in the heart of Europe, a terrible frontier of death

Young Czechoslovak border guards were trigger-happy when faced with “enemies of socialism” seeking to flee the country.  Reconstruction from the documentary


Numerous documentaries have dealt with the way in which citizens of the defunct German Democratic Republic (GDR) tried, at the risk of their lives, to cross the Berlin Wall (August 1961-November 1989), in order to leave the socialist paradise for imperialist hell.

Fewer are the documentaries that have looked at the particularly brutal, cruel and cynical methods employed between 1948 and 1989 by the Czechoslovak communist power to prevent its own citizens, as well as many East Germans, from crossing the border illegally. A veritable border of death stretching over 809 kilometers and adjoining not only the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), but also Austria.

Hence the interest of this program, which skillfully mixes reconstructed escape scenes, testimonies of former border guards and citizens who have succeeded in their escape. Lawyers also testify in front of the camera, and their words are important in explaining the actions currently being taken by the German and Czech justices. The courts of Prague and Weiden (Germany) have recently been seized of these painful cases thanks to the NGO Platform of European Memory and Conscience, whose members have patiently compiled files of citizens who have died while trying to cross the border .

memory and justice

As a result, 41 people are now under investigation. Among them, three former members of the Czechoslovak Politburo at the time. The Czech Republic is therefore undertaking a long process of remembrance and justice, which should help families, but also allow the whole country to better understand the gray areas of a not so distant past.

Among the victims’ files are those of eleven citizens of the former GDR. Why did they try to reach the West via Czechoslovakia? Because at the time a rumor suggested that this border was less secure than the one between the two Germanys.

A totally unfounded rumor, as the detection systems were efficient there. And so young Czechoslovak border guards, closely watched by political commissars scattered in each company, were trigger-happy in the face of “enemies of socialism” seeking to flee the country. Under very strong pressure, many of these young border guards (between 300 and 400) committed suicide.

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Electrified barbed wire, closely monitored waterways, mines, dogs trained to kill, the systems put in place by the Czechoslovak communist regime to prevent escapes at the border are chilling. Testimonies confirm both the inexperience and the cruelty of the local border guards, capable of shooting fugitives in the back on the very soil of the FRG.

The Iron Curtain of Czechoslovakia, by Oliver Halmburger (Ger./Aut./Tch., 2022, 52 min). On until April 20.

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