East of the Fence
It was cold out today and the kids were hovered as close to their small fire as they could possibly get. The idea was broached about the stupidity of staying in a small patch of trees when they had warm beds at home.
It was Oskar who put voice to the complaint but it was Dirk who countered with, “Home? Yes, that would be great, shall we go to Timm’s house and we can all listen to the Party’s voice today! Oskar, my friend, we have no homes that we can trust, that’s why we are here in these woods trying to figure a way out of this Hell hole!
As usual, Timm was sitting in the background listening to the conversation as this group of rebellious teens plotted a would-be escape from the tyranny that was The German Democratic Republic on this winter day in1982. He never offered an opinion unless asked directly yet his ideas were those that generally worked best… and drew the least fire from the feared and hated Stassi… the enforcement arm of the violent German Communist Party. This by no means was meant to imply that his ideas were without retribution or violence of their own, but normally, it was more and more difficult for the government forces to apprehend a culprit or even identify a suspect following one of this group’s escapades.
The fall of 1981 had been a brutal time in that area of East Germany that fell in upper Mecklenburg Province. The Stasi, the GDR enforcement arm, trained and equipped by the Soviet KGB had been moving from village to village terrorizing the youth of the province. Already there had been a half-dozen young people known to this small group in around the village of Wendisch Rambeau who had simply disappeared from the scene. The trouble here was there were an inordinately high number of children of the proper age for rebellion to be felt in their bosoms and the government was inept at dealing with such. Although this generation and their father’s generation had grown up under the spectre of Communism in the cold war that had existed with the west since the end of the Second World War, this generation was feeling the pull of it in spite of their having been exposed to some of the wonders of the west. Through clandestine broadcasts not available generally, views and glimpses into the life and culture of the west were being seem more and more prevalently. That American President Nixon was obviously lying like his predecessor when he talked of the excesses of the west. A generation after the end of the Great Patriotic War, in the words of their Russian allies, found an unstably high number of these
Off to one side of the tiny fire, Andreas and Michael were wondering about the latest they’d seen the American broadcast of Radio Free Europe that had shown the large crowds inside something they had called a department store on the day after the American holiday of Thanksgiving. “I swear to you, Michael, there were two hundred people in that place and they were picking over and through just tons and tons of merchandise!”
“That cannot be true, Andreas,” countered a skeptical young Michael. “I simply cannot believe that possible. Where would so much stuff… so many things come from?”
“I swear it’s true,” a frustrated Michael retorted, “With mein own eyes I saw this thing of their show. Why would they lie about women buying things?” Then, turning to the quiet Timm, he continued, “Timm, what do you say? Is this true or are they lying to us too?”
In the time it took to count from eine to zehn, one to ten, Timm said nothing… he merely looked at the pair then he spoke so quietly, “No, my dear Andreas, it is true. I did not see this film that our Michael speaks of, but I have been there. When I was swimming and we were in Italy for a meet, I disobeyed the coaches and sneaked out of our hotel one night to just walk down the street and look at things. Of course, they had warned us to never do this as there were gangs of vicious Italians roaming those streets waiting to attack and rob travelers. Since I didn’t have anything to steal, I didn’t think that would be a problem, so I did it!”
The attention of the entire group was held securely as he spoke. Mareike, his latest girlfriend, moved closer to him and watched him attentively. “What did you see?” She asked quietly. “What happened? Where you caught and beaten by those gangs?”
With a sort of humorous snort, he responded, “Aye, I was caught and beaten, but it wasn’t by any roving gang of Italian thugs, it was by our own coaches!”
“Yes,” he continued, “it is as they say. In the west, the stores are full of things to buy. I am told by the coaches that this is all a lie, that they only can do this in certain spots right around where they house us, but in the rest of the area the stores are like ours are and people have to spend all day in line to by a loaf of bread, providing the day’s bake didn’t burn or the bakers get drunk and ruin it… They said this, but I do not believe it. I do not believe those people in those stores were doing any different than they do any day they choose. There was no panic nor was there any fighting over things. They examined what they saw and they chose what they wanted, they paid for it and went along their way.”
Michael stated, “Perhaps they were just the rich people who had enough money to buy these things and the others were poor like we are told.”
“I suppose that is possible,” Timm continued, “but I walked for some blocks before they caught me and there were many stores selling many things. There was backerei with all kinds of breads and sweet pastries and many people came and went. There were no long lines and it cost but a few marks… I am not rich, but I bought a bag of gummy bears and ate them as I walked along and the people I met were not gangs, they were polite people just doing what needed to be done. No,” he concluded, “I don’t think it was a lie, I think our government is the lie.”
A hush fell over the small group to be broken at last when a burning piece of wood feel through that holding it and sent a shower of sparks skyward. Rapt eyes watched as the embers floated skyward, each quiet with its own thoughts.
It was Otto Klein who first broached the subject of defecting to the west. Otto was the youngest of this group, but in some ways was far the most adventuresome. He was the son of a minor government official that was almost universally hated in their community and it was his parentage coupled with his need to be accepted that caused his fearless aggression. He had a need to fit in with his peer group and he knew his father was a source of their animosity towards government in general. “Listen,” he began, “we all know there is nothing here for anyone. Timm was the one of us who had a chance to rise above things when he was a great swimmer, but they destroyed him when he was injured. They just fed him tons of drugs until he just didn’t care anymore… So, now they have taught him to weave baskets to make a living. Is there even a living to be made weaving baskets? Here we are in der nacht, sitting around a fire wishing we were anywhere else in the world… so, why don’t we just BE anywhere else in this world?”
Instantly, he had the attention of the group… all except Timm who just lay back, put his arm around Mareike and if not asleep, he at least feigned sleep so as to not seem too interested. With all eyes, save two, locked onto him, Otto continued. “I have a friend, Kurt, who works as a guard at “The Fence”. We talk about it sometimes and I know that there are times when there can be problems with that fence. I have never asked about them, but I can, and we can see what we can do to take advantage.”
Heinrich spoke up then saying, “I cannot go now. My mother is very ill and I could not leave her like that, but I will help where I can, but where and how can we do such a thing? It’s about two and a half hours to Berlin, but there is no way we could all get travel permits to go there, and even if we could, how would we get there? We certainly would not want to trust moving eight people there in Timm’s Trabi… it would take three trips to get there and there is no guarantee we could make one trip without them detaining us. Even if we got to Berlin, we could not hope to breach that wall and there are cemeteries of the people who have tried and failed.”
“There are those here as well,” Michael rejoined. The guards on The Fence shoot very well too.”
“That’s true enough,” Otto continued, “but, it’s only forty kilometers away, not hours of driving we have no way of doing.”
“It may as well be on the dark side of the moon for all the good it does us here,” Andreas stated quieted and a series of head nods seemed to confirm.
It was a sad group who left this little wooded lake in the morning. It seemed so easy to talk about escaping this Hell but so difficult to actually do. There were some who could not understand why these dissidents wanted to flee. After all, what can the West give us we don’t have here? There is work to be had and that gives us food and the State sees we have a house and medicine. How can that be improved on? Is the pursuit of some fripperies worth the risk of one’s life? No, I think not! This is almost Utopia and these children want to leave it… that makes no sense at all.
Timm returned to his father’s home, for that is how he thought of it… it was never his. Since his injury had doomed his swimming career, he had attended his basket weaving school so he could provide needed service to the State in exchange for the necessities of life. His father, the official State Poet for this region provided a roof over his head… that the costs were much higher than most would believe went without saying.
The young man struggled with his life. He went to many of the numerous parties in the area, his ancient and tiny Trabi being the unofficial taxi for the area and most of the attendees. In his perambulations, he happened to meet Matthias Beck and in some queer way, the older man and the youngster connected. For hours and hours the two would talk… mostly of the travails of the young Timm and his struggles trying to live in the shadow of his famous (and government accepted) father. It was a fact that Herr Beck was the Pastor of the Lutheran Church in that area which made the union even more remote for the young agnostic to atheistic man.
Many times young Timm was picked up and “questioned” by the local Stasi element. At the very least it cost him any coins he might have in his pocket for their first act was to rob their detainees under the guise of search and seizure… with a “promise” to return the property at the conclusion of their investigations. This system of detainings began as early as Timm’s fifteenth year, probably as punishment for having been ousted from the sports school for having the temerity to have been injured by the outrageous training regimen to which these candidates were subjected.
With quietude and patience, the Pastor Beck would listen to Timm and his latest foibles and, perhaps, offer him some advice, or maybe say something to clear the way for him to survive another week. In response and out of respect for the help he received, Timm was most grateful to Matthias and would often help him with chores and tasks around his home and church… even to the extent of cutting rushes and reeds so he could re-thatch the minister’s home. As strange as that seems to ears of today, thatched roofs were still very much in vogue in the GDR in the early 1970s.
The break they had all been wishing for came in the spring of 1982 when notice came down that six of the original plotters had been ordered to the great collective farm at Schattin to work in the harvest this year. They were to report there in Juli and expect to remain until Oktober. At last, they had a reason to travel near the border. Finally, as Herr Beck explained to a reluctant Timm, they would be issued travel documents allowing them, even ordering them, to proceed to the giant farm! I was even possible that Timm could apply for and receive a gasoline allotment if he could convince them that he was transporting others as well! Two trips across the twenty miles would put them into a position less than a mile from The Fence and then the Wakenitz Fluss… the river that separates East from West. Once across that river, they would be free. To say the small group was elated would be beyond understanding. Young people do not normally rejoice at the “opportunity” to labor on the Collective… it was not normally a fun outlook… but…
Herr Lindemann was relaxing calmly in his home when he heard the door open and close, footsteps traversing the attic floor and the unmistakable sound of someone making themself comfortable on the sofa there. Is Timm back? He left early this morning so it’s doubtful, but with him, who is to know? Investigation showed a boy, one of those he had here yesterday, lounging on the sofa with his stuffed backpack in the corner. He has nothing to recommend him with his long, greasy and matted hair and filthy clothes… Insolently, he waves a key at me, stately simply that “Timm gave it to me… said I could stay here.”
“You have no home?” I asked calmly, knowing that the riff raff the boy ran with were usually on the down and out and many were fugitives on the run.
“In the process of making himself more comfortable, the scut lit a cigarette and, after pausing for a few moments stated, “No, I moved out.”
As it seemed that naught was to happen here, I retreated back down the stairs and determined to wait for the boy’s return. When Timm arrived home earlier than usual, I confronted him. “You didn’t think to ask me about having a stranger staying here in my home?”
He stopped in his march to the attic steps and snarled at me, “So, now I can’t do what I want in my own room?”
Oh how I hate that damned smug tone! He speaks as if it’s none of my business what a teen aged boy does in his attic room! After all, I never had a room of my own as a boy! We all lived in the kitchen and everyone slept in our one bedroom. It was a rare holiday that we used the good living room. Back then, no one could lay claim to their own room and now this brat dares to tell ME what’s happening in my own house! His mother has obviously made it far too easy on the boy. That will not prevail here in my home. He will live by my rules or not at all! Evidently the discipline of the State’s Boarding School has failed to make much of an impression on him!
“How long is this friend staying here?” I asked
“Only for a few days… He’s going on to Berlin. He is going to paint boards to sell in Alexanderplatz… He’s an artist, you see.
“Danke,” I responded and turned and left him as I knew to do otherwise would be a fight as well.
Before I could get from his view, he stated, “I will be going then as well. I am to report to the Collective to the west at Duvennest… well, it’s actually in Schattin, for the summer harvest. I will be staying there from now until Oktober… I thought you’d like to know.”
At last, I thought to myself, I hope he stays on there and leaves my home to me! I did not say anything at this time, however, merely whispered, “Danke,” and retired to my study. Hearing on my way, “He’s Stefan and he’s a very good artist…”
It was on Sunday, the 4th of July when Timm’s ancient Trabi arrived at the gate leading to the barracks at the Schattin Collective Farm and it was HOT. In the twenty miles from their home to this sign of Communist Plenty… the nearly barren grounds of the great collective farm system, they had been stopped twice for travel papers. The first stop was extensive and the heat inside the tiny car was oppressive and the Stasi guards took their discomfort as a case of nerves of potential rabbits… those who would run from the state, so kept them detained much longer than a normal check should have been. When they were, at last dismissed from the check, nothing at all having been found that was not consistent with the team of six people being conscripted into their service to their country for the duration of this harvest. The inspectors rewarded the travels by calling for another stop further down the road. It was just too suspicious for this group of young men to not be up to something more than what their orders proclaimed. After all, every one of these boys carried names very familiar to this Stasi team.
Summer had been long and not a bit fun in any way. As on all the collectives, the harvest was terrible. No one working there cared a thing for what was happening and while the yield per acre was dismal, the workers attempted to make up for it by spilling loads with a regularity that was amazing. Grains like wheat and oats, bran and barley seemed to be sparsely grown with seedheads on the wheat that were only two inches or so in length. The stands of grain had great holes in them where no grain grew. Maintenance on the equipment was so rare as to be nonexistent and often loaded grain carriers were simply dumped on the ground so the carrier could be repaired enough to get to the garage under its own power.
Compared to similar farms in the West, the Eastern European Collective Farm provided from ten percent to forty percent of the produce of the Western farms. One of the first tenets of communism is that there isn’t a communist nation in existence that can feed itself and these Collectives were prime examples of this tenet. There was no incentive for the worker, so they simply did not work.
These six young people were not exceptional. They simply did what everyone else did on the farm… Nothing much! They played with the machines until they broke and when the supervisors, who really had no incentive either, showed up to try and get some work done, they kids just pointed to the broken machine and said, “we can’t work with machines that are broken, now can we?” When asked how they broke, of course, no one knew. Probably due to some evil gnome coming thru and attacking it…
The last of the harvest was scheduled for the end of the second week in October… around the 15th in 1982 and the fact that no one had heard from Otto’s friend Kurt was disturbing. It seemed that this opportunity was going to be lost. The boys had been close enough to Der Zehn on a couple of occasions… close enough to know that they were not going anywhere near it in daylight. It was a formidable thing. It seemed to arise out of the distant haze and stretch across landscape, broken only by the occasional guard tower replete with machine gun emplacements and terribly powerful search lights. Only a fool would tempt such an arrangement and, while these young men were admittedly rebellious by nature and were certainly non-conformist in nature, none were considered stupid and all had a love for life.
It was on Tuesday, the fifth of October that word came to Otto to meet Kurt in town at the Hof Brau. The boys pooled their few coins to give Otto enough to be able to sit and talk while sipping a beer he could purchase while waiting for his friend, the border guard. He was anxious about this, but excited as well. As tough as it was going to be to wait, they decided that any more than just Otto going to meet Kurt might seem too planned to any who might be watching. Two lads sitting and chatting a bit while sipping a brew might go unnoticed, but a crowd would be sure to draw the notice of unwanted authorities. It was going to be very difficult to wait, but wait they must do. After all, they had been patiently waiting for this opportunity for eighteen months in general and for the past three months on the collective.
Otto had only to wait for a very few minutes when Kurt Holzinger, guard on Der Zehn, the Fence, slipped into the booth with him. They each ordered a stein of a favorite brew and Kurt ordered Otto to be very calm and quiet, speaking only in the most casual of tones. There was an accident on The Fence today. There was maintenance being done just were it emerges from the woods at Kammerburch. The bulldozer caught its ripper in the wire of the fence and as it spun in its turn, it pulled loose many feet of wire.
I’m not supposed to be here. The prevailing wisdom is stating that as long as no one knows of the rip, an extra guard will not have to be posted on it, so all those who know of it are sequestered until it’s fixed. I’m here because no one knows I know it happened. There was a package pick-up here and I was on courier duty, so here I am. I have to call this in so the repair crew can be dispatched tomorrow… actually, we don’t expect to see anyone this week as they just don’t move that fast… but don’t wait long, if you’re going to make a move do it by Thursday at the latest.
I can’t stay, but I’ve drawn you a map of the area. You can get practically to it and still stay on the Collective. I noticed several loads of potato sacks stacked on pallets there… now if an enterprising crew of young men were to come pick those up, they would be within just a few yards of the trees adjacent to that rip… what happens from there is up to you, but if you were there about an hour after dark, say 7:15 pm, I could be very diligently looking south trying to identify the disturbance I noticed there… and conversation stopped there.
Timm, on arrival at the equipment shed the next morning mentioned to the foreman that there were sacked potatoes still waiting at 104 west. “We worked late last night trying to get them in, but there were more than we could handle.”
As he had hoped, they were assigned the task of bringing those vagrant sacks into the main shed. The boys were assigned two flatbed trucks to do the hauling and were told there were lifts there to load the pallets but they should take fuel along since he wasn’t sure what the status of available fuel was there.
On Timm’s return with his second load of low quality potatoes… so low quality that if the bosses saw them, they’d stop the haul and leave them for hog feed… there was a surprise waiting for him. Waiting as he pulled out of the potato shed was Herr Matthias Beck! Timm braked to a stop immediately and jumped out to see what brought this on!
“I have been asked to run the Lutheran Church here this week, so I came down early to spend a couple days checking things out. The Pastor here went into the hospital so we’re scrambling to cover.”
“Timm,” he continued, “I want you to come over to dinner tonight. We have much to catch up on. I’ll pick you up here at 5 pm and we can go to into Schattin to Hof Alte Zeiten for a good dinner.”
Timm didn’t want to admit why he couldn’t attend him on this one night of all nights so he tried to dissemble and offer excuses about it being late in the season and they had work to do to finish out. “After all, we’re almost done, can we do this on Thursday or Friday night?” he asked calmly.
Pastor Beck suspected there was more to this than he was hearing and pressed Timm for more and more information. Timm, for his part was starting to feel the pressure and to end it, he simply said, “Yes, Matthias, I will be right here tomorrow at 6:30 pm and we will go to dinner. That will give me time to finish this clean-up and I can go home this week.”
In essence, he figured that by the time 6:30 pm rolled around, that the pastor would wait another half hour to an hour before becoming concerned… then, the boys would be in woods, waiting for their escape window to open and by the time he gave up and went home, the operation would be complete and they would all be across the river and safe in the West. Once that happened, they could look all they wanted, he wasn’t about to come back!
Matthias Beck took a few moments to watch the boy closely for a few moments before speaking… then he began with a smile. “Sehr gut, my young friend, I can’t wait to spend time with you tonight.” With that he turned and walked away towards the small car that waited there for him. As he reached the car, he turned and said, “6:30 it is and thank you!” He then folded into his small car and left the now shaking Timm to himself.
At 7:05 pm, four young men were laying in a small patch heavy brush agonizing each passing minute when Andreas asked who had the map that showed the route from The Fence to the river and where to cross into the West. A short but quiet discussion revealed the fact that it had been left back at the one remaining truck they had been using to haul the potatoes after the other one was returned to the main yard by Michael and Alex after they had chickened out of this plan. “It will never work,” Michael had whined… “We will all die right here in this field!” With that, he called his part off and said he was driving his truck back alone. Alex told him to hold up and climbed into the passenger’s side to retreat with him.
The remaining four cursed them roundly, but there was nothing they could do about it. It was either dive in by themselves and see it through or call it off… and an opportunity like this might never come around again. As one, they wanted to try. As one they had a chance and they desperately wanted to take it so, as one they pledged themselves to the task at hand.
Timm stated, “I will sneak back to the truck and get that map, although I think I could do this without any map. I think Kurt told Otto well enough to get us through and out of here, but I will do it.” And with that, he retreated on his belly back out of the woods and far enough away so that no one could see him before he rose to his feet and sprinted back to the barn. It was but a moment’s work to find the missing drawing on a piece of paper about the size of a cigarette pack and turned to return to his companions.
It was at this point he heard a vehicle pulling into the dirt road that led to this barn and not liking that, he quickly stuffed the map into his mouth, hoping on hope that his mouth was not too dry to decompose that paper… quickly he chewed on it as he leaned over the fender of the truck and, with the small light from his pocket, began to fiddle with the engine parts like he was trying to get it running… the back-up story they had concocted to cover their late departure from here. The vehicle was loaded with the last of the potatoes so perhaps they could make it stick if it didn’t have to stand up to too much scrutiny.
Suddenly, Timm heard a shout from the area of the river, “Halten” Stop… and the sound of automatic weapons firing into the night. He also heard crashing in the brush that sounded like it was beyond The Fence and then the splashing of water… there was more firing and swearing into the night. Out of the night in front of him, a group of three Stasi materialized as if by magic from their vehicle. Two of the three ran toward The Fence and one stood in front of Timm, his AK-47 pointed directly at his chest. Timm new his chance of escape was gone but wondered what had happened in that brush.
Very shortly, the two Stasi returned dragging a body between them… Timm did not want to see, but knew he had to know so forced himself to look into the dead face of Otto, the son of a government official who had arranged this fiasco. “We got him before he could reach the hole in the fence,” one of the guards stated. He never even got to touch it!”
Turning to Timm, he asked in a tone that brooked no denial… like he knew the answer… “Are you the one acquainted with the Lutheran?”
When Timm merely nodded his head, the officer swung the barrel of his AK against the side of Timm’s head and the world ceased to matter for the young man for now.
What I remember next is cuffs on my wrists, my legs being secured and being half lifted half dragged into the van. From what Ican recall now it appeared to be divided into cells. It was very dark, and very cold. My head hit bars at the back with some violence and I do not know if there were any other prisoners there but if there were I didn’t hear them. I think I was in and out of consciousness. I remember every inch of me hurting and feeling nauseated as the car seemed to go in circles. The journey seemed to take an eternity and I was too dazed for coherent thought so what I can recall of the journey is from feelings and sensations I can recall.
It took far longer than it should… I know that much. It was a common tactic to drive around for hours so that the prisoner would have no idea of their location. But, I think this was more than that. I think I was taken to Berlin to the Stasi Headquarters. Perhaps it was just to Schwerin, I don’t know. I just know I was in and out of consciousness for the whole time.
The journey seemed external. They stopped once, for lunch. I remember the odor of the food coming through and instead of finding it appetizing as I normally would, it repulsed me and I vomited. The second stop was the final stop from what I can recall. I did not know where we were. I heard them exiting the van, but I was left there for some time. I began to fear that my fate was to die forgotten in this tiny cell.
Eventually they opened the door and I was dragged out. My legs were still secured and I immediately fell from the van onto my face much to the amusement of the guards.
To my surprise it was dark. I’d winced in anticipation, expecting to be blinded by the light, but it appeared to be evening. What time though I couldn’t have told you. I wasn’t even sure if it was still the same day.
They hauled me up and again half carried and half dragged me through a door. I’d gathered my wits about me or what remained of them, and tried to struggle. It did little good.
Once inside they released my legs and tried to force me to walk, but between the numbness and pain that’d developed while in that tiny cramped space it was no easy task.
I managed a half-hearted hobble but what failed my legs more than anything was a terrible sense of being dragged before the gallows.
I was left with two of the guards and again we waited in a corridor painted a sickly shade of green. From time to time I’d be hauled up by the guards for another kick in the ribs or an insult about my family and heritage.
Some signal, I know not what, seemed to be given to the guards because I was once more hauled up and taken through to a room with a fierce looking woman at the desk. Details were checked and confirmed. My initial silence being met with yet more blows.
My cuffs were removed and I was finally able to try to stretch and rub some life back into them. An older man stepped forward. “Remove your clothes,” he said.
This order seemed to release the pressure valve that’d mostly contained my terror until now. I had an infantile moment of conviction that if I closed my eyes it’d all go away. I closed them but it was still there and once again the order… “Remove your clothes!” Animal panic flooded me, “Not that! Please no… not again… Anything but that!”
And with it rage… Not a thinking rage, but a blind rage and blind terror. I lunged… trying to overturn the desk, but I was too weak to fully succeed. The room was filled with a swirl of papers, and then the sound of another baton blow. I struck a guard then found myself once more on the ground and what had seemed like a severe beating earlier was nothing when compared to this.
The door opened and more guards came through. I was overpowered and choked. My clothes were torn from me as I let vent my terror, though further kicks to the ribs silenced me to nothing more than animal sounds. I found myself taken and strapped to a table. I’d been there countless times as a child and a youth. Now, as a young adult it was no less daunting.
I was subjected to a very thorough and intimate painful medical examination. A wad of gauze was forced into my mouth and a guard’s hand over it stifled my cries when they became bothersome for the doctor.
I attempted to bite down when his fingers were roughly thrust into my mouth, but it was demonstrated to me that my tongue could be easily torn from my throat, and my teeth pulled from my mouth if I persisted. I had no doubt that they’d do it.
.After the examination, I was made to dress in very rough, uncomfortable and ill-fitting prison fatigues, hand-cuffed and directed to another room through another painfully lit corridor. A very stern, large man of about fifty sat there and I was shoved onto a small stool about ten feet from him. The room consisted only of the desk, the stool I sat upon and a small but intense light by his desk and pointed in my direction. His first words to me were, “Do not try to resist. There is no point. We will break you no matter what.”
For the first time since arriving I thought of Mareike and our friends. How would they fare without me? What would they do for food? Would I see them again? My thoughts were interrupted by a sharp blow across my face. As though he could read my thoughts he said “Pay attention! Nothing exists for you anymore except what’s in this room. You are dead to the world.”
He demanded to know what I’d done with my blindfold. It seems that I should have been blindfolded during my journey, but the guards had forgotten. It made no difference. The inside of the vehicle I’d been transported in was as black as pitch and between the darkness and drifting in and out of consciousness I’d seen as much of the route as would a blind man.
I foolishly refused to answer his questions, and more sharp blows were inflicted, one knocking me from my perch. I was already exhausted from my journey, and desired nothing more than to be allowed to lay there and drift off, but I was hauled back up. I finally replied saying that I had not worn one and therefore could not have disposed of it. That response earned me an even harder blow that turned the brightly lit room into a dark, buzzing mass.
He then proceeded to tell me that he knew everything and detailed my biography until now. He told me of my family, my heritage, my time as a swimmer, my acquaintances, the career for which I’d trained, my likes and dislikes, my tempestuous relationship with my family and with Mareike… And that’d I’d been making enquiries about leaving the West.
He told me that I would not see Mareike or our friends and family again. He said that she was disgusted I was a traitor and she had chosen to leave me for a friend.
He asked if I wasn’t ashamed of ruining the name of a good family. He read me comments which purported to be from family and acquaintances stating how ashamed they were of me and that they wished to never set eyes upon me again.
Another man entered the room, smaller but no less intimidating than the first and the questions became rapid fire and any hesitation was greeted with yet another slap or baton blow. I was somewhere beyond exhausted and had a terrible thirst. Responding to their questions seemed to bring as many blows down upon me as did ignoring them. My answers never seemed to satisfy them. I tried to avoid giving them as much information as possible, partly from foolishness and youthful stubbornness and partly because I was too exhausted to process this onslaught of demands.
I began to slump forward in the seat. In spite of my fear all I could think of was sleep, blissful sleep. The stool was whipped from under me and I fell to the ground, a kick to the stomach and I was dragged up and forced to stand. The interrogation continued.
It continued like this for what seemed like a lifetime. I remember pleading for some water but instead had a cup of scalding coffee thrown over me.
I could barely put weight on my injured leg but it did not matter. I was forced to stand and neither exhaustion nor injury was an excuse. Any sign of swaying and my head was slammed into the wall. Eventually I collapsed but that did not halt the interrogation. I later discovered that the initial interrogations lasted for over two days… two days without rest or reprieve… without a drink or anything to eat. Two days without washing. I was allowed to make use of a tin can that passed for a bathroom but I was forced to do so in front of my tormentors. No privacy was given.
After two days I was lead stumbling to a tiny cell. It consisted of nothing more than a small hard wooden bed which was much too short for me. There was no toilet.
I was so grateful to be allowed to rest and, though it was harder than concrete, I could still stretch out… or so I thought. As soon as I sat upon it the guard struck the door with his baton and informed me that prisoners were not allowed to lie or sit on the bed until 10 pm. They had to stand or squat all day.
I was too weak to move, and I did not want to. The guard entered my cell and punched me when I refused to move. I was forced to alternate between squatting and standing. I was not allowed to have my backside touch the floor.
A cup of water was given to me. It was warm and somehow gritty but at the moment the elixir of life could not have tasted better but a minute later it only seemed to increase my thirst and I was not allowed more.
I asked where the toilet was and was told I’d have to ask the guard for it. If he deemed it necessary that I go, then he would allow me to use the tin can again but again under supervision. I found the thought of this so intolerable that I threw the cup at him, my only possible weapon, and was treated to another taste of his fist which left me on the floor. Lying on the floor was not permitted as I had mentioned so that was another kick.
I don’t know how much time passed but I was left alone. I could not hear any other prisoners. Did any exist? I didn’t know. There was nothing for me to do but think. Ponder what fate awaited me and more importantly what fate would await my Mareike.
A piece of bread was pushed through the slot later but no more water. It revolted me but it was food and so I ate it, though had to eat it in crumbs as it was so dry and dense that it choked me and I had no liquid with which to wash it down.
Eventually I had to make use of the toilet again and grudgingly drew the guard’s attention and said that I needed to use the bathroom. He ignored me. He said he thought I was lying, and I only wanted to attack him again.
I called again… Again he ignored me.
Eventually he said that he would bring it, but only after he had eaten his dinner. The inevitable happened.
I was disgusted and ashamed of myself, but I could not help it. The guard returned and called me every possible insult. He said I’d done it on purpose intending only to cause more trouble for him.
I was hauled out of my cell by a team of guards, taken to a room where I was stripped and scrubbed with scalding hot water and strongly scented chemicals that made my skin burn, while they used a brush that felt like being rubbed with sandpaper. Although I desired to be clean again it felt like torture. Now I am grateful for it, even if it left my skin bleeding and torn for it would be a long time before I was allowed another wash.
Another cup of gritty, grey water and all that was left for me now was 10pm, when I could lay on my bunk. How I was still able to move at all I did not know then and I do not know now, but all I could think of was rest. I was as excited as a child awaiting their Christmas gifts. I had no watch but 10pm was announced to me, and I gratefully crawled onto the brick hard bunk and closed my eyes. I think I fell asleep almost instantly in spite of the terrible pain.
Perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes later I was awakened by a deafening alarm, and the bright lights in my cell grew in intensity. I was terrified. I did not know what the alarm meant and expected a group of guards to come rushing upon me at any moment. They did not. Trembling I settled down again and once more fell asleep. Again some short time later, the alarm sounded again. I was infuriated by the injustice of it. Nothing… nothing mattered more than sleep and I was being robbed of even that. It soon became obvious that this was a pattern that would continue for most of the night in order to prevent me from resting.
Sleep which had been a beautiful welcoming dream now became a nightmare. I quickly began to dread sleep though I was more than exhausted. There seemed such dread in being plucked from the depths of slumber by the alarm, and now I began to fear sleep not knowing when the alarm would sound and fill my tiny world with its deafening wail.
I think it had sounded only three or four times before I turned from pouting like a sullen child who had been refused pre-dinner candy, to cowering in the corner in anticipation of that hellish sound and the flashing lights.
They altered the intervals so there was no predicting it and no hope of snatching some sleep between alarms. They’d thought of every eventuality.
That first cell seemed like the very definition of the nether world, lacking in flames and pitchforks though it may have been, but later I’d think back fondly of that cell as though it’d been a five star hotel for the residences yet to come were far worse.
It was a very exhausted, beaten and broken Timm who was dumped unceremoniously onto the streets of his tiny village. Herr
Lindemann had no sympathy for a traitor to the State but that relationship was forced to continue as there was no peace from what was in that world.
Two of his companions had escaped that night… but one, the youngest one did not survive. Who turned them in, for most certainly someone did. There are a few suspects, but the one I consider most guilty? Well, let’s just say, neither of us, Timm or myself attend his church…