East Germany: The Stasi and De-Stasification
by Koehler, John O
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. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3996/is_200407/ai_n9409113/
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 Sachsenhausen 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."4 In the first year after the war, 1.6 million people left the Soviet zone, creating a serious shortage of skilled workers and specialists.5 Consequently, protection of the economy, including pursuit of East Germans escaping to the West, became a major secret police function.
Creation of the Ministry of State security
The German Democratic Republic was created in October 1949, with a government consisting of a Ministerrat, or ministerial council. Its members also belonged to the Communist Party's twenty-one-member Politburo and the Central Committee (ZK). In an effort to demonstrate that the DDR was ruled by a parliamentary democracy, a provisional Volkskammer (People's Chamber) was installed. It was purely a rubber-stamp body, however-all laws created by the Politburo were passed by the Volkskammer without dissent, and subsequently promulgated by the Ministerrat.6
On January 14, 1950, the Soviet Military Administration ceded all judicial functions to their German minions and informed the government that all Soviet "internment" camps had been closed. In the five years following the end of World War II, the Soviets and their vassals had arrested between 170,000 and 180,000 Germans. Some 160,000 Germans had passed through the concentration camps-of these, about 65,000 had died, 36,000 had been shipped to gulags in the Soviet Union, and another 46,000 were freed.7 The rest were turned over to East German authorities to continue serving the sentences handed down by military tribunals. Less than a month later, parliament rubber-stamped a two-paragraph proposal creating the Ministry for State security (MfS).8 Thus, the Stasi was born.
Wilhelm Zaisser was appointed minister and given a seat on the Politburo and membership in the Central Committee. The Economic Commission was integrated into the MfS and its head, Erich Mielke, was appointed state secretary and deputy to Zaisser. Mielke was also accorded membership in the Central Committee.
The ministry's initial mandate was limited to internal security-the suppression of political dissent, counter-espionage, and sabotage. The foreign espionage service, formed in 1951 under the cover of the Institute for Economic Scientific Research, was administratively attached to the MfS in 1953 as Department XV. Its headquarters was in an East Berlin suburb and more or less operated independently. This was very distressing to Mielke, who at one point accused the service and its director, Markus Wolf, of being "ideological subversives who underestimated the dangers of western infiltration."9
The ruthless pursuit of diversanten, or subversives-who could count on long and harsh incarceration, confiscation of private property, and endemic shortages of consumer goods-drove more and more East Germans to vote with their feet, heading for West Germany. Despite the repressive efforts of the Stasi, the burgher's derogatory name for the MfS, discontent among workers over increased work quotas-imposed without a corresponding wage hike-reached the breaking point on June 16, 1953. Probably heartened by the death of Soviet dictator Iosif Stalin three months earlier, nearly one hundred construction workers gathered at Berlin's Stalinallee for a protest demonstration before starting work.
Word spread rapidly to other construction sites in East Berlin, and the first open rebellion was underway. Hundreds of workers marched on the House of Ministries, the seat of the government, and chanted their protests for five hours. Cajoling by a minister was met with derisive jeers. People's Police riot squads were called out but made no move against the protesters, who called for a general strike. The next day, some one hundred thousand workers marched through East Berlin; about four hundred thousand took to the streets in 304 other cities and towns. In twenty-four towns, the people stormed prisons and freed between two thousand and three thousand inmates serving time for political offenses.10 Stasi officers and the VOPO were massed but, despite bloody street battles, were unable to restore order. Rioting workers overran police stations and sacked government offices throughout the DDR. Two Soviet armored divisions accompanied by infantry and MVD Internal Troops were called out to reinforce Stasi agents and the People's Police. Drumhead courts handed down death sentences that were carried out on the spot.