One of the most memorable novel studies shoved down our young minds by High School English Departments was Orwell’s 1984. This depiction of a dystopian totalitarian state was a satire. It had nothing in common with the way we lived our lives in suburban Toronto. Luckily, some of us may always look upon this novel and treat it as a story that once had to be digested and discussed in a classroom. To Susan, the events in the book were closer to life than ever. Here’s her story.
I had just put my baby to bed when there was a knock on the door. It was around 20:30 p.m. and we weren’t expecting anyone. My husband was in the living room watching the end of the evening news. I looked at him, confused. His face turned pale and beads of sweat appeared on his receding forehead.
“Polizei!” He whispered. “Sag nichts, verstehst du!” Don’t say anything, understand.
I looked through the view hole and saw two large figures in official uniforms. They were here for my husband. I opened the door and saw two Schutz uniforms. One greeted me while the other stretched his long neck around me to look inside.
“Has Hans Zimmer been here?” He asked.
“No” I lied.
“Is your husband home? We would like to speak to him”.
Stefan quietly appeared from the living room and stood beside me in the hall way. The Schutz walked in to the flat. The quiet one removed his hat and took out a note book. Rubber Neck proceeded with the questioning.
“Are you Stefan Zimmer?
“You are the brother of Hans Zimmer?”
“Are you in contact with, or aware of the whereabouts of your brother?”
“We have reasons to believe that Hans Zimmer has been staying here for the last week. Please come with us. Madame, make arrangements with your neighbours regarding the safety of your child. You will also be coming with us”.
They shuffled Stefan off first. Rubber Neck returned and stayed with me. He wandered around the living room picking up pictures and documents. In the kitchen he opened every cupboard, then he took a chair from the dining room table, sat directly in front of me, and smiled. He was enjoying his authority over me. I felt sick.
“Susan, we know you were hiding Hans. This is an obvious fact. Hans is a criminal, and you know well that helping criminals is an offense.You will go to jail for this, and your child will go to a state orphanage. Now you can cut the bullshit, tell me where Hans is, or where he said he was going, and I’ll reconsider your sentence”
I felt weak. There was nothing I could do, I was powerless. I wanted to grab a knife and plunge it in him. If I managed to hit his jugular then he wouldn’t be able to make a sound. I knew this fact from my grandfather who slaughtered pigs. I wondered if it would work on this Pig. I’d be able to quickly grab my baby, jump in the car and drive. But where?
I swore that I didn’t know anything. Hans had come here and Stefan hid him in the attic. But no one knew. One of the neighbours or friends must have informed. The Police could scare anyone into giving up information about anyone. It didn’t matter whether it was legit. The Police and the Stasi locked people up simply to set examples, to demonstrate their majesty. Punishment was so severe and people disappeared over night. No one pushed their luck.
“Notify your neighbours, we are going to the station”.
I told Frau Schneider from across the corridor to watch over Becky while she slept, then I called my mother to come in the morning, in case I didn’t return. She didn’t ask any questions. These situations were so common and part of everyday life, that we all went about our lives wondering, what may happen to us the next day or week.
I took my warm coat and left with the cop escorting me by my arm.
“Do you really have to touch me?”
“You are a criminal, this is the procedure” He smirked.
I was taken to the Central Police station in our city and he left me to wait on a chair in the hallway. It was about 11:00 p.m. and the hallway was empty. You could only hear the buzzing of the fluorescent light flickering above.
By 12:30 a.m. I was so exhausted from stress and crying that I began dosing off. What woke me up were footsteps coming from the stairwell. A man appeared. It was an officer of the Staatssicherheit. He had a file under his left arm. My file.
The GDR was no place for trust. There were eyes on you all the time. Trust was an illusive word completely disjointed and out of context.The circumstances created by the State, enabled even closest family members to communicate freely with each other. The Staatssichercheit had departments, where agents sat behind desks, around the clock, opening each letter sent via post. They read and recorded any information which they considered may pose threat to the State.
“Follow me Susan”.
I got up. Confused, because he called me by my first name. We went into a small room with a desk and two chairs. A beige phone and a recording device were on the desk.
“This will only take a few minutes and then you will be able to go back to Becky”.
He gave my a reassuring smile. He was so polite, unlike that wretched cop. It was strange, but I was too exhausted to think about it. All I could think about was my daughter. What’s going to happen to her if they lock me up? She will wake up in the morning, see either the neighbour or my mother and ask where mommy is. They’ll make up a little lie to keep her calm, then another one, and then a bigger one, until she’ll realises that something is wrong and starts crying. Sooner or later the social worker will appear and take her to an orphanage. She’ll be brought up by austere and abusive nurses, who practise corporal punishment. When I get out and try to find her they won’t let me. I may never will see my little girl again!
This was all racing through my mind. I didn’t even take a second to ask what had happened to Stefan. The Stasi Officer made me recall the entire situation with Hans. Starting from the day he arrived, to the moment he left. I told him that I didn’t know where he was and why he came. He showed up one evening, said he was in trouble and needed money. I wasn’t aware that he spent four days hiding in the attic of our building. As a mother, the safety of my baby comes before anyone else’s.
He wrote everything down, smiled again and told me to wait outside. Again, I found myself sitting on the same chair in the hallway. It was nearing 3:00 a.m. and I was getting really tired. After what seemed to be an hour, the Officer finally left the room and asked me to follow him. We walked down the hall and up a staircase to a different floor. As we walked down the corridor I saw Stephan asleep with his head on a desk. “What were they going to do with him?” I was too afraid to ask.
The officer sat me down outside a closed door and left without saying a word. Again I was alone with my thoughts and worries about my daughter. How will she feel, not knowing what happened to her mother? I started to cry again. The whole time I tried to keep my composure, but I was so scared. I was tired and I wanted to go home.
Why was this happening? Why could there be countries out there behind that wall, where people were happy and did whatever they wanted? What had I done to deserve this punishment? The system was wrong! They kept telling us that the West was corrupt, but everyone knew that the East German government was corrupt! The Stasi, on one hand, condemned the West, but at the same time had exclusive supermarkets where they could savour the delicacies of that world, while regular citizens were subjected to empty shelves due to recessions or cutbacks, or whatever they decided to fabricate.
Another officer walked up the same stairs I had come up earlier. He motioned for me to follow and we entered another, almost identical, interrogation room. It was the same layout, same desk, same phone and recording device.
“Please sit on your hands”.
Confused, I did what he said. With my hands under my ass I answered the same questions the previous officer asked. Then he led me out and told me to sit in the hallway again. As I sat there I saw two cops, half carrying my husband towards the staircase. I didn’t even want to think what they may do to him. The torturous bastards had ways of making people talk. Everyone knew and dreaded them.
At about 6.00 a.m the officer who first questioned me appeared.
“Thank you, Mrs Zimmer, we appreciate you’re cooperation. You are free to go. If anything changes you will be notified.”
“What about my husband?” I asked.
“Your husband is under arrest, you will be notified when his sentence is official. Go home and get some rest”.
Go home and get some rest? That was it? My life had just flashed before my eyes. Strange men went through my things. My baby spent the night alone with the neighbor. My husband was being sentenced to jail, and I was supposed to go and get some rest? How could anyone get rest when the people in charge of your safety and well being are the same people who threaten it?