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KLAUS SCHRÖTER

Klaus Schröter
“I wore black for a whole year to express my opposition.”[1] The silent protest of Klaus Schröter’s mother was directed at the East German authorities who had treated her badly: They did not tell her that border soldiers had shot her son and were responsible for his death. They pressured her to agree to a cremation burial – and, what is more, they even told her that it was no longer fashionable to wear black. “What an interest they took in my private affairs!” she exclaimed after she emigrated from East Germany. “That should give pause for thought, and it is all proof of what was done.”[2]

Klaus Schröter came from Friedersdorf near Bitterfeld, where he was born in February 1940. He grew up there with two brothers. His parents had a little house in a settlement that later gave way to coal mining.[3] Interested in technology at a young age, he did an electrician apprenticeship with the Agfa film factory in nearby Wolfen. At the age of 18, his company sent him to the Hanno Günther School of Engineering in Velten, in Brandenburg, to study electrical engineering. After completing his studies, he began working as an electrical engineer in East Berlin in September 1961. At this time, just a few weeks after the Wall was built, such a move required a special moving permit, but this was not difficult for the young electrical engineer to acquire since he now worked for the state-owned heavy current plant on Schlegelstrasse in Berlin-Mitte. Klaus Schröter had a successful career in Berlin. He soon began pursuing an additional degree and working on the side as a lecturer at Pankow’s adult education center.[4]

But in April 1963 Klaus Schröter handed in his resignation. He was disappointed that his company had refused him the new position for which he had been hoping. The company leadership refused to accept his decision and forced him to take back his resignation.[5] Klaus Schröter’s friends and colleagues believed that it was this experience that tipped the scale for him, leading him to pursue his plan to flee, one he had long been considering. Although during his studies he had been a part of the engineering school’s FDJ leadership, the twenty-three-year-old engineer was not at all committed to socialism. His mother said that he never made a secret of his disapproval of the Communist Party and its regime when he spoke to her.[6] A colleague of his, who managed to flee to the West three years after Klaus Schröter died, recalled that “we were both unhappy with the political situation in East Germany and began to discuss ways to escape after the Wall was built.”[7]

Klaus Schröter had good reasons for not telling anybody about the concrete details of his plan. Even a friend whom he had visited the evening before he tried to escape had no idea: “I knew that at some point he planned to flee to West Berlin, but that he was going to do it the following night, that didn’t come up. Klaus didn’t want me to know the exact date because he didn’t want to make things difficult for me.”[8]

Klaus Schröter carefully planned his escape long in advance. He planned his route under the water across the Spree River and acquired all the necessary equipment over time. He sold his television set so that he could buy a scuba outfit. He had compressed air tanks delivered to his apartment. He sewed himself a diving suit that he weighed down with lead weights. Finally, before sunrise on the morning of November 3, 1963, he biked with all his equipment to Berlin-Mitte. He left his bike on the Marschall Bridge that crossed the Spree not far from the sector border between Reichstagsufer and Schiffbauerdamm. Beneath the bridge Klaus Schröter cut through the barbed wire fence that blocked access to the water. He descended the staircase in the embankment wall and entered the water. A border soldier on duty in the watchtower at the corner of Reichstagsufer and Ebertstrasse noticed him doing this. He and two other border guards tried to stop the escape by opening fire as soon as the fugitive dove under water.[9] A bullet grazed the back of Klaus Schröter’s head; he lost consciousness and drowned.[10] Following a long search, his body was pulled out of the Spree at 7:45 a.m. An East Berlin fire boat hung out a water curtain to block the view of observers on the west side.

Hence the West Berlin police could only surmise “that a fugitive was shot by the Soviet sector ‘Grepo’ (border police) and later retrieved from the Spree.”[11]

Thirty years later the circumstances that led to Klaus Schröter’s death were finally made known. The guards that were brought to court in 1994 denied their guilt, claiming that they had only fired into the water without aiming so that they would not be punished for refusing to obey orders.[12] But the judges believed that at least one of them had acted with a degree of intent to kill, and he was declared guilty.[13]

At the time of Klaus Schröter’s death East Germany denied that he had been shot and killed by border guards.[14] The East Berlin Stasi agent that brought his mother the news told her that her son had been found dead in the Spree and that he had drowned after suffering a brain contusion.[15] The Stasi man presented himself as a state prosecutor and pressured the mother to agree to a cremation. “I was so wiped out and so scared that I did everything he asked. He presented me with the letter, gave me a pen [and] dictated.”[16]

Klaus Schröter’s colleagues at work were also left in the dark about the true circumstances of his death. When the Stasi learned that “rumors were spreading that Schröter had been shot while trying to break through the border,” Stasi employees, with the help of the company leadership, organized a “get-together” to put a stop to the rumors.[17] It was announced at the meeting that Klaus Schröter suffered a brain contusion while trying to leave East Germany illegally with a diving apparatus and that this caused him to drown.”[18] It was stated that as an engineer he should have known that trying to dive under the Spree was an act of suicide and that anyone in the company who had known about Schröter’s intentions bore “a certain degree of responsibility for the result of his undertaking.”[19] His colleagues did not believe the official announcement. They thought it more likely that Klaus Schröter had been shot by border guards. They had heard on the news from a West Berlin radio station that shots had been fired that morning on the Reichtagsufer.[20]

No amount of intimidation could stop his friends and colleagues from going to Friedersdorf for the funeral on December 14, 1963. Klaus Schröter’s father placed the urn in the grave. The minister did not mention the circumstances of the death. For his sermon he chose a bible verse from the Epistle to the Romans. “For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”[21]

[Christine Brecht]

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[1] “Niederschrift der Zeugenvernehmung der Mutter von Klaus Schröter durch die Bielefelder Polizei, 12.12.1966,” in: StA Berlin, Az. Js 86/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 84–92, here Bl. 92.
[2] “Abschrift eines Schreibens der Mutter von Klaus Schröter an den Untersuchungsausschuss Freiheitlicher Juristen, 7.11.1966,” in: Ibid., Bl. 69–72, here Bl. 71.
[3] See LStU Sachsen-Anhalt (ed.), Tod in der Spree. Zur Erinnerung an Klaus Schröter, erschossen auf der Flucht am 4.11.1963, Magdeburg, 2001.
[4] See “Ermittlungsbericht [des MfS]/KD Berlin-Mitte, 5.11.1963,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 2, Nr. 4, Bl. 15–16.
[5] See ibid.
[6] See “Niederschrift der Zeugenvernehmung der Mutter von Klaus Schröter durch die Bielefelder Polizei, 12.12.1966,” in: StA Berlin, Az. Js 86/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 85–87.
[7] “Niederschrift der Zeugenvernehmung eines Freundes von Klaus Schröter durch die West-Berliner Polizei, 15.11.1966,” in: StA Berlin, Az. Js 86/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 74–75, here Bl. 74.
[8] “Niederschrift der Zeugenvernehmung eines Freundes von Klaus Schröter durch die Berliner Polizei, 29.10.1991,” in: Ibid., Bl. 155–159, here Bl. 156.
[9] See “Bericht der NVA/1.GB/GR 33 zum versuchten Grenzdurchbruch am 4.11.1963 gegen 4.00 Uhr am Reichstagsufer im Abschnitt des GR 33, 4.11.1963,” in: BArch, VA-07/16931, Bl. 27–30.
[10] See “Obduktionsbericht des IGM der HU, 5.11.1963,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 2, Nr. 4, Bl. 33–39.
[11] “Schlussbericht der West-Berliner Polizei, 13.1.1964,” in: StA Berlin, Az. Js 86/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 42.
[12] See “Mauer-Tod: Abrechnung nach 31 Jahren”, in: Super-Illu, 15.11.1994.
[13] See “Urteil des Landgerichts Berlin vom 17.11.1994,” in: StA Berlin, Az. Js 86/90, Protokollband, Bl. 1–34.
[14] See “Bericht der VfS Gross-Berlin/Abt. IX zur Leichensache, 6.11.1963,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 2, Nr. 4, Bl. 4–6, here Bl. 5, and “[MfS-]Abschlussvermerk, 8.11.1963,” in: Ibid., Bl. 46.
[15] Ibid.
[16] “Abschrift eines Schreibens der Mutter von Klaus Schröter an den Untersuchungsausschuss Freiheitlicher Juristen, 7.11.1966,” in: StA Berlin, Az. Js 86/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 69.
[17] “II. Bericht der VfS Gross-Berlin/Abt. IX zur Leichensache Klaus Schröter,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 754/70, Bd. 2, Nr. 4, Bl. 42.
[18] See “[MfS-]Bericht über die Grenzverletzung durch den Betriebsangehörigen des VEB Starkstromanlagenbau Berlin, 10.12.1963,” in: Ibid., Bl. 25–28.
[19] Ibid., Bl. 27.
[20] See “Niederschrift der Zeugenvernehmung eines Freundes von Klaus Schröter durch die West-Berliner Polizei, 15.11.1966,” in: StA Berlin, Az. Js 86/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 75.
[21] LStU Sachsen-Anhalt (ed.), Tod in der Spree. Zur Erinnerung an Klaus Schröter, erschossen auf der Flucht am 4.11.1963, Magdeburg, 2001, p. 32.