Posts Tagged ‘Stasi’

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. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-stasi-and-how-it-worked/ 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. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-honecker-berlin-wall-architect/ 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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-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) http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-palast-der-republik-lives-on/ 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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

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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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/, 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. https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/k/koehler-stasi.html 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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/stasi-files-online-now/

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

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Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Prison- Part 1

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Between 1951 and 1989 East Germany’s deeply feared State Security, the Stasi, operated a notorious political prison in Hohenschoenhausen. Located in Berlin’s northeastern district of Lichtenberg, some 40,000 political prisoners passed through the sprawling compound’s gates during its 38-year operation. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-10-23/stasi-prison-exposes-terror-trauma-in-berlin-compound. Few people actually knew of the prison’s existence because the prison was located within a large, restricted military area and hermetically sealed-off from the outside world. It never even appeared on any East Berlin map. http://www.visitberlin.de/en/spot/gedenkstaette-berlin-hohenschoenhausen

History of Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen

In 1939, the Hohenschoenhausen compound was built as a canteen. In June 1945, at the conclusion of World War II, the Soviet Secret Police took over the area, transformed it into a detainment camp and called it Special Camp No. 3. During the winter of 1946-1947, the Soviets turned the camp into a prison and converted the cafeteria into an underground prison area.

Original Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison building, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Original Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison building, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

In 1951, the Ministry of State Security (Mfs) – better known as the Stasi – reopened the prison. In the late 50s, using prisoner labor, they added an additional building. It included 200 prison cells and interrogation rooms. The Stasi also converted the existing cafeteria. It became known as the “U-Boot” (submarine) among inmates because the Stasi applied water torture in some of its cells. Employing predominantly psychological torture to break the prisoners’ resistance and will, Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen functioned as a prison until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Most of the prisoners had tried to flee or emigrate from East Germany or had been persecuted due to their political views. The compound officially closed on October 3, 1990, the day of German reunification.

Expanded Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison building, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Expanded Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen prison building, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial

In 1995, the Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial (Gedenkstaette Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen) opened on the site of the former East German political prison. On the initiative of its former Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen inmates, the compound has become a registered memorial site. To help us comprehend the extent and methods of political persecution in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany), former prisoners conduct guided tours. In 2013, a museum opened as well. It displays close to 500 objects that tell the stories of those who were imprisoned here. The Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial is open year-round.

Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial from the outside, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen Memorial from the outside, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Read about my impressions of to Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen in next week’s blog. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-hohenschoenhausen-prison-part-2

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

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Wolfgang Vogel: East German Profiteer

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Not only capitalist societies spawn profiteers. During the Cold War, Wolfgang Vogel, largely unknown to the general public but known to many prominent figures, pulled strings in Moscow as effectively as in Washington. For three decades, he was an extremely successful communist profiteer. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/23/world/europe/23vogel.html?_r=0

Licensed to practice law in both East and West Berlin, Vogel was the “point man” between East and West Germany. He was central to the exchanges of more than 150 spies from 23 countries and the last hope for many emigrants from East Germany. He earned millions in the process

Wolfgang Vogel was central to the exchanges of more than 150 spies from 23 countries, photo www.dw.com

Wolfgang Vogel was central to the exchanges of more than 150 spies from 23 countries, photo www.dw.com

The life of Wolfgang Vogel

Born in 1925 in Lower Silesia (now Poland), Wolfgang Vogel studied law in Jena and Leipzig and passed the equivalent of the bar exam in 1949. In 1954, he began practicing law in East Berlin. Three years later, he gained the right to practice in West Berlin as well. The East German Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, employed Vogel to make contacts among West German lawyers and politicians. These contacts eventually helped him broker exchanges of spies captured by the West for political prisoners held by the East. Vogel died in Bavaria in 2008.

Wolfgang Vogel’s famed spy swaps

Wolfgang Vogel brokered some of the most famous spy swaps between East and West. In 1962, he was instrumental to negotiating the exchange of both, the American U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers and the American Ph.D. student Frederic L. Pryor for the Soviet KGB spy, Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher (also known as Rudolf Abel). The exchange inspired the 2015 movie, “Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks as James Donovan, Abel’s defense attorney, and Sebastian Koch as the East German attorney Wolfgang Vogel. For more information on Glienicke Bridge, visit http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/glienicker-bruecke-bridge-of-spies/

In 1981, Vogel negotiated the exchange of East German Stasi-agent Guenter Guillaume for Western agents captured by the Eastern bloc.

 In 1986, Wolfgang Vogel brokered the exchange of Israeli human rights activist and author Anatoly Shcharansky for Czech sleeper-agent Karl Koecher and his wife.

Wolfgang Vogel – the profiteer

Representing the East German leader Erich Honecker, Wolfgang Vogel not only helped facilitate East-West prisoner exchanges, he also negotiated the re-location of thousands of East Germans to the West. However, his assistance did not come cheap. He became a wealthy man in the process.

Between the 1950s and 1989 (the fall of the Berlin Wall), Wolfgang Vogel was an official “representative of the German Democratic Republic for humanitarian issues.” In that capacity, he “sold” 33,755 political prisoners to West Germany. Their value varied according to their profession, their “crime” and how well they were known in the West. He also reunited 215,019 families and individuals in line with to the East German government’s maxim, “Human relief against hard Deutschmark”. http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/wolfgang-vogel-tot-der-anwalt-zwischen-den-welten-1.692361 The family reunion-seekers were individuals who had been left behind when the Berlin Wall was erected in August 1961, or they were relatives of escapees or of those who had defected on business trips to the West. When these individuals turned to Vogel to obtain permission to emigrate, he was often able to negotiate the necessary permissions, provided these family reunion-seekers had private property to sell. Only then would Vogel locate buyers – for a fee, of course.

For his efforts, Wolfgang Vogel received benefits in cash and in kind. These benefits amounted to the equivalent of more than a half billion euros. http://www.welt.de/geschichte/article130633378/Darf-man-einen-Menschenhaendler-heiligsprechen.html At times, he earned half a million Deutschmark and more in just one year, practically tax-free. Still, Wolfgang Vogel saw himself as a humanitarian and a lawyer of the people. He said, “My ways were not white and not black; they had to be gray.”

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

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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.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/11336288/East-German-Stasi-files-open-to-public-online-for-first-time.html

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: http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/, 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 http://www.stasi-mediathek.de/sammlungen/.

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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