A Reflection from The Berlin Wall – 13 August 1961 – Gideon D. Asche
This article originally appeared in the Havok Journal.
While I was in the field, I worked with a German officer named Katja; she was the prettiest intelligence officer I ever knew.
In about 1979, I met her father Richard – They were an odd pair for father and daughter. He looked like he could be her older brother, just based on his age and the two of them had none of the similar features one would expect from a paternal relationship.
Richard had never married, and was just 17 years her senior; less than 17 years because no one knew when or where Katja was born. I never heard anyone speak of Katja’s mother and I wondered about it until Richard himself told me the story at coffee one afternoon.
It was a warm day in August 1961; Richard was a first year university student visiting Berlin on an educational trip. He and some classmates were staying in a private guesthouse near the center of the city and on the second morning in Berlin, the thirteenth of August, they heard noise and commotion outside their window.
When one of them investigated they found that East German Army and Volkspolizei – Peoples Police – commonly referred to as VOPOs, were erecting a barbed wire barrier right through the center of the city.
Richard and his friends were fortunate enough to be on the west side of the barrier, that is the free side.
They spent most of the morning standing at the barrier staring in disbelief as the VOPOs erected what we would later refer to as the Berlin Wall.
On the afternoon of the 14th (the day we celebrated as Katja’s birthday) the wall was in its early stages of construction, crowds of East Germans trapped on the other side congregated across from Richard and his friends.
Richard said he made eye contact with a woman on the other side. She was holding a baby. She began to stare at him as if she was trying to burn holes in him with her eyes – he couldn’t turn away from her.
Richard paused for a moment, rubbed his face profusely, then out of nowhere, he startled the snot out of me with an animated narration of how the woman suddenly broke from the crowd and sprinted the forty or so feet to the wire, “right through the VOPOs.”
She screamed, “Take her! -Take her! -Save Her!-TAKE HER!” – Then she threw the baby the last 5 feet over the wire right into Richard’s waiting arms. He chuckled and mused that one of them needed a diaper change but it wasn’t the baby.
Richard and his friends watched helplessly as the woman, savagely beaten by VOPOs, was dragged back through the crowd. There is no record of whom she was or what happened to her.
Richard’s lip quivered and his eyes moistened as he told me of how he stood at the wire and shouted himself hoarse. “I have her! … She is safe!”… “I have her! … She is safe!”; Over and over, in the hopes the child’s mother would somehow hear.
The name “Katja” was penned on the baby’s blanket and she became Richard’s daughter that day. I shuddered at the thought of suddenly having a child at 17 but what else could a Real Man do?
Author’s note: My friend Katja – יהי זכרו ברוך, disappeared into the Soviet prison system in 1986; no one ever saw her again. It fell to me, as her commander, to tell Richard – We wept together.