Home World News 30 years later, researchers are far from completing the puzzle of …

banneraliexp

30 years later, researchers are far from completing the puzzle of …

by Ace Damon
Amazon Synod Debates Socio-Environmental Issues in Nine Countries

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, East Germany's secret police desperately tried to destroy millions of documents revealing the surprising scope of widespread surveillance used to control citizens.

This is your free story of the day. Subscribe now and get unlimited access.R $ 0.99 in 1st month

When the available paper shredders began to jam or break, Stasi agents shredded the documents by hand, placing them in sacks for later burning or shredding. But the effort was halted prematurely when groups of citizens stormed and occupied Stasi offices to preserve the evidence.

Three decades later, in the same rooms behind the gray facade of the old Stasi headquarters, Barbara Poenisch and nine fellow archivists are trying to recompose these documents and history. Poenisch says this is "a great puzzle game". But at the current rate, there are still decades of work ahead.

Archivists have rebuilt more than 1.5 million pages contained in 500 bags in the last 20 years. There are still about 15,500 more bags stored in Berlin and in locations in eastern Germany.

An archivist may take up to a year and a half to rebuild the papers in a single bag, depending on how thin the torn pieces of documents are. Attempts to speed up the process with digital technology have not advanced. The painstaking work done by hand continues amid controversy over the future of the Stasi archives.

  • Entrance of former Stasi headquarters, the Communist East Germany secret police, Berlin, 30 October 2019
  • Stasi documents torn after the fall of the Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019
  • Graffiti photo that reads: "Where's my file?" at the entrance of the former Stasi headquarters, the Communist East Germany secret police, Berlin, 30 October 2019
  • Stasi documents torn after the fall of the Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019
  • Stasi documents torn after the fall of the Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019
  • Stasi documents torn after the fall of the Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019
  • Stasi documents torn after the fall of the Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019
  • Stasi documents torn after the fall of the Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019
  • Stasi documents torn after the fall of the Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019
  • Official removes a bag of torn Stasi documents after the fall of the Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019
  • Official Selects Torn Stasi Documents After Falling Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019
  • Official reconstructs torn Stasi documents after the fall of the Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019
  • Official reconstructs torn Stasi documents after the fall of the Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019
  • Official reconstructs torn Stasi documents after the fall of the Berlin Wall, October 30, 2019

The German parliament voted this year to transfer control of the archives to the Federal Archives, promising investment in preservation and digitization. Some historians and former opponents of the regime have criticized the move, saying it is an attempt to put a stone in history and raising concerns that archives will become less accessible.

Every German has the right to view the records that the State Security Ministry, as the Stasi was officially known, gathered about them. More than 3 million people signed up to do so.

Guarded Society

The agency used tens of thousands of employees and a vast network of informants to monitor every facet of society, causing many East Germans to live in terror. She kept archives about 5.6 million people.

Rebuilt pages from the Stasi archives shed light on Stasi investigations into a Nazi war criminal and peace nets in both East and West Germany.

For Poenisch, it is a more personal document that remains in his mind: a letter from a mother who begged the authorities to release her imprisoned son.

Poenisch scatters scraps of paper on a table. The bag she works for is from Abteilung N (Division N), responsible for communication within the state apparatus and with friendly countries.

A memo dated October 1, 1986 reports that the political situation in East Germany is "calm and stable … There have been no significant events in the economic or transport sector." Another memo from April of the same year describes a long-term plan for Stasi to keep up with technological advances. The goal was to achieve a "uniform and integrated digital intelligence network beyond 2000".

Handwork

In 2019, the document reconstruction project is surprisingly low-tech.

There are precedents for the reconstruction of fragmented documents. In the mid-1980s, Iran rebuilt and published intelligence reports and operational reports that were destroyed with a shredder when Iranian militant students took control of the US Embassy in Tehran.

More recently, programmers in California have supported software development that can do what the Iranians did by hand.

But the Stasi project has no technology to handle shredded material, said Ute Michalsky, head of the reconstruction department.

The "E-puzzler" software, developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin, looked promising. It should combine scanned fragments based on paper color, fonts, shapes and other details. But it eventually consumed more time than manual effort and has not been used in the last two years. The German government has devoted 2 million euros to improve digitization technology.

Archivists say they do not try to gather torn material in more than eight parts, although these may be the ones Stasi was most interested in hiding.

"Sometimes I get the feeling they knew exactly what to rip," said Poenisch. "Unimportant things only get a single rip. But more importantly, the smaller the pieces."

Poenish says laborious work is never monotonous. "The responsibility is high," she said. "Every document can be important."

Recommended Shopping

bannerebay

DIVIDER1

Related Articles

Leave a Comment

6 − one =

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Top Services Available: Try Amazon HomeClose