8 February 1950

The Stasi, the secret police of East Germany, is established.

The Stasi, short for “Ministry for State Security” (German: Ministerium für Staatssicherheit), was the official state security service of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) during the Cold War era. Established in 1950, the Stasi was one of the most pervasive and oppressive secret police agencies in history, known for its extensive surveillance, infiltration, and repression of East German society.

Origins: The Stasi was established in 1950, just two years after the founding of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), as a response to the perceived threat of espionage, subversion, and opposition to the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED).

Structure and Organization: Led by Erich Mielke for most of its existence, the Stasi had a vast network of informants, with estimates suggesting that at its peak, there was approximately one informant for every 63 East German citizens. The organization also had its own military units and employed sophisticated surveillance techniques, including wiretapping, hidden cameras, and mail interception.

Surveillance and Control: The Stasi’s primary mission was to maintain the regime’s control over the population. It monitored and infiltrated all aspects of East German society, including political dissidents, religious groups, cultural organizations, workplaces, and even families and personal relationships. The goal was to suppress any dissent or opposition to the government.

Repression and Punishment: The Stasi employed a range of tactics to suppress dissent, including arbitrary arrests, interrogations, imprisonment, and psychological harassment. Thousands of East Germans were imprisoned for political reasons, and many more faced surveillance and harassment for their beliefs or activities.

Informant Network: A significant aspect of Stasi operations was its extensive network of informants, known as “unofficial collaborators” or “IMs” (Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter). These informants reported on their friends, neighbors, and colleagues, creating an atmosphere of fear and mistrust within East German society.

Fall of the Berlin Wall and Aftermath: The Stasi’s power began to decline in the late 1980s, and following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of Germany in 1990, the organization was disbanded. However, its legacy of repression and surveillance continued to affect German society for years afterward.

Archives and Memory: After the fall of the GDR, the Stasi’s extensive archives, documenting its surveillance activities, were preserved. The opening of these archives to the public has played a crucial role in coming to terms with East Germany’s history and understanding the extent of Stasi surveillance.