Confronting the Stasi Past Past: When the Persecuted and the Persecutors Trade Places

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Roland Jahn had only been in office as the new Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives for a month before he met with a select group of about 30 agency employees with special skills in matters of state security.

The meeting was organized by Sigurd Schulz, a union official with a well-documented past. Indeed, Schulz's name appears on the list of former full-time employees of the Ministry for State Security, East Germany's notorious secret police more commonly known as the Stasi. He worked in the personal protection department.

Schulz is one of 47 members of the Jahn's agency who once worked for the Stasi. Ironically, they now work for an organization tasked with accounting for Stasi crimes. Almost all of them were given open-ended employment contracts under Joachim Gauck, the first federal commissioner for the Stasi archives.

But now's there is a new man at the helm of the agency, and he's made it clear that he wants to get rid of the 47 former Stasi members. When Jahn took office on March 14, he announced that: "Every former Stasi employee who works for this agency is a slap in the face of the victims." It was a determination to get rid of this insult that led Jahn to meet with the former Stasi employees on April 14 for a sort of unofficial firing.

Victims' Advocate or Manhunter?

Since taking office, one of Jahn's goals has been making progress in the agency's accounting for Stasi crimes. He also wants to make sure that the agency holds on to its independent status rather than being incorporated into the German Federal Archives, in Koblenz, as some would prefer.

But now the dispute over 47 of roughly 1,800 total employees is overshadowing all other issues. In large part, that can be attributed to Jahn's own past and with the years in which he was persecuted by the Stasi, imprisoned and eventually deported to the West against his will. Now he sees himself as a "victims' advocate" who is fighting passionately and prepared to take bold risks for his cause.

Jahn's behavior raises many issues. There's the issue of whether it's the smart thing to do and whether the employment contracts of the former Stasi members will give them the upper hand in any dispute. There's also the issue of whether people can be a bit more forgiving 20 years after the fall the Berlin Wall and German reunification. And, lastly, there's the issue of just how compatible Germany's labor laws are with morality....

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