What was the Stasi?
What was the Stasi?
The term "Stasi" is an abbreviation for "Staatssicherheit" (state security). That is what the East Germans called the Ministry of State Security, which was officially abbreviated "MfS". The Stasi had two functions: It worked as both a secret service and a secret police. Many countries have a secret service agency. They are responsible for detecting threats to the country from abroad. Secret police usually only exist in dictatorships. They have the task of controlling their own citizens and eliminating any danger to the ruling regime. They are accountable only to the rulers and circumvent the laws that normal police must obey.
Who was the Stasi?
To control its own people, the Stasi ran a huge apparatus with as many as 91,015 full-time employees. These people worked officially for the Stasi. The Stasi also operated an extensive network which in the end consisted of 189,000 "unofficial collaborators" called IM for short. These were spies and informers from all areas of society who provided the Stasi with information about the people they had contact with. Workers wrote reports about their colleagues, teenagers about their fellow classmates, soldiers about their comrades. But the Stasi also penetrated close relationships: Friends betrayed friends and sometimes family members even spied on each other.
How did the Stasi work?
A citizen did not have to openly engage in resistance against the state to draw the attention of the Stasi. Failing to conform with mainstream society was enough. Having long hair or listening to music from the West could make someone appear suspicious. Any time people came together as a group that was not organised under the auspices of the state – a sports club or youth activities offered by the Church – this also aroused suspicion. When the Stasi took action against an individual, it had a number of different measures at its disposal. The Stasi searched people’s apartments covertly and bugged their rooms, even the bathroom and bedroom. It intimidated its victims by having them constantly tailed. The Stasi could simply arrest citizens it was suspicious of. It could interrogate them in a remand prison and apply pressure as it saw fit.
Where can I find more information?
The education staff provides the public with information about the structure, activities and methods of the GDR State Security. Through our work we aim to help people better understand the foundations of the Stasi.
We make teaching and educational material available to young people and teachers and we help them prepare their projects and presentations. You will find information about our resources for pupils and resources for teachers on this Web site. We also create exhibitions. The research conducted in our archives is used to vividly convey the role of the secret police in the GDR and to tell the stories of people who were persecuted by the Stasi. Here you will find an overview of all our current exhibitions.