On 10 September Hungary's foreign minister appeared on television to announce that from midnight, thousands of East Germans who had taken refuge in the country were free to leave for the West.
At one temporary camp in Budapest, people cheered and broke down in tears. A few left immediately in cars for the Austrian border, blaring their horns. Others departed for the train station.
The decision came in the face of stiff East German opposition. It represented the first break with the convention among Warsaw Pact states of preventing each others' citizens from reaching the West.
Many of the East Germans were ostensibly on holiday in Hungary, having arrived on tourist visas. An estimated 7,000 refugees, including some who had taken refuge in the West German embassy in Budapest, had declared themselves ready to travel to the West.
Hungary's decision was a momentous one. For the first time, a Communist government declared that international covenants on human rights were more important than treaties with other Warsaw Pact nations.
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