Angelika Cholewa

* 1955

  • „I was thinking and I thought to myself that now we wait for the change of guards, that was what we had agreed upon, first to see when they do it, whether at midnight or in the morning, at 6 am, or whenever. I wanted to discuss it with my then-husband but I did not see him, he was gone. I could not call him because they were within the earshot. Then I went to the right, away from the road, there was a huge clearing, a bit swampy. From the clearing, I could see the barricade at the border. It was a fence about two metres tall, there were three rows of barbed wire. He went away from the fence a bit in my direction. We debated it, he wanted to go back. I said that if we went back, we would cast shadows, we would not see the tripwires and they would certainly get us. And beside that, I decided that I do not want to go back. We had a heated exchange and then I told him: ‘Know what? You go back and I will find a way, I will get through. I don’t want to get back to that mess.’ At that moment (and now I don’t believe the Stasi protocols about what I had said any more) one of us, and I don’t know who it was, touched the tripwire. After a few minutes, signal lights shot out as if it was New Year’s Eve fireworks and we stood there, some thirty metres apart, stunned. The body stiffens, it has a protective function as well. The only thing that worked was my brains but I could not move, I just could not. My then-husband fared the saame. We stood there petrified for about fifteen minutes. Meantime, both the soldiers got across the fence, walked across it and shone with their flashlights on the unkept strip of border land. The German Shepherd was on a leash. They were almost past us although we stood in the middle of the clearing. I felt that if they made three more steps, they would be past another bit of forest and they would not see us. And I felt the blood returning to my legs again. I thought: ‘Now we can look how they passed through the fence.’ And at that moment, my then-husband shouted out: ‘Here we are.’

  • „From that evening, it became clear that it was only up to me to deal with it. So I thought to myself: ‘Well, I will go there and the easiest thing to do is to tell them everything what everyone knows anyway. What I would learn in private, I would keep to myself. This way, I can avoid lying.’ I did not need to endure for too long because during the third or fourth meeting, I got a specific task. At that time, both the German states had agreed on easier travel for the West German citizens. It was the first year when the West Germans could come by car. I think it was during Easter. Anyway, I got a task. I had to befriend a girl from my school, she did not go to the same class with me, and I was to find out when would she meet her friend whom she knew only through letters. Where and when. And then I looked at him [the Stasi officer] and asked: ‘You are trying to tell me that you are reading their love letters?’ - ‘Of course!’ One way or another, during the night, I was pondering about it. At first, I thought I could take my life. And then I imagined my mother, what would she do without me… Then I thought that I could run away but I did not know where, in my age. I supposed that there was a solution, I could not sleep, I was sitting at the writing table by the window and kept thinking: ‘Will you jump or will you sort it out?’ Then I slept for two or three hours, it was the hardest night in my life. In the morning, I went to the Catholic church and I prayed to my grandma and to God and I kept saying: ‘Please, give me a good idea.’ I did not know what to do but I knew I would not be a Stasi snitch. And then I went to school, found that girl and asked her to come to a corner in a school yard during the main break. Then I told her what I knew and told her: ‘You do not need to worry, I am not telling them anything any more.’

  • “And in Plzeň, I have to admit frankly, I started to think that I might not survive it. Not only that I was locked up. But, I was not allowed to wash myself for a week. For a week, I couldn’t brush my teeth. In the morning, a metal bowl… They woke me by kicking the door. In the morning, a metal bowl with wheat substitute coffee so hot that that I couldn’t drink it. They took it away after five minutes. For the whole day, nothing to eat, there was only a small washing bowl and when one turned the tap, the water wall was all rusty. That was bad. Title of a book of Hans Fallada kept coming to my mind: Who once ate from a metal bowl. It was so demeaning… At midday, they brought some sort of dumplings, but not the real ones. And such a sauce, I think that they added chili peppers in it on purpose and big drops of fat floated on the top. Once I ate a tinz bit and it made me feel not exactly well. During one week in Plzeň and one week in Prague, I lost twenty kilos.“

  • „In that prison, it worked this way. If you needed to see a dentist, you had to wait for eight months. And my filling got loose, a bit of it had already fallen away. I asked for an appointment and waited for my turn. And he drilled out the filling, looked at his watch and said End of my shift.’ I said, ‘You can’t leave me with a hole in my tooth…!’ And he said ‘I will. My shift ended now.’ So I begged him, ‘Fix it with some provisional filling!’ But he let me go with that hole in my tooth. And so it happened that something got inside. I tried to eat carefully but it was bound to happen one day. I got… They did not treat me, they did not let me see a doctor. I had high fevers, I was delirious, I did not want to live any more. I lost all the will to fight, I had no more energy to ty to save myself or even to start some provocation so that I would feel protected. All this abandoned me.”

  • “The next day, they moved me. They called it a tiger cage. Those are the cells where the bed is mounted to the wall, there are bars like in a zoo. One could only use the toilet. Then there was this small grille, at the front and at the back, for the air to pass. And the cellw as not heated. It was the 24th of December. I looked at the internet now and at that time, it was around zero, below zero. Double door, so that nobody would hear me scream. I have no idea how I survived that, I don’t know. I only know that I was lucky that my mom was able to visit me between the holidays, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I don’t really remember much, they gave me smaller rations and I think I had cystitis and they did not let me see a doctor. Those are only fragments of what is going on in my head. But my mom does remember, some time ago, I asked what she remembered. At that time, I could still walk on my own. She told me how two guards brought me, sat me to the table, put my head on the table and that I was not able to say a coherent sentence. The only thing I managed to tell mom was ‘Please complain to the office of the General State Attorney!’ And that is what my brave mother did, those letters still exist. She wrote letters to Erich Honecker and the Attorney General in Berlin. I don’t know when exactly it was, I haven’t gathered the strength to find out, but during the first or second week of January, I was outta there. And on the 11th of May, they finally let me go to the West.”

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    Praha, 22.06.2020

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Stasi branded me in my childhood and the Czechoslovak border patrol barred my way to freedom.

Angelika Cholewa in police custody in the GDR. 1980
Angelika Cholewa in police custody in the GDR. 1980
photo: Pamětník

Angelika Cholewa, née Grassme, was born on the 13th of September in 1955 in Naumburg an der Saale in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). When she was sixteen, the officers from the secret police, Stasi, contacted her and wanted her to provide information on her schoolmates. In 1980, she and her husband tried to cross the Iron Curtain next to Železná Ruda in the Šumava Mountains [in Czechoslovakia] but they failed. They spent two weeks in prisons in Plzeň-Bory and in Prague and then they were extradited to East Germany. Angelika was sentenced to three years of prison in 1981 and until 1982, she was detained in the special women’s prison in Hoheneck. Then she was sentenced to three and half years more for an attempt to pass information about the conditions in prison. She spent the last months of her prison term in Halle where she was tortured by an intentionally neglected dental treatment until she was feverish and delirious. She was also kept in the special solitary confinement cell called tiger’s cage. In May 1983, she was signed into a programme in which the GDR sold political prisoners to West Germany. In the German Federation (West Germany), Angelika Cholewa studied psychology and worked as a personal advisor. Nowadays, she lives in Naumburg again and she is processing the traumatic experiences of her youth.