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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

May 31, 2010

"Snipers" behind the Wall

Filed under Life in Europe

Today’s surprise resignation by German federal president Horst Köhler reminded me of an earlier German president who resigned a few weeks prior to the end of his second term, largely as a result of efforts to discredit him by "snipers" behind the Wall.

Walls can enclose, divide, support – or serve as protection for "snipers". Such was the case with the Berlin Wall, which was erected literally overnight on August 13, 1961 to divide the Soviet sector of Berlin from the three western sectors of the city. Initially a barbed wire fence, the wall gradually became a daunting impediment of concrete blocks. 192 people lost their lives at the Berlin wall, and most people think of the shots fired by sentries behind the wall at East German citizens attempting to flee to the West.

However, the Berlin Wall – and symbolically the rest of the Iron Curtain that divided the two Germanys – offered protection for "snipers" of another variety who for years fired their bullets of falsehoods and lies at prominent persons in West German life in an attempt to discredit them. The "snipers" were East German propagandists who used trumped up charges, often based on falsified documents, to influence West German media and public opinion.

Perhaps the most famous victim of the "snipers" behind the wall was Germany’s second postwar federal president, Heinrich Lübke. He resigned his position as president about ten weeks before the end of his second five year term, and most analysts attributed it to the propaganda campaign mounted against him by East German agents and media. Heinrich Lübke In 1966 accusations started to be made by sources in East Germany that he had at the very least been aware of the use of slave labor on construction projects supervised in part by Lübke during World War II. Building plans bearing his signature and concentration camp barrack blocks were advanced as evidence of his guilt. At first these were dismissed in the West as East German propaganda. However, the East German propagandists kept asking the same questions about Lübke’s involvement, and in the next 2-3 years people in West Germany began asking questions, too. The affair threatened to damage the office of Germany’s federal president. In 1968 Lübke announced that he would resign the following year, his resignation taking effect about ten weeks months before the scheduled end of his term of office. He died four years later. The "evidence" used by the "snipers" from behind the wall against Heinrich Lübke was later proven to be fake, but that did not change the damage done to Lübke’s reputation during his last years in office as federal president.

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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