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2014 | 1-2 | 79-133

Article title

Přes ambasády ke svobodě. Drama východoněmeckého exodu v roce 1989


Title variants

Through the Embassies to Freedom:The Drama of the East German Exodus, 1989

Languages of publication



The article seeks to chart out comprehensively mass attempts by citizens of the German Democratic Republic to defect o the West by way of the diplomatic missions of the Federal Republic of Germany in the capital cities of the Socialist countries, chiefly Prague, East Berlin, Budapest, and Warsaw. The author outlines the limited possibilities and the complicated circumstances of citizens who applied to emigrate from East to West Germany, and he discusses the important role of the attorney Wolfgang Vogel, Honecker’s official representative for humanitarian questions, in mediating this migration, and in solving crises that emerged during attempts to leave. As early as 1984, many East German refugees sought asylum in the diplomatic missions of the Federal Republic of Germany with the aim of compelling their authorities to let them leave the country. Five years later, the wave of refugees reached hitherto unimaginable dimensions, and was one of the factors that markedly contributed to the collapse of the Communist régime in the German Democratic Republic and ultimately to the end of the existence of East Germany as a state. The breaking point was the relaxation of border controls and the eventual opening up of the Hungarian-Austrian frontier between July and September 1989, by which the Hungarian reformist government reacted to the ever-growing number of East German refugees in the country. After that, the Honecker leadership limited its citizens’ travelling to Hungary, which, however, led to a massive pressure by thousands of refugees on the embassies of the Federal Republic of Germany in Warsaw and especially in Prague, where, in September, a humanitarian crisis erupted. The author provides a detailed reconstruction of the course of these events, including attempts by the parties involved to find a diplomatic solution. Under pressure from the Czechoslovak leadership, Erich Honecker, at the end of the month, gave in and reconciled himself to the departure of several thousand refugees from Prague via East German territory to the Federal Republic. is subsequent attempt to solve the increasingly urgent problem of closing the borders with Czechoslovakia as well, failed, however, and, by contrast, increased the East German citizens’ distaste for the régime. Honecker’s successor, Egon Krenz, was forced relax travel restrictions again between the two states. When, in early November 1989, he made it possible for citizens of the German Democratic Republic to travel to the West via Czechoslovakia with only their identity cards, the Berlin Wall became a non-functioning relic of the Cold War that was drawing to a close.




  • Soudobé dějiny, redakce, Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i., Vlašská 9, 118 40 Praha 1, Czech Republic


Document Type

Publication order reference


YADDA identifier

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