Prague, 28 January 2021. This week, the Czech Ministry of Justice awarded the sum of 33,333 Czech crowns (about 1,280 euros) to the daughter of East German citizen Gerhard Schmidt who was shot and killed by border guards while trying to cross from Czechoslovakia to West Germany with his family in 1977. This is the first time that the Czech Republic is awarding a compensation for the killing of a refugee on the Iron Curtain. Mr Schmidt’s is one of the five cases of Germans killed on the Czechoslovak borders during Communism presented by the Platform in a criminal complaint in Germany which has led to an ongoing international investigation.
Gerhard Schmidt, his wife and three young children tried run for freedom across the border of Communist Czechoslovakia into West Germany on 6 August 1977. Unfortunately, they were discovered and Mr Schmidt was fatally shot at short range in front of his family. The traumatised family was then persecuted in the GDR. Today, Mr Schmidt’s daughter is being awarded one-third of the total possible financial compensation of 100,000 Czech crowns (about 3,800 euros) from the Czech Ministry of Justice. Her two brothers who are entitled to the rest of the amount have not raised their claims yet.
This is a first-time case and a breakthrough in the Czech Republic. An analogous compensation was awarded in Slovakia in 2017 to the bereaved of Hartmut Tautz, an 18-year-old East German refugee who was killed by border guard dogs at the Czechoslovak-Austrian border in 1986.
The cases of Mr Hartmut Tautz, Mr Gerhard Schmidt and three other German citizens killed on the borders of Communist Czechoslovakia were presented by the Platform of European Memory and Conscience to the German Federal General Prosecutor in 2016 within the JUSTICE 2.0 – project. Since then, a bilateral Joint investigation team was established between Germany and the Czech Republic and official criminal proceedings have been launched against some of the top responsible perpetrators in the Czech Republic.
“We are pleased on the one hand that justice is slowly prevailing and a symbolical compensation is being awarded for this senseless and particularly cruel killing,” says Dr Neela Winkelmann, former Managing Director of the Platform, now manager of the Platform’s JUSTICE 2.0 – project. “On the other hand, however, the amount is ridiculously low.”