Conrad Schumann defects to West Berlin, 1961

Conrad Schumann was immortalized in this photo as he crossed the barricade that would become the Berlin Wall. The picture was called "The Leap into Freedom". It became an iconic image of the Cold War.

Born in Zasschau, Saxony during the middle of World War II, he enlisted in the East German State Police after his 18th birthday. Since he had always shown himself to be a loyal and hardworking young citizen of the German Democratic Republic, the local military authorities offered him a distinguished position in the paramilitary Beiterschaftspolizei or Bepo ("riot police"), which was specifically referred to as a rebellion. was conceived to suppress.

On 15 August 1961, 19-year-old Schumann was sent to the corner of Rupinner Strasse and Bernauer Strasse to guard the Berlin Wall on the third day of construction. At that time, the wall was only a low barbed wire fence. In the same spot, in West Berlin, stood 19-year-old photographer Peter Leibing.

For more than an hour, Leibing stared at the terrified young non-commissioned officer as he swung back and forth, his PPSH-41 resting on his shoulder, smoking one cigarette after another. "Come on, come up!" (Kom 'rubber!) The West Berlin crowd chanted on Bernauer Strasse. "He's going to jump!" A passerby commented.

And at four o'clock in the evening on August 15, 1961, Leibing got lucky. Schumann threw his cigarette aside, then turned and ran for the barbed wire line marking the boundary between East and West. As he was flying, he jumped up, threw his gun away, and Leibing clicked the shutter. A nearby newsreel cameraman captured the same scene on film.

West Berlin police immediately drove Schumann from the scene. He was then brought to a local police station, where he requested a liverwurst sandwich and another cigarette.

After thorough interrogation, Schumann is given a plane ticket to Bavaria – a place as far away from the GDR as he can find. He later ended up as a winery worker in Bavaria.

But fame and exodus did not bring him any happiness. The police psychologist, who interviewed Schumann in Berlin shortly after his escape, noted in his report that the soldier was deeply distressed by the propaganda that his act was going to bring both him and his family home.

Not only did he have serious concerns about abandoning his comrades in the middle of a "combat campaign" and violating his sacred oath, but he also feared for his life. There were several proven cases of East German refugees and even West German critics who were either murdered or kidnapped by Stasi agents.

In an interview in the 1990s, Schuman told reporters that it was only after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that he felt truly free. Nevertheless, he avoided visiting his parents and siblings in Saxony for many years after the reunion, and his former peers wanted nothing. to do with him.

Once a fugitive, always a fugitive. On 20 June 1998, at the age of 56, suffering from depression, he committed suicide by hanging himself in his garden near the town of Kipfenberg in Upper Bavaria.

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