Karl-Heinz Kurras (born December 1, 1927 in Barten, East Prussia, died December 16, 2014 in Berlin) was a Berlin police Inspector who served during the Cold War. Kurras is known primarily for fatally shooting unarmed student Benno Ohnesorg during a demonstration on June 2, 1967, outside Deutsche Oper against the state visit of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. Kurras was acquitted of any wrongdoing in a series of controversial trials, due to which he became a prominent hate figure of the Left-wing German student movement of the 1960s as well as the German New Left, who suspected that Kurras was under protection from many Right-wing figures (many of whom had already served their posts under Nazism prior to 1945) in the West-German police and justice system who were resentful towards the Left-wing students. The incident is considered pivotal for the rise of Left-wing terrorism in West Germany during the 1970s, culminating with the Movement 2 June and the Red Army Faction.
In 2009, it was revealed that he had also committed espionage for the East German Stasi during the 1950s and 1960s, but due to the publicity Kurras was receiving for his trials, the Stasi cut its ties to Kurras.
West Berlin Police officer Karl-Heinz Kurras approached the East German communist regime in 1955, expressing a desire to defect. He was convinced to remain in West Berlin and to work as an informant for the Stasi. As a spy, he handed over confidential information from the West Berlin police to the East German authorities. He secretly became a member of East Germany's ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) in 1964.
After he had been acquitted of any wrongdoing when shooting Ohnesorg in 1967, the Federal Court of Justice subsequently ruled that the first court had failed to consider all the available evidence and ordered a new trial. Kurras was acquitted for a second time and thus became a hate figure for increasingly radicalized West German Marxists.
In an interview in 2007, he defended his decision to use lethal force against Ohnesorg, whom he accused of attacking him. He boasted, "Anyone who attacks me is destroyed. Off. Lights out. You can tell from that." (German: "Wer mich angreift, wird vernichtet. Aus. Feierabend. So ist das zu sehen.")
In May 2009, it was revealed that Kurras was an informant for the East German secret police, the Stasi. There is no evidence however of a link between the shooting of Ohnessorg and Kurras' espionage activities. When asked about the 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, an investigation carried out by federal prosecutors and Der Spiegel magazine ruled that the shooting of Ohnesorg was not in self-defence and was certainly premeditated. Newly examined film and photographic evidence also implicate fellow officers and superiors, proving that the West Berlin Police covered up the truth in order to protect one of their own. Additionally, medical staff who carried out the post mortem on Ohnesorg were pressured to falsify their report. However, for reasons of double jeopardy, charges were deemed unlikely to be refiled.
- Karl-Heinz Kurras: Ohnesorg-Todesschütze ist tot, Spiegel Online, February 18, 2015
- 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.