The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Some details on the Stasi’s shoot to kill order

Posted by rantingkraut on August 13, 2007

A newly discovered ‘shoot to kill’ order for members of East Germany’s secret service has received some international attention and caused some debate in Germany itself. The extent of the attention this discovery receives is a bit odd though, since the basic fact of an order to shoot would-be refugees at the Berlin Wall is nothing new. Der Spiegel supplied the following details [1]:

The order to shoot people trying to escape over the Wall has existed as long as the so-called anti-fascist bulwark [2]. ‘The orders in this respect were consistent’, wrote Manfred Kittlaus, Head of the Central Office for Government and Unification Crime [3] back in 1996. On the 6 October 1961, the GDR’s [4] ministry of defence ordered border guards to use their guns “to arrest, detain or destroy armed individuals who (…) attempt to break through the border towards the west. “ This order has regularly been renewed. Eich Honecker declared in October 1969, at a time when he was still secretary of the national defence council: “It has to be our aim to prevent all attempts to break through the border; (…) there has to be a clear field for shooting in all places; (…) we still have to use guns without reservations and those comrades who have used their guns successfully deserve our praise.”

That these brutal instructions also were followed in practice can be seen in a case from the year 1984. Back then, two border guards shot a fleeing 20 year old who attempted to scale the wall with a ladder. They hit him in the back and he received no medical aid. The police only transferred the injured man to a hospital at a quarter past five in the morning, two hours after he had been shot. By then, he had bled to death. Those who shot him still received praise, but were reprimanded for the extensive use of ammunition.


It is true though that children had always been explicitly exempt from the order to shoot – and in this the instruction, which is now being so intensely discussed, differs. Adolescents and women too should be spared “as far as possible” according to a law from 1968. The order which has recently been brought to public attention, on the other hand, was specifically aimed at member of the GDR’s secret service who were deployed among the border guards under the guise of ordinary soldiers and had the task to track down comrades who were intending to flee. As cruel as this order may be, it does not translate into a general order to shoot children trying to flee over the wall.“ (source)

What has been most noted is obviously the added brutality of an order explicitly endorsing the murder of children. Less noted, but politically revealing, is how this order shows up the extensive system of oppression needed to keep even the border guards from leaving.

[1] This is another of my impromptu translations, since none seems to be available in their English language edition. All explanatory footnotes were added by me.

[2] This is how the Berlin Wall was referred to in communist Eastern Germany.

[3] My translation, the original German title of this institution is “Zentrale Ermittlungsstelle Regierungs- und Vereinigungskriminalität” –which sounds odd in German too. This entity was part of the Berlin police, and was dedicated to solving crimes committed in the GDR. It was apparently disbanded in 2000.

[4] For the depressingly large number of people too young to remember… GDR refers to German Democratic Republic –i.e. communist East Germany. Western Germany was known then as now as FRG –Federal Republic of Germany.

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