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World - Europe

CIA files stir up specter of East German secret police

East Germans stormed Stasi headquarters a month after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989  

November 7, 1999
Web posted at: 8:40 p.m. EDT (0040 GMT)

In this story:

Secret police used intimidation

Germany turns to its cinema


From Berlin Bureau Chief Chris Burns

BERLIN (CNN) -- While East Germany's Stasi disbanded soon after the Berlin Wall came down ten years ago, memories of its oppressive tactics continue to haunt its victims.

And revelations about the feared secret police could surface soon when the CIA hands over Stasi files obtained during the collapse of the East German regime.

VideoCNN's Chris Burns reports on the former East Germany's secret police, the feared Stasis
Windows Media 28K 80K

A month after toppling the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, East Germans retaliated against the Stasi by storming its headquarters. Despite the rampage, no one was hurt and the police records were saved.

The German government, which unified the former East Germany and West Germany 11 months after the wall fell, preserves the records at the Stasi archive office in Berlin for victims to examine.

Secret police used intimidation

"Those who came out after reading the files, in general, get a good idea of how close sometime, and how wrong at the same time, state security or secret police was almost on their skin," said Johannes Legner, an archives spokesman.

Legner said Stasi brutality was far worse in the 1950s: "They kidnapped people. They, up to a certain extent, tortured them or they had them in isolation. And in certain cases, they killed people."

Yet intimidation was the Stasi's main weapon. Tens of thousands of agents closely monitored people with television and hidden movie cameras, listening devices and reports from hundreds of thousands of informants.

The Stasi used monitoring and listening devices to spy on German citizens  

Germany wants an estimated 300,000 Stasi informant code names from the CIA, which mysteriously obtained the records in 1989, according to German officials.

Washington is to begin handing over CD-ROM copies in January with the names, except some of the people the CIA apparently wants to protect.

Germany turns to its cinema

Learning about the past has proven difficult for Stasi victims like Jens Asche. Fellow members of a protest group whom he considered friends were actually infiltrators.

Asche was sent to prison and did not learn until his release a year later that a son was born while he was in captivity. He later confronted his betrayers, who offered only denials.

"I said 'are you crazy? I was in prison.' And they say, 'Yes, but nothing happened,'" Asche said. "That is truly insulting. Of course something happened. I became a father while I was in prison, and I've never been able to repair the damage done to my relationship."

Asche, whose marriage ended in divorce, said he remains wary of people.

"When I open up to someone, when I meet a woman ... I want to share my most inner feelings. I become aggressive and start to cry," he said.

Germany has turned to the cinema to explore the painful subject of the Stasi era. In the new film "Sonnenalle," a young man learns at a police station that a friend, desperate to earn money, has been spying on him.

The drama is played out in many forms, as East Germans discover similar dark secrets that damaged their lives -- and try to learn how to trust others again.

U.S., Germany agree to share Stasi files
October 27, 1999
East German secret police
March 17, 1996

CNN Cold War Special: Spy Files: Stasi

Central Intelligence Agency
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