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Interview with Marita Patos (attempted republic escape)

I interviewed Marita Patos who wanted to escape from East Germany in March 1977.

Date of the interview: 5th of January 2007

Marita Patos = MP, Lukas Czarnecki = LC

LC: "Hello Marita!"
MP: "Hello Lukas!"
LC: "Maybe you can give us a summary of your life in East Germany."
MP: "I was born in Berlin-Lichtenberg (East Berlin, East Germany). The brain washing in East Germany already began in the kindergarden. When I was a child, growing up in the 60's, US soldiers often were passing by and they threw candies, bubble gums, chocolade and pictures of movie stars out of the car. I was so impressed that later I wanted to marry an American. At school we had a subject called Staatsbuergerkunde (civics) where teachers told us bad stories about West Germany. I was rebellious, I hated this subject and each time when the teacher entered the classroom, my friend and me left the classroom. I had got many friends and relatives in West Berlin and so I knew that at school they did not tell us the truth. As a teenager I loved to listen BBC radio and especially American music. I did not understand English, but nevertheless I loved it. Everything coming from the west was very exciting for me. In highschool I liked to wear clothes with the US flag and Western commercials on it. I got in trouble and I had to go home and change it. When I worked in the kindergarden it was not possible to change the TV and radio channels, because they took off the buttons."
LC: "When did you think for the first time about leaving East Germany?"
MP: "In 1974 I met my future husband and in 1975 we thought about leaving East Germany. In 1975 my son was born. In 1976 my husband and me we started to write letters to the government to release our family from East Germany. After writing these letters we were contacted and we were scared that we can lose our home, our job or even our child if we do not stop writing these letters to the government."
LC: "Did you stop writing these letters or did you lose anything?"
MP: "We did not stop writing these letters and they did not take anything away, they only wanted to scare us."
LC: "What were the reasons why you wanted to leave East Germany?"
MP: "It was a mixture of many reasons. There was no freedem of speech, you could not leave the country without asking for permission, you could not do what you want. For example we could not go to West Berlin to see our friends and relatives. You worked hard, but you earned not so much money. You could not afford anything. One day we had enough of all these problems."
LC: "When did you think for the first time about escaping to the west?"
MP: "In February 1977 we started to think about an escape. At the beginning of March 1977 we decided to escape from East Germany."
LC: "How did your escape plan look like?"
MP: "My husband developed the plan. From the beginning we did not want to hurt anybody. The plan was to go to the highway and to kidnap somebody with his car. We wanted this person to bring us over the border. We had got an explosive dummy and a knife with us and we thought that the border soldiers will let us pass when we show them the explosive dummy."
LC: "How did you carry out this plan?"
MP: "On the 8th of March 1977 in the middle of the night my hushand, my child and me we left our apartment with nothing else, but only our clothes on our bodies, an explosive dummy, a knife, personal pictures and our identity cards. We went to the highway and stopped a car which was passing by. The car stopped and he gave us a ride. We talked to each other and the driver told us that he was the Second Secretary of the Cuban Embassy in East Berlin. After a few minutes we took out the explosive dummy and the knife and we told him about our plan. And then everything went very fast, he got scared and he stopped the car immediatly. Then he turned off the engine, took the key and got out of the car. He waited next to the car and wanted us to get out of the car and we did so, because we thought that it is hopeless and we did not want to hurt the man. We left everything (personal pictures, our identity cards, the knife and the explosive dummy) in the car. Then we went home."
LC: "What happened next?"
MP: "A couple hours later the Stasi (secret police in East Germany) came to our apartment to arrest us. We were brought to the remand prison in Berlin-Pankow. From the outside it looked like an office building and only the inside looked like a prison. In the building there was an inner courtyard and we saw some guards with machine pistoles."
LC: "What did they do with you in the remand prison?"
MP: "I was seperated from my husband. They started to ask us a lot of questions. This interrogation took about 8 hours or more. They asked us why we wanted to escape, for how long did we plan it and so on. They asked us the same question in many different ways."
LC: "How long did you were in the remand prison? When did the trial against you take place?"
MP: "We were 7 months in the remand prison. Our trail was on the 10th of October 1977."
LC: "Which sentence did you get?"
MP: "I was sentenced to 5 years and 6 months of imprisonment. We were sentenced for Republikflucht (republic escape), terror and kidnapping."
LC: "Maybe you can tell us something about the everyday life in prison."
MP: "After the trial I was brought to Hoheneck in Stollberg (Saxony). I was transported with an old wooden train. The waggons were without windows and very dark. Every prisoner was in a cell. This drive took many hours. When we arrived at Hoheneck we had to undress and they searched if we did not bring anything in. I was in a cell with over 20 women. 4 women and me wanted to escape to West Berlin, but the rest of them were criminals: thieves, nazis and murderers. With these 4 other women we became friends. The cells were often very cold and the water in the showers was cold, too. The food was often bad. Many women got very sick. We had to produce different goods, me for example panty hoses. We had to work very hard and fast and under very bad conditions. We got a very low monthly pocket money."
LC: "How did it happen that you were prematurely released?"
MP: "At the beginning of September 1979 I was brought to Karl-Marx-Stadt (today: Chemnitz). On the 29th of September 1979 they put me on a bus to Giesen in Niedersachsen (West Germany). There were many prisoners in the bus and I met my husband in the bus. I have not seen my husband for a long time, because he was in a prison in Brandenburg. At the border the Stasi guards left the bus. Behind the border we got something to drink and to eat. Everybody felt very happy and they cried of happiness. We were released, because the West German Government paid a large ransom for our release."
LC: "Is there something you want to add?"
MP: "Until today I have got health problems, but I learned to live with them. Many people have got nightmares and mental and physical health problems for the rest of their life."
LC: "Thank you for this very interesting and frightening interview."

Author and Webmaster: Lukas Czarnecki

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Last Update: 20.01.2007