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East Germans Fill Refugee Camps; New Wave From Czechoslovakia

September 12, 1989

PASSAU, West Germany (AP) _ At least 10,000 East Germans jammed resettlement camps in West Germany today and thousands more arrived in Hungary, waiting to follow the newly opened path to the West.

Residents of this border town filled a convention hall with banners and balloons to welcome the immigrants.

″This reception is really amazing,″ said Ute Kindl, a young East German woman. ″I’m really speechless over the warmness and kindness here.″

Resettlement camps were overflowing here today, one day after Hungary broke with East Germany, a Warsaw Pact ally, and allowed East Germans to cross freely into the West.

Bavarian border police said they estimated the number of immigrants in West Germany at ″over 10,000.″

There were conflicting reports about how many East Germans had crossed into Hungary since Monday morning. Maj. Janos Hornyak of the Hungarian border guards said 6,529 East Germans arrived between 6:30 a.m. Monday and 9:30 a.m. today.

He said all but 1,181 entered from Czechoslovakia, which is sandwiched between Hungary and East Germany, and the rest entered from Romania.

In the Czechoslovak capital of Prague, witnesses said more than half of the 400 East Germans holed up in the West German Embassy today left the grounds today.

Several refugees said East Germany had promised not to punish them if they returned home and would let them apply to emigrate to the West. The refugees had camped out in hopes of being allowed to emigrate to West Germany like their countrymen in Hungary.

The remarkable path westward was cut by Hungary, which is embracing liberal political reforms and seeking closer economic and diplomatic ties with Western nations.

East Germans have used Hungary’s looser borders to flee to the West for years. That stream turned into a steady flood in May, when Hungary removed many border fortications with Western neighbor Austria, and turned into deluge on Sunday when thousands of East Germans vacationing in Hungary were allowed to emigrate en masse.

The refugees, who came through three separate crossings, had completely filled five temporary camps near the Austrian border in Bavaria and officials were seeking more shelter in military barracks.

Chief federal government spokesman Hans Klein criticized East Germany for its public condemnation of the unprecedented exodus.

″It’s not Ice Age verbiage, but rather Stone Age verbiage that they have reacted with,″ Klein told a news conference in Passau late this morning.

Soviet Politburo hard-liner Yegor Ligachev arrived today in East Berlin, Soviet and East German reports said. It was expected he would discuss the refugee situation with officials.

Most of the refugees arrived in private cars and at least 100 buses bringing them through Austria into the southern West German state.

Michael Tietmann, director of the Tiefenbach refugee camp just outside Passau, said many of the emigres who had cars arrived later than expected. ″A lot of them told me they had gone shopping in Vienna and took in the sights before going on″ to West Germany,″ he said.

About 60,000 East Germans were reported in Hungary on Sunday - most of them on vacation - but an Interior Ministry official in Budapest said Monday that 26,000 of them had returned home.

East Germany’s Communist government expressed anger at West Germany and Hungary for arranging the exodus, but announced no immediate retaliation.

East Germany’s ADN news agency accused West Germany of ″luring away and misleading citizens of our land″ through an ″unrestrained slander campaign.″ It said Hungary had ″unilaterally suspended″ agreements between the two countries regulating movement of people across borders.

Many East Germans here expressed fears that their relatives back home would face reprisals.

″Our parents still don’t know for sure what we have done,″ remarked one young man who arrived with his wife from Leipzig. The couple asked not to be identified by name.

″We just hope this won’t hurt them. They (East German security officials) have a way of making life difficult for people whose relatives have fled to the West,″ the man said.

It was not known how long the exodus of East Germans out of Hungary would last or be permitted. News reports said the East Germans might restrict travel to Hungary in retaliation, but East Berlin denied the reports.

Some of West Germany’s 61.3 million citizens have expressed concern about how their country can absorb an estimated 100,000 East Germans likely to arrive this year, up from nearly 40,000 last year and the largest number since 207,000 fled in 1961. About 400,000 ethnic Germans from other Soviet bloc countries also are expected to arrive this year.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl on Monday said his countrymen expressing discontent were insensitive.

″We have no right to resist the search for personal happiness of our countrymen from East Germany,″ he said.

While West German unemployment is about 9 percent, not enough young people are signing up for apprenticeship programs to work as craftsmen, and most of the East German refugees are young craftsmen.

Klein, the government spokesman, said officials received 8,000 job offers in Passau alone for the refugees.

Inside Passau’s sprawling Niebelungen Halle civic center, the West German Red Cross and other relief groups had set up tiered bunk beds, kitchens, and consultation centers for other new emigres.

Hundreds of people gathered in front of the center to greet the arriving East Germans.

Hungary’s action marks the first time a Warsaw Pact country has aided a mass exodus of refugees from an allied Communist nation. The exodus is the biggest since the Berlin Wall was built.

In Moscow, the Soviet news agency Tass condemned Western media for what it called a ″tendentious campaign″ to spur illegal East German emigration.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher praised Hungary for boldly opening its western border in defiance of a Warsaw Pact ally.

The exodus came after weeks of talks between the two Germanys failed. On Sunday night the Hungarian government formally announced it would allow all East Germans to leave for West Germany.

Before this week, about 6,000 East Germans had already fled this summer through Hungary.

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