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

May 2017

An 11-Year-Old’s Odyssee

An 11-Year-Olds Odyssee
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At the end of the summer holidays in 1960, Rainer, an 11-year-old boy from Leipzig, was staying involuntarily in Potsdam-Babelsberg. His foster mother in Leipzig had brought him there so that he could get to the West before the East German authorities got hold of him. His biological mother, a train conductor from Leipzig, had recently fled to the West with her two younger children. They had been provided housing in Marienfelde as part of the refugee reception procedure. Shortly after they fled, the police paid a visit to Rainer’s foster mother and began looking into the child’s whereabouts. There was the fear that Rainer would not be able to join his parents, that he would have to stay in East Germany, become custody of the state and live in an orphanage.

To prevent this, his foster mother brought him to Potsdam to stay with a pensioner that both women knew. His presence there did not attract attention during the summer break, but he had to be brought to his family as soon as possible. Rainer’s mother and siblings had already been flown out of Berlin to Giessen in West Germany and were now staying in the Waldbröl refugee camp in North Rhine-Westphalia. From there they tried to find a way to get Rainer to the West. He only had to travel the short distance from Babelsberg to Marienfelde, but the escape was dangerous since the border between Potsdam and West Berlin was blocked off.

The Marienfelde Refugee Center was sent a letter with a picture of the boy so that he could be identified and admitted if he managed to escape. But Rainer never contacted the center.