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East To West Documentary Review Essay

***SPOILERS***Based on a true event "Escape from East Berlin" not only shows how desperate the people of Communist East Berlin were in willing to risk their lives in escaping from that "workers paradise" but also how some East Berliners were more then willing to turn in their fellow citizens just to ingratiate themselves with their Comminist masters.

Gunther Jurgens, Horst Janson,just had all he could take from living in the walled in city of East Berlin and made a run for it one evening in a truck busting through the just constructed Berlin Wall. Intangled in barb wire Gunther is gunned down by the East German border guards just has he made it across into allied, USA UK & French, West Berlin.

Gunther's friend Kurt Schroeder, Don Murray, who tried to prevent him from his, what turned out to be, suicide mission is contacted the next day by his younger sister Erika, Christine Kaufmann, looking for him. Erika hasn't seen Gunther since he went to work at the car pool the day before and is worried about her brother fearing that the worst happened to him. Eariler Erika was told by Gunther's fellow workers that Kurt was the last person to be seen with him the night that he disappeared.

Kurt trying to tell a very concerned Erika what happened gets as far as her brother making in across, or through, the Berlin Wall but when she becomes excited in that Gunther is alive and well he decides to just stop right there not telling her that Gunther was gunned down and killed. It takes almost the entire movie until Kurth finally told Erika the full story of what happened to her brother in him doing his best not to upset her with the honest and brutal truth about Gunther death.

The movie then concentrates in how a very reluctant Kurt comes up with the idea for digging a 200 foot long tunnel under the Berlin Wall that resulted in in one of most spectacular and successful escape attempts under, as well as across or over, that barrier to freedom. Kurt for his part liked the life he lead in Commuist East Berlin but not that he was so found of the communist regime. Having a job as East German Major Eckhardt's, Carl Schell, personal chauffeur Kurt was also fooling around with the Majors wife Heidi, Kia Fisher, as well as using the car to take girls out on dates. Kurt didn't want to give this all up by being involved in an escape attempt that even if successful didn't guarantee that he would have the same kind of swinging life-style in the west.

It's just when the tunnel was completed and the escape set for sundown that Erika's father Prof. Jurgens, Kurt Waitzmann,is contacted by one of those who planned to escape Marla, Maria Tober, and asked if he and his wife, Helma Seitz, would want to join their daughter in the impending escape attempt. This Communist butt-kissing creep instead of either joining in with the escapees or just keeping his big fat mouth shut runs like his pants are on fire to Major Eckhardt, Kurt's boss, and rats out those who are trying to escape to freedom even his daughter Erika!

With Major Eckhardt alerting the border guards as well as mustering up a squad of East German troops to stop the breakout Kurt Erika and some 25 other east Berliners make it across to the other side of the Berlin wall to freedom as the movie ends. I could only hope that that two-timing swine Prof. Jurgens got exactly what's coming to him from his beloved East German Communist bosses; an all expense paid life long vacation to a Soviet gulag in sunny Siberia with only a t-shirt and boxer shorts to keep him good and warm.

P.S Since the Berlin Wall was built in the Summer of 1961 some 200 East Germans were shot and killed by East German border guards in escape attempts with the last East Berliner being gunned down on February 6, 1989 just just eight month's before the infamous wall was finally torn down. In all the escapes across the East/West Berlin Wall, which numbered in the thousands, the one depicted in the movie "Escape from East Berlin" was by far the most famous and showed how far people would go to risk their lives for the freedom that awaited them on the other side.

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The Story of His Life: Philippe Sands' 'East West Street'

7 PagesPosted: 17 Sep 2017  

Date Written: September 1, 2017


This essay, forthcoming in the British Yearbook of International Law, reviews Philippe Sands’ book ‘East West Street’, and the documentary and theatre performance that preceded the book’s release. These works tell unforgettable stories of Lviv and Nuremberg, of Hersch Lauterpacht, Rafael Lemkin and Hans Frank, of genocide and crimes against humanity.

The book straddles several genres: according to its cover it is ‘part historical detective story, part family history, part legal thriller’. But it is more than that: it is also part psychological drama, part ‘third-generation Holocaust representation’, part Yizkor. This essay argues that it is best read as a life story - the story of Sands’s life. It is ‘the story of his *life*’ in that Sands has again, and better than ever, popularised international law. But it is also ‘the story of *his* life’: Sands himself is the character who binds the stories together. Read as a life story, the book stands out as a unique, unputdownable and unpindownable personal exploration of family silences and histories, that cannot be generalised.

Keywords: genocide, crimes against humanity, Lemkin, Lauterpacht, Sands

Suggested Citation:Suggested Citation

Nouwen, Sarah, The Story of His Life: Philippe Sands' 'East West Street' (September 1, 2017). University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 44/2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3037064

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