East German Domestic Surveillance Went Far Beyond the StasiEveryone knows about the Stasi and the extent to which it spied on the East german police German populace. But that was only a small part of the informing that went on. New research shows that snitching was vastly more glen dimplex spares than previously thought. On the other east german police of the line was the voice of an unknown man. I have some information for you.
East German Domestic Surveillance Went Far Beyond the Stasi - SPIEGEL ONLINE
Everyone knows about the Stasi and the extent to which it spied on the East German populace. But that was only a small part of the informing that went on. New research shows that snitching was vastly more common than previously thought.
On the other end of the line was the voice of an unknown man. I have some information for you. Marianne Schneider is traveling on Wednesday, Sept. She doesn't intend to return. Then, the mysterious caller hung up. Officials immediately revoked her travel permit and began monitoring her phone and mail in addition to questioning her neighbors and friends.
This story is one of spies and informers of the kind that were largely ignored by historians of the German Democratic Republic DDR until recently -- because they were spies and informers that were not connected to the Stasi, as East Germany's feared Ministry for State Security was popularly known. Instead, they were totally normal citizens of East Germany who betrayed others: Up to now, the broad network of so-called "unofficial informants" IMs maintained by the Stasi has dominated the popular view of East Germany's surveillance state.
Files full of IM reports became indispensable sources for Stasi victims, politicians, historians and journalists who sought to learn more about either their own personal pasts or about DDR spying practices. By contrast, audio tapes belonging to the Volkspolizei were largely ignored, as were written testimonials from almost every area of East German society. Government agencies, political parties, associations, companies, universities, cultural institutions: Everywhere, people reported incriminating information about those around them.
Hedwig Richter, a professor at the University of Greifswald, speaks of a "stunning reporting machinery. Since the collapse of the communist regime, thousands of these documents have been gathering dust in the archives of Eastern German states, in the former headquarters of former East German political parties and in the basements of universities and agencies.
Now, though, they are being systematically analyzed by historians and have thus far revealed the degree to which permanent surveillance was a significant part of everyday life in East Germany.
Eavesdropping and informing on neighbors and colleagues was completely normal for many -- even without pressure from the Stasi and its notorious leader Erich Mielke. A significant portion of the denunciations had to do with plans to flee East Germany, particularly people who had permits to travel to the West and who had no intention of returning.
But the smuggling of hard currency and excessive consumption of alcohol also caught the eye of observant DDR citizens. Receiving packages from the West was likewise viewed with suspicion -- and those who were assigned an apartment or car more rapidly than others were often targeted for revenge by envious neighbors.
Even extra-marital affairs were reported. I would like to make a report," says a voice in one telephone recording. He is constantly receiving visitors in his apartment, often different women, likely also some from the West.
In the 25 years since German reunification, such daily denunciations have been almost completely ignored. Indeed, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, those who made them were able to simply disappear. Whereas unofficial Stasi informants IMs were carefully documented, such that they often lost their jobs following post reunification checks performed by government agencies, schools and universities in Eastern Germany, informal moles were almost never confronted with their past actions and the file folders they helped fill.
Furthermore, squealing on others was not strictly an East German specialty either. West German residents also called up DDR officials to inform on East German citizens -- when they were planning an escape, for example. One caller from West Berlin, for example, reported that he had a good friend in East Berlin and that he "didn't want to tattle on her, for God's sake. He said that he "really likes her. He concluded by saying he would welcome assistance in the matter.
A further West German informant, who called the East four times, likewise had a problem relating to cross-border love. Her ex-husband, she reported, wanted his East German lover to join him in the West -- a plan that the calls likely nipped in the bud. Jealousy, though, was not the only motive for West German informants. It was a principle that made one woman from Dortmund, for example, reveal the names and addresses of DDR citizens who were planning to flee to the West.
She said she had no understanding for the fact that "foreigners, but also East Germans, want to take away our jobs. A West German businessman, for his part, offered his services as an informant during a convention in Leipzig. Write down the following: The smuggler is currently in Leipzig. This is a small payback because he badly harassed me and talked very poorly of your country. This is a bit of revenge! Informants from the West and the East had plenty of options to choose from when it came to passing along sensitive information.
The Stasi, which had several phone numbers listed in the East German phone book, was just one of them. The secretary of the local party organization was also a good contact person, as was a labor union secretary.
The list of potential informants was long. Almost every apartment building in the DDR maintained a kind of superintendent known as a "Hausbuchbeauftragter" who kept notes on who visited whom and when.
In total, this group included around 2. The Volkspolizei also had around , "voluntary helpers. She found that weekly reports compiled by the municipal council included information about which pastor had made loyal or critical comments, what books they had in their apartments and tensions within their congregations. One report even included a note from a member of the local party leadership that "multiple schoolgirls have received packages from West Germany in the mail in recent days. But it wasn't just members of the governing SED party that provided information.
Functionaries from the Christian Democratic Union -- the existence of which was tolerated by East German officials -- also took part in the rampant denunciations. And it wasn't necessary to turn to the Stasi, which many found threatening and sought to avoid. A simple conversation with a local political leader or factory manager was easy enough to arrange -- and the less formal atmosphere made it more comfortable to share sensitive information about colleagues or neighbors.
No matter where one shared information, the state would put it to use. It was part of developing a "socialist personality. Files were even kept on schoolchildren: Mutual evaluation, judgment, criticism and self-critique were omnipresent.
Across the country, people were on the lookout for divergent viewpoints, which were then branded as dangerous to the state. Often to one's own advantage.
The losers of this system often didn't know why their lives suddenly became derailed. After the fall of the Wall, many of them looked for clues in their Stasi files. They wanted to understand why, for example, they were not given a spot in university, why their professional careers suddenly hit a roadblock or why their travel permit was revoked at the last minute.
Explanations, however, can be found in documents kept in the archives of political parties, factories and universities. There, one learns that skipping a Russian-language class, making an ill-considered comment at the student union or exhibiting a persistent lack of the "proletarian point of view" can all lead to ex-matriculation -- which had profound consequences for a lifetime.
FDJ collectives compiled reports on secondary school students, which were then used when it came time to assign jobs and spots at university. Such reports were a part of the structural oppression imposed from above on the entire population. The system was also present in so-called "Volkseigene Betriebe," as East Germany's state-owned enterprises were called. Historians point to this finely woven web of surveillance as an explanation for East Germany's surprising stability -- a stability that hardly could have been achieved by the Stasi alone.
Plus, it was a way of demonstrating loyalty: Via their proactive obedience, these people contributed to their comprehensive observation and participated in the surveillance state. The system made it simple for the state to determine who needed to be punished and who deserved a reward. Such as after each election, when non-voters were mentioned by name in the reports filed by polling station helpers. Historians haven't yet been able to say for certain how many East German citizens offered their services as informants.
The majority declined to do so. But it is a certainty that there were many more informants than the , IMs maintained by the Stasi in the final years of East Germany's existence. The two work at the BStU and not long ago, they happened across Stasi informant groups into which hardly any research has been conducted.
They found that institutions in which people provided information about others were categorized as POZW -- which stood for "Partner in Political-Operative Cooperation. But they did so nonetheless. Numerous POZW reports are still in existence -- from banks, for example, or libraries, hospitals, registration offices and judiciary agencies. Large numbers of so-called "Auskunftspersonen" AKP , or "information providers," were used by the Stasi.
Indeed, the historians calculated that fully 18 percent of the population of Rostock occasionally offered their services as AKP. The two researchers, however, shy away from seeing all those who provided information to the Stasi as informants in the traditional sense.
Fear, blackmail and the desire to protect one's self also often played a role. Instead, they talk about a "denunciation complex. Even still, the historians were surprised when they ventured into the archive of Stasi files of Karl Marx Stadt, which is called Chemnitz today.
There, they found documents which had never before been studied and which contained notes about so-called "GMs" and "BMs. BMs were apparently not quite as positive, but were still willing to provide information. A trade school teacher, for example, was listed as a BM because he shared extensive amounts of information about his colleagues and actively spied on them.
A teacher in a school in Plauen was a "good person" because he offered suggestions as to which of his students might make good career soldiers.
Another GM worked in a state-owned sewing machine repair shop. He related to the authorities his thoughts on who might be the author of a series of critical letters sent to Erich Honecker.
His colleague, he said, is the only one he could imagine spelling the party boss' name with two ns. The state occasionally paid the Gute Menschen as well, sometimes handing them up to marks, or giving them a nice present.
But they weren't given code names and they didn't have handlers. After all, they weren't Stasi spies.