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Conductor Says Harsh Crackdown Was Averted in Leipzig Last Month

November 18, 1989

LEIPZIG, East Germany (AP) _ East Germany was on the brink of a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Leipzig on Oct. 9, but it was averted at the last minute, East German conductor Kurt Masur said Friday.

Masur, 62-year-old leader of the renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra, said ″blood would have flowed″ that day if he and five others - a satirist, a churchman and three party officials - had not banded together and issued an appeal for peace at the last moment.

Security forces and troops were massed in the streets and young people ″were ready to die,″ Masur said at a news conference. Civil war ″would have broken out,″ he said.

Satirist Bernd-Lutz Lange added, ″But only one side would have been armed. It would have been a military attack on the poeople.″

Recalling that East German leader Egon Krenz issued statements last summer backing the China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in June, Masur said: ″We were on the brink of that.″

Two days earlier, scores of demonstrators were beaten and arrested when they marched peacefully in Leipzig on the 40th birthday of East Germany.

Hundreds more were arrested in East Berlin that weekend, while 300 others were jailed after battling riot police in Dresden Oct. 3-4.

According to an article in Leipzig’s newspaper on Friday and Masur’s own account, the conductor telephoned the Communist Party’s local cultural official Kurt Meyer around 2:30 p.m. Oct. 9 to express his anxiety.

Meyer got together Roland Woetzel - now Leipzig’s Communist Party chief - and another party official, Juergen Pommert, as well as Lange and a churchman, Peter Zimmermann, and all met in Masur’s home.

By 4:30 p.m., they had prepared a statement calling for calm and promising dialogue, which was read out in all the churches where peace prayers occurred and also broadcast on a Leipzig radio station.

The troops and security forces withdrew to side streets, and Leipzig’s demonstration passed off peacefully, a signal to East Germans that they could start protesting without fear.

Masur and the Communists were locked in sharp controversy Friday over the role played by Krenz.

At the news conference, Woetzel refused repeatedly to say whether the troops that day had the order to shoot as Leipzig opposition groups assert.

He also tried to suggest that Krenz a decisive role by giving orders from Berlin that all should proceed peacefully.

″Be honest here,″ interrupted Masur, threatening to walk out. ″I am not prepared to play the role of making Egon Krenz look as if he was responsible″ for the lack of bloodshed, Masur added.

Woetzel then admitted it was only in a later phone call - after the demonstration started - that Krenz, who was then responsible for security on the Politburo, had given instructions for all to be peaceful.

″You sometimes find it hard to tell the truth,″ Masur concluded.

Leipzig’s Communist newspaper Leipziger Volkszeitung on Friday praised what it called ″the historic deed of the six,″ particularly lauding the three party men.

″They were aware that they had to act independently or bear part of the guilt for the final burial of socialism on German soil and for a catastrophe which would have endangered European security,″ wrote Werner Bramke, a respected East German historian.

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