But machine guns at highway check points, armed patrols of 15 or 20 police on trains, vigorous propaganda, show trials accusing “traitors” of enticing East Germans to the West, and a scare campaign reporting a polio epidemic raging in Federal Germany, were not able to check the trend.
According to the refugees themselves, the credit for the increased exodus went largely to Soviet Premier Khrushchev and his colleagues.
The Communists’ repeated insistence after June, 1961, on “settling” the German question by the end of the year convinced increasing numbers of East Germans that their escape route would soon be cut off altogether.
Whatever their varied reasons for wanting to leave, they felt that the time for action had come.
THE overall total of four million refugees is necessarily an estimate, since between 1946 and 1949 no figures were kept.
It also does not account for thousands — perhaps one million — others who fled but never registered as refugees.
Comparisons put the four million figure into perspective.
It equals the population of Tunisia or Ecuador, and exceeds that of Norway or Bolivia.
It is twice the population of New Zealand, two times and a half that of Jordan, and nearly three times that of Nicaragua.
Scaled according to the time span, the total figure means that someone slipped out of East Germany every three minutes, rain or shine, day and night, year in and year out.
Berlin is the favourite escape route because of strict control measures imposed by the Communists along the border with West Germany.
But escape anywhere is a dangerous undertaking.
Since December, 1957, long prison sentences have been given those who get caught and the death sentence is possible.
Friends and relatives of those who escape are often punished.
A Communist tribunal convicted a former East German police lieutenant of treason and sentenced him to death in May, 1960.
He had been caught in an attempt to help his wife and daughter escape to West Germany.
FOR some, escape comes only after months of inspired planning and careful preparation. Their stories frequently rival works of fiction for pluck and cunning.
There is the story of the Communist policeman on duty aboard an elevated train going from East to West Berlin. He spotted a battered sewing machine on the floor at the rear of a car. It was anchored to a heating pipe by a chain and stout padlock. All passengers gazed into the air when he demanded that the owner speak up.
The policeman rushed forward to consult with the conductor and to try to find a hacksaw.
When the train drew into a West Berlin station, an elderly woman, triumph beaming on her face, whipped a key out from under her apron, unlocked the padlock and quickly departed with her machine.
There was the professor who left East Berlin for good only after countless preparatory trips over a period of several years—until he had at last moved his entire library into West Berlin, a few books at a time.
For sheer gall, few can match Gerhard L., a sheepherder on the outskirts of Berlin who idly meandered into West Berlin one day and took his flock of 400 sheep with him.
For most, however, the flight results from a spur-of-the-moment decision and represents the sacrifice of all cherished belongings.
They flee by train, subway, auto, bicycle or on foot, taking with them only the contents of their pockets.
SOME East Germans have fled to find employment in the booming prosperity of the Federal Republic.
Others have left because of the chronic shortages of food and consumer goods.
The majority, however, have sought mainly to escape the political oppression of a Communist regime.
Deprived or their right to a genuine election in East Germany, they decided to “vote with their feet.”
In recent years, the greatest rise in the refugee figures followed directly on the Soviet zone’s campaign which brought all East German farmland and much of its industry under the collective system.
For the Communists, the long, steady drain on manpower resources has had drastic consequences. It is a prime cause of the serious economic problems now facing the East German regime. Almost 50 per cent. Of the refugees have been less than 25 years old, and 90 per cent. have been under 50 years—the cream of the Soviet zone’s working force.
Communist party concern with the labor scarcity was evidenced in April, 1961, when official newspapers began to call upon old-age pensioners and housewives to join the labor force.
For several years, appeals to women and children to help on the farms at harvest time have been common.
THE high percentage of technicians and professional people who have fled has increased the economic problem.
In 1961 the regime was forced to give up altogether its struggling aircraft industry. There were simply too few skilled workers and engineers to carry it on.
The outflow of doctors and dentists has given rise to a growing health problem.
Since 1945 about 4500 physicians have left the East zone.
A team of British public health experts who visited East Germany at the end of 1960 reported that there were only 75 doctors for each 100,000 persons, compared with 131 for each 100,000 West Germans.
Substantial privileges given to key professional people by the Communists have done little to check the flow.
The ranks of East Germany’s intellectuals, including the privileged “new” intelligentsia, have been increasingly depleted by departures.
Significant numbers of writers, artists, professors, scientists, teachers and students appear in each month’s refugee tally.
In 1958 3300 teachers fled; 65 per cent. of them proved to be “new teachers” who had received their entire professional training under the Communist system.
The refugee tide has fluctuated widely over the years, often as a clear reaction to political and economic developments, and sometimes for no traceable reason.
But one cause-and-effect indicator has consistently proved valid.
Each time a specific population group has been selected for “correction” through political or ideological measures, the reaction has been shown by a rise in refugee statistics.