Photo. Refugees waiting to be admitted to the Marienfelde Refugee Center, August 14, 1961
© DHM-Schirner

Contemporary Witnesses

The Marienfelde Refugee Center Museum houses an archive with stories and recollections of East German refugees and ethnic German emigrants.
In 1996, the Marienfelde Refugee Center Museum Association initiated an “eyewitness to history project” with the aim to collect biographical source material about the inner German movement of peoples between 1949 and 1990. From the more than four hundred contemporary eyewitnesses entered in our database, approximately eighty have been extensively interviewed about their life stories. The Museum continues to expand its interview collection. Most of the archival material is available in audio form; since 2004, we have increasingly recorded eyewitness testimony in video form as well.

Eyewitnesses to History for Research...

The life histories collected by the Museum are valuable records. They represent an important contribution to our ongoing reappraisal of post-war German history, attesting to the experiences and recollections of the individuals on both sides of the inner-German border. Taken together, these individual life histories offer us a multi-faced view of state and society in both post-war German states, East and West. These interviews are of interest to both historical and biographical researchers, offering us insights into such diverse topics as:

  • Social conditions in East Germany
  • Changes in attitude toward state and society in East Germany
  • Decision-making processes regarding flight or emigration from the East
  • Perceptions and expectations of the West
  • Challenges of integration
  • Interpretations and constructions of meaning in the biographies of those who fled

...and for Education

The individual life histories are also an important component of our museum’s educational work with school groups. These interviews make history both tangible and understandable. Abstract concepts such as repression and freedom come to life in the stories of history’s eyewitnesses, as the importance of historical developments and events for the lives and actions of individuals takes on new meaning.

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