Red Cross Reconnects Family Separated by the Cold War

Red Cross Reconnects Family Separated by the Cold War

In September 2015, the Oklahoma City chapter of the American Red Cross received a call from Linda*, asking for assistance to find her mother Anna’s missing brother in Germany. Anna fled East Germany as a young adult during the Cold War in the mid-1950s. She married an American and they settled in the United States. Anna’s last contact with her family in East Germany was in the mid-1960s by telephone when she was advised to no longer call. Anna is now experiencing early signs of dementia, and wished to find and visit with her brother Emmett before her health deteriorated further. 

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Remembering the Fall: The Berlin Wall and Reconnecting Families

Photography by Mike Farrar, Greater Long Beach and Rio Hondo Chapters, International Service and SAF Caseworker; and Tiffany Cambridge-Williams, National Headquarters, Program Assistant

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a barrier separating East and West Berlin and in many ways, a barrier that symbolized the separation of the world during the Cold War. The Wall not only divided nations and political ideologies, but also communities and families for decades. Throughout the Cold War, the International Red Cross helped maintain communication between loved ones separated by the Iron Curtain, and since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the American Red Cross continues to work with its international partners to help reconnect families.

The following photo essay is an homage to what the fall of the Berlin Wall represents for thousands of families: reconnection. In a time when conflicts and other barriers continue to cause human suffering by separating families and loved ones, it is important to remember that these constructs can be torn down, wars can be ended, and families can be restored.

While the Berlin Wall was standing, the Brandenburg Gate was completely cut off from West Berlin. It's place just behind the Wall led to it being prominently featured in media coverage of the Wall's fall. Today, the Gate represents both Europe's tumultuous past as well as European unity and peace.

Checkpoint Charlie was the name the Allied Forces gave to one of many checkpoints along the Berlin Wall. The checkpoint was named after "C" in the NATO phonetic alphabet. The checkpoint served as the single point entry into East Berlin for members of the Allied Forces and other foreigners.

Picture of real American soldier, Sergeant Jeff Harper, standing guard at Checkpoint Charlie. On the other side is a Russian soldier, name and whereabouts unknown.

Another picture of Checkpoint Charlie, present-day. The following photograph was taken at the same location on the day the Berlin Wall fell. The photo is a part of a gallery in Berlin that shows how the checkpoint was expanded and its significance during the Cold War, in particular the confrontation of Soviet and American tanks in 1961.

In the months that followed November 9, 1989, much of the Berlin Wall was demolished. The cobblestone path in the picture above marks where part of the Wall used to stand.

Some portions of the wall were given to museums around the world to commemorate its fall. Restoring Family Links Program Assistant, Tiffany Cambridge-Williams stands next to a section of the Berlin Wall outside the European Parliament building in Brussels, Belgium.

The chaos and confusion of war, disaster, and migration can separate families when they need each other most. When this happens, the Red Cross joins the search across international borders, offering a unique service that reconnects families. To learn more about this service or to initiate your search for a loved one, visit their website