Germany's Stasi Records Archive closes after nearly three decades

Photo: AP In this May 24, 2011 picture, paper fragments are pictured at the Government's Institute for checking the former East German Intelligence papers in Berlin.

Germany's Stasi Records Archive, which holds the files kept by the feared secret police of former Communist East Germany, closed on Thursday after nearly three decades of archival work, dpa reported. The millions of Stasi files, as well as thousands of photos and sound recordings made by East Germany's state security and intelligence services, will now come under the authority of Germany's Federal Archives in the western city of Koblenz.

The 1,300 employees of the now-abolished agency have also been taken over by the Federal Archives, and the files will remain at the historic site of the former Stasi headquarters in Berlin, as well as several other sites in eastern Germany.

The transfer was marked with a ceremony on Thursday evening. Culture Minister Monika Gruetters commented that the event coincided with the uprising of workers in the former East Germany in 1953. Those attending the ceremony held a minute's silence to commemorate the victims of the uprising, which began with a strike and grew into a mass opposition to the process of Sovietization. Soviet forces in Germany violently suppressed the protest with tanks.

Other attendees included Wolfgang Schaueble, president of the Bundestag, Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller, former president Joachim Gauck and the president of the federal archives, Michael Hollmann. Gruetters called the files indispensable as ways to highlight the injustices of the dictatorship. She said saving the testimonies from destruction was the legacy of the East German civil rights movement.

Parliament made the decision to transfer responsibility in November. The German government has assured that work on the documents, which provide a wealth of insight into the painful role played by the state in the lives of its citizens, would go on.

Over the decades, the Berlin-headquartered authority received nearly 3.5 million requests from people who personally wanted to take a look at papers that the Stasi secretly kept on them. Since its inception, it has received a total of 7.3 million requests, when academics and other officials are taken into account.

The files will continue to be available to anyone in the general public seeking to look at their own dossiers and so possibly ascertain who had been informing on them.

By the time the Berlin Wall was toppled in November 1989, the Stasi had collected files on some 6 million people, with the documents filling up kilometres and kilometres of shelf space at the security ministry in former East Berlin and other centres around the country.

There were more than 111 kilometres of written material alone managed by the Stasi Records Archive. In addition, more than 15,000 sacks of shredded documents have yet to be reconstructed.


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