As the Berlin wall went up East Germany’s own version of the Ministry of Fear came into being.
The Stasi secret police, set up under the tutelege of what was to become the KGB, was the enforcer of communist rule in the fledgling authoritarian state. It quickly evolved into one of the Kremlin’s most effective and loyal partners in the eastern bloc. From 1957 until its demise the organisation was led by the iron fist of Erich Mielke, implementing the orders of GDR supremo Erich Honecker. The Stasi operated a network of 17 prisons where dissidents and those deemed criminals were subjected to systematic torture. Some were said to have been exposed to radiation to induce cancer. The state security body’s influence extended into every area of East German life. Its list of agents and informers dwarfed those of even the Gestapo. Among its most successful spies was Markus Wolf who managed to penetrate the inner circles of West Germany’s government. The infiltration led to the downfall of Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1974. Unsurprisingly, when the Berlin wall came tumbling down the Stasi’s headquarters was one of the first places targeted by an enraged population. Stasi officials had desperately tried to destroy the vast banks of incriminating documents built up over the years. Even those remaining were not made public for several years, in the re-unified Germany. It is estimated more than a quarter of a million people had either worked as agents or informers for the security monolith during its existence. Exposing its activities required painful and prolonged debate. A painstaking process to reconstruct documents is now underway. Some insight has been provided by the 2006 film “The Lives of Others”, but a final reckoning is a long way off.