HOW FREE WEST GREETS TRUANTS FROM RED EAST
By R. E. MEYER Through the long and extended frontier between the Western and Soviet Zones of Germany about 45,00b are illegally entering the Western Zone each month.
Entering illegally means that they have no entry permit, no ration cards, no Western currency, no claim for employment or unemployment benefit, no claim for a poorest share in the already restricted living accommodation. But still they come, with wives and children and pathetic little bundles of their portable belongings, trying to find some start in the freedom of the West.
German local authorities of counties adjoining the frontier have erected transit camps, where these people can report voluntarily and where most of them arc taken when found wandering on the roads.
To be in one of these camps is to be in the blackest spot in Germany. The following is a description of the transit camp at Uelzen, in Niedersachsen-Hanover; it is typical. It haunts me still.
Like all such camps, dreary huts stretch in long rows, some to serve as kitchens, some as administrative offices, some for welfare officers. All have emergency sanitation. Nearby runs the railway into the free West which is to carry only a very few of the camp inmates.
200 ARRIVALS A DAY
The arrivals at Uelzen Camp average about 200 per day. Out of these, six to ten, on an average, are accepted by the authorities. This means that daily some 190 are refused and left without any help.
Strict regulations regarding admittance into the camp are in force. Only those are admitted who can prove that they are endangered or expelled for political reasons, women and children whiase husbands and fathers live legally in the Western Zone, and ex-prisoners of war. Hard, cruel regulations—written by German authorities for German refugees. Yet what can they do? If the frontier barrier were eased, in half a month the inhabitants of the Soviet paradise would flock to the West.
Around Ueizen and in the neighbouring districts there are villages where 100 original inhabitants have to share their houses with 85, 110, 135 refugees. The limit has been reached.
But what about the 190 daily refusals? Most of them are indeed genuine refugees. I attended a " screening" where there were six tables in a hut at which sat six civil servants, partly refugees themselves (which helps despite everything to safeguard the human trend) and one supervisor for doubtful cases.
Then the "cases." How can they prove themselves to be political refugees?
The Russians did not send notification in advance that they want to take you to the Urals. People simply feel it in their nerves, or they have an old school friend in the local police, or else they get hysterics after seeing too many others disappearing. Or, like those two young men who spent years in Russian P.O.W. camps and who, exhausted and suffering from .T.B., they just "make over the border," as the local saying goes.
For them there is no room; nor for the parents who show naive letters from their children, saying, " Come, I shall care for you." The best that the camp authorities can do is to advise them to return to " Russia " and to provide them with free railway tickets. Do any use them? One in ten, perhaps. They are now indeed real refugees—their very lives endangered, if they dared to return after such a tell-tale journey. They have no houses left, they gave up everything they had in order to make this journey possible. What will they do now that, after the " screening ' they are released from camp—without any papers or any sort of help? They go to the station, to the huts of the Travellers' Aid Society.
THE WORK OF CARITAS
For three years now these huts been staffed at Uelsen with one Catholic and one Protestant Caritas sister and a few voluntary workers each.
They 'attend to the influx of people, giving them rest and a very poor meal for one day only. After that they must be asked to leave with their children, their bags, their despair, the newcomers of another day are waiting for one night's rest.
The bunks are poor, the sacks coveringigthem are highly treasured. They show the prints of the American relief parcels which they once protected.
The meal consists of a few potatoes. They try to cling to them for just one more night; anything, so as not to be on the roads, to have a place for the children, not to wear down the last remnants of the shoes. The Caritas Sisters need to be strong-minded: help for one means depriving another of his share!
SUPPORTED BY CHURCH COLLECTIONS
I asked the. short, round and jolly, though terribly worn-out Protestant Sister who happened to be on duty in the huts at the station, that: "Who pays for this? Who has kept it running for three years?"
She shrugged her shoulders: "Well, Sunday collections in this deanery of ours; then, those refugees who are able to do so, pay 20 Pfennig (3d.) a night; we simply carry on.
"I don't know how Ions well be able to continue financially—and physically, the two of us are at breaking point." Is this really a task to be fulfilled by the deanery of Uelzen, or even by the local district of Niedersachsen? Is it a task for Germany, Western Germany? This outcome of Yalta and Potsdam.