A couple of contacts with North East musicians have dropped into my mail box so I‘ll follow those up soon. This blog also includes stories about the Spanish Civil War, the work of photographers, plus some local Tyneside history stuff which has uncovered interesting people – it’s all about the story isn’t it ?
And the next few posts take a big swerve and look at an interesting period in German history including the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Stasi secret police. Some stories just fell into my lap while others took a bit more research, in particular the book by John O. Koehler ‘Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police.
From 1950 to 1990 sinister forces were at work in the German Democratic Republic. Laid out end to end, the files, photos, video and audio recordings the Stasi kept on its citizens would form a line over 100 mile long. Files would contain direct action orders for someone to be either observed, arrested, kidnapped, interrogated or chillingly – ‘liquidation’. The Stasi ruled with an iron fist.
In every school, factory, apartment block and pub there was someone reporting about other people’s lives. People had to be careful about what they said, where they said it, and to who. There was an absolute fear of being reported. At home they would turn the volume up on their radios or TV. ID cards had to be carried everywhere you went. Paranoia had set in.
The aim for complete observation brought out a particularly nasty brand of informers called the ‘IMs’ – ‘inofizielle Mitarbeiter’ or unofficial collaborators.
IMs’ would target artistic and church groups for surveillance. They reported on the work and domestic life of family members, close friends and neighbours without them knowing. They were looking to interfere in every part of their lives.
Unlike uniformed Stasi officers, ‘IM’s never revealed their identity, they were forbidden to talk about their work to anyone. It wasn’t until after the spying activities of the ‘IM’s were uncovered, that partnerships, marriages and friendships were ripped apart.
IM’s were motivated by either selfishness, power over others, being somebody, or out of a sincere duty to the GDR. Whatever the reason, once they were in there was no turning back. If they wanted out, their life would be put under scrutiny, exposed to various negative tactics and employment opportunities destroyed.
Finally, after the fall of the regime the Stasi officers were instructed to destroy any documents or files. They shredded until shredders collapsed and burnt out. Some files were ripped up and put in sacks in a neat and orderly fashion so that now it is possible for the ‘puzzle women’ employed by the German government to be able to piece the scraps back together.
Thousands of people targeted by the Stasi have requested to read their files but it will take years to reconstruct documents with many thousands of sacks yet to be opened.
In one file there is detailed plans of the Stasi, together with the army, for the invasion of West Berlin in 1985. No one in the West had imagined the extent of the Stasi’s ambitions.
Sources: Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret Police by John O. Koehler
Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.
Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC documentary).
Behind the Wall (2011) a film by Michael Patrick Kelly.
Gary Alikivi November 2020.