• Germany's news in English

Stasi files chief says GDR was more than spies

The Local · 23 May 2011, 09:00

Published: 23 May 2011 09:00 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

“I do think that 20 years of coming to terms with (East German) history has been too fixated on the topic of the Stasi,” Jahn told the Ostsee Zeitung newspaper.

“Due to this, a lot else has been lost. Normal life in the GDR (German Democratic Republic) was discussed and researched far too little. It is about everyday life in a dictatorship.”

When asked whether the Stasi had been used as scapegoat for the entire system, he said, “Right, there were many in whose interests it was to push everything onto the Stasi.

"That distracted, for example, from the responsibility of the SED (the East German communist party), which was the commissioning body of the Stasi machinery, but also from the responsibility of the people who fitted in, who were ‘followers’.”

He said that although many people in East Germany had just wanted to live their lives, it was possible to say no.

“I don’t exempt myself from this. I also ran along the prescribed route for a while. The vast majority were, like my parents, integrated people. They also preferred to keep quiet in certain situations. One could also say no. It is documented in the files that many people defied the Stasi; that many said no, refused to betray friends. One can be proud of that.”

Jahn, who took over the files this month, became a journalist after having been thrown out of East Germany by force. He had drawn attention within and outside of the communist country, to the death of a friend in Stasi custody.

He caused embarrassment before even taking over the files authority when he said one of the first things he would do would be to transfer those former Stasi employees who were still working as guards at the authority, more than two decades after the fall of the East German system.

“I respect the work of these people,” he said. “But I cannot deny the fact that victims of the Stasi have told me that every former Stasi employee in the authority is a slap in the face for them. I understand this view of the victims and would like to help to heal their wounds. I would find it good if the former Stasi employees would help to set an example. No longer working in the authority would be such a sign – that one had understood ones own role in the machinery of repression, and respected the feelings of the victims.”

Story continues below…

He said it was important for the GDR to be understood as more than only the Stasi.

“The better we understand the dictatorship, the better we can form democracy. I see the authority as a school for democracy. We can learn to treasure better the values of freedom by learning about the lack of freedom. This is a message above all to young people – what values are important to us today, why are tolerance and truthfulness so important? Which structures make people not free, force them to betray and fit in?”

The Local/hc

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

21:42 May 23, 2011 by bad_tolz
I was an American soldier who served in Germany in the mid to late 1980s. I met a former East German woman whom I fell in love with. She was a "refugee" who had her freedom purchased for her by West Germany in 1983. How do I find out if she was ever on the Stasi Payroll? Can anyone help?
Today's headlines
Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd