Obituary: Karl Schirdewan

IN DAVID Childs's obituary of Karl Schirdewan [10 August] there is one significant error, writes Peter Barker.

Schirdewan was not born in Konigsberg, but in Stettin. I recently came across this fact when researching an encyclopaedia entry on Schirdewan. In GDR reference works he always stated that he was born into a working-class family in Konigsberg, but he was hiding the fact that his real family came from Stettin and had a higher social status. The standard biographical work on the GDR which has appeared since unification, Wer war wer in der DDR, repeated this mistake in its first edition (1994), but corrected it in its third edition of 1996 after the discovery of relevant files in the SED archive.

I WAS aware that there was controversy about the place of birth of Karl Schirdewan, writes Professor David Childs. However, as his friends in the PDS, who announced his death, kept to his claim that he was born in Konigsberg, I felt it was right to leave it at that.

A significant number of Germans changed details of their place of birth after the Second World War for political reasons and it is not always possible to get proper verification, especially in towns which were overrun by the Red Army. Many of the files in Konigsberg and Stettin were destroyed, causing great inconvenience for some and great opportunities for others. It will be interesting to see what appears in Schirdewan's autobiography which is due to appear shortly.