Luise Justen

* 1944  

  • “I made a visit to the East and I brought tiles for the whole bathroom of my stepbrother. The tiles were for the walls and the floor of the bathroom. It was around Christmas time. I spent three weeks there as I wanted to see a bit more of my former home. On the way back, they stopped me at the border. They searched the whole car but there was nothing to find there anymore. I also had gifts in Christmas wrapping as it was Christmas time. They opened all of them, tearing the wrapping apart. I also had three Saint Bernard dogs in the car. One of the border guards said: ‘You go back there in that corner and take the dogs with you. You better make sure they stay calm. If a dog moves, we’ll shoot it’. On the way back I knew there would be trouble again. I had a St. Bernard bitch with me and she was great. She was quite harmless, that thing wouldn’t harm a fly. I made a hissing sound during the control and she showed her teeth, but not much. We went back and I had dirty laundry with me. My son said: ‘mom, put the dirty underpants on top’. They wanted to search the car even though I was going from East to West. I had to go with the dogs away because they were afraid of them. Again they pointed their guns at me - I have to say that I was really scared. My son told them: ‘if you like to rummage through my mom’s dirty panties, please do as you like’. This discouraged them from the search and they let us pass. I went back almost completely empty anyway. I found it very rude of the people from the East, or my step-brother in particular, that they ate everything I brought over there. Everything was gone. Now I went there for three weeks with my children and we wanted to eat it some of it as well, for example, the tangerines or the nuts - it was Christmas time for Christ’s sake. But they had eaten everything.”

  • “The pastor and I were maintaining contacts. A year had passed and I was still going to the church. He was basically substituting the things I was lacking at the so-called home of mine: kindness, a sense of security and understanding. We’d often indulge in long conversations and one day he asked me: ‘don’t you want to go back to your mother, child? I think that you’re living in pretty miserable conditions here’. I replied that it was a great desire of mine to go back to her, that I prayed every day for it to come true. He said that he’d help me, that he’d see what he could do for me. He said that one day I’d see my mother again. He then spent years organizing my escape. Well, it seems that things went pretty quickly from my narration but in fact the planning of the flight was incredibly slow. The pastor and I had to meet in absolute secrecy. If my aunt had learned about it, they would have reported him to the police and he would been removed from his position. He had a wife and seven kids. He had a good heart. We’d secretly meet in the cinema, hiding in the crowd. He’d slip me notes and in our conversations in the cinema we pretended to talk about the Church. It was crucial to meticulously study every detail of the escape plan. Everything had to be right at the first try. Every little detail has to fit in the puzzle. For instance we knew that at the Friedrichsstraße you were already in the West, however the place was teeming with the employees of the Kripo (the criminal police), so-called ‘Schupos’. So even if you made it there, you still had to be very careful.”

  • “Then, in December, the day of my escape came. A good girl friend of mine knew that we had plotted an escape plan. The priest got a train ticket for me and my friend was waiting in front of the house at quarter past three in the morning. She stood underneath the bathroom window and I passed her some of my clothes through the window. A pullover, a pair of trouser and my ID card – just a few items I needed for the train ride. Every time I threw out some clothes, I flushed the toilet. She picked all of it up and put it in a bag and then she went a few blocks away where we would later meet. Then she accompanied me to the train station where we arrived at around four o’clock in the morning. I have to say that at that point I was standing at a breaking point. I knew that if I carried out that plan, I’d never be able to come back there. I’d never see my beloved forest again. The forest I’d go for walks to, the many beautiful channels and lakes. I’d have to leave all of this behind and go to a place I didn’t know.”

  • “Already in the S –Bahn, the Schupos (members of the Schutzpolizei – note by the translator) with their Shepherd dogs were staring at me suspiciously. It was at half past four in the morning on an S-Bahn train, so it kind of seemed odd to them what a sixteen-year-old girl dressed in a training overall and wearing a headscarf and a backpack was doing there. The train terminated at the Friedrichsstraße, the doors opened there and I had to get out. I had never taken a ride with the S-Bahn before that day. Before you got to the Friedrichsstraße, you had to take a regular train to Bernau and from there you’d take that S-Bahn train. My heart was beating like crazy with excitement. This ride only lasted for an hour but it was brimful with fear, real fear. I couldn’t help myself thinking ‘Now they’ll come for me and arrest me and send me to Siberia’. As a teenager, my heart was filled with a terrible fear. So then I got out at Friedrichsstraße and I stood on the platform. I’ve always been a bit corpulent and back then I looked probably a bit older than 16 years old, more like 18 years old. People were passing me and one them said: ‘where are you heading girl? Would you like to come with me?’ I was desperate and ate an apple out of that desperation because the pastor had told to take an apple and eat it there in order to look calm. He said that it was very important to look as if nothing was happening. Just stand there, or sit, and eat an apple in a quite relaxed fashion. After an eternity had passed, a man that I had never seen before came to me. It was the West-German pastor, a friend of the pastor who had been helping me. ‘Red headscarf follow me!’. That was the agreed watchword. I didn’t say a word and followed him. Down the stairs, then to the left and on the other side right again, up the stairs. Then he stopped suddenly and said: ‘Well, child, now you’re safe. Now you can come to me, you’re in the West’.”

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    Wiesbaden-Medenbach, 07.07.2013

    duration: 01:36:29
    media recorded in project Iron Curtain Stories
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My persistence secured my survival.

Luise Justen
Luise Justen
photo: Verena Pschorn

Luise Justen was born on the 16th of May 1944 in Eberswalde near Berlin. Being born directly into the German postwar period and raised as a fosterchild by an abusive family, her childhood was formed by deprivation and violence. Therefore the wish to flee to her mother developed at quite an early stage and her escape-plans were supported by a preacher. After three years of planning the now sixteen year old Luise managed to flee on the 22nd of December 1958 via Berlin-Friedrichstraße by train. She fled to Erden and lived with her mother, worked as a housekeeper, and married Felix Justen, a friend of her mother’s. Luise delivered three children before deciding to flee once again from her abusive step-father, divorced her husband and moved with her children to Wiesbaden-Medenbach, where she still lives.