Posts Tagged ‘Erich Mielke’

Guenter Mittag – East German Economic Tsar

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Guenter Mittag was the third most powerful man in the former East Germany, after Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands – SED), and Erich Mielke, Minister of State Security. From 1976 to 1989, Mittag headed the Economic Commission at the Politbuero (Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission – DWK), advocating and implementing the state’s economic policies.

Guenter Mittag who headed the East German Economic Commission at the Politbuero from 1976 to 1989. Photo: Bundesarchivbild

Guenter Mittag who headed the East German Economic Commission at the Politbuero from 1976 to 1989. Photo: Bundesarchivbild

Guenter Mittag’s rise and fall

Born in 1926, Guenter Mittag joined the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD) in 1945. A year later, he became member of the newly created SED). In 1958, Mittag earned a doctorate with his dissertation “Problems of Socialist Development of the Transport System”. At the same time, he became Secretary of the Economic Commission at the Politbuero, the principal policymaking committee of the SED. From 1976 on, he headed the Commission.

Along with Erich Apel, Guenter Mittag designed the New System for Economic Management and Planning (Neues Oekonomisches System). The system was implemented in 1963 and replaced Walter Ulbricht’s Five-Year Plans, which had been launched in 1951. The New System for Economic Management was to streamline and modernize the East German economy by reducing waste of raw materials, increasing mechanization, reducing food shortages and improving product quality. Above all, the new policies were to demonstrate East German competitiveness with the West German economic miracle. The new system was also put into place to halt Republikflucht attempts (desertion from the Republic), which had plagued the East German economy prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. But Mittag’s new system did not generate the expected results and was replaced in 1967/1968 by policies, which concentrated on building up East Germany’s high-tech industries.

Guenter Mittag was a central figure in the German planned economy from 1958 to 1989. Although he recognized sooner than his comrades that the centralized and monopolistic economic policies did not produce the desired results, he did not want to admit his plan’s failure and hid the facts by doctoring the balance sheets. It was not until mid-1989 that Mittag proposed a radical change of course, but by then it was too late. Following German reunification in 1990. Guenter Mittag was among the first to be relieved of his duties.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Erich Mielke – Master of Fear

Monday, May 1st, 2017


Erich Mielke headed the feared East German Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatsicherheit – MfS) for over 30 years. The agency became known as the STASI. From 1957 until shortly before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Stasi was enormously powerful, making Erich Mielke the most influential man in East Germany, right behind Communist Party leader, Erich Honecker. One hundred thousand full-time agents and up to two million unofficial “citizen helpers” were under Mielke’s control. His agency stifled opposition by using assassination, kidnapping, execution, denunciation and intimidation to keep the 16.5 million East Germans in fear. In a 1993 interview, Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said that the Stasi was “much, much worse than the Gestapo.”

Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Mielke’s Pre-Stasi Days

Erich Mielke’s parents were founding members of the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD, making Erich a second-generation communist. Born into poverty in 1907 in Berlin, he joined the communist youth movement at age 15 and the KPD at age 20. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the Communist party and the Nazi party were frequently involved in violent armed conflicts, Mielke was member of the communist paramilitary forces.

Together with another member of the paramilitary forces, Erich Mielke shot two Berlin police captains in 1931. Their names were Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck. Mielke escaped prosecution by fleeing to the Soviet Union. He was not tried for the murders until 1993 when incriminating papers were found in his home safe during a search. While in exile in the Soviet Union, Erich Mielke attended the Communist International’s Military-Political School and the Lenin School in Moscow.

From 1936 to 1939, Mielke served as an operative in Spain’s political police. Upon the defeat of the Spanish Republic, he fled to France, was imprisoned, but managed to escape to Belgium. His activities during World War II remain largely unknown. In 1945, at he end of the war, a law enforcement agency closely associated with the Soviet Secret Police ordered him to return to Occupied Germany. His assignment was to build up a security force in the Soviet occupation zone, which involved tracking down Nazis, anti-communists and hundreds of members of the Social Democratic Party. The number of arrests exceeded the number of available spaces in existing prisons so that eleven concentration camps were re-opened or newly established.

Erich Mielke’s Stasi Days

With the establishment of the Ministry for State Security in 1950, Mielke was appointed deputy director of the institution. In November 1957, he became the head of State Security. At that time, the Stasi had 14,000 full-time employees. By 1989 that number had increased to near 100,000. Along the way, Mielke helped Erich Honecker to topple Walter Ulbricht as the party leader.

Erich Mielke’s Final Stasi Days

On 8 October 1989, Erich Mielke and Erich Honecker ordered the Stasi to implement “Plan X,” a plan to arrest and indefinitely detain 85,939 East Germans during a state of emergency. On 13 November 1989, a few days after the opening of the wall, Erich Mielke gave a speech at the Palace of the Republic (Palast der Republik) and in which he said, “I love all – all people.” On 3 December 1989, Erich Mielke was expelled from the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitsparty Deutschlands – SED). Four days later he was arrested and imprisoned on remand in Hohenschoenhausen. http://www.walled-in-berlin/j-elke-ertle/berlin/hohenschoenhausen-prison-part1/ Soon thereafter he was released due to medical reason and arrested again three months later for “crimes against humanity” and “perversion of justice.” He was moved to several prisons in succession. In 1993, the by then 85-year-old Erich Mielke was sentenced to six years in prison for the murders of Captains Anlauf and Lenck in 1931. At the end of 1995, Mielke was released due to ill health. He died at the age of 93.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

Human Trafficking Called Haeftlingsfreikauf

Monday, April 17th, 2017


Haeftlingsfreikauf is the German word for ransom money once paid by West Germany to East Germany for the release of East German political prisoners. West Germany also paid ransom moneys for East German citizens who had applied for exit visas but were denied exit by East German authorities. Such human trafficking was unofficially practiced between 1962 and 1990 and sanctioned by both governments.

According to Andreas Apelt, author and historian, 33,755 political prisoners (which included people who had attempted to cross the east/west border illegally) and 250,000 of their relatives were sold to West Germany between 1964 and 1989. The Haeftlingsfreikauf cost West Germany a total of 3.5 billion West Marks. Some of these political prisoners were well-known agents; others were nameless. The prisoners were given the option of being released into the East or into the West. Most of them chose the West. At times, the ransom consisted of western currency. Other times, “buying free” involved “merchandise” for merchandise, such as cadmium, copper, crude oil, rubber, equipment, cooking oil, coffee, tropical fruit. Human trafficking infused the East German economy with much needed cash and merchandise. West Germany assisted for humanitarian reasons.

Haeftlingsfreikauf = ransom moneys paid by West Germany to East Germany of the release of its political prisoners between 1962 and 1990.

Haeftlingsfreikauf = ransom moneys paid by West Germany to East Germany of the release of its political prisoners between 1962 and 1990.

Start of the Haeftlingsfreikauf practice

The first East German political prisoners were bought free during the Christmas season of 1962. At that time, ransom moneys were paid for 20 prisoners and a number of children. They were released to the west in return for three truckloads of fertilizer. During those initial exchanges, the price per prisoner was about 40,000 West Marks. By 1989 that amount had risen to over 95,000 West Marks. Supposedly, the price was based on the “damage” the prisoner had caused to the regime plus the educational investment the East German state had made in the prisoner. For the last Haeftlingsfreikauf in January 1990 West Germany paid with copper, crude oil and light trucks amounting to 65 million West Mark. The funds were deposited in special accounts held by Stasi chief Erich Mielke and by General Secretary Erich Honecker

How the Haeftlingsfreikauf practice worked

Neither side wanted the public to find out about the Haeftlingsfreikauf practice. East Germany did not want to appear weak, and West Germany did not want to be seen as supporting a communist regime. Therefore, the operation remained clandestine. Government representatives unofficially handled the arrangements. Representatives of the Protestant and Catholic Church acted as intermediaries. Attorneys from both sides facilitated the operation. Wolfgang Vogel represented the East German side; Juergen Stange acted on behalf of the West German side. Some prisoner releases took place in the underground railway. In other cases, prisoners were driven across the border in buses with revolving license plates.

How the Prisoners were actually exchanged

Exchanges were handled with utmost discretion. If the exchange involved busses, the prisoners were usually transported to the Kassberg prison in Chemnitz and then driven to the Herleshausen/Wartha border where they were expelled to West Germany. While still in East Germany, the bus displayed East German license plates. At the border crossing, the driver pushed a button on the dashboard, and the license plate pivoted to display a West German license.

I have a friend who was one of the 33,755 political prisoners bought free by West Germany. His story is hair-raising. When he was a high school student still living in East Germany with his family, he and a group of boys in his class decided to defect. It was more of a boys’ prank than a serious desire to leave East Germany. Nonetheless, the boys planned their get-away. But someone denounced them to the authorities. All of the boys were immediately taken into custody, separated and sent to prison. My friend found himself in solitary confinement for the better of six months. One night, he and a number of prison inmates of all ages and both sexes were told to get on a bus in a hurry. The bus was standing ready. They were not allowed to take anything. My friend did not know anyone on the bus.

It was completely dark inside the bus. All the prisoners could see was that they were being driven into the woods. There was dead silence in the bus. The prisoners feared for their lives. Finally, headlights became visible in the distance. Moments later, the headlights went off. The bus continued in the direction of the headlights now gone dark and then came to a stop. The driver turned off the engine. The prisoners were told to quickly get off. Once outside and still in complete darkness, they were barely able to make out the outline of another bus parked directly next to theirs. At gunpoint, they were told to get on the second bus as quickly as possible. Once everyone had boarded, the doors closed, the engine started, and the bus took off. It was still completely dark inside the bus. No one spoke.

A few minutes later, the lights came on inside the bus, music blared from the radio and the driver said, “Welcome everybody. In a few minutes you will be in the West. You are free.”


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

The Stasi and how it worked

Monday, February 29th, 2016

The STASI was the secret police agency of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The name stands for Ministerium fuer STAatsSIcherheit (Ministry for State Security). In keeping with their motto “Schild und Schwert der Partei” (Shield and Sword of the Party) the Stasi became one of the most repressive and feared institutions that ever existed.

How the Stasi got its start

The Stasi grew out of the internal security and police agency that was launched by the Soviets in their occupation zone of Germany in the aftermath of World War II. On 8 February 1950, four months after the East German state was established, the state’s new legislature established the Ministry for State Security. The agency’s initial responsibility was limited to domestic political surveillance and foreign espionage. Soon its power grew exponentially.

What made the Stasi so powerful?

Under Erich Mielke, director of the agency from 1957 to 1989, the Stasi gained access to every aspect of the daily lives of East German citizens: Aside from foreign espionage, it suppressed internal political opposition; it imprisoned hundreds of thousands of citizens; it infiltrated every major East German institution; it even went so far as to analyze the garbage for suspect western food and/or materials. In addition, the Stasi maintained detailed files on family and personal relationships.

It accomplished these tasks with approximately 100,000 full-time Stasi officers, 15,000 soldiers, army officers and police in addition to a vast network of full-time and part-time citizen informants and unofficial collaborators. The number of these citizen-helpers has been estimated at somewhere between 500,000 and 2,000,000. These unpaid collaborators were often recruited from people whose jobs entailed frequent contact with the public. They included doctors, nurses, clergy, lawyers, teachers, trolley conductors, waiters, janitors and actors. In return for small incentives designed to make them feel important, they were asked to spy on and denounced colleagues, friends, neighbors and family members. By 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell the Stasi employed one full-time agent for every 166 East Germans. Adding full-time and part-time informers and collaborators, the Stasi relied on one informer per 6.5 people. The agency maintained files on more than one-third of the East German population.

By the 1970s, the Stasi decreased its number of overt persecutions, such as arrests and torture, and increasingly focused on the use of psychological tactics, called Zersetzung (undermining). Favored methods included gaslighting, which is a form of mental manipulation with the intent to make the victims doubt their sanity. Gaslighting tactics included breaking into homes and moving furniture, changing the time on the clock, removing pictures from walls or simply replacing one variety of tea with another.

End of the Stasi

Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the East German legislature tried to rebrand the Stasi as the Amt fuer Nationale Sicherheit (Office for National Security). But because of a public outcry this agency was never established. Instead, the Stasi was formally disbanded in February 1990. But before the agency was dissolved, Stasi officials destroyed a vast amount of the organization’s files. East German citizens occupied the Stasi’s main headquarters in Berlin on 15 January 1990, stopped the destruction and saved the remaining files.

Attempted destruction of files by the Stasi and bags of files recovered - photos on exhibit in "Haus in der Runden Ecke", Leipzig.

Attempted destruction of files by the Stasi and bags of files recovered – photos on exhibit in “Haus in der Runden Ecke”, Leipzig.

Since 2015, East German Stasi files are open to the public online for the first time. Please visit


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


Stasi files online now

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

“East German Stasi files open to public online for the first time,” states Justin Huggler’s in an article in the Telegraph on January 9, 2015.

Who is the Stasi?

The term *Stasi” refers to the East German Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit – MfS for short). The Stasi has been called the most repressive secret police agency ever. One of its tasks was to spy on its own population through agents but also through a vast network of citizen-informants. The Stasi countered opposition by overt and covert means, often involving psychological techniques.

Stasi files since German reunification

Following the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Stasi tried to destroy the almost 70 miles of documents it had on file. It was stopped by ordinary citizens who stormed and occupied the agency’s offices. As a result, the Stasi was able to destroy only about 5% of all documents. Following a declassification ruling by the new German government in 1992, the remaining files were opened. According to the Telegraph, almost 7 million applications to view these files have been registered since then.

What Stasi files are available online?

Available for viewing online are 161 documents, 29 photos, 6 audios and 18 videos. They include information on the 1953 East German uprising against communist rule, the 1960 execution of defected border officer Manfred Smolka, Stasi chief Erich Mielke’s comments on the shoot-to-kill policy (read also:, the 1983 concert of West German rock star Udo Lindenberg and the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. For privacy reasons, the website does not include files on living individuals.

To access the online information, currently available only in German, go to


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.