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The 16-year-old Wolf-Olaf Muszynski had been reported missing from the East Berlin district of Friedrichshain since February 6, 1963. This led the East German police headquarters to contact the western side of the city on March 18 to inquire whether a young boy had “arrived for registration,” or in other words, whether he had escaped to the West.[1] Given that relations between the East and West governments had been largely cut off since the Wall had been built, this kind of request was quite unusual.[2] In West Berlin the search for Wolf-Olaf Muszynski at the Marienfelde refugee center for East German fugitives and other places remained fruitless.[3] Information from his grandmother in West Berlin was also unhelpful. She told the West Berlin police on March 27 that in the past her grandson had expressed a desire to flee. She also gave the following description of the boy: “apparent age 18, approx. 177 cm. tall, slender, ash-blond hair, blue eyes.”[4]

On the morning of April 1, 1963, residents found Wolf-Olaf Muszynski’s body not far from the Oberbaum Bridge on the West Berlin Spree riverbank. All evidence suggested that he had drowned while trying to escape, unnoticed by East German borders guards. Under the headline “16 Year-Old Drowned Fugitive Washed Ashore,” the “Tagesspiegel” reported the following details the next day: “According to the West Berlin police, the young boy could be immediately identified because his identification papers had been attached to his back under his shirt.”[5] The corpse, it continued, did not bear any physical injuries, but its condition suggested that the deceased must have drowned quite some time ago.

An autopsy was requested in order to determine the exact cause of death. The examination found that neither sickness nor violence had played a role in the death, which was caused by drowning.[6] With no reason to believe a second party was involved in the death, the police investigation was closed.[7] When the case reopened in the 1990s, the results were confirmed again without the unearthing of any new information about the life of Wolf-Olaf Muszynski or why he had decided to flee.

[Christine Brecht]

[1] “Auszug aus dem Fernschreiben des PdVP/Berlin 31 an die West-Berliner Polizei betr. vermisste Person, 18.3.1963,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 7 AR 224/92, Bl. 3.
[2] For context, see Gerhard Kunze, Grenzerfahrungen. Kontakte und Verhandlungen zwischen dem Land Berlin und der DDR 1949–1989, Berlin, 1999.
[3] “Vermerk der West-Berliner Polizei, 19.3.1963,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 7 AR 224/92, Bl. 3.
[4] “Niederschrift der Zeugenaussage der Grossmutter von Wolf-Olaf Muszynski durch die West-Berliner Polizei, 27.3.1963,” in: Ibid., Bl. 4–5, here Bl. 5.
[5] Der Tagesspiegel, 2.4.1963.
[6] See “Obduktionsbericht des West-Berliner Instituts für gerichtliche und soziale Medizin der FU Berlin, 2.4.1963,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 7 AR 224/92, Bl. 12–14.
[7] See “Vermerk der West-Berliner Polizei, 29.5.1963,” in: Ibid., Bl. 17.