|Died||5 October 1964 (aged 21)|
|Cause of death||Gunshot wound (friendly fire)|
|Body discovered||Courtyard of Strelitzer Straße 55|
|Resting place||Neuer Friedhof, Rostock|
|Monuments||Memorial plaque on the side of the building at Strelitzer Strasse 55, Berlin|
|Residence||Karl-Marx-Strasse 16, Rostock |
Mitte, East Berlin
|Known for||Killed in the line of duty as an East German Border Troops while responding to the discovery of “Tunnel 57”|
|Political party||(Candidate for the) Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, SED).|
Egon Schultz (4 January 1943 – 5 October 1964) was a German sergeant of the East German Border Troops who became the fifty-second known person to die at the Berlin Wall. While responding to the discovery of “Tunnel 57”, Schultz was shot by escapees during a shootout before being killed by friendly fire. Schultz became a national hero in East Germany, with hundreds of memorials and schools named in his honor, and his death caused a public sensation in East Germany and West Germany. Following the reunification of Germany, many of the memorials to Schultz were removed, although a new memorial plaque was erected at his death site at Strelitzer Strasse 55, Berlin, in 2004.
Egon Schultz was born on 4 January, 1943, in Groß Jestin, in Kolberg-Körlin county, Pomerania, Nazi Germany (now Gościno, Kołobrzeg County, West Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland), the second of two sons of Alfred Schultz, a truck driver, and his wife Frieda, a waitress. Schultz trained as a school teacher in Putbus and at 19 years-old began working as a teacher in Dierkow near Rostock in September 1962, but shortly after beginning his teaching career it would be interrupted with his conscription to the National People's Army. His older brother, Armin, was a painter, and at the time of Schultz’s conscription the family resided at Karl-Marx-Strasse 16 in Rostock. His final visit home, just days prior to his death, was at the same time that his parents were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. By the time of his death, Schultz was two years into his three-year service, and had become a sergeant of the Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic, the border guards of the East Germany that guarded the Berlin Wall which had been erected 3 years earlier.
On 4 October 1964, Schultz was assigned as a reserve to the command post at Arkonaplatz in Berlin-Mitte, East Berlin. Shortly before midnight, a Stasi officer demanded backup support from the border guards, who were to investigate and arrest suspicious individuals at Strelitzer Strasse 55, located very close to the West Berlin border barriers that extended along Bernauer Strasse. Schultz and his fellow border guards were not informed of the real purpose of the operation: the Stasi had learned from informants about an escape operation. While investigating the area near the border, the two Stasi agents met two men who were assisting an escape operation in the foyer of the building at Strelitzer Strasse 55. The escape helpers mistook the Stasi agents for escapees, and were able to leave the building without raising suspicion by claiming that they had to get a friend who had just been released from custody. The Stasi agents left the escape helpers to await their return while they organized support from the border guards.
Taking several months to accomplish, a group of West Berlin students dug a 145-meter long tunnel in secrecy, which began at a closed bakery on Bernauer Strasse, and continued eleven meters underground to an outhouse located in the courtyard of the building at Strelitzer Strasse 55. This tunnel later became famous as "Tunnel 57" referring to the number of people who had succeeded in escaping through it the nights of 3 and 4 October 1964. One of the escape helpers was Reinhard Furrer (the future astronaut) who waited with Christian Zobel and two other escape helpers on the East Berlin side, ready to direct fugitives to the tunnel’s opening. At about half past midnight, the two Stasi agents returned with the border guards, including Schultz, who approached Furrer before he recognized much too late that a gun was pointed in his direction. Familiar with the surroundings, Furrer quickly receded into the courtyard and before disappearing into the tunnel, warned his friends of the incoming guards. As the Stasi agents and border guards entered the courtyard there was an exchange of gunfire with the escape helpers, where Schultz was hit in the shoulder by a bullet from Zobel’s gun, causing him to fall to the ground. While attempting to get back up, Schultz was hit again by a larger 7.62x39mm round fired from the Kalashnikov rifle used by a fellow border guard. The shootout ended when the escape helpers were able to use the tunnel to escape themselves at the last minute and enter the safety of West Berlin. Schultz died on the way to the Krankenhaus der Volkspolizei (People's Police Hospital).
The East German government gave the highest visibility to Schultz's funeral, which received full military honors in the Friedrich-Engels barracks in East Berlin, and then again in his hometown, Rostock. When the coffin was transferred from East Berlin to Rostock, tens of thousands of workers followed government orders to line the streets and pay their last respects to Schultz, who was then buried in the Neuer Friedhof cemetery in Rostock. On the day of his funeral, the school in Rostock where he had been a teacher was given the honorary name “Egon Schultz Oberschule” (Egon Schultz Secondary School). Eventually, more than a hundred collectives, schools and institutions were named after Egon Schultz.
Investigations were opened in East Germany and West Berlin against the escape helpers, who admitted to West Berlin investigators that one of them did fire a gun, but there was no proof that Egon Schultz was killed from that particular gunshot. The East German government claimed that Egon Schlutz was tragically murdered by Western agents. The East Berlin prosecutor’s office refused to cooperate with requests from the West Berlin investigation, and instead demanded the extradition of the “murder suspect“ Christian Zobel. East German authorities quickly discovered that Schultz had been accidentally shot by his own comrades, and that the fatal shot came from a Kalishnikov, not from an escape helper. The findings of this investigation, to include disappearance of the autopsy files from the Charité Hospital, would remain highly classified until October 1990, when the 1964 East Berlin files were given to the German federal judiciary. In November 1965, the West Berlin public prosecutor closed the case against the escape helpers, after charging them only a fine, for illegal possession of a weapon.
A memorial plaque was erected on 4 January 1965, on the house at Strelitzer Strasse 55, commemorating Schultz’s death and denouncing the West Berlin agents involved in the "assassination". The section of Strelitzer Strasse in East Berlin was renamed Egon-Schultz-Strasse on 13 August 1966. A popular children's book was written about him, and almost every East German citizen knew his name from school and the media.
The Egon Schultz saga drew great attention not only in East Germany, but also in the West Germany, because the Stern editor in chief Henri Nannen had purchased exclusive rights to Tunnel 57 in advance, essentially co-financing the building of tunnel. This was partially responsible for increased tensions between the East and West German governments.
On 1 December 1991, the aforementioned Egon-Schlutz-Strasse reverted to its original name, Strelitzer Strasse. About the same time, the Egon Schultz Oberschule in Rostock was renamed Käthe-Kollwitz-Gymnasium. Throughout the former East Germany, many schools and institutions bearing Egon Schultz’s name reverted to their original names.
By 1992, prosecutions had begun against former border guards, charging them with murder or manslaughter. A case was opened with regard to Egon Schultz for suspicion of negligent homicide, involving investigation of all the people involved in the incident, including the Stasi agents and the border troops. Neues Deutschland embarked on a major campaign asking for donations to help cover the costs of legal counsel and court fees for the border soldiers who, from the viewpoint of the fundraising initiators, were being unlawfully prosecuted. Almost 200,000 German marks were donated, managed by the “Gesellschaft für rechtliche und humanitäre Hilfe” (Society for Legal and Humanitarian Aid), an association of former Stasi, border troop and Communist Party members. The investigation concluded that Christian Zobel fired the first shot in order to prevent Reinhard Furrer and himself from being arrested. The bullet was lodged in Egon Schultz’s lung but did not kill him. The fatal shot came from the Kalashnikov of a border soldier who, on instructions from a Stasi officer, fired shots in the dark courtyard, unintentionally hitting Egon Schultz, who then died from internal bleeding. It was accepted by the court that the border soldier who had fired the deadly shot had acted in self-defense. The case was dismissed since he had been ordered to fire.
In response to the investigation against the border guards and Stasi agents, in May 1994, private individuals pressed charges against Reinhard Furrer for supposedly murdering Egon Schultz. Egon Schultz’s mother, who had supported the accusation, was represented by a renowned West Berlin law firm. Additional charges were also filed with the Berlin public prosecutor’s office. When Reinhard Furrer died in an airplane accident in September 1995 and it became known that Christian Zobel had already died, the lawyers representing Egon Schultz’s mother filed charges against the other escape helpers as murder accomplices, which were eventually dropped.
In 2004, a memorial plaque was erected, replacing the one previously mounted (and subsequently disappeared after 1989) on the house at Strelitzer Strasse 55. This was done on the initiative of both, former escape helpers and friends of Egon Schultz, on the 40th anniversary of his death.
- Neues Deutschland Archiv: Ein Sohn unserer Republik, Oktober 10, 1964 (in German)
- Egon Schultz Biography at Chronik der Mauer.de
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