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Provisional State, Reluctant Institutions: West Berlin's Refugee Service and Refugee Commissions, 1949–1952

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 March 2015

Eric H. Limbach*
Affiliation:
University of Illinois at Chicago

Extract

In May 1951, the Hamburger Freie Presse published an article on the alleged experiences of Hans Schmidt, an East German police officer (Volkspolizist) who had sought to register earlier that year for political asylum in West Berlin. The newspaper profile followed the twenty-one-year-old Schmidt from his unit's barracks in the northern city of Rostock, across the still undefended border between Brandenburg and West Berlin, to a police station in the northwestern district of Spandau, where he announced his intention to flee to West Germany.

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Articles
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Copyright © Central European History Society of the American Historical Association 2015 

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References

1 G. Müller, “Volkspolizist Schmidt sucht die Freiheit, aber die Freiheit schickt ihn wieder zurück,” Hamburger Freie Presse, May 19/20, 1951; Landesarchiv Berlin (LAB) B Rep 008 Nr. 189, “Flüchtlingsstelle to Presseamt,” June 4, 1951. Newspaper accounts such as this one are among the few sources available on the experiences of individual refugees as they made their way through the reception system. Administrative files in both West Germany and West Berlin regarding individual asylum applications and decisions, including the records of West Berlin's refugee commissions, are not typically available in the archives; the Lower Saxony State Archives in Hanover, which contain some files pertaining to the refugees registered at the reception center in Uelzen, are a notable exception in this regard. In addition, refugees' own contemporary accounts and later memoirs generally focus far more on their preflight lives as a means of justifying their decision to flee, as well as on the experience of actually crossing the border. Their arrivals at reception centers are rarely documented.

2 In West Germany, at least (a specific breakdown for West Berlin is not available), around one-third of these new arrivals were refugees twice over, having been expelled from the former German territories in the East and having settled first in the Soviet Zone. These expellee-refugees were often better off once they arrived in West Germany, where they could count on the support of politically well-connected expellee organizations and the federal equalization-of-burden laws. Those who were natives of the area that would become the Soviet Zone/East Germany were not as fortunate. See LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 105, “Rechtsstellung von Zuwanderern aus der Sowjetzone,” March 9, 1954; Bundesarchiv Koblenz (BAK) B 137/197, “Der Flüchtlingsausweis ‘C,’” Unser Kampf—Unsere Arbeit. Mitteilungsblatt der VPO, Nov. 1953; Walter von Keudell, “Der Weg der Enttäuschten. Die Versorgung der Sowjetzonen-Flüchtlinge in der Bundesrepublik,” Berlin-Brandenburger Kurier, Nov. 2, 1953, reprinted in Die Welt, Nov. 26, 1953.

3 See Flüchtlinge überfluten die Insel Berlin. Denkschrift des Senats von Berlin, Feb. 6, 1953, p. 73.

4 See Gatrell, Peter, The Making of the Modern Refugee (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 115CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Plischke, Elmer and Erdmann, Elisabeth, Berlin: Development of Its Government and Administration (Bonn: Historical Division, Office of the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, 1952), 8586Google Scholar; see also Windsor, Philip, City On Leave: A History of Berlin, 1945–1962 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1963), 132–33Google Scholar.

6 In 1956, Heinrich Kreil, the Senator for Labor and Social Questions in Berlin, wrote: “On the day of reunification the reflux of the people who once fled from the Soviet Zone of Germany will set in. Let us hope that . . . the Berlin refugee camps will no longer be crowded with people looking for asylum . . . but with re-immigrants who are anxious to reestablish within a few years in their homeland (Heimat) a free and happy life.” See Heinrich Kreil, “Berlin and the Refugees from the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany,” in “Flüchtlingsprobleme in Berlin,” special edition of Integration (Munich and Augsburg: Hofmann-Druck und Verlag, 1956).

7 Windsor, 136–37.

8 Flüchtlinge überfluten die Insel Berlin, 74; Berlin Büro für Gesamtberliner Fragen, Berliner Schicksal 1945–1952 (Berlin: Senat von Berlin, 1952), 163Google Scholar.

9 LAB B Rep. 008 Nr. 101, Bundesminister für Vertriebene, “Übersicht über die Zuwanderer,” Nov. 5, 1953.

10 See, e.g., “Mißstände im Hauptjugendamt,” Der Tagesspiegel, Feb. 12, 1952.

11 “Spitzel im Flüchtlingslager. Kriminalwachtmeister mißbrauchte seine Vertrauensstellung,” Spandauer Volksblatt, Feb. 17, 1953; “30 SSD-Spitzel in Flüchtlingslagern,” Berliner Morgenpost, March 16, 1954. See also Care and Help for Expellees, Refugees, Victims of Material War Damage, Evacuees, Prisoners of War and Civilian Prisoners, Repatriated Persons, Non-German Refugees (Bonn: Federal Ministry for Expellees, Refugees, and War Victims, 1964), 16Google Scholar; Brandt, Willy, The Ordeal of Coexistence (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 188, letter from Heinrich Vockel to Konrad Adenauer, Nov. 18, 1950.

13 LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 101, Senator für Sozialwesen, Referat II 4b, “Die Flüchtlingsbewegung nach Westberlin bis Ende Oktober 1951”; “Wer erhält den Zuzug?—Notaufnahmegesetz tritt morgen in Kraft,” Der Tagesspiegel, Feb. 3, 1952.

14 On the debate over political and economic rationales for flight, see Ackermann, Volker, Der “echte” Flüchtling (Osnabrück: Universitätsverlag Rasch, 1995)Google Scholar.

15 Riess, Curt, Berlin, Berlin. 1945–1953 (Berlin-Grünewald: Non-Stop Bücherei, 1953), 211–12Google Scholar; see also the accounts given by refugees in Donner, Jörn, Report from Berlin, trans. Anderson, Albin T. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1961), 4243Google Scholar, 49.

16 Otto Bach, “Die wirtschaftliche und soziale Sicherheit Berlins,” Gewerkschaftliche Monatshefte (Oct. 1952): 601.

17 LAB B Rep 004 Nr. 21, Bundesministerium für Vertriebene, “Hinweise für Zuwanderer aus der Sowjetischen Besatzungszone (SBZ) und Berlin,” Feb. 15, 1951.

18 BAK B 137/203, letter from Kalweit to Kaiser, Nov. 7, 1950. The VOS was apparently comprised of refugees who had previously been imprisoned in the SBZ or GDR for political organizing. For more on the VOS, see Liang, Hsi-Huey, Berlin before the Wall (New York: Routledge, 1990), 57Google Scholar.

19 Wanstrat, Renate, Strukturanalyse der politisch nicht anerkannten Flüchtlinge in West-Berlin, Teil I. Die Lagerinsassen (Berlin: Osteuropa Institut–FU Berlin, 1953)Google Scholar; LAB B Rep 009 Nr. 128, Senator für Sozialwesen, “Errichtung eines Aufnahmeheims für zugewanderte Obdachlose in Neukölln, Erlangerstr. 1–3,” July 5, 1951.

20 Historical Archives of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg), German Refugees, 769/15723, vol. 1, letter from Van Heuven Goedhart to Federal Republic of Germany, Feb. 10, 1953; Vernant, Jacques, The Refugee in the Postwar World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1953), 9298Google Scholar.

21 Roggenbuch, Frank, Das Berliner Grenzgängerproblem (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008)Google Scholar.

22 On the terminology, see LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 373, Senator für Sozialwesen, Referat II 4b,“Die Flüchtlingsbewegung nach Westberlin,” and “Statistisches Material zum Problem der abgewiesenen illegalen Grenzgänger für Westberlin.” See also Granicky, Günter, “Die Zuwanderung aus der Sowjetischen Besatzungszone,” in Die Vertriebenen in Westdeutschland, vol. 3, ed. Edding, Friedrich and Lemberg, Eugen (Kiel: F. Hirt, 1959), 477Google Scholar.

23 Horne, Alistair, Return to Power: A Report on the New Germany (New York: Praeger, 1956), 189Google Scholar.

24 LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 188, letter from Vockel to Adenauer, Nov. 18, 1950.

25 LAB B Rep 010-01 Nr. 317, Senatsverwaltung für Kreditwesen, “Die rechtliche Entwicklung der Flüchtlingsaufnahme,” 35–36; “89. Sitzung der Stadtverordnetenversammlung” (Nov. 18, 1948), in Berliner Schicksal 1945–1952, 83; LAB B Rep 004 Nr. 21, [letter from] Hauptamt für Statistik und Wahlen (Treitschke) to Rechtsabteilung des Magistrats, “Betr. Ausweisung illegal nach Berlin zuziehender Personen,” May 22, 1948.

26 LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 166, letter from Vortisch to Leiter der Flüchtlingsstelle (Kuno-Fischer-Str.), Oct. 19, 1951.

27 Even during subsequent years, West Berlin's statisticians never cited a specific number of refugees who had arrived prior to January 1949, suggesting that such records were not kept. See, e.g., Senator für Sozialwesen, “Die Flüchtlingsbewegung nach Westberlin.” There is a 1952 reference to the registration of 1,189 individuals (652 men, 242 women, and 295 children) prior to January 1949, of whom 149 were recognized as political refugees. It is not clear who decided on the question of recognition or non-recognition, however, what happened to these individuals, or how their arrivals were otherwise registered. See Berliner Schicksal 1945–1952, 163.

28 See Senator für Sozialwesen, “Errichtung eines Aufnahmeheims.”

29 See Senatsverwaltung für Kreditwesen, “Die rechtliche Entwicklung der Flüchtlingsaufnahme,” 36.

30 The files of the Department of Social Affairs and the Department of the Interior do not provide specific statistics for 1949 beyond a general estimate of new arrivals; see LAB B Rep 004 Nr. 39, Jahresbericht 1952, Senator für Sozialwesen.

31 Plischke and Erdmann, Berlin, 85.

32 See Senatsverwaltung für Kreditwesen, “Die rechtliche Entwicklung der Flüchtlingsaufnahme,” 40; Johann Christoph Hampe, “Fluchtstation Berlin,” Sonntagsblatt (Hamburg), Dec. 4, 1955; LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 188, Wilhelm Schulz, “Bericht über meine Dienstreise nach Bonn, Giessen u. Uelzen in der Zeit vom 18.-26. Apr. 1951,” Apr. 30, 1951.

33 LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 143, Senator für Sozialwesen, “Flüchtlingskommissionen.”

34 LAB B Rep 004 Nr. 39, Senator für Sozialwesen, “Flüchtlingsbewegung nach West-Berlin seit Inkrafttreten des Bundesnotaufnahmegesetzes,” May 30, 1952; Senator für Sozialwesen, “Jahresbericht 1952.”

35 Schulz, “Bericht über meine Dienstreise,” April 30, 1951; Senator für Sozialwesen, “Flüchtlingskommissionen.”

36 “Kampf des politischen Flüchtlings um Anerkennung,” Der Kurier (Berlin), Sept. 21, 1951.

37 LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 101, “Laufzettel”; LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 155, Senator für Sozialwesen, “Prozedur der Flüchtlingsaufnahme,” March 18, 1953.

38 LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 189, report from Vortisch to Polizeipräsidium, Abt. II, March 14, 1951.

39 LAB B Rep 010-01 Nr. 317, Senatsverwaltung für Kreditwesen, “Die praktische Abwicklung der Flüchtlingsaufnahme,” 39.

40 Berliner Schicksal 1945–1952, 165.

41 LAB B Rep 012 Nr. 190, letter from Senator für Gesundheitswesen to Bezirksgesundheitsämter, March 23, 1953.

42 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, College Park, MD), Records of the U.S. Representative to the Combined Travel Board, Office of the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, RG 466, speech by Jean J. Chenard, Director-General (U.S.) of the Combined Travel Board, before a Meeting of Reserve Officers in Germany, 1952. To my knowledge, there are no extant copies of this “blacklist,” though they may remain classified in an archive somewhere.

43 See, e.g., “Ostberlin—Basis der östlichen Spionage,” Stuttgarter Nachtrichten, June 23, 1960; “Die Bundesregierung legt Zahlenmaterial über die Untergrundtätigkeit des Ostens vor,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, Sept. 9, 1960.

44 Maddrell, Paul, Spying on Science: Western Intelligence in Divided Germany, 1945–1961 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 56CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45 NARA, Records of the United States Army, Europe, RG 549, Historical Division, U.S. Army Europe, Annual Historical Summary 1951, 163.

46 “Die praktische Abwicklung der Flüchtlingsaufnahme,” 38; LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 155, letter from Vortisch to Polizeipräsidium, Abt. II, “Behandlung der kriminellen Elemente, Agenten,” March 14, 1951; letter from Wilbrandt to Vockel, May 21, 1953.

47 The common term for this was Abenteuerlust. See BAK B 145/177, letter from Gerhard Staudinger, Backnang (Lager Semknar) to Adenauer, Jul. 5, 1953. East German authorities used the same term. See Port, Andrew I., Conflict and Stability in the German Democratic Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 134–35Google Scholar.

48 “Angst vor Volkspolizei und Arbeitsdienst,” Badische Zeitung, Sept. 22, 1952; BAK B 137/83, letter from Radetzky to Landesflüchtlingsverwaltungen, “Begriff der ‘minderjährigen’ Kinder,” Aug. 3, 1956. Also see Caitlin Murdock, “A Gulag in the Erzgebirge? Forced Labor, Political Legitimacy, and East German Uranium Mining in the Early Cold War, 1946-1949,” in this issue of CEH.

49 Liang, 101–3.

50 Senator für Sozialwesen, “Errichtung eines Aufnahmeheims.”

51 LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 101, Senator für Sozialwesen, “Bericht über die Prüfung der Flüchtlingslager,” Sept. 22, 1953.

52 The 300 DM paid to the refugee commissioners was, by comparison, a comfortable monthly salary. See LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 104, Senator für Sozialwesen, “Politische Flüchtlinge in Westberlin,” Dec. 10, 1951; Handbook of German Affairs (Washington, DC: Press Office, German Diplomatic Mission, 1954), 103Google Scholar.

53 LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 188, letter from Benecke (Bürgermeister Zehlendorf) to Senatskanzlei, July 28, 1951.

54 “Die praktische Abwicklung der Flüchtlingsaufnahme,” 40; Riess, Berlin, Berlin, 219.

55 “Die praktische Abwicklung der Flüchtlingsaufnahme,” 41.

56 Johann Christoph Hampe, “Fluchtstation Berlin,” Sonntagsblatt (Hamburg), Dec. 4, 1955.

57 LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 373, letter from unknown refugee to Bürgermeister Kressmann (Kreuzberg), Jan. 24, 1951.

58 LAB B Rep 008 Nr. 101, BMV, Referat I/2a, “Übersicht über die Zuwanderer,” Nov. 5, 1953.

59 See Wer ist ‘politischer Flüchtling’?,” Bulletin des Presse- und Informationsamtes der Bundesregierung 63 (Apr. 2, 1957): 541Google Scholar.

60 Donner, Report from Berlin, 47. Despite this plan, parts of the Marienfelde complex continued to receive German refugees (mainly from the Soviet Union and Russia) well into the 1990s.

61 See BAK B 122/2091, letter from Zdralek, Bundesministerium für Vertriebenen, to Bundespräsidialamt, Jan. 25, 1954; “Neue Aussichten für nichtanerkannte Flüchtlinge,” Der Abend, May 19, 1954; “Wohin mit den Nichtanerkannten?,” Die Neue Zeitung, Aug. 2, 1954; “Hoffnungsstrahl für ‘illegale’, nichtanerkannte Flüchtlinge sollen erneut überprüft werden,” Telegraf, Sept. 25, 1954.

62 LAB B Rep 010-01 Nr. 317, Kurt Exner and Erich Fäse, “Berlin und die Flüchtlinge,” 257.

63 Soguk, Nevzat, States and Strangers: Refugees and Displacements of Statecraft (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 161Google Scholar; Sassen, Saskia, Guests and Aliens (New York: The New Press, 1999), 106–7Google Scholar.

64 See “Vierzigtausend sind ‘nicht Rechtens’: Flüchtlingsverbände zum Schicksal der ‘Illegalen,’” Spandauer Volksblatt, Jan. 29, 1955.

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