Decomposition (Ministry of State Security)

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The decomposition was a secret police working technique used by the Ministry for State Security (MfS) of the GDR . It served to combat alleged and actual political opponents . The disintegration measures defined in Directive No. 1/76 for the development and processing of operational processes (OV) , which came into force in January 1976 , were primarily used by the MfS in operational processes against oppositional groups and individuals in the 1970s and 1980s . Used almost consistently in a conspiratorial manner, they replaced the open terror of the Ulbricht era .

As a repressive practice of persecution, the methods of decomposition consisted of extensive, secret control and manipulation functions and subtle forms of sophisticated psychological terror right down to the most personal relationships of the victims. The MfS made use of the network of “ unofficial employees ” (IM), the state's ability to influence all types of institutions and “ operational psychology ”. Through targeted psychological impairment or damage, the MfS attempted in this way to deprive dissidents and oppositionists, who were perceived as opponents or enemies , the opportunity for further "hostile acts", that is, political activity.

The disclosure of numerous Stasi documents after the political change in the GDR made the use of disruptive measures by the MfS publicly known. Estimates assume a total of four to five-digit number of people who were exposed to decomposition measures, up to 5000 of them were "permanently harmed" as a result. Victims of decomposition measures by the MfS are entitled to rehabilitation in accordance with the 2nd SED Unlawful Adjustment Act if there is evidence of systematic, occupational and / or health damage .

Origin of the term and MfS definition

In addition to the chemical meaning of the verb to decompose , decomposition also denotes the destruction of a community, order or political party. The origin of the word in MfS usage comes from the military language: "Decomposition" describes a strategic measure from psychological warfare in order to weaken the morale of opposing soldiers. During the Weimar Republic , the term was used for the mutual infiltration of political organizations and the Reichswehr with the aim of weakening them internally. The MfS used the term comprehensively for the first time in its guideline No. 1/76 for the development and processing of operational processes (OV), which is classified as “Secret classified information ” . This described the “application of decomposition measures” on three pages.

The MfS provided a definition of the decomposition, including its goals and methods, in the context of the second edition of its dictionary on political-operational work , which was compiled in 1981 and published in 1985 . The first edition from 1970 did not yet contain this term.

“[Operational decomposition is an] operational method of the MfS to effectively combat subversive activity, especially in case processing. With the Z., various political-operative activities influence hostile-negative persons , especially their hostile-negative attitudes and convictions, in such a way that these are shaken and gradually changed or contradictions and differences between hostile-negative forces are caused , exploited or reinforced.
The aim of the Z. is the fragmentation, paralysis, disorganization and isolation of hostile-negative forces in order to prevent hostile-negative actions including their effects, to limit them or to prevent them entirely or to enable a differentiated political-ideological recovery.
Z. are both a direct component of the processing of operational processes and preventive activities outside of the process management to prevent hostile mergers. The main forces in the implementation of the Z. are the IM. The Z. requires operationally significant information and evidence about planned, prepared and carried out hostile activities as well as corresponding points of contact for the effective initiation of Z. measures.
The Z. must be carried out on the basis of a thorough analysis of the operational situation and the exact definition of the specific objective. The implementation of the Z. is to be managed uniformly and tightly, its results are to be documented.
The political explosiveness of the Z. places high demands on maintaining conspiracy. "

- Ministry of State Security: dictionary for political-operational work, keyword: "decomposition"

Political and social framework

During the first ten years of the GDR, political opposition was fought primarily as incitement to war and boycott with methods of criminal law . With the isolation of the GDR as a result of the construction of the Wall , judicial terror was also given up from 1963. Especially since the beginning of the Honecker era in 1971, the MfS intensified its efforts to sanction oppositional behavior without the application of criminal law. Important reasons for this were the GDR's striving for international recognition and the German-German rapprochement from the end of the 1960s. In the basic treaty with the Federal Republic of Germany, as well as by joining the UN Charter and signing the CSCE Final Act , the GDR committed itself to respect human rights , or expressed its intention. Since the latter was also published in the New Germany , its implementation - especially with regard to the decided improvement of the departure regulation - was also up for discussion domestically. In addition, the SED regime tried to reduce the number of political prisoners and to compensate for the promised concessions through repression practices below the threshold of arrest and conviction.

Practical use

The MfS used decomposition primarily as a psychological instrument of oppression and persecution. It used the insights gained at the State Security Law School (JHS) in "operational psychology" in a targeted manner to undermine the self-confidence and self-esteem of the victims. These should be confused or frightened, exposed to permanent disappointment and socially uprooted by disrupting relationships with other people. In this way, life crises should be created that should unsettle political opponents and cause psychological stress, so that the victim was deprived of the time and energy for activities hostile to the state. The MfS as the mastermind behind the measures should not be recognizable. The self-affected writer Jürgen Fuchs therefore also spoke of "psychosocial crimes" and an "attack on the soul of man" .

Although methods of decomposition can already be demonstrated for the late 1950s, decomposition was not scientifically defined as a method until the mid-1970s and was mainly applied systematically in the 1970s and 1980s. The number of people affected is difficult to determine because the sources are often incomplete due to deliberate concealment, but the methods used were varied and the departments involved were numerous. Overall, a four to five-digit number of people in groups and a three-digit number of individuals are likely to have been exposed to decomposition measures. Other sources assume about 5000 people affected by the decomposition and "sustainably damaged". A double-digit number of dissertations on topics of decomposition was submitted at the Law School. In addition, there is about 50 pages of teaching material on decomposition with numerous practical examples.

Implementing institutions

The measures were applied by almost all departments of the MfS, but above all by the main department XX of the MfS in Berlin and departments XX of the district administrations and district offices of the MfS. Line XX covered practically all public life in the GDR by monitoring religious communities , cultural and media companies, bloc parties and social organizations , the education and health system and sport . The MfS used the opportunities that resulted from the GDR's closed company structure. Through political and operational cooperation , the MfS had extensive opportunities to intervene, such as professional or school punishments, exclusion from mass organizations and sports clubs, temporary arrests by the People's Police and the non-granting of travel permits to socialist countries or being rejected at the visa-free border crossings to Czechoslovakia and the People's Republic of Poland . The "partners of operational cooperation" also included the councils of the districts , university and company management, housing administrations, savings bank branches or possibly treating doctors. Line VIII (observation) as well as departments 26 (telephone and room surveillance) and M (post control) of the MfS provided the important basis for the development of decomposition measures; department 32 procured the necessary technology.

The MfS also implemented disintegration measures in cooperation with brother secret services from other Eastern Bloc countries. For example, the Polish secret service, together with the Stasi, initiated targeted measures against Jehovah's Witnesses from the early 1960s , which were referred to as "internal decomposition".

Decomposition of individuals

The MfS used the decomposition before, during, after or in place of the imprisonment of the “target person”. As a rule, the operational processes did not pursue the aim of producing evidence of a criminal act on the part of the victim in order to open a preliminary investigation. Rather, the MfS viewed decomposition measures as an independent instrument, which was used when criminal measures were not desired for political or “political-operational” reasons (for example in order not to endanger the international reputation of the GDR). In some cases, however, the MfS attempted to deliberately criminalize individual persons, for example by bringing minors to Wolf Biermann with the aim of being able to prosecute him later. Offenses for such criminalization were non-political offenses such as drug possession, customs and foreign exchange offenses, theft, tax evasion or rape.

As proven forms of decomposition, Directive 1/76 names, among other things:

"Systematic discrediting of the public reputation, reputation and prestige on the basis of connected, true, verifiable and discrediting, as well as untrue, credible, non-refutable and thus also discrediting information; systematic organization of professional and social failures to undermine the self-confidence of individuals; [...] generation of doubts about the personal perspective; Generating distrust and mutual suspicion within groups […]; Local and temporal prohibition or restriction of the mutual relationships of the members of a group [...] for example by [...] assignment of workstations that are geographically distant "

- Guideline No. 1/76 on the development and processing of operational transactions from January 1976

With the knowledge gained through spying, the MfS created socio and psychograms and used them for personality-oriented forms of decomposition. Personal characteristics and tendencies (such as homosexuality ) as well as assumed "character weaknesses" of the "processed enemy" were specifically addressed - for example professional failure, neglect of parental duties, pornographic interests, adultery , alcoholism , drug dependence , tendency to criminal activities, collectors - and gambling passions as well as contacts to right-wing extremist circles - or to expose the victim as a rumor spread around them. From the perspective of the MfS, the more personal the measures were, the more successful they were; any “schematic” had to be avoided.

The decomposition methods also included open, covert or simulated spying , checking letters and telephones , damaging private property and tampering with vehicles, through to poisoning of food and improper medical treatment. Individual MfS employees accepted the suicide of decomposition victims with approval.

In some cases, for example against the pastor and later Minister for Disarmament and Defense of the last GDR government, Rainer Eppelmann and his friend Ralf Hirsch , there are even concrete intentions to murder (death by freezing to death, poisoning, causing a car accident) in the documents of the MfS.

It could not be conclusively clarified whether the MfS used x-rays to cause long-term health damage in political opponents. With Rudolf Bahro , Gerulf Pannach and Jürgen Fuchs, three prominent GDR dissidents arrested at the same time died of cancer every two years . However, a study by the BStU ruled out such deliberate use of X-rays on the basis of the existing files and instead only documented individual cases of negligent use of radioactive radiation sources that are hazardous to health, for example to mark documents.

On behalf of the victims, the MfS switched off contact or classified ads, triggered orders for goods or made emergency calls in order to terrorize them. The criminal burglaries committed by the Stasi with the aim of intimidating the residents and creating mental stress states by making obvious traces of presence by leaving foreign objects behind or removing or changing existing ones were particularly perfidious in order to penetrate the privacy of GDR citizens .

Breakdown of groups, destruction of family and friendship relationships

The MfS manipulated friendship, love, marriage and family relationships through anonymous letters, telegrams and telephone calls as well as (often forged) compromising photos. In this way, parents and children should be systematically alienated. To provoke relationship conflicts as well as extramarital relationships, the Stasi undertook targeted courtship attempts using so-called Romeo agents .

In order to break down groups, IMs (including minors) were specifically recruited and used within the group. Opposition groups were hindered in their work because IM constantly introduced corrections and counter-proposals in their programmatic discussions. In order to generate mistrust within the group, the MfS occasionally only gave the impression that individual group members were active as IM. In addition to spreading rumors or manipulated photos, the MfS fabricated indiscretions about alleged IM meetings or summoned individual group members to government agencies in order to give the impression of IM activity. The targeted granting of privileges - for example in the case of vacation and travel permits or the allocation of apartments or cars - should create the impression of an MfS activity of individual group members. Doubts also arose from the detention of only a few members of a group.

Target groups for decomposition measures

Decomposition measures were used by the MfS against individuals and groups of people. However, there was no homogeneous target group for disintegration measures, since oppositional behavior in the GDR appeared in many ways and the MfS therefore took differentiated measures to combat it. Nevertheless, the MfS named the main target groups:

  • Associations of departure applicants
  • hostile groups among critical artists
  • church opposition groups
  • Groups of young people
  • as well as their supporters (human rights, peace and refugee aid organizations, emigrated and expatriated opposition members).

In addition, the Stasi occasionally used methods of decomposition against unpopular non-political organizations such as the Watchtower Society .

Jürgen Fuchs , Gerulf Pannach, Rudolf Bahro, Robert Havemann , Rainer Eppelmann , Reiner Kunze , the married couple Gerd and Ulrike Poppe and Wolfgang Templin were among the most prominent victims of decomposition measures .

Social and legal reappraisal

Insofar as they became aware of this, GDR opposition members such as Wolfgang Templin tried, in some cases successfully, to make the disruptive activities of the MfS public through Western journalists. In 1977 Der Spiegel published the five-part series You shall break! of the exiled Jürgen Fuchs, in which he described the "operational psychology" of the Stasi. The MfS tried to counteract such publications by discrediting Fuchs in editorial offices as a Stasi paranoid , so that the Spiegel and other media assumed that Fuchs suffered from paranoia . This could only be refuted by looking at the Stasi files after the political change in the GDR .

Since the extent and the type of decomposition measures were unknown both in the GDR population and abroad until the fall of the Wall, those affected reacted to the revelations with disbelief in view of the insidious approach of the MfS. To this day, many of those affected say that they do not understand how the MfS employees involved were able to carry out such inhumane measures.

In essence, due to the non-retroactivity , methods of decomposition are not considered punishable even after 1990; participation in the planning or implementation of decomposition measures therefore usually did not result in any legal consequences . Since there is no separate criminal offense of decomposition, decomposition measures must be reported individually. Actions that were also criminal offenses under GDR law (such as breaching the confidentiality of letters ) should have been reported to GDR authorities shortly after the act in order to avoid the statute of limitations . To make matters worse, for many of those affected, the MfS was not recognizable as the cause of personal damage and failures. Stasi documents in which such measures are logged often have no evidential value in court. In addition, the MfS often deliberately had documents on decomposition measures carried out destroyed.

Victims of decomposition measures do not receive a victim pension according to §17a of the Criminal Rehabilitation Act (StrRehaG) - unless they were detained for at least 180 days . If there is proof of systematic, professional and / or health damage caused by the Stasi, according injustice Settlement Act a (second SED UnBerG) administrative and vocational rehabilitation are requested. These repeal certain administrative measures taken by GDR organs and establish that they are contrary to the rule of law. This is a prerequisite for social compensation payments under the Federal Pension Act . In the event of a recognized period of persecution of more than three years and proven need, compensation payments for loss of earnings and pension damage can also be requested. In the above-mentioned cases, however, particular hurdles prove to be the need to provide evidence of interference by the MfS in health, property, training and occupation, as well as the recognition of (partly psychological) health damage as a direct result of decomposition measures.

See also

  • Brainwashing , systematic psychological manipulation concept
  • Gaslighting , form of manipulation and psychological violence
  • Indoctrination , the targeted manipulation of people in order to enforce ideological intentions or to eliminate criticism


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  • Decomposition of the soul ( La décomposition de l'âme ) - documentary by Nina Toussaint and Massimo Iannetta, light film, Germany / Belgium 2002, 82 min., First broadcast: November 3, 2003 on ARTE .

Web links

Individual evidence

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  5. Siegfried Suckut (Ed.): The Dictionary of State Security - Definitions for "political-operational work" . Scientific series of the Federal Commissioner, 2nd edition, Berlin 1996, p. 463.
  6. Ministry for State Security (Ed.): Dictionary on political-operational work , 2nd edition (1985), keyword: "Zersetzung", GVS JHS 001-400 / 81, p. 464.
  7. ^ Rainer Schröder: History of GDR Law: Criminal and Administrative Law ( Memento of March 11, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) , forum historiae iuris, April 6, 2004.
  8. ^ Falco Werkentin : Law and Justice in the SED State . Federal Agency for Civic Education, Bonn 1998, 2nd revised edition 2000, p. 67.
  9. Sandra Pingel-Schliemann: Destruction of Biographies. Decomposition as a phenomenon of the Honecker era . In: Eckart Conze / Katharina Gajdukowa / Sigrid Koch-Baumgarten (eds.): The democratic revolution in 1989 in the GDR . Cologne 2009, pp. 78–91.
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  11. Art. 1 Para. 3 UN Charter. Documented in: 12th German Bundestag: Materials from the Enquete Commission on dealing with the history and consequences of the SED dictatorship in Germany . Volume 4, Frankfurt a. M. 1995, p. 547.
  12. ^ Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Final Act, Helsinki 1975, p. 11.
  13. ^ Johannes Raschka: "State crimes are not mentioned" - On the number of political prisoners during Honecker's term in office . In: Germany Archives . Volume 30, Number 1, 1997, p. 196
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  15. ^ Klaus-Dietmar Henke : On the use and evaluation of the Stasi files . In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte . Number 4, 1993, p. 586 ( PDF ).
  16. Sweet: Structures . P. 229.
  17. ^ A b Pingel-Schliemann: decomposition . P. 188.
  18. ^ Pingel-Schliemann: Forms . P. 235.
  19. Sweet: Structures . Pp. 202-204.
  20. ^ Günter Förster: The dissertations at the "Law School" of the MfS. An annotated bibliography . BStU, Berlin 1997, online source ( Memento from July 13, 2009 in the Internet Archive ).
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  25. From a protocol of May 16, 1963, quoted in n. Sebastian Koch: The Jehovah's Witnesses in East Central, Southeastern and Southern Europe: On the fate of a religious community . Berlin 2007, p. 72.
  26. Waldemar Hirch: Cooperation between the East German and the Polish secret service for the purpose of "decomposing" the Jehovah's Witnesses . In: Waldemar Hirch, Martin Jahn, Johannes Wrobel (eds.): Decomposition of a religious community: the secret service processing of Jehovah's Witnesses in the GDR and in Poland . Niedersteinbach 2001, pp. 84-95.
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  28. Teaching material from the MfS University: Requirements and ways for a concentrated, rational and socially effective process processing. Chapter 11: The application of measures of decomposition in the processing of operational processes from December 1977, BStU, ZA, JHS 24 503, p. 11.
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  30. a b Pingel-Schliemann: Phenomenon . P. 82f.
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  40. Brief description ( memento of July 26, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) of the report of the project group "Radiation" at the BStU on the subject: "Use of X-rays and radioactive substances by the MfS against oppositionists - fiction or reality?", Berlin 2000.
  41. Udo Scheer : Jürgen Fuchs - A literary way into the opposition . Berlin 2007, p. 344f.
  42. a b c Gieseke: Mielke Group . P. 196f.
  43. Right to privacy
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  45. Pingel-Schliemann: Zersetzen , pp. 254-257.
  46. Axel Kintzinger: “I can't hug anyone anymore” . In: The time . Number 41, 1998.
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  48. Stefan Wolle : The ideal world of dictatorship. Everyday life and rule in the GDR 1971–1989 . Bonn 1999, p. 159.
  49. Collective dissertation at the Law School of the State Security in Potsdam . In: Pingel-Schliemann: Decomposition . P. 119.
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  54. a b See interviews with Sandra Pingel-Schliemann ( Memento from December 8, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 114 kB) and Gisela Freimarck (PDF document no longer available online).
  55. Interview with the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records Marianne Birthler on Deutschlandradio Kultur on April 25, 2006: Birthler: Ex-Stasi officers want to twist facts , viewed on August 7, 2010.
  56. Renate Oschlies: The judges do not know the crime of "decomposition" . In: Berliner Zeitung . August 8, 1996.
  57. Hubertus Knabe: The perpetrators are among us - About the glossing over of the SED dictatorship . Berlin 2007, p. 100.
  58. Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk: Stasi concrete - surveillance and repression in the GDR , Munich 2013, pp. 211, 302f.
  59. What so-called “decomposition victims ” can currently apply for? , Page no longer available , search in web archives: PDF , 53 KB, accessed on August 24, 2010.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /
  60. Jörg Siegmund: The improvement of legal rehabilitation regulations - need for action, solution concepts, chances of realization , Federal Foundation for Work , Symposium to improve support for the victims of the SED dictatorship on May 10, 2006, PDF ( Memento of November 28, 2010 in the Internet Archive ), 105 KB , P. 3, accessed August 24, 2010.
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This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on September 12, 2010 .