Why is national service good

With the spade at the National People's Army

Transmission date: 09/15/2004 7:00 p.m.
The rock band Renft - here as Klaus-Renft-Com, bo at a performance in 1998 - was banned in the GDR in 1975.

"What does someone who carries a spade as a flag believe in?" Sings the legendary rock band Renft in their song "Glaubensfragen" in 1974. With this, the band breaks a taboo: The song is dedicated to the East German construction soldiers, whose existence the GDR prefers kept silent. Two band members are imprisoned for "degrading military strength and agitation against the state". The song and the band are banned.

Service without a weapon - the first "spade soldiers"

Not only did they have to work hard, they were also spied on: Construction soldier in the NVA.

In January 1962, a few months after the Wall was built, general conscription was introduced in the GDR. This is particularly criticized by the churches. They demand the possibility of conscientious objection to conscientious objection. Finally, the GDR leadership gave in and on September 16, 1964 - as the only country in the Warsaw Pact - put the order on duty without a weapon into force. Anyone who refuses to do military service is called up as a construction soldier for 18 months. The unarmed soldiers were initially used to build military facilities, later also as nurses or kitchen helpers. The construction soldiers are members of the National People's Army (NVA). Because a spade is depicted on the epaulets of their uniform, they are also called "spade soldiers".

Second class soldiers

The state authorities keep under the covers that young men in the GDR can refuse to work with a weapon. There could be too many and it would make a bad impression both internally and externally. The construction soldiers are isolated as much as possible from the "normal" soldiers. They have a hard time with their superiors. "Back then, it seemed to me as if they were second-class soldiers because they were treated as if they were prisoners," former Major Werner Pieniak once recalled.

KdF home in Prora on Rügen. During the GDR era, parts of the building served as barracks for the NVA.

Rolf-Ingo Ohlemann remembers how difficult it is to work without a weapon. From 1982 to 1984 he was stationed as a construction soldier in Prora on Rügen. His troops are actually supposed to help expand the port. Nevertheless, the construction soldiers are trained militarily: To eat, they have to march in formation or march for hours on the beach with protective masks.

Humiliation and harassment

The construction soldiers also have to work on Sundays, often in the kitchen. One Sunday, for example, they are given the task of filling a parking lot with gravel, explains Rolf-Ingo Ohlemann. The work turns out to be the purest chicane: There is a wheel loader on site that could get the job done quickly. Nevertheless, the construction soldiers have to laboriously carry out the work with the wheelbarrow.

Heiner Möhring, stationed as a construction soldier in Prora from 1967 to 1969, also remembers senseless humiliations: "We were asked to clean our room. There were such polished wooden floors, and we were supposed to scrape off the old floor wax there - without tools. Us they said we could use the toothbrush. "

The construction soldiers fight back

The construction soldiers try to defend themselves. Your weapon is not the rifle, but the input. In January 1969 Heiner Möhring and his colleagues wrote to the State Council of the GDR: "We have been serving in the National People's Army for over a year. During this time we only worked for military purposes (...) We can see today that they are here The work to be done contradicts our concern (...) We therefore ask you to look with us for possibilities that allow us to better meet the demands of our conscience. " But instead of a different field of activity, they receive a warning: their letter violates the NVA's complaints and submission rules, which forbid "submission within the framework of groups".

Rolf-Ingo Ohlemann and his colleagues also write a letter addressed to the Chairman of the State Council, Erich Honecker. They formulate their concerns in the form of a question: "Dear Mr. Honecker! Shouldn't one build on the awareness of young people's education and position in society by including their activities in the fulfillment of common tasks instead of integrating them into command-controlled hierarchies, where Responsibility and conscience are delegated to the superior? " The construction soldiers send the letter only after they have been released. The answer is not a letter, but house calls. Each individual is visited in his apartment by a comrade of the FDJ Central Council and observed by the state security.

Construction soldiers targeted by the Stasi

To be spied on at every turn - Reimund Wegner has to experience that too. In the mid-1980s, the young Schwerin came into contact with the church, left the FDJ and worked as a nurse in a Protestant institution near Bernau. When he joins a peace group there, he becomes a state security case. In 1987 Reimund Wegner was drafted into the army as a construction soldier at the Laage airfield. Because he moved in a "hostile-negative" environment, the Stasi opened an "Operative Personal Control" (OPK) against him under the name of "Leprosy".

Reimund Wegner is observed around the clock. This is easy for the Stasi: They smuggled unofficial employees into almost all construction troops. In January 1989 the Stasi changed its strategy and tried to recruit Reimund Wegner as informants. Because he refuses any cooperation, the Ministry of State Security decides to punish him with "targeted discrediting measures". But the plan to bring Reimund Wegner into disrepute no longer materializes. A few months later, the people on the street were already shouting: "Stasi out!"

The Rainer Eppelmann case

Rainer Eppelmann refused the pledge and was sentenced to imprisonment.

Rainer Eppelmann also fights for peace and justice. In 1966 he was drafted into the construction service in Stralsund. There he has to take a vow that hardly differs from the military oath of the oath: only the passage "with gun in hand" has been deleted. After much deliberation, Rainer Eppelmann decides not to take the vow - and is sentenced to eight months in prison. The irony of history: after the fall of the Wall, the former conscientious objector Rainer Eppelmann was appointed the last defense minister of the GDR and was charged with preparing for the dissolution of the NVA.

The turn

From year to year there are more and more people who refuse to use weapons. While in 1984 there were still 1,000 objectors, the number has doubled four years later. Until they are finally relieved of their duties: for the last time, construction soldiers have to move in in autumn 1989. On March 1, 1990, the regulation on community service in the GDR came into force. To this day, civil service is considered a replacement for military service in the Federal Republic of Germany. But for Rainer Eppelmann that is not the solution: "I would be much more comfortable if it were possible to choose from up to twenty different offers where military service would be seen as an option. That way, as many as possible could yes say about what they are doing for nine or ten or twelve months. "

The history of the GDR

How did the GDR come about? What was everyday life like in the workers 'and peasants' state? And what ultimately led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification? more

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NDR 1 Radio MV | 09/15/2004 | 7:00 p.m.