Secret Deals in Divided Germany

Author & Director:
Juergen Ast

Commissioning Editors:
Rolf Bergmann | Jens Stubenrauch

2 x 45'


It was one of the most secret deals between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, later sparked a very controversial discussion. From 1963 till 1989 more than 33.000 political prisoners, without any hope and often imprisoned under horrible conditions in the jails of the GDR, were sold to West-Germany. Bonn paid the price for every individual with diamonds, oil, fruits, and foreign exchange. An inner German "business arrangement", that was kept a secret for decades.

Power politics and human dignity, tough negotiations like a game of poker and blind trust, secret missions and diplomacy, handing over of money and deals in the shadow of the church, party interests and the desire for foreign exchange, all of it was part of the story - and even more. The dramaturgy, certainly an excellent cinema script for a political thriller, but for more than twenty years it was reality in divided Germany.

The first part of the documentary tells the beginnings of the sale of the political prisoners in 1963, how the publisher Axel Springer played an important role in those early days of the secret business. The first transaction took place at the subway station Friedrichstrasse in Berlin. Cash was handed out for eight prisoners from the East. The following year a hundred times more were crossing the border, this time by bus, at Herleshausen into the West.

The second part of the documentary begins with the events of Mai 1973, the sensational meeting between the GDR state secretary Erich Honecker and the chairman of the Social Democratic Party in West-Germany Herbert Wehner. Before the GDR had stopped the "trade-business" for many months and now it was put into operation again. Did the GDR "produce" political prisoners for sale? Were criminals used and "stamped" political prisoners to be pushed off to the West? Erich Honecker always looked out for public reputation, but despite of CSCE and détente he was always in desperate need of the foreign exchange by selling political prisoners. He knew, the fragile economy of the GDR would collapse without it. Only in December 1989 the last political prisoner was freed.