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

Object of the Month

Flight to Sandbostel

Flight to Sandbostel
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In May 1953, the 18-year old Wolfgang Häussler received this certificate for his flight from Berlin to the Federal Republic. The secondary school student had fled from East Berlin a few days earlier and completed the emergency reception procedure in Marienfelde. His father had run a timber wholesale business in Berlin-Friedrichshain since 1939 and was under increasing pressure to give up his self-employment and integrate his business into the GDR state economy. The father was imprisoned in spring 1953 and the son was denied the right to pursue an Abitur degree. This is what led Wolfgang Häussler to decide to flee to the West. After he and the other GDR refugees had completed the initial registration process in Marienfelde, there was only one way to bring them safely to West Germany and that was by air. The form shows that a large number of teenage refugees were flown out on special transports.

The destination of Häussler’s journey was the Sandbostel camp in Lower Saxony. Since April 1952 the Federal Republic had been using the former labor, prisoner-of-war and concentration camp in Sandbostel as an emergency reception center for male youths who had fled the GDR. Some of the barracks that had housed Soviet prisoners of war during World War II were used again. The young refugees were between 15 and 25 years old and mostly on their own. They usually stayed in Sandbostel for one to two weeks. Fluctuation was high: each day up to 100 new refugees arrived; about the same number left the camp daily and were distributed throughout the different German federal states.

By housing the teenagers and young men in this camp, the authorities were able to keep a check on them and create a routine for them, which helped to avoid conflicts and resentments. They were also given the chance to prepare for their future by taking part not only in the leisure and educational activities, but also in work opportunities provided at the camp and nearby farms. By the time the camp closed in 1960, approximately 250,000 young men had been housed in the Sandbostel camp.

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