The fuse was lit in Pelkwitz.
Around 0400 hours on D+15, a damaged US Air Force F-16C Falcon, returning from a mission outside of Cottbus, crashed north of the tiny hamlet of Pelkwitz, just off of the Bundestrasse 102 roadway. A number of individuals on the ground heard or saw the crash. Some were farmers preparing to get out and tend to their crops by first light. Others had more official duties and were going about them when the US jet streaked across the sky trailing fire like a meteor. It was too dark to tell if the pilot managed to eject from the stricken fighter, but search parties were out and moving within minutes of impact. One was heading for the crash site and the others to scour the countryside for the pilot, or evidence pointing to his fate.
One of the groups out beating the bushes was a local detachment of KdA (Combat Groups of the Working Class) soldiers. The KdA was a combination civil reserve force and party militia. The ranks were filled with party members and politically reliable men from the working classes. Like reservists in western nations, KdA troops trained only periodically, were issued obsolete equipment and rarely given a second thought unless in the event of a national emergency. The KdA’s main role in wartime was to supplant the Volkspolizei and Ministry of the Interior, and since the start of the war that’s precisely the role KdA troops had been tasked with.
This morning, a KdA platoon made up of part-time soldiers, all rather middle-aged men who resided in the Pelkwitz area, was being led by a distasteful and somewhat sadistic Stasi officer named Otto Rausch. The sour-faced man had been in charge of all KdA units in the area since early July. Few people were partial to him, and for reasons never determined, Rausch despised most of the KdA units under his command. Particularly, the Pelkwitz platoon. For three hours, Rausch led his men through the countryside, searching high and low for signs of the F-16 pilot without success. Just before noon, the group returned to Pelkwitz with nothing to show for their efforts. Rausch was not to be denied, however.
Concluding that it was entirely probable for the enemy pilot to be laying low somewhere in the tiny hamlet, he ordered the men to conduct a thorough search of every building in Pelkwitz. The KdA men were not partial to the order, given that these were their homes and places of business to be searched. To make matters even worse, all Pelkwitz residents were to gather in the small courtyard in the center of town while the search was conducted. Reluctantly, the soldiers followed their orders and grumbled under their breath about it into the late afternoon.
The afternoon went on with Rausch’s thorough search producing nothing. The Stasi officer grew more frustrated and uneasy with every passing minute. Finally, with nothing to show for his efforts, Rausch selected six residents at random and ordered the KdA men to transport them to Luckau for questioning. As fate would have it, two of the selected residents were the wife and son of the KdA platoon’s senior NCO. He loudly protested, pointing out quite correctly that his family, as well as every other resident, had not left Pelkwitz all day. A shouting match broke out between the Stasi man and the senior KdA man. Rausch quickly grew impatient and was not about to argue further. He ordered the six residents to be placed in one of the BTR-152s and transported to Luckau. Not a single KdA soldier moved an inch. Incensed by clear insubordination, Rausch stepped into the knot of residents and grabbed a thirteen-year-old boy by the arm. He began to drag the adolescent towards the BTR, but the youngster was resisting fiercely.
Then it happened. Whether out of frustration or sheer arrogance, the officer unbuttoned his holster and removed his sidearm. A few seconds passed as Rausch aimed carefully and then pulled the trigger twice. The boy was dead before he hit the ground.
Otto Rausch’s death came under a minute later. The boy who he had so callously dispatched was the nephew of a KdA soldier who wasted no time avenging the death of his relative. He unslung his AK-47, raised the rifle, took aim and fired a three round burst directly into Rausch’s chest. Not one of his comrades attempted to disarm him, or to take him into custody. Their inaction would help bring about the first direct challenge to the East German regime since 1953.