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List of the 140 victims at the wall 1961-1989
Max Sahmland: born on March 28, 1929, shot and drowned in the Berlin border waters on Jan. 27, 1967 while trying to escape (date of photo not known)
Max Sahmland, shot and drowned in the Berlin border waters: MfS photo of his gravestone in West Berlin (date of photo not known)

Max Sahmland

born on March 28, 1929
shot and drowned on January 27, 1967


in the Teltow Canal near Kanalstrasse
on the sector border between Berlin-Treptow and Berlin-Neukölln

They walked to the border area that Max Sahmland was familiar with from when he had worked in a sewage treatment plant nearby. They moved slowly towards one of the trenches. It was a stormy night, not cold, but rainy, and the poor visibility was to their advantage.

Max Sahmland, born in Berlin on March 28, 1929, was 16 years old at the end of the war and evidently had a hard time finding his niche in post-war Germany. After finishing school he worked in agriculture and as a blacksmith in the Wildau heavy equipment construction company. According to a West Berlin police report, he resettled in West Berlin in January 1961 without his wife and their two children.[1] Little is known about why he made this move or what led him to return to East Germany a few months later. He told the East German police that marriage problems had been the reason, and, in fact, his marriage did fall apart a short time later.[2] He repeatedly came into conflict with the law as a consequence of alcohol problems. He had to serve an 18-month prison sentence for causing a traffic accident in 1964.[3] In early January 1967, the district court of Königs Wusterhausen sentenced him to six months in prison for assault; this was followed by hospitalization in a detoxication center. He was said to have beaten his fiancée while intoxicated and to have insulted the policemen who came to her assistance.[4] Because Max Sahmland did not want to spend any more time in prison, he decided to flee to West Berlin – with his fiancée.[5] She had a cousin living in West Berlin and Max Sahmland had a sister in West Germany.[6]

They had already tried to escape twice and failed. On the day before the next planned escape, Max Sahmland and his fiancée told a mutual friend about their plans to try and cross the border one more time. She spontaneously decided to join them. In a drunken state the three of them set off shortly before midnight on January 26, 1967 and drove with stolen bicycles to the Zeuthen train station where they took the S-Bahn train to Berlin-Adlershof.[7] They walked to the border area that Max Sahmland was familiar with from when he had worked in a sewage treatment plant nearby.[8] They moved slowly towards one of the trenches. It was a stormy night, not cold, but rainy, and the poor visibility was to their advantage. Sahmland left the women back in the trench a few meters from the first fence so that he could cut an opening with a wire-cutter. "Be brave," he said to his fiancée and started to creep forward.[9] The women were supposed to follow him a few minutes later or, if they sensed danger, to withdraw. They stayed put until, startled by the sound of machine gun fire, they ran back from where they had come. They were able to reach their homes unnoticed.[10]

Max Sahmland tried to get past the signal fence at about 2:30 a.m. When he set off an alarm, guards at the Wredebrücke observation tower opened fire on him.[11] A letter from the NVA city commander to Erich Honecker, who at the time was secretary of the National Defense Council, stated that the "border violator" showed "strike effects, but was nonetheless able to get past the wire barrier."[12] Injured, Max Sahmland continued to flee, crawled under the barrier and was able to reach the bank of the Teltow Canal, which he then attempted to swim across. The border guards pursued him and continued to shoot at him even after he had reached West Berlin territory.[13] Max Sahmland was hit by a number of bullets. One bullet went into his right lung.[14]

Two workers from the nearby cement asbestos plant on the west side were alarmed by the shots and ran to the riverbank to help the fleeing man who was still a few meters away from the bank. But they had to take cover because he was still under fire and eventually Max Sahmland sank into the canal.[15] Police and emergency medical services arrived on the West Berlin side, but the West Berlin firemen who were assisted by divers were unable to find Max Sahmland in the area of the west bank. The West Berlin water police did not find his body until March 8, 1967, six weeks later. His body was retrieved from the Teltow Canal and could be identified from the identity card he had on him.[16] In February 2000, the man suspected of having shot Max Sahmland was acquitted by the Berlin district court because it was unable to disprove his claim that he had fired in the direction of the fleeing man but had intentionally tried to miss him by a few meters.[17]

Max Sahmland’s fiancée was arrested on January 28, 1967 and sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for trying to flee the republic and for "enticing" her friend to join her. She served twenty months of her sentence in the Stasi prison in Potsdam and in the Hoheneck prison for women. Her friend was also sentenced to a year and seven months for trying to flee.[18]

Max Sahmland’s mother, who lived in East Berlin, was prevented from bidding farewell to her dead son. Letters to her sister show that she was not informed of the possibility of having the body sent to East Berlin.[19] Consequently, Max Sahmland was buried on April 5, 1967 in the Park Cemetery in the West Berlin district of Neukölln.[20] To hinder the mother from attending her son’s funeral, the East German secret police imposed a travel ban on the seventy-year-old woman until the end of April 1967.[21]

Martin Ahrends/Udo Baron

Footnotes Open
[1] See "Bericht der West-Berliner Polizei über die Bergung einer männlichen Leiche, 8.3.1967," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 162/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 67–69. [2] See "Protokoll des VPKA Königswusterhausen/Abt. K/Komm. I, 5.12.1966," in: BStU, Ast. Potsdam, AU 1546/67, Bd. 1, Bl. 204. [3] See "Protokoll der Zeugenvernehmung der ehem. Verlobten von Max Sahmland durch die West-Berliner Polizei, 14.11.1969," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 162/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 137. [4] See "Einzel-Information Nr. 87/67 des MfS/ZAIG über einen Grenzdurchbruch im Abschnitt Wredebrücke in Berlin-Johannisthal am 27.1.1967, 28.1.1968," in: BStU, MfS, ZAIG Nr. 1321, Bl. 3. [5] See "Protokoll der Zeugenvernehmung der ehem. Verlobten von Max Sahmland durch die West-Berliner Polizei, 14.11.1969," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 162/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 137–138. [6] See "Befragungsprotokoll des VPKA Königswusterhausen, 27.1.1967," in: BStU, Ast. Potsdam, AU 1546/67, Bd. 1, Bl. 22–24. [7] See ibid., Bl. 138; "Anklageschrift der Staatsanwaltschaft bei dem Landgericht Berlin, 20.10.1999," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 162/90, Bd. 4, Bl. 229, 231a. [8] See "Einzel-Information Nr. 87/67 des MfS/ZAIG über einen Grenzdurchbruch im Abschnitt Wredebrücke in Berlin-Johannisthal am 27.1.1967, 28.1.1968," in: BStU, MfS, ZAIG Nr. 1321, Bl. 4. [9] "Befragungsprotokoll [des VPKA Königswusterhausen], 28.1.1967," in: BStU, Ast. Potsdam, AU 1546/67, Bd. 1, Bl. 95–100, here Bl. 99. [10] See "Protokoll der Zeugenvernehmung der ehem. Verlobten von Max Sahmland durch die West-Berliner Polizei, 14.11.1969," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 162/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 138–139. [11] See "Anklageschrift der Staatsanwaltschaft bei dem Landgericht Berlin, 20.10.1999," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 162/90, Bd. 4, Bl. 230. [12] "Meldung des NVA-Stadtkommandanten der Hauptstadt der DDR/Berlin an Erich Honecker, 27.1.1967," in: BArch, VA-07/8374, Bl. 19. [13] See "Einzel-Information Nr. 87/67 des MfS/ZAIG über einen Grenzdurchbruch im Abschnitt Wredebrücke in Berlin-Johannisthal am 27.1.1967, 28.1.1968," in: BStU, MfS, ZAIG Nr. 1321, Bl. 1–2. [14] "Anklageschrift der Staatsanwaltschaft bei dem Landgericht Berlin, 20.10.1999," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 162/90, Bd. 4, Bl. 231–231a. [15] See "Ereignismeldung des Kommandos der Schutzpolizei/S1, 27.1.1967," in: PHS, Bestand Ereignismeldungen der West-Berliner Schutzpolizei, Bl. 1–2; see also Der Tagesspiegel, 28.1.1967; Die Welt, 28.1.1967; Telegraf, 28.1.1967. [16] See "Ereignismeldung 37 zu 29 (erschossener Flüchtling) der West-Berliner Schutzpolizei, 8.3.1967," in: PHS, Bestand Ereignismeldungen der West-Berliner Schutzpolizei, n. pag.; see "Ereignismeldung 56 der West-Berliner Schutzpolizei, 9.3.1967," in: Ibid. [17] See "Urteil des Landgerichts Berlin vom 9.2.2000", in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 162/90, Bd. 5, Bl. 1–3. [18] See "Protokoll der Zeugenvernehmung der ehem. Verlobten von Max Willi Sahmland durch die West-Berliner Polizei, 25.11.1969," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 162/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 141–142. [19] See letter from Max Sahmland’s mother to her sister in West Berlin, 3.4.1967, in: StA-Berlin, Az. 27 Js 162/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 116; "Vermerk der West-Berliner Polizei I/A/KJ1, 4.4.1967," in: Ibid., Bl. 115. A file note of the East German state prosecutor suggests that the mother did not want the body sent over. See "Schreiben des Staatsanwalts des Stadtbezirkes Berlin-Friedrichshain an den DDR-Generalstaatsanwalt, 23.3.1967," in: BStU, MfS, ASt G IA (a) 27/67, Bd.1, Bl. 24. [20] See "Schlussbericht der West-Berliner Polizei I/A/KI1, 18.4.1967," in: StA Berlin, Az. 27 Js 162/90, Bd. 1, Bl. 120–123. [21] See "Vermerk [der DDR-Generalstaatsanwaltschaft], 23.3.1967," in: BStU, MfS, ASt G IA (a) 27/67, Bd.1, Bl. 5.