East German escapee speaks at IU Southeast

Haley Warwick, Staff

Freedom from the regime was crawling under a bridge and making it across open fields of bitter cold darkness. Freedom from subjugation was slipping past the border patrol guards. Freedom from oppression of speech was crossing the frozen Elbe river. Freedom for Harald Kynoff meant sneaking out of West Germany with just the clothes on his back and a friend.

At  11-years-old, Kynoff said he made the journey out of East Germany on Sunday Feb. 3, 1963. He is one of the youngest East Germany escapees, and said one of the main reasons he left his home in East Germany, where he lived with his grandparents, was to be with his mother. Kynoff said she was teaching in England the year he escaped.

The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 and Kynoff said trying to leave East Germany for many people ended in them either being killed, shot or captured.

Kynhoff said that he lived so close to the border that his uncle would need a special pass to visit him. He said if his grandparents wanted to visit somewhere 30 miles away they needed a visa even inside the country due to the checkpoints in East Germany.

Kynoff said these were restrictions of living so close to the border.

“Just days after we had got out we heard that two or three people had been killed trying to escape just before we had escaped,” Kynoff said.

Kynoff said he and his friend, whom he has not seen since he went to meet his family in the west after escaping, did not make any plans other than talking one day. He said it was when they were picking up homework and decided on a whim to escape. Kynoff said they set the date for two weeks later for Sunday Feb. 3 1963.

Shane Thomas, exploratory students advisor, said he was amazed Kynoff was able to make such a journey and do so successfully.

“Just with the clothes on their backs surviving the bitter cold temperatures at such a young age and this having such a happy ending his wonderful,” Thomas said.

Jenna Lacy, psychology major and German minor senior, said she thought the details of Kynoff’s story were incredible. She said she wondered if he knew more as a child how dangerous that type of journey was if he would have still made it.

“Had he sort of been more aware or oppressed by the government it could have maybe prevented Lacy said she had lived in West Berlin for a while and had visited East Berlin a few times.She him in actually daring to attempt crossing the river,” Lacy said.

said while listening to Kynoff talk about his experiences she could picture some of the places he was speaking of.

Kynoff was taken in after escaping by his uncle who lived in a refugee camp, and said he did succeed in reuniting with his mother just four days after escaping.

Kynoff moved to England with his mother just days after his journey of getting out of East Germany. He said it was difficult for him since he spoke no English.

“He basically went from being in an all-German-speaking school to nine days later being in all-English-speaking school without knowing any English. His life changed almost overnight,” Rachel Kynoff, daughter of Harald Kynoff and financial aid advisor, said in an email.

Rachel Kynoff said he did pick up English very quickly in his new life outside of East Germany though.

“He has told me that he was fluent in English eight months after he arrived in England,” Rachel Kynoff said.

Michael Hutchins, associate professor of German, said he was glad Kynoff was able to come to IU Southeast to tell his fascinating story.

Hutchins said the fall of the Berlin wall is celebrated in most quarters as a symbol of freedom.

He said next year will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of unification which has a different connotation compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall for most of Germany, but they hope to do something like this again next year.