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Refugees Arrive in West Germany, Poland Contigent Soon to Follow

October 5, 1989

HOF, West Germany (AP) _ Trainloads of elated East Germans rolled into this border town today, and thousands of their desperate countrymen battled police in Dresden while trying to board the freedom trains to the West.

Eight trains packed with 7,600 refugees arrived after an overnight journey from Prague, Czechoslovakia, where they had sought refuge in hopes of following other East Germans who were allowed to emigrate during the weekend.

″Out of hell, finally 3/8″ shouted one young man from a train window as one of the trains pulled into this northern Bavarian town shortly after dawn today. Some of the refugees had spent 14 hours on board the trains.

In Poland, meanwhile, another 600 East Germans who sought asylum in the West German Embassy in Warsaw were told today they also will be allowed to flee to West Germany, West German Foreign Ministry spokesman Juergen Chrobog announced.

When trains from Prague began arriving in Hof today, thousands of refugees leaned out train windows cheering and clapping, while others burst into tears of joy. Relief workers handed out food and clean clothing.

East Germany agreed to allow the exodus from the West German embassies in Prague and Warsaw - the second in five days - on Tuesday. It then tried to stop the refugee flood by closing its border with Czechoslovakia, the only nation where East Germans could freely travel.

East Germany made the move to end the exodus of its young and skilled citizens before the hard-line Communist country celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend.

In a face-saving move, the trains traveled from Prague back into East Germany before heading into West Germany so the government in East Berlin could officially expel the refugees.

Many East Germans tried desperately to reach Prague and join the exodus, but 200 who made it there decided not to take the trains to West Germany, instead accepting an offer from the East Berlin government to return home with a guarantee of emigration within six months.

East Germany had made the offer last week in an effort to get the refugees who had converged on the Prague and Warsaw embassies to leave. It was not known why the 200 who accepted the offer bypassed an immediate opportunity to leave on the trains, but family considerations in East Germany may have played a role.

Despite the closed border with Czechoslovakia, another 20 East Germans arrived at the Prague embassy after the trains had departed on Wednesday. They, too, were seeking asylum.

West German Embassy officials initially estimated the number of refugees in the embassy at 10,000-11,000 and said they would be traveling on 15 trains to Hof. Only eight trains arrived with 7,600.

In the East German city of Dresden, people fought running battles with police, overturned cars and smashed windows of the main ralroad station Wednesday night, witnesses said.

″We want out 3/8 we want out 3/8″ the would-be refugees screamed as police swinging truncheons charged to drive them back from the main railroad station.

″An incredible amount of time passed before we could go through Dresden. I think there must have been some disturbances,″ said 26-year-old refugee Guido Albrecht of Potsdam.

Witnesses said police also used a water cannon to try to disperse the crowd as the refugee trains passed through. They said the police broke up the demonstration after midnight.

British tourist Adrian Maitland said he saw police charge the crowd several times from a hotel overlooking the railway station.

″It looks like a battleground,″ he told the British Broadcasting Corp. by telephone. ″There are fire engines all around. There are ambulances. I’ve seen youths being carried off with blood streaming down their face.″

Police had also clashed with 5,000 would-be refugees in Dresden on Tuesday night.

Thousands of East Germans had flocked to train stations and lined tracks in their homeland in hopes of joining the refugees aboard what could be the last ″freedom trains″ to the West.

The trains’ journey West was plagued by delays as police dispersed the crowds before the trains came through. Passengers arriving in Hof said they stopped for some time before going through the Dresden.

″Saying goodbye like that was indescribable feeling,″ one young refugee said in Hof of the trip through his homeland.

As the first train rumbled into Hof at dawn, a deafening cheer rang out from hundreds of well-wishers who had spent hours waiting in freezing weather.

Interior Ministry official Horst Waffenschmidt told reporters the trains’ doors had been locked in Prague to prevent anyone else from boarding.

On Sunday, 7,000 East Germans arrived in West Germany after East Germany allowed those crowded in embassies in Prague and Warsaw to leave. Many said they had jumped onto the trains as they passed through East Germany.

The clampdown on travel was also likely to severely curb the number of East Germans going to reform-minded Hungary, which spurred the exodus last month by allowing thousands of East Germans to pass through to the West. The shortest route to Hungary from East Germany is through Czechoslovakia.

East Germans were frantically trying other avenues to reach West Germany.

In East Berlin, police Wednesday scuffled with 50 East Germans trying to enter the U.S. Embassy, witnesses said. Eighteen others made it inside the compound Tuesday but agreed late Wednesday to leave with assurances their government will look favorable on their emigration requests, diplomats said.

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