Why We Crossed Over

Before the border of East Berlin was sealed, the citizens of that beleaguered place, in increasing number, were making up their minds to escape. In the brave, candid statements that follow, we understand why.

Georg K., about forty-five years old, is a graying, untidy, impatient man. He is much absorbed in his profession and seems to be wholly apolitical. He and his wife have two sons, seventeen and eighteen.

I will give you the short explanation of why I left East Germany. It was impossible for me to practice my profession properly. It was impossible for me to exercise the normal rights and pleasures of a father. In these circumstances, how could I remain?

Still, I reflected for a long time before deciding to leave. It is not easy for a man to leave the place he knows as home. It is not easy for a doctor to leave his patients.

It is true everywhere that a doctor does not choose his patients, and this is one of the noble things about the profession. In East Germany today, however, a doctor's patients are sometimes chosen for him. No one ever said to me: "Do not treat So-and-so for cancer; he is an enemy of the state." But the police have let me know, in various subtle ways, that they know that I have been treating unreliables. They hint that secrets pass between us in the consulting room. They try to make me feel uncomfortable. I have found myself feeling very defiant and noble, like an officer in the underground, signing a prescription for a man whom I know to have the wrong politics. This is not a good position for a doctor to be in.

Physicians in East Germany, like physicians everywhere, complain that they are overworked. Of course we were overworked! An army of doctors has crossed the border in the years since the war, and there are few left in East Germany. However, it was not overwork that drove me into the West. It was frustration that drove me out.

I will say nothing about the bureaucracy, about the endless paperwork, about the formalities, about the silly procedures in the hospitals. I will give you an axiom, though. It is this: Politics poisons medicine. The hospital to which I was attached was headed by a man who was an imbecile. He was a Communist. Twenty years ago he would have been a Nazi, and probably was. That was the kind of man he was. He drove everyone mad with his stupidity and with his political questions. I would be reading an X ray from a man with pneumoconiosis, and he would slip up behind me and ask if I had read Khrushchev's latest speech on disarmament. What did I care about some Russian and his sophistry? I was trying to see if some poor miner with six kids had a chance to live.

All of this I was able to suffer. But I discovered, through my family, that this was not enough.

My older son, applying for the university, was told that he could not attend. The reason? Simple. His father was a doctor, an academician, a university graduate. I was a bourgeois. Therefore, my children were, by inheritance, too bourgeois to deserve a university education. Higher education is reserved for the workers,

My sons, like the sons of all middle-class people, needed to be purified. In order to qualify for the university, they had first to perform several years of manual labor in a factory or on a farm. Then, depending on how well they enjoyed being proletarian, they might be considered for higher education.

I have nothing against the working class, and heaven knows I have worked for that class as best I could, even before the socialist paradise arrived in Germany. But why should my sons lose years of their lives because I, a bourgeois, fell in love with a girl of my own class and we brought them into the world?

Well, now I have brought them into another world. It is my hope that the reason I had to do this will not forever poison their minds against the working class.

That is where the stupidity lies. The Communists always produce the opposite reaction from the one they seek. You cannot pump a stomach without leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In