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Tuesday, 7 August, 2001, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Scale of East German exodus revealed
Berlin Wall celebrations 1989
The wall's collapse brought scenes of jubilation
East Germany jailed more than 75,000 people who tried to flee to the West during the Berlin Wall years, researchers have found.

More than 800 others died in escape attempts, the study says, confirming earlier figures.

Border watchtower
Hundreds were shot as they tried to reach freedom
The figures mean that an average of seven people were jailed every day for trying to get out between 1961, when the wall was built, and 1989, when it was torn down.

Thousands of East German border guards also tried to escape. Around 2,500 made it to the West.

But the report says 5,500 were caught and jailed for an average of five years. Civilians got an average of one or two years.

The report has been compiled by historians Bernd Eisenfeld and Roger Engelmann, who work at the BStU, the institute which now holds the files of East Germany's Stasi secret police.

East German border guards on wall
Thousands of border guards joined the exodus
The study's publication comes a week before the 40th anniversary of the building of Berlin Wall.

The wall was thrown up overnight to stop the exodus of East Berliners.

It remained the most visible symbol of the Cold War until November 1989, when it was dramatically torn down by demonstrators as the Soviet bloc crumbled.

The historians say they have discovered that in the year the wall was built, the Stasi devoted virtually all their resources, and their 50,000 staff, to stopping people leaving the country.

The building of the wall was among the most painful hours in German history

Institute head Marianne Birthler
Anyone thought likely to flee was forcibly moved away from border areas. Other people were encouraged to spy on their friends, neighbours and colleagues and inform on them if they were considering an escape.

At a news conference to launch a book by the historians, the institute's head, Marianne Birthler - a 13-year-old East Berliner when the wall was built - said the building of the wall was "among the most painful hours in German history."

"It was East Germany's confession of defeat," she said.

East German border guards as the Wall came down
Guards offered no resistance when the wall fell
"It said the only way to stop the people from leaving was to lock them up.

"We were hermetically cut off from the West. It's a mystery to me how we were able to suppress the pain of that separation."

Of the 809 people who died, 250 were killed at the Berlin Wall itself; 370 died on the border between East and West Germany; and 189 had been trying to get out via the Baltic Sea.

Official figures at the time were far lower.

See also:

09 Nov 99 | Iron Curtain
Ten years on, disillusionment
14 Jan 00 | Europe
East German leader jailed
09 Nov 99 | World
Sights and sounds of 1989
09 Nov 99 | Europe
Memories from the Wall
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