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East Germans Took Children from Some Dissidents

May 23, 1991

BERLIN (AP) _ For East Germany’s Communists, prison wasn’t enough punishment for some of the regime’s foes. Several had their children taken away as well, Berlin officials said Thursday.

″It’s now clear that the state was acting as a kidnapper,″ Thomas Krueger, head of the city’s youth and family department, said of the regime ousted in 1989.

Eight cases have been documented so far, but more are expected to be uncovered, officials said.

They said the program to separate families was directed by the wife of Erich Honecker, the former Communist chief who fled to the Soviet Union in March.

Krueger promised ″quick, unbureaucratic help″ in reuniting the families.

The hard-line East German government dealt severely with anyone caught trying to escape to the West or showing signs of dissent. Long prison terms were commonplace.

There were news stories in the West over the years recounting reports that the East German regime also had taken away children from dissenters, would-be escapees and people caught spying.

On Thursday, authorities of the newly reunited Germany said they had found documentary proof of the practice in a government building in former East Berlin.

Three cases of forced adoption have been discovered so far, while five children were taken from their parents and sent to state-run homes, officials said.

″We just don’t know how many cases there really were,″ said Elke Kannenberg, a city official at an information office set up to help the parents track down their children.

She speculated the forced separations were stopped in the early 1980s after word of the program was leaked to Western news media.

″But documents and proof in these cases are very scarce,″ she said.

So far, none of the parents has sought help at the information office. Officials said the parents might not be aware of their legal rights. Or, they might be hesitant about making inquiries at city offices where some of the workers from the Communist regime still hold the same jobs.

Parents have until Oct. 2 to apply to have the forced adoptions rescinded.

East Germany’s Communists rigidly controlled children’s education during their 40-year reign that ended in unification with West Germany in October. In their view, leaving children in the care of the regime’s opponents would have endangered the Marxist system.

Markus Zimmermann, a Berlin district administrator, said the parents were not told where their children were. The youngsters were given new names and sent to areas where no relatives were living.

He said Margot Honecker, the former education minister and wife of the country’s leader, helped direct the program.

Mrs. Honecker and her husband were spirited away by the Soviets in March, thwarting Germany’s efforts to put the ousted Communist leader on trial.

Authorities have charged him with giving the order for border guards to try to kill anyone trying to escape to the West. About 200 people were shot to death trying to cross the Berlin Wall or East Germany’s fortified frontier.

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