Berlin-Hohenschönhausen MemorialThe East German secret police, the Stasi, often subjected inmates to physical and psychological torture to extract information. Arno Drefke was one of them. More than 28 years after the fall of the wall, stories are still emerging about East Berliners' attempts to flee across the border — with help from their western neighbors. Rachel Stewart reports east german prison Berlin. Germans who lived in the GDR have been able to view the files kept on east german prison by East Germany's notorious Stasi secret police.
Suffering in the East German Stasi prison | All media content | DW |
This year, I will mark the anniversary. Usually, I forget about it, or just do it briefly inside my head. Indeed, it is all so long ago.
The German Democratic Republic no longer exists. And we, the generation growing up in that era — behind that Iron Curtain — are history now.
Our children do not want to listen to stories irrelevant to their lives. I think I am going to put on the shirt I bought the day I was released and invite a few friends over for a celebratory drink. The sunlight, the blue sky: Just half an hour before buying the shirt, the last barrier between inside and out had been unlocked and I had stepped from the dim light of the prison into the glare of a hot July day, free to go wherever I wanted.
Within the borders of the German Democratic Republic, that is. Grave of Hitler's 'assassin' found. Competition launched to design national memorial for the Spitfire. It was the end of my encounter with the East German prison system, begun with my arrest nearly two years earlier, in August , on the platform of an East Berlin underground station.
As we travelled back through the town of Teplice, Czech students had handed us a batch of hastily printed leaflets, urging us to tell people back in the GDR the truth of what was happening: We promised to do so, hiding the leaflets in the car before crossing the border back into East Germany. Unlike the day of my release, every second of my arrest and the first night of interrogations are clear in my memory. Men in civilian clothes came towards us slowly, four or five of them fanned out across the platform.
Flight in the other direction impossible. There was no second exit. The train that we thought would take us away from the scene had been stopped, passengers staring at us as we were picked out. I still wonder if we should have tried to make a dash for it breaking through the lines. One of the women among the station staff was whispering, encouraging us to run. To this day, I wish I knew who she was, taking our side. Instead we hesitated, paralysed, like rabbits caught in the headlights; and then it was too late.
Perhaps we were lucky: Most of my sentence was spent in Brandenburg Prison, to the west of Berlin. Somehow I survived Brandenburg Prison and the factories we were forced to work in relatively unscathed: However, a higher authority overruled Ackermann some 22 months into my sentence, when one day I was crammed into one of several tiny cells in an unmarked white van and taken to an unknown destination, which turned out to be the Stasi prison in Karl-Marx-Stadt now Chemnitz again. My Stasi file later revealed that it was the all-powerful Mielke in person, chief of the Stasi, who had ordered my release.
Should I be grateful to the man? Later, after the GDR was dismantled, Mielke was found guilty of the murder of two policemen in This Stasi Prison obviously was no ordinary prison. There was better food here and better treatment altogether than elsewhere: The Stasi was expensive to run; selling prisoners must have helped and there was no shortage of supplies. You had to be lucky, though, to be one of these prisoners: Not long after my arrival, I was summoned to a meeting with a high ranking Stasi officer with that characteristic cold Stasi stare — they must have been specially trained in it , and told I would be released soon but into East, not West Germany.
My release was conditional of course and no reasons were given. Maybe some money had changed hands between East and West and my name found its way onto the right list; perhaps it was because Amnesty was on my case. So it was that on the morning of July 23, , I was handed back the personal belongings on me at the time of my arrest: I, in turn, had handed back my prison garb: There was a moment of anxiety as the guard searched the few personal items I had brought from my cell, his practiced fingers sliding over the seams of my wash bag.
It was the only personal record I had of my time in prison. Had the drawings been found they would have been taken, as had all my other efforts to record my time in prison. And — you never knew with these guys — perhaps they would have kept me in longer.
Was there a handshake as in American movies? Outside, the air was fresh and the sunlight bright as only a released prisoner can see it. I felt elated, euphoric, my heart racing. Life felt more claustrophobic than ever. I was to remain in the GDR another five years. It took some time to work up enough courage, not to escape — but to apply for permission to leave.
This was not risk-free either, but the risk turned out to be worth it: I was 21 when I went to prison for handing out one leaflet. I was there for less than two years; I know that what I went through was nothing compared to millions of others in prisons worldwide. Even in Brandenburg, I was fortunate: But my life had been thrown off track. It has taken years to recover at every level — professionally, personally, emotionally. Nevertheless I am glad I was among those who took a stand, however futile.
It took quite some time to finally decide to move to London in Here I met my partner, started a family and attempted to lead a normal life. We brought up two lovely sons and we have a great, crumbling London house and overgrown garden.
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