“There can be no peace without honestly and maturely confronting the past.”
It’s the middle of May, and I’m having breakfast at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin. I’m in Germany with other journalists on a visit sponsored by Atlantik-Brücke, a Berlin-based organization that promotes German-American friendship.
This morning I’m speaking with Dr. Helmut Holl, former state secretary for Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany. Dr. Holl and I discuss the German Democratic (sic) Republic (sic) (GDR), which subjugated eastern Germany from 1949 to 1990 after National Socialist subjugation from 1933 to 1945.
A short walk from the Adlon is the Brandenburg Gate. This is where Ronald Regan called for the emancipation of eastern Germany in front of the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987. He described the wall as an atrocity against Europe as well as Germany:
…it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar.
Between the Brandenburg Gate and the parliament is a row of white crosses. This is a memorial to the hundreds of Germans murdered by the GDR for the ghastly offense of trying to live somewhere else—Germans like 18-year-old Peter Fechter and 20-year-old Chris Gueffroy.
Dr. Holl tells me about the recent German movie The Lives of Others. Directed and written by Florian Henckel von Donnersmark in his debut, the film has been popularly received and won several awards at Germany’s Oscars, the Lolas. Germany selected it this month as its Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film.
Set in 1984, The Lives of Others depicts the totalitarian malice of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security, the secret police better known as the Stasi. The movie stars Ulrich Mühe, who lived in East Germany and has called it “a system that kept 17 million people locked up and under suppression.”
In his director’s statement, Donnersmark discusses his childhood exposure to East Germany:
German movies produced after the reunification generally, and strangely, depict the GDR as funny or moving. Both my parents come from the East, so as a child, I was often in East Germany to visit friends and relatives. A cousin of my father’s had been named chief of protocol of Erich Honecker, the East German head of state and boss of the ruling S.E.D party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany). Other people we knew had very normal jobs, yet one could see the fear in all of them, right up to the end of the regime. Fear of the Stasi, fear of the 100,000 highly trained employees whose sights were trained on one thing: “The Lives of Others”: the lives of those who thought differently, who were too free spirited and above all, the artists and people working in the arts. Every aspect of life was recorded. There was no private sphere and nothing was sacred, not even one’s closest family members.
Husbands informed on wives, mothers informed on sons, friends informed on friends—a systematic perversion of interpersonal relations and encouragement of the most intimate betrayal. Ulrich Mühe’s own wife seems to have been among these informers.
The Stasi’s victims included human rights activists Gerd and Ulrike Poppe. A memo from February 24, 1987 illustrates the Stasi’s methodical viciousness in trying to shatter their marriage and family:
She should be encouraged to believe that if she separates from her husband, she will be financially secure. The travel ban could be eased to allow travel to socialist countries. To exacerbate the marriage crisis, contact person ‘Harald’ will be introduced to Mrs. Poppe with the aim of establishing an intimate relationship. Gerd Poppe must be prevented from improving his professional and social prospects. Through a campaign of anonymous letters, he is to be discriminated against at his workplace. The headmistress of School 15 in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, is to exert a positive influence over Jonas Poppe. The success of a socialist education will demonstrate, within their own family, the uselessness of their hostile activities.
The Stasi was fond of anonymous defamation. Its tactics against minister Heinz Eggert included letters to neighbors calling him a child molester and medical abuse.
In addition to terrorizing millions of Germans, the Stasi sponsored terrorism abroad. Consider this portrait drawn from the KGB’s archives:
With [Yuri] Andropov’s knowledge (and doubtless his blessing), East Germany became what its last, non-Communist, interior minister, Peter-Michael Diestel, later called “an Eldorado for terrorists.” Among East Germany’s favorite terrorist groups was the West German Red Army Faction (RAF). Contemptuous of working-class reluctance to make a revolution and inspired by slogans such as “Don’t argue—destroy!,” the well-educated members of the RAF saw themselves as the militant vanguard of the deplorably inert proletariat, committed to the destruction of the “bourgeois power structures” of both the FRG [West Germany] and NATO. After a series of successful terrorist attacks in the mid-1970s, however, a grand offensive planned by the RAF in 1977 failed, and four of its leaders committed suicide in prison. Thanks to the sanctuary offered by East Germany to its main surviving activists from 1977 onwards, the RAF was able to regroup. With training, weapons, funds and false identity documents provided by the Stasi, the Red Army Faction launched a new offensive during the early 1980s. In August 1981 a car bomb attack on the European headquarters of the US airforce at Ramstein in West Germany injured seventeen people; a month later RAF terrorists made an unsuccessful rocket attack in Heidelberg on the car of General Frederick Kroesen. During another terrorist offensive in 1984-5, the RAF attempted to blow up the NATO school at Oberammergau, bombed the US airbase at Frankfurt/Main, and attacked American soldiers at Wiesbaden. The Stasi also connived in the bombing of the La Belle discotheque in West Berlin, helping to transport the explosives which killed an American sergeant and a Turkish woman and wounded 230 people, including fifty US servicemen. Other Stasi contacts included the Provisional IRA, the Basque ETA, and Carlos the Jackal.
Anti-Semitism also figured importantly in the Stasi’s support for terrorism. Other Stasi beneficiaries included the PLO and Black September leader Abu Daoud, who organized the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
The Stasi’s support for Arab neo-Nazis extended earlier recruitment of Nazis like Hans Sommer, an SS officer who oversaw the bombing of synagogues in Paris. Nazi functionaries also served officially in East Germany like Ernst Melsheimer, a district court judge under Hitler who became the GDR’s Generalstaatsanwalt (chief public prosecutor).
East Germany likewise distinguished itself in hostility to Israel. During the Six Day War it referred to an “anti-Arab conspiracy between Bonn [the capital of West Germany] and Tel Aviv” and how “the Israelis are acting as Hitler did”; voted for the 1975 United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism; and as of 1989 was the only Soviet bloc country not to have relations with Israel.
The commercial and critical success of The Lives of Others suggests a national consensus against East Germany’s savagery and virulence. It suggests a Germany where ex-Stasi members rot away in obscurity.
But these criminals are more public than ever.
 “Pictures from a Spy Camera at an East German Exhibition,” The New York Times, December 16, 1994. Gauck was a dissident pastor in East Germany and headed Germany’s commission on de-Stasification.
 The “crime” of leaving the GDR without permission was Republikflucht (flight from the Republic). William F. Buckley, Jr. notes regarding the 25th year of the Berlin Wall: “Seeking East German comment on the anniversary, the American journalist Peter Wyden got through to several high-ranking officials. He expected to find them defensive about the wall. Not at all. They were unanimous in acclaiming it as a brilliant accomplishment.” Buckley, The Fall of the Berlin Wall, (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2004), p. 133. See also Peter Wyden’s Wall: The Inside Story of Divided Berlin (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989).
“Seven awards to German Stasi film,” BBC News, May 13, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4768055.stm.
 See http://www.sonyclassics.com/thelivesofothers/externalLoads/TheLivesofOthers.pdf.
Journalist Anna Fundler notes: “In Hitler's Third Reich it is estimated that there was one Gestapo agent for every 2000 citizens, and in Stalin's USSR there was one KGB agent for every 5830 people. In the GDR there was one Stasi officer or informant for every sixty-three people. If part-time informers are included, some estimates have the ratio as high as one informer for every 6.5 citizens.” Fundler, Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall (London: Granta, 2003), p. 57. Not extravagant is the claim of British historian Timothy Garton Ash, who was an object of “operational observation and investigation” by the Stasi during graduate study in East Berlin: “Probably no dictatorship in modern history has had such an extensive and fanatically thorough secret police as East Germany did.” Garton Ash, The File: A Personal History (New York: Vintage, 1997), p. 21.
 One of the most notorious cases is Sascha Anderson, a pseudo-dissident artist who informed on peers throughout the 1980s. See Jane Kramer, The Politics of Memory: Looking for Germany in the New Germany (New York: Random House, 1996), pp. 155-212.
 Vaclav Havel’s description of communism comes to mind as a system that “permeated every aspect of life and deformed everything it touched, including all the natural ways people had evolved of living together.” Havel, speech at George Washington University, April 22, 1993, http://old.hrad.cz/president/Havel/speeches/1993/2204_uk.html.
 Stephen Kinzer, “East Germans Face Their Accusers,” The New York Times Magazine, April 12, 1992.
 Ibid. Eggert contracted dysentery on a vacation in 1983. A doctor who was a Stasi agent gave him amphetamines and tranquilizers that inflicted great damage before he stopped taking this “medicine.”
 Christopher M. Andrew, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB (New York: Basic Books, 1999), p. 392. See also John O. Koehler, Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police (Boulder: Westview Press, 1999), pp. 387-401.
 See Koehler, pp. 363-368.
 See “Book Claims Stasi Employed Nazis as Spies,” Deutsche Welle, October 31, 2005, http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,1760980,00.html.
 See Jeffrey Herf, Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 198-200. Regarding East Germany’s demonization of Israel, Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal published a report in 1968 titled “The Same Language: First for Hitler—Now for Ulbricht.” Ibid., pp. 188-189.
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