LIFE AND EXPERIENCES
LIFE IN THE GDR
In the early years of the GDR, there is no official plan for incorporating returnees and immigrants into society. Migrants are supposed to integrate as discretely as possible within one year, with the help of various businesses and factories, as well as party and mass organisations. The “Commissions for Work and Housing Accommodation for Returnees and Migrants” in each individual district are responsible for providing support. However, the commissions, as well as the companies, are often overstretched. Housing is in short supply, and for many migrants no appropriate job opportunities can be found. Many are under-employed in less attractive branches. Furthermore, many migrants experience prejudice in the companies and commissions; these organisations often impair rather than encourage the integration of the new citizens. Until 1957, returnees and immigrants enjoy privileged treatment and receive preferential housing and favourable loans. The government eliminates these privileges in 1958, but the general population remains suspicious.
For security reasons, migrants are not allowed to work for a number of GDR companies, and they are also normally forbidden from assuming leadership roles for fear of sabotage. For two to three years after their arrival, the People’s Police (Volkspolizei), and often the Stasi as well, keep track of them. In 1958, a revised version of the Passport Act increases the penalty for “illegal migration from the GDR.” Even though in August of 1964 the State Council guarantees the majority of returnees immunity from prosecution, a small proportion of the returnees are nevertheless indicted and convicted of Republikflucht (desertion from the republic) and espionage.
“YOU’RE EITHER IDIOTS OR CRIMINALS!”
In GDR society, migrants find themselves confronted with prejudice, jealousy and rejection. Many East Germans cannot comprehend the decision to move from West Germany to the GDR and keep their distance. They think the migrants are stupid or believe that the majority of them are either criminals or informants. Resentment and distrust prevail not only among the population, but among administrative supervisors and SED officials as well. For them, returnees and immigrants are frequently “enemies” and “scoundrels” who must prove themselves otherwise. It is similar in the factories. Reports make the rounds that migrants are arrogant, unreliable, and lack work ethic. The fact that many migrants are assigned jobs they are unsuitable for may have contributed to this impression. The constant discrimination and dismissive attitudes in the general populace cause some migrants to feel like second-class citizens.
IDEAL AND REALITY
In the 1950s and 1960s, the main motive for entry to the GDR is the desire for financial and social security. Under the influence of the GDR media, it is above all the new arrivals that often have an unrealistic image of conditions in the GDR. Considering the desolate conditions of apartments, the poor supply situation, and general financial hardship, disappointment is widespread amongst the migrants. Up until 1961, as many as 50% of the West-East migrants leave the country. After 1961, the number is still close to 30%. After the building of the wall, most of those who come to the GDR do so for family reasons. These returnees are generally more satisfied because their decision to move has usually been carefully and deliberately considered. Migrants who relocate for political reasons or who value the social security net available in the GDR are usually pleased with their choice as well. However, the predominant feeling of many migrants after 1961 when faced with reality in the GDR remains disillusionment.