Skip to main content

Research Department

Jump to content

Main Research Areas

In 1989/90 the question of whether the files of Ministry for State Security Service should be destroyed or made accessible was controversially discussed. By now the openness with which the files are handled is such an established fact that the uniqueness of these records is often forgotten. For the first time a broad range of source material has been made available. Thus making it possible to conduct research on the structures, operating mechanisms, mentality, work methods and historical impact of a modern secret police.

The Education and Research Department (BF) conducts basic research on important subject areas. It responds to impulses from public discussions about coming to terms with the past and also develops and addresses its own questions. Its studies focus on a reconstruction of the MfS apparatus and primary-source publications of key documents relevant to general investigations of East Germany. Since its founding in 1992, the department has conducted numerous studies and compiled primary-source editions that have been published in its own and in external publications. Thus providing an important service to the field of contemporary history.

Areas of Research

"Anatomy of the State Security Service": Structures, Service Units and Personnel of the Ministry for State Security

The MfS handbook "Anatomy of the State Security Service: History, Structure and Methods," is a central project of basic historical organization research on the apparatus of the Ministry for State Security (MfS). Its individual volumes provide basic information about the organisation’s development, the important branches of the ministry, the full-time employees and unofficial collaborators, as well as about their work principles and normative foundations. Twenty-six volumes have been compiled thus far and more are being prepared successively.

Having begun with the work on the handbook, "perpetrator research" has developed into its own important field of research. It encompasses the many different studies on the unofficial collaborators of the State Security Service, showing how the network of informers, an essential instrument of the secret MfS operations, evolved over decades. A completed project on the full-time employees was able to reconstruct both the driving force behind the long-term personnel development and the atmosphere within the ranks of the secret police.

Resistance in Everyday Life – Daily Resistance
The Northeast German Baltic Coast and the Rostock District, 1949-1989

The aim of the project is to present the history of political opponents, resistance and opposition in its historical breadth by focusing on a region that has not received a great deal of research attention. To conduct the study, a clearly delineated area was sought that would be manageable and yet differentiated. The northeast German Baltic coast, specifically the Rostock district, was selected. It is a region that in research has revealed average values in many aspects – particularly in comparison to cities such as Berlin, Leipzig, Jena, Dresden and Erfurt – but which has not been the focus of many studies.

The project investigates the following questions: Which forms of refusal and rebellion, what oppositional conduct and unknown acts of resistance occurred between 1949 and 1989 along the Baltic Coast and in Rostock, a district established in 1952? What influence did the reaction of the state and social developmental processes (addressed on both the biographical and societal level) have on oppositional conduct and argumentation patterns? Was the political action of opposition and resistance a socially marginal phenomenon? The project also examines the everyday life of people who were opposed to the political system: What interactions existed between the individual and society, as revealed by the available sources?

The research project will provide an important empirically-based contribution to the debate on resistance and opposition history and to current interpretations and categorisations.

In addition to registering and evaluating the file holdings of the former MfS district administration of Rostock that have been widely overlooked until now, data from other stored information such as the "Delikte-Kerbloch" filing system will also be addressed and evaluated.

Hence the project also touches on the methodological question of how much significance should be placed on the various MfS sources in resistance research. And how can the information they contain be systematised and made accessible?

Project manager:
Dr. Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk
Office BF 1, phone: +49 30 23 24-88 11

Everyday life and betrayal in the GDR

Just after the Berlin Wall came down, public interest was focused primarily on the machinations of the Stasi and what seemed to be a total infiltration of the population by unofficial informants (IM). Anyone who had given their written consent to serve as an informant for the Ministry for State Security seemed to have entered a pact with the devil.

However, in evaluating the files, it soon became clear that IMs were not all the same. Some files contain very little data - a letter of consent, but not a single report - whereas others contain many volumes of documents, evidence that information about family and friends had been handed over to the state. Furthermore, because of the fixation on IMs, many other kinds of collaborators that existed were never even identified.

This research project investigates specific denunciatory conduct.

The term "denunciation" has yet to be sufficiently defined by historians in regard to GDR history. This project aims to close this gap and to examine a specific use of the term as it applies to GDR society. In research on National Socialism, "denunciations" are identified as "voluntary, spontaneous" information provided by informers, but the GDR era requires a broader definition.

Denunciations could be made not only to the Ministry for State Security, but also to the People’s Police, the SED, the mass organisations, or workplaces. This project examines the context in which denunciations took place within the GDR and will show to what degree the state supported or encouraged denunciations or perhaps even contributed to their becoming professionalized. A distinction will be made between spontaneous denunciations and ones that were called for. Until now researchers have assumed that – in comparison to National Socialism for example– fewer spontaneous denunciations were made in the GDR. This project will analyse the different ways in which it was possible to provide information about other people.

The manifestations of denunciations in the GDR will also be examined. One point of special interest is the question of who was denouncing whom and why. Here denunciation is regarded as a social phenomenon. It will be interesting, for example, to establish what relationship existed between the person doing the denouncing and the person being denounced. Did the betrayal take place among colleagues at work or within a circle of acquaintances or was it a chance meeting in a bar or tram? What role does this play in the value of denunciations in society? In light of these relationships, how should the motivations of informers be categorized and did education or social background make a difference? Did the willingness of people to inform change over time in the GDR? What role did social obligations and norms play? In regard to denunciatory conduct, was the SED party statute’s call for vigilance more important than the judgement of individuals? Did the duty to report certain crimes carry more weight than the moral demand to remain silent?

This study will also examine to what degree people refused to engage in denunciations. Clearly, there were always people who refused to "cooperate" with the state authority. But what is the ratio of people who refused to inform to those who did not? What statements were made about this? What strategies of refusal did people use?

The project focuses on the districts of Leipzig, Frankfurt/Oder and Schwerin. These districts bear regional differences, but together are representative of the GDR as a whole: east border, west border, rural/industrial, cities and towns. The examination will be conducted on the basis of samples taken from archival files of different years.

The denunciation project will try to re-evaluate forms of conformism and participation in order to open up new perspectives for a social history of the GDR.

Project conducted by:
Dr. Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk
Office BF 1, phone: +49 30 23 24-88 11

Power and Society in the GDR Province
A regional study of the Halberstadt rural district

This research project examines the regional structures of power and society on the basis of the Halberstadt rural district. It covers the time period from 1949 to 1990. Limiting the research focus to a manageable social realm makes it possible to methodically reconstruct the historical reality in its long-term development. It also allows for the interaction between economic, social, political and cultural factors to be re-established.

In regard to its economic and social structure as well as its cultural and political aspects the region under examination with its roughly 100,000 residents can be regarded as "average" and unspectacular. It is a provincial, rural county. But it has two large and several midsize industrial enterprises and as well as an almost 50 kilometre-long western border. Thus it was also affected by the problems related to the East German border regime. Compared to more urban counties, Halberstadt displays a rather modest level of deviant political behaviour, revealing – in contrast to past Stasi research – strong social and political adaptive behaviour.

The project regards power primarily as "social practice," as a social network of relationships, in which the people under control are also identifiable as protagonists. It aims to show how SED rule functioned in everyday life; which disciplinary and integration mechanisms were effective and which failed; and what forms of approval, conformity and defiance were encountered. The project pays special attention to the local State Security Service as a central element of the GDR system of rule. The study will also consider the other important governing institutions (SED, VP, rural district council, mass organisations, bloc parties and others).

The Halberstadt project is methodologically connected to a joint project with the University of Jena titled "Stages of Dissidence and Dramaturgy of Repression". It addresses cultural conflicts with the later GDR on the basis of the district capital of Gera.

Project manager:
Dr. Roger Engelmann
Office BF 1, phone: +49 30 23 24-88 11

Halberstadt city center.

National Economy and the Environment as an MfS Sphere of Action during the Honecker Era

This BStU scholarly project area is divided into two closely connected single projects that are being conducted as dissertation proposals. Both projects focus on the "Chemical Triangle" formed in the Halle district by the combines in Bitterfeld, Buna and Leuna. Given their national economic importance, they were monitored by the Stasi’s own on-site offices.

Project manager:
Dr. Roger Engelmann
Office BF 1, phone: +49 30 23 24-88 11

Project 1: Range and borders of the secret police’s economic surveillance using the example of the GDR chemical industry

As a key economic sector, the chemical branch strongly reflected the economic political decisions of the SED as well as the general functional weaknesses of the centralized administrative economy. As part of the comprehensive economic control demanded by the SED, the MfS, as a secret police surveillance organ, was accorded an important controlling and guiding function. The focal point of the project is an analysis of the methodical and structural implementation of this surveillance by the responsible service units in Dept XVIII. The first part of the investigation uses case studies from the chemical combine to address how the State Security Service exerted influence on economic developments. The second part analyses the reaction of the MfS to the many internal and external control constraints. The study will also examine the difficulties the MfS encountered in its effort to help the SED realise its all-encompassing demand for control. This becomes particularly evident in the eighties when the SED strove to further centralise its economic control. In light of export problems, the pressure to modernise and the growing demands of society, the GDR economy became increasingly dependent on internal and external constraints.

Mark Schiefer

Project 2: Environmental problems and conflicts as an MfS area of operation using the example of the GDR chemical industry

Even on GDR standards, the "Chemical Triangle" in regard to environmental issues, is a rather extreme example. It had a highly industrialised structure, was densely populated and produced an above-average level of environmental contamination. This evolved into an explosive and conflict-ridden situation that was increasingly targeted by the State Security Service in the eighties.

The project investigates the many different environmental problems caused by the "Chemical Triangle," their causes and effects on society, the economy and nature, as well as the conflicts that they produced. In addition to the completely beset national environmental protection policy that was progressively conceded a subordinate role, the study also looks at non-governmental initiatives that emerged in the 1980s. The study addresses the activities carried out in association with the "Society for Nature and Environment" that were tolerated and controlled by the state. It also examines the environmental protection initiatives formed in the strongly polluted areas of the district and carried out under the auspices of the church. Drawing attention to the situation in the "Chemical Triangle," they were consequently regarded as "hostile to the state" and combated by the State Security Service.

Martin Stief
Office BF 1, phone: +49 03 23 24-88 11

Cooperation of East European Secret Police Agencies

It was primarily the Soviet Union that aspired to have a "European Security Conference" in the 1960s. Under its leadership the East European political bureaucrats who participated in the CSCE process unwillingly contributed to the destabilisation of their own power. The "human dimension" of this development served to open a political system that until then had been largely sealed off.

The state security services within the Soviet empire were called upon to hinder this highly undesired process, since the entire situation was diametrically opposed to their two basic interests: warding against "subversive" western influences and stabilizing party dictatorships. From their perspective the consequences of opening up the communist sphere of control were an "ideological diversion" that they tried hard to hinder.

The study explores how the secret service agencies accompanied the CSCE process, observed its participants, perceived the new factors of influence and attempted to counteract them.

The following areas will be examined:

  • The CSCE process, in particular the investigation of the opposing side; the development of positions and compromises and the surveillance of eastern delegations
  • Consequences of the CSCE process that were to be stemmed by secret police measures but which could also require an adjustment to new norms. And finally, indications of an emerging political change and of the need – from the point of view of the secret police - to thwart it.

The CSCE process covers a very broad field that extended over a period of almost two decades and involved many different actors and subjects. Consequently, the project has been broken down into separate work phases while maintaining a comparative approach. One research staff member will examine the early period of the CSCE process, drawing a comparison to the Vienna Conference that followed. This part of the study will focus on the MfS, and where documentation exists, its cooperation with the KGB. A second research employee is looking into the Eastern European secret services and the Belgrade and Madrid conference that came later.

Project supervisor (provisionally):
Dr. Douglas Selvage
Office BF 1, phone: +49 30 23 24-88 11

"The GDR through the Eyes of the Stasi. The Secret Reports to the SED Leadership"
1953 to 1989 – Sources and Analysis

Since the uprising in June 1953, the "Central Evaluation and Information Group" (ZAIG) of the Ministry for State Security, and its precursor, had compiled information for the party and state leadership of the GDR. These secret reports were completed in different forms and with varying frequency for more than 36 years – and are today a contemporary source of great historical value.

They reveal the Stasi’s specific view of the GDR: they contain references to real and perceived oppositional conduct as well as to economic and supply problems. They also include statistics on currency exchanges, illegal emigration and border violations. Seemingly trivial information is presented alongside discussions of both minor and major "difficulties" created by the effort to institute and maintain SED rule and to establish "real existing Socialism."

In order to provide an overall impression of the different types of sources and their importance to scholarly research, the publication begins with one year from each of the four decades of the GDR (1976, 1988, 1961, 1960 and 1953). At the completion of the pilot phase, the other years will be published in irregular order. A year after the publication of the first volume, each respective year will be presented in its entirety online at

Project manager:
Prof. Dr. Daniela Münkel
Office BF 1, phone: +49 30 23 24-88 11

The MfS in the German-German Conflict of Political Systems / "West Work"

A new research area is being developed under the title "The MfS in the German-German Conflict of Political Systems" that will use newly-accessible sources to further the research previously conducted under the heading "West Work."

A new focus is now being developed on the basis of this previous research that primarily addressed normative issues, the organisation of GDR foreign espionage and quantitative dimensions of West informers. The emphasis will be on the role of the MfS in the East- West competition of political systems, the interaction between secret service agencies. It will also explore the significance of propaganda and exploitation in the "secret service war," in the struggle against the "external enemy" and the internal opposition, as well as on social and social-historical questions.

The aim is not only to close existing research gaps but to set new priorities and engage new approaches. Geographically, the focus will continue to be on the MfS in the Federal Republic of Germany and the West German secret service in the GDR. But the project also hopes to broaden it range of research to cover other Western European countries as well.

Project manager:
Prof. Dr. Daniela Münkel
Office BF 1, phone: +49 30 2324-8811

History research project of the HV A:
Dr. Helmut Müller-Enbergs

Lawyers in the Later Years of the GDR

What degree of influence did the MfS exert on lawyers in the GDR and what efforts did it make to forge a "socialist legal profession"?

The formation of a judicial system in the GDR was largely completed by 1968. The existence of attorneys within this system was also accepted by then. Although most lawyers were organised into district associations similar to those of other occupational groups, they continued to work independently.

The MfS tried to control and regulate lawyers in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice and the omnipresent party. Its influence began when the candidate was granted the right to study and continued when the graduate completed his studies, was accepted into the legal practice and underwent required examinations on other occasions. The study examines how tight this control was and how effective the MfS was or wanted to be in exerting influence on the nominal self-administration of lawyers and their mandate. Focusing on lawyers in the GDR allows for the mechanisms, possibilities and limitations of MfS influence to be traced in an exemplary fashion.

The MfS was not only a security organ in the area of political justice. In cases of seditious crimes, it was as an investigative organ, responsible for conducting investigations prior to the criminal proceedings. The investigations aimed to bring the cases to the desired conclusion envisaged by the MfS and the SED without allowing the accused and their lawyers any opportunity to significantly influence the end result.

But increasingly the GDR had to pay attention to its international commitments, which increased the pressure on its standards of criminal procedure. It remains open whether, parallel to the changes in the GDR judiciary, the right to a legal defence in political trials was liberalised, whether there was only the appearance of a liberalisation or perhaps no substantial changes at all.

It can be assumed that the status of the defence in criminal procedure and the role of the defence lawyer can provide information on the status of the individual, in this case the person on trial, in relation to the state during the era of Honecker. The study will also include a quantitative evaluation of the MfS’ so-called "investigative procedures." These files contain not only records of the investigation, but also the documents of the public prosecutor, the court and the imprisonment of the defendant. It is expected that an evaluation of the relevant control samples will reveal to what degree the criminal procedure, in particular the right to a defence counsel, underwent a change in the political proceedings of the GDR.

Project coordinator:
Christian Booß
Office BF 1, phone: +49 30 23 24-88 11

The Ministry for State Security (MfS) and Cooperation with other Communist Secret Services

The MfS and the Soviet KGB

The Ministry for State Security (MfS) was established and evolved under the strict guidance of the Soviet secret services (NKVD, MGB, later KGB) and cooperated closely with them until its dissolution in 1989. Subordination to Soviet services loosened after 1957, but the KGB basically always had the first and last word with the GDR comrades. Mielke himself referred to the MfS in 1981 as a "combat division of the glorious Soviet Cheka" (a general term for the Soviet secret police).

The KGB originally acted in East Germany as part of the occupation regime without having to enter into any contractual arrangements with its cooperation partner in the Soviet zone of occupation/GDR. But by the mid 1950s, the status of the GDR under international law had improved. Relations between the agencies were also placed on a contractual footing. At least formally, consultations took place and agreements were followed.

This website presents documents on the relations between the MfS and the KGB, including agreements on the cooperation between two secret services such as the one from 6 December 1973, and "protocols" on cooperation between two agencies, which were actually work agreements. It also contains notes on meetings between the heads of the MfS and the KGB.

The documentation was developed in connection with the History and Public Policy Project of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. This joint effort of different archives in former Soviet satellite states aims to compensate for the widespread inaccessibility of KGB files in Russia (although many KGB documents can be found at other places) to western researchers. It examines the traces left behind by the KGB in the more accessible archives of its "fraternal organs" in the Soviet bloc.

On the website of the Woodrow Wilson Center one can find excerpts from selected documents in English translation. A complete collection of the original German documents is available on the website of the BStU.

Douglas Selvage, Walter Süß