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

August 2012

Telegram: The Reunion of the Kolbe Family


“Children’s arrival. 12.9. 13:42 in Bebra.” The Kolbes hadn’t seen their children for almost two years. When she received this telegram, Maria Kolbe impulsively expressed her relief and joy with this written message: “Thank God!”

Karl and Maria Kolbe and their four children tried to flee over the border between Austria and Czechoslovakia on October 26, 1973. When the border guards arrested them, they were separated from their children. The couple was transferred back to the GDR, while the children were placed in the custody of Karl Kolbes brother, who also lived in the GDR. In May 1975, after two years in prison, the Federal Government ransomed the Kolbes from jail, and they were permitted to immigrate to West Germany. They had to wait four more months for the long-awaited reunion in September 1975. The brother’s telegram announced the children’s arrival.

This telegram can be seen with other contemporary objects in the special exhibition, “Ransomed – Ways out of the GDR.” Between 1963 and 1989, the Federal Government ransomed over 33,000 political prisoners out of East German prisons. As compensation, the SED-Regime received goods and commodities valued at over three billion Deutschmarks.