This is the twenty-fifth part of a fiction serial, in 1183 words.
For the next five years, I became obsessed with getting my sister and Anna out of the country. As I suspected, life was made increasingly difficult for them. First of all, Anna was transferred to another school some distance away. That involved her taking various buses and trams to get to and from work, arriving home to Inge tired, stressed, and exhausted. Then Anna applied for promotion, and was turned down flat. Even worse, she was advised not to apply in future, though no reason was given.
Nagel had not been amused when I had gone to see him and told him that Pressler had withdrawn the complaint. I knew full well he would keep it on file, in the same way as I had no intention of disposing of the man’s record of visiting prostitutes. We didn’t ever do things like that in the Stasi. Once it went down on paper, it stayed there forever. Wilhelm Pressler didn’t escape Nagel’s revenge either. I found out later that he had been demoted at work, and was now making the buckets, instead of supervising others. His Party membership had counted for nothing once he had crossed Nagel.
Inge never wavered though. If anything, the problems made her all the more determined to stay with Anna. And she never once asked for my help, but I knew I had to do something.
My position was no longer so secure. I had a determined enemy in my own organisation, and I was already forty-two years old. And my domestic situation took a downward turn when Maria was diagnosed with breast cancer. I also found out that she was fifty-eight years old. I had always known she was older, perhaps fifty, but I was rather shocked to learn her real age. She had to go into hospital and have a breast removed. I did what I could for her afterwards, but I went to see her less. Even now, I am ashamed of myself for that, but not only did the surgery make me feel uncomfortable, I was consumed with plotting to help my sister.
By the autumn, I concluded that I had little to lose. Inge had to come first.
The meeting was arranged in a cinema. The three of us entered separately, and left through a side exit not long after the film started. I stood in the alley behind, outlining my plan to them. They both agreed immediately, even Anna, who was normally so fearful. I warned them to be ready to move at a moment’s notice, and left to start work on what needed to be done.
One good thing about my job was that I knew every possible way to get out of the country, and into the West. I was actually tasked with placing agents in foreign countries, and had access to forgers, photographers, and both suspects and collaborators in the underground networks. I could look at any file, no matter how secret, and interview anyone with no questions asked.
At work that Monday, I began to set up a new network of infiltrators. Taking some from a list we already had, I added the photos of Inge and Anna from their files, and gave them both false names. They would be part of the new team to be planted in the West, and it would all appear to be completely official. Naturally, I knew that once they both disappeared, it would all come down on my head, but I was past caring as long as Inge had some sort of future.
I went to see one of the forgers on our payroll, and got him to make identity cards and new passports for the seven names I gave him. Included in that seven were Inge and Anna of course. To avoid suspicion, I set up a new file for the group, and assigned Bauer various tasks supposedly connected to it. I could keep it away from Nagel, as he had no remit for operations outside of East Germany. And I tried to put the potential repercussions out of my mind, so I was able to concentrate.
Making a simple mistake wasn’t an option.
Two weeks later, I met my sister in the park, supposedly having an innocent coffee together. I slipped her the documents, and warned her to have small suitcases ready. I would only be able to get them one hundred West German marks each, and once away, they would have to throw themselves on the mercy of their new country. I told Inge to readily claim to be a defector, and Anna too. I also told her to use the fact that her brother was a Captain in the Stasi. “They will like that, Inge. It should help you. But it will also mean some suspicion. Better to tell them straight away, rather than have them find out later”.
She was tearful, and squeezed my hand. “But Manfred, when will we ever see each other again?” I told her not to worry about that, and made her promise not to change her mind. “I have already set the wheels in motion, Inge. You cannot back out now, you know that”. She nodded, and as I walked her home, we said no more.
One good thing about my decision was that it made me feel calm, for the first time in years. I called in some suspects, and offered them a deal. if they would get my women out through their network, I would turn a blind eye to any others who escaped at the same time. I might also conveniently forget a few names I had heard. They were remarkably unimpressed, and reluctant to cooperate at first. I knew they suspected a trap, and had to make the irrevocable choice of telling them the truth. “Two of those women are my relatives. This is personal, so I can assure you that this is not a trap”. I was still not sure they believed me, but they agreed. After all, I could just as easily have thrown them in jail to rot, with no evidence of what they were up to save for being denounced by someone I had invented.
The whole thing gave me the shivers. If any of them were caught before Inge got out, I would be named, and everything would fall apart.
On a freezing cold evening close to the end of the year, some of my operatives took a van containing the seven women to the agreed place. I had arranged to be somewhere else, with some witnesses. I had invited myself to Bauer’s house, to have dinner with him and his wife. They would be able to vouch for my whereabouts the whole evening. But my heart was heavy. I had no chance to bid farewell to my beloved sister, and I knew that by tomorrow morning, she would be in a place where I would never be able to contact her again, let alone see her.
I got home before midnight, but I was unable to sleep.