The Jürgen Augst case: A GDR citizen apprehended at Jimbolia for attempting to flee to the West, via Romania

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It was only in 2014, that is 40 years after the facts, that Jürgen Augst found the inner strength to talk about the events surrounding his failed attempt at fleeing the communist camp. He put his memories down, in an autobiographical novel, titled Papilio. Eine Flucht aus der DDR (Butterfly. Flight from the GDR).

The chances to flee the communist camp via a third country, rather than directly from the Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic of Germany were not better. Whoever got the misfortune to be caught by the authorities found oneself in a worse predicament.

The situation was indeed very serious for those trying their luck via Romania. The country’s secret service, Securitatea, was well known for its brutality, ranked right after that of the Gestapo”, Augst writes.

The way the Romanian State currently deals with the former deeds and crimes committed by the Securitate is totally unsatisfactory for the former victims. Romania’s lack of action has a direct impact on the possibilities open to former victims living in Germany to take action.

Some of these victims only recently received copies of their files, others did not receive them at all. In this type of environment, almost 30 years since the demise of communism, the victims are still victimized by a mechanism suited for human degradation.

A memoir on his attempt to escape the communist regime

This is not fiction, but a collection of facts, noted down as they occurred”, Augst says in his book, which is, to our knowledge, the first attempt made by an East-German to detail his “relationship” with the Romanian Securitate.

The documents in the STASI archives confirm both his attempt at jumping the border in Romania, as well as being taken into custody here.

The headquarters of the BStU in Berlin, where the STASI archives are studied; by Marina Constantinoiu

Born in 1954, in a small town in the Oberlausitz region of the former Democratic Republic of Germany, Augst quickly came to realize that he could not live in the communist regime. In 1973, his friend Frank Richter convinced him to flee together, via Yugoslavia.

Richter had spent his vacation at his cousin’s, in Romania, and so he saw that she lived right on the border with Yugoslavia, which made it a perfect place to organize their escape from. Yugoslavia was meant to be just a stepping stone towards the Federal Republic of Germany.

Oberlausitz, the birth-place of Jürgen Augst

The journey

In the summer of 1974 they boarded the train in Dresden and entered Romania at the Borș border-crossing, close to the Oradea city. Then they headed towards Timișoara, to board a train to Jimbolia, where they thought they will jump off the train and run towards Romania’s border with Yugoslavia.

Romanian border-guards were well-aware of this tactics, so all persons getting off at Jimbolia had their documents thoroughly checked on the platforms of the railway station. To avoid any problems, Richter’s cousin, Marika, was to accompany them from Timișoara.

Entryway into the Jimbolia town; by Marina Constantinoiu

The three of them met in the train, were the young woman introduced them to two West-Germany citizens who were part of the whole plan.

And it all seemed so easy. The West-Germans were giving their passports to the East-Germans to have them checked by the border guards, while themselves making quite a fuss about not being able to find their own documents, and thus distract the attention of the soldiers. Marika was the one to get back the passports from the East-Germans and claim that she had them in her back-pack all the time.

The railway station in Jimbolia, the place they planned to get off the train and run towards Yugoslavia; by Marina Constantinoiu

Once arrived in the Jimbolia train-station the five of them acted as agreed upon, but one of the policemen on the platform noticed the fact that the passports changed hands. At this point, the two East-Germans panicked and fled, disregarding the warning shots. But the two of them stopped with their hands up into the air when out of a bush came a border-guard with his fire-arm pointing at them and shouting scared calls of “Stop! Stop!”

The soldier fired a shot into the air and other soldiers immediately arrived and the two Germans were taken into custody.

One officer applied them a series of blows with his fists and boots. Augst and Richter were taken to a police station and interrogated in separate rooms. When they had made their decision to flee the two young men also agreed to not ever admit they wanted to jump the border.

Under brutal investigation

During his interrogation made with help from a translator, Augst said the two of them were aiming to reach the Lenauheim village, located between Grabaț and Iecea Mare, but lost their way and headed towards the border instead.

The two Germans were transferred to a Securitate building in Timișoara, where they were beaten savagely. “I had lost the notion of time; had no idea if there were days or weeks since we were kept there,” Augst wrote in his book.

He said he was tied up with a rope around his neck and legs, and beaten up until he lost his consciousness. Since he did not waver and did not want to admit he wanted to cross the border illegally, one day he was blindfolded and placed against a wall. Four soldiers fired their guns, and he peed on himself our of fear. But this was only psychological warfare: the bullets were blind. Still, he did not admit his intention to flee.

Augst also says live wires were tied around his chest and testicles and that electrical shocks were applied to him until, again, he lost consciousness.

Another day he had his head pushed into a bucket filled with water until, again, he fainted.

The front-cover of ”Papilio”, Jürgen Augst’s book

Finally, the two Germans were send to Bucharest, with a military escort, to be extradited to the GDR. From the Gara de Nord railway station they were taken to the Otopeni international airport. They met there other three East-Germans caught into the same predicament: two men and one woman.

One of the three people had his face swollen beyond recognition. He told them he attempted to cross over the Danube, when he was caught. The other two attempted to use forged passports.

Fourteen soldiers escorted the five East-Germans to the door of the airplane sent from the GDR to get them back. Five STASI agents took them over.

Augst thus came into the custody of the STASI. He was somewhat happy for having escaped the inferno he had been through in Romania. After months of captivity and many interrogations and pressures exerted upon him, Augst was released from prison. But his freedom would not last for long, since he soon began his 18-month military service, where he was constantly persecuted because of his attempt to flee the country.

He made it to the Federal Republic of Germany ten years later, in 1984

In 1982 Augst filed his first request to emigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany. He was held in custody and interrogated. Then his home was searched. The same year he met Anna, and decided to flee together to the West.

They planned to enter the Federal Republic diplomatic office in East Berlin and stay there. They did reach the embassy, but the details of their arrival to the Federal Republic are left untold. The fact of the matter is that they had reached their intended destination by  1984. Augst dedicated his book to Frank Richter, killed in a car-bomb, according to the author.

Documents from the Stasi-Archives

Jürgen Augst lives now in Bergisch Gladbach and is the managing director of a successful company.

Readers who want to volunteer more information on the topic may reach the investigative journalists at marina.constantinoiu@gmail.com, and istvan.deak2014@gmail.com

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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