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Killing of Peter Fechter


On 17 August 1962, about one year after the construction of the Berlin Wall, Peter Fechter and Helmut Kulbeik attempted to flee from East Germany. The plan was to hide in a carpenter's workshop near the wall on Zimmerstrasse and, after observing the border guards from there, to jump out of a window into the "death-strip" (a strip running between the main wall and a parallel fence which they had recently started to construct), run across it, and climb over the two metre (6.5 ft) wall topped with barbed wire into the Kreuzberg district of West Berlin near Checkpoint Charlie.


Their plan was initially successful as both Fechter and Kulbeik reached the final wall, but as they began to climb the East German border guards fired at them. Although Kulbeik succeeded in crossing over the wall, Fechter was shot in the pelvis while still climbing, in plain view of hundreds of witnesses. He fell back into the death-strip on the East German side, where he remained in view of West German onlookers, including journalists. Despite his screams, Fechter received no medical assistance from the East German side, and could not be tended to by those on the West side. West Berlin police threw him bandages, which he could not reach, and he bled to death after approximately one hour. As a result of his death, hundreds in West Berlin formed a spontaneous demonstration, shouting "Murderers!" at the border guards.


The lack of medical assistance for Peter Fechter was attributed to mutual fear: Western bystanders were apparently prevented at gunpoint from assisting him, although according to a report in Time magazine, a second lieutenant of the US Army on the scene received specific orders from the US Commandant in West Berlin to stand firm and do nothing.It also emerged during the trial that any aid attempt from the West had indeed been made impossible, but according to a report from forensic pathologist Otto Prokop, "Fechter had no chance of survival. The shot in the right hip had caused severe internal injuries."


Likewise, the head of the East German border platoon stated that he was afraid to intervene, because of an incident just three days earlier when an East German soldier Rudi Arnstadt had probably been shot by a Western federal policeman. Nonetheless, the East German border soldiers did retrieve Peter Fechter's body an hour after he had died.



*** The 1972 ballad Libre ("Free") – a recording famous in all Ibero-America – by Spanish singer Nino Bravo, remembers this event.