You are here: Home | The Berlin Wall | Fatalities | 1986

RENÉ GROß

Rene Groß René Gross, born on May 1, 1964 in East Berlin, was a professional driver and worked for the state-owned company “Kühlautomat Berlin.” He made no secret of his “hostile attitude towards East Germany.”[1] He married in 1985 and that same year applied for the right to resettle in West Germany. Applications for permission to leave the country were submitted to the internal division of the district council office but rarely did anyone know if his request would be granted until a final decision had been made. Those who were granted permission to leave were usually informed of the decision only shortly before the designated date of their departure. After people submitted their request, they lived between hope and resignation and with a total uncertainty about where and how they would live through the next few years. René Gross was unable to endure being at the mercy of the authorities. He wanted to determine his own future. Although his wife also wanted this, she preferred to stay in East Germany with their six-year-old son.[2] When René Gross met 38-year-old Manfred Mäder, who had also submitted a request to leave, the two men soon agreed to flee to West Berlin in advance of their families.[3] They may have been encouraged by the fact that other people they knew had succeeded in fleeing to the West.[4]

On November 20, 1986 René Gross said goodbye to his wife in the afternoon, saying that “he just wanted to run an errand and would be right back.”[5] He and Manfred Mäder stole a truck that night, a “W 50” with a tail-lift that could reach to the top of the Berlin Wall.[6] Early in the morning, at about 5:00 a.m., the two men drove at high speed towards the border that divided the Treptow and Neukölln districts of Berlin. They broke through a border gate in the interior security wall and through the signal fence. After turning sharply to the right the vehicle came to a halt parallel to the base of the concrete wall facing West Berlin.[7] Guards on two watchtowers and guards on the ground rushed to the site and aimed automatic fire at the men until they both fell to the ground, either dead or severely injured. René Gross gave up his flight and crawled under the truck to seek protection from the flow of bullets but he was shot in the head. Manfred Mäder, who had jumped from the truck’s tail-lift onto the top of the Wall, was hit by a bullet in his left thigh. He fell back onto the east side of the Wall and bled to death.[8]

The border soldiers involved in the incident were relieved of their duty and decorated the same day with the “Medal of Merit of the Border Troops of East Germany” in bronze – and invited to attend a banquet dinner.[9] An investigation of the incident opened by the East German military state prosecutor was suspended two months later with the explanation that the case involved fatal wounds “caused by self-inflicted actions.”

The crime against René Gross remained unpunished, even in reunified Germany. Almost 18 years after the escape attempt the Berlin district court convicted the two men who shot Manfred Mäder of manslaughter and sentenced them to ten months probation.[10] But it could not be determined who had shot and killed René Gross.

Residents of the West Berlin district of Neukölln were awakened at about five o’clock in the morning by “explosion-like noises” accompanied by shots from a machine gun.[11] The West Berlin police and customs office tried to gather information about what had happened but they were not able to see the site of the incident. Given the dense population on the West Berlin side, the border troops and East German secret police decided against investigating the crime site and removed all the existing evidence for “political-operative reasons.”[12] In order to prevent an “information flow,” the Stasi blocked access to the public telephone of the border regiment that was involved in the incident.[13] The border soldiers involved had to swear to secrecy in writing and thereafter their mail was examined. The wives of the two dead men were kept under surveillance with the aim of “exerting influence on the prevention of conduct damaging to East Germany.”[14]

On the morning of November 21, 1986 René Gross’ wife heard on western radio about a failed escape attempt in the border area between Treptow and Neukölln. She had a feeling that it might have involved her husband. That same evening in the East German police headquarters in Berlin-Mitte she learned about her husband’s death. She was interrogated and kept under surveillance by the East German secret police for a time in the hope that information could be gained about his escape preparations. The East German secret police forbade her from contacting the widow of Manfred Mäder.[15]

René Gross was buried a short time later in the cemetery in Berlin-Mahlsdorf.[16]

[Udo Baron]

----
[1] Information der BVfS Berlin/Abt. IX, 23.11.1986,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 5795, Bl. 60.
[2] See “Protokoll der Zeugenvernehmung der Witwe von René Gross durch die Berliner Polizei, 29.1.1991,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js/56 Js 275/03, Bd. 1, Bl. 90.
[3] Ibid., Bl. 89
[4] See “Protokoll der Zeugenvernehmung der Witwe von Manfred Mäder durch die Reutlinger Polizei, 14.4.1992,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js/56 Js 275/03, Bd. 2, Bl. 58.
[5] Ibid., Bl. 89.
[6] See establishment of facts concerning circumstances of escape in: “Urteil des Landgerichts Berlin vom 10.5.2004,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js/56 Js 275/03, Bd. 7, Bl. 206–209.
[7] See “Information der BVfS Berlin/Abt. IX, 23.11.1986,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 5795, Bl. 58.
[8] See ibid.
[9] See “Urteil des Landgerichts Berlin vom 10.5.2004,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js/56 Js 275/03, Bd. 7, Bl. 210.
[10] See ibid., Bl. 190–191.
[11] Süddeutsche Zeitung, 22.11.1986.
[12] “Information der BVfS Berlin/Abt. IX, 23.11.1986,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 5795, Bl. 60.
[13] See “Bericht des MfS/HA I/Grenzkommando Mitte/Abteilung Abwehr über die Verhinderung eines Grenzdurchbruches DDR-Berlin (West) am 21.11.1986, 21.11.1986,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 5795, Bl. 55.
[14] “Information der BVfS Berlin/Abt. IX, 23.11.1986,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 5795, Bl. 63.
[15] See “Protokoll der Zeugenvernehmung der Witwe von René Gross durch die Berliner Polizei, 29.1.1991,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js/56 Js 275/03, Bd. 1, Bl. 90.
[16] Ibid.