Iconic Photos

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Conrad Schumann defects

with 22 comments

conrad-schumann

August 15 1961. It was two days after East Germany sealed off its border with the Berlin Wall. The 19-year old Hans Conrad Schumann was guarding the construction of Berlin Wall, then in its third day of construction, at the corner of Ruppinerstraße and Bernauerstraße*.

At that stage of construction, the Berlin Wall was only a low barbed wire fence. For hours, the nervous young non-commissioned officer paced back and forth, his Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder, smoking one cigarette after another. Around 4 p.m., as the people on the western side shouted Komm über! (“come over”), Schumann jumped the barbed wire and was driven away at high speeds by an awaiting West Berlin police car.

There were many press photographers, but the above photo, which hit the West Berlin tabloids in hours, making the frontpage of Bild, was taken by Peter Leibing, also a nineteen-year old. Only that morning, he had just arrived to Berlin from Hamburg, and had been tipped off that an East German soldier had signaled to spectators on the West Berlin side of the barrier that he was going to make a break. He waited for an hour and a half to get this photo:

“I had him in my sight for more than an hour. I had a feeling he was going to jump. It was kind of an instinct. … I had learned how to do it at the Jump Derby in Hamburg. You have to photograph the horse when it leaves the ground and catch it as it clears the barrier. And then he came. I pressed the shutter and it was all over.”

His photo — taken ironically with an East German Exacta camera as Schumann threw away his rifle — became an enduring image of the Cold War. The camera had no motor-drive and it was the only image he had time to shoot, although the next frame was that of Schumann when he got out of the police car. The main photo won the Overseas Press Club Best Photograph award for 1961. Schumann later settled in Bavaria and after the fall of the Berlin Wall he returned to his birthplace in Saxony. Unwelcomed by his parents and brothers and sisters and shunned by his hometown for what he had done, Schumann eventually hanged himself in 1998.

* In the early days of the divided Berlin, West Berlin firemen waited at Bernauerstraße with safety nets for people would jump out from the apartment buildings in the Soviet sector into the street which was in the French sector. Less than month after Schumann defected, however, the East German Volkpolizei moved in with workmen to seal up doors and windows and ordered 2,000 residents to leave their homes; later the buildings themselves were demolished to create a fire-zone. Despite increased security, Bernauerstraße became the scene of the most successful escape attempt, when in October 1964, fifty-seven people escaped through a 145-metre tunnel, dug by students from a disused bakery on the street.

The original uncropped version:

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 11, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Politics, Society

Tagged with ,

22 Responses

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  1. That same picture and paragraph was in my history book

    Madison

    November 19, 2009 at 11:52 pm

  2. was he going to west germany?or not

    j

    December 7, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    • Of cause! it´s not very likely that anyone escaped from west to east. Well…Kim Philby did.

      Göran Kling

      August 15, 2013 at 2:38 pm

  3. An example of the enduring evil of communism, envy and resentment.

    David Singhiser

    April 30, 2010 at 1:54 am

  4. […] Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”, Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs […]

  5. during all those years spent in West Germany he forgot what assholes his relatives really were.

    hello

    July 24, 2010 at 7:30 pm

  6. A sad end to what was a very brave act in his life.

    He was a hero to many, pity his family , it is they that are the true losers ..

    Gaz-R

    October 6, 2010 at 12:06 am

  7. very sad he died that way…

    dubmac

    August 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm

  8. i don’t think he is a hero, actually he is a coward, probably couldn’t handle the military service. Leaving his family without support, living lonely.

    nury (@nuryturkmen)

    August 15, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    • what an awful and stupid comment, you still don’t get it and a lot to learn!

      tr

      May 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      • Could be the family hanged him and made it appear Suicide

        Zuena Mahola

        August 6, 2013 at 7:55 am

  9. Putin’s KGB still alive

    Риг Драчир

    August 16, 2011 at 5:42 am

  10. 2nury:
    True. There is nothing heroic in making a runner. No wonder the whole his hometown despise him.

    drone

    August 16, 2011 at 6:58 am

  11. Why did his relatives reject him when he returned. I’m missing something.

    Bogo C. C.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:57 am

    • easy… he abandoned the family…

      kate

      January 30, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      • He was just thinking of him self. In East Germany the family was very important. People stuck together.

        Göran Kling

        August 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm

  12. […] Наблюдавшие за строительством стены корреспонденты https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/05/11/conrad-schumann-defects/ запечатлели сей исторический "прыжок к […]

  13. JUST A TRAIDER OF HIS COUNTRY , WHEN HE UNDERSTOOD WHAT HE HAD DID AND HOW THE WEST TREAT HIM HE KILL HIS SELF, WHAT A PITTY FOR THE WESTERN WORLD ALWAYS THE BLOOD OVER ”HIS SHOULDERS”
    RAS

    RAS G.

    August 31, 2013 at 3:50 am

  14. I THINK HE WAS A BRAVE SOULAND IT IS A TRAGEDY THAT HIS FAMILY SHUNNEDHIMYOU WOULD ALMOST THINK THAT HE WAS AMISHTHEY ARE KNOWN FOR SHUNNING I THINK HE WAS THE BRAVEST PERSON FOR WHAT HE DID IT TOOK A LOT OF COURAGE TO DO THATHIS FAMILY SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES

    DIANE SHATSWELL

    July 10, 2015 at 8:24 pm

  15. Thanks, i needed this for my history assignment

    Eva

    October 10, 2015 at 2:48 pm

  16. Where can I order a postersize of this picture?

    solsoe

    November 25, 2015 at 5:18 pm


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