After successful complaint: Why GDR refugees can hope for compensation

After successful action
:Why GDR refugees can hope for compensation

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    Norbert Koch-Klaucke

For 10315 days the wall divided Berlin. Traumatized GDR refugees can now hope for compensation.

For 10315 days the wall divided Berlin. Traumatized GDR refugees can now hope for compensation.


dpa / Giehr

Berlin –

The decision can be considered historical. On Wednesday, the judges at the Federal Administrative Court of Leipzig had decided that for the first time former GDR citizens have the right to state aid and compensation, if they have suffered through their escape over the wall and barbed wire to West Berlin or the old Federal Republic of health damage and today suffering from it. A 56-year-old Berliner, who is still mentally ill on the basis of his escape and the experiences of 1988, had won this verdict before the Supreme Court. “Several hundreds of traumatized GDR refugees, who were fated as well, could now hope for rehabilitation and compensation,” said his lawyer Thomas Lerche the Berliner Zeitung.

The Berlin social rights activist has been representing victims of the GDR system nationwide for about ten years. One day after the Leipzig verdict, he received requests from several GDR refugees, who now want to make their claim for compensation at the welfare offices. “So far, the claims were only for those who sat in East German prisons because of failed flight or for political reasons,” says Lerche. “With the exception of a few isolated cases, the suffering of the traumatized refugees has not yet been recognized by the rule of law.”

His client was 26 years old when he fled to West Berlin in December 1988 with his brother from Teltow-Sigridhorst. The men had spent hours in the mud of the restricted area before they overcame the border fences with bolt cutters and ladders. The plaintiff remained according to his description in court hanging in the last barbed wire fence, had been taken by East German border guards with Kalashnikovs. They did not shoot, the man escaped to West Berlin.

Traumatized GDR refugees must prove health damage

The trained piper later claimed that the twelve-hour flight had led to a mental illness that continues today, he suffers from nightmares and irritability to tantrums.

From the state of Brandenburg, he demanded a “administrative rehabilitation”. It leads to claims for compensation, for example replacement of treatment costs.

The state of Brandenburg and the Administrative Court of Potsdam rejected this. An administrative rehabilitation comes only after individual persecution into consideration. The GDR border security had turned against the entire GDR population.

The Federal Administrative Court overturned the ruling and argued that border security of the GDR had been a total “rule of law”. In the case of escape, the measures were directed “concretely and individually” against the applicant. He has conclusively demonstrated that his escape has led to damage to health. This proof is crucial. Also for traumatized GDR refugees, who will now apply for compensation as a result of the judgment.

The Berlin counseling center “Gegenwind”, which has been in charge of the politically traumatized SED dictatorship for 20 years, rates the verdict as an “important decision in principle”. Among the former GDR citizens who seek advice there are also people whose escape was successful, but who are still mentally ill under the experiences, according to psychologist Stefanie Knorr. “It was an acute danger to one’s life, such as when a co-refugee was killed by a mine,” she says.

GDR refugee will get compensation in two to three years

Mentally it would have also refugees, when they learned later, under what state reprisals their remaining in the GDR family members had to suffer. Depression, anxiety would increase even decades after the events in those affected. “Especially if they were unemployed for years because of their illness, receive little pension in old age and are afraid of imminent poverty,” says Knorr.

“Those affected took high risks in their flight to freedom in purchasing.” The lack of state recognition today, they create additional problems. “Therefore, their rehabilitation is absolutely important,” says the psychologist.

The Berliner, who has obtained the verdict, will not immediately receive compensation. “It will take another two to three years,” says lawyer Lerche. Because the applications for his rehabilitation, which lead to compensation claims, must be submitted to the Berlin Provident Office and processed. It is unclear how high the compensation will be.