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"Republikflucht" ("flight from the republic") and "Republikflüchtling(e)" ("fugitives from the republic") were the terms used by authorities in the German Democratic Republic (GDR - East Germany) to describe the process of and the person(s) leaving the GDR for a life in West Germany or any other Western (non-Warsaw Pact) country.

The term applies both to the mass desertion of millions who could leave the GDR rather easily before the Berlin Wall was erected on 13 August 1961, as well as those few thousands who made a dangerous attempt to cross over the Berlin Wall and the Inner German border (or who managed to obtain temporary exit visas and subsequently didn't return) from 1961 to 1989.

Some estimates put the number of those who left the Soviet occupation zone and the GDR between 1945 and 1961 between 2.5 and 3 million.

A memorial to those who lost their lives attempting to cross the Berlin Wall near Checkpoint Charlie in 2004-05.

The numbers leaving the GDR following the construction of the Wall dropped sharply to several hundred a year as an attempt to flee the GDR via its fortified borders involved considerable personal risk of injury or death. Several hundred Republikflüchtlinge were shot; about 75,000 were caught and imprisoned.

A propaganda booklet published by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) in 1955 for the use of party agitators outlined the seriousness of 'flight from the republic':

Both from the moral standpoint as well as in terms of the interests of the whole German nation, leaving the GDR is an act of political and moral backwardness and depravity.

Those who let themselves be recruited objectively serve West German Reaction and militarism, whether they know it or not. Is it not despicable when for the sake of a few alluring job offers or other false promises about a "guaranteed future" one leaves a country in which the seed for a new and more beautiful life is sprouting, and is already showing the first fruits, for the place that favors a new war and destruction?

Is it not an act of political depravity when citizens, whether young people, workers, or members of the intelligentsia, leave and betray what our people have created through common labor in our republic to offer themselves to the American or British secret services or work for the West German factory owners, Junkers, or militarists? Does not leaving the land of progress for the morass of an historically outdated social order demonstrate political backwardness and blindness? ...

[W]orkers throughout Germany will demand punishment for those who today leave the German Democratic Republic, the strong bastion of the fight for peace, to serve the deadly enemy of the German people, the imperialists and militarists.[1]

The former East German party leader Erich Honecker was charged in 1993 for allowing soldiers to kill people trying to escape. The trial was postponed due to his bad health, and he died in 1994.



  • Volker Ackermann: Der „echte“ Flüchtling. Deutsche Vertriebene und Flüchtlinge aus der DDR 1945 - 1961, Osnabrück 1995 (= Studien zur historischen Migrationsforschung 1).
  • Henrik Bispinck: „Republikflucht“. Flucht und Ausreise als Problem der DDR-Führung, in: Dierk Hoffmann, Michael Schwartz, Hermann Wentker (Hrsg.): Vor dem Mauerbau. Politik und Gesellschaft der DDR der fünfziger Jahre, München 2003, S. 285-309.
  • Henrik Bispinck: Flucht- und Ausreisebewegung als Krisenphänomene: 1953 und 1989 im Vergleich, in: ders., Jürgen Danyel, Hans-Hermann Hertle, Hermann Wentker (Hrsg.): Aufstände im Ostblock. Zur Krisengeschichte des realen Sozialismus, Berlin 2004
  • Bettina Effner, Helge Heidemeyer (Hrsg.): Flucht im geteilten Deutschland, Berlin 2005
  • Helge Heidemeyer: Flucht und Zuwanderung aus der SBZ/DDR 1945/49-1961. Die Flüchtlingspolitik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland bis zum Bau der Berliner Mauer, Düsseldorf 1994 (= Beiträge zur Geschichte des Parliamentarismus und der politischen Parteien 100).
  • Damian van Melis, Henrik Bispinck (Hrsg.): Republikflucht. Flucht und Abwanderung aus der SBZ/DDR 1945-1961, München 2006.

External links

This article incorporates information from the revision as of 2007-08-16 of the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.


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