Wolfgang Welsch, East German poet and dissident
I spit blood, faint and am at the end of my physical strength… Save my life!
Wolfgang Welsch, in a message to Amnesty International
Wolfgang Welsch was jailed in 1964 for trying to escape East Germany illegally. He used cigarette papers to write secret messages to Amnesty International that eventually won him his freedom.
Wolfgang Welsch was just 20 years old when he was arrested in 1964 while trying to escape from East to West Germany illegally. The actor and poet was given three consecutive prison sentences amounting to over 10 years, which he served at Bautzen and later Brandenburg prisons.
A secret message, written on a cigarette paper and smuggled out of prison, alerted Amnesty International to Wolfgang’s case. In the message, Wolfgang described his 1.2m by 3.5m “stinking death cell”, where he lived in solitary confinement “in semi-darkness without sun and hardly any air”.
He also described his failing health: “I spit blood, faint and am at the end of my physical strength… the present inhumane conditions seriously threaten my life.” His message closed with the plea, “Save my life!”
Wolfgang’s case was taken up by the Leeds Amnesty International group in the UK, who began writing to the East German authorities. Their letters went unanswered, until they contacted a lawyer in West Germany who agreed to help pressure the authorities.
Shortly afterwards, Wolfgang’s mother was allowed to visit her son for the first time, and on 24 March 1971, he was released from prison. In a letter to Amnesty International’s London office, the secretary of the Leeds Amnesty International group wrote: “We are very pleased to let you know that our adopted prisoner in East Germany, Wolfgang Welsch, has been released… our group now wishes to adopt another prisoner.”
According to online sources, Wolfgang Welsch went on to help dozens of people escape from East to West Germany and survived several assassination attempts. Ich War Staatsfeind Nr. 1 (I Was State Enemy Number 1), his account of his prison experience, became a best seller in Germany.