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Stasi

Secret police of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany). The Staatssicherheitsdienst der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, known simply as the Stasi, was one of the central pillars of the highly repressive East German regime. The Stasi functioned as a secret intelligence service, a political secret police force, and a judicial inquiry organization. In Bautzen, the Stasi even maintained a prison for political dissidents. Allegedly, the Stasi was supervised by the Council of Ministers, but its real purpose was securing the Socialist Unity Party's (SED) hold on power.

The Stasi identified itself as a revolutionary organ, with a tradition that dated back to the 1917 foundation of the Bolshevik security service, the Cheka. Many Stasi officers were members of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), and some had even worked for the Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (KGB). In correspondence with these and other secret police ministries, the Stasi saw itself as the shield and sword of the single Communist Party. This was clear from the beginning. The Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD), after having defeated Adolf Hitler's forces, took full control in the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ). Together with German communists, they began to build a secret police organization as early as the spring of 1945. This department (K-5) of the Kriminalpolizei was headed by Erich Mielke, a confirmed party soldier. But not until the founding of East Germany in October 1949 was a ministry of secret service instituted. On 8 February 1950 a proclamation was made creating the Ministry of State Security, headed by Wilhelm Zaisser (and later Ernst Wollweber). Nevertheless, throughout the 1950s, KGB officers and instructors dominated the Stasi.

Because the Stasi employed its personnel based on their political beliefs and socialist zeal rather than their education and skills, its performance was seriously flawed during its first two decades. The East Berlin Uprising of 17 June 1953 caught the Stasi by surprise. It reacted with singular brutality, kidnapping Germans from the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) and West Berlin, torturing detainees, and worse. Only in the 1960s did the Stasi develop more sophisticated and subtle methods. When Erich Mielke took over the organization in 1957, the Ministry of State Security employed 14,000 official workers. Ten years later their number had grown to 33,000. By 1977 Stasi personnel reached 66,000, and at its peak in 1987, some 90,000 people worked for the Stasi.

The number of unofficial employees (agents, or Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter) was even higher, at 173,000 during the late 1980s. These unofficial collaborators were counted as the Stasi's most effective weapon in the battle against the enemy, that is, anyone who endangered the socialist order. These elements included foreign enemies, reactionaries in West Germany, or domestic oppositionists. To combat these divisive elements, the foreign intelligence service (HVA), headed by the charismatic Markus Wolf during 1952–1986, and the secret police department (the Hauptabteilung XX) cooperated closely.

Beginning in the 1970s, the ministry developed into a central institute for security, repression, and party power. The Stasi, under the reign of Mielke, was wholly dedicated to the single Communist Party and deeply intertwined with it. It was not subject to parliamentary control and took orders directly from party officials. However, during the autumn of 1989, when the East German regime collapsed, the Stasi quickly disintegrated. Dissidents occupied Stasi headquarters in Berlin. The ministry was dissolved in early 1990, and its files can now only be accessed by the public under certain conditions.

Beatrice de Graaf


Further Reading
Gieseke, Jens. Die hauptamtliche Mitarbeiter der Staatssicherheit: Personalstruktur und Lebenswelt, 1950–1989/90 [The Main Official Collaborators of the State Security Agency: Personnel Structure and Milieu, 1950–1989/90]. Berlin: Chr. Links Verlag, 2000.; Naimark, Norman. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945–1949. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1995.
 

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