Press and Sun-Bulletin from Binghamton, New York on May 5, 1991 · 63
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Press and Sun-Bulletin from Binghamton, New York · 63

Binghamton, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 5, 1991
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Section F Somalia's struggle2F 1 I Press & Sun-Bulletin Sunday, May 5, 1991 s to mesrt featGi EDITOR'S NOTE - Before the Berlin Wall came down, at least 197 people were killed trying to escape from East Germany into West Germany. No longer fearing communist reprisals, many of the survivors of failed escape attempts are coming forward with disturbing stories of the killings. HOHEGEISS, Germany (AP) A soft silence fills the piney air of Germany's Harz Mountains, sweetened by a sparrow's cheery chirrups. ( But to Marlit Schubert, this bucolic setting is a place of eternal sorrow. Her first I'fini II husband, Hel-WU11HJ mutKleinert, " : : was killed here by communist border guards nearly 28 years ago, hunted down like a terrified hare as he and Marlit tried to flee from East Germany into Hoheg-eiss, West Germany., Marlit was just 22 years old at the time, and three months pregnant. She and Helmut wanted to be free. "Why did he have to give up his life? We weren't criminals," says 50-year-old Marlit, who was captured during the 1963 escape attempt. "It's something I can't understand to this day." At least 197 people died on the now-vanished frontier or at the Berlin Wall some mutilated by East German land mines, some mowed down by sinister trip-wire weapons, most shot by communist border, guards. To the outside world, the killings became an outrageous symbol of East Germany and its totalitarian regime. East Germany exists no more. But for survivors of the border killings and relatives of those who died, the suffering has never ceased. Life, and a vow of silence No longer fearing communist reprisals, many of those survivors have been coming forward with disturbing testaments which they hope will help ensure justice is finally served. Eberhardt Krause buries his face in the palms of his leathery hands, sobbing as he retells his own tragic story. A little man with a craggy face, Krause just barely survived an escape attempt in which a drinking -.. buddy, Walter Kittel, was killed. ' " The predawn shooting occurred on Oct. 18, 1965 at border fortifications separating East Germany from West Berlin. The two men decided in a bar they'd had enough of their repressive homeland. ' Krause wipes his reddened eyes with the back of a hand as he recounts the incident: - "We were only about three meters (yards) from the fence, and then were spotted by the troops," says the gravel-voiced Krause, sitting in a shabby chair in his humble flat in Gueter-felde, an East German village just south of Berlin.; " "Flares went up. Somebody shouted 'hands up!' Bullets flew at us from everywhere," hitting Krause in the stomach and in the foot. More shots were fired, hitting Kit-: tel. "Walter Kittel fell against me. Blood came from his nose and from his mouth, and then I blacked out," r 3 i -j- "'! l. . ' ? . .. ' 1 - FILE PHOTO East German border guards carry away the body of Peter Fechter after he was shot down during an Aug. 17, 1962, escape attempt at the Berlin Wall. Krause recalls. "I was revived in somebody's garden. He lay next to me, and a border guard said, 'He's dead.'" , Kittel's body was quickly cremated, Krause says, and his parents were given the ashes and a death certificate saying he had died of heart failure. Krause spent 1 1 months in a prison hospital and then another 19 months in jail. Communist officials made him sign a paper vowing he would never talk about the border shooting, threatening him with a stiffer prison sentence. , "1 kept silent," says the 46-year-old Krause, who finally went public with his story less than a year ago. He currently works at a home for the elderly, shoveling coal into the institution's furnace. Husband dies in hail of lead Marlit Schubert is also haunted by the past, and the nightmarish summer day her first husband was killed. On Aug. 1, 1963, Helmut and Marlit Kleinert rode a motorbike from Quedlinburg, East Germany, to the border, leaving their 2-year-old daughter, Antje, with Helmut's parents. Reaching their destination, a spot across from Hohegeiss, a quaint mountain resort, the Kleinerts set out on foot across the deadly no man's land that once existed along the frontier. A border guard ordered "Halt!" and the Kleinerts threw themselves to the ground. Helmut sprang up again. But Marlit couldn't move; an East German soldier was clutching her by the foot. One of the guards fired as Helmut fled, wounding him in the thigh. He crawled into some brush to shield himself. But the border guards had no mercy. One of them sprayed the brush with machine-gun fire. "They could have easily just pulled him" out of the bushes instead of shooting him, Marlit said at her current home near Hanover. Swedish tourists looked on helplessly from a scenic overlook on the western side of the border. Marlit never saw Helmut alive again. Their unborn child, Olaf, now a grown man, never saw his father at all. Marlit received a relatively light sentence for the escape attempt: 10 months' probation. Marlit remarried six years later. She says her second husband deserves a lot of credit for helping her deal with the psychological fallout of that horrible August day, rearing Olaf and Antje like they were his own. Five months after the historic opening of the border, Marlit and her second husband moved last April to Springe, a Hanover suburb, in former West Germany. Olaf works at a Hanover brewery. Antje, who lives next door to her mother and stepfather, is a 29-year-old kindergarten teacher. World watches as man dies East Germany's relatively short history was littered with border tragedies. Chris Gueffroy, age 20, was the last victim of the infamous "shoot-to-kin" orders issued to East German guards. He was gunned down at the Berlin Wall on Feb. 5, 1989, a scant nine months before the Wall fell. Peter Fechter, 18, suffered the same fate during an escape attempt at the Berlin Wall on Aug. 17, 1962. A number of people were killed by self-firing SM-70 weapons that spewed a flurry of murderous steel projectiles at anyone who set off the tripwire. , , Other victims were killed by border land mines, or while trying to swim or row to freedom in Berlin, across the Elbe River and even over the North Sea. More deaths could be uncovered in years to come. - In November 1986, 25-year-old Michael Bittner disappeared from his East Berlin home. Not until after East Germany was dissolved did his mother Irmgard karn he had been killed in an escape attempt and his body secretly cremated. For five ,; years she had futiley tried to locate ,; her son. Hans-Juergen Grasemann, assistant head of the Salzgitter Central Registration Office, says the agency recently uncovered a 1979 border, death that had also been hushed up. The 15-year-old youth was killed in the Harz Mountains, Grasemann says. ' , The Salzgitter office was created by the West German government in 1961, after the Berlin Wall went up,' to gather information about the border killings. East German guards were sometimes brazenly open about the killings, other times more covert. Fechter's agonizing death was watched by throngs of horrified people, including his mother who had heard the shots from her nearby East Berlin home. Communist guards refused to help Fechter after they shot him, or to let Margarethe Fechter go to her dying son. "I ran to the Berlin Wall and heard a faint voice saying: 'Why isn't anyone helping me?'. The border police were smirking. They just let him die," Mrs. Fechter tearfully recalled in an interview last year. Fechter lay in the wall's death strip for 55 minutes, his pleas growing ever weaker, and finally died from a loss of blood. East German border troops carried his body away. Preliminary investigations have already begun in many of the deaths, but prospects for criminal trials could become snarled in a web of legal complexities. Who holds responsibility? The biggest question to be answered is: Who was legally responsible? Border guards who did the .shooting will have to be tracked down. And like Nazi war criminals after World War 11, they would undoubtedly argue they were merely following orders. In interviews with officials from the Salzgitter agency, a number of former East German guards who had not been involved in border shootings said there was fear among their ranks about severe prison sentences if they refused to shoot at fugitives. Some border guards also said that even though they didn't like the idea of shooting would-be fugitives, that was part of their duty if nothing else worked. Other former communist border soldiers have said they viewed fugitives as enemies of the state. Top former East German officials might be deemed ultimately responsible, since they issued shoot-to-kill orders to border troops. An arrest warrant has already been issued for 78-year-old Erich Honeck-er, East Germany's former leader, accusing him of manslaughter because of the border deaths. But Honecker is far out of the reach of German justice officials. On March 13, Soviet authorities spirited him away to Moscow from a Soviet army hospital near Berlin where he : had found shelter. Moscow maintained Honecker was in declining health and indicated he would never be landed over for trial. ; The time for seeing justice served is quickly expiring for some victims' relatives. Peter Fechter's mother died in February, at age 77. During the nearly three decades after his death, Margarethe Fechter is said to have spent virtually every free moment at her son's grave. , 3 "Mother was never able to cope with Peter's murder," says Gisela Geue, Fechter's sister. Margarethe Fechter was laid to rest in a grave next to her son's. Gisela Geue said of her long-suffering mother: "We pray that now after 29 years, she has finally found peace." SB8K1 ds of j CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh (AP) I Dreams of owning a patch of land and the hope of eating at least one meal a day drive ; thousands of impoverished people to lead pre-i carious lives on the vulnerable islands of Ban-i gladesh. Most of the silt islands off the east coast are ! just a few feet above sea level and become ; submerged in a normal monsoon tide in the ; Bay of Bengal. Every few years, a huge cyclone ; or tropical storm kills thousands of people. ; "To a foreigner, it almost looks like a death ;wish," said Mohammad Akram Bhuiyan, a . government official in the port city of Chitta-; gong. "You need to live in Bangladesh to feel ; how difficult it is for the poor to survive, even ; in best of times." - ; Tuesday's devastating cyclone claimed at least 125,000 lives, by official count. More than 635,000 people have died in storms in the last 21 years alone. The pressure on land is enormous in Bangladesh, a nation of 110 million people the size of Wisconsin. An average of about 2,000 people pack each square mile, the third-highest density in the world after Hong Kong and Singapore. Sixty percent of the people are landless, hungry for even a tiny patch of territory. Reliable estimates say four of every five Bangladeshis live below the poverty line, meaning they cannot afford two meals a day of rice with some vegetables or a piece of fish. The per capita income is just $ 1 70 a year. The islands, which are less crowded, seem an attractive alternative. . Rich landlords in Chittagong organize and encourage new settlers on remote islands. In Banol adesh offer hope at risk of deat i. ..... ,. . ., I I 110 - Cyclones worst storms of century The Associated Press Here is a list of some of the deadliest storms of the 20th century. The powerful storms called hurricanes in the Western Hemisphere are known as typhoons in the western Pacific and cyclones in the Indian Ocean. Nov. 13, 1970 - Bangladesh, 500,000 dead. Oct. 15-16, 1942 - Bengal, India, 40,000. June 1-2, 1965 - Bangladesh, 30,000. May 28-29, 1963 - Bangladesh, 22,000. May 11-12, 1965 - Bangladesh, 17.000. May 25, 1985 - Bangladesh, 11,000. Sept. 18, 1906 - Hong Kong, 10,000. Dec. 15, 1965 - Bangladesh, 10,000. Aug.-Sept. 1900 - Galveston, Texas, 6,000. Oct. 4-6, 1963 - Caribbean, 6,000. Source: World Almanac and Book of Facts, and Associated Press reports. AP PHOTO Bangladeshis on cyclone-damaged rooftops signal to a helicopter Friday from Sand-wip Island in southern Bangladesh. ' return, the settlers are bound to give them a percentage from the fish catch. . . Often the settlers turn into virtual slaves, through a bonded labor system where the debt to the landlord goes on increasing and becomes unpayable. "So you see it is not just nature that plays with the lives of these poor people, but their fellow man also is cruel to them," said a government relief official in Chittagong. The islands' romantic names belie the hardship and death many settlers find there. Nij- humdeep means Island of Silence, Sonadeep is Island of Gold, and Sonaimuri, Gold Cove. . The government estimates that 200,000 poor people are displaced by floods in the Meghna, Yamuna and Padma rivers every year. Some come to cities and live in slums, but most go to the islands in search of new homes. Especially attractive to settlers are smaller islands newly created by the silt from the three mighty Himalayan rivers that empty into the bay. Settlers make huts from palm leaves, stitch together a fishing net and ferry fresh water from other islands. "Many of them know the danger, but still they migrate in thousands" in search of land, said Karim Dad, one of the directors of the government's Relief Ministry. "Some die hor rible deaths, as they did this week." "Before we came here life was very very difficult," said Mohammad Kabir," a 30-year-old settler on Sonadeep, one of the worst affected islands along the 250-mile-long coastal belt that was hit by the storm. "Since we came here three years ago we often had fish and we had rice." But his family paid a terrible price. Kabir, who had come to the island from Dhaka, lost his two daughters in the catastrophe. The storms are not the only peril in the islands. In 1980, relations between India and Bangladesh were strained when they both claimed a newly emerged island. New islands often witness bloody clashes when rival groups fight for possession. ' "Here we live with death," sighed a resident of Kutubdia island. "There is no escape." l.f.j ,4.,1 j,Ai..i-l.i..i.(.(L... i. ti. v. i..'.. J.i , i.i. n. iit.ii tn-.ilr, c. r. f. ii. u-i t: tn. m.i.ii t m

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