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

Erich Fritz Emil Mielke (December 28, 1907 – May 21, 2000) was a German communist politician and secret police official. Mielke spent more than a decade as an operative of the NKVD during the rule of Joseph Stalin. 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 1945 Battle of Berlin, Mielke returned to Germany and had a major role in organizing the Soviet Zone into a dictatorship under the Socialist Unity Party. Between 1957 and 1989, Mielke was the head of the East German secret police, or Stasi. According to historian John Koehler, Mielke built the Stasi, "into an instrument for the ruthless oppression of East Germany's population as well as into one of the world's most effective intelligence services."[1]

For nearly fifty years, Mielke held the military rank of Armeegeneral.[2][3] After German reunification, he was tried and convicted of murdering police officers Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck in 1931.

Early life[edit]

Communist leaders Ernst Thälmann (left) and Willy Leow (right) in front of parading troops of Rotfrontkämpferbund during their national meeting in Berlin, June 1927.

In handwritten biographies written for Stalin's secret police, Mielke described his background as follows,

"I, Erich Mielke, was born on December 28, 1907, in Berlin, (Prussia). My father was a poor, uneducated woodworker, and my mother died in 1911. Both were members of the SPD Social Democratic Party and joined the KPD [Communist Party of Germany] when it was formed in 1918. My stepmother was a seamstress and she also belonged to the KPD. My younger brother Kurt and two sisters were Communist sympathisers."[4]

Mielke became a member of 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").

According to John Koehler,

Like their Nazi counterparts, the Selbstschutz men were thugs who served as bouncers at Party meetings and specialized in cracking heads during street battles with political enemies. Besides the Nazis, their arch foes included the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) – the Social Democratic Party of Germany – and radical nationalist parties. They 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 streetfighters were often armed with pistols as well.[5]

Murders of Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck[edit]

On August 2, 1931, KPD Members of the Reichstag Heinz Neumann and Hans Kippenberger received a dressing down from Walter Ulbricht, the Party'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."[6]

Enraged by Ulbricht's words, Kippenberger and Neumann decided to target Captain Paul Anlauf, the forty-two-year-old commander 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.[7]

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 a fellow lookout and said, "Now we're getting serious... We're going to give Schweinebacke something to remember us by."[8]

The funeral of Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck was attended by thousands of Berliners

Kippenberger then asked Mielke and Ziemer, "Are you sure that you are ready to shoot Schweinebacke?"[9] 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."[10] 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.[11]

At eight o'clock that evening, Mielke and Ziemer, spotted Captain Anlauf, Sergeant Willig, and Captain Franz Lenck walking in front of 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!"[12]

As Captain Anlauf turned towards 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 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 to Captain Anlauf, who had taken two bullets in the neck. As his life drained away, the Captain gasped, "Wiedersehen... Gruss..." ("So Long... Goodbye...")[12] Meanwhile, Mielke and Ziemer made their escape.

After the murders, the act was celebrated at the Lichtenberger Hof, a favorite with the Rotfrontkämpferbund, where Mielke boasted: "Today we're here to celebrate a trick I pulled." (German: Heute wird ein Ding gefeiert, das ich gedreht habe!).[13]

Fugitive[edit]

Picture of Feliks Dzerzhinsky during a parade in 1936.

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.[14]

Mielke would later claim falsely that he had been convicted of the murders in absentia in a German court. Three other German communists were arrested for these murders, convicted, and received the death penalty, among them Max Matern.

In the aftermath, Captain Anlauf's oldest daughter was forced to drastically rush her planned wedding in order to keep her sisters out of an orphanage. Max 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.

Working for the Soviet Union[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.

In 1932 Mielke attended the Comintern's Military Political school and later the Lenin School and was subsequently recruited into the NKVD. Although Moscow's German Communist community was decimated during Joseph Stalin's Great Purge, 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."[15]

Among the German communists executed during the Great Purge were Mielke's former mentors Heinz Neumann and Hans Kippenberger.

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.[16] While attached to the staff of future Stasi minister Wilhelm Zaisser, Mielke used the alias Fritz Leissner.[13]

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."[17]

Walter Janka, a German communist and company commander in the International Brigade, was repeatedly interrogated by Mielke, who falsely accused him of spying for the Falangists. In an interview years later, Janka recalled:

"While I was fighting at the front, shooting at the Fascists, Mielke served in the rear, shooting Trotskyites and Anarchists."[16]

After the defeat of the Spanish Republic, Mielke fled to France and was interned with thousands of his comrades. However, he soon escaped and returned to the Soviet Union.

World War II[edit]

Byelorussian 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.[18] 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."[19]

Building East Germany[edit]

Stasi Isolation Cell, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial

In 1945 Mielke was returned to Germany by the Soviet authorities 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.[20] 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."[21]

The investigation[edit]

In January 1947, however, 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.[22] Prosecutor Wilhelm Kühnast of the Kammergericht was immediately informed and ordered a search of the 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 officials, 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."[22]

The Soviet representatives falsely claimed that Kühnast, a longtime anti-Nazi, had been an official of Roland Freisler's People's Court.[23] As a result, the Western Allies agreed to remove Kühnast from his position and placed him under house arrest. During the Berlin airlift, Kühnast escaped from his home in the Soviet Zone and was granted political asylum in the west.[24]

Meanwhile, the Soviet authorities confiscated all documents relating to the murders of Captains Anlauf and Lenck. These were handed over to Mielke, who subsequently kept them in his personal safe.

Aftermath[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]

Mielke receives award from Erich Honecker

Mielke headed the Stasi from 1957 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. His network of 85,000 full-time domestic spies and 170,000 'voluntary' informers kept tabs on millions of people. So many people collaborated with the Stasi that when the records were opened, it was discovered that in every public building, at least one of its members kept the Stasi informed about everything that happened within it. 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. On his personal responsibility the MfS launched the counterattacks by the Stasi against the dissident Rudolf Bahro and his book Die Alternative: Zur Kritik des 'real existierenden Sozialismus' and those who supported, discussed and published his work. Mielke was one of the most powerful – and most hated – men in East Germany, feared even by members of his own ministry.

According to John O. Koehler,

"Mielke was the longest serving secret police chief in the Eastern Bloc. He was on the most intimate of terms with eleven Soviet secret police chiefs, and he survived them all. Subservient to a fault while they were in power, Mielke switched loyalties without a beat when they were fired. His allegiance was not to a person but to the joint KGB/Stasi venture in the quest of maintaining and expanding the powers of communism."[25]

The Peaceful Revolution[edit]

A demonstration on October 30, 1989.

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."[26]

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

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 jeering citizens stood 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 Günther Kratsch, the counterintelligence chief, Mielke screamed at police: "Club those pigs into submission!" The police ignored Mielke's ranting.[27]

The Socialist Unity Party dispatched plainclothes officers to arrest demonstrators.

However, just days later, Mielke became part of the conspiracy that toppled Honecker as leader of the SED. Suspecting that Honecker's personal bodyguards might try to arrest the members of the Politburo when it met to vote Honecker out in favour of Egon Krenz, Mielke saw to it that reliable Stasi men were stationed near the meeting room.[28]

On 7 November 1989, Mielke resigned, along with all of the other members of the GDR government (the Council of Ministers of the GDR), in response to the changing political and social situation in the GDR. Six days later, on 13 November 1989, Mielke was at the center of one of the most famous televised incidents in German history. When Mielke addressed the members of the GDR parliament, or Volkskammer, as "Comrades", angry non-SED members demanded that he refrain from calling them that. The shattered Mielke first tried to justify his wording, "That is a question of formality" and then apologized, declaring: "But I love – I love all – all people..." (German: "Ich liebe doch alle Menschen!"). This was met with jeers and laughter from the assembly.

On 18 November 1989, following the Volkskammer's decision a day earlier to rename the MfS as the Amt für Nationale Sicherheit (AfNS - Office for National Security), Mielke's tenure in office finally ended when Generalleutnant Wolfgang Schwanitz was elected by the Volkskammer as the director of the AfNS.

East Germans invading the Stasi headquarters on January 16, 1990. The sign says that the Stasi and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany are Nazi dictators.

On 3 December 1989, Mielke was expelled from membership in the SED. On 7 December 1989, he was arrested and placed in "investigative custody", or (Untersuchungshaft) as he was charged with "damaging the national economy" (Schädigung der Volkswirtschaft).

Trial and conviction[edit]

After German reunification in October 1990, Mielke was arrested and charged with the 1931 murders of police Captains Anlauf and Lenck. Much of the evidence used at his trial was taken from the files of the original investigation, which were found in Mielke's personal safe after the dissolution of the Stasi.

According to John Koehler,

"Defenders of Mielke would later claim 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]

Despite all this wrangling, Mielke was convicted of both murders and in October 1993 was sentenced to six years' imprisonment. He was paroled after less than two, and in 1998 all further legal action against him was ended on the grounds of his poor health.

Death[edit]

Mielke died on 21, May 2000, aged 92, in a Berlin nursing home. An estimated 100 people reportedly attended the funeral. His remains are buried in the Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde in Berlin. Mielke's unmarked grave is outside the memorial section established at the entrance in 1951 by East German leaders for communist heroes.[30]

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ John Koehler, Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police, Westview Press, 1999. page 65.
  2. ^ Axis History Factbook: Stasi - Ministerium für Staatssicherheit
  3. ^ Military ranks of East Germany were not recognized after German reunification in 1990
  4. ^ John Koehler, "The Stasi," p. 44.
  5. ^ The Stasi, p. 38.
  6. ^ John Koehler, The Stasi, p. 36.
  7. ^ The Stasi, p. 36.
  8. ^ The Stasi, pp. 38-39.
  9. ^ John Koehler, The Stasi, p. 39.
  10. ^ The Stasi, p. 39.
  11. ^ The Stasi, pp. 39-40.
  12. ^ a b The Stasi, p. 41.
  13. ^ a b Erich Mielke "Erich Mielke - Freund und Genosse (in German)". Dynamosport.de - Private website on the BFC Dynamo. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  14. ^ The Stasi, pages 42-43.
  15. ^ John O. Koehler, The Stasi; The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police, page 51.
  16. ^ a b John Koehler, "The Stasi," p. 48.
  17. ^ Donald Rayfield, Stalin and his Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him, Random House, 2004. pp. 362-363.
  18. ^ The Stasi, page 51.
  19. ^ The Stasi, page 50.
  20. ^ John Koehler, The Stasi, page 52.
  21. ^ Koehler, The Stasi, page 52.
  22. ^ a b Koehler, The Stasi, page 53.
  23. ^ Koehler, The Stasi, pages 53-54.
  24. ^ Koehler, The Stasi, page 54.
  25. ^ John O. Koehler, The Stasi: The Inside Story of the East German Secret Police, page 72.
  26. ^ John Koehler, The Stasi, pages 403-404.
  27. ^ Koehler, The Stasi, page 405.
  28. ^ Sebetsyen, Victor (2009). Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42532-2. 
  29. ^ Koehler, The Stasi, page 416.
  30. ^ Obituary: "Erich Mielke, Powerful Head of Stasi, East Germany's Vast Spy Network, Dies at 92" Binder, David, New York Times, May 26, 2000
  • Dany Kuchel a écrit en 2011, "Le Glaive et le Bouclier", une histoire de la Stasi en France.

Further reading[edit]

  • Koehler, John O. (1999). Stasi: The Inside Story of the East German Secret Police. West View Press. ISBN 0-8133-3409-8.