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Victims at the wall

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Between 1961 and 1989, at least 140 people were killed at the Berlin Wall or died under circumstances directly connected with the GDR border regime. In addition, at least 251 people from East and West died before, during or after controls at Berlin border crossings while travelling. The information presented here does not include the unknown number of people who died from grief and despair caused by the effects the building of the Wall had on their individual living situations. More This is the current status of the joint project carried out by the Berlin Wall Memorial and the Centre for Contemporary History (ZZF) with the financial backing of the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM). This project records all available information about fatalities either proven or suspected to have occurred in connection with the Wall. It is partly based on the official, published lists of victims at the Wall. Other information has come from comprehensive research carried out by the project partners, and interviews with eyewitnesses. Altogether 576 cases have been recorded and checked.

H.-H. Hertle/M. Nooke, 140 Victims at the Berlin Wall, 1961 – 1989 H.-H. Hertle/M. Nooke, The Victims at the Berlin Wall, 1961-1989

Up to now, there existed several lists with statistics that differed widely from another: depending on the criteria used for calculation, the figures vary between 86 (Berlin Public Prosecution Office), at least 92 (Berlin Chief of Police), 78 (Central Registry Salzgitter), 122 (Central Investigation Office for Government and Unification Criminality) and more than 200 deaths (Working Group 13 August).

The objective of this research project was to correct this deficit and determine the exact number of people who were killed at the Wall, and to document the life stories and circumstances of death of all these fatalities with substantial source material. This led to the creation of the portraits that are to be found here of 140 people (as of 9 August 2017) who died in connection with the Wall.

The project is based on a twofold definition: to be included, the victims at the Wall must either have an obvious connection with an escape attempt, or the cause of death must be closely linked both spatially and temporally with the border security regime.

This definition results in five different groups of cases:
  • People who were killed in the area near the border by members of the armed authorities of the GDR (as a rule, through the use of firearms) while trying to escape, or who died from injuries inflicted by elements of the border security facilities (such as mines).

  • People who died in the area near the border while trying to escape, without there being another party involved (for example, as a result of falling, drowning, heart failure, suffocation etc.)

  • People who died in the area near the border as a result of actions or failure to act on the part of state authorities of the GDR, without an escape attempt necessarily being involved (for example, West German citizens and West Berliners who “violated” the GDR state border by climbing over the Wall and border security facilities, or East German citizens who were mistaken for would-be escapees and shot dead).

  • Members of the border troops who were killed in connection with escapes in the area near the border.

  • People who died as a result of actions carried out by border authorities, for example, during a control procedure.
The biographical accounts of the 140 deaths are based on the publication by Hans-Hermann Hertle/Maria Nooke (eds.), "Die Todesopfer an der Berliner Mauer 1961-1989. Ein biographisches Handbuch," commissioned by the Leibniz Center for Contemporary History Potsdam and the Berlin Wall Foundation, 3rd. revised and expanded edition, Berlin 2019 (English translation: Hans-Hermann Hertle/Maria Nooke (eds.), The Victims at the Berlin Wall, 1961-1989. A Biographical Handbook, published by the Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam and the Berlin Wall Foundation, Berlin 2011). - Contributors to the project and the book were: Udo Baron and Christine Brecht as well as Martin Ahrends, Lydia Dollmann, Magdalena Dzwigal and Filip Ganczak.
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