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Peter Fechter memorial cross at Checkpoint Charlie

Peter Fechter (January 14, 1944 – August 17, 1962) was a German bricklayer from East Berlin in what became East Germany in 1945, who, at the age of eighteen, became one of the first victims of the Berlin Wall's border guards while trying to cross over to what was then West Germany.

Contents

Background

Peter Fechter memorial and wreath on the western side of the Berlin Wall, taken in 1984

After World War II, Germany was governed jointly by an Allied Control Council consisting of the four victorious Allied nations — France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Governmental decisions had to be unanimously approved by all four Allies. Germany was divided into Allied Occupation Zones to be administered directly by the military of each Allied state. The German capital, Berlin, was itself specially divided into four zones, one for each Ally, due to its importance.

As the Cold War escalated, the Potsdam Agreement on managing Germany disintegrated, and the Allied Control Council became ineffective. The country was de facto divided into West Germany and East Germany, corresponding to the areas occupied by the western Allies and the Soviet Union, respectively. Berlin, which lay entirely within the territory of the new East, was divided into West Berlin and East Berlin. 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 (SED) led by Walter Ulbricht. 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, 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

The body of Peter Fechter lying next to the Berlin Wall just after being shot in 1962 while trying to escape to the west

About one year after the construction of the wall, Fechter attempted to flee from the GDR (German Democratic Republic) 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 into the Kreuzberg district of West Berlin near Checkpoint Charlie.

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 about an hour. 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 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 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

Memorial to Peter Fechter on Zimmerstraße, in German reads "...he just wanted freedom."

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, the then mayor of West Berlin, the Yale Russian Chorus sang a German translation of Mozart's Ave verum Corpus near the site in the week following the shooting. On the first anniversary, a wreath was placed there by Willy Brandt and US Commander Polk. After German reunification in 1990, the Peter-Fechter-Stelle memorial 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 dedicated his book The Last Battle to the memory of Fechter. Composer Aulis Sallinen wrote an orchestral work Mauermusik to commemorate Fechter. In 2007, artist Mark Gubb was commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Arts to create a performance[1] 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, at which they admitted to his shooting. They were both convicted, and sentenced to 20 and 21 month's 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.

See also

References

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Simple English

File:Peter Fechter Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall memorial for Peter Fechter

Peter Fechter (January 14, 1944 - 17 August 1962) is one of the best known victims of the Berlin Wall. Fechter was a bricklayer. Aged 18, he tried to cross the wall into the West, near Checkpoint Charlie, to live with his sister. He did this with his friend and colleague, Helmut Kulbeik. Both started to climb the wall at around 14.15. Kubelik was successful, and could escape. Fechter was hit by several gunshots, one of which pierced his lung, and fell back down, to what was called the Death strip. He was unable to move, and started to cry for help. Crowds started to gather on both sides of the wall; on the east side, they were dispersed by police.

Police gathered on the west side threw medical kits to him; despite the crowd telling them, they would not do more. The DDR border guards did not do anything either; neither did the United States personnel on duty at the Checkpoint.

Fechter bled to death after about an hour. After reunification, two border police were found guilty of manslaughter. They were convicted and given suspended prison terms of 20 and 21 months respectively. Both had told the court they fired shots at Fechter, but did not want to kill him. The court also ruled that Fechter was killed by the shots, and not by the absence of aid. The evidence could not show who of three gunman (one had already died) was responsible for the bullet that killed Fechter.


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