Ludwig A. Rehlinger

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Ludwig A. Rehlinger
Born 23 September 1927
Berlin, Germany
Occupation Jurist
Government Official
Berlin politician
Spouse(s) Y

Ludwig A. Rehlinger (born 23 September 1927) is a German Jurist who became a politician and government minister.[1] He came to wider prominence in connection with the trading of East German political prisoners.[2]


Rehlinger was born and attended school in Berlin. As a child he used to visit his grandparents who lived at Erkner, outside the city on its eastern side, where he learned to love the forests by the Dämeritzsee (lake).[3] Although he was only 17 when the Second World War ended, he had already by that stage been conscripted into the army, ending up detained by the British as a prisoner of war.[3] He was able to commence his university studies in Law at the Humboldt University in Berlin in 1947, later transferring to the Free University of Berlin.[3]

Between 1957 and 1969 Rehlinger worked as a ministerial official in the West German Ministry of "All-Germany Questions" (renamed after 1969 as the "Bundesministerium für innerdeutsche Beziehungen"), serving successively under Jakob Kaiser, Ernst Lemmer (de) and, during an important period from December 1962 till October 1963, Rainer Barzel. The ministry was especially sensitive because it was central in the relationship between West and East Germany, including so-called "political questions" and "security responsibilities".[4] It was while he was at the ministry that the practice began whereby the West German government paid the East German government for the release of political prisoners, under a scheme which came to be known as "Häftlingsfreikauf". Although something similar had previously taken place involving the churches, direct government involvement in the practice first occurred in December 1962 when twenty East German prisoners and the same number of children were released in return for a delivery from the west of three rail wagons loaded with potash fertilisers.[5][6] A pattern quickly emerged, driven from the western side by humanitarian motives and from the east by a desperate shortage of basic supplies and convertible currency.[7]

The initial transaction came two weeks after the appointment on 14 December 1962 of the lawyer-politician Rainer Barzel as the Minister of Intra-German Relations. Its subsequent implementation was headed up by ministerial officials with legal training, although senior politicians continued to take a keen interest the west and, it is assumed, the east. At a more detailed level, the pattern that emerged involved regular and intense negotiations between Ludwig Rehlinger from the west and the negotiator-lawyer Wolfgang Vogel on behalf of the east.[3] The unenviable responsibility for determining which political prisoners should have their freedom purchased fell to Rehlinger, using lists of known detainees, together with personal files of available information, supplied by three lawyers. Rehlinger then applied criteria of his own devising, including length of sentence, health status and family relationships.[3] Once Rehlinger and Vogel had concluded their negotiations, the agreed releases almost always took place as agreed between the two of them, although it became apparent that the agreements were subsequently vetted at a high level within the Party Central Committee in East Berlin.[3] The Häftlingsfreikauf programme gradually became public knowledge, and after 1989 was widely discussed, but during the early years it was regarded as highly secret because of the political sensitivities involved on all sides. The influential news publisher Axel Springer was involved from the outset, and Rehlinger made it his business to inform the principal newspaper editors personally of what was happening, while stressing that Häftlingsfreikauf would immediately have to be suspended if they were to publish hints or reports of it.[3]

The General election of September 1969 saw the ruling centre-right unionist parties with their electoral support virtually unchanged, but following negotiations involving key leaders in the SPD and FDP parties, which had respectively come second and third in the polls, resulted in a change of government. The new government was dominated by the SPD and led by Willy Brandt, a man whose opinions on a range of matters were never left in doubt for long. It was immediately clear that Brandt would attempt to follow a far more emolient strategy in terms of relations between East and West Germany. Rehlinger was a ministerial official and not a politician, but he had nevertheless worked in a high-level job in a politically sensitive ministry under a government that, formally, had not even acknowledged the existence of a separate East German state. He was out of sympathy with the Brandt approach and late in 1969 left his job with the ministry.[3] In the meantime, between July 1969 and March 1972, Ludwig Rehlinger served as president of the Bundesanstalt für gesamtdeutsche Aufgaben (BfgA / Whole Germany Tasks Institute), an institution created by the government for educational purposes and, more generally, for information gathering, evaluation and dissemination, to be supervised by the Ministry for which, in July, Rehlinger was still working.[8]

Ludwig Rehlinger was not alone in his dismay at the Ostpolitik strategy of the Brandt government. Several Bundestag members switched their support away from the SPD and FDP parties, in favour of the centre right CDU/CSU opposition. There was a move to have Rehlinger's old boss, Rainer Barzel, elected as Chancellor in succession to Willy Brandt. Rehlinger was given leave of absence from his work with the Gesamtdeutsche Institut in order to serve as Barzel's campaign manager. In the event, Barzel's candidacy was scuppered because the necessary vote of no confidence was unexpectedly lost by two votes: Chancellor Brandt survived in office and his treaty with East Germany was ratified.[9] The result achieved added poignancy 25 years later when, in 1997, longstanding rumours[10] were confirmed that two Bundestag members, Julius Steiner (de)[11] and Leo Wagner (de) had each accepted 50,000 Mark bribes from the East German Ministry for State Security to vote against their own parties and in favour of Brandt's SPD. After the failure of Barzel's campaign for the chancellorship Rehlinger's leave of absence from the Gesamtdeutsche Institut became permanent, and its work was taken forward, in a transformed political context, under the presidency of Detlef Kühn.[8]

In 1975 Rehlinger took a private sector job as a chief executive.[3] He returned to government service in 1982, again taking a job as a ministerial official in the Ministry of Intra-German Relations,[12] which was in fact his old ministry but with a new title (and a greatly modified mandate).[3] His job title was now Secretary of State,[12] which under the German system denotes a top civil service position equivalent to a "permanent secretary" in the British system.) Rehlinger was by now closely identified with his former boss, Rainer Barzel, and his return to government service coincided with the election success of Helmut Kohl and a resulting restitution of a CDU led governing coalition.[12] He retired from the ministry in 1988. During his final six years he resumed his earlier responsibilities for negotiating "Häftlingsfreikauf" exchanges with East German counterparts, concentrating in particular on reuniting divided families: it is believed that he was able to purchase the release from East Germany to the west of around 2,000 East Germans who had lost their parents after the erection of the Berlin Wall, when escaping parents had been obliged to leave their children behind.[1]

Between May 1988 and March 1989 Rehlinger served briefly as a Berlin senator, with responsibility for the administration of justice, stepping into the shoes of Rupert Scholz who in May 1988 had found himself unexpectedly parachuted into national politics with an appointment as Minister of Defence.[3][12]

Between 2005 and 2007 he served as chairman of the Deutsche Gesellschaft, a body created "to promote political, cultural and social relations in Europe". Since 2007 he has been its honorary chairman.[13][14]


  1. ^ a b "Diskreter Unterhändler: Ludwig A. Rehlinger". The source includes a photo-portrait. Der Spiegel (online). 24 October 2011. Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  2. ^ "Ludwig A. Rehlinger - deutscher Jurist und Politiker (Berlin); CDU". Munzinger-Archiv GmbH, Ravensburg. Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Franziska Mohr (as interviewer); Ludwig A. Rehlinger (as interviewee) (4 November 2014). "Es war ein knallhartes Geschäft ... Der Eichwalder Ludwig A. Rehlinger gilt als der Begründer der Häftlingsfreikäufe. Ab 1963 hat die BRD regelmäßig DDR-Häftlinge freigekauft und ihnen so zur Ausreise in den Westen verholfen. In der MAZ spricht Rehlinger darüber, wie die ersten Freikäufe zustande kamen und wer dabei mitgewirkt hat". Märkische Allgemeine. Märkische Verlags- und Druck-Gesellschaft mbH Potsdam. Retrieved 7 March 2016. 
  4. ^ Katja Iken (24 October 2011). "Häftlingsdeals mit der DDR: Menschen gegen Maisladungen ... 40.000 D-Mark für die Freiheit..." Der Spiegel (online). Retrieved 7 March 2016. 
  5. ^ Claudia Lepp (2005). Im Bann der Mauer (1961-1964). Tabu der Einheit?: die Ost-West-Gemeinschaft der evangelischen Christen und die deutsche-Teilung (1945-1969). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen. p. 453. ISBN 3-525-55743-4. 
  6. ^ Klaus Schroeder (1998). Der SED-Staat : Partei, Staat und Gesellschaft 1949–1990. Haner Verlag, München/Wien. p. 191. ISBN 3-446-19311-1. 
  7. ^ Gavin Haines (6 November 2014). "East Germany's trade in human beings". BBC News ("Magazine"). Retrieved 7 March 2016. 
  8. ^ a b Detlef Kühn (who in 1972 succeeded Ludwig Rehlinger as president of the Gesamtdeutsches Institut) (2011). "Das Gesamtdeutsche Institut im Visier der Staatssicherheit" (PDF) (3rd (expanded) ed.). Berliner Landesbeauftragten für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen DDR. ISBN 978-3-934085-11-4. Retrieved 7 March 2016. 
  9. ^ "Die Sache übersteht keiner unblessiert: Vergebens mühten sich Regierung und Opposition, einen Ausweg aus dem Gleichgewicht der Ohnmacht zu finden. Selbst wenn in dieser Woche die Ostverträge ratifiziert werden, bleiben Brandt und Barzel gelähmt. Der CDU-Chef ist in seiner Fraktion umstrittener denn je, der Kanzler wegen des Bonner Patts nur bedingt handlungsfähig". Der Spiegel (online). 15 May 1972. Retrieved 7 March 2016. 
  10. ^ "Parlament soll Affäre Steiner klären: Opposition fordert Untersuchungsausschuß – Steiner: "Keine Bestechung"". Die Zeit (online). 8 June 1973. Retrieved 7 March 2016. 
  11. ^ Jefferson Adams (2009). Steiner, Julius. Historical Dictionary of German Intelligence. 11. Scarecrow Press. p. 443. ISBN 978-0-8108-5543-4. 
  12. ^ a b c d Jürgen Enger (as interviewer); Ludwig A. Rehlinger (as interviewee) (6 July 2011). "Freikauf: Das Geschäft der DDR mit politisch Verfolgten: Der Journalist Jürgen Engert unterhält sich mit dem früheren Staatssekretär Ludwig A. Rehlinger über die Entstehung und Durchführung des Freikaufs politischer Gefangener aus der DDR". Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Bonn. Retrieved 7 March 2016. 
  13. ^ "Vorstand & Kuratorium". Deutsche Gesellschaft e. V., Berlin. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 7 March 2016. 
  14. ^ Uwe Gerig (2011). Böse Nachrufe: Trauma Deutsche Mauer 1961-1989. Books on demand GmbH & Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur. p. 113. ISBN 978-3-8448-8255-1.