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LOTHAR HENNIG

Lothar Hennig
The village of Sacrow, not far from Potsdam, was an idyllic exclave, but it was very close to the border and, consequently, the entire area was declared border territory. Anyone wishing to enter required a special pass. There was a very strong military presence in the village and the only access road was blocked by a vehicle barrier and monitored by guards. The local residents had to show the guards their special stamp day in and day out. The officials made efforts to replace the civilian residents with “reliable citizens” or to win them over in their mission to maintain special alertness. Vigilance was a necessity in Sacrow since the Havel riverbank was not even 100 meters away from the water border and a number of people had tried to swim from there to the West Berlin side of the river.

Lothar Hennig was born on June 30, 1954 in Potsdam and grew up in Sacrow. He was very familiar with the conventions in the border territory and knew a few tricks to get around the rules. His sister remembered him as a fun-loving, crazy guy who often surprised people with his unusual ideas and behavior.[1] He was a passionate music fan and very familiar with the western music scene. He organized disco events where he enjoyed playing the recorded hits from the West, but he always managed to lead the cultural affairs authorization office into believing that he was maintaining the dictated balance of 60% East German music and 40% western music.[2] Lothar Hennig’s sister was certain that he intentionally caused an accident at work in order to get out of having to serve in the army in the spring of 1973.[3] He did not particularly like his apprenticeship at the “Teltower Geräte- und Reglerwerk,” a state-owned industrial plant. The work was unhealthy and his relationship to the brigade was tense.[4] The twenty-one-year-old managed to switch to PGH Auto Service in Potsdam in May 1975.[5]

Lothar Hennig had a lot of friends and he not only got along with the other residents in his hometown, but also maintained friendly contact with the border guards. His many relationships turned out to be a double-edged sword because they made him interesting to the East German secret police.[6] Why he signed on, supposedly out of conviction, as a Stasi informer (IM) in April 1975 can no longer be determined.[7] Just months after they began working together, his case officer attested to his discipline in keeping appointments and reliability in fulfilling the tasks put to him. But his reports were regarded as irrelevant and of little operative use.[8] He was apparently not willing to betray people unconditionally. One night after a summer party in the Meedehorn small garden settlement, he bumped into a man who was soaking wet who asked him and his escort how to get to West Berlin. Lothar Hennig did not report the incident and let the man flee. The Stasi agent responsible for him went into a rage over the incident and gave him a long lecture.[9]

When Lothar Hennig returned from a meeting with his Stasi case officer in downtown Potsdam on November 4, 1975, there was once again a fugitive alarm in Sacrow.[10] The bus driver, a cousin of Lothar Hennig, told him about it and warned him to be careful. The town was swarming with extra border guards who were probably on the lookout for a Soviet soldier on the run. Just how seriously he took this warning is not known. After his Stasi meeting, he went to a bar in Potsdam at around 7 p.m. and was quite drunk when he returned by bus to his hometown enclave. Since he was the only passenger on the bus, his cousin let him off at the corner of Weinmeisterweg, a few meters away from the bus stop. Lothar Hennig scrutinized his surroundings and then sprinted the last 400 meters to his parents’ house, just as he always did.[11] He was not the type to resist the instructions of state organs, but he did not hear, or did not want to hear, someone calling out behind him, ordering him to halt.[12] It was late, the lighting on the street was dim and he was almost home.[13]

The man who called to him was on special duty in Sacrow on that foggy November night. He was supposed to be on the lookout for anything unusual. The border soldier was also an informer for the Stasi which meant he was on a sort of ‘double-duty.’[14] The very vigilant guard watched as the man who arrived late at night looked around carefully before suddenly breaking into a sprint, which seemed like very suspicious behavior to him. Then again, whoever got off that bus had to already have had his papers checked and the young man was not running towards the border; he was running away from it. But the eager guard ran after Lothar Hennig and called out to him again, telling him to stop – at least this is what he later claimed. He then went into a squatting position and supposedly fired a warning shot that was supposed to hit the ground behind the running fugitive.[15] The second guard, who was lagging behind, saw the projectile strike sparks on the stone sidewalk. It was either the deflected bullet that hit Lothar Hennig diagonally in his back from below or a second bullet whose origins could not be explained with certainty. A forensic examination of the weapon and crime site was not conducted. The two guards performed first aid but it took another hour for a doctor to arrive.[16]

Lothar Hennig was brought to the Drewitz Army Hospital where he was declared dead at 1:30 in the morning. An autopsy report of the NVA Military Hospital in Bad Saarow later reported that he had died from internal bleeding caused by a shattered lung.[17]

On June 26, 1996 in unified Germany, the gunman who shot Lothar Hennig was tried by the Potsdam district court for bodily injury leading to death. He was sentenced as a youth to one year and two months probation. The court accepted the defendant’s claim that he had not intended to kill Lothar Hennig and it considered in mitigation that he regretted the act and apologized to the family[18] – albeit not until after the judge had asked him to do so, Hennig’s sisters recalled.[19]

On the afternoon of November 5, 1975, State Security agents informed Lothar Hennig’s mother that her son had died.[20] A short time later a Potsdam state attorney paid a visit to his family. Lothar Hennig had “died in an accident of his own doing,” he lied to them.[21] At this point talk about that night’s events had already spread throughout Sacrow. Residents had heard the shots fired and the groans of the man who was hit.[22] The 21-year-old man’s family openly expressed their dismay over the incident and surprised the state official with their detailed knowledge of what had transpired. Almost a month later, after Lothar Hennig had been buried on November 14, 1975 in Potsdam-Babelsberg, his mother addressed the East German minister of defense, demanding satisfactory information from him about the circumstances under which her son had died.[23] But he only referred her to the military justice organ in charge of the case.[24] The death certificate issued by Rolf Zickler, the doctor of the Potsdam Stasi district administration, did not reveal the true cause of death.[25] It merely stated that death was caused by bleeding of the aorta.[26] Lothar Hennig’s family was unable to endure living in the Sacrow border territory any longer and made efforts to leave the town as soon as possible.[27]

The same day of the incident, an assembly of the Communist Party organization and National Front took place in Sacrow during which members of the border troops attempted to justify Lothar Hennig’s death.[28] Although the killing of Lothar Hennig was a criminal offense according to East German law, the military state attorney refrained from opening an investigation.

It was left to the East German secret police to evaluate the local population’s mood and to determine what had analytical value and what did not. Friendly relations between the population and the border troops came to an abrupt end after Lothar Hennig’s death. They did not greet each other anymore, one border guard noted.[29] A resident was noted as having said that the whole thing was just a mess.[30] The Stasi also noted that, although the incident had been officially approved, there was a certain reserve among the border guards and sergeants. “Such a shame that we killed an innocent person,” a staff sergeant was quoted having said. “We shot our best man in Sacrow,” a border troop captain told a staff officer. “He was someone who had twice in the past given us tips on preventing a border breach.”[31] From the point of view of the East German secret police the fact that Lothar Hennig had not betrayed a fugitive on one occasion probably carried more weight.

Although Lothar Hennig had not had any intention of fleeing, the rumor persisted that his death involved a supposed escape attempt and that the family members were forced to leave Sacrow against their will.

[Martin Ahrends/Udo Baron/Maria Nooke]

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[1] Conversation conducted by Maria Nooke with Lothar Hennig’s sisters and brothers, 11.9.2009.
[2] Ibid.
[3] “SV-Buch von Lothar Hennig, Eintragung der Hauptpoliklinik Potsdam, Chirugische Abteilung zur Krankschreibung vom 24.4.1973 – 27.5.1973 wegen Zehenfraktur,” privately owned.
[4] See “Ermittlungsbericht des MfS/KD Potsdam, 21.3.1975,” in: BStU, Ast. Potsdam, AIM I 1610/77, Bl. 23–25.
[5] Conversation conducted by Maria Nooke with Lothar Hennig’s sisters and brothers, 11.9.2009.
[6] “Vorschlag zur Verpflichtung eines IM der KD Potsdam,” in: BStU, Ast. Potsdam AIM I 1610/, Bl. 27–33.
[7] See “Bericht zur Werbung zum IM des MfS/KD Potsdam, 30.4.1975,” in: Ibid., Bl. 35–38; “Handschriftliche Verpflichtungserklärung von Lothar Hennig zur IM-Tätigkeit, 29.4.1975,” in: Ibid., Bl. 34.
[8] “Vorschlag des Führungsoffiziers von Lothar Hennig/KD Potsdam zur Umregistrierung des IM zum IMV, 3.9.1975,” in: Ibid., Bl 39–40. As a consequence of the inadequate operative usefulness of Lothar Hennig’s informations to the Stasi, the renewed registration was deferred.
[9] See “Treffbericht des MfS/KD Potsdam, 19.8.1975,” in: BStU, Ast. Potsdam, AIM II 1610/77, Bl. 28–34, here Bl. 29.
[10] See “Treffbericht des MfS/KD Potsdam, 6.11.1975,” in: Ibid., Bl. 35.
[11] See “Urteil des Landgerichts Potsdam vom 26.6.1996,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 299/92 (=StA Neuruppin: 61 Js 36/95), Bd. 3, Bl. 487.
[12] See “Bericht der MfS/HA I/Grenzkommando Mitte/Bereich Abwehr/UA/GR-34 über Anwendung der Schusswaffe im Grenzdienst in zwei Fällen, 6.11.1975,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 14878, Bl. 141.
[13] See “Urteil des Landgerichts Potsdam vom 26.6.1996,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 299/92 (=StA Neuruppin: 61 Js 36/95), Bd. 3, Bl. 487.
[14] See “Urteil des Landgerichts Potsdam vom 26.6.1996,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 299/92 (=StA Neuruppin: 61 Js 36/95), Bd. 3, Bl. 475.
[15] See “Bericht der MfS/HA I/Grenzkommando Mitte/Bereich Abwehr/UA/GR-34 über Anwendung der Schusswaffe im Grenzdienst in zwei Fällen, 6.11.1975,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 14878, Bl. 141.
[16] See “Urteil des Landgerichts Potsdam vom 26.6.1996,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 299/92 (=StA Neuruppin: 61 Js 36/95), Bd. 3, Bl. 488.
[17] “Sektionsbericht der NVA/Zentrales Lazarett/Abteilung für Gerichtliche Medizin, Bad Saarow, 7.11.1975,” in: BStU, Ast. Potsdam, AP 1180/76, Bl. 21.
[18] See “Urteil des Landgerichts Potsdam vom 26.6.1996,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 299/92 (=StA Neuruppin: 61 Js 36/95), Bd. 3, Bl. 472–499.
[19] Conversation conducted by Maria Nooke with Lothar Hennig’s sisters and brothers, 11.9.2009.
[20] See “Ergänzungsmeldung des MfS/HA I/Grenzkommando Mitte/Bereich Abwehr zum Bericht über Anwendung der Schusswaffe/Grenzregiment 34 vom 5.11.1975,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 14878, Bl. 144.
[21] See “Situationsbericht des MfS/HA I/Grenzkommando Mitte/Bereich Abwehr/UA/GR-34 zum Vorkommnis über die Anwendung der Schusswaffe im Grenzdienst mit tödlichen Ausgang, 7.11.1975,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 14878, Bl. 152–153; “Bericht der BVfS Potsdam/Untersuchungsabteilung über die am 7.11.1975 durchgeführte Aussprache mit den Angehörigen des Hennig, Lothar, 7.11.1975,” in: BStU, Ast. Potsdam, AP 1180/76, Bl. 36–38.
[22] See “Späte Aufklärung über den mysteriösen Tod des Lothar Hennig”, in: Berliner Morgenpost, 15.7.1992.
[23] See “Schreiben der Mutter von Lothar Hennig an das Ministerium für Nationale Verteidigung/Armeegeneral Heinz Hoffmann, 3.12.1975,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 299/92 (=StA Neuruppin: 61 Js 36/95), Bd. 1, Bl. 120.
[24] See “Schreiben des Ministers für Nationale Verteidigung an die Mutter von Lothar Hennig, 8.12.1975,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 299/92 (=StA Neuruppin: 61 Js 36/95), Bd.1, Bl. 121.
[25] Dr. Rolf Zickler became head of the medical services division of the Potsdam Stasi district administration with the rank of colonel. On Zickler see also: “Mielkes Medicus,” in: Focus Nr. 21, 18.5.1998.
[26] “Totenschein für Lothar Hennig, 6.11.1975,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 299/92 (=StA Neuruppin: 61 Js 36/95), Bd.1, Bl. 27.
[27] “Situationsbericht des MfS/HA I/Grenzkommando Mitte/Bereich Abwehr/UA GR-34 zum Vorkommnis über die Anwendung der Schusswaffe im Grenzdienst mit tödlichen Ausgang, 6.11.1975,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 14878, Bl. 147.
[28] Ibid., Bl. 148.
[29] Ibid., Bl. 150.
[30] “Situationsbericht des MfS/HA I/Grenzkommando Mitte/Bereich Abwehr/UA/GR-34 zum Vorkommnis über die Anwendung der Schusswaffe im Grenzdienst mit tödlichen Ausgang, 7.11.1975,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 14878, Bl. 152–155, here Bl. 153.
[31] “Situationsbericht des MfS/HA I/Grenzkommando Mitte/Bereich Abwehr/UA GR-34 zum Vorkommnis über die Anwendung der Schusswaffe im Grenzdienst mit tödlichen Ausgang am 5.11.1975,” 7.11.1975, in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 14878, Bl. 155.