Günter Litfin

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Günter Litfin
Günter Litfin
Günter Litfin
Born (1937-02-19)19 February 1937
Died 24 August 1961(1961-08-24) (aged 24)
Spandauer Schifffahrtskanal
Cause of death Shot by a guard whilst attempting to leave East Berlin
Body discovered Spandauer Schifffahrtskanal
52°31′39″N 13°22′25″E / 52.527628°N 13.373685°E / 52.527628; 13.373685 (Site of Günter Litfin memorial)
Resting place Saint Hedwig Cemetery
52°32′46″N 13°27′38″E / 52.54619°N 13.4605°E / 52.54619; 13.4605 (St. Hedwig Cemetery in Berlin-Weissensee)
Monuments Sandkrugbrücke, Invalidenstraße, Berlin
Residence (East Berlin Residence) Heinersdorfer Straße 32, Weißensee, Berlin
Known for First person to be shot whilst attempting to escape across the Berlin Wall
Political party Christian Democratic Union

Günter Litfin (19 January 1937 – 24 August 1961) was the second victim at the Berlin Wall, and the first to succumb to gunshots.


Günter Litfin, whose twin brother Alois was murdered by a Nazi physician during the Second World War[1] , was a tailor from the borough of Weißensee. Like his father Albert (a butcher), he was a member of the illegal local branch of the West German Christian Democrats. As a Grenzgänger (cross-border commuter, working on one side of the border and living on the other side), Litfin was working in West Berlin, near the Zoological Garden, and right before the border between East Berlin and West Berlin was closed, had found an apartment in West Berlin. Even on 12 August, one day before the first barbed wire fences were built, he had driven to Charlottenburg with his brother Jürgen, to furnish his new apartment. His intention to escape East Germany was abruptly halted the next morning, as road blocks had already been built. Therefore, around 4pm on 24 August, he undertook the escape attempt that would prove fatal to him.[2][3]


Starting from Humboldthafen, a small harbour in the River Spree, his plan was to swim through a small canal branching off from the river westwards. However, upon crossing the railway bridge that constituted the border, he was discovered by officers of the transportation police, and was ordered to swim back. He lifted his hands from the water and was then fired upon and mortally wounded.[2][3]


Litfin was buried at the St. Hedwig Cemetery, in Weißensee, on August 31, 1961. The presence of Stasi personnel ensured that the truth behind his death was not openly revealed. According to his brother Jürgen, "the funeral was a farce", since most at the mourning knew that his brother’s death was no accident.


In memory of Günter Litfin as well as all other victims of the Wall, a memorial was installed in 1992. Additionally, a street in his home district of Weißensee was named after him. One of the crosses at the White Crosses memorial site next to the Reichstag building is devoted to him.[2][3]

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification of East and West Germany, the Berlin Regional Court found the border guard accused of shooting Litfin to be guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced him to 18 months prison, which was suspended.[2]

In memory of Günter Litfin and the other Berlin Wall victims, a memorial was established in 1992 on the initiative of Jürgen Litfin (Günter Litfin's younger brother). It is located in the watchtower of the former "Kieler Eck" on the Berlin-Spandauer Schifffahrtskanal.[4] In addition, on August 24, 2000, the Weißensee street formerly named Straße 209 was renamed Günter-Litfin-Straße.[5]




  • Jürgen Litfin: Tod durch fremde Hand. Das erste Maueropfer in Berlin und die Geschichte einer Familie. Verlag der Nation, Husum 2006, ISBN 978-3-373-00524-7.
  • Mathias Mesenhöller: Die grausame Mauer. In: Geo, 08/2011, S. 73
  • Christine Brecht: Günter Litfin, in: Die Todesopfer an der Berliner Mauer 1961–1989. Ein biographisches Handbuch. Links, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-86153-517-1, p. 37–39.