Arts & Entertainment

Germany marks 30 years since historic opening of Stasi archives

By Clara Palma Hermann

Berlin, Dec 29 (EFE).- Thirty years ago today, a new law paved the way for former citizens of communist East Germany to access Stasi archives and find out to what extent their lives had been spied on by the feared secret state police.

The Bundestag approved the legislation less than a year after the reunification of Germany thanks to the activism of people like Joachim Jauck, who would later become the country’s president. The Stasi archives were officially made available to the public on 2 January 1992.

For many, the sheer level of surveillance into their private lives came as a shock.

For writer Jans Joachim Schädlich, who discovered that his brother spied on him on behalf of the dreaded Stasi, it was something that left him heart-broken, his daughter, Susanne Schädlich, told Efe.

Critics of the law on opening the Stasi archives argued that the information that was about to be made public was volatile enough to threaten post-reunification peace. Three decades later, however, Germany is better acquainted with its history thanks to the measure.

Hans Joachim Schädlich’s issues with the Stasi began in 1976, when along with a host of other intellectuals, he signed an open letter protesting the expatriation of East German singer Wolf Biermann.

The Stasi deployed intimidation tactics such as ringing the doorbell in the middle of the night while her parents were out of the house. Susanne was just 11 at the time, she said in an interview over the phone.

The family fled the German Democratic Republic the following year.

The Stasi employed 91,000 workers and 180,000 informants at the time of the collapse of the communist government, according to current estimates.

In the chaotic months around the fall of communist East Germany, GDR officials tried to destroy incriminating Stasi paperwork but often met a wall of activists who occupied public buildings in order to preserve the documents.

There are still around 15,500 bags containing fragments of destroyed Stasi documents that need to be pieced together.

In 1990, the first and last democratically elected parliament in the GDR approved a measure to open the archives but progress was temporarily hindered by the process of reunification.

Schädlich was one of the first citizens to consult the archives with a group of friends. According to his daughter, who is also a writer, he found that reports on his activity were signed off by an agent code-named Schäfer.

It was not until he found details of a walk with his brother, where there were no other witnesses, that he realized that agent Schäfer was his sibling.

It was a devastating blow for the family, but Susanne has never regretted finding out the truth although it pained her that her uncle, who committed suicide in 2007, had never admitted to spying on his brother.

Neither Susanne Schädlich nor her father forgave him. She acknowledges, however, that the reasons behind her uncle becoming a Stasi informant were unclear — the German secret police would often use blackmail to recruit spies.

For her, the opening of the Stasi archives was a double-edged sword. While it was beneficial in demonstrating how residents of East Germany suffered under constant surveillance, it also cast a long shadow over a region that is still struggling to emerge from that dark period. EFE


Related Articles

Back to top button