On Saturday night August 12, 1961, huge rolls of barbed wire were unfurled through the streets that separated East and West Berlin. By Sunday morning 10,000 men from the people’s police patrolled the border. Sunday was a quiet day. Most Berliners, East and West, didn’t know that the border was closing. Eleven-year-old Mia was asleep in the West Berlin home of her grandparents. Her parents and three sisters had a peaceful day at home in East Berlin. They didn’t see the posters announcing that the border was about to be closed.
On Monday morning Mia’s mother was stopped at a checkpoint on her way to her job in West Berlin at Siemens, a huge electronic firm. She was asked if she had relatives in the west. She told the border guard that her daughter was visiting her parents. She was told not to go to work but to go and bring her daughter home.
When Mia and her mother returned to the checkpoint, three uniformed men, without warning, grabbed Mia and threw her in a truck with a lot of other children, including babies. Everyone was crying. When she looked out the back of the truck, she could see that her mother was also wringing her hands and crying. Mia thought she must have done something really naughty to be kidnapped this way but she also wondered about the babies. Weren't they too young to do something worthy of being ripped from their families?
The truck drove about an hour to a town called Potsdam. It had been transformed into a vacation camp with lots of tents and mattresses on the ground. The children were cared for by young men, called Blue Shirts, of the Youth organization. One Blue Shirt told Mia “Your parents are fine. They are at home and you are on vacation. You’ll go home in a few days. It’s a national celebration! The bad capitalists in the West were getting ready to invade the East and take away everything we own and that’s why we had to close the border. Now we are safe.” After a while, Mia and the other children stopped crying and began playing. Mia especially loved the food.
On the fourth day all the children were taken to a building in Potsdam. Mia watched reunion after reunion as parents came to pick up their children. Finally, Mia was the last one left. “I’m being punished,” she thought, sadly, “My parents don’t want me.” But the authorities had simply forgotten to notify her parents. So at nine o’clock that night she was driven home in a beautiful black car. Her family came running out to greet her. Mia realized that they loved her after all!
It was years before Mia understood that the children had been kidnapped to keep their families from escaping to the West before the border had been secured. Families with jobs and relatives in the West were particularly vulnerable. The DDR authorities knew that parents would never leave their children behind. Of course, Mia's mother lost her job and Mia never saw her grandparents again.
So you see that wresting children from their parents for political purposes is nothing new. Distributing disgusting, lying propaganda is nothing new. But I never thought this behavior would be perpetrated by my country which proudly proclaims "we are the land of the free and the home of the brave."