Trivia Collection: Victor Sebestyen, Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire

Below is a collection of trivia I’ve found in Victor Sebestyen, Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire.


Troublemaker trading

After the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the German Democratic Republic’s ruling regime started trading human beings into West Germany. Officials from the East offered to release political prisoners to West Germany for a fee. The first were troublemaker political dissidents, but within a few years, the GDR had found a way of maximising income: the police were arresting thousands of people on false charges, calling them “political prisoners” and selling them to the West.

In the mid 1960s the price per head was around DM 40,000 but inflation brought it up to DM 100,000 by the mid 1980s.

All in a Day’s Work

In the early 1970s the Polish socialist regime hushed up the results of a government conducted survey. According to the research, the average female Polish worker got up at 5 a.m., spent more than 2 hours a day travelling to and from work, 53 minutes a day queueing for food, 9 hours working, 1.5 hours cooking and doing housework and less than 6 hours sleeping.

Soviet Camps and Murder by Numbers

Following Soviet ‘liberation’ in 1945, more than ten percent of the population of Hungary were either murdered, or, after torture by the secret police, sent to rot in internment camps.

Hey, stranger

Under the communist regime in 1980s’ Romania, it was not technically illegal to talk to foreigners. But any conversation had to be reported to the police within twenty four hours, and the inevitable interrogation and harassment afterwards discouraged most Romanians from meeting visitors.

Colder Than Cold

In 1980s communist Romania, people were allowed to use only a forty-watt bulb per room, that is when electricity worked at all. Electrical heating was permitted for only two hours a day. In bad winters many elderly people died in their own apartments from hypothermia, while younger people were found asphyxiated by gas in their homes, not through suicide but because they left had left their gas cookers lite to keep warm and they had fallen asleep. The supply had been cut, then restored later while they were still sleeping.

Anatomy of The Berlin Wall

The first obstacle was a three-metre-high concrete wall, the ‘hinterland fence’. Then a two-metre-high ‘signal fence’ of barbed wire and steel mesh, which triggered an alarm if touched and, along some stretches, activated floodlights.

Anyone who made it through had to cover ground full of hidden devices such as steel bars in the earth covered with metal spikes. Escapees by now would most certainly have been spotted from the observation towers positioned every two hundred meters as the Berlin section of the border. Next came the ‘death strip’, a six-metre sand covered area patrolled by Stasi-trained dogs.

Finally came the three-and-a-half-metre-high Grenzwall 76 (named after the year of its fortification), topped by razor wire and a sewer pipe designed to stop any climbers from getting a good grip.


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