October 03, 2008

Happy Unity Day Germany!

A commemorative plaque at today's Werdau high school says:

In memoriam of the 19 young people who were sentenced by the GDR-judiciary on October 3, 1951 to altogether 130 years of Zuchthaus*.

In self-made flyers they stood up for Germany's unity and protested against Stalinist terror.

The Werdauer Oberschülerprozess, the court case of the high school students from Werdau, was a trial of 19 young people, most of them students at the Alexander-von-Humboldt-Oberschule in Werdau, a small town in West Saxony, in 1951. They were accused of "boycott-baiting of democratic institutions and organisations", Boykotthetze gegen demokratische Einrichtungen und Organisationen.

The first two arrests were made in the night of Friday, May 18, 1951. Many chairs remained empty in Werdau high school on Monday.

Almost half a year, the boys and girls waited for their trial, isolated from each other and without any communication with their parents. Some of them were supposed to pass their final secondary-school examinations to go to university during that time. Instead, they were subjected to one of the most memorable political trials in the former GDR.

Not long ago, Sovjet military tribunals had made short work of comparable cases. Roughly 1,200 high school students are said to have been trialled in Berlin, Mittweida, Güstrow, Jüterbog, Schwerin, Weimar, Wittenberge and other places.

In Altenburg, two students and two teachers were sentenced to death and executed. They had interfered with a radio transmission of President Wilhelm Pieck's speech to celebrate Stalin's birthday. In Werder, Brandenburg, 20 young people were trialled. 9 death sentences were imposed, including two against women, eight were executed. Some of the other convicts ended up in Sovjet camps.

On October 3, 1951, the 19 students from Werdau were sentenced to long-term Zuchthaus* imprisonment by the Landgericht Zwickau. Only "politically reliable" people were allowed to attend the trial. The students' parents and family were excluded, newspaper reports were not allowed. When the West Berlin radio station covered the going-ons, Werdau was cut off the electricity network. Parents who tried to see their children were beaten out of the court building.

The convicts were:
Joachim Gäbler
18 Years
15 Years
Karl-Heinz Eckardt
16 Years
14 Years
Sigrid Roth 17 Years 12 Years
Theobald Körner 18 Years 10 Years
Heinz Rasch 19 Years 10 Years
Achim Beyer 19 Years 8 Years
Günter Fritzsche 17 Years 7 Years
Gerhard Büttner 17 Years 6 Years
Hermann Krauß 18 Years 6 Years
Gottfried Karg 19 Years 5 Years
Siegfried Müller 19 Years 5 Years
Walter Daßler 31 Years 5 Years
Manfred Stets 24 Years 3 Years
Günther Kahler 19 Years 3 Years
Gudrun Pleier 18 Years 2 Years
Edgar Göldner 17 Years 2 Years
Wolfram Schürer 18 Years 2 Years
Anneliese Stets 16 Years 2.5 Years

There had never been a fair chance of defense, however, the young people remained unfaltering. 18-year-old Joachim Gäbler closed his plea, saying: "I am proud to have fought for freedom."

They served up to five and a half years of their sentences, sharing cells with murderers and sex offenders and were deployed to clean the excrement buckets. However, they were comparatively lucky. Without the XX. party convention of the Sovjet Communists and Chruschtschow's reckoning with Stalinism in 1956, they wouldn't have been released so relatively soon. Outside, they had to learn again how to eat with knife and fork or how to tie a tie. Their young days were over when they had hardly begun.

Fifteen of the students left the GDR after the last one of their fellow convicts was released, so as not to compromise him. In West Germany they were, after some undignified hassle, finally recognised as political prisoners.

Was justice done after re-unification?

In 1992, Joachim Gäbler filed, for himself and the other former convicts, a request for criminal prosecution against the surviving participants in the trial. In 1996, the Dresden public prosecutor submitted an indictment against the two judges still alive, Fritz Hübsch and Edith Müller. Proceedings against Hübsch were stopped due to his inability to follow the trial (presumably because of old age). Proceedings against Müller were stopped against a payment of 4,000 DM.

While I am writing this, Die Linke, successor of the Communist party of the former GDR, is the second biggest power in the state parliament of Saxony with 31 seats, following the Christian Democrats with 55, marginalising the Social Democrats with 13 seats.

In 1990, the "Day of German Unity" was moved from June 17, the anniversary of the 1953 East Berlin rebellion against the Stalinist regime, to October 3 in an attempt to remove it firmly from its roots. But, it seems, it wasn't all that easy to find a crimeless day to celebrate German unity, which is, after all, of a twisted higher justice.

*i.e. an aggravated prison sentence.

Edited to add:
The site jugendopposition.de contains a wealth of information, pictures and facsimiles. Click here.

"Mugshots" of Joachim Gäbler.

Anneliese Stets, at 16 the youngest of the student convicts, after her release.