Stasi Files Expose Past Injustices Some Germans Worry That Vigilante Justice, Social Upheaval Will Accompany Access to Files

By Francine S. Kiefer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 6, 1992 | Go to article overview

Stasi Files Expose Past Injustices Some Germans Worry That Vigilante Justice, Social Upheaval Will Accompany Access to Files


Francine S. Kiefer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


VERA WOLLENBERGER'S husband, Knud, swore to her by their children that he did not spy on her for the hated East German secret police - the Stasi.

He was lying.

Ms. Wollenberger, an activist in the peace movement in the days of East German communism and now a member of the German Parliament, laid out in the press last month what it was like to discover that her own husband had informed on her.

When her husband confessed, she wrote, "Something took my breath away. Something in me cried, 'No!

She said, "What should I tell my children, who at this moment are hiding handmade Christmas presents in every corner? I don't know who their father is anymore."

Many more Germans are likely to be shocked by similar discoveries since their Stasi secret police files were opened to the public Jan. 1.

Many Germans predict social upheaval and vigilante justice, as those who suffered under the communist regime discover the identities of their persecutors - including friends and relatives.

The files, which contain information on about 6 million people, are under the lock and key of Joachim Gauck and his 800 fellow workers in Berlin. Mr. Gauck has been charged by the federal government to oversee the massive archive. Applications to see files must be made in writing to Gauck's office. Gauck's team will delete names of third parties and details they deem irrelevant to an application.

Gauck admits his office will be overwhelmed by an expected 70,000 applications per month. Although he has been given approval to expand his staff to 3,500, it will take months to clear an application. People who suffered special hardship under the Stasi, such as political prisoners and expellees, will have first priority. Requests from historians and the media will be handled separately.

The new law is highly controversial. First, files may not be complete, since the Stasi destroyed many in 1989 and 1990.

Meanwhile, the press has complained bitterly that the law is tantamount to government censorship. …

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