Historian at WWU researches kidnappings by East German secret police

Historians in the News

A faked telegram from a sick relative, knockout drops in a glass of beer or simply brute force - the methods used by the East German secret police, the "Stasi", were varied and imaginative when it came to kidnapping opponents and critics of the East German regime in West Germany and putting them on trial in the GDR. Historian Susanne Muhle (29) has found over 400 cases in the files of the Birthler Agency (named after Marianne Birthler, who heads the agency that oversees the archives holding millions of files collected by Stasi) as well as in those held by other authorities. For her PhD in the Department of Modern History at the University of Münster Muhle has been looking especially at the kidnappers. Financial support for her project has been provided in the form of a grant from the "Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur", a government-funded organisation devoted to the examination and reappraisal of the Communist dictatorship in East Germany.

"The Stasi went to incredible lengths in their kidnapping activities," Muhle reports. Target persons were observed minutely in order to find out more about their habits and lifestyles. Every little detail was noted down by the state informants. Drinking habits, for example, were of interest. In the Stasi files these informants' reports often provide decisive evidence that a kidnapping took place, because only in a few cases do there exist actual detailed kidnap plans authorised by the leaders of the Ministry of State Security. On the other hand there are indications that files have been destroyed or "cleaned up"...

... "As far as the Ministry of State Security was concerned, using criminals had a number of advantages. They had no scruples and would do anything for money, no questions asked," Muhle explains. The Stasi candidly assessed these criminal activities as an 'interesting attribute for operational purposes'. These informants could also become a problem because what they knew was, of course, highly sensitive material. But it was not only criminals who were involved in the kidnappings, but also GDR citizens who had escaped but wanted to return. They wanted to acquire permission to do so by carrying out a kidnapping. Susanne Muhle has examined the biographies of 50 informants, which is, as she herself comments, "not representative by statistiscal standards", especially as it is not clear how many informants were actually involved in kidnappings...

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