The East Germany Factfile: Chapter II

+7

In the beginning...

there was the Third Reich (famously known as Nazi Germany). In 1945, the Germans surrendered to the Allied Forces. Following the end of the Second World War, Germany was divided into four zones that were occupied by four nations; the United Kingdom, France, the USA and the Soviet Union. The Cold War began soon after. Afterwards, West Germany and East Germany became established in 1949. But there needed to be political stability. There needed to be a force to stop traitors of the state. And so it was established. The Ministry for State Security, or rather the Stasi.

The Stasi were East Germany’s secret police agency. The agency was officially established on the 8th of February 1950 and by German communists with the help of the Soviet Union. The Stasi was mainly used for domestic surveillance and espionage in foreign countries and to detain state opponents. The Stasi was one of the most feared and hated agencies of the East German government. The way they carried out their tasks was through their expansive network of civilian informants.

The Dawn of the Force

Originally, its staff was quite small, and its priorities were to suppress the final remaining vestiges of Nazism and counterintelligence against agents from Western countries. However, their size increased soon after. Under their director Erich Mielke, they became one of the most effective secret police organizations. The Stasi began infiltrating many aspects of everyday life and used their vast network of informants to obtain information about people in a certain area. Out of these people, many were tram conductors, bus drivers, teachers, doctors and janitors. Mielke believed that the best informers were people who worked jobs or professions that involved common interactions with the public. Some of the Stasi’s agents even infiltrated West Germany’s government and their secret agencies!

Erich Mielke; Credit: Bundesarchiv

The Scale of their Efforts 

For the Stasi, there was approximately one agent for every 166 citizens. If one takes into account their secret informants, the ratio condenses to one for every 6.5 citizens. These secret informants could be teachers, mailmen, janitors; anyone whose profession required to be in close touch with the public.

According to the BBC, “Back-to-back, the files would have stretched more than 100 miles (161km).” By the time the year 1989 came around, the Stasi kept files on about 6 million people, which was more than a third of the entire population. Out of these files, the Stasi ripped up and shredded about 5% of them before the East German public stormed their headquarters in early 1990. This consisted of, by one calculation, one billion sheets of paper!

The Termination

The Stasi was officially disbanded in January 1990. On 15 January 1990, protestors stormed the Stasi headquarters to stop them destroying sensitive files. Afterwards, the remaining Stasi files that were not destroyed were captured and seized. After Germany’s reunification later that year, a new government agency was created to preserve the archives of the Stasi. Thereafter, there was debate on whether the files should be kept sealed. People wanted them sealed for privacy reasons, while others didn’t because they thought that they should have the right to see their own file. Between 1991 and 2011, around 2.75 million individuals requested to see their own files.

Citizens protesting and entering the Stasi building in Berlin; Credit: Bundesarchiv

Conclusion

To summarise, the Stasi was created for a humble and reasonable purpose but soon expanded and struck fear in the hearts of the GDR's citizens for about forty years! Their efficiency was based on their vast network of civilian informers. Certainly, we don't want to live in a society where you can't trust anyone. Not even your own family.

Thank you for reading and the next blog in this series about East Germany is coming soon!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sources

1) Stasi | Meaning, Facts, Methods, & Files | Britannica

2) Stasi (nytimes.com)

3) Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany's Secret Police | WIRED

4) BBC NEWS | Europe | Computers to solve Stasi puzzle

+1
Level 65
May 12, 2023
Interesting blog. Funny how it started out as a force to crack down on fascists, but soon became just that.
+2
Level 59
May 12, 2023
Cool and informational blog!
+1
Level 58
May 12, 2023
ditto
+1
Level 73
May 17, 2023
Interesting! Imagine finding all your information in those files, that would be the historical equivalent to being doxxed online.