The Anton Frank case: “drowned” in the Danube River with strangling marks around his neck

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Born in Romania, taking refuge in East Germany, drowning in Romania, fished out and buried in Bulgaria. This would be the sum-up of the tragic life of Anton Frank, a young man who was only in search of the road to freedom.

Anton Frank was born on December 14, 1941, in Bucharest, but did not live for long here, as his parents fled to Leipzig, Germany, for fear of the advancing Soviet Army. However, they found themselves living as part of the same Eastern Bloc, after the end of the War.

In 1967, Anton graduated high-school and wanted to become a pharmacist, but had to settle for a career as a constructions engineer. A fervent Catholic, in a city which had reached the peak of atheism with 94% professed non-believers, Anton could not get used to living in the Democrat Republic of Germany, and decided to flee the communist camp of nations.

Frank’s Body Was Fished Out By Fishermen

The facts related to his death are not fully known to this day. What it is known is that Frank had arrived in Romania to cross the Danube swimming, by the end of September 1970.

But on October 11 that year, his body was fished out of the Danube by fishermen close to Vidin, Bulgaria. The border-crossings registry mentions that Frank went to Bulgaria at the end of September, but then returned to Romania, on October 2nd, proof that he was scouting the border areas for a place to cross the border illegally towards Yugoslavia, where from the escape route towards the West layed.

Findings in the STASI Archives

According to the memo in the STASI files held now by the BStU, in the file MfS-HA XX 9440, Capt. Fleischbauer, who was in charge with the operative STASI unit in Bulgaria, wrote down that Frank had around his neck a container which held his documents of identification, 600 Deutsch Marks, and border-crossing permits and travel documents which allowed for his positive identification.

Capt. Fleischbauer also noted that Frank drowned while attempting to cross the Danube from Romania to Yugoslavia, about three to seven days prior to his body being found 300 to 350 km downstream, on the Bulgarian bank of the Danube River.

”Taking into account the fact that the body was found at Slatin Rok (correct, Zlaten Rok, our note), and only 25 km away from the border point common to the three states: Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia, it is very likely that Frank drowned in the Romanian-Yugoslav section of the Danube. This and other pieces of evidence lead to the conclusion that Frank wanted to illegally cross the Romanian-Yugoslav border”, Capt. Fleischbauer wrote.

The Franks Asked for Anton’s Body to be Brought Home

According to documents held in the same file, the East Germany Embassy in Sofia was informed of the situation on October 12, 1970. On news of the tragic event, Frank’s family asked for the body to be transferred to East Germany. Upon this request, Voss, the East German Consul in Sofia, traveled to Vidin.

Anton Frank Was Fully Clothed … Highly Unusual …

On October 16, 1970, Voss wanted to inspect Frank’s body, along the forensic doctor and other representatives of the Bulgarian authorities, given that his body was found fully dressed, which was highly unusual for a person attempting to cross the Danube swimming.

Once arrived in Vidin, Voss found out that the autopsy had already been performed and the body entered two days before.

”The autopsy showed the man died drowning. The body had no signs of violence. The death most likely occurred down-stream from the Iron Gates power station. Given the degree of decomposition, the conservation of the body for transportation back to his home-country was not possible , hence a decision was made to bury it locally. The burial took place on October 14, 1970, at 11:30, in the Slatin Rok (Zlaten Rok) cemetery.

At his place of burial, a three-foot wooden monument was erected, depicting a five-star cross, carrying the name Anton Frank, and the date of burial, in Latin letters. I inspected the grave along the chief of the local Militia”, Voss wrote down, in a memo to the STASI in Berlin.

The clothes, documents, money and the investigation file were all submitted to the East Germany Consulate in Sofia, on November 20, by the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior Affairs.

The Franks were convinced that the authorities in East Germany were in fact blocking the return of Anton’s body to his relatives, as it happened in other cases, like the Babendererde case, which our website, dealt with as part of its media campaign dedicated to the defectors during Communism.

STASI simply informed the Franks that Anton drowned in the Danube and was buried in Bulgaria.

Quite a Blow to the Family

In an interview with the German researcher Stefan Appelius, the victim’s sister, Marian Frank, states that the family was shocked at the time by the swift burial of their relative.

”He was a gay person, a collector of post-cards of London, and dreaming to live in America”, remembers the sister.

Their parents never gave up, and made the trip to Bulgaria to seek their son’s burial site. His mother talked to the forensic doctor performing the autopsy who confirmed Anton was not alive by the time he hit the Danube waters, and that his neck carried signs of strangling.

She immediately contacted the East German Consulate in Sofia, to demand explanations. She was met by Consul Voss, who chose to attack her with placing the blame on her, for the education she had given her son, and then threw her out of the Consulate building …

Readers who want to volunteer more information on the topic may reach the investigative journalists at marina.constantinoiu@gmail. com, and

About Marina Constantinoiu Istvan Deak
Marina Constantinoiu și Istvan Deak sunt autorii unei serii de producții multimedia dedicate fenomenului frontierist, cu care s-a confruntat România în anii comunismului. Fenomenul, care a marcat o lungă perioadă, între 1948 și 1989, reprezintă o pagină de istorie recentă prea puțin sau chiar deloc cunoscută multora dintre români.

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