In human history, many regimes or individuals out of their pursuit for political power, interests, and desire have delivered cruel orders that go against the human conscience. And history also proves that these evils were soon eliminated and condemned. The traumatic story of the death of young Peter Fechter has always been a wake-up call.

Wicked orders

After World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones controlled by the Allies. Berlin, the capital, was also divided into four similar areas. At the same time, the Cold War between the communist bloc and the capitalist Western bloc was beginning on many fronts, the constant diplomatic war and military threat caused Eastern  Germany to strengthen its border closure. Berlin became the center of the battle between intelligence services from both sides.

In 1961, the Berlin wall was built with barbed wire separating West Germany from East Germany to prevent people from “fleeing” from the socialist nation on the eastern side.

Berlin wall in 1961. (Wikimedia/Public domain)

Sadly, many people were shot dead in attempting to cross this heavily guarded 2 meter-high wall to West Berlin.

On August 24, 1961, 24-year-old Günter Litfin was shot dead by his own compatriots when he tried to flee near the station on Friedrich Street. In 1966, 10-year-old and 13-year-old children were killed by 40 gunshots. On February 6, 1989, Chris Gueffroy became the last victim to be killed. During the 28 years of its existence, about 5,000 people were seen risking their lives making their way to West Germany by climbing over the wall, of which 200 were killed.

Peter Fechter’s death – a wake-up call to human conscience

Peter Fechter was born in Berlin on January 14, 1944, just a few days after Hitler launched a major attack on London and the British regained the city of Perugia (Italy) a few days earlier. Peter luckily did not have to go through a catastrophic life during World War II, but unfortunately, he had to grow up in an atmosphere of terror, where every human right to life was under control and monitored at high risk of arrest and intimidation by the harsh regime in his homeland.

Peter grew up in the district of Weissensee (East Germany), and at the age of 14, he was already a skilled mason. His sister lived in West Germany and before the wall was erected, his frequent visits to his sister had offered Peter a brand new perspective on the free and good life on the west side of the wall.

On the fateful day of August 17, 1962, Peter decided to join his friend Helmut Kulbeik and flee from East Germany to West Germany. At noon that day, the two hid in a wooden workshop to secretly watch the East German border guards and wait for a chance to cross the deadly wall.

Both were targeted by East German border guards as they passed the wall. Helmut was lucky enough to make it through, but Peter was not. He was shot multiple times in the back in front of many witnesses, before falling down to the east of the wall and getting stuck in the barbed wire net.

Filled with despair, Peter painfully called for help, but East German soldiers merely ignored him, while West German soldiers dared not intervene but tried to throw him some bandages. Peter was left there with a wound that bled endlessly for 50 minutes until his cry for help faded away and ended.

The young man was still alive for nearly an hour after being shot and left in pain to die in the presence of three concerned parties just a few steps away. West German troops were unable to save their compatriots due to threats from East German guards. The U.S. military police stationed at Charlie checkpoint also received superior orders “not to act.”

Peter Fechter was left for nearly an hour in agony to death.(Ninian Reid/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

For over an hour Peter’s life drained out of him and hundreds of West German witnesses enraged with the inhumane behavior, shouted out, “Cold-blooded killers!” from the opposite side of the wall. Only then, did the East German guards arrive at the place where Peter collapsed and grabbed his body.

The photo of real brutality reminds the next generation of the harsh truth of the intolerable crime. After the fall of East Germany, right at the place where Peter was abandoned to die, a memorial column was erected in commemoration: The painful death of Peter Fechter on the eastern wall of Berlin symbolized a crime against humanity that was once considered … legal in East Germany.

Peter Fechter memorial and wreath on the western side of the Berlin Wall, taken in 1984. (Public Domain)

The “murder permit”

Peter Fechter became the 50th victim and was one of the most famous victims to be shot dead by East German guards at the Berlin Wall. His death along with others stemmed from a legal “murder permit” that applied to anyone including even women and children.

The seven-page document recently found in an archive in the eastern city of Magdeburg, mixed in with papers of an East German border guard. This “murder permit” read: “Don’t be afraid to use weapons, even when border raids involve women and children, whom traitors have often taken advantage of.”

This “permit” was discovered to be the strongest evidence that the East German communist regime issued apparent killing orders, according to Germany’s director of the Stasi, the Ministry of Security of East Germany had always denied the existence of such policy.

Not until nearly 30 years after the death of Peter Fechter, as well as hundreds of East Germans, the two soldiers who executed the inhumane command were eventually brought to a public trial and were convicted in 1997.

Although the sentence of their conviction was much lower than the murder sentence under the legal framework of the united Germany, but the guilty conviction of the court and the killers sentenced to prison has profound meaning for humanity, a life-cost lesson that could alert people:

Anyone has to bear responsibility for his/her own decisions and cannot take other’s orders as an excuse for their bad deeds. And those who choose to go against the human conscience and  morality will sooner or later pay a high price.

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