Gary Bruce: When the Stasi Came for the Doctor

Roundup: Talking About History

[Gary Bruce is Associate Professor of History at the University of Waterloo. His newest book is The Firm: The Inside Story of the Stasi. The book is based on previously classified documents and interviews with former secret police officers and ordinary citizens and is the first comprehensive history of East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, at the grassroots level. In the excerpt below Bruce looks at how the Stasi impacted one ordinary man’s life.]

Dr. Werner Hoffman studied medicine at Humboldt University in Berlin from 1954 to 1960 before interning until 1963 at the hospital in Fürstenberg in District Gransee…His time in Fürstenberg counted toward his compulsory Landjahr, a year in the countryside required of all new physicians. In 1962, one year after the construction of the Berlin Wall (which made previously available western medicines nearly impossible to obtain) and while still tending to the medical needs of villagers and miners from the southern GDR who had a union holiday retreat near Fürstenberg, Dr. Hoffman began his specialization in internal medicine at the regional hospital in Schwerin.

While vacationing on the Black Sea…he happened upon a high-ranking administrator in the Wittenberge hospital who arranged for his transfer there…Five years later he was promoted to senior physician in charge of the rheumatism division. Within the decade, he had become one of the very few surgeons in the GDR who could treat people who suffered from rheumatism in their knuckles, a surgery that was in its infancy in the West as well.

His first misgivings about the regime came in 1972 when the position of chief of medicine opened up in nearby Bad Wilsnack. Although the position called for expertise in rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Hoffman was passed over in favor of a younger physician who had no experience in treated rheumatism but was a member of the Communist Party....

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