East Germany: The Stasi and De-Stasification

By Koehler, John O. | Demokratizatsiya, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

East Germany: The Stasi and De-Stasification


Koehler, John O., Demokratizatsiya


Shortly Mikhail Gorbachev was installed as secretary general of the Soviet Union's Communist Party in the spring of 1985, he began to pursue his liberalization policies of glasnost and perestroika. The impact was felt almost immediately within the ruling Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED), the Communist Party of the East German Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). Gorbachev's policies gave new hope for political, economic, and social renewal to those disenchanted with the gerontological Stalinist leadership of Erich Honecker and his sycophants. (1)

A new wind was blowing from the East, generated by the "great teacher"--the Soviet Union. In line with the USSR's change of course, both Moscow's German-language propaganda magazine, Sputnik, and its weekly newspaper, Neue Zeit, reprinted Gorbachev's speeches and editorialized on the necessity for reforms of the socialist system. For East Germany's leaders, however, they became hostile publications and were banned despite protests emanating from Moscow. Nonetheless, they presaged a major change: For the first time since the founding of the DDR in 1949, the restlessness of Party members and much of the citizenry could not be blamed on the capitalist enemy of the proletariat.

Until the mid-1980s, opposition to the regime was largely underground, although hundreds of thousands of burghers spent time in penitentiaries for publicly voicing their discontent. The repression began immediately after the end of World War II, carried out by Soviet security services and German Communist Party veterans (both those who had been in exile in the Soviet Union and those that had survived Nazi imprisonment). Thousands of people were arrested and shipped off to the infamous former Nazi concentration camps of Sachsenhansen and Buchenwald. Initially, the inhabitants of East Germany shrugged off the wave of arrests, believing the victims to be only former Nazi officials or war criminals. Then, in spring 1946, the Soviets ordered the fusion of two archenemies, the German Communist Party (the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, or KPD) and the German Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or SPD).

Outwardly, the creation of the new party, the SED, appeared to proceed smoothly. In reality, however, thousands of rank-and-file socialists opposed to the union were thrown into prisons or concentration camps. They were joined by people who had been denounced for making anticommunist or anti-Soviet remarks, hundreds of them as young as fourteen. (2)

On August 16, 1947, the Soviet Military Administration (SMA) ordered the creation of the first postwar German political police. Named Kommissariat 5 (K-5), it was formally attached to the criminal investigation department of the Volkspolizei (the People's Police, or VOPO). In reality, however, it operated independently under Soviet supervision; the subterfuge was necessary because the rules of the Allied Control Commission for Germany forbade the reestablishment of a German political police. Wilhelm Zaisser, a veteran German operative for Soviet military intelligence (GRU) and a former commander of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, was named as its head. Erich Mielke, another long-time Communist agent of the Soviet security services, became Zaisser's deputy.

During its early years, the K-5 arrested citizens and turned them over to the Soviet security organs for trial by Soviet military tribunals. In most cases, the proceedings lasted no more than a few minutes, often resulting in sentences of twenty-five years in a Soviet labor camp or a high security penitentiary in East Germany. (3) Less than a year later, Erich Mielke was detailed to create another secret police bearing the innocuous name of Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission, the German Economic Commission. It was charged with guarding confiscated property against "misuse and sabotage," as well as with the investigation of "economic crimes. …

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