by Dennis Dalman
A Sartell woman has translated the first English version of a German-language book that tells the true harrowing story of a victim – one of the many victims – of East German tyranny and persecution.
The book, entitled – in bleak irony – Guillotine Education, is an account of Manfred Smolka, a border guard who fled East Germany only to be captured later through a ruse, imprisoned and eventually decapitated as a traitor.
Klaus Schmude, the man who authored the book, was for a time decades ago a cell mate of Smolka when he, Smolka, was undergoing brutal and psychologically sadistic interrogations in an East German prison. Schmude is still living, a resident of an assisted-living complex in Germany. The original work was published circa 1990, with a forward by German author-historian Eberhard Wendel, who called the book the “cry of a tortured soul.” And that it certainly is. From page to page, Smolka’s physical pains, endless anguish and helplessness are virtually unbearable for the reader. If there is a “silver lining” to the grim story, it can be said to be the strong bonds of family and friends, even unto death; a strong underpinning of faith in God; and how tyranny and cruelties can never completely crush goodness, faith and resistance.
The book begins in 1959, not long before the notorious Berlin Wall was built to keep the people of East and West Germany separated – the communist regime to the east, the free Germany to the west. Until the wall was built, guards and barbed-wire barricades were required.
In an interview with the Newsleader, Dr. Lilian Price said even though the book is grim, it also touches upon the power of Christian faith, especially as it existed under great odds in an officially atheistic society – communist East Germany.
Manfred Stolka’s father, of Polish descent, was killed in World War II, and son Manfred had to become the breadwinner for the family. He worked as a laborer and farm helper to eke out the most basic of survivals.
Later, since he was living in a part of Germany that became communist-controlled East Germany post World War II, Stolka was assigned to be a border guard to keep the people in East Germany from fleeing to the west.
As a man who liked to think for himself, Stolka soon found himself at odds with communist dictates and the lies and distortions the government was spoon-feeding the people. He finally decided life under that kind of dictatorship was unbearable, and he devised a plan to escape to the west. He did just that, crossing the barbed wire one day into West Germany. Sadly, though, he had to leave family members behind – mother, two sisters, little brother, wife and daughter. He planned to somehow get them out of East Germany, too.
Stolka carefully hatched a plan to meet a best friend at the border so his wife, Traudel, and daughter Ursel, could cross at a certain place along the barbed-wire border where they would be helped across into freedom.
The Stasi (East German Secret Police) apparently learned of the plot, and when Stolka arrived at the appointed place, Stasi agents were waiting for him. Stolka made it back into East Germany but quickly realized the trap had been set for him. He quickly scrambled back through the barbed wire, but the agents shot him several times, severely wounding him.
He was taken to a miserable prison where he was physically abused and brutally interrogated for a year, there and in other prisons, before his execution by guillotine. At that time, the East German regime decided beheading by guillotine would be a vivid “education” for others thinking of committing acts of so-called treason.
A kangaroo trial for Stolka, including forced confessions, was a total sham and mockery of due process. Like many “show” trials of that era, courtroom proceedings were nothing but a pretense, with defendants’ guilt pre-determined by the corrupt authorities even before one word of testimony was given. Such trials in the Soviet Union, under dictator Josef Stalin, condemned millions to death through execution or to horrendous labor camps.
In 1960, Stolka’s wife was sentenced to four years in prison for espionage against the so-called German “Democratic” Republic. She learned of her husband’s cruel death while serving her prison term.
What makes Guillotine Education so terrifying is the author switches back and forth between the “present” of Smolka’s terrible suffering and the pleasant memories of his earlier life.
The book is an excruciating tale of how a perfectly good human being can be degraded, humiliated, stripped of all confidence and brutalized psychologically and physically by a ruthless tyrannical regime and its functionaries.
The secret police in East Germany used every form of psychological cruelties to muzzle dissent, including spying on neighbors, wiretapping, doctored-up photos used for blackmail, planting false accusations with family members or neighbors to ruin reputations and even entering homes and rearranging contents when inhabitants were away as a means of causing fear and uncertainties. Those ghostly methods were meant to instill a psychological “paralysis” in so-called “enemies of the state.” Such sinister machinations caused many to doubt their own sanity, and many committed suicide.
During the long process of translating Guillotine Education, Price met with its author and several others who knew Stolka, including two of his sisters.
The daughter of a military man serving in Germany at the time, Price was born in Munich, Germany, her mother being German. Price lived in Germany as a child before the family moved to the state of Washington.
Price earned undergraduate degrees from the University of Washington and then did graduate work at Seattle University. She holds a double major in political science and German.
She also studied for a year in Munich and also taught English and history in that historic medieval city, where she still has relatives.
She has taught at the College of St. Benedict and at Winona State University and currently teaches history, science and German to 10th-graders at Calvary Classic Academy in St. Cloud.
Price moved to Sartell two years ago when her son was studying at St. Cloud State University. Just married, that son – Alberto Gabriel Ramos – has just been accepted to a full ministry at SCSU.
Guillotine Education was published by Page Publishing, New York City. It is available through Amazon.com, iTune books and Barnes and Noble.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.