This collection contains the files of the State Security Service of the GDR that are preserved and administered by the Federal Commissioner for Records of the State Security Service of the former GDR (BstU). The surveillance records of the secret police represent a singular body of sources that offer unique glimpses into the cultural opposition to the GDR. The destruction of large numbers of these documents could only be averted in 1989/90 owing to the spirited actions of “Civil Committees”.
Berlin Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 31, Germany 10178
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Name of collection
- Records of the State Security Service of the former GDR
Provenance and cultural activities
Those documents which have been released by the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former GDR do not include any which were knowingly created by cultural opponents of the GDR. Nevertheless, those documents constitute an essential resource as they detail the observation of regime opponents by the secret police from 1950 until 1989. Included are unique records which were confiscated, or reports from agents of original or self-referencing records. Sometimes, these documents have provided the first and only mentions of lesser-known situations and figures from the cultural opposition. Nevertheless, the authors of this ‘collection’ painted opponents of the regime using terminology and knowledge which lacked in both understanding as well as acumen to distinguish amongst members of the cultural opposition. In particular with regards to the reports of informal collaborators one must work hard to decipher the meaning of the reports.
The records of the State Security Service are divided roughly into two parts. The first collection contains those records which were compiled and archived during the existence of the GDR. These documents can be accessed on hand of finding aids produced by the State Security Service. The other collection is composed of those documents which were seized and preserved by the civil committees of the civil rights movement of 1989/90 during the occupation of State Security Service offices. These records, which constitute 90 percent of the records believed to have been in existence, are organized according to the office in which they were found.
By “civil committees”, the groups of individuals who illegally occupied offices of the State Security Service are meant. Thanks to their efforts, beginning in December 1989 the removal and subsequent destruction of Stasi documentation was prevented. The civil committees played a major role in the collapse of the Ministry of State Security, were outspoken in the debate concerning the further utilization of its documents, and influential in the creation of a Special Commissioner for the evaluation of Stasi Records following German unification and the passing of the Law on Stasi Records by the German Parliament on the 14 November 1991.
On the basis of this law, the documents of the State Security Service of the GDR have been preserved and made available to the public by the Special Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic (short, BstU). Since the authorities of the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic (BStU) received the legal mandate to begin their work, they have received more than 6.5 million inquiries for access to Stasi documentation (as of 2016). The legacy of the Ministry of State Security of the GDR has had a lasting influence on the history of the GDR. Numerous research papers have been completed on the basis of these records and inquiries.
Description of content
The holdings of the State Security Service archives entail 110 kilometers of documentation. In addition to this are some 41 million index cards, 1.7 million pictures, 2,820 videos and 27,300 audio recordings. Roughly 20-25 percent of these documents are of relevance to the description, presentation and analysis of cultural opposition in the GDR. Many of the records appear in multiple locations and relate primarily to the functioning and thought-patterns of the secret police. They demonstrate clearly how the opposition was frequently misunderstood and its actions misinterpreted. Even though it may sound cynical, owing to their activities, the secret police created and preserved records for the eventual study of the cultural opposition to the very regime which they sought to defend. These include records of phone conversations from bugged telephone calls or apartments. Cultural gems such as rehearsals or recitations of unpublished poems from artists, who even years after the system change could not remember their own work are invaluable albeit uncommon highlights of the collection.
Frequently, an arbitrary decision delineated what the State Security termed ‘opposition’, its characterization, or which department would be responsible for its prosecution. This is reflected plainly in the State Security Registry. Conflicts and disagreements within the Academy of Sciences could be observed by the XVIII Department (Main Administration for Security of the Economy). The XX Department, responsible for the surveillance of state bodies, political parties, churches and cultural institutions, wherein the so-called ‘Underground’ was also included, undertook operations against presumed and actual oppositional groups. The II Department (Counterintelligence), as well as the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance were likewise on occasion interested in such cases. Arrest and interrogation reports can be found in the records of the IX Department (investigative affairs).
In sum, the records provide glimpses into the perceived opposition in all of its manifestations; from alternative lifestyles and artistic expression anathema to the proscribed societal norms of the state, to religious and social movements and their activities throughout the existence of the GDR.
- artifacts: unknown quantity
- cartoons & caricatures: 1000-
- clothing: unknown quantity
- furniture: unknown quantity
- graphics: unknown quantity
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 1000-
- legal and/or financial documentation: 1000-
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 1000-
- memorabilia (posters, flyers, stamps, etc.): 1000-
- music recordings: unknown quantity
- paintings: unknown quantity
- photos: 1000-
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 1000-
- sculptures: unknown quantity
- video recordings (including oral history recordings): 1000-
- voice recordings (including oral history recordings): 1000-
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Important events in the history of the collection
- parts are closed to the public
Auerbach, Thomas, Braun, Matthias, Eisenfeld, Bernd, von Prittwitz, Gesine, Vollnhals, Clemens, eds. Hauptabteilung XX, Staatsapparat, Blockparteien, Kirchen, Kultur, "politischer Untergrund" [Central department XX, state apparatus, bloc parties, church, culture, "political underground"], Handbuch "Anatomie der Staatssicherheit", Berlin: BStU, 2008.
Engelmann, Roger, Florath, Bernd, Heidemeyer, Helge, Münkel, Daniela, Polzin, Arno, Süß Walter, eds. Das MfS-Lexikon. Begriffe, Personen und Strukturen, Begriffe, Personen und Strukturen der Staatssicherheit der DDR [MfS-Lexikon concepts, persons and structures of the state security in the GDR], Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 3., aktualisierte Auflage, 2016.
Florath, Bernd ed. Die DDR im Blick der Stasi 1964. Die geheimen Berichte an die SED-Führung, mit Online-Zugriff auf die komplette Edition des Jahrgangs 1964 [The GDR under Stasi surveillance 1964. Secret files of the SED-leadership. With online access to the entire edition of the year 1964], Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017.
Münkel, Daniela, ed. State Security. A Reader on the GDR Secret Police, BStU, Berlin, 2016.
Süß, Walter. Die Staatssicherheit im letzten Jahrzehnt der DDR, Geschichte der Staatssicherheit [State security-Stasi during the last decade of the GDR], MfS-Handbuch "Anatomie der Staatssicherheit" Teil III, Berlin: BStU, 2009.
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Author(s) of this page
- Sonnenberg, Uwe
Florath, Bernd , interview by Sonnenberg, Uwe, January 30, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection