Difficult Histories: The GDR and the Stasi Memorial

Hubert Knabe, controversial author of ‘The Perpetrators amongst us.’
Difficult Histories: The GDR and the Stasi Memorial
Difficult Histories: The GDR and the Stasi Memorial - 20 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall Opinions flew thick and fast when author Hubertus Knabe, Director of the Stasi Memorial in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, Germany highlighted about what he perceives as a lack of willingness of modern Germany to admit that the former GDR was an inhuman dictatorship similar to the regime of the National Socialists. Knabe, who spoke at the Goethe Institute in Melbourne as part of a national series of events on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, is well known to German audiences for generating controversy (just Google his name and have a look…) over his historical books, especially on those that focus on oppression in the former communist states of Easter Europe. One of his more recent books, <.I>„Die Täter sind unter uns“ (The perpetrators are amongst us) focuses on the issue that the perpetrators of many acts of violence are not only alive and well in the modern German republic, but most are far better off than those who they oppressed. Knabe’s calm voice described, in spine-chilling detail, how perpetrators of acts of violence in the former East Germany have largely escaped any consequences for their actions. These officials banned individuals from schools and universities, interrogated, discriminated against, tortured, arrested, surveyed, abducted, imprisoned and executed people. Of the 91,000 individuals that worked for the Stasi, which does not include the estimated number of 1 in ten East Germans who were informers, only about 40 have been charged. Many of the charges were dropped, and the few that went to prison for their actions, were often soon released after going to jail. In addition, he highlighted how those subject to these violent actions, including those who were banned from receiving an education, or who were injured so badly that they were unable to work again, now receive a pittance of support from the modern state, while many of the former secret police employees receive pensions far more generous than those of their victims. Combined with the lack of any form of compensation or damages, Knabe asserted that the victims of these actions feel a sense of frustration not only due to the lack of any form of natural justice, but the fact that the perpetrators are better off than their victims. The rise of Ostalgie (Eastalgia), a sentimental nostalgia for life in the former East Germany as depicted in popular films such as Goodbye to Berlin, is seen by Knabe as a dangerous failure to recognise that the actions of the Stasi were criminal acts, which needs to be redressed. Knabe was careful to point out that the issue was not one over West German versus East Germany, but an issue of those people who perpetrate acts of violence and their victims. Knabe is not without his critics, as was evident by the debate with audience members that followed. The fascinating audience interchanges covered complex universal issues of crime, punishment, retribution, reformation, and individual accountability versus the role of the state, which went far beyond the German republic, with many divided opinions, including from audience members from the former GDR. With an estimated 17,000 former employees of East German secret police now in government positions in Germany who now appear to beyond being held accountable for their acts, it is no wonder that Knabe’s writings make many people feel very uncomfortable. While you might differ in what you think happened, and what should happen, the discussion needs to take place. Difficult Histories: The GDR and the Stasi Memorial - 20 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall Hubertus Knabe in conversation Wed 15 July, 6.30pm - 8.00pm, Goethe-Institut Australien, Sydney "Difficult Histories: The GDR and the Hohenschönhausen Memorial" Panel with Hubertus Knabe, Anna Funder, author of "Stasiland", and Jeremy Fisher, Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors Try and catch him when he visits Sydney next week. The events are free, make sure to RSVP - rsvp@sydney.goethe.org

Ronald McCoy

Tuesday 14 July, 2009

About the author

Ronald McCoy is a Melbourne medico and educator with a passion for the arts. He is a singer and musician of classical and traditional music, and is the National Library of Australia, National Folk Fellowship Fellow for 2007-08. He has been a regular reviewer on the Melbourne scene for the past couple of years, has published on a wide variety of arts and medicine topics, but still spends far too many hours putting pen to paper writing.