Erich Mielke

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Erich Fritz Emil Mielke
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R0522-177, Erich Mielke.jpg
Minister of State Security
of the German Democratic Republic
In office
11 December 1957 – 18 November 1989
President Wilhelm Pieck (1957–1960)
Walter Ulbricht (1960–1973)
Friedrich Ebert (1973)
Willi Stoph (1973–1976)
Erich Honecker (1976–1989)
Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl (1957–1964)
Willi Stoph (1964–1973)
Horst Sindermann (1973–1976)
Willi Stoph (1976–1989)
Hans Modrow (1989)
Lieutenant Walter Ulbricht (1957–1971)
Erich Honecker (1971–1989)
Preceded by Ernst Wollweber
Succeeded by Wolfgang Schwanitz
Personal details
Born (1907-12-28)December 28, 1907
Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Died May 21, 2000(2000-05-21) (aged 92)
Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany
Political party Socialist Unity Party of Germany
Occupation Executioner, Government Minister, Armeegeneral, Chairman of SV Dynamo.
Religion None (Atheist)
Erich Mielke
Occupation Unemployed after 1989, former communist official and Stasi leader
Criminal penalty
6 years imprisonment
Criminal status Paroled in 1995 due to poor health
Conviction(s) Double homicide, attempted murder

Erich Fritz Emil Mielke (December 28, 1907 – May 21, 2000) was a German secret police official in the service of the Soviet Union and East Germany.

After being one of two triggermen the 1931 murder of Berlin Police Captains Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck, Mielke escaped prosecution by fleeing to the USSR and was recruited into the NKVD. He was one of the perpetrators of the Great Purge as well as the Stalinist decimation of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

Following the end of World War II, Mielke returned to the Soviet Zone of Occupied Germany, which he helped organize into a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship under the Socialist Unity Party (SED).

Between 1957 and 1989, Mielke headed East Germany's Ministry for State Security (MfS or Stasi). During his tenure as, "the longest serving secret police chief in the Soviet Bloc,"[1] Mielke transformed the Stasi into, "the largest, best equipped and most pervasive police state apparatus ever to exist on German soil."[2]

In addition to his role as head of the secret police, Mielke was also a General in the East German Army and member of the SED's ruling Politburo. Dubbed, "The Master of Fear,"[3] (German: der Meister der Angst) by the West German press, Erich Mielke was one of the most powerful and most hated men in East Germany.[4] After German reunification, Erich Mielke was prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated for the 1931 murders of Captains Anlauf and Lenck.

Australian journalist Anna Funder has written of Mielke, "It is said that psychopaths, people utterly untroubled by conscience, make supremely effective generals and politicians, and perhaps he was one."[5]

Early life[edit]

Köllnisches Gymnasium

Erich Mielke was born in a tenement in Berlin-Wedding, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire, on December 28, 1908. During the First World War, the neighborhood was known as, "Red Wedding," due to the Marxist militancy of many residents. In a handwritten biography written for the Soviet secret police, Mielke described his father as, "a poor, uneducated woodworker," and said that his mother died in 1911. Both were, he said, members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). After his remarriage to "a seamstress," the elder Mielke and his new wife joined the Spartacus League founded by Karl Liebknecht and remained members when it was renamed the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). His son Erich claimed, "My younger brother Kurt and two sisters were Communist sympathisers."[6]

Despite the poverty of his family, Erich Mielke was academically gifted enough to be awarded a free scholarship in the prestigious Köllnisches Gymnasium, but was expelled on February 19, 1929, for being, "unable to meet the great demands of this school."[7] While attending the Gymnasium, Mielke joined the Communist Party of Germany in 1925, and worked as a reporter for the communist newspaper Rote Fahne from 1928 to 1931. He then joined the Parteiselbstschutz ("Party Self Defense Unit"). At the time, the Parteiselbstschutz was overseen by KPD Reichstag Representatives Hans Kippenberger and Heinz Neumann.

According to John Koehler, "Mielke was a special protege of Kippenberger's having taken to his paramilitary training with the enthusiasm of a Prussian Junker. World War I veterans taught the novices how to handle pistols, rifles, machine guns, and hand grenades. This clandestine training was conducted in the sparsely populated, pastoral countryside surrounding Berlin. Mielke also pleased Kippenberger by being an exceptional student in classes on the arts of conspiratorial behavior and espionage, taught by comrades who had studied at the secret M-school of the GRU in Moscow."[8]

According to John Koehler, members of the Parteiselbstschutz, "served as bouncers at Party meetings and specialized in cracking heads during street battles with political enemies."[9] Besides the Berlin Police, their arch-enemies were street-fighters affiliated with the Nazi Party, the Monarchist German National People's Party, and "radical nationalist parties." The SPD, which dominated German politics from 1918-1931 and which the KPD accused of "Social fascism," was their most detested foe.

According to Koehler, the KPD's Selbstschutz men, "always carried a Stahlrute, two steel springs that telescoped into a tube seven inches long, which when extended became a deadly, fourteen inch weapon. Not to be outdone by the Nazis, these street-fighters were often armed with pistols as well."[10]

In a 1931 biography written for the Cadre Division of the Comintern,[11] Mielke recalled, "We took care of all kinds of work; terror acts, protecting illegal demonstrations and meetings, arms-trafficking, etc. The last work, which was accomplished by a Comrade and myself, was the Bülowplatz Affair."

(German: "Wir erledigten hier alle möglichen Arbeiten, Terrorakte, Schutz illegaler Demonstrationen und Versammlungen, Waffentransport und reinigung usw. Als letzte Arbeit erledigten ein Genosse und ich die Bülowplatzsache.")[12]

The Bülowplatz Murders[edit]

Karl-Liebknecht-Haus, Bülowplatz the KPD's headquarters from 1926 to 1933. Today it is the Berlin headquarters of the Left Party.

On August 2, 1931, Neumann and Kippenberger received a dressing down from Walter Ulbricht, the KPD's leader in the Berlin-Brandenburg region. Enraged by police interference, Ulbricht snarled, "At home in Saxony we would have done something about the police a long time ago. Here in Berlin we will not fool around much longer. Soon we will hit the police in the head."[13]

Enraged by Ulbricht's words, Kippenberger and Neumann decided to assassinate Paul Anlauf, the forty-two-year-old Captain of the Seventh Precinct. Captain Anlauf, a widower with three daughters, had been nicknamed Schweinebacke, or "Pig Face" by the KPD. According to John Koehler, "Of all the policemen in strife-torn Berlin, the reds hated Anlauf the most. His precinct included the area around KPD headquarters, which made it the most dangerous in the city. The captain almost always led the riot squads that broke up illegal rallies of the Communist Party."[14]

On the morning of Sunday August 9, 1931, Kippenberger and Neumann gave a last briefing to the hit-team in a room at the Lassant beer hall. Mielke and Erich Ziemer were selected as the shooters. During the meeting, Max Matern gave a Luger pistol to fellow lookout Max Thunert said, "Now we're getting serious... We're going to give Schweinebacke something to remember us by."[15]

Kippenberger then asked Mielke and Ziemer, "Are you sure that you are ready to shoot Schweinebacke?"[16] Mielke responded that he had seen Captain Anlauf many times during police searches of Party Headquarters. Kippenberger then instructed them to wait at a nearby beer hall which would permit them to overlook the entire Bülow-Platz. He further reminded them that Captain Anlauf was accompanied everywhere by Senior Sergeant Max Willig, who the KPD had nicknamed, Hussar.

Kippenberger concluded, "When you spot Schweinebacke and Hussar, you take care of them."[17] After the assassinations were completed, Mielke and Ziemer were informed that a diversion would assist in their escape. They were then to return to their homes and await further instructions.

That evening, Captain Anlauf was lured to Bülow-Platz by a violent rally demanding the dissolution of the Prussian Parliament. According to John Koehler, "As was often the case when it came to battling the dominant SPD, the KPD and the Nazis had combined forces during the pre-plebiscite campaign. At one point in this particular campaign, Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels even shared a speaker's platform with KPD agitator Walter Ulbricht. Both parties wanted the parliament dissolved because they were hoping that new elections would oust the SPD, the sworn enemy of all radicals. That fact explained why the atmosphere was particularly volatile this Sunday."[18]

Cop killer[edit]

The "Babylon Cinema," the site of the assassinations of Captains Anlauf and Lenck, as it appears today.
The funeral of Captains Anlauf and Lenck was attended by thousands of Berliners.

At eight o'clock that evening, Mielke and Ziemer, waited in a doorway as Captain Anlauf, Sergeant Willig, and Captain Franz Lenck walked toward the Babylon Cinema, which was located at the corner of Bülowplatz and Kaiser-Wilhelm-Straße. As they reached the door of the movie house, the policemen heard someone scream, "Schweinebacke!"[19]

As Captain Anlauf turned toward the sound, Mielke and Ziemer opened fire at point blank range. Sergeant Willig was wounded in the left arm and the stomach. However, he managed to draw his Luger pistol and fired a full magazine at the assailants. Captain Franz Lenck was shot in the chest and fell dead in front of the entrance. Willig crawled over and cradled the head of Captain Anlauf, who had taken two bullets in the neck. As his life drained away, the Captain gasped, "Wiedersehen... Gruss..." ("So Long... Goodbye...").[19]

Meanwhile, Mielke and Ziemer made their escape by running into the theater and out an emergency exit. They tossed their pistols over a fence, where they were later found by Homicide Detectives from the elite Mordkommission. Mielke and Ziemer then returned to their homes.[20]

According to Koehler, "Back at Bülowplatz, the killings had triggered a major police action. At least a thousand officers poured into the square, and a bloody street battle ensued. Rocks and bricks were hurled from the rooftops. Communist gunmen fired indiscriminately from the roofs of surrounding apartment houses. As darkness fell, police searchlights illuminated the buildings. Using megaphones, officers shouted, 'Clear the streets! Move away from the windows! We are returning fire!' By now the rabble had fled the square, but shooting continued as riot squads combed the tenements, arresting hundreds of residents suspected of having fired weapons. The battle lasted until one o'clock the next morning. In addition to the two police officers, the casualties included one communist who died of a gunshot wound and seventeen others who were seriously wounded."[21]

Captain Anlauf's wife had died three weeks earlier of kidney failure.[22] The KPD's murder of Captain Anlauf thus left their three daughters as orphans. The Captain's oldest daughter was forced to drastically rush her planned wedding in order to keep her sisters out of an orphanage.[23] Captain Franz Lenck was survived by his wife.[24] Senior Sergeant Max Willig was hospitalized for fourteen weeks, but made a full recovery and returned to active duty. In recognition for Willig's courage, the Berlin Police promoted him to Lieutenant.[25]

After the murders, the act was celebrated at the Lichtenberger Hof, a favorite with the Rotfrontkämpferbund, where Mielke boasted: "Today we celebrate a job that I pulled!" (German: "Heute wird ein Ding gefeiert, das ich gedreht habe!")[26]

Fugitive[edit]

Wanted Poster. September, 1933. "Help with the Search for the Red Murderers." Erich Mielke may be seen at the top right.

According to John Koehler, "Kippenberger was alarmed when word reached him that Sergeant Willig had survived the shooting. Not knowing whether the sergeant could talk and identify the attackers, Kippenberger was taking no chances. He directed a runner to summon Mielke and Ziemer to his apartment at 74 Bellermannstrasse, only a few minutes walk from where the two lived. When the assassins arrived, Kippenberger told them the news and ordered them to leave Berlin at once. The parliamentarian's wife Thea, an unemployed schoolteacher and as staunch a Communist Party member as her husband, shepherded the young murderers to the Belgian border. Agents of the Communist International (Comintern) in the port city of Antwerp supplied them with money and forged passports. Aboard a merchant ship, they sailed for Leningrad. When their ship docked, they were met by another Comintern representative, who escorted them to Moscow."[27]

Beginning in 1932, Mielke attended the Comintern's Military Political school under the alias Paul Bach. He later graduated from the Lenin School and before being recruited into the OGPU.

The Trial[edit]

German policemen lay a wreath on the monument to Captains Anlauf and Lenck during the Day of the German Police, January 16, 1937. Despite the fact that Captains Anlauf and Lenck were members of the SPD, the Nazi salute is given by many of those present. In 1951, Mielke ordered the demolition of the monument.

According to Koehler, "In mid-March 1933, while attending the Lenin School, Mielke received word from his OGPU sponsors that Berlin police had arrested Max Thunert, one of the conspirators in the Anlauf and Lenck murders. Within days, fifteen other members of the assassination team were in custody. Mielke had to wait six more months before the details of the police action against his Berlin comrades reached Moscow. On September 14, 1933, Berlin newspapers reported that all fifteen had confessed to their roles in the murders. Arrest warrants were issued for ten others who had fled, including Mielke, Ziemer, Ulbricht, Kippenberger, and Neumann."[28]

According to John Koehler, "Defenders of Mielke later claimed that confessions had been obtained under torture by the Nazi Gestapo. However, all suspects were in the custody of the regular Berlin city criminal investigation bureau, most of whose detectives were SPD members. Some of the suspects had been nabbed by Nazi SA men and probably beaten before they were turned over to police. In the 1993 trial of Mielke, the court gave the defense the benefit of the doubt and threw out a number of suspect confessions."[29]

On June 19, 1934, the 15 conspirators were convicted of first degree murder. The three deemed most culpable, Michael Klause, Max Matern, and Friedrich Bröde were sentenced to death. Their co-defendants received sentences ranging from nine months to fifteen years incarceration at hard labor. Klause's sentence was commuted to life in prison based upon his cooperation. Bröde hanged himself in his cell. As a result, only Matern was left to be executed by beheading on May 22, 1935.

Matern was subsequently glorified as a martyr by KPD and East German propaganda. Ziemer was officially killed in action while fighting for the Second Spanish Republic. Mielke, however, would not face trial for the murders until 1993.

Career in Soviet Intelligence[edit]

The Great Terror[edit]

Partial view of a plaque with photos of victims of the Great Terror which were shot in the NKVD firing range in Butovo, Moscow.

Although Moscow's German Communist community was decimated during Joseph Stalin's Great Purge,[30] Mielke survived and was promoted. In a handwritten autobiography prepared after World War II, Mielke recalled,

"During my stay in the S.U. (Soviet Union), I participated in all Party discussions of the K.P.D. and also in the problems concerning the establishment of socialism and in the trials against the traitors and enemies of the S.U."[31]

Among the German communists executed as a result of these "discussions," were Mielke's former mentors Heinz Neumann and Hans Kippenberger.

Mielke further recalled, "I was a guest on the honor grandstand of Red Square during the May Day and October Revolution parades. I became acquainted with many comrades of the Federation of World Communist Parties and the War Council of the Special Commission of the Comintern. I will never forget my meeting with Comrade Dimitrov, the Chairman of the Comintern, whom I served as an aide together with another comrade. I saw Comrade Stalin during all demonstrations at Red Square, especially when I stood on the grandstand. I mention these meetings because all these comrades are our models and teachers for our work."[32]

Mielke's experiences during the Great Purge continued to shape his attitudes for the rest of his life. In a 1982 speech before a group of senior Stasi officers, he said, "We are not immune from villains among us. If I knew of any already, they wouldn't live past tomorrow. Short shrift. It's because I'm a Humanist, that I'm of this view."[33]

In the same speech, Mielke also said, "All this blithering over to execute or not to execute, for the death penalty or against-- all rot, Comrades. Execute! And, when necessary, without a court judgment."[34]

Spanish Civil War[edit]

From 1936 to 1939 Mielke served in Spain as an operative of the Servicio de Investigación Militar, the political police of the Second Spanish Republic.[35] While attached to the staff of future Stasi minister Wilhelm Zaisser, Mielke used the alias Fritz Leissner.[26] Bernd Kaufmann, the director of the Stasi's espionage school later said, "The Soviets trusted Mielke implicitly. He earned his spurs in Spain."[36]

At the time, the S.I.M. was heavily staffed by agents of the Soviet NKVD, whose Spanish rezident was General Aleksandr Mikhailovich Orlov. According to author Donald Rayfield, "Stalin, Yezhov, and Beria distrusted Soviet participants in the Spanish war. Military advisors like Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, journalists like Koltsov were open to infection by the heresies, especially Trotsky's, prevalent among the Republic's supporters. NKVD agents sent to Spain were therefore keener on abducting and murdering anti-Stalinists among Republican leaders and International Brigade commanders than on fighting Franco. The defeat of the Republic, in Stalin's eyes, was caused not by the NKVD's diversionary efforts, but by the treachery of the heretics."[37]

In a 1991 interview,[38] Walter Janka, a fellow German communist exile and company commander in the International Brigade, recalled his encounters with Mielke. During the winter of 1936, Janka was summoned by the SIM and interrogated by Mielke. Mielke demanded to know why Janka had voluntarily traveled to Spain rather than being assigned there by the Party. When he told Mielke to get lost, the SIM busted Janka to the ranks and expelled him from the International Brigade. Years later, Janka recalled, "While I was fighting at the front, shooting at the Fascists, Mielke served in the rear, shooting Trotskyites and Anarchists."[35]

Upon the defeat of the Spanish Republic, Mielke fled across the Pyrenees Mountains to France, where he was interned at Camp de Rivesaltes, Pyrénées-Orientales. Mielke, however, managed to send a message to exiled KPD members and, in May 1939, escaped to Belgium. Although the Public Prosecutor of Berlin learned of Mielke's presence and filed for his extradition, the Belgian Government refused to comply, regarding the assassinations of Captains Anlauf and Lenck as, "a political crime."[39]

World War II[edit]

Belarusian partisans in the forest near Polotsk, Byelorussian SSR September 1943.

During World War II, Mielke's movements remain mysterious. In a biography written after the war, he claimed to have infiltrated Organisation Todt under the alias Richard Hebel.[40] Historian John O. Koehler considers this unlikely, however.

Koehler admits, however, "Mielke's exploits must have been substantial. By war's end, he had been decorated with the Order of the Red Banner, the Order of the Great Patriotic War First Class, and twice with the Order of Lenin. It is likely that he served as an NKVD agent, at least part of the time with guerrilla units behind German lines, for he knew all the partisan songs by heart and sang them in faultless Russian."[41]

Occupied Germany[edit]

Komissariat-5[edit]

Former Soviet military and NKGB Headquarters in Karlshorst. Now the German-Russian Museum.

In 1945 Mielke was ordered by the NKGB to return to Occupied Germany as a police inspector, with a mandate to build up a security force which would ensure the dominance of the Communist Party in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. Mielke was a protege of NKGB General Ivan Serov, who was headquartered at the Berlin suburb of Karlshorst. On August 16, 1947, Serov ordered the creation of Kommissariat 5, the first German political police since the defeat of Nazi Germany.[42] Wilhelm Zaisser was appointed the organization's head and Mielke was installed as his deputy.

According to John Koehler,

"The K-5 was essentially an arm of the Soviet secret police. Its agents were carefully selected veteran German communists who had survived the Nazi era in Soviet exile or in concentration camps and prisons. Their task was to track down Nazis and anti-communists, including hundreds of members of the Social Democratic Party. Mielke and his fellow bloodhounds performed this task with ruthless precision. The number of arrests became so great that the regular prisons could not hold them. Thus, Serov ordered the establishment or re-opening of eleven concentration camps, including the former Nazi death camps of Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen."[43]

According to Edward N. Peterson, "Not surprisingly, K-5 acquired a reputation as bad as that of Stalin's secret police and worse than that of the Gestapo. At least with the Nazis, albeit fanatically racist, their victims did not suddenly disappear into the GULAG."[44]

The Amalgamation[edit]

The red flag of the SED bore the SED logo, which portrayed the handshake between Communist Wilhelm Pieck and Social Democrat Otto Grotewohl when their parties merged in 1946.

Despite the K-5's mass arrests of SPD members in the Soviet Zone, the number of members continued to grow. By March 1946, the number of SPD members outnumbered KPD members by more than 100,000. Fearing that they would lose the elections scheduled for the autumn, the leadership of the KPD asked for and received Stalin's permission to merge the two Parties. When the SPD's leadership agreed only to schedule a vote for the rank and file to decide, permission was denied by the Soviet occupation authorities. The K-5 then began mass arrests of SPD members who refused to support the merger.

On April 22, 1946, the leaders of the SPD in the Soviet Zone announced that they had united with the KPD to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). The SPD in the western zones of Occupied Germany responded by forming the SPD East Bureau in order to support and finance those who refused to accept the merger. Those who joined or worked with the East Bureau were in serious danger of arrest by the K-5 and tried by Soviet military tribunals. By 1950, more than 5,000 SPD members and sympathisers had been imprisoned in the Soviet Zone or transferred to the GULAG. More than 400 were either executed or died during their imprisonments.[45]

The investigation[edit]

In January 1947, two Weimar-era policemen recognized Mielke at an official function. Informing the head of the criminal police in West Berlin, the policemen demanded that Mielke be arrested and prosecuted for the murders of Captains Anlauf and Lenck.[46] Wilhelm Kühnast, the Public Prosecutor of Berlin, was immediately informed and ordered a search of the Kammergericht archives. To his astonishment, the files of the 1931 murders had survived the wartime bombing of Germany. Finding ample evidence of Mielke's involvement, Kühnast ordered the arrest of the communist policeman.

According to John Koehler,

"At that time, the city administration, including the police, was under the control of the Allied Control Commission, which consisted of U.S., British, French, and Soviet military officers. All actions by city fficials, including the judiciary, were to be reported to the Commission. The Soviet representative alerted the MGB. Action was swift. Marshal Vasily Sokolovsky, who had replaced Zhukov, protested, and his representatives at the Commission launched a vicious campaign to discredit Kühnast."[46]

The Soviet representatives falsely claimed that Kühnast, a jurist with an impecable anti-Nazi record, had been an official of Roland Freisler's People's Court.[47] Taking the Soviets at their word, the Western Allies removed Kühnast from his position and placed him under house arrest. During the Berlin airlift, Kühnast escaped from his home in East Berlin and was granted political asylum in the American Zone.[48]

Meanwhile, the Soviet authorities confiscated all documents relating to the murders of Captains Anlauf and Lenck. According to Koehler, "The Soviets handed the court records to Mielke. Instead of destroying the incriminating papers, he locked them in his private safe, where they were found when his home was searched in 1990. They were used against him in his trial for murder."[49]

Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission[edit]

In 1948, Mielke was appointed as chief of the German Economic Commission (German: Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission). Concealed behind its innocent sounding name was, like the K-5, a secret police organization.

Mielke's task was to investigate the theft and sale of State property on the black market. He was also charged with intercepting the growing number of refugees fleeing to the French, British, and American Zones.

Those the DWK caught while attempting to defect were used as slave labor in the Uranium mines which were providing raw material for the Soviet atomic bomb project.[50]

Working for East Germany[edit]

Mielke was a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) from 1950 until his forced retirement in November 1989. From July 1946 to October 1949 he served as vice-president of the Administration of the Interior. From October 1949 to February 1950, Mielke served as head of the Main Administration for the Protection of the People's Economy, the forerunner of the Ministry of State Security (MfS or Stasi). From 1950–1953 he was state secretary in the MfS, later serving as full State Secretary from 1953–1955. From 1955–1957 he was deputy minister of state security.

Erich Mielke was also a fitness enthusiast, a non-smoker and drank very little. He was a keen hunter and owned a large area of ground where he would hunt animals with other top East German and Soviet officials.

Tenure as Stasi head[edit]

MfS Isignia.

Mielke headed the Stasi from 1957 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Domestic activities[edit]

Under Erich Mielke's leadership, the Stasi employed 85,000 full-time domestic spies and 170,000 civilian informants. (German: Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter.) (IMs). As a result, East Germany has been called, "the most perfected surveillance state of all time."[51]

On his orders, and with his full knowledge, Stasi officers also engaged in arbitrary arrest, kidnapping, brutal harassment of political dissidents, and the imprisonment of tens of thousands of citizens.

According to John Koehler, "...the Stasi's tentacles probed every aspect of life. Full-time officers were posted to all major industrial plants. Without exception, one tenant in every vuilding was designated as a watchdog reporting to an area representative of the Volkspolizei...In turn, the police officer was the Stasi's man. If a relative or friend came to stay overnight, it wa reported. Schools, universities and hospitals were infiltrated from top to bottom. German academe was shocked to learn that Heinrich Fink, professor of theology and vice-chancellor of East Berlin's Humboldt University, had been a Stasi informer since 1968. After Fink's Stasi connections came to light, he was summarily fired. Doctors, lawyers, journalists, writers, actors, and sports figures were co-opted by Stasi officers, as were waiters and hotel personnel. Tapping about 100,000 telephone lines in East Germany and West Berlin around the clock was the job of 2,000 officers... Churchmen, including high officials of both Protestant and Catholic denominations, were recruited en masse as secret informants. Their offices and confessionals were infested with eavesdropping devices. Even the director of Leipzig's famous Thomas Church choir, Hans-Joachim Rotzsch, was forced to resign when he was unmasked as a Spitzel, the people's pejorative for a Stasi informant."[52]

In an interview with journalist Anna Funder, an ex-Stasi officer recalled, "Most often, people we approached would inform for us. It was very rare that they would not. However, sometimes we felt that we might need to know where their weak points were, just in case. For example, if we wanted a pastor, we'd find out if he'd had an affair, or had a drinking problem--things that we could use as leverage. Mostly though, people said yes."[53]

In a 1991 interview, Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said, "The Stasi was much, much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people. The Gestapo had 40,000 officials watching a country of 80 million, while the Stasi employed 102,000 to control only 17 million."[54]

Activities abroad[edit]

Markus Wolf.

During Mielke's tenure, the Stasi's operations beyond East Germany were overseen by Markus Wolf and the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (MfS-HVA).

Mielke and Wolf provided money, training, and surveillance equipment to help build Pro-Soviet secret police forces in Fidel Castro's Cuba,[55][56] Baathist Syria,[57] Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua,[58] Mengistu Haile Mariam's Ethiopia,[59][60][61] Idi Amin's Uganda,[61][62] Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana,[63] and South Yemen.[64]

After the opening of Stasi archives, it was revealed that West Germany was riddled with MfS-HVA moles. Some West Germans collaborated out of Marxist beliefs, but others were recruited through blackmail, greed, career frustrations, or sexual favors from Stasi operatives.[65] Another tactic was for Stasi military advisers assigned to African and Middle Eastern countries to arrange the arrest of West German tourists. Local police would then turn the prisoner over to the Stasi, who would offer them a choice between espionage or incarceration.[66]

Senior politicians from the Social Democratic Party of Germany,[67] the Free Democratic Party of Germany,[68] and the Christian Democratic Union[69] were exposed and, when still alive, prosecuted.

Mielke and Wolf also seriously compromised West Germany's police departments,[70] foreign and domestic intelligence services,[71] diplomatic corps,[72] military-industrial complex,[73] and journalistic profession.[74]

The Stasi compromised the United States military[75] and diplomatic[76] presence in West Germany. Among their most damaging American spies for the Stasi was United States Army Sergeant James Hall III,[77] who volunteered his services to Soviet and East German intelligence in November 1981. After Sergeant Hall's arrest in 1988, one Washington intelligence official called the breach, "the Army's Walker Case."[78]

Collusion with Naziism[edit]

Former SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann during his trial in Jerusalem, 1961.

Beginning in 1960, Mielke and Wolf used false flag recruitment to secretly finance Neo-Nazi organizations, which vandalized Jewish religious and cultural sites throughout West Germany. During the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann, Stasi agents sent letters to West German Neo-Nazis and Waffen-SS veterans, urging them to speak out and raise money for Eichmann's defense attorney. This was done in order to lend credibility to SED propaganda about the allegedly Nazi orientation of the Federal Republic.[79]

According to German historian Michael Wolffsohn, "There is no doubt that in the 1960s as now, there were Nazis who were unreconstructed, unchangeable and evil, but without the help of East Germany, these Nazis were incapable of a national, coordinated campaign. That was true of right-wing extremist criminals in the 1980s as well. The East German Communists used anything they could against West Germany, including the... fears by Western countries and Jews that a new Nazism could be growing in West Germany. There is... evidence that the East Germans continued to use antisemitism as a tool against West Germany in the 1970s and perhaps right up until 1989."[80]

In a 1991 interview, Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said about the Stasi, "They not only terrorized their own people worse than the Gestapo, but the government was the most Anti-Semitic and Anti-Israeli in the entire Eastern Bloc. They did nothing to help the West in tracking down Nazi criminals; they ignored all requests from West German judicial authorities for assistance. We have just discovered shelves of files on Nazis stretching over four miles. Now we also know how the Stasi used those files. They blackmailed Nazi criminals who fled abroad after the war into spying for them. What's more, the Stasi trained terrorists from all over the world."[81]

Collusion with Terrorism[edit]

During a 1979 visit to the GDR by senior PLO member Salah Khalaf, Mielke said, "We are paying great attention to the Palestine resistance and the other revolutionary forces fighting against the policies of the United States and against the provocations of the Israeli aggressor. Together with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, we will do everything to support this just battle."[82]

With this in mind, Mielke ordered the Stasi to finance, arm, and train, "urban guerrillas," from numerous countries. According to former Stasi Colonel Rainer Wiegand, Mielke's ties to terrorist organizations were overseen by Markus Wolf and Department Three of the MfS-HVA.[83] Members of the West German Rote Armee Fraktion,[84] the Chilean Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front,[85] and the South African Umkhonto we Sizwe[86] were brought to East Germany for training in the use of military hardware and, "the leadership role of the Party."[87] Similar treatment was meted out to Palestinian terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Abu Nidal, and Black September.[88]

Other Stasi agents worked as military advisers to African Marxist guerrillas and the governments they later formed. They included the Namibian SWAPO and the Angolan MPLA during the South African Border War, the FRELIMO during the Mozambican War of Independence and civil war, and Robert Mugabe's ZANLA during the Rhodesian Bush War.[89]

Colonel Wiegand revealed that Mielke and Wolf provided bodyguards from the Stasi's counter-terrorism division for Senior PLO terrorist Carlos the Jackal[90] and Black September leader Abu Daoud[91] during their visits to the GDR. Col. Wiegand had been sickened by the 1972 Munich massacre and was horrified that the GDR would treat the man who ordered it as an honored guest. When he protested, Wiegand was told that Abu Daoud was, "a friend of our country, a high-raking political functionary," and that there was no proof that he was a terrorist.[92]

During the 1980s, Wiegand secretly recruited a Libyan diplomat into spying on his colleagues. Wiegand's informant told him that the La Belle bombing and other terrorist attacks against western citizens were being planned at the Libyan Embassy in East Berlin. When Wiegand showed him a detailed report, Mielke informed the SED's Politburo, which ordered the Colonel to continue surveillance but not interfere with the plans of the Libyans.[93]

According to John Koehler, "Murder, kidnapping, extortion, bank robbery, and arson were felonies under the East German criminal code. However, if these offenses were committed under the banner of the 'anti-imperialist struggle,' the communist system would look the other way. Moreover, it had assigned the Stasi to make sure that terrorists were properly trained for murder and mayhem. There was no limits to the East German regime's involvement with terrorism, so long as it could be ideologically justified."[94]

The Peaceful Revolution[edit]

The SED dispatched plainclothes officers to arrest demonstrators.

According to John Koehler,

Increasingly concerned over the growing popular opposition, Stasi Minister Mielke early in 1989 ordered the creation of a special elite unit for crushing disturbances. Its personnel were carefully selected members of the counterespionage and counterterrorism directorate. They were equipped with special batons similar to electric cattle prods but much more powerful. In a secret speech to top-ranking Stasi officers on June 29, Mielke warned that, "hostile opposing forces and groups have already achieved a measure of power and are using all methods to achieve a change in the balance of power." Former Stasi Colonel Rainer Wiegand told me he was horrified when Mielke compared the situation with that of China two months earlier. Chinese students in Beijing had begun massive protests in April and in May, during a student demonstration in Tiananmen Square, security troops had opened fire on them killing hundreds. "Mielke said our situation was comparable and we had to be ready to counter it with all means and methods," Wiegand recalled. "Mielke said that the Chinese leadership had succeeded in smothering the protests before the situation got out of hand."[95]

Despite Mielke's attempts to squelch them, East Germany's protesters grew more emboldened with every arrest.

The Anniversary[edit]

The 40th Anniversary of the GDR, October 7, 1989.

As the fortieth anniversary of the GDR approached, Mielke ordered, "We must stop the internal enemy. At the least hint of a disturbance of the celebration, isolate and arrest them."[96]

One former Stasi Major recalled, "We mixed inconspicuously with the demonstrators, accompanied by our IMs. Hundreds of us stood at the sides of the street in order to stop any activity before it got started. We barely got any sleep toward the end. Never did I sense that the people were afraid of the MfS. The Stasi was more afraid of the people than the people were of them."[97]

According to Koehler, "Despite the unrest, the regime celebrated its fortieth with a huge, pompous ceremony in Berlin on October 7, while tens of thousands of outside the ornate building of the State Council. The People's Police cordons were utterly ineffectual. As Stasi Minister Erich Mielke drove up and was greeted by General Günter Kratsch, the counterintelligence chief, Mielke screamed at police: "Club those pigs into submission!"[98] (German: "Hau sie doch zusammen, die Schweine!")[99] The police ignored Mielke's ranting."[100]

According to Anna Funder, "There was a sea of red flags, a torchlight procession, and tanks. The old men on the podium wore light-grey suits studded with medals. Mikhail Gorbachev stood next to Honecker, but he looked uncomfortable among the much older Germans. He had come to tell them that it was over, to convince the leadership to adopt his reformist policies. He had spoken openly about the danger of not 'responding to reality.' He pointedly told the Politburo that, 'life punishes those who come too late.' Honecker and Mielke ignored him, just as they ignored the crowds when they chanted, 'Gorby, help us! Gorby, help us!'"[101]

Plan X[edit]

On October 8, 1989, Mielke and Honecker ordered the Stasi to implement "Plan X" -- the SED's plan to arrest and indefinitely detain 85,939 East Germans during a state of emergency.

According to Anna Funder, "The plans contained exact provisions for the use of all available prisons and camps, and when those were full for the conversion of other buildings: Nazi detention centers, schools, hospitals, and factory holiday hostels. Every detail was foreseen, from where the doorbell was located on the house of each person to be arrested to the adequate supply of barbed wire and the rules of dress and etiquette in the camps..."[102]

But when Mielke sent orders to each local Stasi precinct to begin Plan X, his agents did not obey. Terrified of being lynched, Stasi agents instead fortified their office-buildings and barricaded themselves inside.[103]

Toppling Honecker[edit]

Mielke receives an award from Erich Honecker February 8, 1980.
Egon Krenz introduces himself as the new General Secretary of the SED.

Even as orders were going out to implement Plan X, Mielke had already thrown his support behind the anti-Honecker faction in the SED's Politburo. During a session on October 10, 1989, Mielke delivered a report attacking Honecker's desire to suppress the demonstrators rather than offer concessions.

In what Edward N. Peterson has called, "a remarkable disclaimer of responsibility for the violence," Mielke declared that Honecker's orders to him, "were built on false situation judgments." He added that Honecker's commands on October 7 and 8, "were false and undifferentiated condemnations of those who think differently. Despite this evaluation, there was never any instructions to use violence against persons. There is nothing in our basic principles to consider a demonstration as part of a possible counterrevolutionary coup."[104]

Mielke also claimed that, "the Party judged the situation falsely. We tried to tell them the true situation, but enough was not done." Mielke argued in favor of solving the demonstrations politically and giving, "every DDR citizen the right to travel."[105]

On October 17, 1989, Mielke and the rest of the GDR's Politburo met to follow Gorbachev's demand, voiced in August, for Erich Honecker be relieved of duty as General Secretary of the SED and Premier of East Germany.[106] Suspecting that Honecker's personal bodyguards might try to arrest the members of the Central Committee when they met to vote Honecker out in favour of Egon Krenz, Mielke saw to it that Stasi agents were stationed near the meeting room.[107]

After the voting was completed, Mielke, "got nasty," and accused Honecker of corruption. Honecker responded that Mielke should not open his mouth so much.[108] Mielke responded by putting the last nail in Honecker's coffin. He announced that the MfS had a file on the now-ousted Premier. It contained proof of Honecker's corrupt business practices, sexual activities, and how, as a member of the clandestine KPD during the Nazi years, he had been arrested by the Gestapo and named names.[109]

To the shock of both the Politburo and the Stasi, Krenz's first televised addresses failed to win popular support. Despite his assurances that the SED was at last ready to embrace Perestroika, Krenz's approval ratings remained extremely low.[110]

Former Politburo member Günter Schabowski later recalled, "We made a palace revolution without offering a real alternative... We had not quickly and thoroughly enough whittled away from Stalin's methods."[111]

Defeat[edit]

On 7 November 1989, Mielke resigned, along with eleven out of eighteen members of the SED's Council of Ministers, in response to the increasing disintegration of the GDR.

Two days later, Schabowski announced on television that the East-West border was open without restriction.[112]

According to Anna Funder, there was panic at Stasi Headquarters in Berlin-Lichtenberg: "Stasi officers were instructed to destroy files, starting with the most incriminating--those naming westerners who spied for the them, and those that concerned deaths. They shredded the files until the shredders collapsed. Among other shortages in the East, there was a shredder shortage, so they had to send agents out under cover to West Berlin to buy more. In Building 8 alone, the citizens' movement found over a hundred burnt out shredders."[113]

According to William F. Buckley, Jr., "In the weeks after November 9, Stasi offices were stormed in various cities around East Germany. Stasi commissars in three of those cities committed suicide. But not one was lynched or executed."[114]

Televised humiliation[edit]

Mielke addressing the Volkskammer, March 25 1983.

Six days later, on 13 November 1989, Mielke was summoned to deliver a briefing about the protests to the GDR parliament, or Volkskammer. Formerly a "rubber stamp parliament," the disentegration of the SED's power had allowed the Volkskammer to begin exercising real authority over the GDR.

As his speech was broadcast live, Mielke summarized the security situation and claimed that the MfS was still in complete control. To his shock, the Volkskammer responded with boos, whistles, and catcalls.

His face griefstricken and pale, Mielke then addressed the members of the Volkskammer as "Comrades." (German: "Genossen.") To the cheers of the assembly, a non-SED member rose and rebuked him, saying, "We are not your Comrades!"[115] (German: "Wir sind nicht dein Genossen!")

A shattered Mielke first tried to justify his wording, "This is a formalistic question," only to be greeted with contemptuous laughter. He, "raised his arms like an evangelist,"[116] and cried, "I love all – all Humanity! I really do! I set myself before you!" (German: "Ich liebe - Ich liebe doch alle - alle Menschen! Na liebe doch! Ich setze mich doch däfur ein!").[117]

Everyone in the room, including staunch SED members, dissolved into derisive laughter. John Koehler later wrote, "Mielke was finished."[116]

Mielke's address to the Volkskammer remains the most famous broadcast in the history of German television. Anna Funder has written, "When they think of Mielke, East Germans like to think of this."[118]

The Fall[edit]

On 17 November 1989, the Volkskammer renamed the MfS the Amt für Nationale Sicherheit (AfNS - Office for National Security). The following day, Mielke's tenure in office finally ended when Generalleutnant Wolfgang Schwanitz was appointed by the Volkskammer as the director of the AfNS.

On 1 December 1989, the Volkskammer nullified the clause of the GDR Constitution which established the SED as having the "leading role," in the Government.[119] Two days later, Mielke's membership in the SED was permanently revoked. Years later, he lamented, "Millions have died for nothing. Everything we fought for - it has all amounted to nothing."[120] He also said, "If the Party had given me the task, then there would... still be a G.D.R. today. On that you can rely."[121]

Incarceration[edit]

Indictments[edit]

General Frederick Kroesen during his term as Commander of the United States Army in West Germany.
Aftermath of the RAF bombing attack on Ramstein Air Base, August 31, 1981.

On 7 December 1989, Erich Mielke was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for using public funds to improve his hunting estate.[122] In response, he was charged with, "damaging the national economy" (Schädigung der Volkswirtschaft).[123] On January 7, 1990, he was further charged with high treason and conspiring with Erich Honecker to bug the telephones and open the mail of East Germany's citizens.[124][125] Meanwhile, West Germany's Federal Constitutional Court announced that Mielke had been indicted for collusion with two Rote Armee Fraktion terrorist attacks against U.S. military personnel. The first was the car bomb attack at Ramstein Air Base on 31 August 1981. The second was the attempted murder of United States Army General Frederick Kroesen at Heidelburg on September 15, 1981.[126][127] The latter attack, which was carried out by RAF members Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Christian Klar, involved firing an RPG-7 anti-tank rocket into the General's armored Mercedes.[128][129]

After German reunification in October 1990, Mielke was further charged with ordering the shootings of defectors at the Berlin Wall. He was also charged with misuse of office, breach of trust, and incitement to pervert justice.

Ghosts of Bülowplatz[edit]

Plötzensee Prison, where Erich Mielke served his pre-trial detention, 1989-1993.

In February 1992, Mielke was put on trial for the first degree murders of Captains Anlauf and Lenck as well as the attempted murder of Senior Sergeant Willig.[130] The evidence for Mielke's guilt was drawn from the original police files, the 1934 trial transcripts, and a handwritten memoir in which Mielke had admitted that, "the Bülowplatz Affair," had been his reason for fleeing Germany. All had been found in Mielke's house safe during a police search in 1990. Mielke was believed to have kept the files for purposes of "blackmailing Honecker and other East German leaders."[131] Former Associated Press reporter and White House Press Secretary John Koehler also testified about how Mielke had boasted of his involvement in the Bülowplatz murders during a confrontation at Leipzig in 1965.[132]

During his trial, Mielke appeared increasingly senile, admitting his identity but otherwise remaining silent, taking naps, and showing little interest in the proceedings. In a widely publicized incident, Mielke appeared to mistake the presiding judge for a prison barber.[133] When a journalist for Der Spiegel attempted to interview him in Plötzensee Prison, Mielke responded, "I want to go back to my bed."[134] (German: "Ich möchte in mein Bett zurück.") Opinion was divided whether Mielke was suffering from senile dementia or was pretending in order to evade prosecution.[135]

After twenty months of one and a half hour daily sessions, Erich Mielke convicted of two counts of murder and one of attempted murder. On October 26, 1993, a panel of three judges and two jurors sentenced him to six years' imprisonment. In pronouncing sentence, Judge Theodor Seidel, told Mielke that he, "will go down in history as one of the most fearsome dictators and police ministers of the 20th century."[136]

Imprisonment[edit]

Mielke was then put on trial for ordering the shootings of East Germans who were trying to defect to the West. In November, 1994, the presiding judge closed the proceedings, ruling that Mielke was not mentally fit to stand trial.[137]

During his incarceration, at JVA Moabit de corrections officers supplied Mielke with a red telephone like the one in his office at Stasi Headquarters. Although it was not connected to the outside world, Mielke enjoyed having imaginary conversations with non-existent Stasi agents. His other favorite pastime was watching game shows on television.[136]

In 1995, parole officers and Mielke's attorneys argued that he was, "totally confused," and obtained his release. At 87-years of age, Erich Mielke was Germany's oldest prison inmate[138][139] and had been incarcerated for 1,904 days.[140] Days before his release, the Public Prosecutor of Berlin announced that he was, "not interested in chasing an 87-year old man anymore," and that all further prosecution of Mielke had been indefinitely suspended.

Death[edit]

Mielke' grave.

Erich Mielke died on 21 May 2000, aged 92, in a Berlin nursing home. After being cremated at the Billig-Crematorium in Meissen,[141] an urn containing Mielke's ashes was buried in an unmarked grave at the Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde in Berlin. An estimated 100 people reportedly attended the funeral. Erich Mielke's grave is outside the memorial section established at the entrance in 1951 by East German leaders for communist heroes.[142] Within hours of his funeral, the flowers and wreaths left at Mielke's grave were ripped to shreds by persons unknown.[143]

Writing in 2003, Anna Funder declared, "The name Mielke has now come to mean 'Stasi.' Victims are dubiously honored to find his signature in their files: on plans for someone to be observed 'with all possible methods', on commands for arrest, for kidnapping, instructions to judges for sentencing, orders for 'liquidation'. The honor is dubious because... he signed so many."[144]

Erich Mielke's Office, Stasi Museum, Berlin.

In 2012, the museum at the former Stasi headquarters opened Mielke's office as a permanent exhibit. Soon after, The Guardian correspondent Tam Eastley visited the exhibit and numerous sites in Berlin connected to Mielke's life, times, and legacy. When she visited Mielke's grave, Eastley found that it had become a shrine for adherents of Ostalgie.[145]

Personal life[edit]

During the late 1940s, when Mielke was working as deputy chief of the K-5 secret police, he began a relationship with Gertrud Mueller, a seamstress. On December 18, 1948, shortly after the birth of their son Frank, Mielke married Gertrud in a civil ceremony.[146]

In popular culture[edit]

Erich Mielke briefly appears as a character in the film The Legend of Rita, which focuses on Stasi collusion with the West German terrorist organization Rote Armee Fraktion. In conversation with a subordinate, Mielke (Dietrich Körner) expresses admiration for the RAF's campaign against the West, which he compares with his own activities against the Weimar Republic and the Nazis. Mielke's name is never disclosed and he is addressed only as, "Comrade General." (German: "Genosse General.")

Honours and awards[edit]

This article incorporates information from the equivalent article on the Russian Wikipedia.
This article incorporates information from the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.

Mielke received a large number of awards and commemorative medals from organisations within the German Democratic Republic and from allied states. A more complete list is available (in German) at Liste der Orden und Ehrenzeichen des Erich Mielke.

Awards of the German Democratic Republic
Awards of the Soviet Union
Other states

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  141. ^ Billig-Crematorium von Meissen (In German).
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  145. ^ "The Guardian" March 2, 2012
  146. ^ Koehler (1999), pages 54-55.

Further reading[edit]