- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

BERLIN — At least 125 persons died at the Berlin Wall in the three decades before the great symbol of divided Cold War Europe was finally torn down in 1989, German researchers said yesterday.

But the latest findings of a government-backed project hoping to close this chapter of German history suggest that fewer people died at the barrier between formerly communist East Berlin and free West Berlin than previously thought.

Although there are still 81 cases under investigation, the final figure expected to be published next year is set to fall below estimates that put the death toll at more than 200 during the 28 years when the wall was standing.

“That the number may not be as high as some estimates have suggested diminishes neither the fate of those who were killed at the wall, nor the inhumanity of the regime,” said Maria Nooke, who heads the project at the Center for Historical Research and the Berlin Wall Association.

The findings come a week before the 45th anniversary of the wall, which East Germany began constructing on Aug. 13, 1961, in an effort to stem an exodus to the West.

Border guards had strict instructions to shoot anyone trying to escape and pictures of would-be escapees bleeding to death sparked condemnation from Western leaders.

Mystery has surrounded the deaths because East German authorities tried to conceal the number of people wanting to escape and some victims’ families were not informed.

The research published yesterday showed that of the 125 confirmed deaths, 93 were East Germans trying to escape, some were shot there although they were not trying to flee and eight East German border guards were killed.

Most incidents occurred between 1961 and 1969 and most of the victims were boys and men between 16 and 30 years old.

Researchers have discounted 62 suspected Berlin Wall deaths that turned out to be suicides or the victims survived.

“We wanted to establish an accurate number but we must remember that behind each figure is a life, a history,” said Gabriele Camphausen, head of the Berlin Wall Association.

The newly published documents describe how families received news of the death of loved ones.

The mother of 18-year-old Wernhard Mispelhorn, who died in August 1964 two days after being shot at the wall, heard nothing until a few hours before her son’s death.

She was not allowed to visit him and, after the secret police hinted her son had died in an attempt to escape, she was forced to sign a statement promising not to tell anyone.

The mother of Herbert Halli, an electrician fatally shot at the wall, was told he died after getting drunk. Mr. Halli’s family learned the true circumstances only after the wall fell.

The barrier came down on Nov. 9, 1989, amid surging crowds after an East German Politburo member accidentally announced checkpoints to West Berlin were open. Today, there is little of the Berlin Wall left in the united city’s center.

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