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

March 2013

A Father's Letter to his Children

„Perhaps you won't believe how difficult it was for me to flee from home, and yet I could see no other option.”

But why? That is a question that cannot be answered, since this March's Object of the Month is representative of a part of our collection that is comprised of documents and objects left behind in the Marienfelde Refugee Center. The Center's administration collected these found objects and stored them in the basement, sorted alphabetically. By doing so, they preserved some very personal documents from GDR refugees for the future – including this undated letter. We know very little about its author. From what is written, we can tell that he left his family behind, fled alone, and was waiting to travel to Hamburg. Why he decided to take this step, how much his family was involved in that decision, if he was ever flown out to Hamburg, and what became of him after he fled – all these questions cannot be answered. Equally unclear is the background to his decision to flee, since the other documents found in the same file as this letter don't give any hints about his life in the GDR.

The only thing we know for certain is that the letter's author came through Marienfelde as a refugee, just like the other people whose documents were later found in the Center's basement. In some cases, we can guess the reasons an individual fled or what their lives were like, but it's still just speculation.

Although it is thus difficult to come to any certain conclusions from the documents in this particular collection, the included biographical fragments encourage imagination and reflection about the lives of GDR refugees in divided Germany.


My dear children!
Perhaps you won't believe how difficult it was for me to flee from home, and yet I could see no other option. I have only one request: support Mom. She didn't have anything to do with this whole thing and will muster more patience than I would have been able to. Once I've been flown out to Hamburg you'll receive a more detailed account from me. I was at Aunt Lish's – she sends her love. In faithful memory of all of you/especially my Petra,

Your father