In the German made film “The Lives of Others“, the powerful (and creepy!) role of the State Security, the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, or better known as the Stasi, is highlighted in great detail. They were like the gestapo of the Nazi era, only in communist ruled East Germany. Their job was to know “everything about everyone” to stop potential dissidents and movements they deemed subversive, which included athletes and clergy members to name some odd ones! However, unlike many totalitarian police forces, they did not solely resort to imprisoning and killing people. They did that too, but it was much easier to target far more people by finding ways to intimidate them and ruin their lives. They did that by doing things like bugging their house and listening in on their phone calls to ensure they had zero privacy. They also did things like show up at people’s work to undermine them, spread false rumors that hurt their reputation, and even split up couples by planting evidence of infidelity! The weirdest thing they did in my opinion, however, is hat sometimes, when the person wasn’t home, they’d move furniture around and misplace objects to mess with their mind! They even sent dildos to people’s houses! Often, their victims had no idea the Stasi was behind this, and went insane. Some were even driven to suicide!
Much of this sounds funny and amusing at best, but the Stasi were not a force to be taken lightly. If you were caught, you would often end up in Stasi prison, without any due process. They would brutally interrogate you for hours on end until you cracked due to sleep deprivation and other torture such as being in total isolation from anyone else for your sentence, or even a room filled with water, so you can’t even sit down, much less sleep! One victim of Stasi torture gave this account:
The Stasi’s methods of torture were intricately planned, precisely designed to test the physical and mental weaknesses of each inmate. As an attempted deserter, and worse, someone who was thought to have assisted others in escape, Karl-Heinz Richter was subjected to the full extent of the Stasi’s methods.
There was the physical torture. Five times he was put into a cell three-quarters filled with water for a 72-hour period. Sleeping or sitting would mean drowning. This for a man with two broken legs.
There were the dozens of nights he was kept up by guards beating him for turning over in his sleep, or when they would turn on the lights periodically throughout the night to make sure he was never fully rested.
But even more disturbing was the mental torture. The night he was told he was to be executed in the morning, when he didn’t sleep at all as he heard the guards outside laughing about how they were going to enjoy killing him, only to have a guard come into his cell in the morning with breakfast, laughing that it was all a joke.
Or the endless hours he spent knocking on his cell walls in Morse code to talk to Monika in the cell next to him, pouring out his fears and desires in excruciatingly slow progress for weeks, only to be told later that Monika wasn’t in fact a prisoner or a real person at all, but a series of Stasi agents trying to get information from him.
“They hated me, which meant they used any sign of disobedience or resistance from me as an excuse to send me to the dark room,” says Richter.
“Here they would keep me in complete darkness for week-long stretches, in which the only light I would see was from when they dropped in a plate of gruel or cup of water.”
He explains how once, in an attempt to reach the water, he knocked the cup over onto the floor. He had no other option but to lick up the water off of the filth- covered cement. “I can still taste that floor today.” (Fulcrum “The Human cost of Torture”)
The Stasi called this method “Zersetzung” or “decomposition” in English. The term was originally used in biology, but it was adapted from an older Nazi term meaning subversion of the Nazi war effort. The effect was to “decompose” one’s will to continue their subversive activities, or destroy a person’s life at work and at home. To me, the Stasi sound a lot like the next version of Nazis, only communist. As many point out, while the Nazis did things like genocide, as far as persecuting one’s own people, the Stasi were comparatively worse then the gestapo! There was a ratio of 1 in 63 people, or even 1 in 6 counting in all the Stasi snitches! There were informants in every apartment complex, school, workplace, about anywhere. No one was immune from the Stasi’s scrutiny either, even school children!
No matter where one shared information, the state would put it to use. The East German reporting system kept track of the country’s citizens from kindergarten, throughout their working lives and even into retirement, via the Volkssolidarität (“People’s Solidarity”) organization, which focused on caring for the elderly. It was part of developing a “socialist personality.” Some began practicing denunciations in childhood, as part of the Young Pioneers, and then as teenagers as part of the FDJ. Files were even kept on schoolchildren: “Wears Western clothes,” “exhibits affinity for punk music,” “demonstrates pacifist attitudes.” (Spiegel Online “East German Snitching Went Far Beyond the Stasi”)
When the Stasi finally ended after the fall of the Berlin wall, angry citizens stormed the building and demanded to look for their files. The Stasi destroyed a billion of them, but there was still many more. Today, one can look up their file, but may risk finding out that the people closest to them may have been the snitch. A devastating revelation if you ask me. Overall, the Stasi’s reign of terror over East Germany beats out even the Gestapo and the KGB in Russia! They serve as a lesson in the importance of privacy and dangers of government intrusion gone haywire. As far as I’m concerned, East Germany merely switched one regime for another. The Communists were not better at governing them than the Nazi party was.
The Lives of Others Full Movie (The movie is about a Stasi agent who gets too involved in a couple’s life he has to spy on. He loses his objectivity and his firm Stasi stance in the process. It depicts the Stasi very accurately, according to former East Germans. I found it quite fascinating!)