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Lutz Schmidt Lutz Schmidt, born on July 8, 1962 in Zittau, was an enthusiastic bike racer and considered to be very talented by his sport club.[1] At the age of 14 he was sent to East Berlin to attend the youth sports school SC Dynamo Berlin. He graduated from high school there and hoped to achieve a professional career as a sprinter. But as Lutz Schmidt got older, he was less and less willing to follow the political demands made by his trainer. His refusal to join the Communist Party led to a falling out with his sports club. As a consequence, his sports career ended abruptly and with it his dream of becoming a professional bicycle racer. Lutz Schmidt had to find a new field of work.

When he was 18 he met Karin and they soon decided to get married. Lutz Schmidt raised Karin’s young daughter, Viktoria, as his own child. Soon a son, Karsten, was also born.[2] Now that his family’s well-being was his most important priority, Lutz Schmidt trained to become an assembly metal worker. He served in the National People’s Army as a motor mechanic and driver until April 1984. After that he planned to qualify as a master auto mechanic and hoped to open his own garage repair shop. But he ended up taking a job as a driver for the state-owned company “Autotrans” instead because the family wanted to build a house in Mahlow on the southeast edge of Berlin. He hoped that the job would make it easier for him to obtain materials he needed to build the house and that were hard to come by in East Germany.[3]

Still, life in East Germany did not really offer a promising future to Karin and Lutz Schmidt. Their contact with relatives in West Germany and the United States made them realize how different their life was to life in the West. They began to imagine a life for themselves in West Germany and wanted to offer their children a better chance in life. Nonetheless, they did not apply for an exit permit because they feared it might be disadvantageous to them both at work and privately. Instead, Lutz Schmidt hoped to use a visit to his relatives in Bremen to stay there permanently after which he would bring his family over. When his applications to visit his relatives in the West were repeatedly rejected, the couple decided that Lutz Schmidt should try to flee by himself and then bring the family over as part of the East German policy of uniting families. He first began thinking about daring escape plans. He considered crossing the Baltic Sea to the West in a home-made submarine, but he soon gave the idea up. He then got to know Peter Sch. a little better, a fellow colleague at “VEB Autotrans,” where he worked. They became friends and soon realized that they were both on the same wave length since Peter Sch. also wanted to leave East Germany.

Although Karin Schmidt had been informed of her husband’s plans from the very beginning, she did not want to meet his partner or know the exact date of their planned escape. She feared she would not be able to bear the psychological strain and also worried that she might get into trouble with the authorities after the men had safely reached the West. The couple agreed on a signal to mark the day of the escape: If Lutz Schmidt’s car was parked in the garage in the morning, then his wife would know that he had attempted his escape.[4]

Thursday, February 12, 1987, was a damp, cold, misty winter day. Visibility was less than 40 meters. Lutz Schmidt and Peter Sch. were both working the night shift. Over the past weeks they had used business trips to the border territory to find a good spot for their escape. This was the day they wanted to risk escape. They hoped that the weather conditions were to their advantage and that the soldiers would refrain from shooting at the border since East Berlin was expecting important guests from the West: Bernhard Vogel and Klaus von Dohnany, the minister presidents of the West German states Rheinland-Pfalz and Hamburg, were visiting Erich Honecker the next day. The men loaded two ladders onto to their truck that they had hidden in preparation for their escape and drove to the southeast edge of Berlin, to the sector border between Altglienicke and Rudow. Rheingoldstrasse, which was near Schönefeld airport, ran right into the death strip which was not more than 50 meters wide in this spot. The two men were driving at high speed and caught the attention of a police patrol car at about 9:20 p.m.. East German policemen had been put on duty as reinforcement at the border because of the poor weather conditions. The police first mistook the escape car as a truck belonging to the border troops. Due to the poor visibility, the truck and patrol car almost collided head-on. Lutz Schmidt and Peter Sch. swerved the truck out of the way and drove off the road. Accelerating, they tried to get their vehicle back onto the road but the wheels kept spinning deeper into the soil. The two men jumped out of the truck and disappeared with their ladders into the fog. The policemen became suspicious and informed the nearby border guards. During later questioning, one of the two policemen stated that after about a minute “I heard shots from a machine pistol at the border.”[5] Soon the notice came over the radio that “border troops had triggered ‘option cemetery.’”[6]

That evening the difference between life and death occurred within less than 60 seconds.[7] When Lutz Schmidt and Peter Sch. climbed over the signal fence they triggered an alarm. One of the ladders got caught in the barbed wire. The two men ran with the remaining ladder to the front concrete wall and set it up against it. But the ladder slipped on the slanted concrete base and sank into the soft clay ground. Consequently, the ladder ended two meters below the top of the wall and neither man was able to climb to the top without the help of the other. With both men standing on the ladder, Lutz Schmidt, the stronger of the two, was able to give his partner a leg up onto the top of the 3.6-meter-high wall so that he could straddle himself on it. Then Peter Sch. leaned over and tried to pull Lutz Schmidt up but was unable to.

Meanwhile the two border guards were running toward the beacon light where the signal had been set off. When they recognized the fugitives in the fog, they opened automatic fire at short range. Squatting on the top of the wall, Peter Sch. was able to grasp Lutz Schmidt’s hands, but when he tried to pull his friend up he lost his balance and fell onto the west side of the Berlin Wall. Lutz Schmidt fell back onto East German territory. As he fell he called to his friend: “Peter, take off!”[8] When he stood up a bullet fired by a border guard hit him in his breast cage and went into his heart. Peter Sch. succeeded in reaching West Berlin; Lutz Schmidt died in the death strip.

When Karin Schmidt woke up the next morning, she saw her husband’s car parked in the garage. She became fearful when she heard the news on western television that only one of the two drivers who fled the night before had made it to West Berlin. No one at her husband’s work place knew anything about it. She issued a missing persons’ report. The next day she was summoned with her father-in-law to the office of the military state prosecutor in East Berlin. They were separated and informed by a staff officer of the military state prosecutor and Stasi that Lutz Schmidt had been shot and killed “when he had violently infiltrated a military protective area near the state border.”[9] The East German secret police demanded that both of them maintain secrecy about the circumstances of his death. They were instructed to tell their own families, relatives and acquaintances that Lutz Schmidt had died in an automobile accident. The Stasi threatened that if they did not cooperate, the children would be taken away and handed over for adoption and that the wife would be committed to a psychiatric institute.[10] Stasi informants were assigned to watch Karin Schmidt and her family in Mahlow. Thereafter her mail was examined and her telephone tapped.[11] The principle aim of the Stasi “operative plan” against the dead man’s wife was the “prophylactic prevention of information/news about the incident that could be used to cause political damage to interests of East Germany from leaking over the state border.”[12]

Karin Schmidt was traumatized by the news of her husband’s death and the threats of the Stasi. Her father-in-law, who rejected the Stasi’s suggestion that he distance himself from his son’s “crime,” took over responsibility for the things that had to be negotiated with the Stasi.[13] Against the wishes of the widow, Lutz Schmidt was not buried in Mahlow, a village quite close to the border. He was buried on February 25, 1987 in his parents’ family grave in Zittau, quite a distance away. The family told the mourners that Lutz Schmidt had died in a car accident. The Stasi was particularly concerned that western journalists might attend the burial and assigned a large number of Stasi agents to control and monitor the funeral.

Peter Sch.’s successful escape received a lot of attention in the West at first.[14] But on the political level little was done to get information from the East German authorities about the shots that had been fired on February 12, or to find out what happened to the second fugitive. The reason was a state visit from the East German leader, Erich Honecker, to Bonn that was planned for September 1987. The mayor of West Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen, had also invited the Communist Party general secretary to attend the city’s 750th anniversary celebration. The politicians did not want the deaths at the Wall to disrupt the planned German-German diplomatic visits. As in the fall of 1986, it was striking how reservedly the Senate responded to inquiries and protests. During talks in preparation for President Ronald Reagan’s visit to Berlin, Washington warned the West Berlin mayor not to be to “too soft” towards East Germany.[15] It was ultimately American authorities that announced in mid-March 1987 that Lutz Schmidt had been shot and killed in February. An article in the “Bild-Zeitung” about this alarmed the East German secret police.[16] It pressured the widow to “break off contact with people in Mahlow as soon as possible and more specifically to sell the house” so that things could “settle down” once and for all. “She and the children have to get out of Mahlow,” the Stasi demanded of her father-in-law, who then organized the move.[17] The family hastily moved to Zittau in March. Lutz Schmidt’s father demanded that the Stasi arrange to have a tenant move out so that Karin Schmidt could move into an apartment in her parent-in-law’s semi-detached house a few months later.

In the 1990s Viktoria and Karsten Schmidt finally learned the truth about their father’s death. When the archives were opened to the public, Karin Schmidt discovered that her father-in-law had been an informant for the East German secret police since 1975 and had been assigned to help cover up the circumstances of his son’s death. Lutz Schmidt’s father thought that given the Stasi’s threats, his cooperation with the authorities would help the situation and protect his son’s family.[18] But Karin Schmidt felt manipulated and betrayed by the conspiratorial activities that he had engaged in behind her back.[19]

By February 1990 Karin Schmidt was already ready to press charges in Zittau for the murder of her husband but the state prosecutor in charge there told her that that was pointless. In response she went to the East German general state prosecutor and demanded not only that her husband’s murderer be punished, but also that her family be rehabilitated and granted financial compensation.[20] But a systematic investigation did not begin until after German reunification. On June 22, 1993 the Berlin public prosecutor’s office brought charges against the border guards involved in the death of Lutz Schmidt who had received the “Medal for Exemplary Service at the Border” and three days of special leave for preventing an escape. Karin Schmidt served as joint plaintiff in the case and again later in the trials against the members of the Communist Party Politburo and the East German National Council of Defense. On March 21, 1995 the men who had shot and killed Lutz Schmidt were found guilty of joint manslaughter by the Berlin district court and sentenced as youths to a prison sentence of two years each. The sentences were commuted to probation. Moreover, “as a gesture of reconciliation,” the two men had to pay Karin Schmidt a symbolic fine. The court explained that the “harsh sentence” was a consequence of the fact that given the command status at the time, there had been no compelling reason to use a weapon.[21] But the court also considered to the defendants’ advantage that they had acted only with limited intent, had confessed at least in part and had expressed regret over the consequences of their actions.

[Udo Baron/Hans-Hermann Hertle]

[1] On this and the following, see conversation conducted by Udo Baron with Karin Schmidt, 14.2.2007; conversation conducted by Udo Baron and Hans-Hermann Hertle with Lutz Schmidt’s parents, 18.6.2007.
[2] Conversation conducted by Udo Baron with Karin Schmidt, 14.2.2007.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Conversation conducted by Udo Baron with Karin Schmidt, 14.2.2007.
[5] “Protokoll der Befragung des VP-Angehörigen [Name geschwärzt] durch die BVfS Berlin/Untersuchungsabteilung, 13.2.1987,” in: BStU, Ast. Berlin, Abt. IX Nr. 12, Bl. 30–33, here Bl. 33.
[6] “Bericht eines VP-Hauptwachtmeisters der VP-Inspektion Treptow, 13.2.1987,” in: BStU, Ast. Berlin, Abt. IX Nr. 12, Bl. 34.
[7] See establishment of facts concerning circumstances of escape in: “Urteil des Landgerichts Berlin in der Strafsache gegen Michael J. und Ekkehard T., Az. (513) 2 Js 101/90 KLs (59/93), vom 21. März 1995,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 2 Js 101/90, Bd. 5, pp. 15–22; “Bericht des MfS/HA I/GKM/Abt. Abwehr über einen erfolgten und einen mit Anwendung der Schusswaffe verhinderten Grenzdurchbruch, 13.2.1987,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 14441, Bl. 547–553; “Information der BVfS Berlin/Abt. IX, 13.2.1987,” in: BStU, MfS, HA I Nr. 14441, Bl. 557–562. Also see the presentation in Hannelore Strehlow, Der gefährliche Weg in die Freiheit. Fluchtversuche aus dem ehemaligen Bezirk Potsdam, Potsdam, 2004, pp. 52–55.
[8] See “Urteil des Landgerichts Berlin in der Strafsache gegen Michael J. und Ekkehard T., Az. (513) 2 Js 101/90 KLs (59/93), vom 21. März 1995,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 2 Js 101/90, Bd. 5, p. 19.
[9] “Vermerk der BVfS Berlin/Abt. IX, 18.2.1987,” in: BStU, Ast. Berlin, Abt. IX Nr. 12, Bl. 5.
[10] Conversation conducted by Udo Baron with Karin Schmidt, 14.2.2007; conversation conducted by Udo Baron and Hans-Hermann Hertle with Lutz Schmidt’s parents, 18.6.2007.
[11] See “Eröffnungsbericht des MfS/KD Zossen zum OV „Jacob“, 26.2.1987,” in: BStU, Ast. Potsdam, AKG Nr. ZMA B 1241, Bl. 3–6; “Operativplan des MfS/KD Zossen zum OV „Jacob“, 26.2.1987,” in: Ibid., Bl. 7–9.
[12] “Operativplan des MfS/KD Zossen zum OV „Jacob“, 26.2.1987,” in: BStU, Ast. Potsdam, AKG Nr. ZMA B 1241, Bl. 7.
[13] See conversation conducted by Udo Baron with Karin Schmidt, 14.2.2007; conversation conducted by Udo Baron and Hans-Hermann Hertle with Lutz Schmidt’s parents, 18.6.2007.
[14] Der Tagesspiegel, 14.2.1987; Bild-Zeitung, 14.2.1987; Berliner Morgenpost, 14. und 15.2.1987; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 17. und 19.2.1987; Bild-Zeitung, 25.2.1987.
[15] See Hans-Hermann Hertle, Die Berliner Mauer – Monument des Kalten Krieges, Berlin, 2007, pp. 132–133.
[16] „Junger Kipperfahrer von Mauer geschossen – Flüchtling heimlich beerdigt“, in: Bild-Zeitung, 18.3.1987; „Schmidt wurde in Dresden beerdigt“, in: Berliner Morgenpost, 19.3.1987.
[17] See conversation conducted by Udo Baron and Hans-Hermann Hertle with Lutz Schmidt’s parents, 18.6.2007; see also “Vermerk der BVfS Berlin/Abt. IX, 19.3.1987,” in: BStU, Ast. Dresden, AIM 3170/90, Bd. 2, Bl. 50–52, here Bl. 51, 52.
[18] See conversation conducted by Udo Baron and Hans-Hermann Hertle with Lutz Schmidt’s parents, 18.6.2007.
[19] See the interviews with Karin, Karsten and Viktoria Schmidt in the documentary „Wenn Tote stören – Vom Sterben an der Mauer“, author: Florian Huber, NDR/ARD 2007; see also Sven-Felix Kellerhoff, „Gescheiterte Flucht löst Familientragödie aus“, in: Berliner Morgenpost, 11.2.2007.
[20] See “Schreiben von Karin Schmidt an den DDR-Generalstaatsanwalt, Juli 1990,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 2 Js 101/90, Bd 1, Bl. 174.
[21] See “Urteil des Landgerichts Berlin in der Strafsache gegen Michael J. und Ekkehard T., Az. (513) 2 Js 101/90 KLs (59/93), vom 21. März 1995,” in: StA Berlin, Az. 2 Js 101/90, Bd. 5, esp. pp. 47–50.