East German Refugee Crisis in Embassies in Prague Turned Hardliners into Advocates for Change 20 Years Ago
New Documents from Prague, Berlin, and Bonn detail the pressure on the "System" from East Germans voting with their feet
Just before the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, even the hardline Czechoslovak Communist leaders called for the opening of the German border, according to documents from high-level archives in Berlin, Bonn and Prague published for the first time in English and posted on the Web today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.
Compiled and edited by Czech historian Vilem Precan and translated by Todd Hammond, the documents show that waves of East German refugees fleeing to the West through Czechoslovakia (more than 62,000 just in the period from November 4 to 10, 1989) so alarmed the Czechoslovak Communist authorities -- who previously had resisted the reforms under way in Poland, Hungary and in Moscow -- that they asked the East German leadership on November 8 to allow its citizens to go directly to West Germany, in effect to open the border.
The documents posted today include the secret diplomatic exchanges between the West German foreign ministry and its embassy in Prague where thousands of refugees took shelter, between East German diplomats in Prague and their bosses in East Berlin, between Czechoslovak diplomats and Party officials and their counterparts, and eyewitness accounts by dissident Charter 77 spokespeople about the refugee crisis.