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Peter Fechter

Peter Fechter

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Peter Fechter was a German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 bricklayer from Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 in what became East Germany in 1945. He was aged just 18, one of the first victims of the Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic starting on 13 August 1961, that completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin...

's border guards
Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic
The Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic, in German Grenztruppen der DDR, were a military force of the GDR and the primary force guarding the Berlin Wall and the border between East and West Germany. The Border Troops numbered at their peak approximately 47,000 troops...

 while trying to cross over to what was then West Berlin
West Berlin
West Berlin was a political exclave that existed between 1949 and 1990. It comprised the western regions of Berlin, which were bordered by East Berlin and parts of East Germany. West Berlin consisted of the American, British, and French occupation sectors, which had been established in 1945...

.

Background




After World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 was governed jointly by an Allied Control Council
Allied Control Council
The Allied Control Council or Allied Control Authority, known in the German language as the Alliierter Kontrollrat and also referred to as the Four Powers , was a military occupation governing body of the Allied Occupation Zones in Germany after the end of World War II in Europe...

 consisting of the victorious Allied
Allies
In everyday English usage, allies are people, groups, or nations that have joined together in an association for mutual benefit or to achieve some common purpose, whether or not explicit agreement has been worked out between them...

 nations — The United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, the Soviet Union and France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. Governmental decisions had to be unanimously approved by all four Allies. Germany was divided into Allied Occupation Zones
Allied Occupation Zones in Germany
The Allied powers who defeated Nazi Germany in World War II divided the country west of the Oder-Neisse line into four occupation zones for administrative purposes during 1945–49. In the closing weeks of fighting in Europe, US forces had pushed beyond the previously agreed boundaries for the...

 to be administered directly by the military of each Allied state. The German capital, Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

, was itself specially divided into four zones, one for each Ally, due to its importance.

As the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 escalated, the Potsdam Agreement
Potsdam Agreement
The Potsdam Agreement was the Allied plan of tripartite military occupation and reconstruction of Germany—referring to the German Reich with its pre-war 1937 borders including the former eastern territories—and the entire European Theatre of War territory...

 on managing Germany disintegrated, and the Allied Control Council became ineffective. The country was de facto divided into West Germany
West Germany
West Germany is the common English, but not official, name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation in May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990....

 and East Germany, corresponding to the areas occupied by the western Allies and the Soviet Union, respectively. Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

, which lay entirely within the territory of the new East, was divided into West Berlin
West Berlin
West Berlin was a political exclave that existed between 1949 and 1990. It comprised the western regions of Berlin, which were bordered by East Berlin and parts of East Germany. West Berlin consisted of the American, British, and French occupation sectors, which had been established in 1945...

 and East Berlin
East Berlin
East Berlin was the name given to the eastern part of Berlin between 1949 and 1990. It consisted of the Soviet sector of Berlin that was established in 1945. The American, British and French sectors became West Berlin, a part strongly associated with West Germany but a free city...

. From 1945, East Germany's civilian local governments were dominated by social democrats, but in 1949, the Soviets formed a government under the Socialist Unity Party of Germany
Socialist Unity Party of Germany
The Socialist Unity Party of Germany was the governing party of the German Democratic Republic from its formation on 7 October 1949 until the elections of March 1990. The SED was a communist political party with a Marxist-Leninist ideology...

 (SED) led by Walter Ulbricht
Walter Ulbricht
Walter Ulbricht was a German communist politician. As First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party from 1950 to 1971 , he played a leading role in the creation of the Weimar-era Communist Party of Germany and later in the early development and...

. Despite tensions, open borders were more or less maintained within Berlin itself for some time. But the increasing flight of many refugees from East Berlin to the West prompted the Communist government to build the Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic starting on 13 August 1961, that completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin...

, beginning in 1961. Though officially billed by the government as an "Anti-Fascist Protection Wall," ostensibly to keep lingering elements of the former Nazi regime harbored by the West out of East Berlin, the wall, in contrast to usual border fortifications, was primarily designed to prevent East German citizens from escaping into West Berlin and seeking political asylum.

Death



About one year after the construction of the wall, Fechter attempted to flee from the GDR (German Democratic Republic
German Democratic Republic
The German Democratic Republic , informally called East Germany by West Germany and other countries, was a socialist state established in 1949 in the Soviet zone of occupied Germany, including East Berlin of the Allied-occupied capital city...

) together with his friend Helmut Kulbeik. The plan was to hide in a carpenter's workshop near the wall in Zimmerstrasse and, after observing the border guards from there, to jump out of a window into the so-called death-strip (a strip running between the main wall and a parallel fence which they had recently started to construct), run across it, and climb over the two metre (6.5 ft) wall topped with barbed wire
Barbed wire
Barbed wire, also known as barb wire , is a type of fencing wire constructed with sharp edges or points arranged at intervals along the strand. It is used to construct inexpensive fences and is used atop walls surrounding secured property...

 into the Kreuzberg district of West Berlin near Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War....

.

When both reached the wall, guards fired at them. Although Kulbeik succeeded in crossing the wall, Fechter, still on the wall, was shot in the pelvis in plain view of hundreds of witnesses. He fell back into the death-strip on the Eastern side, where he remained in view of Western onlookers, including journalists. Despite his screams, he received no medical assistance either from the East or the West side. He bled to death after approximately one hour. As a result of his death, hundreds in West Berlin formed a spontaneous demonstration, shouting "Murderers!" at the border guards.

The lack of medical assistance for Peter Fechter was attributed to mutual fear: western bystanders were apparently prevented at gunpoint from assisting him, although according to a report in TIME
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

magazine, a U.S. second-lieutenant on the scene received specific orders from the US Commandant in West Berlin to stand firm and do nothing. It also emerged during the trial that any aid attempt from the West had indeed been made impossible, but according to a report from forensic pathologist Otto Prokop, "Fechter had no chance of survival. The shot in the right hip had caused severe internal injuries." Likewise the head of the GDR border platoon stated that he was afraid to intervene, because of an incident just three days earlier when a GDR soldier Rudi Arnstadt
Rudi Arnstadt
Rudi Arnstadt was an East German border guard who was shot and killed while serving as a captain of the border troops of the former East Germany. He was shot by Hans Plüschke, a 23-year-old West German border guard. According to West German officials, Plüschke was returning fire after his patrol...

 had probably been shot by a Western federal policeman. Nonetheless, the GDR border soldiers did retrieve Peter Fechter's dead body an hour after he had fallen.

Commemoration



A cross was placed on the western side near the spot where Fechter was shot and bled to death. At the invitation of Willy Brandt
Willy Brandt
Willy Brandt, born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm , was a German politician, Mayor of West Berlin 1957–1966, Chancellor of West Germany 1969–1974, and leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany 1964–1987....

, the then mayor of West Berlin, the Yale Russian Chorus
Yale Russian Chorus
The Yale Russian Chorus is a tenor-bass choral ensemble at Yale University, established in 1953 by Denis Mickiewicz, a student at the Yale Music School, and George Litton, president of the Yale Russian Club. The group sings a variety of secular and sacred Slavic choral pieces, from the 12th century...

 sang a German translation of Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus
Ave verum corpus (Mozart)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Ave verum corpus in D major was written for Anton Stoll who was musical co-ordinator in the parish of Baden bei Wien, near Vienna. This setting of the Ave verum corpus text was composed to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi and the autograph is dated 17 June 1791...

 near the site in the week following the shooting. On the first anniversary, a wreath was placed there by Willy Brandt
Willy Brandt
Willy Brandt, born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm , was a German politician, Mayor of West Berlin 1957–1966, Chancellor of West Germany 1969–1974, and leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany 1964–1987....

 and US Commander Polk.

After German reunification in 1990, the Peter-Fechter-Stelle memorial
Memorial
A memorial is an object which serves as a focus for memory of something, usually a person or an event. Popular forms of memorials include landmark objects or art objects such as sculptures, statues or fountains, and even entire parks....

 was constructed on Zimmerstrasse, at the actual spot where he had died on the Eastern side, and this has been a focal point for some of the commemorations regarding the wall.

The shooting has also been the subject of documentaries on German television. Cornelius Ryan
Cornelius Ryan
Cornelius Ryan, was an Irish journalist and author mainly known for his writings on popular military history, especially his World War II books: The Longest Day: June 6, 1944 D-Day , The Last Battle , and A Bridge Too Far .-Early life:Ryan was born in Dublin and educated at Synge Street CBS,...

 dedicated his book The Last Battle to the memory of Fechter. Composer Aulis Sallinen
Aulis Sallinen
Aulis Sallinen is a Finnish contemporary classical music composer. He writes in a modern, though tonal and not experimental music style. He studied at the Sibelius Academy, where his teachers included Joonas Kokkonen...

 wrote an orchestral work Mauermusik to commemorate Fechter. In 2007, artist Mark Gubb was commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Arts
Institute of Contemporary Arts
The Institute of Contemporary Arts is an artistic and cultural centre on The Mall in London, just off Trafalgar Square. It is located within Nash House, part of Carlton House Terrace, near the Duke of York Steps and Admiralty Arch...

to create a performance based on the death of Peter Fechter. The performance was a one hour live piece that was later recorded and screened at the ICA with a discussion panel at the end consisting of the artist, and actor Dominik Danielewicz who played the part of Peter Fechter.

Trial


In March 1997 two former East German guards, Rolf Friedrich and Erich Schreiber, faced manslaughter charges for Fechter's death, and admitted to his shooting. They were both convicted, and sentenced to 20 and 21 months' imprisonment on probation. Due to a lack of conclusive evidence, the court was unable to determine which of three gunmen (one of whom had already died) had fired the fatal bullet.

External links