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Ida Siekmann, fatally injured at the Berlin Wall: Memorial cross at Checkpoint Charlie (photo: 2005)
Ida Siekmann, fatally injured at the Berlin Wall: Memorial stone on Bernauer Strasse in Berlin-Wedding (photo: 2005)

Ida Siekmann

born on August 23, 1902
fatally injured on August 22, 1961

after jumping out of her apartment window at Bernauer Strasse 48
at the sector border between Berlin-Mitte and Berlin-Wedding
The circumstances of her death were diligently recorded in East Berlin. The East German police noted in one of their routine reports: "On August 22, 1961, at 6. 50 a.m., Ida Siekmann […], single, jumped out the window of her third floor apartment in the front building and onto the street […]. S. was carried away by the West Berlin fire department.Ida Siekmann was born on August 23, 1902 in Gorken, a small village that at that time belonged to the West Prussian district of Marienwerder and today is part of Poland. It is not known when she left the East Elbian province and went to Berlin.

In 1961, the year the Wall was built, she lived at Bernauer Strasse 48 in Berlin-Mitte. Like all the buildings and properties on the south side of the street, her apartment building was located in the administrative district of Mitte, part of East Berlin. But the street, including the sidewalk in front of the building entrance, belonged to the administrative district of Wedding, part of West Berlin. Since 1945 this border dividing two city districts had also served as the boundary line between the Soviet and French sectors of Berlin. While the sector border was still open, close family contacts and neighborly relations existed between the densely populated residential areas.

Ida Siekmann crossed the border regularly since the border situation required her to enter her building from West Berlin. Moreover, she was likely to have paid regular visits to her sister, who lived just a few blocks away in the western section of the city. When the Communist Party leadership sealed off the entire sector border on August 13, 1961, the situation for Ida Siekmann, who lived alone, changed dramatically. Like hundreds of thousands of Berliners, she was cut off overnight from relatives and acquaintances living in the other part of the city. But because the 58-year-old lived in a building located directly on the East Berlin border, she was more strongly affected by the new barrier and control measures that were introduced.

During the first days and weeks after the Wall was built, many of the residents of Bernauer Strasse attempted to flee from the border houses: They did not want to be separated from relatives and were under constant harassment by the East German authorities. Shortly after the border was shut off it was still possible to leave through the front door of the buildings. By August 18, however, all the front doors that exited onto the West Berlin sidewalk had been nailed or walled shut and new entrances had been created through back courtyards. Members of the workers’ militia and police units were posted in the building corridors and staircases and checked the documents of everyone who wanted to enter a building or apartment.

These measures instilled fear in the residents and, in desperation, many of them jumped from their windows or climbed down a rope to escape to the West. The West Berlin fire department stood on the sidewalk and tried to catch them in their rescue nets to prevent them from getting injured. On August 21, Ida Siekmann watched as the entrance to her building was barricaded shut. Early the next morning she threw her bedding and other belongings out the window of her third floor apartment. Then she jumped. Perhaps she was scared of being discovered. The West Berlin firemen had no chance to catch her in their rescue net. She was badly injured when she hit the sidewalk and died on the way to the nearby Lazarus Hospital – one day before her 59th birthday. [1]

The circumstances of her death were diligently recorded in East Berlin. The East German police noted in one of their routine reports: "On August 22, 1961, at 6. 50 a.m., Ida Siekmann […], single, jumped out the window of her third floor apartment in the front building and onto the street […]. S. was carried away by the West Berlin fire department. The blood stain was covered up with sand." [2]

Ida Siekmann, fatally injured at the Berlin Wall: Memorial erected by the Wedding district office in September 1961 (photo: 1961)
On the west side, her death at the Berlin Wall set off a wave of indignation. Decades later, a West Berlin police officer who personally witnessed Ida Siekmann’s fall recalled how shocked residents and passersby had been. [3]

The press reported in detail on the "fatal jump to freedom" and made it perfectly clear that the East German leadership bore responsibility for the tragic occurrence: The "Berliner Morgenpost" wrote that "Ulbricht’s brutal measures against our fellow-countrymen in the eastern sector of Berlin have taken a human life yesterday." The "Bild-Zeitung" called the death of an East Berliner "an indictment of the communist regime." [4] Newspaper articles also noted the widespread frustration over the fact that the western Allies and German federal government had shown such reserve in reaction to the blockade measures. After the Wall was built, Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer did not rush to West Berlin. He arrived on the day Ida Siekmann died and was strongly criticized for waiting this long. [5]

An official funeral service was held for Ida Siekmann on August 29, at the Municipal Cemetery on Seestrasse in Wedding. A large number of West Berlin residents attended the service. Red roses and white carnations in the colors of West Berlin decorated the coffin. Official representatives of the district, Senate and federal government expressed their condolences to the sister of the deceased. After the burial, Ernst Lemmer, federal minister of all-German affairs, and Helmut Mattis, the district mayor of Wedding, placed a wreath in front of the building at Bernauer Strasse 48 which bore the inscription: "deprived of freedom." Many residents and passersby paid homage to the deceased at the site where she died. One writer noted at the time that the sidewalk was always covered with wreaths and flowers. [6]

The district office of Wedding erected a monument for Ida Siekmann at her death site. It consisted of three wooden logs enveloped in barbed wire. [7] Regular memorial services took place there over the following decades. German and foreign state guests also paid their respects to the site as a form of public commemoration on the west side of the Wall. Robert Kennedy, the American attorney general, and Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer also made a stop at the monument dedicated to Ida Siekmann. Like so many other politicians, they too laid a wreath and honored the deceased with a moment of silence – a gesture that was also an expression of their rejection of the border regime established in East Germany.

Christine Brecht

[1] See "Sprung in den Tod um frei zu sein," in: Berliner Morgenpost, 23.8.1961, and "Flucht-Sprung in den Tod," in: Bild-Zeitung, 23.8.1961. [2] "PdVP-Rapport Nr. 234, 23.8.1961," in: PHS, Bestand PdVP-Rapporte, Archive-No. 8037, Bl. 8. [3] See Doris Liebermann, "Die Gewalt der anderen Seite hat mich sehr getroffen." A conversation with Hans-Joachim Lazai †, in: Deutschland Archiv 39 (2006), pp. 596–607. [4] See Berliner Morgenpost, 23.8.1961; Bild-Zeitung, 23.8.1961. [5] See "Kanzler sagt schwere Zeiten voraus," in: Frankfurter Rundschau, 23.8.1961. [6] See Eckart Kroneberg, "Beschreibung einer Mauer," in: Hans Werner Richter (ed.), Die Mauer oder der 13. August, Reinbek, 1961, pp. 90–101, here p. 100. [7] See Berliner Morgenpost, 16.9.1961.
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