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Books by Former GDR Secret Police Officers Spark Outrage

DW staff (jam)April 13, 2006

The public launch of two new books on the infamous East German Stasi secret police sparked angry outbursts here on Wednesday, showing that tensions still run high 17 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Former Stasi officers Pfütze (l) and Schramm presented their books to a skeptical publicImage: picture-alliance/dpa

It took just 20 minutes before one audience member present at the books' release event in Berlin could no longer contain himself.

"You're lying!" the man yelled, "That's the biggest load of crap I've ever heard."

His outburst was sparked by author Peter Pfütze's assertion that all of the 550 West Germans who were imprisoned by the Stasi from the mid-1970s on had confessed to crimes the secret police accused them of. "I spent nine years and eight months in prison and I never confessed," the man continued.

The two books, both written by former employees of the GDR secret police, aim to present the notorious organization as just another intelligence service, along the lines of the CIA or West Germany's BND, but which has been unfairly demonized in the wake of East Germany's collapse.

Questionable history

One of the books, "Der Botschaftsflüchtling" ("The Refugee from the Embassy"), by Gotthold Schramm, contains accounts from former Stasi spies operating across the border in then West Germany. Markus Wolf, the East Germans' chief spy, contributed a foreword to Schramm's book.

The book contains accounts of the experiences of 35 former Stasi agents, which the publisher describes as "exciting," "funny" and "enlightening."

The other, entitled "Besuchszeit" ("Visiting Hours") and written by former Stasi officer Pfütze, insists that prisoners were treated well. In the book, he describes visits West German diplomats were allowed to make to West Germans imprisoned by the East German state.

Stasi-Gedenkstätte Hohenschönhausen
The former Stasi prison Hohenschönhausen in eastern BerlinImage: dpa - Bildfunk

"The prisoners were treated correctly," Pfütze told the audience, some of whom then erupted into sarcastic laughter.

The two authors presented the GDR as a country which respected the rule of law, which operated very normally within the framework of its own constitutional framework.

"The GDR was recognized by 180 nations," said Schramm. "Tell me, were they all idiots?"

Tense atmosphere

But the atmosphere in the room was tense, and the two authors' talks were often interrupted by catcalls, mostly from former prisoners or family members of those persecuted by the East German regime. A man claiming to be a psychologist in the former East Germany interrupted comments from Schramm and claimed the Stasi used "psychological methods of torture."

Schramm rejected the man's accusations that the Stasi were "fascists," saying: "We were not Nazis."

Stasi Unterlagen als Puzzle Rekonstruktion
Stasi files have to be painstakingly reconstructed in many casesImage: dpa

The books' release comes in the wake of another high-profile instance of former Stasi member publicly defending their actions under the former communist regime. In March, some 200 former officers disrupted a meeting at the Hohenschönhausen site, a former Stasi prison in Berlin and now a museum and memorial.

The officers called many of the former victims of the secret service "liars" when they described the terror, abuse and suffering they experienced at the prison.

Marianne Birthler, head of the authority which researches Stasi records, called this new public resurfacing of former Stasi officers alarming.

"They are spreading aggressive propaganda, organized themselves and disturbing gatherings," she warned.

The Stasi compiled surveillance files on approximately 6,000,000 East German citizens -- more than one-third of the population.