Erika Riemann’s Oral Testimony on Life in East Germany During the Cold War

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Erika Riemann’s oral testimony on life in East Germany during the Cold War

Erika Riemann was a teenager living in East Germany at the end of World War II. Her oral testimony describes her experiences as a political prisoner during the cold war. She was arrested in 1945 for drawing a bow on a portrait of Stalin that hung in her school classroom. At the time of her arrest she was only 14 years old.
After World War II Germany was left devastated and in ruins. There had been massive destruction of the country’s infrastructure (Bessel 2011), it lacked political structure and economic activity had plummeted. There was a scarcity of food, fuel and housing and Germany was in no condition to clothe or feed its population (O’Dochartaigh 2003).
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This caused great panic, and they were relieved when only water came out. After Sachsenhausen, Riemann was then sent to Hoheneck prison. She was put in solitary confinement where she tried to hang herself in December 1953. “I didn’t see any sense in living; I didn’t want to continue.” She was rescued, hospitalized and then sent back to a single cell. She was finally released on January 18th 1954, aged 22. Before she left Hoheneck she had to sign a document saying that she would not talk about her arrest and say only that she was treated well.
There are both strengths and limitations in using an oral testimony to learn about the past. While on one hand, it provides a first hand experience that uncovers feelings and interpretations and not just facts, on the other hand, it can be biased and prone to the selectiveness and lapses of memory. Without first hand accounts of such events, there would be many gaps in history as only relying on documents could cause certain information to be covered up or lost. An oral testimony can provide personal insights, or anecdotes rarely found in official document. For instance, Riemann was forced to sign documents stating she was treated well during her internment, and it would not be known otherwise unless she and other prisoners gave their oral testimonies. Most of the limitations surrounding oral