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

January 2017

Desperation or illness?

In the last few years there has been an increase in reported attacks on employees of German agencies and offices. In particular, aid offices for social benefits and refugee admissions have become sites of conflict between public servants and applicants. Difficult situations between an employee in charge of processing a case and an expectant applicant can often lead to conflicts that are carried out on a personal level through insults and physical assaults. This is not a new phenomenon and is demonstrated by a few interesting documents from our archive from the year 1954.

The 34-year-old Karl K. fled from East Germany to West Berlin in late January 1954 and went through the admissions process in Marienfelde. He probably did not have any relatives or friends on the west side of city, which is why he was assigned to a two-week stay in an emergency shelter in the Fichtebunker on February 1. He got into a dispute with an employee a short time later and attacked him. His admissions case was consequently suspended and he was admitted to a hospital. This information is provided by a second control sheet and attached memo that identifies schizophrenia as the cause of his behavior: "For treatment of schizophrenia / 3.2.54, 11:00 Consultation in the psychological counseling center / Until then, Building G. /Admission to Wittenau sanatorium following violent attack on employee. 2.2.54."

No further updates were added to the two control sheets and the fate of Karl K. is not known. His admissions process was not completed. He probably never returned to Marienfelde. He may have stayed in the West as a so-called “illegal” or gone back to East Germany. Whether he got into a fight with his case worker out of despair over his situation or because he suffered mental illness remains unanswered. What is certain, however, is that the refugees were in a difficult situation, lived in overcrowded camps, and worried about their future, which created great personal burdens for all of them.