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Giuseppe Savoca Giuseppe Savoca, born on April 22, 1968 in West Berlin, lived with his parents, Italian immigrants, and two younger sisters in the Kreuzberg district.

On June 15, 1974, a Saturday, the six-year-old boy was playing with a friend on the Gröbenufer riverbank in Berlin-Kreuzberg. His Turkish friend later explained: “We just wanted to look at the fish.”[1] Giuseppe Savoca climbed under the embankment railing just past 10 a.m. and began fishing with a stick in the water a half meter under the quay wall. He may have been trying to fish a toy out of the Spree River. With his arms outstretched, he leaned farther and farther forward until he lost his balance and fell into the water. He frantically paddled in the water with his arms while his playmate ran away to get help.[2]

On the Oberbaum Bridge, 60 meters away, an East German border guard watched the events through his binoculars. He saw the child fall into the water, which belonged entirely to East Berlin in that area, and he informed the command post of the boat company of the NVA border regiment. A bit later, independently of this report, a patrol boat of the East German border troops passed right by the site of the accident. An adult who had been fetched by Giuseppe Savoca’s playmate called out to the boat crew that a child had fallen into the water. The coxswain stopped for a moment and then continued to pass by with his boat. Later he justified his failure to help the child with the explanation that he did not see any air bubbles on the surface of the water and consequently surmised that the call from the West Berlin bank was merely a provocation; in any case it was illegal for anyone to cross the red-white barrier line of the Spree without receiving an explicit order from the commander of the East German border regiment and without informing the border guards on the Oberbaum Bridge border crossing in advance.[3]

After he received the explicit order, the coxswain returned with his boat to the site of the accident. At about 10:25 a.m. he began searching for the drowned boy together with another East German border troop boat. Meanwhile a large crowd of West Berliners had gathered on the bank of the river, but they remained cautious and did not try to rescue the child. Ten minutes later the West Berlin police and firemen arrived. As had been the case with previous incidents of children falling into the water at Gröbenufer, the East German border guards did not allow the West Berlin rescue teams to get involved or assist in the rescue. The boy’s mother later reported to the West Berlin police that a woman had told her that a man who had wanted to rescue her son had been threatened by East German border guards with their guns.[4] The search for the child did not begin until 10:45 a.m., when a diving troop of the East German border regime arrived at the site of the accident.[5] The six-year-old was pulled out of the water almost an hour after the accident had occurred and taken to East Berlin.[6]

The young boy’s parents were permitted to travel to East Berlin on the evening of June 15, 1974 to identify their child at the forensic institute of Charité Hospital. Giuseppe Savoca’s body was released for burial by the East German state prosecutor’s office two days later and delivered to West Berlin on June 19, 1974. “The East German government charged the parents 54.50 German marks for this service.”[7]

The following day the Communist Party newspaper “Neues Deutschland” falsely claimed that “all the necessary measures” to rescue the child “had been taken without delay.”[8] The West Berlin press criticized East Germany, accusing the border guards of having hindered and delayed the rescue.[9]

Although representatives of the West Berlin Senate and the East German government had been negotiating for months over how to provide immediate emergency rescue measures in similar cases, they still had not come up with a solution. One more child, Cetin Mert, would have to die before the Senate and the East German government signed an agreement on October 29, 1975 on rescue measures for accidents in the Berlin waterways. The agreement determined that when people from West Berlin “were in an acute emergency situation in border waters,” rescue measures could also be taken from the West Berlin side. Before this could happen, however, rescue posts set up on the bank had to indicate to the border guards that there was an emergency.[10] These rescue posts were erected in the spring of 1976 on the water border between East and West Berlin.

[Udo Baron]

[1] Quoted in: Der Spiegel Nr. 28, 8.7.1974, p. 49.
[2] See “Abschlussbericht des PdVP Berlin/Abt. K zur Todesermittlungssache des italienischen Staatsbürgers Giuseppe Savoca, 19.6.1974,” in: BStU, MfS, AS Nr. 109/77, Bl. 155–159; see also Der Spiegel Nr. 28, 8.7.1974, p. 49.
[3] See “Protokoll des MfS/HA IX/Untersuchungsorgan zur Befragung des Postenführers des GÜSt-Sicherungsregimentes Berlin [Name geschwärzt], 15.6.1974,” in: BStU, MfS, AS Nr. 109/77, Bl. 164–165; “Protokoll des MfS/HA IX/Untersuchungsorgan zur Befragung des Zugführers der Bootskompanie [Name geschwärzt], 15.6.1974,” in: BStU, MfS, AS Nr. 109/77, Bl. 166–167.
[4] See BZ, 18.6.1974.
[5] See “Information des MfS/HA IX/7 zum Ertrinken eines Westberliner Kindes am 15.6.1974 an der Staatsgrenze der DDR zu Westberlin, 15.6.1974,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 109/77, Bl. 152–154.
[6] “Abschlussbericht des PDVP Berlin, 19.6.1974,” in: BStU, MfS, AS 109/77, Bl. 155–159.
[7] “Der nasse Tod,” in: Peter Pragal/Eckart D. Stratenschulte, Der Monolog der Lautsprecher und andere Geschichten aus dem geteilten Berlin, München, 1999, p. 59.
[8] Neues Deutschland, 16.6.1974.
[9] See BZ, 18.6.1974.
[10] See exchange of letters between East Germany and the Berlin Senate on rescue measures for accidents at the sector boundary from October 29, 1975, in: Bundesministerium für innerdeutsche Beziehungen (ed.), Zehn Jahre Deutschlandpolitik, Bonn, 1980, p. 287; see background information from the West Berlin perspective: Gerhard Kunze, Grenzerfahrungen. Kontakte und Verhandlungen zwischen dem Land Berlin und der DDR 1949–1989, Berlin, 1999, pp. 404–405; from the East German perspective: Joachim Mitdank, Die Berlin-Politik zwischen 17. Juni 1953, dem Viermächteabkommen und der Grenzöffnung 1989. Erinnerungen eines Diplomaten, Berlin, 2003, pp. 100–108.