Friday, July 22, 2011

Conrad Schumann - Cold War Icon

This photograph is one that has been ingrained in my mind since I first saw it in August of 1961. It is of Conrad Schumann, an East German soldier who was standing guard on the Eastern side of the newly laid barbed wire, which would shortly after become the Berlin Wall. As all of the educated people of East Berlin began leaving East Germany in the years previous to this photograph, the Soviets decided to partition Berlin.

Schumann, who was only 19 at the time this photo was taken, made his decision to defect to the West based on two things. The first thing that he saw that morning was a young girl handing flowers across the wire to her mother, whom had been stranded in the Eastern section. The second, and deciding factor in his leap to freedom, were the people on the other side of the fence shouting to him in German, "Come over, come over!"

So, he did, and was immortalized in this photograph taken by Peter Leibing. Schumann quickly became a symbol of Communist oppression in the Cold War. He remained in West Germany even after the wall had come down in 1989. In 1998, suffering from depression, he killed himelf. He was only 56 years old.

Whether feelings that he had betrayed his homeland were responsible for his suicide, or not, will never really be known. But the gift he left behind is this image of a man, caught in circumstances beyond his control, making a split second decision to join the forces of light, leaving the darkness of oppression behind him.

This decision would affect him, and the lives of the scores of people who followed later, some in tunnels beneath the wall, for the rest of their lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment