Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $6.79
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 69%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (23) from $6.79   
  • New (9) from $12.52   
  • Used (14) from $6.79   

Overview

In this gripping narrative, John Koehler details the widespread activities of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security, or “Stasi.” The Stasi, which infiltrated every walk of East German life, suppressed political opposition, and caused the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of citizens, proved to be one of the most powerful secret police and espionage services in the world. Koehler methodically reviews the Stasi’s activities within East Germany and overseas, including its programs for internal repression, international espionage, terrorism and terrorist training, art theft, and special operations in Latin America and Africa.Koehler was both Berlin bureau chief of the Associated Press during the height of the Cold War and a U.S. Army Intelligence officer. His insider’s account is based on primary sources, such as U.S. intelligence files, Stasi documents made available only to the author, and extensive interviews with victims of political oppression, former Stasi officers, and West German government officials. Drawing from these sources, Koehler recounts tales that rival the most outlandish Hollywood spy thriller and, at the same time, offers the definitive contribution to our understanding of this still largely unwritten aspect of the history of the Cold War and modern Germany.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813337449
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 2/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 478
  • Sales rank: 715,103
  • Product dimensions: 6.03 (w) x 9.05 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

John O. Koehler served as foreign correspondent for the Associated Press for 28 years, including stints as chief for both the Berlin and Bonn Bureaus. He also served as Assistant to the President and Director of Communications under Ronald Reagan.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Stasi

The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police


By John O. Koehler Westview Press

Copyright © 2000 John O. Koehler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780813337449



Chapter One


REVENGE VERSUS
THE RULE OF LAW


"Worse than the Gestapo." —Simon Wiesenthal, Nazi hunter


Less than a month after German demonstrators began to tear down the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, irate East German citizens stormed the Leipzig district office of the Ministry for State Security (MfS)—the Stasi, as it was more commonly called. Not a shot was fired, and there was no evidence of "street justice" as Stasi officers surrendered meekly and were peacefully led away. The following month, on January 15, hundreds of citizens sacked Stasi headquarters in Berlin. Again there was no bloodshed. The last bit of unfinished business was accomplished on May 31 when the Stasi radioed its agents in West Germany to fold their tents and come home.

    The intelligence department of the Nationale Volksarmee (NVA), the People's Army, had done the same almost a week earlier, but with what its members thought was better style. Instead of sending the five-digit code groups that it had used for decades to message its spies in West Germany, the army group broadcast a male choir singing a children's ditty about a duckswimming on a lake. There was no doubt that the singing spymasters had been drowning their sorrow over losing the Cold War in schnapps. The giggling, word-slurring songsters repeated the refrain three times: "Dunk your little head in the water and lift your little tail." This was the signal to agents under deep cover that it was time to come home.

    With extraordinary speed and political resolve, the divided nation was reunified a year later. The collapse of the despotic regime was total. It was a euphoric time for Germans, but reunification also produced a new national dilemma. Nazi war crimes were still being tried in West Germany, forty-six years after World War II. Suddenly the German government was faced with demands that the communist officials who had ordered, executed, and abetted crimes against their own people—crimes that were as brutal as those perpetrated by their Nazi predecessors—also be prosecuted.

    The people of the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), the German Democratic Republic, as the state had called itself for forty years, were clamoring for instant revenge. Their wrath was directed primarily against the country's communist rulers—the upper echelon of the Sozialistische Einheitspartei (SED), the Socialist Unity Party. The tens of thousands of second-echelon party functionaries who had enriched themselves at the expense of their cocitizens were also prime targets for retribution.

    Particularly singled out were the former members of the Stasi, the East German secret police, who previously had considered themselves the "shield and sword" of the party. When the regime collapsed, the Stasi had 102,000 full-time officers and noncommissioned personnel on its rolls, including 11,000 members of the ministry's own special guards regiment. Between 1950 and 1989, a total of 274,000 persons served in the Stasi.

    The people's ire was running equally strong against the regular Stasi informers, the inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (IMs). By 1995, 174,000 had been identified as IMs, or 2.5 percent of the total population between the ages of 18 and 60. Researchers were aghast when they found that about 10,000 IMs, or roughly 6 percent of the total, had not yet reached the age of 18. Since many records were destroyed, the exact number of IMs probably will never be determined; but 500,000 was cited as a realistic figure. Former Colonel Rainer Wiegand, who served in the Stasi counterintelligence directorate, estimated that the figure could go as high as 2 million, if occasional stool pigeons were included.

    "The Stasi was much, much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people," according to Simon Wiesenthal of Vienna, Austria, who has been hunting Nazi criminals for half a century. "The Gestapo had 40,000 officials watching a country of 80 million, while the Stasi employed 102,000 to control only 17 million." One might add that the Nazi terror lasted only twelve years, whereas the Stasi had four decades in which to perfect its machinery of oppression, espionage, and international terrorism and subversion.

    To ensure that the people would become and remain submissive, East German communist leaders saturated their realm with more spies than had any other totalitarian government in recent history. The Soviet Union's KGB employed about 480,000 full-time agents to oversee a nation of 280 million, which means there was one agent per 5,830 citizens. Using Wiesenthal's figures for the Nazi Gestapo, there was one officer for 2,000 people. The ratio for the Stasi was one secret policeman per 166 East Germans. When the regular informers are added, these ratios become much higher: In the Stasi's case, there would have been at least one spy watching every 66 citizens! When one adds in the estimated numbers of part-time snoops, the result is nothing short of monstrous: one informer per 6.5 citizens. It would not have been unreasonable to assume that at least one Stasi informer was present in any party of ten or twelve dinner guests.


THE STASI OCTOPUS


Like a giant octopus, the Stasi's tentacles probed every aspect of life. Full-time officers were posted to all major industrial plants. Without exception, one tenant in every apartment building was designated as a watchdog reporting to an area representative of the Volkspolizei (Vopo), the People's Police. In turn, the police officer was the Stasi's man. If a relative or friend came to stay overnight, it was reported. Schools, universities, and hospitals were infiltrated from top to bottom. German academe was shocked to learn that Heinrich Fink, professor of theology and vice chancellor at East Berlin's Humboldt University, had been a Stasi informer since 1968. After Fink's Stasi connections came to light, he was summarily fired. Doctors, lawyers, journalists, writers, actors, and sports figures were co-opted by Stasi officers, as were waiters and hotel personnel. Tapping about 100,000 telephone lines in West Germany and West Berlin around the clock was the job of 2,000 officers.

    Stasi officers knew no limits and had no shame when it came to "protecting the party and the state." Churchmen, including high officials of both Protestant and Catholic denominations, were recruited en masse as secret informers. Their offices and confessionals were infested with eavesdropping devices. Even the director of Leipzig's famous Thomas Church choir, Hans-Joachim Rotch, was forced to resign when he was unmasked as a Spitzel, the people's pejorative for a Stasi informant.

    Absolutely nothing was sacred to the secret police. Tiny holes were bored in apartment and hotel room walls through which Stasi agents filmed their "suspects" with special video cameras. Even bathrooms were penetrated by the communist voyeurs.8 Like the Nazi Gestapo, the Stasi was the sinister side of deutsche Gründlichkeit (German thoroughness).

    After the Berlin wall came down, the victims of the DDR regime demanded immediate retribution. Ironically, their demands were countered by their fellow Germans in the West who, living in freedom, had diligently built einen demokratischen Rechtsstaat, a democratic state governed by the rule of law. The challenge of protecting the rights of both the victims and the accused was immense, given the emotions surrounding the issue. Government leaders and democratic politicians recognized that there could be no "quick fix" of communist injustices without jeopardizing the entire system of democratic jurisprudence. Moving too rapidly merely to satisfy the popular thirst for revenge might well have resulted in acquittals or mistrials. Intricate jurisdictional questions needed to be resolved with both alacrity and meticulousness. No German government could afford to allow a perpetrator to go free because of a judicial error. The political fallout from any such occurrence, especially in the East, could prove fatal to whatever political party occupied the chancellor's office in Bonn at the time.

    Politicians and legal scholars of the "old federal states," or West Germany, counseled patience, pointing out that even the prosecution of Nazi criminals had not yet been completed. Before unification, Germans would speak of Vergangenheitsbewältigung ("coming to grips with the past") when they discussed dealing with Nazi crimes. In the reunited Germany, this word came to imply the communist past as well. The two were considered comparable especially in the area of human rights violations. Dealing with major Nazi crimes, however, was far less complicated for the Germans: Adolf Hitler and his Gestapo and Schutzstaffel (SS) chief, Heinrich Himmler, killed themselves, as did Luftwaffe chief and Vice Chancellor Hermann Göring, who also had been the first chief of the Gestapo. The victorious Allies prosecuted the rest of the top leadership at the International War Crimes Tribunal in Nürnberg. Twelve were hanged, three received life terms, four were sentenced to lesser terms of imprisonment (up to twenty years), and three were acquitted.

    The cases of communist judges and prosecutors accused of Rechtsbeugung (perversion of justice) are more problematic. According to Franco Werkenthin, a Berlin legal expert charged with analyzing communist crimes for the German parliament, those sitting in judgment of many of the accused face a difficult task because of the general failure of German justice after World War II. Not a single judge or prosecutor who served the Nazi regime was brought to account for having perverted justice—even those who had handed down death sentences for infringements that in a democracy would have been considered relatively minor offenses. Werkenthin called this phenomenon die Jauche der Justiz, the cesspool of justice.

    Of course, the crimes committed by the communists were not nearly as heinous as the Nazis' extermination of the Jews, or the mass murders in Nazi-occupied territories. However, the communists' brutal oppression of the nation by means including murder alongside legal execution put the SED leadership on a par with Hitler's gang. In that sense, Walter Ulbricht or Erich Honecker (Ulbricht's successor as the party's secretary-general and head of state) and secret police chief Erich Mielke can justifiably be compared to Hitler and Himmler, respectively.

    Arrest warrants were issued for Honecker and Mielke. The Soviet government engineered Honecker's escape to Moscow, where he became the ward of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. When the Soviet Union crumbled, the new Russian President Boris Yeltsin expelled Honecker. He was arrested on his return to Germany, but a court decided against a trial when he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Honecker flew to Chile with his wife Margot to live with their daughter, a Chilean citizen by marriage. His exile was short, and he died in 1994. Mielke was not so fortunate: His KGB friends turned their backs on him. He was tried in Germany for the 1931 murder of two police officers, found guilty, and sentenced to six years in prison. Other charges, including manslaughter, were dismissed because of his advanced age and poor health.

    Three other members of the twenty-one-member ruling Politburo also have been tried. Former Defense Minister Heinz Kessler was convicted of manslaughter in connection with the order to kill people who were trying to escape to the West. He received a seven-and-a-half-year term. Two others, members of the Central Committee and the National Defense Council, were tried with Kessler and sentenced to seven and a half years and five years, respectively. Politburo member Harry Tisch, who was also head of the communist trade union, was found guilty of embezzlement and served eighteen months. Six others, including Egon Krenz (Honecker's successor as party chief), were charged with manslaughter. Krenz was found guilty, and on August 25, 1997, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.

    However, eight years after reunification, many of the 165 members of the Central Committee have not yet been put under investigation. In 1945, Nazis holding comparable or lesser positions were subject to automatic arrest by the Allies. They spent months or even years in camps while their cases were adjudicated. Moreover, the Nürnberg Tribunal branded the Reich and its Corps of Political Leaders, SS, Security Service (SD), Secret State Police (Gestapo), SA (Storm Troopers), and Armed Forces High Command criminal organizations. Similarly sweeping actions against communist leaders and functionaries such as Stasi officers were never contemplated, even though tens of thousands of political trials and human rights abuses have been documented. After the East German regime fell, German judicial authorities scrupulously avoided the appearance of waging witch-hunts or using the law as a weapon of vengeance. Prosecutors and judges made great efforts to be fair, often suspending legal action while requesting rulings from the supreme court on possible constitutional conflicts.

    The victims of oppression clamored for revenge and demanded speedy prosecution of the erstwhile tyrants. They had little patience for a judicial system that was handicapped by a lack of unblemished and experienced criminal investigators, prosecutors, and judges. Despite these handicaps, the Berlin Central Police Investigations Group for Government Criminality, mindful that the statute of limitations for most communist crimes would expire at the end of 1999, made significant progress under its director Manfred Kittlaus, the able former director of the West Berlin state police. Kittlaus's major task in 1998 was to investigate wrongful deaths, including 73 murders, 30 attempted murders, 583 cases of manslaughter, 2,938 instances of attempted manslaughter, and 425 other suspicious deaths. Of the 73 murders, 22 were classified as contract murders.

    One of those tried and convicted for attempted contract murder was former Stasi collaborator Peter Haak, who was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. The fifty-two-year-old Haak took part in the Stasi's 1981 Operation Scorpion, which was designed to pursue people who helped East Germans escape to the West. Proceedings against former General Gerhard Neiber, whose Stasi directorate was responsible for preventing escapes and for wreaking vengeance, were still pending in 1998.

    Peter Haak's murder plot was hatched after he befriended Wolfgang Welsch and his family. Welsch was a thorn in the side of the Stasi because of his success in smuggling people out of the DDR. Haak joined Welsch and the latter's wife and seven-year-old daughter on a vacation in Israel, where he mixed a gram of thallium, a highly poisonous metallic chemical element used in rat poison, into the hamburgers he was preparing for a meal. Welsch's wife and daughter vomited immediately after ingesting the poison and recovered quickly. Welsch suffered severe aftereffects, but eventually recovered: He had consumed a large amount of beer with the meal, and an expert testified that the alcohol had probably flushed the poison from his system.

    Berlin Prosecutor General Christoph Schäfgen revealed that after the DDR's demise 15,200 investigations had been launched, of which more than 9,000 were still active at the beginning of 1995. Indictments were handed down in 153 cases, and 73 perpetrators were convicted. Among those convicted were the aforementioned Politburo members as well as a number of border guards who had killed people who were trying to escape to the West.

    Despite widespread misgivings about the judicial failures in connection with some Nazi crimes, a number of judges and prosecutors were convicted and jailed for up to three years for perversion of justice. In collusion with the Stasi, they had requested or handed down more severe sentences in political cases so that the state could collect greater amounts when the "convicts" were ransomed by the West German government. {The amount of ransom paid was governed by the time a prisoner had been sentenced to serve.)

    The enormity of the task facing judicial authorities in reunified Germany becomes starkly evident when one examines the actions they have taken in all five former East German provinces and in East Berlin. From the end of 1990 to July 1996, 52,050 probes were launched into charges of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, election fraud, and perversion of justice. A total of 29,557 investigations were halted for various reasons including death, severe illness, old age, or insufficient evidence. In those five and a half years, there were only 139 convictions.

    The problem is even more staggering when cases of espionage are included. Between 1990 and 1996, the office of the federal prosecutor general launched 6,641 probes, of which 2,431 were terminated before trial—most due to the statute of limitations. Of 175 indictments on charges of espionage, 95 resulted in convictions. In addition to the cases handled at the federal level, the prosecutor general referred 3,926 investigations to state authorities, who terminated 3,344 without trial. State courts conducted 356 trials, resulting in 248 convictions. Because the statute of limitations for espionage is five years, the prosecutor general's office told me in 1997 it was unlikely that more espionage trials would be conducted.

    It is important to emphasize the difference between the statute's application to so-called government crimes committed in East Germany before the collapse and to crimes, such as espionage, committed in West Germany. The Unification Treaty specifically permits the belated prosecution of individuals who committed acts that were punishable under the East German criminal code and who due to official connivance were not prosecuted earlier. There is no statute of limitations for murder. For most other crimes the limit is five years; however, due to the obstacles created by previous government connivance, the German parliament in 1993 doubled this time limit for prosecution of the more serious crimes. At the same time, the parliament decreed that all cases must be adjudicated by the end of 2002. For less serious offenses, the statute would have run out on December 31, 1997, but the parliament extended it to 2000.

    A number of politicians, jurists, and liberal journalists pleaded for a general amnesty for crimes committed by former DDR leaders and Communist Party functionaries. A former West German supreme court judge, Ernst Mahrenholz, said the "sharp sword of justice prevents reconciliation." Schäfgen, the Berlin prosecutor general, had this answer for the former high court judge and other amnesty advocates:


I cannot agree. We are raising no special, sharp sword against East Germans. We must pursue state-sponsored injustice in exactly the same manner as we do when a thief steals or when one human being kills another. If one wants to change that, then we would have to do away with the entire criminal justice system, because punishment always hurts. We are not criminalizing an entire people but only an ever shrinking, small portion.


    German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, who was West Germany's minister of justice when the nation was unified, said this at a session of parliament in September 1991: "We must punish the perpetrators. This is not a matter of a victor's justice. We owe it to the ideal of justice and to the victims. All of those who ordered injustices and those who executed the orders must be punished; the top men of the SED as well as the ones who shot [people] at the wall." Aware that the feelings against communists were running high among their victims, Kinkel pointed to past revolutions after which the representatives of the old system were collectively liquidated. In the same speech before parliament, he said:


Such methods are alien to a state ruled by law. Violence and vengeance are incompatible with the law in any case. At the same time, we cannot tolerate that the problems are swept under the rug as a way of dealing with a horrible past, because the results will later be disastrous for society. We Germans know from our own experience where this leads. Jewish philosophy formulates it in this way: "The secret of redemption is called remembering."


    Defense attorneys for communist officials have maintained that the difficulty lies in the fact that hundreds of thousands of political opponents were tried under laws of the DDR. Although these laws were designed to smother political dissent and grossly violated basic human rights and democratic norms, they were nonetheless laws promulgated by a sovereign state. How could one justly try individual Stasi officers, prosecutors, and judges who had simply been fulfilling their legal responsibility to pursue and punish violators of the law?

    Opinions varied widely on whether and how the Stasi and other perpetrators of state-sponsored crimes should be tried. Did the laws of the DDR, as they existed before reunification, still apply in the east? Or was the criminal code of the western part of the country the proper instrument of justice in reunified Germany? However, these questions were moot: As Rupert Scholz, professor of law at the University of Munich and a Christian Democratic member of parliament, pointed out, the Unification Treaty specifies that the penal code of the DDR and not that of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) shall be applied to offenses committed in East Germany. Scholz's view was upheld by the Bundesverfassungsgericht, the supreme court. Most offenses committed by party functionaries and Stasi officers—murder, kidnapping, torture, illegal wiretapping, mail robbery, and fraud—were subject to prosecution in reunified Germany under the DDR's penal code. But this would not satisfy the tens of thousands of citizens who had been sent to prison under East German laws covering purely political offenses for which there was no West German equivalent.

    Nevertheless, said Scholz, judicial authorities were by no means hamstrung, because West Germany had never recognized the East German state according to international law. "We have always said that we are one nation; that the division of Germany led neither to full recognition under international law nor, concomitantly, to a recognition of the legal system of the DDR," Scholz said. Accordingly, West German courts have consistently maintained that West German law protects all Germans equally, including those living in the East. Therefore, no matter where the crimes were committed, whether in the East or the West, all Germans have always been subject to West German laws. Applying this logic, East German border guards who had either killed or wounded persons trying to escape to the West could be tried under the jurisdiction of West Germany.

    The "one nation" principle was not upheld by the German supreme court. Prior to the court's decision, however, Colonel General Markus Wolf, chief of the Stasi's foreign espionage directorate, and some of his officers who personally controlled agents from East Berlin had been tried for treason and convicted. Wolf had been sentenced to six years in prison. The supreme court ruling overturned that verdict and those imposed on Wolf's cohorts, even though they had obtained the most closely held West German secrets and handed them over to the KGB. The maximum penalty for Landesverrat, or treason, is life imprisonment. In vacating Wolf's sentence, the court said he could not be convicted because he operated only from East German territory and under East German law.

    However, Wolf was reindicted on charges of kidnapping and causing bodily harm, crimes also punishable under East German law. The former Stasi three-star general, on March 24, 1955, had approved in writing a plan to kidnap a woman who worked for the U.S. mission in West Berlin. The woman and her mother were tricked by a Stasi agent whom the woman had been teaching English, and voluntarily got into his car. He drove them into the Soviet sector of the divided city, where they were seized by Stasi officers. The woman was subjected to psychological torture and threatened with imprisonment unless she signed an agreement to spy for the Stasi. She agreed. On her return to the American sector, however, the woman reported the incident to security officials. Wolf had committed a felony punishable by up to fifteen years' imprisonment in West Germany. He was found guilty in March 1977 and sentenced to two years' probation.

    Those who have challenged the application of the statute of limitations to communist crimes, especially to the executions of citizens fleeing to the West, have drawn parallels to the notorious executive orders of Adolf Hitler. Hitler issued orders mandating the summary execution of Soviet Army political commissars upon their capture and initiating the extermination of Jews. An early postwar judicial decision held that these orders were equivalent to law. When that law was declared illegal and retroactively repealed by the West German Bundestag, the statute of limitations was suspended—that is, it never took effect. Many of those convicted in subsequent trials of carrying out the Führer's orders were executed by the Allies. The German supreme court has ruled the same way as the Bundestag on the order to shoot people trying to escape to West Germany, making the statute of limitations inapplicable to such cases. The ruling made possible the trial of members of the National Defense Council who took part in formulating or promulgating the order. A number of border guards who had shot would-be escapees also have been tried and convicted.

    Chief Prosecutor Heiner Sauer, former head of the West German Central Registration Office for Political Crimes, was particularly concerned with the border shootings. His office, located in Salzgitter, West Germany, was established in 1961 as a direct consequence of the Berlin Wall, which was erected on August 13 of that year. Willy Brandt, at the time the city's mayor (later federal chancellor) had decided that crimes committed by East German border guards should be recorded. At his behest, a central registry of all shootings and other serious border incidents was instituted. Between August 13, 1961 and the opening of the borders on November 9, 1989, 186 border killings were registered. But when the Stasi archives were opened, investigators found that at least 825 people had paid with their lives for trying to escape to the West. This figure was reported to the court that was trying former members of the National Defense Council. In addition to these border incidents, the registry also had recorded a number of similar political offenses committed in the interior of the DDR: By fall 1991, Sauer's office had registered 4,444 cases of actual or attempted killings and about 40,000 sentences handed down by DDR courts for "political offenses."

    During the early years of Sauer's operation, the details of political prosecutions became known only when victims were ransomed by West Germany or were expelled. Between 1963 and 1989, West Germany paid DM5 billion (nearly US$3 billion) to the communist regime for the release of 34,000 political prisoners. The price per head varied according to the importance of the person or the length of the sentence. In some cases the ransom amounted to more than US$56,000. The highest sum ever paid to the East Germans appears to have been DM450,000 (US$264,705 using an exchange rate of US$1.70 to the mark). The ransom "object" in this case was Count Benedikt von Hoensbroech. A student in his early twenties, von Hoensbroech was attending a West Berlin university when the wall went up. He was caught by the Stasi while trying to help people escape and was sentenced to ten years at hard labor. The case attracted international attention because his family was related to Queen Fabiola of Belgium, who interceded with the East Germans. Smelling money, the East German government first demanded the equivalent of more than US$1 million from the young man's father as ransom. In the end, the parties settled on the figure of DM450,000, of which the West German government paid DM40,000 (about $23,529). Such ransom operations were fully controlled by the Stasi.

    Political prisoners released in the DDR could not be registered by the West Germans because their cases remained secret. The victims were admonished to keep quiet or face another prison term. Nonetheless, in the first year after reunification, Sauer's office added another 20,000 documented cases, for a total of 60,000. Sauer said he believed the final figure of all political prosecutions would be somewhere around 300,000. In every case, the Stasi was involved either in the initial arrest or in pretrial interrogations during which "confessions" were usually extracted by physical or psychological torture, particularly between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s.

    Until 1987, the DDR imposed the death penalty for a number of capital crimes, including murder, espionage, and economic offenses. But after the mid-1950s, nearly all death sentences were kept quiet and executions were carried out in the strictest secrecy, initially by guillotine and in later years by a single pistol shot to the neck. In most instances, the relatives of those killed were not informed either of the sentence or of the execution. The corpses were cremated and the ashes buried secretly, sometimes at construction sites. In reporting about one executioner who shot more than twenty persons to death, the Berlin newspaper Bildzeitung said that a total of 170 civilians had been executed in East Germany. However, Franco Werkenthin, the Berlin official investigating DDR crimes, said he had documented at least three hundred executions. He declined to say how many were for political offenses, because he had not yet submitted his report to parliament. "But it was substantial," he told me. The true number of executions may never be known because no complete record of death sentences meted out by civil courts could be found. Other death sentences were handed down by military courts, and many records of those are also missing. In addition, German historian Günther Buch believes that about two hundred members of the Stasi itself were executed for various crimes, including attempts to escape to the West.


SAFEGUARDING HUMAN DIGNITY?


The preamble to the East German criminal code stated that the purpose of the code was to "safeguard the dignity of humankind, its freedom and rights under the aegis of the criminal code of the socialist state," and that "a person can be prosecuted under the criminal code only in strictest concurrence with the law." However, many of the codified offenses for which East German citizens were prosecuted and imprisoned were unique to totalitarian regimes, both fascist and communist.

    Moreover, certain sections of the code, such as those on "Treasonable Relaying of Information" and "Treasonable Agent Activity," were perversely applied, landing countless East Germans in maximum security penitentiaries. The victims of this perversion of justice usually were persons who had requested legal exit permits from the DDR authorities and had been turned down. In many cases, their "crime" was having contacted a Western consulate to inquire about immigration procedures. Sentences of up to two and a half years' hard labor were not unusual as punishment for such inquiries.

    Engaging in "propaganda hostile to the state" was another punishable offense. In one such case, a young man was arrested and prosecuted for saying that it was not necessary to station tanks at the border and for referring to border fortifications as "nonsense." During his trial, he "admitted" to owning a television set on which he watched West German programs and later told friends what he saw. One of those "friends" had denounced him to the Stasi. The judge considered the accused's actions especially egregious and sentenced him to a year and a half at hard labor.

    Ironically, another part of this section of the criminal code decreed that "glorifying militarism" also was a punishable offense, although the DDR itself "glorified" its People's Army beyond any Western norm. That army was clad in uniforms and insignia identical to those of the Nazi Wehrmacht, albeit without eagles and swastikas. The helmets, too, were differently shaped, but the Prussian goose step was regulation during parades.

    A nineteen-year-old who had placed a sign in an apartment window reading "When justice is turned into injustice, resistance becomes an obligation!" was rewarded with twenty-two months in the penitentiary. Earlier, the youth had applied for an exit visa and had been turned down. A thirty-four-year-old father of two who also had been denied permission to leave the "workers' and peasants' state" with his family similarly advertised that fact with a poster reading "We want to leave, but they won't let us." The man went to prison for sixteen months. The "crimes" of both men were covered by a law on "Interference in Activities of the State or Society."

    Two letters—one to a friend in West Germany, seeking assistance to legally emigrate to the West, and another containing a similar appeal to Chief of State Honecker—brought a four-year sentence to their writer, who was convicted under two laws: those on "establishing illegal contacts" (writing to his friend) and on "public denigration" (writing to Honecker). The Stasi had illegally intercepted both letters.

    The East German party chiefs were not content to rely only on the Stasi's millions of informers to ferret out antistate sentiments. Leaving nothing to chance, they created a law that made the failure to denounce fellow citizens a crime punishable by up to five years' imprisonment. One man was sentenced to twenty-three months for failing to report that a friend of his was preparing to escape to the West. The mandatory denunciation law had its roots in the statutes of the Socialist Unity Party, which were published in the form of a little red booklet. I picked up a copy of this booklet that had been discarded by its previous owner, a Stasi chauffeur, who had written "Ha, Ha" next to the mandate to "report any misdeeds, regardless of the person responsible, to leading party organs, all the way up to the Central Committee."

    Rupert Scholz, member of parliament and professor of law at the University of Munich, said many East Germans feel there is little determination among their Western brethren to bring the Stasi criminals to trial. "In fact, we already have heard many of them say that the peaceful revolution should have been a bloody one instead so they could have done away with their tormentors by hanging them posthaste," Scholz told me.

    The Reverend Joachim Gauck, minister to a Lutheran parish in East Germany, shared the people's pessimism that justice would be done. Following reunification, Gauck was appointed by the Bonn government as its special representative for safeguarding and maintaining the Stasi archives. "We must at least establish a legal basis for finding the culprits in our files," Gauck told me. "But it will not be easy. If you stood the millions of files upright in one line, they would stretch for 202 kilometers [about 121 miles]. In those files you can find an unbelievable number of Stasi victims and their tormentors."

    Gauck was given the mandate he needed in November 1991, when the German parliament passed a law authorizing file searches to uncover Stasi perpetrators and their informants. He viewed this legislation as first step in the right direction. With the evidence from Stasi files, the perpetrators could be removed from their public service jobs without any formal legal proceedings. Said Gauck: "We needed this law badly. It is not reasonable that persons who served this apparatus of oppression remain in positions of trust. We need to win our people over to accepting that they are now free and governed by the rule of law. To achieve that, we must build up their confidence and trust in the public service."

    Searching the roughly six million files will take years. A significant number of the dossiers are located in repositories of the Stasi regional offices, sprinkled throughout eastern Germany. To put the files at the Berlin central repository in archival order would take one person 128 years. The job might have been made easier had the last DDR government not ordered the burning of thousands of Stasi computer tapes, ostensibly to forestall a witch-hunt. Thousands of files dealing with espionage were shredded and packed into 17,200 paper sacks. These were discovered when the Stasi headquarters was stormed on January 15, 1990. The contents of all of these bags now have been inspected. It took two workers between six and eight weeks to go through one bag. Then began the work of the puzzlers, putting the shredded pieces together. By the middle of 1997, fewer than 500 bags of shredded papers had been reconstructed—into about 200,000 pages. Further complicating matters was the lack of trained archivists and experts capable of organizing these files—to say nothing of the 37.5 million index cards bearing the names of informers as well as persons under Stasi surveillance—and interpreting their contents. Initially, funding for a staff of about 550 individuals was planned, at a total of about DM24.5 million annually (about US$15 million using an exchange rate of US$1.60). By 1997, the budget had grown to US$137 million and the staff to 3,100.

    Stasi victims and citizens who had been under surveillance were allowed to examine their Stasi files. Within four years of reunification, about 860,000 persons had asked to inspect their case files, with 17,626 of those requests being received in December 1994 alone. By 1997, 3.4 million people had asked to see their files. Countless civil suits were launched when victims found the names of those who had denounced and betrayed them, and many family relationships and friendships were destroyed.

    The rehabilitation of Stasi victims and financial restitution to them was well under way; but Gauck believed that criminal prosecution of the perpetrators would continue to be extremely difficult. "We can already see that leading SED functionaries who bear responsibility for the inhumane policies, for which they should be tried, are instead accused of lesser offenses such as corruption. It is actually an insult to democracy that a man like Harry Tisch is tried for embezzlement and not for being a member of the Politburo, where the criminal policies originated."

    The "Stasi files law," as it is popularly known, also made it possible to vet parliamentarians for Stasi connections. Hundreds were fired or resigned—and a few committed suicide—when it was discovered that they had been Stasi informants. Among those who resigned was Lothar de Maiziere, the last premier of the DDR, who signed the unification agreement with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He was a member of the East German version of the Christian Democratic Union, which like all noncommunist parties in the Eastern bloc had been totally co-opted by the regime. After reunification, he moved into parliament and was awarded the vice chairmanship of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union. A lawyer, De Maiziere had functioned for years as an IM, an informer, under the cover name Cerny. De Maiziere at first denied he was Cerny, but the evidence was overwhelming. It was De Maiziere's government that had ordered the destruction of the Stasi computer tapes.


THE COMMUNISTS' POLITICAL SURVIVAL


De Maiziere, who had been a driving force behind prompt reunification, soon passed into oblivion; but twenty members of the old Communist Party, the SED, are still members of parliament. The SED changed its name in late 1989, when the DDR was collapsing, to the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). Its new leadership arrogantly dismissed their bloody past as irrelevant now that the word democratic had been adopted as part of their party's name. If the elections of summer 1990 had taken place just a few months later and thus had been conducted under the law of reunified Germany, these individuals would not have won parliamentary seats. The West German electoral rules governing the proportional representation system require that a party garner at least 5 percent of the vote before it may enter parliament. In addition to choosing a party, voters cast a second ballot for a specific person. This is called a direct mandate. If any party falls below 5 percent but gets at least three direct mandates, that party is seated in parliament. As a one-time compromise in consideration of East Germany's smaller population, the Bonn government accepted a 3-percent margin of party votes. Even so, the PDS barely made it into parliament.

    In the 1994 general election, the first after reunification, the party polled 4.4 percent. Had it not been for the votes electing four persons by direct mandate, the PDS would have been excluded. The direct mandates all came from East Berlin districts heavily populated by unemployed, former Communist Party and government officials. One of the men elected directly was Gregor Gysi, a communist lawyer who had been accused of informing on his clients to the Stasi. Gysi denied the allegations and had obtained a temporary injunction barring a former East German dissident from making the assertion. However, a Hamburg court lifted the injunction in December 1994 on the basis of Stasi documents that indicated Gysi had no case.

    Another candidate directly elected to parliament was Stefan Heym, a German-born writer who had emigrated to the United States after Hitler came to power, had changed his name from Helmut Flieg, and had become a U.S. citizen. He served in the U.S. Army as an officer during World War II, but switched sides in 1952 to live in East Germany, forfeiting his U.S. citizenship in order to become an East German citizen and a member of the Communist Party. A year later, on June 17, 1953, the East German people rose up in a revolt that was crushed by the Red Army. Had it not been for the intervention of the Soviets, Heym wrote afterward in the communist daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung, "the American bombing would have already begun. The shots against the rebels were fired to prevent war, rather than to begin one." And when Stalin died, just four months earlier, Heym used the same newspaper to mourn the butcher of an estimated twenty million people as the "most loved man of our times." Finally, in a speech on January 31, 1995, at a demonstration marking the 62nd anniversary of the Nazi takeover, the unrepentant Heym, now eighty-two years old, had the gall to say that the present climate in Germany was "very similar to that in 1933, and this frightens me." It was a grotesque spectacle when Heym was accorded the "honor" of delivering the opening address of the 1965 parliamentary session traditionally reserved for the body's oldest member. Despite vehement protests, parliamentary president Rita Süssmuth ruled to uphold the tradition.

    One of the PDS members also retaining his seat was Hans Modrow. Modrow, a veteran communist, was SED district secretary in Dresden. It was a most powerful communal political position. Modrow was a vital cog in the apparatus of state repression. The local Stasi chief, Major General Horst Böhm, reported directly to him. Modrow was the one who ordered the Vopo, the People's Police, to resort to violence in putting down massive protests during the turbulent days in fall 1989, just before the Berlin Wall fell. Hundreds of protesters were severely beaten and jailed. Böhm, the Dresden Stasi boss, was found shot dead in his office in early 1990, just before he was to appear before a commission that had been convened to settle the future of the communist state. His death was listed as a suicide. However, an unsubstantiated rumor has it that he was murdered to prevent him from testifying about Modrow's despotic rule. Modrow was found guilty of election fraud in May 1993. The DDR hierarchy, according to the evidence, had ordered that the number of votes opposing the official slate in the 1989 election had to be fewer than in 1985. Modrow reported that only 2.5 percent of the ballots in his district were cast in opposition; but the true number was at least four times higher. The judge issued him a mere rebuke, refusing to imprison or fine him. The federal high court, which reviews sentences, ordered in November 1994 that Modrow stand trial again because the sentence "was too mild." After a new trial in 1996 on charges of perjury, Modrow was sentenced to six months' probation. A year later, parliament was still considering whether he should be deprived of his seat.

    Unlike the Nazi Party's finances and property, which were confiscated by the victorious Allies and turned over to the first West German government in 1949, the SED's millions were inherited by the PDS, which spirited part of those funds out of the country when the East German government collapsed. The PDS also became custodian of the archives of the SED and refused anyone outside the party access to them. Shortly after reunification, in 1990, the courts ruled that the archives were state property. Judicial authorities as well as scholars were permitted to research them. Nevertheless, the SED archives were almost lost. In 1994, the German news magazine Focus discovered a letter dated March 1991, sent by Gregor Gysi in the capacity of PDS party chief to Vladimir A. Ivashko, assistant secretary-general of the Soviet Union's Communist Party. In this letter, Gysi pleaded with Soviet leaders either to put pressure on German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to return the archive to the PDS, or if Kohl felt this was politically impossible, to destroy it. The opening of the archive, Gysi wrote, was a "genuine catastrophe," because it contained many secret documents. Publication of the documents would have "extremely unpleasant results not only for the PDS but for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as well," Gysi wrote. But his Soviet friends were no longer able to help him. The archive holds documents on Politburo decisions and directives that might prove crucial in prosecuting the former East German party hierarchy. In the end, the PDS offered to settle for 20 percent of the SED's ill-gotten funds, forfeiting the rest as a gesture of goodwill toward the new state.

    Not all observers were impressed by this compromise. Peter Gauweiler, Bavaria's minister for development and ecological affairs at the time of reunification, and a member of the Christian Democratic Party, demanded that the PDS and the Deutsche Kommunistische Partei (DKP, the West German Communist Party), be outlawed: "Every month we learn of new crimes committed by the SED—terrible things, gruesome things," Gauweiler said. "We cannot tolerate a successor organization to such an extremely criminal gang." It was not the party's politics that Gauweiler questioned:


There will always be a party to the left of our Social Democratic Party. That is not the point. The transformation of the SED into the PDS was equivalent to the Nazi NSDAP's (National Socialist German Workers' Party's) changing its name in 1945 to the SAP, or Socialist Workers' Party. Then, after changing their spots, they said the Nazi ideology was okay but its application was abominable. "Now we begin anew, and because we want to be dear and loving toward one another, we demand only 2.0 percent of Nazi property." In other words, it would be like the converted Nazis saying they wanted only 2.0 percent of Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Anyone even considering such a move would have been locked up in an insane asylum for life.


Gauweiler accused the DKP of acting as a "fifth column." Stasi documents proved that DKP members had been trained in East Germany on weapons, explosives, and guerrilla tactics so that they could perform terrorist acts in West Germany in the event of war. "This West German sister of the SED was a treasonable organization from its inception," Gauweiler told me.

    At the same time as he demanded that both parties be outlawed, Gauweiler called for using PDS and DKP funds to cover the cost of financial restitution to the victims of communist oppression. Although Gauweiler's proposals have been ignored by the German leadership, it is worthwhile to consider his arguments:


Our people would be justified to declare us insane if this were paid out of public funds. Our people were not the ones who harmed those who were persecuted for their political beliefs. If we don't make the communists pay, it could lead to new schisms. Make them pay, and then forget about going after every little fellow traveler. We want to be one nation again, we want to advance. Our future is called Germany and Europe. In any case, there is enough guilt to go around. The entire West is guilty. Our inaction disheartened the people of East Germany.


    What Gauweiler meant by his last remark was that East Germans who were not communists or communist sympathizers had been driven into apathy and inaction by a series of traumatic events. The first was the 1953 uprising, when thousands of East Germans were imprisoned and many were shot. The Soviet Army smashed the insurrection, and the Western powers limited themselves to verbal protests. In 1956, the Germans witnessed the Soviet invasion of Hungary while the West stood idly by. The promise made by U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that the United States would "help those who help themselves" turned out to be empty as far as the "captive nations" were concerned. The Hungarians' anguished cries for help, broadcast over Budapest radio, went unheeded. In 1961, tens of thousands of East Germans began to vote against communism with their feet; the Berlin Wall was built to stop their mass exodus. President John F. Kennedy, cowed by Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev at a summit in Vienna two months earlier, agonized for three days before telling the U.S. forces in Berlin to do nothing. Seven years later, the "Prague Spring" was turned into another ice age by a massive invasion of the Soviet Army and the forces of its Warsaw Pact allies, including the People's Army of the DDR. Although military intervention by NATO might have led to World War III, the West could have pursued a number of other, nonmilitary measures to demonstrate its staunch opposition, instead of communicating virtual acquiescence.



Continues...


Excerpted from Stasi by John O. Koehler Copyright © 2000 by John O. Koehler. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(2)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2012

    Excellent

    Great book on the history of the stasi and how they controlled Easr Germany. The book is easy to read and full of well researched details.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)