Ida Siekmann - - -
first Berlin Wall victim

Ida Siekmann (photo possibly provided
by her sister or a family member)
The lady in this picture is Ida Siekmann. She was born on August 23, 1902 in Gorken, a small village which then belonged to the West Prussian district of Marienwerder, which today is Górki, Kwidzyn County, Poland, about 100 kilometers SSE of Gdańsk. It is not known when she left Mariwerder, ultimately taking residence at Bernauer Straße 48, in the Berlin district of Mitte, bordering on the district of Wedding. Her apartment was physically located in Mitte, which was in the post-WWII Soviet occupation sector, but once she walked out of her front door, the adjacent sidewalk and street was in Wedding, in the French occupation sector. On the morning of Tuesday, August 22, 1961, one day before her 59th birthday, she would become the first of at least 138 victims of the Berlin wall, by jumping four stories from her apartment to her death on the sidewalk below, in an attempt to flee the new communist republic.

The conclusions and theories that I am presenting here are based on what little information that has been published about her at Chronik der Mauer and Wikipedia. I consider the story of this Berlin Wall victim to be one of the more moving, because this was the first victim, and this happened during a time that nobody knew, among many other things, how long the border would be divided.
           
(same photograph, colorized)       

Ida Siekmann  - from "BZ"
newspaper, August 23, 1961
In an effort to stop the overwhelming numbers of East Germans fleeing to the western zones of postwar Germany, the GDR government, with influence and help from the Soviet occupation forces, closed the interzonal border between East and West Germany in 1952. But Berlin would remain the hemorrhaging point for 9 more years. East Germans desiring to flee to the west merely had to get to East Berlin, where they could easily cross into West Berlin, process through a refugee center, and begin more prosperous lives. By 1961, numbers of refugees were increasing on a geometric scale. This changed on Sunday, August 13, 1961, when construction on the Berlin Wall started. But one hemorrhaging point would remain for 4 more days; Bernauer Straße. Residents of apartments lining the Soviet sector side of the street merely walked out of their front doors, and they were in the French sector. By Friday, August 18, 1961, new entrances to these buildings had been created, allowing passage to and from these buildings only by way of the Soviet sector, and the aforementioned entrances were boarded shut. Frau Siekmann could no longer visit her sister, Martha L, who according to the Hamburger Abendblatt (Historisches Archiv · Nr. 195, 23.08.1961 · Seite 2), lived only a few blocks away, on Lortzingstraße, in the French sector; until now, contact between the sectors was very common and routine. For several more weeks, escapes would be made by rappelling through windows, or by jumping through windows, where West Berlin fire department personnel would catch those jumping with rescue nets.
Hamburger Abendblatt, August 23, 1961, page 2
This all means that Frau Siekmann had the entire weekend to contemplate events that were taking place. She lived alone, and with these events, she was now totally alone, isolated from her sister. Not only was her mood probably rather dismal, but so was the weather; it rained every day that week, and throughout the weekend. Barometric pressure, low all week, was at a trough throughout the weekend (29.44 to 29.65), suggesting it was not a beautiful sunny weekend. Presumably, desperation set in on that fateful morning of Tuesday, August 22, 1961. Sunrise was at 5:00 AM, and at 14 Celsius, a rather cool and overcast morning, even for Berlin. She may have woken up about that time, she may have been up most of the night, and maybe this followed several sleepless nights. Aware that the entrance to where she wanted to be, with her sister, was now boarded, and the only conventional exit from her building was into the Soviet sector, she made the decision to jump. She threw belongings from her window, climbed outside, and prepared to jump herself. She was anticipating the fire department people to catch her as she jumped, but they never came. Fearing that the People's Police were aware of her moves, and that they were en route to stop her, she made that fateful jump at 6:50 that morning, falling to the pavement, and suffering severe injuries. She died on the way to the Lazarus Krankenhaus, about 1 kilometer to the west, also on Bernauer Straße.
Ida Siekmann (possibly an Ausweis photo
(published by Bild Zeitung, August 30, 1961)
Exactly one week after her death, an official funeral service was held, where numerous government dignitaries expressed condolences to her sister, according to Chronik der Mauer. This suggests that Frau Siekmann did not have any other surviving relatives, or at least none in Berlin. The following month, the Bezirkamt Wedding erected a memorial, consisting of 3 wooden logs, surrounded by barbed wire. In the following years, this monument would be visited by dignitaries wishing to pay their respects, including US Attorney General Robert Kennedy, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and Cyprus President Makarios III. Later, a memorial tablet would be added to the sidewalk at the base of the memorial. Both would survive until 1989, when the border between East and West Berlin was moved westward, encompassing the ground where these stood into the Todestreife. Today, the wall is gone, as is the original memorial. The tablet exists again, but considerably westward of its original location, where Bernauer Straße 47 was. A recently erected sign now exists, with the verbiage of Frau Siekmann's Chronik der Mauer article in 4 languages, along with pictures of the time frame.

original memorial, erected in 1961
tablet which was added later (this tablet
is the newer tablet, on Bernauer Straße 47)
original memorial with tablet
(taken probably 1980s)
memorial which no longer stands today, where
Bernauer Straße 48 was (taken June 2011)
the tablet today, where Bernauer 
Straße 47 was (taken June 2011)
Today, Ida Siekmann is gone, but not forgotten. She still has a grave at the Urnenfriedhof, on Seestraße. This is maintained by the government, over and beyond the 25-year limitation which most graves have that aren't still tended by surviving family members, because it is considered to be historical.


Ida Siekmann's grave (taken June 2011)
Urnenfriedhof Seestra
ßeWedding, Berlin
This story is available in several locations on the Internet. Some say that she jumped from the 3rd floor, some say that she jumped from the 4th floor. There is a disparity with the numbering of floors above ground level in Germany; often, "1st floor" is also know as "Erdgeschoss", "2nd floor" is also known as "1.Obergeschoss", etc. I have been in contact with analysts from Chronik-Der-Mauer, who confirm that it was the 3.Obergeschoss, or, the 4th floor, and not the 2.Obergeschoss/3rd Floor. This is based on what is probably the most original document of this incident; the extract from the People's Police log. Further, I have obtained a photo from the BZ newspaper taken the day of Frau Siekmann's attempted escape, and published the following day, verifying this.

(possibly) Frau Siekmann's vacant apartment, where
the bricklayer is. She jumped from the window to the
right of the bricklayer (this would be his left)
From "BZ" Newspaper, August 23, 1961
A few questions come to mind, that I would love answered, if this is possible.

1) Is there any way that we will ever know what Martha L.'s last name was, and where on Lortzingstraße she lived?

2) Bild Zeitung, on August 29, 1961, in the article "Dem Opfer der Unfreiheit" (to the victims of bondage) reported that Frau Siekmann was a widow. Did Frau Siekmann, with the exception of her sister, have any other relatives or children that may still remember her?



Frau Siekmann's sister leaving the funeral at the
Krematorium Gerichtstraße, August 29, 1961).
The cane suggests she was the older sister 
.


3) According to "The Berlin Wall", by Peter Galante (with Jack Miller), 1965, pages 79-80, Frau Siekmann was a nurse. Of all the numerous Internet and hardcopy articles I have seen, this is the only one that tells us what her profession was. Can anyone else substantiate this? And where might have she worked? Was she a Grenzgänger (cross-border commuter) prior to August 13, 1961, working on one side of the East-West Berlin border, and living on the other? The Lazarus Krankenhaus, where she would be pronounced dead, was the closest hospital to where she lived.

 


4) Frau Siekmann was born in Poland in 1902, but by 1961, was obviously living on Bernauer Straße. When did she make that move? Presumably in the 1940's, when millions of Germans moved westward from Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc., but can we be more sure? The aforementioned Hamburger Abendblatt article stated, "seit mehr als 30 Jahren hat Frau Siekmann in dem Haus Bernauer Straße 48 gewohnt", meaning, she lived there for more than 30 years as of 1961. Did she really move there in or before 1931?

Frau Siekmann's window at the Wall of Rememberance

Ida Siekmann at "Find A Grave"