Biographer of German Terrorist Criticized as Sympathizer | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.01.2008
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Biographer of German Terrorist Criticized as Sympathizer

Former German politician Jutta Ditfurth has been accused of sympathizing with a member of the Red Army Faction in her biography about Ulrike Meinhof.

The author Jutta Ditfurth with a copy of the book in her hand

Jutta Ditfurth's long been a controversial figure

Once one of Europe's most feared urban guerrillas, Ulrike Meinhof has been the subject of numerous films, documentaries, stage productions, songs and books, but her portrait has often been tinged by family influence. Both Meinhof's ex-husband Kalus-Heinz Röhl and her daughter Bettina Röhl have written about Meinhof and the process of disintegration of German society beginning in the spring of 1968 that led to the formation of the Red Army Faction (RAF).

Unravelling Myths

Cover of a German book about the RAF

The RAF has been the subject of numerous books

But Jutta Ditfurth's biography on Meinhof, released in November, disputes many of the myths that surround Meinhof's transformation from journalist to RAF terrorist.

In her six years researching the biography, Ditfurth, a founder of the German Greens party, who has since left the stage of national politics, uncovered previously unpublished material, including documents kept in archives outside of Germany.

"Ulrike Meinhof was a much more interesting, much more multi-faceted person than I used to think," Ditfurth told DW-RADIO. "She was a woman who would have had a huge amount of opportunities and prospects -- if only she'd had the good fortune to have grown up somewhere other than Germany."

Black and white photograph of Meinhof being held by police

Meinhof after her arrest in June 1972

The biography also encompasses the post-war history of West Germany and the politically charged climate of the 1960s and 1970s. Ditfurth examines the often forgotten social conditions, such as state violence, the biased nature of German courts, the rigidity of law-making, and the terrible conditions for political prisoners that drove the RAF movement, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, in what was then a flourishing West German democracy.

Contaminated by terrorism?

The biography is written entirely chronological and largely devoid of commentary, but critics have said that while the information used might be factual it only tells half of the story. Even Meinhof's daughter, Bettina Röhl, labelled the latest biography about her mother "poisonous rubbish contaminated by terrorism."

Bettina Röhl

Bettina Röhl has written a book about her mother

While Ditfurth admits the book is politically biased, she said there is a big difference between writing from a left wing point of view and endorsing anarchic terrorism.

"I am a Leftie from a different generation and the RAF was really never my cup of tea," she said. "I always drew a distinct line and sharply criticised their terrorist acts."

Far from helping her, Ditfurth said her political credentials as former leader of the German Green's left wing and her well documented opposition to the Red Army Faction actually made researching the biography more difficult.

"I was considered an outsider and was dealt with by people in certain RAF circles with a lot of scepticism," she said. "But still I did my best to find out all the things that I had ever wanted to know."

While Ditfurth is no apologist and she suggested that Meinhof's path was wrong, she also said it was wholly understandable.

Ditfurth is not the first to be accused of crossing the line between writing about the RAF and supporting the RAF – in 2002 critics said a film about RAF co-founder Andreas Baader "glamorized the leader."

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