Remember Ida Siekmann and 22 August 1961

Remember Ida Siekmann and 22 August 1961

Reading Ida Siekmann’s story at the Chronik der Mauer (Chronicle of the Berlin Wall) website will likely make you shake your head a few times and wonder how this all could have happened.  The German version of the story is quite detailed, whereas the English version is only a few lines.  So I’ll give here a summary of some of the content that’s available in German but not in English.

Ms. Siekmann’s death is recognized as having been the first attributed directly to the building of the Wall.  She was born in 1902 in West Prussia and it’s not known when she first moved to Berlin.    At the time the Wall was built she lived at Bernauer Straße 48 in Central Berlin, specifically the district Berlin-Mitte, which, during the 4-power occupation of Berlin, was in the Soviet zone.  However, the street in front of the building belonged in the district of Berlin-Wedding, which was part of the French zone.  Prior to the Wall, this unfortunate circumstance caused no great difficulty; there was neighborly contact between both sides of the street.  In fact, Ms. Siekmann visited her sister, a few blocks to the west, regularly and without difficulty.

Because of the arrangement of the building, it could only be entered from Wedding, but once you were within it, you were in Berlin-Mitte.  In the first few days of the Wall’s construction, many people living along that side of Bernauer Straße were still able to escape and go over to the west via their front doors.  Beginning on the 18th of August, however, the communist authorities barricaded the front doors and created new entrances from the sides of the buildings not facing west.  Authorities tightly controlled entrance to these buildings.

With their front doors barricaded, residents inside the buildings began jumping out of windows on the western side.  You can see footage here:

Authorities barricaded the front door of Ms. Siekmann’s building on 21 August 1961. Early the next morning, 22 August 1961, she threw many of her belongings out of the window of her third-floor flat. Probably because of her fear of being seen and stopped, she jumped out of the window herself too quickly and before West Berlin firemen were prepared to catch her. She died from her injuries on the way to the hospital, one day before her 59th birthday.

Her death caused a great deal of consternation in West Berlin. The press described her fate as a “deadly jump to freedom.” A memorial was soon erected in her honor. U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy later visited this memorial with German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

I have a special page dedicated to links concerning the Berlin Wall.

Photo credit: I found this photo at Wikimedia Commons. The copyright holder is listed as “Mutter Erde”, which is most certainly not a real name (it’s the German for “Mother Earth.”) The copyright holder has given full permission for the image to be used and altered.

About the Author

Bill Dawson is an American citizen who, having married an Austrian, lives and works in Vienna, Austria. A programmer by trade, he studied history as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley.