Montag, 3. Oktober 2011

The exhibition on STASI

As a special activity on the occasion of Germany's National Day, I visited (for free) the exhibition on STASI, the much feared GDR state security. As somebody born and breed in the wild Eastern Europe, I am familiar with the physical and psychological cruelty of the communist secret services and did read books and attended seminaries about the work of Gauck Commission, in charge with the documentation of the repression. 

This exhibition is open daily and hosted at an old building in Zimmerstrasse 90/91. Built in 1885, the building was a market hall, a concert hall, a collection camp for the deportation of Jewish forced labourers living in Berlin, the Berlin branch of the NSDAP publishing house and after the war the headquarters of some GDR publications. After 1961, it was part of the sensitive area from the vicinity of the Berlin Wall. Currently it is branded as the Educational Centre of the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic.

The base for the documentation is represented by the 1,111 km. of written documents which include 39 million file cards, 1,4 million photographs, 34,000 film and sound documents. 

Anyone could be a STASI victim...
Through images and historical references - some (but not all) bilingual German/English, we are introduced in the daily life of the East Berliner facing the pressures to collaborate from an early age and the complicate networks of official and unofficial informants. An exhaustive booklet in English is explaining in detail the ideas and historical episodes from each of the nine chapters of the exhibition. You will find out how the secret services overview almost every segment of the daily life: monitoring sporting contacts, the church, the youth organizations, the contacts with the foreigners, the conversations in the office, the recruitment methods. 

The exhibition also features six biographies as examples of how the activities of the secret police impacted on the lives of the people concerned. The six of them are of different ages, backgrounds and connections, but the common line is their harsh refusal to accept the communist realities and their security pandant.  

STASI was founded in 1950, as part of the huge system aimed to maintain in power the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). It was set up under the direct guidance of the Soviet secret police and obviously, in strict connection with the much feared KGB. The comprehensive aim of the STASI was the constant penetration of all areas of life of the GDR population: observing them, bugging their phones, spying on them, arresting and interrogating them. Its official staff was mainly recruited from the SED ranks, its youth organisation - the Free German Youth (FDJ), the police and the armed forces. The strong weapon was represented by the unofficial informants. By 1989, the State Security had about 189,000 unofficial informants - one for about every 90 GDR citizens. The equally feared and dispised director of STASI between 1957 and 1989 was Erich Mielke, who died at 92, in a Berlin nursing home. 

One of the main tasks of the Ministry of State Security was foreign espionage. By 1989, the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance (HVA) responsible with the espionage in the West had a full-time staff of 4,600, plus 13,400 unofficial informants in the GDR and another 1,500 in West Germany. 

I fully recomend this exhibition to all those interested in the recent history and most especially the history of the East Germany. I would be curious, for example, to find out more about the social background of the STASI system, their education and credo. Where they were coming from? Lots of questions and the need to spend more time at the library.
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