Refugees and Defectors
The breakup of Germany into several parts, the expulsion of the Germans from Eastern Europe, and the establishment of Communist systems there gave rise to mass flight. Though increasingly well fortified, the Demarcation Line, the border between Soviet-controlled and Western Germany, could be crossed. It contained one gaping hole in particular: Berlin. The city's importance as the escape hatch from Stalin's empire grew quickly. By the end of the 1940s it was the only easy way out of the Eastern Zone. The inner-German border was effectively sealed in the last days of May 1952, when the DDR's Ministry of State Security and police created a 5 kilometre-wide exclusion zone along it. Special permits were henceforth required to enter it. The resulting border regime was similar to that of the USSR and, like its Soviet counterpart, was said to be necessary to prevent saboteurs, terrorists, and spies from crossing into East Germany.1 Those people living in the new exclusion zone who were regarded as politically unreliable—several thousand people in all—were evacuated from it. The DDR government intensified its efforts to seal West Berlin off from East Germany, which surrounded it, directing railway traffic around the Western Sectors and putting up fencing. Any West German or West Berliner wishing to visit the DDR henceforth required a permit to do so. For a time, efforts were made to cut the links between the two halves of the city. By the end of September 1952 about 200 of the 277 streets which ran into the Western Sectors from the East were closed to traffic. In addition, all workers and employees of nationalized factories, among others, had to sign a declaration that they would not visit West Berlin; they were told that if they did so they would be immediately dismissed. Thousands of telephone connections were also cut. Nevertheless, the city remained the last gap in the border.2
The number of refugees fleeing via West Berlin surged thereafter. A large refugee camp was needed to accommodate them. One was duly opened in August 1953: this was the great Durchgangslager für Aussiedler und Zuwanderer (Transit
1 Knight, KGB, 237–43.
2 Bundesministerium für Innerdeutsche Beziehungen, Die Sperrmaßnahmen der DDR vom Mai
1952: Die Sperrmaßnahmen der Sowjetzonenregierung an der Zonengrenze und um Westberlin (Bonn,