I read today on the Wikipedia's main page:

There were numerous deaths at the Berlin Wall, which stood as a barrier between West Berlin and East Germany from 13 August 1961 until 9 November 1989. Before erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions, many by crossing over the border from East Berlin into West Berlin, from where they could then travel to West Germany and other Western European countries. Between 1961 and 1989, the Wall prevented almost all such emigration. The state-funded Centre for Contemporary History in Potsdam has given the official figure of 136 deaths, including people attempting to escape, border guards, and innocent parties.

This makes overall impression that the number of deaths on the East-West Germany border was unusually high (note that there is even a museum dedicated to the victims).

But the number cited (136 people) looks negligible. So how this number compares to the number of deaths due to incidents and illegal crossings in other inter-state borders, such as Israel - Egypt, India - Pakistan, the USSR - China, United States - Mexico, North Africa - Europe?

  • During which time periods?
    – Luke_0
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 23:55
  • 1
    During comparable time periods.
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 23:56
  • Are you asking about the Berlin Wall or about the whole German-German border?
    – sbi
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 20:26

2 Answers 2


The India-Bangladesh border is particularly bloody. A report by Human Rights Watch documents nearly 1,000 killings by the India's Border Security Force (BSF) over the last decade alone. Undoubtedly, there would be many undocumented cases that would make the count higher. Considering that this border has been in existence since 1947, it would not be surprising if about multiple thousands of people have been killed along this border.

  • 1
    Wow. Thank you so much for this answer (and that's horrible!)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 18:00
  • @Abhhilash are they shooting their own citizens tring to leave India (to keep this in context)? Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 13:09

I don't think it is the sheer number of deaths that is the issue, but how they happened. That's just the way we think as humans.

For instance, far far more people die in car accidents than airplane accidents. Even accounting for deaths per-capita (or per-trip), car accidents are a far bigger problem. However, we put way more effort into preventing airline accidents. This is because people consider that a far more horrifying way to die.

I think the same principle can be applied to border crossing deaths. It could be that there are more sheer numerical deaths in a couple of bad years from US border crossings. However, those are almost entirely by people who went out into the desert to avoid patrols, and through some misadventure or the other, expired in the heat.

On the other hand, the East German border crossing deaths were generally people who were shot to death by human beings explicitly paid and equipped by the state to kill such people. That's appalling pretty much however you look at it.

The numbers involved are pretty much beside the point.

  • The description says the number includes not only shot at attempt to cross the border but also the military killed by those who wanted to cross. Anyway, is there information about the number of similar incidents in other borders at similar circumstances? I want to know how they compare to each other.
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 2:46
  • There aren't too many similar circumstances. The Berlin Wall divided a country and many families, and was the most strongly symbolic point of contact between the Capitalist West and the Communist Eastern Bloc. Even North/South Korea isn't similar (due to the DMZ); the various wall portions between Palestinian and Isreali settlements is physically similar, but doesn't divide two superpowers. Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 5:01
  • @SevenSidedDie do you mean it is empathized due to ideological significance alone?
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 5:05
  • I don't know what you mean by "empathised"—just that it's different in many ways. The pressure of two ideologically-driven political superpowers certainly made the need to prevent defections over the wall much more important, which doesn't have a comparable importance at any other inter-urban border in history. Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 6:49
  • 2
    What might make the comparatively low number so prominent might be 1) the border was dividing a country, a city, into two countries/cities, splitting right through families, friends, neighbors; 2) people weren't trying to get into somewhere, they were trying to get out; 3) the border cut right through one of the worlds industrial and cultural centers.
    – sbi
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 20:27

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