SOMETIMES CALLED ‘RIP-WOLVES’
in GERMAN IT MEANT ‘DOCUMENT SHREDDERS’
(the SHREDDING MACHINES BROKE)
“Ostalgie is a German term referring to nostalgia for life in the former East Germany. It is a portmanteau of the German words Ost (east) and Nostalgie (nostalgia).
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and German reunification in the following year, most reminders of the old socialist regime were swept away as former citizens of the German Democratic Republic rushed to embrace their newfound political and economic western-ness. Initially, all GDR brands of products disappeared from the stores and were replaced by Western products, regardless of their quality. However, with the passing of time some East Germans began to feel nostalgia for certain aspects of their lives in East Germany. Ostalgie particularly refers to the nostalgia for aspects of regular daily life and culture in the former GDR, which disappeared after reunification. There are however, many former East and West German citizens who deny the existence of these cultural divisions as well as the existence of separate East and West German perspectives.
Many businesses in Germany cater to those who feel Ostalgie and have begun providing them with artifacts that remind them of life under the old regime; artefacts that imitate the old ones. Now available are formerly defunct brands of East German foodstuffs, old state television programmes on video and DVD, and the previously widespread Wartburg and Trabant cars. In addition, life in the GDR has been the subject of several recent films, including Leander Haußmann’s Sonnenallee (1999), Wolfgang Becker’s internationally successful Good Bye Lenin! (2003), and Carsten Fiebeler’s Kleinruppin forever (2004). The term Ostalgie (along with the phrase Soviet chic) is occasionally used to refer to nostalgia for life under the socialist system in other former communist countries of Eastern Europe, most notably Poland and the Soviet Union.”
“Shredded documents can be reassembled manually. After the Iranian Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, Iranians enlisted local carpet weavers who reconstructed the pieces by hand. The recovered documents would be later released by the Iranian regime in a series of books called “Documents from the US espionage Den”. The US government subsequently improved its shredding techniques, by adding pulverizing, pulping, and chemical decomposition.”
‘the FILES BELONG to US’
“Some 16,250 sacks containing pieces of 45 million shredded documents were found and confiscated after the reunification of Germany in 1990. Reconstruction work began 12 years ago but 24 people have been able to reassemble the contents of only 323 sacks. Berlin’s Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology estimates that putting everything back together by hand would take 30 people 600 to 800 years.”
UNSHREDDING a TOTAL SURVEILLANCE STATE
Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany’s Secret Police
BY Andrew Curry / 01.18.08 / andrew [at] andrewcurry [dot] com
Solving a Billion-Piece Puzzle
Ulrike Poppe used to be one of the most surveilled women in East Germany. For 15 years, agents of the Stasi (short for Staatssicherheitsdienst, or State Security Service) followed her, bugged her phone and home, and harassed her unremittingly, right up until she and other dissidents helped bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today, the study in Poppe’s Berlin apartment is lined floor to 12-foot ceiling with bookshelves full of volumes on art, literature, and political science. But one shelf, just to the left of her desk, is special. It holds a pair of 3-inch-thick black binders — copies of the most important documents in Poppe’s secret police files. This is her Stasi shelf.
Poppe hung out with East German dissidents as a teenager, got blackballed out of college, and was busted in 1974 by the police on the thin pretext of “asocial behavior.” On her way out of jail, Stasi agents asked her to be an informant, to spy on her fellow radicals, but she refused. (“I was just 21, but I knew I shouldn’t trust the Stasi, let alone sign anything,” she says.) She went on to become a founding member of a reform-minded group called Women for Peace, and was eventually arrested 13 more times — and imprisoned in 1983 for treason. Only an international outcry won her release.
Poppe learned to recognize many of the men assigned to tail her each day. They had crew cuts and never wore jeans or sneakers. Sometimes they took pictures of her on the sidewalk, or they piled into a white sedan and drove 6 feet behind her as she walked down the street. Officers waited around the clock in cars parked outside her top-floor apartment. After one of her neighbors tipped her off, she found a bug drilled from the attic of the building into the ceiling plaster of her living room.
When the wall fell, the Stasi fell with it. The new government, determined to bring to light the agency’s totalitarian tactics, created a special commission to give victims access to their personal files. Poppe and her husband were among the first people in Germany allowed into the archives. On January 3, 1992, she sat in front of a cart loaded with 40 binders dedicated to “Circle 2” — her codename, it turned out. In the 16 years since, the commission has turned up 20 more Circle 2 binders on her.
The pages amounted to a minute-by-minute account of Poppe’s life, seen from an unimaginable array of angles. Video cameras were installed in the apartment across the street. Her friends’ bedrooms were bugged and their conversations about her added to the file. Agents investigated the political leanings of her classmates from middle school and opened all of her mail. “They really tried to capture everything,” she says. “Most of it was just junk.”
But some of it wasn’t. And some of it … Poppe doesn’t know. No one does. Because before it was disbanded, the Stasi shredded or ripped up about 5 percent of its files. That might not sound like much, but the agency had generated perhaps more paper than any other bureaucracy in history — possibly a billion pages of surveillance records, informant accounting, reports on espionage, analyses of foreign press, personnel records, and useless minutiae. There’s a record for every time anyone drove across the border.
In the chaos of the days leading up to the actual destruction of the wall and the fall of East Germany’s communist government, frantic Stasi agents sent trucks full of documents to the Papierwolfs and Reisswolfs — literally “paper-wolves” and “rip-wolves,” German for shredders. As pressure mounted, agents turned to office shredders, and when the motors burned out, they started tearing pages by hand — 45 million of them, ripped into approximately 600 million scraps of paper.
There’s no way to know what bombshells those files hide. For a country still trying to come to terms with its role in World War II and its life under a totalitarian regime, that half-destroyed paperwork is a tantalizing secret. The machine-shredded stuff is confetti, largely unrecoverable. But in May 2007, a team of German computer scientists in Berlin announced that after four years of work, they had completed a system to digitally tape together the torn fragments.
Engineers hope their software and scanners can do the job in less than five years — even taking into account the varying textures and durability of paper, the different sizes and shapes of the fragments, the assortment of printing (from handwriting to dot matrix) and the range of edges (from razor sharp to ragged and handmade.) “The numbers are tremendous. If you imagine putting together a jigsaw puzzle at home, you have maybe 1,000 pieces and a picture of what it should look like at the end,” project manager Jan Schneider says. “We have many millions of pieces and no idea what they should look like when we’re done.”
As the enforcement arm of the German Democratic Republic’s Communist Party, the Stasi at its height in 1989 employed 91,000 people to watch a country of 16.4 million. A sprawling bureaucracy almost three times the size of Hitler’s Gestapo was spying on a population a quarter that of Nazi Germany. Unlike the prison camps of the Gestapo or the summary executions of the Soviet Union’s KGB, the Stasi strove for subtlety. “They offered incentives, made it clear people should cooperate, recruited informal helpers to infiltrate the entire society,” says Konrad Jarausch, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “They beat people up less often, sure, but they psychologically trampled people. Which is worse depends on what you prefer.”
That finesse helped the Stasi quell dissent, but it also fostered a pervasive and justified paranoia. And it generated an almost inconceivable amount of paper, enough to fill more than 100 miles of shelves. The agency indexed and cross-referenced 5.6 million names in its central card catalog alone. Hundreds of thousands of “unofficial employees” snitched on friends, coworkers, and their own spouses, sometimes because they’d been extorted and sometimes in exchange for money, promotions, or permission to travel abroad.
For such an organized state, East Germany fell apart in a decidedly messy way. When the country’s eastern bloc neighbors opened their borders in the summer of 1989, tens of thousands of East Germans fled to the West through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. By autumn, protests and riots had spread throughout East Germany, with the participants demanding an end to restrictions on travel and speech. In the first week of October, thousands of demonstrators in Dresden turned violent, throwing rocks at police, who broke up the crowd with dogs, truncheons, and water cannons. The government described the thousand people they arrested as “hooligans” to state-controlled media.
But on October 9, the situation escalated. In Leipzig that night, 70,000 people marched peacefully around the city’s ring road — which goes right past the Stasi office. Agents asked for permission from Berlin to break up the demonstration, but this was just a few months after the Chinese government had brutally shut down pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, to international condemnation. The East German government didn’t want a similar bloodbath, so the Stasi did nothing. A week later, 120,000 people marched; a week after that, the number was 300,000 — in a city with a population of only 530,000.
In November, hundreds of East and West Berliners began dismantling the wall that bisected the city. But the communist government was still in power, negotiating with dissidents and hoping to hold on. Inside the Stasi, leaders hoped that if they weathered whatever changes were imminent, they’d be able to get back to business under a different name. But just in case, the head of the Stasi ordered the agency to start destroying the incriminating paperwork it had on hand.
In several small cities, rumors started circulating that records were being destroyed. Smoke, fires, and departing trucks confirmed the fears of angry Germans, who rushed in to their local Stasi offices, stopped the destruction, and spontaneously organized citizen committees that could post guards to secure the archives. Demonstrators spray-painted the walls with slogans like “The files belong to us” and “Stasi get out.” Finally, on the evening of January 15, 1990, thousands of demonstrators pushed in the front gate of the Stasi’s fortified Berlin compound.
At headquarters, agents had been more discreet than their colleagues in the hinterlands. Burning all those files would tip off angry Berliners that something was up. When the first destruction orders came in, they began stacking bags of paper in the “copper kettle,” a copper-lined basement designed as a surveillance-proof computer room. The room quickly filled with bags of shredded and torn paper. Today, even the people gathering and archiving the Stasi files express grudging admiration for the achievement. “Destroying paper is shit work,” says government archivist Stephan Wolf. “After two days your joints hurt. They ripped for two months.”
But a few days after demonstrators breached the Stasi front gate, the archives still hadn’t been found. A citizen group coalesced, determined to track them down. Among the searchers was a 23-year-old plumber named David Gill, a democracy activist barred from university because his father was a Protestant minister. He was secretly studying theology at an underground seminary in Berlin.
Accompanied by cooperative police, Stasi agents led Gill and his compatriots through twisting alleys and concrete-walled courtyards, all eerily empty. Finally they arrived at a nondescript office building in the heart of the compound. Inside, there was more paper than he had ever imagined. “We had all lived under the pressure of the Stasi. We all knew they could know everything,” Gill says today. “But we didn’t understand what that meant until that moment. Suddenly it was palpable.”
Gill and his crew of volunteers preserved whatever they could, commandeering trucks and borrowing cars to collect files from Stasi safe houses and storage facilities all over Berlin. Most of it was still intact. Some of it was shredded, unrecoverable. They threw that away. But then there were also bags and piles of hand-torn stuff, which they saved without knowing what to do with it. “We didn’t have time to look at it all,” Gill says. “We had no idea what it would mean.”
Bertram Nickolay grew up in Saarland, a tiny German state close to Luxembourg that is about as far from East Germany as you could go in West Germany. He came to West Berlin’s Technical University in 1974 to study engineering, the same year Ulrike Poppe was placed under Stasi surveillance on the other side of the Berlin Wall. A Christian, he felt out of place on a campus still full of leftist radicals praising East German communism and cursing the US.
Instead, Nickolay gravitated toward exiled East German dissidents and democracy activists. “I had a lot of friends who were writers and intellectuals in the GDR. There was an emotional connection,” he says.
Today, Nickolay is head of the Department of Security Technology for the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology. Fraunhofer is Europe’s largest research nonprofit, with 56 branches in Germany alone and an annual budget of more than $1 billion. (Fraunhofer researchers invented the MP3 audio codec, which netted the society more than $85 million in license fees in 2006.)
In 1996, Nickolay saw a TV news report on an unusual project. A team working for the Stasi Records Office (BStU), the newly created ministry responsible for managing the mountain of paper left behind by the secret police, had begun manually puzzling together bags full of documents, scrap by scrap. The results were explosive: Here was additional proof that East Germany sheltered terrorists, ran national sports doping programs, and conducted industrial espionage across Western Europe. BStU’s hand-assembly program also exposed hundreds of the Stasi’s secret informants — their ranks turned out to include bishops, university professors, and West German bureaucrats.
But the work is painfully slow. Gerd Pfeiffer, the project’s manager, says he and a dwindling staff have reassembled 620,500 pages of Stasi secrets in the 13 years since the project began. That works out to one bag per worker per year — 327 bags so far — and 700 years to finish.
That TV segment resonated with Nickolay — he had opposed the East German regime, and he had the necessary technical expertise. “This is essentially a problem of automation,” he says, “and that’s something Fraunhofer is very good at.” He sent a letter to the head of BStU offering his help.
The government was hesitant, but eventually the BStU issued a proof-of-concept challenge: Anyone who could digitally turn 12 pieces of ripped-up paper into a legible document or documents would get a grant. About 20 teams responded. Two years later, Nickolay’s group was the only one to succeed, earning a contract for a two-year, 400-bag pilot project.
On a gray day last fall, I sat in front of two wall-mounted Sharp Aquos flatscreen TVs hooked up to four networked computers. Next to me, Jan Schneider, Nickolay’s deputy and the manager of the Stasi document reconstruction project, booted up the machines. (This was just a demo: Nickolay refused to show me the actual lab, citing German privacy law.)
On the right-hand screen, digital images of paper fragments appeared — technicians had scanned them in using a specially designed, two-camera digital imaging system. As Schneider pulled down menus and clicked through a series of descriptive choices, fragments disappeared from the screen. “Basically, we need to reduce the search space,” he says. White paper or blue — or pink or green or multicolored? Plain, lined, or graph? Typewriting, handwriting, or both? Eventually, only a handful of similar-looking pieces remained. Once matched, the pieces get transferred to another processor. These popped up as a reconstructed page on the left-hand screen, rips still visible but essentially whole. (The reconstructors caught one big break: It turns out that the order-obsessed Stasi usually stuffed one bag at a time, meaning document fragments are often found together.)
Just 19 years old when the Berlin Wall fell, Schneider doesn’t share Nickolay’s moral outrage. For him, this is simply a great engineering challenge. He turns away from the massive monitors on the wall and picks up my business card to explain how the team is training the computers to look at these documents — the same way people do. “You see a white piece with blue writing on it — computer writing, machine writing, not handwriting — and here in the upper left is a logo. Tear it up and you’d immediately know what to look for, what goes together.”
But my card is easy. For one thing, I sprang for heavy stock, and you’d be hard-pressed to tear it into enough pieces to constitute “destroyed.” The Stasi files are something else entirely. In 2000, the BStU collected them and sent them to Magdeburg, a decaying East German industrial city 90 miles west of Berlin. In hand-numbered brown paper sacks, neatly stacked on row after row of steel shelves, they fill a three-story, 60,000-square-foot warehouse on the northern edge of town. Each sack contains about 40,000 fragments, for a total of 600 million pieces of paper (give or take a hundred million). And each fragment has two sides. That’s more than a billion images.
The numbers aren’t the worst part. The documents in the bags date from the 1940s to the 1980s, and they’re made of everything from carbon paper and newsprint to Polaroids and heavy file folders. That means the fragments have a wide variety of textures and weights. Hand-ripping stacks of thick paper creates messy, overlapping margins with a third dimension along the edges. For a computer looking for 2-D visual clues, overlaps show up as baffling gaps. “Keep ripping smaller and smaller and you can get pieces that are all edge,” Schneider says.
The data for the 400-bag pilot project is stored on 22 terabytes worth of hard drives, but the system is designed to scale. If work on all 16,000 bags is approved, there may be hundreds of scanners and processors running in parallel by 2010. (Right now they’re analyzing actual documents, but still mostly vetting and refining the system.) Then, once assembly is complete, archivists and historians will probably spend a decade sorting and organizing. “People who took the time to rip things up that small had a reason,” Nickolay says. “This isn’t about revenge but about understanding our history.” And not just Germany’s — Nickolay has been approached by foreign officials from Poland and Chile with an interest in reconstructing the files damaged or destroyed by their own repressive regimes.
This kind of understanding isn’t cheap. The German parliament has given Fraunhofer almost $9 million to scan the first 400 bags. If the system works, expanding up the operation to finish the job will cost an estimated $30 million. Most of the initial cost is research and development, so the full reconstruction would mainly involve more scanners and personnel to feed the paper in.
Is it worth it? Günter Bormann, the BStU’s senior legal expert, says there’s an overwhelming public demand for the catharsis people find in their files. “When we started in 1992, I thought we’d need five years and then close the office,” Bormann says. Instead, the Records Office was flooded with half a million requests in the first year alone. Even in cases where files hadn’t been destroyed, waiting times stretched to three years. In the past 15 years, 1.7 million people have asked to see what the Stasi knew about them.
Requests dipped in the late 1990s, but the Oscar-winning 2006 film The Lives of Others, about a Stasi agent who monitors a dissident playwright, seems to have prompted a surge of new applications; 2007 marked a five-year high. “Every month, 6,000 to 8,000 people decide to read their files for the first time,” Bormann says. These days, the Stasi Records Office spends $175 million a year and employs 2,000 people.
This being Germany, there’s even a special word for it: Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or “coming to terms with the past.” It’s not self-evident — you could imagine a country deciding, communally, to recover from a totalitarian past by simply gathering all the documents and destroying them. In fact, in 1990 the German press and citizen committees were wracked by debate over whether to do just that. Many people, however, suspected that former Stasi agents and ex-informants were behind the push to forgive and forget.
By preserving and reconstructing the Stasi archives, BStU staffers say they hope to keep history from repeating itself. In November, the first children born after the fall of the wall turned 18. Evidence suggests many of them have serious gaps in their knowledge of the past. In a survey of Berlin high school students, only half agreed that the GDR was a dictatorship. Two-thirds didn’t know who built the Berlin Wall.
The files hold the tantalizing possibility of an explanation for the strangeness that pervaded preunification Germany. Even back then, Poppe wondered if the Stasi had information that would explain it all. “I always used to wish that some Stasi agent would defect and call me up to say, Here, I brought your file with me,'” Poppe says.
Reading the reports in that first set of 40 binders spurred her to uncover as much as she could about her monitored past. Since 1995, Poppe has received 8 pages from the group putting together documents by hand; the collection of taped-together paper is in a binder on her Stasi shelf.
The truth is, for Poppe the reconstructed documents haven’t contained bombshells that are any bigger than the information in the rest of her file. She chooses a black binder and sets it down on the glass coffee table in her living room. After lighting a Virginia Slim, she flips to a page-long list of snitches who spied on her. She was able to match codenames like Carlos, Heinz, and Rita to friends, coworkers, and even colleagues in the peace movement. She even tracked down the Stasi officer who managed her case, and after she set up a sort of ambush for him at a bar — he thought he was there for a job interview — they continued to get together.
Over the course of half a dozen meetings, they talked about what she found in her files, why the Stasi was watching her, what they thought she was doing. For months, it turned out, an agent was assigned to steal her baby stroller and covertly let the air out of her bicycle tires when she went grocery shopping with her two toddlers. “If I had told anyone at the time that the Stasi was giving me flat tires, they would have laughed at me,” she says. “It was a way to discredit people, make them seem crazy. I doubted my own sanity sometimes.” Eventually, the officer broke off contact, but continued to telephone Poppe — often drunk, often late at night, sometimes complaining about his failing marriage. He eventually committed suicide.
Poppe is looking forward to finding out what was in that last, reconstructed 5 percent. “The files were really important to see,” she says, taking a drag on her cigarette and leaning forward across the coffee table. “They explained everything that happened — the letters we never got, the friends who pulled away from us. We understood where the Stasi influenced our lives, where they arranged for something to happen, and where it was simply our fault.”
Functions of the BStU
“The Office of the Federal Commissioner (BStU) preserves the records of the Ministry for State Security of the GDR in its archives and makes these available for various purposes to private individuals, institutions and the public in accordance with strict legal regulations. In an internationally unique action, in 1989/90, in the course of the peaceful revolution against the Communist regime in East Germany, demonstrators occupied the administrative offices of the former Ministry for State Security of the GDR (MfS) and forced the dissolution of this apparatus of oppression. The revolutionary will of the citizens and the freely elected parliament of the GDR smoothed the way for the securing and controlled opening of the Stasi files. With German Unity on October 3, 1990, the office was founded. It was established by Joachim Gauck and is currently directed by Marianne Birthler. The BStU has the task of instructing the public on the structure, methods and mode of operation of the MfS. In doing so, it contributes to the historical, political, judicial and societal research on the SED dictatorship. It advances the public examination of totalitarian ideas and structures, in that it makes public questions on political research.
The heart of the office is the archive with the Stasi legacy. It records the methods of the regime and the knowledge of the power of the former SED as the Communist official party of the GDR and of its secret police: files, index cards, films, audio documents, microfiche. It is one of the largest archives in Germany with a total of 180 km of records. The internet site, BStU Online, gives an impression of the inventories, the work of the archivists and the condition of the records.
At the end of 1991, the Stasi Records Act (StUG) provided the legal framework for the various forms of the inspection of files. Individuals, who were spied on by the Stasi, are given top priority; they can inspect their files to see how the MfS determined their fate. In addition to this, the BStU allows the examination of persons in elevated functions and offices. Scholars and journalists can also request access to the files for historic research.
A great amount of work is required to be able to provide the Stasi records to individuals, offices and institutions. The file information area helps with the inquiry and prepares the files for release. Since the Stasi impacted the personal rights of people in an enormous way, the records – in contrast to normal archives – are handled in accordance with strict privacy policies and only released for certain purposes and according to the special regulations set out in the Stasi Record Law. Unfortunately, these complicated procedures lead time and again to significant waiting times for those filing applications, since there is still such a large demand.
The Stasi Records Office not only releases files, but also does research on the history of the MfS itself and publishes files and research results in its own publications. It provides information on the most recent findings on the history of dictatorship in events, exhibitions and on the internet. The work of the BStU contributes to keeping alive the memory of the SED dictatorship, of its victims, and also of the opposition and resistance to the system. In this way, memory and information take the place of forgetting, silence and revisionism.
The office of the BStU sees itself as a modern service institution that works transparently and for the people. Its headquarters is in Berlin and it has 14 outposts with their own archives in the former capitals of the sectors of the GDR. As a federal regulatory authority, the BStU is part of the area of operations of the Commissioner for Culture and Media (BKM). The German Bundestag (German parliament) selects the Federal Commissioner at the suggestion of the Federal Government. She is independent in the exercise of her office and subject only to the law. The legal supervision is incumbent on the Federal Government; the BKM is responsible for disciplinary supervision.
Many post-dictatorial societies of the world see the legally regulated access rights, which are meant to serve both the interests of a democratic public and the protection of personal rights, as a model for dealing with the files of a dictatorship. The Stasi Records Office has long become an international symbol for research on dictators and the aftereffects of a dictatorship.”
BEFORE the PAPERLESS OFFICE
Shredded East German secret police files being reassembled by
computer / May 9, 2007
BERLIN (AP) – German researchers said Wednesday that they were launching an attempt to reassemble millions of shredded East German secret police files using complicated computerized algorithms. The files were shredded as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and it became clear that the East German regime was finished. Panicking officials of the Stasi secret police attempted to destroy the vast volumes of material they had kept on everyone from their own citizens to foreign leaders.
So great was the task that it overwhelmed the shredding machines, and a large number of the documents were torn by hand into between eight and thirty pieces. Some 16,250 sacks containing pieces of 45 million shredded documents were found and confiscated after the reunification of Germany in 1990. Reconstruction work began 12 years ago but 24 people have been able to reassemble the contents of only 323 sacks. “Many important documents are slumbering in these sacks,” Marianne Birthler, head of the Stasi archives, told Deutschlandfunk radio.
Berlin’s Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology estimates that putting everything back together by hand would take 30 people 600 to 800 years. Researchers are hopeful they will be able to put together 400 sacks in two years using new computer technology employed by the Frauenhofer Institute. If the government-funded $8.53 million pilot project is successful, head researcher Bertram Nickolay said, researchers will be able to put together all of the bags in four to five years.
Using algorithms developed 15 years ago to help decipher barely legible lists of Nazi concentration camp victims, each individual strip of the shredded Stasi files will be scanned on both sides. The data then will be fed into the computer for interpretation using color recognition; texture analysis; shape and pattern recognition; machine and handwriting analysis and the recognition of forged official stamps, Nickolay said in a statement.
Hand-torn documents are expected to be the easiest to reassemble, because the pieces can be matched together by shape, like a complicated puzzle. Putting the machine-shredded documents together requires analysis of the script on the surface of the fragments. The institute has already had success putting together similarly destroyed documents for Germany’s tax authorities.
email : nickolay [at] ipk.fhg [dot] de / bertram.nickolay [at] ipk.fraunhofer [dot] de
New Computer Program to Reassemble Shredded Stasi Files / 05/10/2007
Millions of files consigned to paper shredders in the late days of the East German regime will be pieced together by computer. The massive job of reassembling this puzzle from the late Cold War was performed, until now, by hand. It’s been years in the making, but finally software designed to electronically piece together some 45 million shredded documents from the East German secret police went into service in Berlin on Wednesday. Now, a puzzle that would take 30 diligent Germans 600 to 800 years to finish by hand, according to one estimate, might be solved by computer in seven. “It’s very exciting to decode Stasi papers,” said Jan Schneider, head engineer on the project at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology located in the German capital. “You have the feeling you are making history.” Or at least putting it back together again. In 1989, with the looming collapse of the Communist regime becoming increasingly evident, agents of the East German Staatssicherheitsdienst or Stasi feverishly plowed millions of active files through paper shredders, or just tore them up by hand.
Rights activists interrupted the project and rescued a total of 16,250 garbage bags full of scraps. But rescuing the history on those sheets of paper amounted to an absurdly difficult jigsaw puzzle. By 2000, no more than 323 sacks were legible again — reconstructed by a team of 15 people working in Nuremburg — leaving 15,927 to go. So the German government promised money to any group that could plausibly deal with the remaining tons of paper. The Fraunhofer Institute won the contract in 2003, and began a pilot phase of the project on Wednesday. Four hundred sacks of scraps will be scanned, front and back, and newly-refined software will try to arrange the digitized fragments according to shape, texture, ink color, handwriting style and recognizable official stamps.
Günter Bormann, from the agency that oversees old Stasi documents (the Federal Commission for the Records of the national Security Service of the Former German Democratic Republic), says most of the paper probably dates from the years 1988 and 1989. “This is what Stasi officers had on their desks at the end,” he says. “It’s not material from dusty archives.” Still-unknown Stasi informants — ordinary East Germans who spied on other East Germans — stand to be uncovered. International espionage files are reportedly not among the thousands of sacks; most of those having been more conclusively destroyed.
The Fraunhofer Institute’s computers will start with documents torn by hand, because large irregular fragments lend themselves to shape recognition more readily than uniform strips from shredding machines. The institute received a promise of €6.3 million ($8.53 million) in April from the German parliament for this phase, which is expected to take about two years. If it’s deemed successful, the rest of the job would take four to five years, according to project chief Bertram Nickolay. The final cost will be up to €30 million.
SEDUCED by SECRETS – STASI SPYCRAFT
Interview with Anna Funder – Adventures in Stasiland
Sarah Coleman / June 16, 2003
In 1949, a year after George Orwell published his dystopian novel 1984, the world of Big Brother became a stark reality for 17 million Germans who found themselves living in the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. A communist state that attempted to rise above Nazism, the G.D.R. soon substituted that system’s cruelties with abuses of its own. Its notorious secret service, the Stasi—which, at its height, had as many as one informer for every 6.5 people—was uniquely positioned to spy on citizens. Once it had designated someone an “enemy of the state,” the Stasi was empowered to monitor every detail of his life, from the novels on his shelves to his child’s friends or his favorite beer.
Australian Anna Funder’s first contact with East Germany came in the 1980s, when she was a student in West Berlin. “I wondered long and hard what went on behind that Wall,” she writes in Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall (Granta). A couple of day trips to the East only served to heighten her curiosity, and after the Wall fell in 1989, she returned to work in Berlin and began collecting the stories that would form the basis of her first book.
In Stasiland, Funder set out to find out how it felt to live in “the most perfected surveillance state of all time.” She interviewed Miriam Weber, who was imprisoned as a teenager after scaling the Berlin Wall, and Klaus Renft—the East’s Mick Jagger—who was once declared by authorities to “no longer exist.” She also talked to Sigrid Paul, a timid dental technician who found an untapped reservoir of courage when the Berlin Wall separated her from her baby son, desperately ill in a West Berlin hospital.
No less fascinating were the men who kept the Stasi machinery running smoothly, and in Stasiland, Funder includes their stories too. After placing an advertisement in a local paper, she was flooded with responses from ex-Stasi officers who, eager to tell their stories, came out of the woodwork to describe the bizarre methods the Stasi used to track their victims. These ranged from planting irradiated pins in suspects’ clothes to collecting “smell samples” from them.
Funder’s careful portraits of the people she meets from “Stasiland” shine a dazzling light on one of the world’s most paranoid and secretive regimes, and its effects on contemporary German society. Nominated for several literary prizes in her native Australia, Stasiland is a lyrical and quirky examination of a country gone wrong.
Q: You started this book when you were working at a TV station in West Berlin that broadcast to foreign countries, and a viewer wrote to ask why the station didn’t do any stories on the former G.D.R. Your bosses said it was because nobody was interested in East Germans, that the whole story of the G.D.R. was embarrassing and best forgotten. Was that a prevalent attitude, and is it still?
A: I’m probably not the best person to talk about the West German attitude toward East Germans—but yes, that’s what I did notice. It was as though the hick cousins, the ones you’re related to but embarrassed by, suddenly come to stay in your house. Given 40 years of socialism and the very deliberate attempt to create a different sort of person, it’s hardly surprising that there was mutual suspicion. I didn’t get the sense that people were proud of those who had resisted the regime. Even though those resisters were relatively few, they were certainly there.
Q: One of those resisters was Miriam Weber, whose story set the book in motion for you. She was a teenager who was put in prison after she attempted to scale the Berlin Wall, and who subsequently lost her husband to probable Stasi torture. What was it about her story that moved you so much?
A: I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, but I think I can say now that I was looking for stories of courage. In a world that’s divided into Us and Them, it takes extreme courage to resist oppression —when you come across that kind of courage in a young woman like Miriam, it’s inspirin . I think I’m interested in it because I’m yellow-bellied myself—you’re always interested in what you don’t have.
Q: Did it help that you were coming in as an outsider looking at the former East Germany, and what did the outsider’s perspective give you?
A: I think it helped enormously. If this book had been written by a German, people would have been looking for a political agenda and assuming that it had one. That’s not to say that I didn’t have all kinds of pre-existing prejudices. But being an outsider made my life easier in a very practical sense. Specifically, some of the Stasi men I interviewed wanted to talk to me because I was an Australian, where they wouldn’t have spoken to a German. One said to me in all seriousness, before handing over a copy of Karl Marx’s manifesto, “I want to talk to you because I think that perhaps your media in Australia will be open to socialism.” Also, it made it easier for some people to tell their stories, because if you’re telling your story to someone from Mars, you have to tell it very fully. You can’t use shorthand, or say, “Oh, you know what it’s like,” because that person doesn’t know.
Q: What do you think accounts for the fact that so many ex-Stasi men were willing to come forward and tell their stories?
A: It varied. In some cases it was the chance to proselytize. Herr Winz, who I quoted before, did think that Australia would be a new market for socialism. In general, though, these were men used to having power and living in a place where there was no free press. To be stripped of authority so suddenly was a very big shock to them. I think they wanted to talk to someone who found them important. There are exceptions to that rule. Herr Christian, who worked as a Stasi encrypter and became a private detective after unification, had had some difficult times in the Stasi, and was imprisoned because he’d been unfaithful to his wife. So he had mixed feelings.
Q: There’s a great line in the book where you say that after unification, many ex-Stasi men went into jobs in insurance, telemarketing, and real estate, and that they were suited for these jobs, having been “schooled in the art of convincing people to do things against their own self-interest.” What’s your sense of how these men have integrated into German society? Are they accepted or vilified?
A: My impression from being there recently is that Westerners say, “We can’t judge the Stasi because if we’d lived in that system maybe we would have collaborated.” I think that’s a well-intentioned but mistaken thing to say. You can say, in retrospect, that what happened was wrong, and that people who perpetrated this system should be punished. The ex-Stasi men have work histories, employment records, skills, and education, so their employment prospects are quite good—much better than the rest of their countrymen. Still, the older and higher ranking ones are bitter, and some belong to organizations that meet regularly and perpetrate vengeful acts on citizens’ rights campaigners. People’s brake leads have been cut, perhaps pornography will be delivered to your door that you haven’t ordered, or your child will be picked up from school by a stranger and taken to drink hot chocolate.
There was a law passed in the early 1990s where Germany decided that if you’d been in a public position, for example if you were a policeman who informed for the Stasi, you couldn’t continue to hold that position. This was for the good reason that many people would have known that that person had been in the Stasi, and it would be inappropriate for such a person to continue representing the state. But with the exception of the higher-ups, there have been very few actions taken against ex-Stasi officials.
Q: After the fall of the G.D.R., there was a lot of discussion over whether to open up the Stasi files to the public. West Germany, in its draft unification treaty, wanted to keep them under federal control but relented after there were public protests. Does that seem to have been a good decision?
A: Well, it’s an interesting issue. Access to the files was very hotly debated at the beginning of the 1990s. None of the other formerly communist countries granted access the way Germany did. It was assumed that blood would run in the streets, that people would seek private revenge on their informers. That didn’t happen, and I don’t know quite why, but I think people were just too demoralized by the betrayals. Now, as a result of a legal action by former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, there are various limits being imposed on access to files, and repeated threats to shut them. It continues to be a very controversial issue.
Q: The G.D.R. was run by “the two Erichs”—Honecker, the Prime Minister, and Mielke, the head of the Stasi. Honecker’s image was everywhere, but Mielke was an invisible, malevolent presence. What kind of a man was he?
A: Well, here’s a bizarre fact that I didn’t put in the book. I’d long been fascinated by George Orwell’s work, but I resisted reading 1984 until I finished the manuscript for Stasiland. After that, I devoured it, and I couldn’t believe Orwell’s prescience. When I went into Mielke’s office, I saw it had the number 101, which in 1984 is the number of the torture chamber. 1984 was banned in the G.D.R. but of course, Mielke and Honecker had access to banned material. The guide told me that Mielke wanted this number so much that even though his office was on the 2nd floor, he had the entire first floor renamed the Mezzanine so that he could call his room 101.
He was a small man who liked to display medals in shiny rows on his chest. He also liked marching songs, inspecting troops, and killing animals, which he’d lay out for inspection as though they were troops. He was deeply paranoid, sophisticated in some ways and utterly thuggish in others. By the end, it seemed as though he’d gone completely mad. After the Wall fell, he stood up in Parliament and said, “But I love you all”—as if everything he’d done had been in the service of the nation and out of love of the people.
Q: At the height of G.D.R., there was as many as one Stasi informer per 6.5 citizens (including part-time informers). In the book, you quote various people who speculate on why East Germans were willing to inform on their neighbors. Herr Bock, a Stasi officer who recruited and trained informers, says it gave people the feeling that they were important and that they had one over on their neighbor. On the other hand, there’s a psychologist who says it satisfied something in the German mentality, a need for order and discipline. What’s your theory?
A: I didn’t really come to any hard and fast conclusions—but I think one of the interesting things about this situation is that it’s a slippery slope people face all the time. If your boss takes you out to lunch and asks you to criticize someone in the office, or a friend wants you to rat on another friend—those things happen frequently, and you can do it or not. The fact that this nation ran on such betrayals is a terrible exploitation of a very human trait. People from both East and West told me that Germans had a love for order, discipline, and subservience to authority. But who’s to say if those things pre-date the systems that were imposed on Germans in the 20th century— Nazism and communism.
Q: One of the biggest questions the book poses is whether it’s healthier (for a person, a group, a country) to remember a painful past, or to try to forget it and move on. Did you come to any conclusions about that?
A: I think the question of how useful it is to rework trauma is a very individual one; it’s a balancing act for each person. There’s one school of thought that says you deal with a past trauma in analysis and then you move on, but that’s a fiction we tell ourselves. You don’t just get something out and move on. In a political sense, not a psychological one, I think it’s incredibly important to compensate people who’ve suffered under a terrible regime—until that’s done, there’s no moving on, and it’s a double repression.
Q: One of the most moving sections in the book concerns Sigrid Paul, whose very sick baby son was spirited across the border to a hospital in West Berlin to save his life. Frau Paul subsequently tried to escape to the West, failed, then refused to betray the West German student who’d helped her, even when the Stasi offered her a deal that would have meant seeing her son. She was jailed for five years. One reason her story is so poignant is that she still sees herself as a criminal. Has the Federal Republic of Germany ever established any prizes or commendations for people like her who resisted Stasi blackmail?
A: It’s possible that there have been prizes given out to the most famous of the resisters. I started working on this book in 1995, and if that had happened at that point, I didn’t know about it. In Frau Paul’s case, not only did she not get any kind of reward, she also found it difficult to get any kind of restitution for being a political prisoner. That’s an extreme situation, but it’s not that uncommon. It’s generally quite difficult for people to prove that their current illnesses are due to having been in a Stasi prison.
Q: Now that there’s a younger generation coming of age that didn’t experience the regime of the G.D.R. so directly, is integration becoming easier?
A: I think it is. I think if you were a kid or a teenager when the wall fell in 1989, you were pretty much unscathed by the regime. In 20 years time, the G.D.R. will look like a 40-year blip in German history. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be worthy of continued examination. In current-day politics we swing between left and right on a very narrow spectrum, but it’s worth remembering that extremism is never very far away. After World War II, there was a big survey conducted in Germany where people were asked about Nazism, and many people said that it was a good idea, it just suffered in the implementation. I think that sort of thinking is the beginning of the end—obviously, in any political system it’s the implementation that counts.
Q: Are there any plans to publish Stasiland in Germany?
A: It’s under consideration at the moment, and I think it will be published there, but it’s a sensitive issue. So far it’s been sent to more than 20 publishers in Germany, and had more than 20 rejections. One rejection letter said, this is the best book by a foreigner on this issue—which, given that it’s the only book by a foreigner on the subject, isn’t much of a compliment—but in the current political climate, it can’t be published. It’s generally believed that people want to forget about the past and move on—but I find it curious that they wouldn’t want to know about this when so much remains unresolved. I think that as long as Miriam doesn’t know what really happened to her husband Charlie, and Frau Paul and other political prisoners don’t have restitution, this is an issue German society needs to know about.
the STASI SMELL MUSEUM
“After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many astounding revelations came to light about the Stasi, the East German secret police. One of the more bizarre activities the Stasi was found to have engaged in was the collection of Geruchsproben – smell samples – for the benefit of the East German smell hounds. The odors, collected during interrogations using a perforated metal “smell sample chair” or by breaking into people’s homes and stealing their dirty underwear, were stored in small glass jars. Many of the remaining East German smell jars are on display at the Stasi Museum in Berlin.”
The German authorities are compiling a database of human scents to track down possible violent protesters at the G8 summit in June. The method, once used by East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, involves collecting scent samples in advance from selected targets. The scents are then passed to police equipped with sniffer dogs who can pick the individuals out amid a crowd. Past G8 summits have suffered serious unrest, which Germany is keen to avoid.
The Interior Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, has defended the authorities’ decision to use scent tracking, saying it is a useful tool to identify suspects. A spokesman for the federal prosecutor has confirmed that samples of smell were gathered from five people who were detained during recent police raids. It is understood the suspects were made to hold metal pipes in their hands and the samples of smell were kept by police.
Investigators using sniffer dogs were able to compare the scent samples with traces left at the scene of more than a dozen arson attacks which are believed to be linked to anti-globalisation activists. The deputy speaker of parliament, Wolfgang Thierse, warned the authorities not to use techniques which could lead to a police state like the former Communist regime. And Petra Pau, a politician from the opposition Left Party, described the move “as another step away from a democratic state of law toward a preventive security state”.
“A state that adopts the methods of the East German Stasi, robs itself of every… legitimacy,” she said in a statement.
The Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, which acted as East Germany’s secret police and intelligence agency throughout the Cold War, used odour recognition to keep tabs on potential dissidents. They often collected the samples surreptitiously – breaking into homes to steal suspects’ underwear, or by wiping down chairs used during interrogations. The samples were then stored in glass jars, each carefully labelled with details of whom the sample came from. Some of the jars are now on display at the Stasi museum in Berlin.
As the current holders of the G8 presidency, Germany is playing host to the summit, which is being held in the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm. Past summits have been targeted by thousands of anti-globalisation activists and protests have often turned violent.
Weber, Carl / A Picaresque Tale: East Germany’s Last Act
PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art – PAJ 65 (Volume 22, Number 2),
May 2000, pp. 142-145
“The Berlin Wall was opened up in the late evening of November 9, 1989. This was an event that was totally unexpected, from Washington to Berlin to Moscow and places beyond. It happened, according to the press and later official statements, due to a press conference during which a prominent member of East Germany’s ruling Socialist Unity Party’s leadership, Gnther Schabowski, made a remark indicating that citizens of the East German Republic would henceforth be allowed to travel freely to the West. Within the hour, thousands appeared at the checkpoints where West Berlin could be entered. The border guards, without instructions from their superiors, felt compelled to open the gates, and West Berlin experienced a deluge of citizens from the eastern part of the city. The events of that chaotic night have still not been completely sorted out. What is certain is that this event heralded the end of the Communist system in Central and Eastern Europe, including the former Soviet Union. There were rumors at the time, and they still are believed by many, that the opening of the Wall had been planned and instrumentalized by the infamous “Stasi,” the secret police of the former GDR. The Stasi (acronym for Staatssicherheit, i.e., State Security) combined…”
DECOMPOSITION [of PEOPLE, PSYCHOLOGICALLY; STASI VERNACULAR]
to CREATE POPULAR BELIEF EVERYTHING is UNDER CONTROL [IT IS NOT]
Big Brother Is Still Haunting Society in Germany’s East
BY Roger Cohen / November 29, 1999
Rüdiger Hinze took a scrap of paper from his eyeglass case and read four names: Jäger, Kopp, Schulze and Schreiber. “Those are the code names,” he said, “of the people in this village who spied on me for years.” A retired teacher, Hinze keeps the list of false identities with his glasses to be regularly reminded of the people who spent years recording each person he met, each card game he played, each word he uttered — and then passing on the information to the East German state security service, known as the Stasi.
This village of 1,200 was close enough to what was then the border with West Germany to be of particular interest to the Communist secret police. A teacher like Hinze who was disinclined to sing the praises of Bolshevism was a reasonable target for inclusion in the 125 miles of files that are the legacy of perhaps the most spied-on society in history. Like many people in Germany, and in other post-Communist states in Central and Eastern Europe, Hinze, 54, has recently read his Stasi file. The 100 pages have left him stunned, perplexed. Who informed on him? Why such detail? How could he live in such a society? These are questions that haunt millions of Europeans even a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Indeed, in Germany the tide of questioning is rising.
When Hitler’s Reich collapsed in 1945, Germans spent 20 years avoiding a full confrontation with Nazism. German valor at Stalingrad outweighed German murder at Treblinka. Only under the insistent pressure of the postwar generation in West Germany — the 1960’s revolutionaries who are the rulers of today — was history stared in the face. Erich Honecker, long the leader of East Germany, was not Hitler. But his police state of 17 million people boasted 95,000 full-time Stasi agents, more than double the number of Gestapo agents in Nazi Germany, which had four times the population. As in the postwar period, a delayed reaction to the trauma of dictatorship is becoming clear. “Applications to see Stasi files are rising sharply and now run at 15,000 a month from individuals,” said Johannes Legner, a senior official at the government commission that oversees the six million files. “It’s the same story as in 1945: partial amnesia is followed by awakening. I believe the real wave of interest and generational conflict are still to come.”
Legner was born in 1954. He recalls asking his parents: what about Auschwitz? He is convinced that similar questions will come from the generation born in the decade since Communism collapsed: Were you a secret informer for the Stasi? How could you live and look at that wall? How did it feel to be part of a police state? Of course, the very existence of the commission for which Legner works and the access to their Stasi files granted German citizens shows the lengths to which Germany is going to be more open about its history than it was in 1945. Elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, countries have wrestled in different ways with the issues of justice and reconciliation, but in general few former Communists have served prison sentences, and the vetting process to keep government positions free of diehard Marxists is slowly winding down.
The Federal Republic is immeasurably more democratic in its soul and in its convictions than the shell-shocked “Volk” that emerged from the rubble of Hitler’s war or any incarnation of Germany since the modern state was formed in 1871. But the trauma of the Stasi still inhabits Germany, adding another layer of suspicion and interrogation to a society that has already spent more than half a century trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. A few trials and convictions — including the recent one of Egon Krenz, the last East German leader and longtime head of state security — have done little to heal wounds that lie deep or to satisfy Germans that any form of justice is possible for intrusions into their lives that are still not fully understood. At the most immediate level, the confrontation with what the East German state security apparatus did is simply not over yet. More than 300,000 people are waiting to see their files, and the wait is generally at least two years from the time an application is filed. In addition, a vetting process continues. About 1.6 million people in public service, including teachers and police officers, have already been screened, and about 20,000 remain to be processed by the so-called Gauck Commission, named after the Rev. Joachim Gauck, a former East German dissident who heads the panel overseeing Stasi files.
The vetting does not always lead to dismissal: in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, for example, only a third of the teachers known to have had contact with the Stasi have been dismissed. Discretion is widely used by the Gauck Commission in the hope that people who may have spied under extreme pressure will be able to start anew. Demands from public entities and private companies for such clearance is declining. But with personal applications to see files going up from 10,000 to 15,000 a month, there is no prospect of the commission, with its 2,800 employees, being disbanded. At a deeper level, the impact of the Stasi is becoming clear. East Germany was a sophisticated repressive society. After the violence of the Stalinist period, the state — like others in Central Europe and the Balkans — did not employ murder on a wide scale. Rather, its aim was what the Stasi called the “decomposition” of people. Decomposition meant blocking people from acting. It meant paralyzing them as citizens by convincing them that everything was controlled. It meant the relentless application of a quiet coercion leading to compliance. “For the East German state, it was better to have no activity than an activity out of the Stasi’s control,” said Legner, who lived in West Berlin during most of the cold war years. “So no wonder many Germans in the east are unable to act on their own free will today.”
Certainly among older eastern Germans, this fear of personal initiative and sense of dependence on a state long seen as omnipotent have contributed to the unemployment rate of close to 20 percent in what was East Germany. The risk inherent in capitalism is simply alien. Worse, it is threatening. “We were all children of the East German state,” said Klaus Müller, a former officer in Honecker’s army. “We believed what we were told and we did what we were told, in the defense of socialism.” Müller, 47, has managed to recycle himself in a united Germany as a member of the border police at the Polish frontier. “When I took off my uniform, I also stepped out of my ideology,” he said. “Socialism was gone, we were told it was false and so I started to think again.” But such chameleonic changes of identity — and there are millions of them in Germany, as across Central and Eastern Europe — and the realization that there were as many as 160,000 unofficial informers for the Stasi have contributed to the sort of unease felt by Hinze, the teacher. Put simply, the former Communist world is still a place where the true identity of even an old acquaintance may be difficult to fathom. Swelling from cancer has twisted Hinze’s mouth into a grimace. As a result, his voice is indistinct. But the fierce intelligence in his deep blue eyes is clear enough, as is his conviction that the East German state broke him.
After the Berlin Wall fell, he waited several years to file an application to see his Stasi file. Then it took four years for his application to be approved. Finally, earlier this year, he read the file. Much of it was devoted to his standing in the village — his popularity (high), his friends (numerous), his reputation at the school (good). It was noted against him that he preferred to teach the lower school classes, where instruction in the glories of Communism and the feats of the October Revolution was not prominent. The file recorded that Hinze was approached by the Stasi in 1974, when he was 29, and offered the opportunity to become an agent. When he declined, he had to formulate in writing why he would not do such work. “I wrote that I could not do it because I would not be able to look my family, my friends and my colleagues in the eye,” Hinze recalled. “I also had to formally agree to tell nobody that I had been approached, or face the threat of what they called ‘state measures.’ ” The experience was psychologically devastating. The meaning of “state measures” was well known: imprisonment and likely torture. The message of the Stasi was clear enough: if you do not work with us, you are against us. It proved hugely effective in a society fashioned after the war to go on prizing obedience. “One thing that amazed me was the resources devoted to my trivial case,” said Hinze. “It became clear to me reading that file that East Germany went bankrupt in part because all the hard currency, all the top talent, was devoted to the Stasi.” The former teacher, who has received an early pension because of his illness, has now written to the Gauck Commission to see if he can discover the real identities behind those code names: Jäger, Kopp, Schulze and Schreiber. He says he is driven by interest rather than any desire for revenge. “I am reconciled,” he said. “I would not confront them.”
The true names may or may not be known to the Gauck Commission, because some Stasi files were destroyed and many of the most sensitive archives were spirited away and later acquired, probably in Russia, by the Central Intelligence Agency. The long reluctance of the C.I.A. to return those files has been a source of friction between the United State and Germany, although an accord on giving back most of them has now been reached. “For us this is a matter of basic civil rights,” said Legner. “This information was collected by Germans and belongs here. There are plenty of people whose lives have been destroyed and all we have is a code name for the person who did it. And the C.I.A. is sitting on that code, so we cannot identify who destroyed someone’s life.” With the expected return of many files next year, it seems likely that hundreds or even thousands of former Stasi agents still in prominent positions may be exposed. But the files will not bring back the dead, patch up damaged lives like Hinze’s or stanch the rising interest in who worked for the Stasi and why. “The best you can hope for is a dialogue where the perpetrators confess and so you have the confession as a consolation,” Legner said. “But I must say that when a man I now know spied on me in East Berlin calls and wants to talk, perhaps to excuse himself, I put the phone down. Refusing to speak to him is my own little punishment.”