Chapter 36: STASI
I was driven to a plain, gray one-story building in the middle of a labyrinth of similar structures in the center of Friedrichshain. I only knew of this area as I passed through to Treptow by bus. Many Berliners, however, knew this neighborhood to be the center of Communist control, specifically Stasi headquarters.
Nothing was said on the ride here, and only the two Volkspolizei accompanied me. The shock hadn’t worn off yet, I was mute. The Colonel and the two other men from the lunch rode in a separate vehicle. They did not follow us inside.
Forcefully pushed into a group cell, I cowered. Three other women were in the room, two of them I was sure were street walkers from their dress. The other one resembled a mother. She appeared as frightened as I was. There were no chairs, therefore I sat on the floor, pulled my legs in tight, and rested my chin on my knees. The floor was covered in dirt, urine, and feces and smelled worse than the crematorium, if that were possible.
There was nothing behind the bars but us, yet it was filthy. I thought about Stefan in a place like this for eighteen straight days, and I became nauseous. No wonder he was willing to do whatever he was asked. I couldn’t imagine another day of this, much less the five years he was sentenced to.
I wondered if he thought of me.
He was quick to jump to my defense. I’m sure he wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t care for me, especially in front of his parents. I had to hope Stefan was searching for me. I had to believe he would find me.
My stomach ached, and my head throbbed as my swollen eyes fought to stay open. I was afraid to close them not knowing what would happen next. The later it got, the more women were brought in. The small cell was now crowded with eleven, none of whom had any intention of making friends. I avoided their glares. The woman who reminded me of a mother took her place next to me. I didn’t feel like talking, but her presence was comforting the later it got. I fell asleep as I leaned against the wall.
“Adela. You must learn your place.” Nurse Gitta grabbed my arm. She dragged me because I refused to use my legs. I knew exactly where we were headed. Nurse Gitta was not as large as Nurse Margret, but she was strong for an old woman. At least she appeared old with many wrinkles and silver-colored hair. She continued to scold me for my most recent fight. Jasper took my cracker from lunch and ate it. I was going to get it back in blood if necessary. I was hungry.
When we reached the closet, I put my heels down. I did not want to go in there. It scared me and smelled bad, but it would be years before my little seven-year-old body would be strong enough to resist, and with one final push, I was in. I heard the door slam and the knob clink locked.
My screams bounced back at me the harder I pounded. This got me nowhere each time, but I persisted because my mind convinced me I was not alone in there. Images of spiders, snakes, long-legged bugs, or even ghostly spirits swirling around frightened me. I curled up and cried myself to sleep. Only this particular time, I awoke to the sound of a key being turned. Unsure of whether I should be afraid for a beating or anticipate a release, I remained still. I doubted enough time had passed for it to be morning yet.
Why would my captors be back this soon? I questioned in the dark. The door opened. Anton’s scrawny little hand reached out for me. I peeked up at this boy whom I’d only known for six months but regularly risked his own neck for me. What was it about me that kept him coming back?
My eyes shot open. Darkness engulfed me, and Anton’s hand was not there to save me this time. I was alone. Not physically, because there were other bodies stretched out in the cell, but I was alone.
A path of earlier tears had stained my cheeks, but they became moist once again. I thought about Anton then Stefan. Anton had rescued me time and time again at the orphanage. Even when my mouth got me in trouble at the Kühn’s, but he could not save me now. Stefan, I had to believe, would be here if he could, but he may not even know my whereabouts.
Now that his parents knew his feelings about me, would they let him try to find me or tell him to know his place too?
Feelings of fear and anxiety kept me up the rest of the night. It wasn’t until the light finally hit the hallway windows that an officer appeared near the cage. He scanned the room.
“You!” he cried, pointing right at me. “Come.”
I stood up slowly. The eyes of envy appear on all the others faces, and I shuffled to the entrance as the man unlocked the cell door.
“Step out!” he yelled. I was not far from him, but his voice raised with every word. I brushed off my once-white working dress, which now emerged mostly brown from the dirt.
“You are leaving.”
“To where?” I felt a small twinge of hope. Maybe Stefan had come, and I would get to go home, but the man was harsh and cruel. He ignored me and pushed me forcefully down the hall, the same direction I had come last night.
We arrived at a back room where two officers waited for us. My heart sank. My nightmare was not over. One of the men placed cuffs on my wrists once again while the other handed papers to the man who brought me over. They were all whispering.
The small television on the corner desk was on with the volume unusually loud. The black and white image showed a man in a dark suit with a strange accent speaking to an enormous gathering. The words, President John F Kennedy / Rathaus Schoenberg appeared in the bottom left corner of the screen. One of the officers glanced over at the television and drew the attention of the others as well.
The President spoke out confidently to the cheering crowd as an interpreter translated his words to German. “While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history, but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters and dividing a people who wish to be joined together . . .” “Blode Amerikaner!” One officer raised his fist to the screen.
The other screamed, “Tod dem Prasidenten!”
Both men showed extreme hatred for a man they never met. Their vicious words wished death upon him. It frightened me to be in a room with so much anger.
Within seconds, all eyes immediately came back to me and the duty at hand. The one who was harsh to me earlier, yelled for us to leave. He pushed me from behind towards the door. I nearly tripped, unable to catch myself with my hands detained behind me. Thankfully, I hit the doorframe first. As we stepped out, the words from the voice on the television rang painfully and ironically in my ears, “. . . this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including their right to unite their families . . .”
Once again, I and the backseat of an official vehicle were reunited. I struggled to make sense of the process. I’d never been to jail before and assumed this was how it worked, although my name and information were never taken at any point. It scared me to think my very presence here could be easily erased.
“Where are you taking me?” The two men exchanged looks, but ignored me. “I have a right to know where you are taking me,” I yelled louder. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Halt den Mund!” The one who drove told me to shut up. They whispered low enough I couldn’t hear what they said. I gazed out the window. We passed five street lights by the time the sun peeked well up and over the tallest buildings. This entire drive was unfamiliar to me, and another three city blocks passed before they pulled up to another plain, gray building. Please, no, not another cell, I pleaded in my mind. I examined my dress, stained and torn at the hem. The rancid smell from the last one still lingered. The officers escorted me up a single flight of stairs, I remained silent this time. They knocked on the only visible door, solid brown with no numbers, only a small symbol; a shield with the Soviet flag flown from a gun. The words Ministerium für staatssicherheit appeared at the bottom in black lettering. My cheeks heated up, there was suddenly a shortness of air. I gasped, but remained still. My eyes adjusted hard to what I’d just read . . . the seal of state security was known by every German, I had been brought to the secret police.