of greatness throughout history, akin to ancient Greek and Roman ruins.

Albert Speer’s Rise to Power

Albert Speer was a third generation architect from an upper-middle-class family. He met Hitler for the first time when the organizers of the 1933 Nuernberg Rally asked him to submit designs for the rally. Speer quickly became close to Hitler, which guaranteed him a steady stream of government commissions. Before long, he was the Party’s chief architect.

When Hitler asked Speer to build him a new Reich Chancellery in 1938, Speer’s design included a 480-foot Marble Gallery, almost twice as long as the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles. Damaged in the Battle of Berlin in 1945, the Reich Chancellery was eventually dismantled by the Soviets. They used the stone to build the Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park. As Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer applied his organizational skills toward the end of the war to overcome serious war production losses due to Allied bombings. Under his direction, German war production continued to increase despite the bombings.

Albert Speer during the Nuernberg Trials

Following World War II, Albert Speer was tried at Nuernberg and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his war crimes and crimes against humanity. He served the full sentence, most of it in the Spandau Prison in former West Berlin. He was released in 1966. During his testimony, Speer accepted responsibility for the Nazi regime’s actions. However, he claimed to have been unaware of Nazi extermination activities. That assertion was proven to be false. He did, however, deliberately disobey Hitler’s orders when the dictator issued the Nero Decree in March of 1945. The Nero Decree demanded the destruction of infrastructure within Germany and all occupied territories to prevent their use by Allied forces.

What remained of Albert Speer’s “grand” designs

Little remains of Albert Speer’s designs, short of plans and photographs. In Berlin, only the Schwerbelastungskoerper (heavy load bearing body), not far from Tempelhof airport, still stands and is open to the public. The concrete cylinder was built in 1941/1942 to determine the feasibility of constructing giant buildings on Berlin’s sandy soil – envisioned for Germania – without additional stabilization. In Nuernberg, the partially demolished tribune of the Zeppelinfeld Stadium survived.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

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Siegessaeule – Berlin’s heftiest Lady

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

 

The Siegessaeule (victory column) is a prominent monument in Berlin, Germany. Including the sculpture on top, it measures 220 feet. A 285-step spiral staircase inside the column takes visitors to a viewing platform with spectacular views of the Reichstag http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-reichstag-prominent-berlin-landmark/, the Brandenburg Gate http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlins-brandenburg-gate/, the Berlin Television Tower http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-television-tower/ and the Soviet War Memorial. In 2008, then US presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke in front of the monument. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/president-barack-obama-to-visit-berlin/

History of the Siegessaeule

The Siegessaeule was designed by Johann Heinrich Strack and constructed to commemorate the Prussian victory over the Danes. But by the time the column was inaugurated in 1873, Prussia had also won the so-called liberation wars with Austria and France. Therefore, the original plans for the column were revised, and the monument was elongated and crowned with a 25-foot statue of Victoria, the Goddess of Victory.

The Siegessaeule sits on a four-sided base of polished red granite, which is decorated with glass mosaics and large bronze panels depicting the Prussian victories over Denmark, Austria and France of the late 1900s. In 1945, the French removed those reliefs and took them to Paris in an effort to erase those memories. But in 1987, on the occasion of Berlin’s 750th anniversary, France returned the panels to be reinstalled. A circular portico tops the base of the monument and supports four (originally three) fluted columns.

 

Berlin's Siegessaeule, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Berlin’s Siegessaeule, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Siegessaeule once stood in the Koenigsplatz (now Platz der Republik) in front of the Reichstag. In 1939, the Nazi government removed the monument to its current location in the Tiergarten, a large public park. Since each of the three columns already represented previous victories, Hitler had a fourth column added, anticipating his own impending victory. The relocation was part of a plan by Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, to transform Berlin into Germania, Hitler’s vision of a Berlin that is the capital of the world. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/germania-hitlers-utopian-quest/ Speer’s plan was never realized, of course, but because of its relocation the Siegessaeule survived World War II with very little damage. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/albert-speer-designed-for-ruin-value/

The statue of Victoria at the top of the monument was designed by Friedrich Drake and weighs 38 tons. Berliners affectionately call her Goldelse (Golden Lizzy) or the “heftiest lady in Berlin.” Five major roads cut through the Tiergarten and intersect at an immense roundabout that is known as Grosser Stern (Great Star). The Siegessaeule stands in the middle of this roundabout and is accessible to pedestrians through four tunnels.

The "Goldelse" on top of the Siegessaeule. Photo © J. Elke Ertle. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The “Goldelse” on top of the Siegessaeule. Photo © J. Elke Ertle. www.walled-in-berlin.com

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

 

 

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Paternity for Euro Sign Disputed

Monday, May 15th, 2017

 

The euro sign is “€.” Since 12 December 1996, this symbol is the currency sign used for the euro, the official currency of the Eurozone in the European Union. But who created that symbol? Following the European Commission’s announcement that the “€” was the winner in a currency sign design contest, a controversy arose. Two different camps claim paternity for the euro sign: An unnamed team of four experts and the graphic designer, Arthur Eisenmenger, former chief designer of the European Economic Commission.

The euro sign denoting the official currency of the Eurozone in the European Union. Photo courtesy of wikipedia. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The euro sign denoting the official currency of the Eurozone in the European Union. Photo courtesy of wikipedia. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Potential Father of the Euro Sign # 1

According to the European Commission, thirty-two proposals for the euro sign were submitted as part of a design competition. Ten of the submittals were selected and presented to the public by way of a survey. Jacque Santer, then president of the European Commission, and Yves Thibault de Silguy, commissioner in charge of the euro, picked the winning design from the public’s top two favorites during an internal meeting. The € was the winner, a design supposedly created by a team of four experts whose identities have never been revealed.

When the adopted euro sign was presented to the public, Jacques Santer explained that the inspiration for the € symbol came from the Greek letter epsilon, alluding to the cradle of European civilization. What’s more, the Greek letter epsilon looks very similar to the letter “E” in English, and the letter “E” happens to be the first letter of the word “Europe.” Therefore, the euro sign symbolizes both the cradle of European civilization and Europe itself. http://www.eurosymbol.eu/history Santer further explained that the parallel lines crossing the euro sign stand for stability of the euro.

Potential Father of the Euro Sign # 2

“Rubbish,” said Arthur Eisenmenger to Jacques Santer’s assertion. Eisenmenger, who supervised the development of the European Union flag and the “CE” symbol for European consumer goods quality control, claims that it was he who designed the euro sign. He said he came up with the idea just before he retired in 1974, long before the European Commission created a design contest. At the time he created the design, he was thinking of a generic logo for Europe, not a sign that stood for currency, Eisenmenger said. After all, he came up with the design twenty-two years before the euro became the currency of the Eurozone.

Following creation of the symbol, Eisenmenger said he sent his design to the European Commission in Brussels, but never heard back. The years passed. Then, in 1997, Eisenmenger turned on his television and, to his surprise, saw Jacque Santer present the world with the “new” euro sign. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/dec/23/euro.eu1 Santer explained in the broadcast that the sign fulfilled the competition criteria of creating a symbol of Europe, which was easy to write and recognize and was aesthetically pleasing. There was no mention of Eisenmenger as the creator of the euro sign.

Julien Bozzola, a French illustrator, who worked with Eisenmenger for thirteen years until the mid-70s, is also convinced that the euro sign would have been the creation of his former colleague. According to Bozzola, Eisenmenger was frequently working on various design versions of the letter “E” because his last name began with an E. Arthur Eisenmenger died in 2002 at age 87 without ever having been officially connected with the creation of the euro sign.

How the Euro Sign was chosen

One thing sounds odd in the case. To this day, the European Commission has considered the design process internal and does not disclose the information regarding the designer(s) of the euro sign. Although the names of the designers of the euro banknotes and coins are known, the names of the design contestants for the euro sign are kept secret. Some have conjectured that the Belgian graphic designer, Alain Billiet, might have created the winning design, but the assumption has never been confirmed. Jean-Pierre Malivoir, responsible for promoting the public image of the euro, said that it was impossible to say who designed the euro sign. He claims it was a team of graphic artists.

Will the real father of the Euro sign, the €, please stand up?

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

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Guenter Mittag – East German Economic Tsar

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Guenter Mittag was the third most powerful man in the former East Germany, after Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands – SED), http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-honecker-berlin-wall-architect/ and Erich Mielke, Minister of State Security. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/ From 1976 to 1989, Mittag headed the Economic Commission at the Politbuero (Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission – DWK), advocating and implementing the state’s economic policies.

Guenter Mittag who headed the East German Economic Commission at the Politbuero from 1976 to 1989. Photo: Bundesarchivbild

Guenter Mittag who headed the East German Economic Commission at the Politbuero from 1976 to 1989. Photo: Bundesarchivbild

Guenter Mittag’s rise and fall

Born in 1926, Guenter Mittag joined the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD) in 1945. A year later, he became member of the newly created SED). In 1958, Mittag earned a doctorate with his dissertation “Problems of Socialist Development of the Transport System”. At the same time, he became Secretary of the Economic Commission at the Politbuero, the principal policymaking committee of the SED. From 1976 on, he headed the Commission.

Along with Erich Apel, Guenter Mittag designed the New System for Economic Management and Planning (Neues Oekonomisches System). The system was implemented in 1963 and replaced Walter Ulbricht’s http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ Five-Year Plans, which had been launched in 1951. The New System for Economic Management was to streamline and modernize the East German economy by reducing waste of raw materials, increasing mechanization, reducing food shortages and improving product quality. Above all, the new policies were to demonstrate East German competitiveness with the West German economic miracle. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/ludwig-erhard-and-the-economic-miracle/ The new system was also put into place to halt Republikflucht attempts (desertion from the Republic), which had plagued the East German economy prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. But Mittag’s new system did not generate the expected results and was replaced in 1967/1968 by policies, which concentrated on building up East Germany’s high-tech industries.

Guenter Mittag was a central figure in the German planned economy from 1958 to 1989. Although he recognized sooner than his comrades that the centralized and monopolistic economic policies did not produce the desired results, he did not want to admit his plan’s failure and hid the facts by doctoring the balance sheets.  http://www.zeit.de/1994/13/total-gescheitert It was not until mid-1989 that Mittag proposed a radical change of course, but by then it was too late. Following German reunification in 1990. Guenter Mittag was among the first to be relieved of his duties.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

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Erich Mielke – Master of Fear

Monday, May 1st, 2017

 

Erich Mielke headed the feared East German Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatsicherheit – MfS) for over 30 years. The agency became known as the STASI. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-stasi-and-how-it-worked/ From 1957 until shortly before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Stasi was enormously powerful, making Erich Mielke the most influential man in East Germany, right behind Communist Party leader, Erich Honecker. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-honecker-berlin-wall-architect/ One hundred thousand full-time agents and up to two million unofficial “citizen helpers” were under Mielke’s control. His agency stifled opposition by using assassination, kidnapping, execution, denunciation and intimidation to keep the 16.5 million East Germans in fear. In a 1993 interview, Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said that the Stasi was “much, much worse than the Gestapo.”

Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Mielke’s Pre-Stasi Days

Erich Mielke’s parents were founding members of the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD, making Erich a second-generation communist. Born into poverty in 1907 in Berlin, he joined the communist youth movement at age 15 and the KPD at age 20. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the Communist party and the Nazi party were frequently involved in violent armed conflicts, Mielke was member of the communist paramilitary forces.

Together with another member of the paramilitary forces, Erich Mielke shot two Berlin police captains in 1931. Their names were Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck. Mielke escaped prosecution by fleeing to the Soviet Union. He was not tried for the murders until 1993 when incriminating papers were found in his home safe during a search. While in exile in the Soviet Union, Erich Mielke attended the Communist International’s Military-Political School and the Lenin School in Moscow.

From 1936 to 1939, Mielke served as an operative in Spain’s political police. Upon the defeat of the Spanish Republic, he fled to France, was imprisoned, but managed to escape to Belgium. His activities during World War II remain largely unknown. In 1945, at he end of the war, a law enforcement agency closely associated with the Soviet Secret Police ordered him to return to Occupied Germany. His assignment was to build up a security force in the Soviet occupation zone, which involved tracking down Nazis, anti-communists and hundreds of members of the Social Democratic Party. The number of arrests exceeded the number of available spaces in existing prisons so that eleven concentration camps were re-opened or newly established.

Erich Mielke’s Stasi Days

With the establishment of the Ministry for State Security in 1950, Mielke was appointed deputy director of the institution. In November 1957, he became the head of State Security. At that time, the Stasi had 14,000 full-time employees. By 1989 that number had increased to near 100,000. Along the way, Mielke helped Erich Honecker to topple Walter Ulbricht http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ as the party leader.

Erich Mielke’s Final Stasi Days

On 8 October 1989, Erich Mielke and Erich Honecker ordered the Stasi to implement “Plan X,” a plan to arrest and indefinitely detain 85,939 East Germans during a state of emergency. On 13 November 1989, a few days after the opening of the wall, Erich Mielke gave a speech at the Palace of the Republic (Palast der Republik) http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-palast-der-republik-lives-on/ and in which he said, “I love all – all people.” On 3 December 1989, Erich Mielke was expelled from the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitsparty Deutschlands – SED). Four days later he was arrested and imprisoned on remand in Hohenschoenhausen. http://www.walled-in-berlin/j-elke-ertle/berlin/hohenschoenhausen-prison-part1/ Soon thereafter he was released due to medical reason and arrested again three months later for “crimes against humanity” and “perversion of justice.” He was moved to several prisons in succession. In 1993, the by then 85-year-old Erich Mielke was sentenced to six years in prison for the murders of Captains Anlauf and Lenck in 1931. At the end of 1995, Mielke was released due to ill health. He died at the age of 93.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

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Erich Honecker – Berlin Wall Architect

Monday, April 24th, 2017

 

Erich Honecker was an uncompromising East German politician who rose to the top leadership post in East Germany. After holding several lesser positions, he was elected First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands – SED) in 1971, a post which later morphed into General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party. Erich Honecker held that position until just before the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989. It was during his leadership that the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. He is said to have been its prime architect and a proponent of the order “to fire” on border crossers. More than 1,100 border crossers died trying to escape the former East Germany during his years in office. http://www.dw.com/en/more-than-1100-berlin-wall-victims/a-1673538

Erich Honecker, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party 1971-1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Honecker, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party 1971-1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Honecker – Communist to the core

Born in 1912, Erich Honecker was the fourth of six children in the family. By the time he was ten years old, he had already joined the children’s division of a Marxist youth organization. Two years later, Honecker entered the Young Communist League of Germany (Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands – KJVD). Following high school he worked for a farmer in Pomerania for a stint. Then he returned to his hometown to enter an apprenticeship as a roofer. He never completed that apprenticeship but entered the International Lenin School in Moscow instead.

At that point Honecker’s political career began in earnest. He entered the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD), but during the Nazi years, Communist activities became illegal. Honecker was imprisoned. Following his release in 1946, he helped form the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend) and quickly became a leading member in the party’s Central Committee. As Party Security Secretary, he was the prime planner of the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Erich Honecker – Rise to the Top

In 1971, Erich Honecker initiated a political power struggle that ended with him replacing Walter Ulbricht http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ as the First Secretary of the Central Committee and as chairman of the state’s National Defense Council. Under Honecker’s command, East Germany began to normalize  relations with West Germany and became a full member of the United Nations. The latter was one of his greatest political successes.

Erich Honecker – Fall to the bottom

In the late 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/mikhail-gorbachev/ introduced several reforms to liberalize communism. Honecker refused to implement similar reforms in East Germany. Friction grew between the two men. At the national celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the East German state in October 1989, which were attended by Gorbachev, several hundred members of the Free German Youth suddenly chanted, Gorby, help us! Gorby, save us! The peaceful revolution had begun. Honecker’s leadership came to an end. He was forced to resign in October 1989.

Erich Honecker’s Final days

Following German reunification in 1990, Erich Honecker escaped to the Chilean embassy in Moscow. He was handed over to Germany a year later to stand trial for his role in the human rights abuses committed by the East German regime. Due to his illness proceedings were abandoned, and he was allowed to join his wife in Chile. In 1994, Erich Honecker died in Chile from liver cancer.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

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Human Trafficking Called Haeftlingsfreikauf

Monday, April 17th, 2017

 

Haeftlingsfreikauf is the German word for ransom money once paid by West Germany to East Germany for the release of East German political prisoners. West Germany also paid ransom moneys for East German citizens who had applied for exit visas but were denied exit by East German authorities. Such human trafficking was unofficially practiced between 1962 and 1990 and sanctioned by both governments.

According to Andreas Apelt, author and historian, 33,755 political prisoners (which included people who had attempted to cross the east/west border illegally) and 250,000 of their relatives were sold to West Germany between 1964 and 1989. The Haeftlingsfreikauf cost West Germany a total of 3.5 billion West Marks. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29889706 Some of these political prisoners were well-known agents; others were nameless. The prisoners were given the option of being released into the East or into the West. Most of them chose the West. At times, the ransom consisted of western currency. Other times, “buying free” involved “merchandise” for merchandise, such as cadmium, copper, crude oil, rubber, equipment, cooking oil, coffee, tropical fruit. Human trafficking infused the East German economy with much needed cash and merchandise. West Germany assisted for humanitarian reasons.

Haeftlingsfreikauf = ransom moneys paid by West Germany to East Germany of the release of its political prisoners between 1962 and 1990. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Haeftlingsfreikauf = ransom moneys paid by West Germany to East Germany of the release of its political prisoners between 1962 and 1990. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Start of the Haeftlingsfreikauf practice

The first East German political prisoners were bought free during the Christmas season of 1962. At that time, ransom moneys were paid for 20 prisoners and a number of children. They were released to the west in return for three truckloads of fertilizer. During those initial exchanges, the price per prisoner was about 40,000 West Marks. By 1989 that amount had risen to over 95,000 West Marks. Supposedly, the price was based on the “damage” the prisoner had caused to the regime plus the educational investment the East German state had made in the prisoner. For the last Haeftlingsfreikauf in January 1990 West Germany paid with copper, crude oil and light trucks amounting to 65 million West Mark. The funds were deposited in special accounts held by Stasi chief Erich Mielke http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/ and by General Secretary Erich Honecker http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-honecker-berlin-wall-architect/.

How the Haeftlingsfreikauf practice worked

Neither side wanted the public to find out about the Haeftlingsfreikauf practice. East Germany did not want to appear weak, and West Germany did not want to be seen as supporting a communist regime. Therefore, the operation remained clandestine. Government representatives unofficially handled the arrangements. Representatives of the Protestant and Catholic Church acted as intermediaries. Attorneys from both sides facilitated the operation. Wolfgang Vogel http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/wolfgang-vogel-east-german-profiteer/ represented the East German side; Juergen Stange acted on behalf of the West German side. Some prisoner releases took place in the underground railway. In other cases, prisoners were driven across the border in buses with revolving license plates.

How the Prisoners were actually exchanged

Exchanges were handled with utmost discretion. If the exchange involved busses, the prisoners were usually transported to the Kassberg prison in Chemnitz and then driven to the Herleshausen/Wartha border where they were expelled to West Germany. While still in East Germany, the bus displayed East German license plates. At the border crossing, the driver pushed a button on the dashboard, and the license plate pivoted to display a West German license. https://www.bundesregierung.de/Content/DE/Artikel/2014_Deutsche_Einheit/1990-01-23-haeftlingsfreikauf-letztes-kapitel.html

I have a friend who was one of the 33,755 political prisoners bought free by West Germany. His story is hair-raising. When he was a high school student still living in East Germany with his family, he and a group of boys in his class decided to defect. It was more of a boys’ prank than a serious desire to leave East Germany. Nonetheless, the boys planned their get-away. But someone denounced them to the authorities. All of the boys were immediately taken into custody, separated and sent to prison. My friend found himself in solitary confinement for the better of six months. One night, he and a number of prison inmates of all ages and both sexes were told to get on a bus in a hurry. The bus was standing ready. They were not allowed to take anything. My friend did not know anyone on the bus.

It was completely dark inside the bus. All the prisoners could see was that they were being driven into the woods. There was dead silence in the bus. The prisoners feared for their lives. Finally, headlights became visible in the distance. Moments later, the headlights went off. The bus continued in the direction of the headlights now gone dark and then came to a stop. The driver turned off the engine. The prisoners were told to quickly get off. Once outside and still in complete darkness, they were barely able to make out the outline of another bus parked directly next to theirs. At gunpoint, they were told to get on the second bus as quickly as possible. Once everyone had boarded, the doors closed, the engine started, and the bus took off. It was still completely dark inside the bus. No one spoke.

A few minutes later, the lights came on inside the bus, music blared from the radio and the driver said, “Welcome everybody. In a few minutes you will be in the West. You are free.”

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

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