Confronting the Stasi Past: When the Persecuted and the Persecutors Trade Places

By Stefan Berg

Forty-seven former members of the Stasi now work at the agency charged with addressing its misdeeds. Agency head Roland Jahn, a victim of the notorious East German secret police himself, is on a crusade to get rid of them. But some think he's taking things too far.

Photo Gallery: Helping Victims or Hunting Witches? Photos
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Roland Jahn had only been in office as the new Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives for a month before he met with a select group of about 30 agency employees with special skills in matters of state security.

The meeting was organized by Sigurd Schulz, a union official with a well-documented past. Indeed, Schulz's name appears on the list of former full-time employees of the Ministry for State Security, East Germany's notorious secret police more commonly known as the Stasi. He worked in the personal protection department.

Schulz is one of 47 members of the Jahn's agency who once worked for the Stasi. Ironically, they now work for an organization tasked with accounting for Stasi crimes. Almost all of them were given open-ended employment contracts under Joachim Gauck, the first federal commissioner for the Stasi archives.

But now's there is a new man at the helm of the agency, and he's made it clear that he wants to get rid of the 47 former Stasi members. When Jahn took office on March 14, he announced that: "Every former Stasi employee who works for this agency is a slap in the face of the victims." It was a determination to get rid of this insult that led Jahn to meet with the former Stasi employees on April 14 for a sort of unofficial firing.

Victims' Advocate or Manhunter?

Since taking office, one of Jahn's goals has been making progress in the agency's accounting for Stasi crimes. He also wants to make sure that the agency holds on to its independent status rather than being incorporated into the German Federal Archives, in Koblenz, as some would prefer.

But now the dispute over 47 of roughly 1,800 total employees is overshadowing all other issues. In large part, that can be attributed to Jahn's own past and with the years in which he was persecuted by the Stasi, imprisoned and eventually deported to the West against his will. Now he sees himself as a "victims' advocate" who is fighting passionately and prepared to take bold risks for his cause.

Jahn's behavior raises many issues. There's the issue of whether it's the smart thing to do and whether the employment contracts of the former Stasi members will give them the upper hand in any dispute. There's also the issue of whether people can be a bit more forgiving 20 years after the fall the Berlin Wall and German reunification. And, lastly, there's the issue of just how compatible Germany's labor laws are with morality.

The fate of the 47 former Stasi employees has also become a matter of concern for the Germany's federal parliament and government. The federal commissioner is subordinate to Minister of State for Culture Bernd Neumann, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Neumann supports Jahn in principle -- especially after Dieter WiefelspŁtz, a domestic affairs expert with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), accused him of going on a "manhunt." But internal documents show just how skeptical some people at the Chancellery are about Jahn's approach.

Positive Reviews

Only a few days after Jahn made his announcement, government officials were already scrutinizing the contracts of the 47 former Stasi members. Almost all of them started working for the agency in 1990 and 1991. Some were hired because Gauck felt that their insider knowledge of the Stasi made them "indispensable." Others had migrated from the East German interior ministry to that of reunited Germany and, from there, into positions in the offices of the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives established by Gauck.

As former Stasi bodyguards, they were viewed more like police officers, which is why so many of them are still members of the police union. In fact, at a certain point, agency managers even argued for having their temporary employment contracts extended indefinitely.

In 2007, when Gauck successor Marianne Birthler led the agency, there was already a debate over the 47 former Stasi members. Neumann, her boss, ultimately resigned himself to allowing them to continue working for the agency. The agency's management had confirmed that they performed their duties well and that they had also been open with their new employer about their pasts. The agency also found that there was "no reason" to assume they constituted a threat.

An internal document reveals that most of them are currently working in the section in charge of building security, while others work as drivers, messengers, archivists or handymen. Only one is a department head.

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BTraven 05/23/2011
What is their job there? It's a pity that the author does not inform us about the tasks of former Stasi members. They were, I believe, only hired because of their skills. What had make them so special that the organization could not have done without them?
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