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'Trading Germans': the secret Cold War traffic in human beings

'Trading Germans': the secret Cold War traffic in human beings
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Romania under Nicolae Ceaușescu, empty state coffers, a need to make money.

But how? A secret plan was hatched.

Euronews’ Wolfgang Spindler takes up the story: “It is not widely known, but during the Cold War, Romania sold close to 250,000 ethnic Germans back to West Germany. A secret deal between the governments made it possible. It is the most profound example of human trade during the Cold War. A documentary film ‘Trading Germans’ co-produced by Germany and Romania reveals all.”

German communities have been living in Romania for 800 years, in the 1960s, 350,000 were still in the Communist country.

The business began at the end of the 1960s when the Romanian economy collapsed under the Communist regime. Freedom was in short supply.

The Federal Republic of Germany, under the chancellorships of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt, offered massive financial renumeration to Romania in return for the Romanian-Germans who wanted to leave the country.

For years the deal remained buried, unknown, undercover, controlled by state security, the Securitate.

The producer of ‘Trading Germans’ Alexandru Soloman explained how the secret was uncovered: “A couple of years ago there was a big volume published by historians, the researchers that studied the Securitate archives. They published a book from the Romanian files on these negotiations.”

Millions upon millions of German marks were paid to Romania to allow Germans to leave for the Federal Republic of Germany.

Hein Günther Hüsch was Germany’s secret negotiator. He would travel to Romania with cash stuffed into his attaché case: “It was for the purchase of freedom. I don’t know of any precedent in history, I believe this was an unparalleled act, both in its implications and its dimension.”

Alexandru Solomon said uncovering the facts was difficult: “The process of opening the archives was a painful one and I guess it was not only a political issue, but involved peoples lives, the people in the files were touched by this. So you may call it past or the recent past, but in fact it is the present because it something that we live with.”

Karl Hahn, who left Romania at the end of the ’70s, feels that with prices between 2,000 and 10,000 marks each, they were sold on the cheap.

Later the Romanian authorities engaged in double deals. Germany paid up, but those that wanted to leave also had to hand over cash to the Romanian government.

Erika Lazar took her chance in 1983 when the price was 47,000 marks. She says there was a massive desire to leave.

‘Trading Germans’ producer Alexandru Solomon explained: “I think there are communities all over Europe that are somehow related to this kind of story, of mass emigration, and this is the story about the last mass emigration in Europe that we know of.”

Erika Lazar recalled: “It was not easy, buses full of us arriving in Germany. We came to the land of our ancestors, we definitely had that feeling. We have always been Germans, but it wasn’t easy to adapt because things were so different here, no dictatorship.”

Former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher summed up why people were prepared to give up everything to leave their homes, he said simply: “The desire to live in freedom was strong.”

The documentary will be shown at various documentary festivals around the world before being aired on HBO Europe.