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Jörg Hartmann On March 14, 1966, border guards shot two children, aged 10 and 13, who had managed to enter the border area in the East Berlin district of Treptow unnoticed after dark. Thirty years later the guard who fired the shots explained that he had seen a shadow from his watchtower and only opened fire because he thought it was his duty.[1]

Jörg Hartmann, the ten-year-old, died immediately. His thirteen-year-old friend, Lothar Schleusener, was brought to the People’s Police Hospital in Berlin-Mitte and died there from his injuries that same night. Both boys were born in East Berlin and had grown up in the Friedrichshain district. East Germany covered up what actually happened that night because the politicians and military leaders did not want to admit that children had been shot at the Wall. The relatives were led to believe that Jörg Hartmann and Lothar Schleusener died in an accident. The evidence was destroyed; consequently, only a few documents exist today that record the violent crime. The staff of the Central Investigating Agency for Governmental and Party Crimes was nonetheless able to bring the facts to light in the 1990s[2] because the gunshots that killed the young boys had also been heard in the neighboring West Berlin district of Neukölln.[3]

According to western investigation files, a “reliable source” in the East Berlin People’s Police Hospital at the time had informed the West that the bullets had hit two children.[4] In March 1966, the news was publicized on the radio and in the press that children trying to reach West Berlin near the Plänterwald S-Bahn had been seen and immediately shot at with machine pistols.[5] Even the name of one of the victims reached the West through unknown channels and was put on record: Jörg Hartmann.[6]

Jörg Hartmann and his two younger siblings lived with their grandmother on Schreinerstrasse in Berlin-Friedrichshain. He left the small apartment in the rear building on March 14, 1966 to buy fresh rolls and disappeared without a trace. Ursula Mörs, Jörg Hartmann’s third grade teacher at the elementary school on Rigaer Strasse, recalled that when the RIAS radio station reported that two children had been shot at the Wall, she immediately became apprehensive.[7] Alarmed by the radio news, she began asking around in her class. One of Jörg’s classmates said that Jörg had wanted to see his father in West Berlin. To learn more, she paid a visit to the boy’s grandmother and learned that Jörg had never met his father but had indirectly inquired about his address on the west side of the city shortly before he disappeared.

Jörg Hartmann’s mother was mentally ill and unable to care for her children herself so the siblings grew up with their grandmother.[8] When Jörg did not return home, his grandmother began to worry. She notified the East German police that very evening that her grandson was missing but was not given any information about what had happened to him. When the grandmother heard that two children had been shot and killed at the Wall she became very fearful, but she did not know that Jörg had been with Lothar Schleusener that day. The two boys had known each other since they were small children because they used to live in the same neighborhood before Jörg and his siblings moved to his grandmother’s.

It was about 7:15 p.m. when the two boys were noticed by border soldiers that evening near the garden colony “Sorgenfrei.” This was stated in a report that the East Berlin city commander gave to the Communist Party Politburo member Erich Honecker, who, as head of the Communist Party’s security division and secretary of the East German National Defense Council, was responsible for the “state border.”[9] The report stated that the border guards “recognized as silhouettes two people who had passed the interior barrier.” When they did not respond to the warning shots, the guards opened fire.

The grandmother received the news of Jörg Hartmann’s death two weeks later. The East Berlin attorney general told her that her grandson had drowned and that his body showed signs of boat propeller abrasions when it was retrieved from a lake in Köpenick on March 17. The grandmother, however, remained mistrustful of this information for the rest of her life.

Ursula Mörs did not believe the official version of his death, either. When the teacher tried to find out more, she was pulled aside by the school director and instructed to discontinue her inquiry. This experience motivated her to expedite her own escape to the West and she succeeded in fleeing that same year.

Jörg Hartmann’s corpse was cremated and buried anonymously in the Baumschulenweg Cemetery in Berlin-Treptow before the relatives were even notified of his death. Later the grandmother was able to have the urn reburied and the new grave site marked with a tombstone.

Ursula Mörs remembered Jörg Hartmann as a quiet, shy child, small and thin with blond hair and light blue eyes. He had had a hard time meeting the demands of school, and therefore was very pleased when he was praised. To preserve the memory of her student she supported the efforts to have a monument erected in his honor. It was dedicated in 1999,on Kiefholzstrasse.

In November 1997 the Berlin district court declared the former border soldier guilty of manslaughter in the death of Jörg Hartmann and Lothar Schleusener and sentenced him to twenty months probation.[10] The defendant had confessed that he and another border guard, who had passed away by then, had shot at the children on March 14, 1966.[11]

[Christine Brecht]

[1] See Karl-Heinz Baum, “‘Pflichtgefühl’ kostet zwei Kindern das Leben,” in: Frankfurter Rundschau, 20.11.1997.
[2] See Zentrale Ermittlungsstelle für Regierungs- und Vereinigungskriminalität (ed.), Jahresbericht 1997, Berlin, 1998. See also Barbara Zibler, Kinder als Opfer der Mauer, in: Falk Blask (ed.), Geteilte Nachbarschaft. Erkundungen im ehemaligen Grenzgebiet Treptow und Neukölln, Berlin, 1999, pp. 75–81, and the film documentary „Geboren 1955 – Erschossen 1966. Der Tod eines Zehn-Jährigen an der Berliner Mauer“, directors: Simone Warias and Friedrich Herkt, Vidicon/MDR 2001.
[3] See “Bericht der West-Berliner Polizei/R 217 betr. Schüsse im SBS, 15.3.1966,” in: PHS, Bestand Grenzvorkommnisse, n. pag., and “Schlussbericht der West-Berliner Polizei, 1.4.1966,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27/2 Js 568/92, Bd. 1, Bl. 21–22.
[4] See “Bericht der West-Berliner Polizei betr. Grenzzwischenfall vom 14.3.1966 gegen 19.00 Uhr in Berlin-Neukölln, Höhe Sackführerdamm, 16.3.1966,” in: Ibid., Bl. 17.
[5] “Schüsse auf Kinder,” in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 17.3.1966.
[6] See “Bericht der West-Berliner Polizei, 21.6.1966,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27/2 Js 568/92, Bd. 1, Bl. 38–39.
[7] See conversation conducted by Christine Brecht with Ursula Mörs, Jörg Hartmann’s classroom teacher, 7.9.2006.
[8] See “Niederschrift der Zeugenvernehmung des Bruders von Jörg Hartmann durch die Berliner Polizei, 19.10.1992,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27/2 Js 568/92, Bd. 1, Bl. 105–111.
[9] See “Meldung der NVA/Stadtkommandant Poppe an SED-Politbüromitglied Erich Honecker betr. Verhinderung eines Grenzdurchbruches durch Anwendung der Schusswaffe, 14.3.1966,” in: BArch, VA-07/8373, Bl. 101–102.
[10] See “Urteil des Landgerichts Berlin vom 19.11.1997,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27/2 Js 568/92, Bd. 5, Bl. 197–219, here Bl. 198.
[11] See “Niederschrift der Vernehmung von Siegfried B. durch die Polizei in Aschersleben, 1.2.1996,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 27/2 Js 568/92, Bd. 3, Bl. 556–557.