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For the regular police in East Germany, see Volkspolizei.

The Ministry for State Security, (German: Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, commonly known as the Stasi [ˈʃtazi] (abbreviation , literally State Security), was the official state security service of East Germanymarker. The MfS was headquartered in East Berlin, with an extensive complex in Berlin-Lichtenbergmarker and several smaller facilities throughout the city. It was widely regarded as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world. The MfS motto was "Schild und Schwert der Partei" (Shield and Sword of the Party), that is the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED).


Mielke and MfS Officers

Creation of the MfS

The MfS was founded on 8 February 1950. It was modeled on the Sovietmarker MGB, and was regarded by the Soviet Unionmarker as an extremely loyal and effective partner. Wilhelm Zaisser was the first Minister of State Security of the GDR, and Erich Mielke his deputy. Zaisser was removed by SED First Secretary Walter Ulbricht following the June 1953 uprising and replaced by Ernst Wollweber. Wollweber resigned in 1957 after clashes with Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker, and was succeeded by his deputy, Erich Mielke.

Also in 1957, Markus Wolf became head of the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA) (General Reconnaissance Administration), its foreign intelligence section. As intelligence chief, Wolf achieved great success in penetrating the government, political and business circles of West Germanymarker with spies. The most influential case was that of Günter Guillaume which led to the downfall of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in May 1974. In 1986, Wolf retired and was succeeded by Werner Grossmann.

Although Mielke's Stasi was superficially granted independence in 1957, until 1990 the KGB continued to maintain liaison officers in all eight main Stasi directorates, each with his own office inside the Stasi's Berlin compound, and in each of the fifteen Stasi district headquarters around East Germany. Collaboration was so close that the KGB invited the Stasi to establish operational bases in Moscow and Leningrad to monitor visiting East German tourists and Mielke referred to the Stasi officers as "Chekists of the Soviet Union." In 1978, Mielke formally granted KGB officers in East Germany the same rights and powers they enjoyed in the Soviet Union.

Stasi operations

Stasi quiet camera that could take pictures through a 1mm hole in a wall
Stasi garbage can with hidden surveillance equipment

Between 1950 and 1989, the Stasi employed a total of 274,000 persons in an effort to root out the 'class enemy'. In 1989, the Stasi employed 91,015 persons full time, including 2,000 fully employed unofficial collaborators, 13,073 soldiers and 2,232 officers of GDR army, along with 173,081 unofficial informants inside GDR and 1,553 informants in West Germanymarker. In terms of the identity of inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (IMs) Stasi informants, by 1995, 174,000 had been identified, which approximated 2.5% of East Germany's population between the ages of 18 and 60. 10,000 IMs were under 18 years of age.

While these calculations were from official records, according to the federal commissioner in charge of the Stasi archives in Berlin, because many such records were destroyed, there were likely closer to 500,000 Stasi informers. A former Stasi colonel who served in the counterintelligence directorate estimated that the figure could be as high as 2 million if occasional informants were included. Stasi efforts with one agent per 166 citizens dwarfed, for example, the Nazi Gestapomarker, which employed only 40,000 officials to watch a population of 80 million (one officer per 2,000 citizens) and the Soviet KGBmarker, which employed 480,000 full time agents to oversee a nation of 280 million residents (one agent per 583 citizens). When informants were included, the Stasi had one spy per 66 citizens of East Germany. When part-time informer adults were included, the figures reach approximately one spy per 6.5 citizens.

Full-time officers were posted to all major industrial plants (the extensiveness of any surveillance largely depended on how valuable a product was to the economy) and one tenant in every apartment building was designated as a watchdog reporting to an area representative of the Volkspolizei (Vopo). Spies reported every relative or friend that stayed the night at another's apartment. Tiny holes were bored in apartment and hotel room walls through which Stasi agents filmed citizens with special video cameras. Similarly, schools, universities, and hospitals were extensively infiltrated. After the mid-1950s, Stasi executions were carried out in strict secrecy, and usually were accomplished with a guillotine and, in later years, by a single pistol shot to the neck. In most instances, the relatives of the executed were not informed of either the sentence or the execution.

The Stasi had formal categorizations of each type of informant, and had official guidelines on how to extract information from, and control, those who they came into contact with. The roles of informants ranged from those already in some way involved in state security (such as the police and the armed services) to those in the oppositionalist movements (such as dissidents in the arts and the Protestant Church). Information gathered about the latter groups was frequently used to divide or discredit members. Informants were made to feel important, given material or social incentives, and were imbued with a sense of adventure, and only around 7.7%, according to official figures, were coerced into cooperating. A significant proportion of those informing were members of the SED; to employ some form of blackmail, however, was not uncommon.

The Stasi's ranks swelled considerably after Eastern Bloc countries signed the 1975 Helsinki accords, which Erich Honecker viewed as a grave threat to his regime because they contained language binding signatories to respect "human and basic rights, including freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and conviction." The number of IMs peaked at around 180,000 in this year, having slowly risen from 20,000-30,000 in the early 1950s, and reaching 100,000 for the first time in 1968, in response to Ostpolitik and protests worldwide. The Stasi also acted as a proxy for KGB to conduct activities in other Eastern Bloc countries, such as Poland, where the Soviets were despised.

End of the MfS

Recruitment of informants became increasingly difficult towards the end of the GDR's existence, and after 1986, there was a negative turnover rate of IMs. This had a significant impact on the Stasi's ability to survey the population, in a period of growing unrest, and knowledge of the MfS's activities became more widespread. The Stasi had been tasked during this period with preventing the country's economic difficulties becoming a political problem, through suppression of the very worst problems the state faced, but it failed to do so. On 7 November 1989, in response to the rapidly changing political and social situation in the GDR in late 1989, Erich Mielke resigned. On 17 November 1989, the Council of Ministers (Ministerrat der DDR) renamed the MfS as the "Office for National Security" (Amt für Nationale Sicherheit - AfNS), which was headed by Generalleutnant Wolfgang Schwanitz. On 8 December 1989, GDR Prime Minister Hans Modrow directed the dissolution of the AfNS, which was confirmed by a decision of the Ministerrat on 14 December 1989.

As part of this decision, the Ministerrat originally called for the evolution of the AfNS into two separate organizations: a new foreign intelligence service (Nachrichtendienst der DDR) and an "Office for the Protection of the Constitution of the GDR" (Verfassungsschutz der DDR), along the lines of the West German Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutzmarker, however, the public reaction was extremely negative, and under pressure from the "Round Table" (Runden Tisch), the government dropped the creation of the Verfassungsschutz der DDR and directed the immediate dissolution of the AfNS on 13 January 1990. Certain functions of the AfNS reasonably related to law enforcement were handed over to the GDR Ministry of Internal Affairs. The same ministry also took guardianship of remaining AfNS facilities.


Statue of workers and Police officer in front of the Stasi archives, Mitte district, Berlin.

The MfS infiltrated almost every aspect of GDR life. In the mid-1980s, a network of IMs began growing in both German states; by the time East Germany collapsed in 1989, the MfS employed 91,015 employees and 173,081 informants. About one of every 63 East Germans collaborated with the MfS one of the most extensive police infiltrations of a society in history. In 2007 an article in BBC stated that "Some calculations have concluded that in East Germany there was one informer to every seven citizens." Additionally, MfS agents infiltrated and undermined West Germany's government and spy agencies.

Minister Mielke and Stasi generals singing
The MfS monitored political behavior among GDR citizens, and is known to have used torture and intimidation to mute dissent. During the Peaceful Revolution of 1989, MfS offices were overrun by enraged citizens, but not before the MfS destroyed a number of documents (approximately 5%). When the remaining files were published for review, many people learned that their friends, colleagues, spouses, and relatives had regularly filed reports with the MfS. These wounds on society have not yet entirely healed.

Other files (the Rosenholz Files), which contained the names of East German spies abroad, led American spy agencies to capture them. After German reunification, it was revealed that the MfS had secretly aided left-wing terrorists such as the Red Army Faction. The loss of MfS financial support was a major factor in the dissolution of such groups.

In 1999, an article in Der Spiegel alleged that the MfS intentionally irradiated political prisoners with high-dose radiation, possibly to provoke cancer in them.

The MfS files after the end of the SED regime

Storming the Stasi headquarters

As the GDRmarker began to fall, the Stasi did as well. This meant a loss of their power. The Stasi felt that if they were to lose power, then the files with incriminating evidence would be discovered. They took desperate measures and began to destroy the extensive files that they had kept, both by hand and with the use of a shredder.

When these activities became known, protest erupted in front of the Stasi headquarters. In the evening of 15 January 1990, a large crowd of people formed outside the gates in order to stop the destruction of personal files. In their minds, this information should have been available to them and also have been used to punish those who had taken part in Stasi actions. The large group of protesters grew and grew until they were able to overcome the police and gain entry into the complex. The protestors became violent and destructive as they smashed doors and windows, threw furniture, and trampled portraits of Erich Honecker, leader of the GDR. Among the destructive public were officers working for the West German government, as well as former MfS collaborators seeking to destroy documents. One explanation postulated as to why the Stasi did not open fire was for fear of hitting their own colleagues. As the people continued their violence, these undercover men proceeded into the file room and acquired many files that would become of great importance to catching ex-Stasi members.

Controversy of the MfS files

With the German Reunification on 3 October 1990 a new government agency was founded called the Office of the Federal Commissioner Preserving the Records of the Ministry for State Security of the GDR (BStU).

There was a debate over what should happen to the files, whether they should be opened to the people or kept closed.

Those who opposed the opening of the files cited privacy as a reason. They felt that the information in the files would lead to poor feelings of the former Stasi members, and, in turn, cause violence. Pastor Rainer Eppelmann, who became Minister of Defense and Disarmament after March 1990, felt that new political freedoms for former Stasi members would be jeopardized by acts of revenge. Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere even went so far to predict murder. They also argued against the use of the files to capture former Stasi members and prosecute them, arguing that not all former members were criminals and should not be punished solely for being a member. There were also some who believed that everyone was guilty of something. Peter Michael Diestel, the Minister of Interior, opined that these files could not be used to determine innocence and guilt, claiming that "there were only two types of individuals who were truly innocent in this system, the newborn and the alcoholic." Other opinions, such as the one of West German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, believed in putting the Stasi behind them and working on German reunification.

Others argued that everyone should have the right to see their own file, and that the files should be opened to investigate those who were members of the Stasi and prosecute them, as well as not allow them to hold office. Opening the files would also help to clear up some of the rumors that were floating around. Some also believed that politicians were involved with the Stasi and should be investigated.

The fate of files was finally decided under the Unification Treaty between the GDR and Federal Republic of Germanymarker (FRG). This treaty took the Volkskammer law further and allowed more access and use of the files. Along with the decision to keep the files in a central location in the East, they also came to a conclusion on who should get to see and use the files. A ruling was passed that allowed people to see their files.

In 1992, following a declassification ruling by the German government, the MfS files were opened, leading people to look for their files. Timothy Garton Ash, an English historian, wrote The File: A Personal History after reading the file compiled about him while he completed his dissertation research in East Berlin.

Between the years 1990 and 1993, over two million individuals made requests to see the file kept on them by the Stasi. Most of these two million people were citizens of the GDR. This ruling also gave people the ability to make duplicates of their documents. Another big issue in the discussion on the files was the media and how they would be able to use and benefit from the documents. It was decided that the media could obtain files as long as they were depersonalized, not regarding an individual under the age of 18, and was not a former Stasi member. This ruling not only gave access to the files by the media, but to the schools as well.

Tracking down former Stasi informers with the files

Even though groups of this sort were active in the community, those who were tracking down ex-members were, as well. Many of these hunters succeeded in catching ex-Stasi; however, charges could not be made for merely being a member. The person in question would have had to participate in an illegal act, not just be a registered Stasi member. Among the high-profile individuals who were arrested and tried were Erich Mielke, Third Minister of State Security of the GDR, and Erich Honecker, head of state for the GDR. Mielke was given six years for the murder of two policemen in 1931. Honecker was charged with authorizing the killing of would-be escapees on the East-West frontier and the Berlin Wallmarker. During his trial, he went through cancer treatment. Due to the fact that he was nearing death, Honecker was allowed to spend his final time in Chile. He died in May 1994.

Reassembling the destroyed files

In 1995, the BStU began reassembling the shredded documents; 13 years later the three dozen archivists commissioned to the projects had only reassembled 327 bags; they are now using computer-assisted data recovery to reassemble the remaining 16,000 bags estimated at 45 million pages. It is estimated that this task may be completed at a cost of 30 million dollars.

The CIA acquired some MfS records during the looting of the MfS archives. The Federal Republic of Germanymarker has asked for their return and received some in April 2000.

Alleged assassinations

MfS has been accused of a number of assassinations against political dissidents and other people both inside and outside the country. Examples include the East German football player Lutz Eigendorf and the Swedish journalist Cats Falck.

In September 2003, a 53-year-old man from Berlinmarker, named as "Jürgen G" in a press release from the German Prosecutor-General, was arrested on suspicions of having been a member of a death squad that carried out a number of assassinations on orders from the East German government from 1976 to 1987. The man was eventually released for lack of evidence.

Museum in the old headquarters

MfS HQ in Lichtenberg
The Anti-Stalinist Action Normannenstraße (ASTAK), an association founded by former GDR Citizens' Committees, has transformed the former headquarters of the MfS into a museum. It is divided into three floors:

  • Ground floor
The ground floor has been kept as it used to be. The decor is original, with many statues and flags.

  • Between the ground and first (upper) floor:
    • Surveillance technology and MfS symbols: Some of the tools that the MfS used to track down their opponents. During an interview the seats were covered with a cotton sheet, to collect the perspiration of the victim. His name was written in a glass and the sheet was kept in the archives. Other common ways that the scents would be collected is through breaking into a home and taking parts of garments. The most common garment taken was underpants, because of how close the garment is to the skin. The MfS would then use trained dogs to track down the person using this scent. Other tools shown here include a tie-camera, cigarette box camera, and an AK-47 hidden in luggage.
    • Display gallery of Directorate VII. This part of the museum tells the history of the MfS, from the beginning of the GDR to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

  • First (upper) floor
    • Mielke's offices. The decor is 60s furniture. There is a reception room with a TV set in the cafeteria.
    • Office of Colonel Heinz Volpert
    • Lounge for drivers and bodyguards
    • Office of Major-General Hans Carlsohn, director of the secretariat
    • Secretariat
    • The Cafeteria
    • Kitchen
    • The Minister’s Workroom
    • The Conference Room with a giant map of Germany on a wall—one of the most impressive rooms.
    • The cloakroom

  • Second (upper) floor
    • Repression - Rebellion - Self-Liberation from 1945 to 1989

Photo gallery:

Image:Stasi kitchen.JPG|KitchenImage:Guard post.JPG|SurveillanceImage:Stasi secretariat.JPG|SecretariatImage:Jail stasi.JPG|Jail

Society for Legal and Humanitarian Support

Ex-MfS officers continue to be politically active via the Gesellschaft zur Rechtlichen und Humanitären Unterstützung e. V. (Society for Legal and Humanitarian Support) (GRH). Former high-ranking officers and employees of the MfS, including the last MfS director, Wolfgang Schwanitz, make up the majority of the organization's members, and it receives support from the German Communist Party, among others.

Impetus for the establishment of the GRH was provided by the criminal charges filed against the Stasi in the early 1990s. The GRH, decrying the charges as "victor's justice", called for them to be dropped. Today the group provides an alternative if somewhat utopian voice in the public debate on the GDR legacy. It calls for the closure of the museum in Hohenschönhausen and can be a vocal presence at memorial services and public events. In March 2006 in Berlin, GRH members disrupted a museum event; a political scandal ensued when the Berlin Senator (Minister) of Culture refused to confront them.

Behind the scenes, the GRH also exerts pressure on people and institutions promoting opposing viewpoints. For example, in March 2006, the Berlin Senator for Education received a letter from a GRH member and former Stasi officer attacking the Museum for promoting "falsehoods, anticommunist agitation and psychological terror against minors." Similar letters have also been received by schools organizing field trips to the museum.

Alleged informants

In the arts

The Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film-winning German film Das Leben der Anderen (aka The Lives of Others) involves the monitoring of the cultural scene of East Berlin by agents of the MfS.

The Legend of Rita (Die Stille nach dem Schuß), a 2000 film directed by Volker Schlöndorff, dwells heavily on the relationship between the MfS and the general population of East Germanymarker. The second-most prominent character is the MfS "control" for the title character.

Stasiland is a 2004 best-selling book by Anna Funder. It was awarded the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2004.

See also


  1. Gieseke 2001, p. 86-7
  2. Müller-Enbergs 1993, p.55
  3. Gieseke 2001, p.58
  4. Gieseke 2001, p.54
  5. Computers to solve stasi puzzle-BBC,Friday 25 May 2007.
  6. "
  7. Dissidents say MfS gave them cancerBBC, Tuesday 25 May 1999.
  8. The Stasi Headquarters The former headquarters of the Stasi is now a museum that is open to the public.
  9. Functions of the BStU, from the English version of the official BStU website
  10. The File, Information about "The File"
  11. Wired: "Intel Inside"
  12. BBC: "MfS files return to Germany."
  13. Stasi Offiziere Leugnen den Terror. Berliner Morgenpost 16 March 2006. [1]
  14. Backmann, Christa. Stasi-Anhänger schreiben an Bildungssenator Böger. Berliner Morgenpost 25 March 2006. [2]
  15. Schomaker, Gilbert. Ehemalige Stasi-Kader schreiben Schulen an. Die Welt, 26 March 2006. [3]
  16. I regret nothing, says Stasi spy
  17. I regret nothing, says Stasi spy
  18. Spying Who's Who
  19. H-Soz-u-Kult / Mielke, Macht und Meisterschaft
  20. Court Decision Paves Olympics Way for Stasi-linked Coach
  21. Respected lecturer's double life
  22. The Stasi spy (cont)
  23. Former Stasi Agent Bernd Runge Gets Phillips Top Job (Update1)
  24. [4]
  25. E.German Stasi informant wins battle to conceal past


The Controversy of the MfS Files

  • Serge Schmemann, “Angry Crowds of East Germans Ransack Offices of Spy Service,” The New York Times, January 16, 1990.
  • Serge Schmemann, “East Berlin Faults Opposition on Raid,” The New York Times, January 17, 1990.
  • Glenn Frankel, “East Geramny Haunted by Stasi Legacy; Secret Police Files Stir Allegations,” The Washington Post, March 31, 1990.
  • John Gray, “Secret Police Gone but not Forgotten East Germans Agonize over Where all the Informers and Massive Files are,” The Globe and Mail, September 8, 1990.
  • The Economist’s Berlin Reporter “East Germany’s Stasi; Where have all the Files Gone,” The Economist, September 22, 1990.
  • Stephen Kinzer, “Germans anguish Over Police files,” The New York Times, February 12, 1992.
  • Derek Scally, “Kohl Wins Court Battle on Stasi Files,” The Irish Times, March 9, 2002.
  • Garton Ash, Timothy. The File, New York: Random House, 1997.
  • David Childs (David H Childs) and Richard Popplewell. The Stasi: East German Intelligence and Security Service, Washington Square, NY: New York University Press, 1996.
  • Childs, David. The Fall of the GDR, Essex, England: Pearson Learning Limited, 2001.
  • Koehler, John. Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1999.
  • Dennis, Mike. The Stasi: Myth and Reality, London, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2003.
  • Colitt, Leslie. Spymaster, Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995.

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