ON THIS DATE in 1962, two eighteen-year-old East Germans tried to scale the Berlin Wall near an Allied checkpoint. Through a hail of gunfire from East German patrol guards, Helmet Kulbeik made it over the wall and into West Berlin, but Peter Fechter took a bullet in the pelvis and fell.
Although he dropped on the east side of the wall, Fechter could be seen and his screams of anguish heard by hundreds of people on the western side. West German police officers threw first-aid kits over the wall but were helpless to assist him any more. Many shouted “murderers, murderers” at the East German patrol guards, who offered no medical aid as Fechter bled to death.
Fechter’s killing became a highly publicized symbol of the East German border regime’s Cold War inhumanity.
In 1997, two Eastern border guards stood trial for Fechter’s murder. Prosecutors asserted that one of the guards, Erich Schreiber, fired 17 shots from his machine gun at the victim. The other guard, Rolf Friedrich, said, “I was assigned to do my duty at the border, and the only thing I can say is that I am sorry about it all.” Both were convicted of manslaughter. Friedrich was sentenced to 21 months’ probation, and Schreiber received 20 months’ probation.