The Vault

An East German Mother Passes Her Baby to Freedom Across the Berlin Wall

The Vault is Slate’s new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

Stories of families separated by the Berlin Wall abound. This image, dated August 1961, captures the very first moment of one such separation.

The original caption to this photograph, kept in the National Archives’ records of the U.S. Information Agency, explains that the father in this little family had been traveling in West Berlin when the first fences of barbed wire between West and East went up. (The wall was built in phases. The East German government began with barbed wire and sentries; over the next few weeks, they reinforced the perimeter with concrete blocks, sentry towers, and minefields.)

The mother and father met at the impromptu fence, and a guard (who may be the figure to the mother’s left) looked the other way while they discussed their situation. When they were sure that the guard wasn’t watching, the mother passed the son to his father.

The caption contains no identifying information that we could use to track this couple, so we don’t know what happened with their story—a fact that somehow makes the image all the more moving.

Do you know the identity of the family in the photograph? If you do, please email us at

Mother passes baby over the wall

Records of the U.S. Information Agency, 1900-2003, National Archives.