Release of prisoners

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As a prisoner ransom is called the ransom of political prisoners from the GDR by the Federal Republic of Germany . For the release of political prisoners , the GDR waived part of the imprisonment entitlement in selected cases of detention, for which the Federal Republic compensated the GDR with foreign currency , but primarily with monetary benefits in the form of deliveries of goods. In the West, these lawyer-led transactions have been labeled human trafficking by the actors involved and by the public . In the GDR it was not allowed to talk about human trafficking with the Federal Republic. Subsequently, the SED leadership demanded discretion and successive restrictions on the freedom of the press from the Federal Republic . The West German media then held back with the reporting in order not to jeopardize the completion of the large-scale ransom deals planned by political prisoners. The ransom option exerted a great pull on the informed GDR population, because nothing changed in the human rights violating situation in the GDR. Many academics and skilled workers came to the West via the detour of the release of prisoners, and the joke that was circulating, " Erich is the last to turn off the light", became more and more realistic due to the dwindling of skilled workers.

At their own request, the freed prisoners were expatriated to the Federal Republic ; often straight out of custody and without being able to say goodbye to their relatives or fellow inmates beforehand.

The release of prisoners began at the end of 1962 and ended in the fall of 1989 with the release of political prisoners during the period of transition and peaceful revolution in the GDR . Between 1964 and 1989 a total of 33,755 political prisoners were ransomed for more than 3.4 billion DM. In addition, the federal government had to pay “fees” for the departure of around 250,000 people wishing to leave the country .

This flow of money from West to East contributed to the stabilization of the GDR, which was in constant financial difficulties from the 1970s.

The Diakonisches Werk of the EKD in Stuttgart played a certain role in the mediation. The contacts between churches and parishes in Germany were close and were tolerated by the SED .


Development of the release of prisoners from 1963–1989

The first release of prisoners was realized at Christmas 1962: 20 prisoners and the same number of children were released in exchange for the delivery of three wagon loads of potash fertilizer . After a coalition crisis , Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer appointed the Adenauer V cabinet on December 14, 1962 , with Rainer Barzel as Minister for All-German Issues . The prisoner ransom was practiced until 1989, some time before the fall of the Berlin Wall . They were negotiated unofficially at the government level. After it had been about individual cases at the beginning, the ransom was increasingly organized. Between 1964 and 1989, a total of 33,755 prisoners were ransomed. The price per prisoner was initially about 40,000 DM on average and later rose to 95,847 DM. Officially, the amount was measured by the alleged "damage" that the prisoner is said to have caused in the GDR (according to the semi-official justification) and the compensation for the (free) training or studies. In fact, the GDR had a constant shortage of foreign currency and was keen to get hold of D-Mark or other convertible currencies. In addition, the ransom of a political prisoner for the GDR eliminated the problem of having to "integrate" him back into socialist society: the historian Stefan Wolle therefore describes the ransom as "a kind of political toxic waste disposal".

The GDR handled the transport of the ransomed prisoners discreetly; For example, two Magirus-Deutz- brand western buses that were used for this purpose had rotating license plates installed. While driving in East German territory, the buses showed east number plates so as not to attract attention; After crossing the inner-German border, the switch was made to western license plates at the push of a button.

The East German attorney Wolfgang Vogel (1925–2008) was Erich Honecker's confidante and negotiator of the GDR towards the Federal Republic of Germany for the so-called “humanitarian area” (release of prisoners, leaving the country ). His negotiating partners in the West were u. a. Herbert Wehner , Helmut Schmidt , Hans-Jochen Vogel , Ludwig A. Rehlinger , Walter Priesnitz and the Vice President of the Diaconal Work, Ludwig Geißel . Other contacts with the lawyer Jürgen Stange and employees from his West Berlin law firm such as B. Herbert Taubert and Barbara von der Schulenburg as well as Ministerialdirektor Edgar Hirt from the Federal Ministry for Internal German Relations in Bonn promoted a scandal that almost wiped out the humanitarian efforts around 1984 (see Brinkschulte et al. Under Literature). The SPD politician Hermann Kreutzer - he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in 1949 as a political prisoner and was released in 1956 - had to do with the release of prisoners in the 1970s.

With the money, the SED regime financed, among other things, luxury goods for the political leadership and technical equipment to perfect the GDR compulsory doping system in order to cover up the compulsory doping of underage athletes, which has been carried out since 1974. Specifically, a wide range of technical equipment was purchased from the foreign exchange from the release of prisoners, including video, ergometers, measuring and computer technology, as well as three gas chromatographs at a unit price of around half a million Deutschmarks. The GDR used only around 500 million D-Marks from the proceeds of the ransom to improve the supply situation for its residents. That was only about a seventh of the 3.44 billion D-Marks, 96 percent of which came from the prisoner sales business and was transferred via account 0628 , the so-called Honecker account . The GDR judge Jürgen Wetzenstein-Ollenschläger went underground with a few million of them after he had driven up the ransom prices of civil rights activists whom he had previously thrown into prison .


The prisoner ransom was also viewed critically. On the one hand, the potential of the GDR opposition was weakened and their pressure on the GDR leadership and the SED regime was reduced. The release of prisoners was also valid, for example. for Amnesty International London as an incentive for the GDR to “produce” many political prisoners with long sentences. For example, the prison term for a “serious illegal border crossing ” was increased from five to eight years in 1979.

See also


  • Jan Philipp Wölbern: The release of prisoners from the GDR, 1962 / 63–1989. Between human trafficking and humanitarian action. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2014, ISBN 978-3-647-35079-0 .
  • Wolfgang Brinkschulte, Hans Jörgen Gerlach & Thomas Heise: Independent buyers. The co-earners in the west . Ullstein Report, Berlin / Frankfurt am Main 1993, ISBN 3-5483-6611-2 .
  • Ludwig Geißel: negotiator of humanity. Memories , with an accompanying word by Manfred Stolpe . Quell Verlag, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-7918-1984-4 .
  • Elke-Ursel Hammer: “Special Efforts” by the Federal Government, Volume 1: 1962 to 1969. Detainees released, family reunification, exchange of agents . Oldenbourg, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-486-70719-9 .
  • Helmut Jenkis: The ransom of GDR prisoners. German-German human trafficking (= contemporary historical research , Volume 45), Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-428-83866-0 .
  • Ludwig A. Rehlinger: Buying free. The GDR's business with politically persecuted people . Ullstein, Berlin / Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 3-550-07503-0 .
  • Jan Philipp Wölbern: The emergence of the "release of prisoners" from the GDR, 1962–1964 . In: “ Germany Archive ” 41 (2008), 5; Pp. 856-867.
  • Kai Diekmann : Ransomed. The GDR human trafficking . Piper, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-492-05556-7 .
  • Alexander Koch: The release of prisoners. A German-German relationship story . Allitera, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-86906-635-6 (Dissertation University of Heidelberg 2012, 445 pages).
  • Axel Reitel : Night censorship. GDR and Eastern Europe between revolt and reactor disaster. Five features . With a foreword by Manfred Wilke , contains, among other things, the text of the radio feature " Freigekauf ". Köster, Berlin 2013. ISBN 978-3-89574-842-4 .


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Eckart Conze , Katharina Gajdukowa and Sigrid Koch-Baumgarten, eds .: The democratic revolution in 1989 in the GDR. Böhlau Verlag Cologne Weimar, 2009. P. 64f
  2. ↑ Release of prisoners: last chapter , information from the Federal Government
  3. ^ A b Klaus Schroeder : The SED State: Party, State and Society 1949–1990. Haner Verlag , Munich / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-446-19311-1 , p. 191.
  4. Stefan Wolle: The ideal world of dictatorship. Everyday life and rule in the GDR 1971–1989. Ch. Links, Berlin 1998, p. 209.
  5. ^ Prisoner deals with the GDR: People against corn loads online article at einestages , accessed on November 3, 2012
  6. Der Spiegel March 19, 1984: Via Caritas - ex-minister Egon Franke is supposed to go to court because 5.6 million marks disappeared from his ministry without a trace.
  7. ^ Der Spiegel of March 25, 1985: Clean conditions - The SPD sewer worker Egon Franke has to go to the dock. During his ministerial time, his house lost 5.6 million marks.
  8. At the empty desk . In: Der Spiegel . No. 32 , 1980, pp. 22nd f . ( online ).
  9. West money for Ostdoping: DDR financed its Doping Analysis with prisoner ransom money from the Federal Republic , Germany Funk , July 25, 2010
  10. ^ "We against us" D-Mark for GDR doping. FAZ September 3, 2010.