Posts tagged “stasi”

Vergangenheitsbewältigung: coming to terms with the past

Wired writes about the attempts to reintegrate 600 million scraps of paper from surveillance notes and dossiers torn up by the East German secret police as the wall fell. Some of the article deals with the enormity of the challenge and how technology is playing a role, but the best part deals with the powerful personal and cultural meaning of this part of German history represents to the people it affected so strongly.

G?ºnter Bormann, the BStU’s senior legal expert, says there’s an overwhelming public demand for the catharsis people find in their files. “When we started in 1992, I thought we’d need five years and then close the office,” Bormann says. Instead, the Records Office was flooded with half a million requests in the first year alone. Even in cases where files hadn’t been destroyed, waiting times stretched to three years. In the past 15 years, 1.7 million people have asked to see what the Stasi knew about them.

Requests dipped in the late 1990s but…The Lives of Others, about a Stasi agent who monitors a dissident playwright, seems to have prompted a surge of new applications; 2007 marked a five-year high. “Every month, 6,000 to 8,000 people decide to read their files for the first time,” Bormann says. [T]he Stasi Records Office spends $175 million a year and employs 2,000 people.

The files hold the tantalizing possibility of an explanation for the strangeness that pervaded preunification Germany. Even back then, Poppe wondered if the Stasi had information that would explain it all. “I always used to wish that some Stasi agent would defect and call me up to say, Here, I brought your file with me,'” Poppe says.

She was able to match codenames like Carlos, Heinz, and Rita to friends, coworkers, and even colleagues in the peace movement. She even tracked down the Stasi officer who managed her case, and after she set up a sort of ambush for him at a bar – he thought he was there for a job interview – they continued to get together. Over the course of half a dozen meetings, they talked about what she found in her files, why the Stasi was watching her, what they thought she was doing. For months, it turned out, an agent was assigned to steal her baby stroller and covertly let the air out of her bicycle tires when she went grocery shopping with her two toddlers. “If I had told anyone at the time that the Stasi was giving me flat tires, they would have laughed at me,” she says. “It was a way to discredit people, make them seem crazy. I doubted my own sanity sometimes.” Eventually, the officer broke off contact, but continued to telephone Poppe – often drunk, often late at night, sometimes complaining about his failing marriage. He eventually committed suicide.

Poppe is looking forward to finding out what was in that last, reconstructed 5 percent. “The files were really important to see,” she says, taking a drag on her cigarette and leaning forward across the coffee table. “They explained everything that happened – the letters we never got, the friends who pulled away from us. We understood where the Stasi influenced our lives, where they arranged for something to happen, and where it was simply our fault.”


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