Karl-Heinz Kurras (born December 1, 1927 in Barten, East Prussia) is a former German police officer who served in the police force of West Berlin, and a former agent of the East German secret service Stasi.
Kurras became known for shooting and killing the unarmed student Benno Ohnesorg during a demonstration on June 2, 1967, outside Deutsche Oper against the state visit of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. He was acquitted of any wrongdoing in a controversial trial. The Federal Court of Justice subsequently ruled that the first court had failed to consider all the available evidence and Kurras was retried. He was acquitted for a second time and thus became even more of a hate figure for the radical left. The incident is considered pivotal for the rise of leftist radicalism and violence in West Germany in the 1970s, culminating for instance in the formation of the Movement 2 June and the Red Army Faction.
In May 2009, it was revealed that Kurras was an agent of the East German secret service, the Stasi, as well as a long-time member of the East German communist party, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. He had approached the East German communist regime in 1955, offering his services and expressing the wish to defect. He was convinced to remain in West Berlin and was recruited as an agent for the Stasi. He became a member of the East German communist party in 1964. As a spy, he handed over confidential information from the West Berlin police to the East German authorities. There is no evidence however of a link between the shooting of Ohnessorg and Kurras' spy activity. Due to the great attention the case was receiving, the Stasi essentially discontinued its cooperation with Kurras after the incident.
After the Ohnesorg incident, Kurras was suspended for four years, during which he worked in private security. In 1971 he rejoined the police force and was subsequently promoted to Kriminaloberkommissar (Detective Chief Inspector). He retired from the service in 1987. In an interview in 2007, he defended his actions in 1967 and blamed Ohnesorg for attacking him, stating that "anyone who attacks me is destroyed. Off. Lights out. As you can see from this" ("Wer mich angreift, wird vernichtet. Aus. Feierabend. So ist das zu sehen.") Commenting on the 2009 exposure of his Stasi and communist past, he stated that he was not ashamed of having been a member of the East German communist party.
In January 2012, research carried out by federal prosecutors and Der Spiegel magazine has found that the shooting was not in self-defence as always claimed by Kurras and that it was certainly premeditated. Newly examined film and photographical evidence also implicate fellow officers and superiors, proving that the police covered up the truth in subsequent investigations and trials. Additionally, medical staff who carried out the post mortem on Ohnesorg were ordered to falsify their report. However, the new information is unlikely to be sufficient for the case to be reopened.
- The Times, "Further inquiries in case of wounded Russian", 23 December 1970
- Stasi-Mitarbeiter erschoss Benno Ohnesorg
- Spy Fired Shot That Changed West Germany
- East German Spy Shot West Berlin Martyr
- Bild.de with photo gallery of the event as well as of Kurras and Ohnesorg
- 1968 REVISITED: The Truth about the Gunshot that Changed Germany
- "Police Covered Up Truth Behind Infamous Student Shooting". SPIEGEL ONLINE international. 2012-01-23. Retrieved 2012-02-25.