East German Leader Sentenced for Border Deaths

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BERLIN: What made Egon Krenz so unlucky? East Germany's last communist leader, convicted today of manslaughter for the deaths of civilians who tried to escape his country before the fall of the Berlin Wall, got none of the breaks of his predecessor. Erich Honecker, the quintessential hardliner who ruled East Germany for 18 years, was judged too ill to stand trial, went into dignified exile in Chile, and died there in 1994. Spymaster Markus Wolf scored a similar coup, convincing a constitutional court to overturn a treason conviction and leave him free to pen a best-selling memoir. Until today's conviction, responsibility for the killings had fallen to border guards and military officials.

But even Krenz got off lightly: The 60-year-old will serve only six-and-a-half years for six counts of manslaughter that's little over a year per civilian killed, and a drop in the 900-person ocean of people killed trying to escape from East Germany. "There's very little vendetta in the air," says TIME's Bonn bureau chief, Jordan Bonfante. "Germans are not in the mood for a witch hunt. They have enough problems trying to consolidate eastern into western Germany." Krenz, it seems, was simply the one holding the ball when the Wall fell.