September 16, 2007


The Murder of a CEO: Did East Germany's feared secret police help kill German businessmen? (DAVID CRAWFORD, September 15, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

The terrorists who killed Alfred Herrhausen were professionals. They dressed as construction workers to lay a wire under the pavement of the road along Mr. Herrhausen's usual route to work. They planted a sack of armor-piercing explosives on a parked bicycle by the roadside. An infrared beam shining across the road triggered the explosion just when the limousine, one of three cars in a convoy, sped by.

The operation, from the terrorists' point of view, was flawless: Mr. Herrhausen, the chairman of one of Europe's most powerful companies, Deutsche Bank, was killed in the explosion along that suburban Frankfurt road on Nov. 30, 1989.

But was everything what it seemed?
The Wall Street Journal's David Crawford browses new evidence almost 20 years after the assassination of Deutsche Bank Chairman Alfred Herrhausen.

Within days, the Red Army Faction -- a leftist terrorist group that had traumatized West Germany since 1970 with a series of high-profile crimes and brazen killings of bankers and industrialists -- claimed responsibility for the assassination. An intense manhunt followed. In June 1990, police arrested 10 Red Army Faction members who had fled to East Germany to avoid arrest for other crimes. To the police's surprise, they were willing to talk. Equally confounding to authorities: All had solid alibis. None was charged in the Herrhausen attack.

Now, almost two decades later, German police, prosecutors and other security officials have focused on a new suspect: the East German secret police, known as the Stasi. Long fodder for spy novelists like John le Carré, the shadowy Stasi controlled every aspect of East German life through imprisonment, intimidation and the use of informants -- even placing a spy at one point in the office of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.

According to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the murders of Mr. Herrhausen and others attributed to the Red Army Faction bear striking resemblance to methods and tactics pioneered by a special unit of the Stasi. The unit reported to Stasi boss Erich Mielke and actively sought in the waning years of the communist regime to imitate the Red Army Faction to mask their own attacks against prominent people in Western Germany and destabilize the country.

"The investigation has intensified in recent months," said Frank Wallenta, a spokesman for the Federal Prosecutor. "And we are investigating everything, including leads to the Stasi."

If those leads turn out to be true, it would mean not only rewriting some of the most dramatic episodes of the Cold War, but would likely accelerate a broader soul-searching now under way in Germany about the communist past.

In building a reunified country, many Germans have ignored discussion of the brutal realities of its former communist half. When the former East Germany is discussed, it's often with nostalgia or empathy for brothers hostage to Soviet influence.

That taboo is slowly being broken. Last year's Oscar-winning movie, "The Lives of Others," chronicled in dark detail a Stasi agent's efforts to subvert the lives of ordinary people. Material in the Stasi archives shows that senior leaders had a shoot-to-kill order against those fleeing from East to West -- a controversial order that contradicts East German leaders' claims that they never ordered any shootings.

This story is based on more than a dozen interviews with police, prosecutors and other security officials. Several policemen and prosecutors confirmed that the allegation of extensive Stasi involvement with the Red Army Faction is a key part of the current investigation.

Those who can't face their past are often surprised by it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 16, 2007 5:16 PM

Who did they think were behind the various Red Army Groups/Brigades/Factions than the Warsaw Pact and their Soviet masters?

When did Moscow operate differently during the 20th century?

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 16, 2007 6:33 PM

"The Lives of Others" was a great movie. The subtitles are very well done and it surpassed my expectations. I highly recommend it.

Posted by: Patrick H at September 17, 2007 12:42 AM

I second Patrick H's recommendation. Well worth watching.

Posted by: Rick T. at September 17, 2007 9:37 AM

"Ostalgic" Neat--sort of like combining Latin and Greek in one clever, made-up word, only with German and English.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 17, 2007 4:38 PM

In the early 70's my employer arranged a limousine tour of East Berlin for me and a business associate. Our driver gave a running patter, in well spoken English, but wouldn't engage in a conversation.

We stopped at a memorial park, the site of a mass grave for 5,000 Soviet troops KIA taking Berlin. Two Russian sentries were on ceremonial guard duty there, similar to ours at Arlington Cemetery.

We asked to get out for a stroll and the driver came with us. He soon loosened up and revealed he was a former WW2 POW, held in Chicago, employed in a bakery, and allowed to attend the theater. He revealed a nostalgia for his experience as an American POW.

To get to the point, the park we were in was the same location they used in the film as the secure meeting place for the writers ... the only place on our tour where he felt free to talk. Other than that, my memory of East Berlin left a feeling of depression for the people. It looked and smelled of 1984.

Posted by: Genecis at September 17, 2007 10:23 PM