She’ll never know why, on August 7 1970, her father was in the border area near the Berlin Wall.
The only thing she knows is that East German border guards fired 177 shots at him.
Monika N. was 13 when she lost her father. Her sister was a year older.
The worst thing on that summer day, she remembers, was the uncertainty. Nobody in the West knew that her father, Gerald Thiem had been shot.
They only found out 24 years later, well after their mother – who thought her husband had deserted the family – died.
The West Berlin bricklayer is just one of many “Wall victims” whose death was successfully covered up by the East German security service (Stasi, short for Staatssicherheit, literally State Security). By 1989, 136 people hadbeen killed at The Wall, most of them – unlike Thiem – as they tried to flee from East to West.
Thiem’s story is one of five highlighted in a just-inaugurated temporary exhibition at the Berlin education centre of the Bundesbeauftragte für die Stasi-Unterlagen (Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives) where records of the feared East German state security apparatus are kept.
Christian Booß, the exhibition’s coordinator, selected the stories to show how the Stasi hushed the deaths up. The exhibits includes items the victims had in their pockets at the time of death – such as house keys that the secret police made copies of to get into the homes of the victims and plant listening devices.
Another victim profiled in the exhibit is Horst Einsiedel, a 33-year-old mechanical engineer from East Berlin. He didn’t want to join the Socialist Unity Party (SED) but felt that not having done so was damaging his career. He missed the West, where his mother and sister lived.
Although he had a wife and daughter in the East, he decided to flee – via the cemetery in Berlin-Pankow, which he knew well because his father was buried there.
In the early hours of March 15 1973, he went to the cemetery with two ladders. He successfully used one to climb over preliminary fencing. But as he was leaning the second ladder against the actual Wall, border guards opened fire and he died on the spot.
Two days later his wife reported him missing to the East German police. But the men who showed up to talk to her about her missing spouse weren’t normal policemen, and what they were really trying to ascertain was whether or not she knew about his plans to flee.
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This story was originally published by WorldCrunch.