From the archives: Thousands Join E. German Exodus

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

GIESSEN, West Germany -- Thousands of young East Germans arrived by special train in West German reception centers here and elsewhere Sunday as the refugee crisis in Bonn's diplomatic missions in Czechoslovakia and Poland appeared to flare up again with more would-be emigrants flocking to them.

As the special green-and-cream East German railway coaches with the passengers waving and shouting "Freedom!" eased into the station here just after 1 p.m., their compatriots continued to enter West German embassies in Prague and Warsaw late Sunday.

West German officials reported Sunday evening that at least 300 more East German refugees had been allowed to enter the Bonn Embassy grounds in the heart of the Czechoslovak capital.

Missed the Train

Other would-be emigrants showed up at the West German Embassy in Warsaw only to find they had missed the train that took about 800 of their countrymen to West Germany. They pleaded to be admitted.

The arrival in Prague and Warsaw of new East Germans seeking sanctuary and passports to West Germany is bound to exacerbate the political crisis between the Communist regime in East Berlin and its partners in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, diplomats said.

West German officials in Bonn late Sunday seemed confused about the new ground rules, since the deal arranged by Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and his East German counterpart, Oskar Fischer, suggested that East Berlin's agreement was contingent upon no more East Germans being allowed into West German embassies.

This accord appeared validated early Sunday when Czechoslovak police surrounded the West German Embassy in the middle of Prague, keeping anyone from jumping the back fence, and late-coming East Germans were turned away from the front gate.

West German Ambassador Hermann Huber even urged the newcomers to return home and apply for emigration in the routine fashion.

But late Sunday, about 300 newly-arrived East Germans--who do not need visas to travel to Czechoslovakia--showed up in front of the embassy gates, having driven all night from their homes after hearing news of the mass departure.

Apparent Policy Change

And in an apparent change of policy, Ambassador Huber told them: "For the time being, we are letting you in."

His statement was applauded by the East Germans, who quickly entered the embassy grounds.

Similarly, about 100 East Germans who hurried to reach Warsaw for the exodus turned up at the West German Embassy in the Polish capital after the departure of the original group. Many of them remained there throughout the afternoon, milling in the street or resting in their small Trabant cars, weary from nightlong journeys across Poland.

The Polish government has placed no restrictions on the East Germans. Those who have now traveled to the West had been free to move about the city, sometimes taking inexpensive lodgings paid for by special embassy funds. Embassy officials, who would not speak with reporters, were handing out small sums of Polish money Sunday night to those who had no funds for food or accommodations.

The arrivals of more East Germans at Bonn's Warsaw and Prague embassies suggested to diplomatic observers that an additional evacuation will be necessary. And the West German ambassador's action in Prague raised the possibility that many more East Germans may drive or take the train to Prague, expecting to enter the Bonn mission and, like their countrymen late Saturday, be taken to West Germany.

The trains bearing the emigres--five from Czechoslovakia and one from Warsaw--all rolled into West German destinations Sunday.

The trains from Prague passed through East Germany and then crossed into West Germany on Sunday morning at the northern Bavarian town of Hof, where the refugees were greeted with cheers and a hot meal for the hundreds on board.

The single train from Warsaw crossed the East German frontier and later passed through the Koepenick station in East Berlin, where their compatriots waved them on, once they realized who they were, before crossing into north-central West Germany at Helmstedt.

Most of the East Germans were exhausted after the all-night train ride through East Germany from the Czechoslovak capital. East Berlin's Communist regime insisted that its citizens pass through their country so that officially, authorities could declare them expelled from the country, rather admit that they had wanted to flee.

The early trains arriving Sunday headed for centers in Bavaria, but the last came here to Giessen, a city in Hesse northeast of Frankfurt, which is the main reception center in West Germany for emigrants from East Germany.

Asked how she felt as she stepped onto the station platform, the youthful blonde mother of a 5-year-old boy smiled wanly and said: "Dirty."

In a long procession, the new arrivals walked from the station across tracks and up a hill to the gates of the reception center, with its dozens of bulletin boards full of job offers.

There, all were given a hot meal of meat, mashed potatoes, red cabbage, bread and fresh oranges in a large cafeteria.

The railroad journey had some bad moments when the train stopped in Dresden, in East Germany.

"It was a very strange feeling when we came back through the GDR (East Germany)," said a red-haired woman. "I was frightened when we stopped in Dresden. The Stasi (security police) came aboard the train and I expected them to tell us to get off. But they just looked uncomfortable--as if they didn't know whether to smile or scowl at us. Then they took all our East German documents. And that was all."

If the stream of East Germans continues, as now seems likely, the pressure will continue to mount on the aging East Berlin regime of Erich Honecker, which has turned its back on the sort of political and economic reforms now under way in Hungary and Poland. The East German embarrassment is heightened by planned observances, set for next weekend, of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the East German republic, at which Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev is expected.

It is uncertain what Gorbachev will say in East Germany, where the leadership crisis is evident. Despite Honecker's age, 77, and ill health, no obvious successor has emerged from the hierarchy. And Gorbachev has given a remarkably free hand to his Warsaw Pact allies, both reformers and conservatives, to choose their own course.

On Sunday, East German officials continued to fume over the exodus. The official East German news agency ADN, quoting a Foreign Ministry statement, denounced West Germany, saying it was displaying a "back to the Reich psychosis" in the refugee affair. The reference apparently was to Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

The statement attempted to picture the refugees as traitors and loafers. "Among these people there are anti-social elements who have a bad attitude to work and also to normal living conditions," the statement said. "Through their behavior the have all trampled moral values underfoot and cut themselves off from our society."

In Warsaw along the narrow street in front of the West German embassy, there was little doubt among the would-be emigres that the hemorrhage of young and predominantly well-educated East Germans would continue, as long as there remained a chance to reach West Germany, where they are recognized as citizens.

"Of my immediate friends, 14 have just left," said Juerg Sachs, 29, who decided Saturday afternoon to leave his job at a hospital in Schwerin, and drive with his wife, Daniele, to Warsaw. "There seems no reason to stay behind."

Sachs said he heard the news of the train departure on the radio of his car, a yellow plastic-bodied Trabant with a single back-pack tossed in the back seat, and drove frantically about Warsaw in the early morning hours, trying to find the West German Embassy and Warsaw's northern train station.

Embassy officials reassured them, Sachs said, although they warned that their wait could be up to six weeks. "Better six weeks in Warsaw than six more years in the GDR," Sachs said.

Times staff writer Charles T. Powers contributed to this story from Warsaw.

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