Citizen not Supplicant

In September 1987 about 25 applicants requesting an exit visa to leave East Germany joined forces to demand that the East German governing authorities release them of their East German citizenship. The members of the work group “Citizenship rights of the GDR” made it clear that in rejecting applications to permanently leave the country and persecuting the applicants, the SED regime was violating domestic rights and international agreements such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the OSCE Final Act from Helsinki. On December 10, 1987, the International Day of Human Rights, Günter Jeschonnek, founding member and the group’s speaker, was planning to read a statement to the public at prayer services in the Gethsemane Church in East Berlin. It was written by the group and directed at the East German government. To prevent this from happening, the Stasi saw to it that Günter Jeschonnek and his family were forced to leave the country that very day.

Günter Jeschonnek was born on December 10, 1950 in Halle/Saale. In 1957 he moved to East Berlin with his parents -- SED party members loyal to the state -- and three brothers. On the insistence of his father, Günter Jeschonnek began agricultural training in 1965, which he completed as a farm machine mechanic in 1968. He refused to take part in pre-military training during his subsequent studies in agricultural engineering in Fürstenwalde. Consequently, Günter Jeschonnek was forced to discontinue his studies and work as a tractor operator until 1971 when he was allowed to study again. Günter Jeschonnek describes this time as “the important school of life.” In working in agriculture he was confronted with problems that revealed to him that the reality of life in East Germany was not as positive it had been presented to him by his parents. By 1972, as an agricultural engineer, he served as deputy division head in a LPG (agricultural production cooperative) in Eggersdorf/Müncheberg and later at the Müncheberg Institute for Soil Fertility.

In 1973, to evade having to serve in the East German military, Günter Jeschonnek decided to flee to West Germany with a friend he knew from his studies. They were planning to go through Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria, but were arrested while traveling by train through East Germany and interrogated at the border to Czechoslovakia. They managed to talk their way out of the situation and were released with a so-called “PM-12,” a substitute ID, after paying a penalty for having committed a currency offence. Günter Jeschonnek was given the order not to leave East Berlin. Six months later he had to show up for basic training in the army.

Günter Jeschonnek turned his attention to his artistic interests, enrolled in the Institute for Theater Directing and completed the four-year degree in directing in 1982. During this time he met Gudrun Jaeger, the daughter of a pastor, and they married in 1982. Their daughter Luise was born a year later.

After completing his studies, Günter Jeschonnek worked as a theater director. His plays, which were critical of the political system in East Germany, drew the attention of the Stasi His last theater projects in Senftenberg and Dresden were not approved. After he applied to leave East Germany in January 1986, Günter Jeschonnek was unofficially banned from his profession. He used this “free time” to get involved in the Protestant Church and the workgroup “Citizens rights in the GDR.” He helped organize the protest march to four East Berlin churches and the concluding event in the Gethsemane Church that was planned as part of the Olof Palme Peace March in September 1987 in East Germany. Günter Jeschonnek’s “hostile negative attitude” led the Stasi to fear his “high publicity activities, which might possibly attract the western media.” For this reason they decided “to release him, his wife and their daughter from their East German citizenship as soon as possible.” Günter Jeschonnek fought against being forced to leave the country on such short notice by the Stasi, but the family had no choice but to immigrate to West Berlin on December 10, 1987, crossing the border at the Friedrichstrasse station. Once in the West, he continued to his protest work against the SED regime.

Lydia Dollmann

Günter Jeschonnek 2010

Günter Jeschonnek, 2010,
photo: Günter Steffen


Reasons for submitting an application to leave

About the political work and immigration to West Berlin

From an interview, October 11, 2010, Berlin Wall Memorial (in German)