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Egon Schultz: born on Jan. 4, 1943, border soldier shot dead at the Berlin Wall on Oct. 5, 1964 (photo: 1963/1964)
Egon Schultz, shot dead at the Berlin Wall: Teaching in Rostock before he was enlisted into the border troops (photo: um 1963)

Egon Schultz

born on January 4, 1943
shot dead on October 5, 1964


in the courtyard of Strelitzer Strasse 55
on the sector border between Berlin-Mitte and Berlin-Wedding

Schultz, Egon

In December 1964, balloons floated over the Wall onto the east side of the city near the "Checkpoint Charlie" border crossing. Fliers were attached to them with a letter to the mother of Egon Schultz, a border guard who had recently been killed. The text of the flier had been written by the escape helpers, whom the East German press a few weeks earlier had accused of murder. [81] "We speak on behalf of our group, which over the last half year built a tunnel through which 57 fugitives fled and at the entrance to which your son was shot." The composers of the letter conveyed to the mother their sympathy and described their view of what happened during the escape operation that ended with the border soldier’s death. "The causative murderer is the East German secret police. These men, with great acting skill, first pretended to be fugitives. Reluctant to intervene themselves, they instead fetched the soldier and had him clarify the situation. But the real murderer is the system that addressed the massive flight of its citizens not by removing the cause of the problem, but by building a WALL and giving the order for Germans to shoot Germans." [82]

Egon Schultz was born in 1943 in Pomerania. He was seven years old when his parents moved with their two sons from Poland to East Germany. The family resettled in Gross Stove near Rostock and moved into Rostock in 1957. Egon Schultz attended the Borwin School in Rostock through the 10th grade. During this time he developed an interest in becoming a teacher. He liked working with children and, after he joined the FDJ, the Communist Party youth organization, he watched over the younger schoolchildren as a pioneer group leader. [83] In July 1960 he was admitted to the Institute for Teacher Training in Putbus on the island of Rügen and began training as an elementary school teacher. [84] He came from a working-class family – his father was a driver, his mother worked as a waitress and his brother, four years older, had trained to become a house painter. The parents hoped that their youngest son would get a higher degree. [85] Just what the state expected of Egon Schultz during his studies was conveyed to him after his "enlistment" in the teacher training institute: "We hope that you will apply all your energies, both professionally and socially, towards achieving successful studies." [86]

After studying for two years, Egon Schultz began a practical teaching year at a school in Rostock-Dierkow. Egon Schultz met Michael Baade, a colleague, at the weekly study meetings and they became friends. On September 1, 1963 he began teaching a first grade class. But soon after the school year began, Egon Schultz was conscripted into the East German military (NVA). [87] He signed on as an enlisted soldier to serve in the military for three years and was assigned to the border troops on November 2. A short time later he wrote to his friend about his first impressions: "All we do here is answer to someone else’s bidding. […] You don’t have to think at all, as long as you run when the whistle is blown. I think I will gradually become stupid here." [88] Egon Schultz wrote a number of letters to his friend in which he described his daily life as a soldier. He told him how exhausting his duty was but also wrote about his attempts to meet a girl despite the fact that he was in uniform. The budding young sergeant also wrote about his success in shooting training. He became a candidate for the Communist Party in August 1964. [89] He proved himself to be a "class-conscious guard of the state border," not just within the border troops, but also towards his former students, who often sent him letters. "It is a good job to protect our fatherland from its enemy," he wrote to his friend’s class, which had become his sponsor. [90] After completing his officer training, he began his duty as group leader in Border Regiment 34 in Berlin-Mitte in the spring of 1964. According to official biographies, on October 7, 1964, the anniversary of East Germany’s founding, he was going to be honored with a medal for best soldier. [91]

On October 4, 1964 Sergeant Egon Schultz was assigned as a reserve to the command post at Arkonaplatz in Berlin-Mitte. [92] It was almost midnight when a Stasi officer demanded backup support from the border guards. They were ordered to investigate and arrest suspicious individuals at Strelitzer Strasse 55. [93] The property was situated very close to the border barriers that extended along Bernauer Strasse. But Egon Schultz and his comrades were not informed of the real purpose of the operation: The Stasi had learned from informants about an escape operation. [94] While checking out the area near the border, the two Stasi agents had come upon two men who were assisting an escape operation in the foyer of the building at Strelitzer Strasse 55. The escape helpers mistook the Stasi men for fugitives. Claiming that they had to fetch a friend who had just been released from custody, the Stasi men, pretending to be fugitives, were able to leave the building. [95] While they organized back-up support from the border troops, the escape helpers waited for them to return.
Over many months, the West Berlin students had managed to secretly build a 145-meter-long tunnel to East Berlin. The tunnel began at a closed down bakery on Bernauer Strasse and continued eleven meters underground to an outhouse located in the courtyard of the building at Strelitzer Strasse 55. It later became famous as "Tunnel 57," referring to the number of people who had succeeded in escaping through it. One of the escape helpers was Reinhard Furrer, the future astronaut. He waited with three other escape helpers on the East Berlin side, ready to direct fugitives to the tunnel’s opening. At about half past midnight, the unidentified men returned with the border soldiers. It was dark and Reinhard Furrer recognized much too late that a gun was pointed in his direction. Familiar with the surroundings, he quickly receded into the courtyard and before disappearing into the tunnel, warned his friends of the danger. The sound of shots cracked through the darkness. The escape helpers were able to rescue themselves at the last minute and enter the safety of the West, but Egon Schultz, hit by ten bullets, fell to the ground in the courtyard. There was no way to help him. He died on the way to the People’s Police Hospital. [96]

Within a few hours the East German news reported the death of the border troop sergeant, who had been "treacherously murdered by shots fired by West Berlin agents." [97] The media reports on the east and west sides rapidly poured in. [98] The East German propaganda declared Egon Schultz a heroic martyr and attacked the murderers and the supposed wire-pullers working behind the scenes. Although the escape helpers’ action was criticized in the West, it was acknowledged that they had acted in self-defense. [99]

In both the East and the West, investigations were opened against the escape helpers, most of whom had themselves fled from East Germany at one time. [100] They admitted to the West Berlin investigators that one of them had fired a gun, but there was no proof that the bullet that caused Egon Schultz’s death was from that gun. The East Berlin state prosecutor’s office had refused to comply with official requests from West Berlin for assistance in clarifying the case. Instead East Germany demanded that the supposed murderer be extradited. [101] In November 1965 the West Berlin public prosecutor closed the case against the escape helpers. They were only charged a fine for illegal possession of a weapon. [102] At this point there were already indications that Egon Schultz may have been shot by one of his own comrades. After fleeing to the West, another border soldier, K., reported in June 1965 that during a border troop duty evaluation his guard leader had stated that "an accident had occurred last night in another regiment [...]. A guard leader, he reported, was shot and killed by his junior guard." A short time later, in politics class, this presentation of the incident was retracted as false. [103]
Egon Schultz, shot dead at the Berlin Wall: Funeral in Rostock (photo: Oct. 10, 1964)
The results of the East Berlin investigation conducted by the city commander and the Stasi were classified as top secret. They realized that Egon Schultz had been shot by an escape helper but that the fatal shot that killed the soldier had come from the Kalashnikov of one of his comrades. [104] To conceal the truth, the Stasi had the autopsy files disappear from Charité Hospital. [105] In the Communist Party Central Committee’s division for security issues, an evaluation of the incident determined that both Stasi agents "when they first encountered the terrorists [...] had demonstrated political inconsistency and acted tactically irresolutely [...]. Even their fabrication of a "legend" was a mistake in the concrete situation [...]. More practical decision-making and better instructions to the border security forces, as well as a more advantageous deployment of the available forces and means, would most likely have prevented the tragic consequences." [106]
Egon Schultz, shot dead at the Berlin Wall: Guard of honor at the Egon Schultz School in Rostock (photo: Oct. 10, 1964)
Just two days before the East German state’s 15th anniversary and right before a new border pass agreement was to be signed with the West Berlin Senate allowing West Berliners to visit the East, the events that played out in the courtyard of Strelitzer Strasse 55 provided the Communist Party leadership with advantageous conditions for a political campaign. [107] For propaganda reasons, the accidental death of Egon Schultz by East German border soldiers was attributed to the West Berlin escape helpers and presented as an act of murder. The gunmen actually responsible for the death were not legally prosecuted. [108] The escape helpers, however, were investigated, although an indictment was ultimately never issued. [109]
Egon Schultz, shot dead at the Berlin Wall: Unveiling of the memorial plaque at Strelitzer Strasse 55 (photo: Jan. 4, 1965)
The East German state leadership turned the funeral ceremony for Egon Schultz in the Friedrich-Engels barracks in Berlin, as well as the state funeral with military honors that took place in his hometown, Rostock, into political demonstrations. As a member of the Communist Party Politburo, Erich Honecker made a speech in the presence of members of the Communist Party Central Committee and the border troop leadership in which he attributed responsibility for the death of Egon Schultz to the West, making reference to the current policies of mutual understanding. "Hence the deadly shots were also against the new border pass agreement; they were directed against the anti-fascist protective barrier that has been preserving our and your peace since August 13." [110]

When the coffin was transferred from Berlin to Rostock, tens of thousands of workers followed government orders to line the streets and pay their last respects to Egon Schultz. He was buried in the New Cemetery in Rostock, accompanied by the tune of "Undying Victim," thereby establishing his death in the tradition of the international workers’ movement. As part of the commemorative pioneer assembly, on the day of his funeral, the school in Rostock where he had been a teacher was given the honorary name "Egon Schultz Secondary School." In the end, more than a hundred collectives, schools and institutions were named after Egon Schultz. [111] The former teacher was glorified into a socialist fighter. [112] On January 4, 1965, a memorial plaque. which commemorated his death while also denouncing the West Berlin agents involved in the "assassination", was erected at house no. 55 on Strelitzer Strasse, which was renamed Egon-Schultz-Strasse on August 13, 1966. [113] The dead man was commemorated at this site, and at many others, often in the presence of his parents.

In 1992, as the violent acts at the border were being legally prosecuted, a case was opened with regard to Egon Schultz for suspicion of negligent homicide. It entailed the investigation of all the people involved in the incident, including the Stasi agents and the border troops. [114] The socialist paper "Neues Deutschland" embarked on a major campaign asking for donations to help cover the costs of legal counsel and court fees for the border soldiers who, from the viewpoint of the fundraising initiators, were being unlawfully prosecuted. Almost 200,000 German marks were donated, managed by the Society for Legal and Humanitarian Aid, an association of former Stasi, border troop and Communist Party members. [115] The investigation determined without a doubt that Christian Zobel, the escape helper from the West, had fired the first shot in order to prevent Reinhard Furrer and himself from being arrested. The bullet was lodged in Egon Schultz’s lung but did not kill him. The fatal shot had come from the Kalashnikov of a border soldier who, on instructions from a Stasi officer, had fired shots in the dark courtyard and unintentionally hit Egon Schultz, who then died from internal bleeding. [116] It was accepted by the court that the border soldier who had fired the deadly shot had acted in self-defense. The case was dismissed since he had been ordered to fire. [117]

In response to the investigation against the border guards and Stasi agents, in May 1994, private individuals pressed charges against Reinhard Furrer for supposedly murdering Egon Schultz. Egon Schultz’s mother, who had supported the accusation, was represented by a renowned West Berlin law firm. Additional charges were also filed with the Berlin public prosecutor’s office. [118] When Reinhard Furrer died in an airplane accident in September 1995 and it became known that Christian Zobel had already passed away, the lawyers representing Egon Schultz’s mother filed charges against the other escape helpers as murder accomplices. The case was dropped in the summer of 1999 "because the shots fired by Zobel [involved] an excess crime that cannot be attributed to the other persons charged." [119]

The circumstances that led to Egon Schultz’s death continue to polarize views today. [120] What remains indisputable, however, is that Egon Schultz was a victim of the Wall. A few escape helpers and a friend erected a new memorial plaque on the building at Strelitzer Strasse 55 honoring Egon Schultz as a Wall victim and finally putting an end to the propaganda and lies concerning his death.

Maria Nooke

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