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HEINZ SCHÖNEBERGER

Heinz Schöneberger Heinz Schöneberger was born on June 7, 1938 in Wagten, East Prussia, but had to leave his home after the Second World War. He was able to reach West Germany with his mother and three brothers.[1] The family settled in the Harz mountains in the West, where Heinz Schöneberger attended school and trained to become a construction worker. After this he managed to get through life with different temporary jobs. He married and moved to East Germany with his wife in June 1961, probably to escape a prison sentence for driving without a license. He tried to find work as a construction worker there but eventually returned to West Germany before the Wall was built. He was planning to bring his wife over later, but when the Wall was erected on August 13, 1961, it appeared that the couple would be separated permanently.

But Heinz Schöneberger had devised a plan: On October 17, 1961 he left the transit highway going to West Berlin to pick up his wife in Karl-Marx-Stadt – today Chemnitz - so that he could bring her with him to the West. Before they could even begin planning their escape, however, Heinz Schöneberger was arrested and sentenced to one year in prison for “fleeing the republic” in the summer and for illegally re-entering the country. After he was released from prison, an East German court convicted him again in 1962, this time to thirteen months in prison for “violating the border.” While in prison he was sentenced to an additional prison term of eight months for trying to escape and for “mutiny.” Heinz Schöneberger’s wife divorced him while he was serving his various sentences in East German prisons.[2] He was finally released to West Germany on August 1, 1964. A week after he arrived there a warrant for his arrest caught up with him and he had to spend two months in the Wolfenbüttel prison in West Germany for driving without a license.

After his release Heinz Schöneberger worked with his brother Horst in West Berlin at various construction sites. During their time off the brothers often drove to East Berlin with colleagues from work. They met Monika P. and Christel R. in a dance hall in East Berlin and began dating them regularly. The two women were determined to leave East Germany and Heinz and Horst Schöneberger wanted to help them.[3] At around 5 a.m. on Christmas Day, 1965, the brothers drove in a Ford Taunus 17 M to East Berlin to pick up the women and take them to the West. The car had continuous front and back seats and their plan was to have Monika P. hide behind the back seat of the car and Christel R. to hide behind the front seat. Should they be discovered at the border, they agreed that the driver should hit the gas and break through the border as fast as possible.[4]

The four set off shortly before midnight. At a remote area the two women went into their hiding places in the car. They reached the border crossing at Heinrich-Heine-Strasse at half past midnight on December 26 and lined up in the exit lane. When the brothers reached the front of the line they were asked to get out of their vehicle. A border soldier discovered Monika P. behind the backseat and called out: “Apprehend her!” At this point Heinz Schöneberger jumped into the driver’s seat, locked the doors and drove as fast as he could toward the border through the zigzag concourse of concrete barriers and swiped another car. The border officials sounded the alarm. The last barrier before passing through the Wall to West Berlin was closed. Heinz Schöneberger tried to break through it but the zigzag concourse had made it impossible for him to accelerate the car beyond 40 kilometers per hour. The car came to a halt. Bullets from the tower next to the border barrier were fired at the door on the driver’s side, but Heinz Schöneberger was only hurt on his calf. When the tower gunman stopped firing, Heinz Schöneberger tore open the door, ran around the broken barrier and ran the last ten meters in a stooped position to the border. A second guard came out of the guard house next to the barrier, pulled out his pistol, knelt down and shot at the fleeing man from behind.[5] Five meters from the border a bullet hit him in his back and penetrated his cervical artery. Heinz Schöneberger reached West Berlin territory but died soon thereafter from excessive blood loss.[6] His body was transported to Dortmund on December 30, 1965 and was buried there.[7]

Policemen, customs officials and passersby from West Berlin witnessed the incident and that night angry protests against the brutal behavior of the East German border guards broke out. Repeated demonstrations took place on the West side of the border crossing over the following days.[8]

Horst Schöneberger and the two women were arrested by the East German border guards and brought to the Stasi prison in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen. The brother of the deceased was quickly convicted in a summary proceeding in December 1965. He was sentenced by the Potsdam district court to twelve years in prison for “jointly executed state-endangering acts of violence.”[9] Six and a half years later Horst Schöneberger was finally released from the Bautzen Penitentiary and sent to the West.[10] Monika P. was sentenced on June 26, 1966 to two years and six months in prison. She married in 1972 and moved to West Berlin with her husband a year later.[11] Christel R. was sentenced to two years in prison and ended up serving a year and nine months of the sentence. In 1975 she received permission to immigrate to West Germany.[12]

Immediately following the incident at the Heinrich-Heine-Strasse border crossing, the West Berlin police opened an investigation of manslaughter against unknown members of the East German National People’s Army, but the case was dismissed in 1967 because they were unable to identify the man who had shot and killed Heinz Schöneberger.[13]

The case was re-opened in the early 1990s and on March 31, 1995 the border guards involved were charged with manslaughter. The Berlin press reported with great interest on the trial about the “escape helper who acted out of love.”[14] The Berlin district court came to the conclusion in its decision of February 28, 1997 that the charges against the accused “could not be proven with sufficient certainty to justify a conviction.”[15] All the defendants were acquitted.

[Martin Ahrends/Udo Baron]

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[1] On this and the following see “Bericht der West-Berliner Polizei , 3.2.1966,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 158/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 198–200; “Niederschrift der Zeugenvernehmung des Bruders von Heinz Schöneberger durch die Kriminalpolizei in Hamm, 24.7.1971,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 158/90, Bd. 2, Bl. 45.
[2] See ibid.
[3] See “Niederschrift der Zeugenvernehmung des Bruders von Heinz Schöneberger durch die Kriminalpolizei in Hamm, 24.7.1971,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 158/90, Bd. 2, Bl. 45.
[4] See “Einzel-Information Nr. 1151/65 [des MfS-]ZAIG über die Verhinderung eines gewaltsamen Grenzdurchbruches an der Grenzübergangsstelle Heinrich-Heine-Strasse, 27.12.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, ZAIG Nr. 1159, Bl. 26–27.
[5] See “Ereignismeldung des Kommandos der West-Berliner Schutzpolizei über missglückten Fluchtversuch am Übergang Heinrich-Heine-Strasse/Prinzenstr. (SBS), 16.12.1965,” in: PHS, E-Meldung 26.12.1965, n. pag.; “Einzel-Information Nr. 1151/65 [des MfS-]ZAIG über die Verhinderung eines gewaltsamen Grenzdurchbruches an der Grenzübergangsstelle Heinrich-Heine-Strasse, 27.12.1965,” in: BStU, MfS, ZAIG Nr. 1159, Bl. 24–25.
[6] See “Ereignismeldung des Kommandos der West-Berliner Schutzpolizei S1 über missglückten Fluchtversuch am Übergang Heinrich-Heine-Strasse/Prinzenstrasse (SBS), 16.12.1965,” in: PHS, E-Meldung 26.12.1965, n. pag.
[7] See “Bericht der West-Berliner Polizei über Totschlag, versuchten Totschlag und anderes am 26.12.1965, gegen 01.00 Uhr, am Sektorenübergang Heinrich-Heine-Strasse, 29.12.1965,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 158/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 95.
[8] See “Bericht der West-Berliner Polizei über missglückten Fluchtversuch durch Sperrmauer am 26.12.1965, 26.12.1965,” in: PHS, E-Meldung 27.12.1965, n. pag.; “Eilmeldung der West-Berliner Polizei über Ansammlung von Personen am Grenzübergang Prinzen-/Heinrich-Heine-Strasse am 26.12.1965,” 27.12.1965, in: PHS, E-Meldung 27.12.1965, Bl. 18.
[9] “12 Jahre Zuchthaus für Provokateur,” in: Neues Deutschland, 31.12.1965.
[10] See “Niederschrift der Zeugenvernehmung des Bruders von Heinz Schöneberger durch die Berliner Polizei, 24.11.1992,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 158/90, Bd 2, p. 192.
[11] See “Niederschrift der Zeugenvernehmung von Monika P. durch das Amtsgericht Berlin-Tiergarten, 1.8.1975,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 158/90, Bd. 2, Bl. 79–80.
[12] See “Niederschrift der Zeugenvernehmung von Christel R. durch die Berliner Polizei, 2.2.1993,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 158/90, Bd. 3, Bl. 253, 256.
[13] See “Strafanzeige der West-Berliner Polizei gegen Angehörige des 35. Regiments der 1. Grenzbrigade, 27.12.1965,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 158/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 1.
[14] “Keiner will getroffen haben,” in: BZ, 22.1.1997.
[15] “Urteil des Landgerichts Berlin vom 28.2.1997,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 158/90, Bd. 5, Bl. 55.