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The Federal Commissioner

Roland Jahn was born in Jena (GDR) in 1953.

When Roland Jahn was in 8th grade, his teacher noted on his report card that he had a tendency "to be confrontational." But Jahn proceeded to lead the conventional life of a young boy growing up in East Germany. After graduating from high school in 1972, he completed his mandatory basic military service with the militarized riot police in Rudolstadt in 1974.

In 1975 he began studying economics at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. He was expelled in early 1977 for expressing criticism of the forced expatriation of the singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann. As a consequence, in March 1977 Jahn was placed on probation as a transport worker in the production area of the state-run combine "Carl-Zeiss-Jena". He found inventive ways to express his protest against the education ban that had been imposed on him. At the official Labour Day demonstration on the 1st of May, Jahn carried an empty white sign amidst the sea of party slogans to protest the limitations on freedom of speech. He also rebuffed an attempt by the Stasi to recruit him as an informer.

Roland Jahn -  'The Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former GDR'

April 12, 1981, the day his close friend Matthias Domaschk died in pre-trial custody at the Stasi prison in Berlin, marked a turning point in his life. A year later Jahn placed a death notice in the local paper in Jena and obtained dozens of copies of that day’s paper. He cut out the death notice and plastered it on walls and light posts throughout the city. West German journalists also learned of the death of his young friend and made Domaschk’s death in Stasi custody known to the public.

In 1982 Jahn protested at the official May 1 Labour Day parade again. This time he stood on the side of the street "inspecting the parade" with half his face masked by a Hitler moustache and the other half with a Stalin moustache. He later sent postcards with a picture of his masked face on them. On September 1, 1982, a small Polish flag with the words "Solidarnosc z polskim narodem" (Solidarity with the Polish people) that he had attached to his bike was used by the Stasi as grounds for his arrest.

After spending five months in pre-trial custody, Jahn was sentenced in January 1983 by the Gera district court to 22 months in prison. He was charged with "public vilification of the state order" and showing "contempt for state symbols." Following international protests against his imprisonment and that of other dissidents in Jena, Jahn was released at the end of February 1983, after having spent almost six months in prison. He immediately retracted a request made in prison to be allowed to move permanently to West Germany.

With friends he founded the Peace Alliance of Jena, an opposition group that was independent of the church. They made their first public appearance on March 18, 1983 during a demonstration to commemorate the air-raid victims of the bombing of Jena on March 19, 1945. The Peace Alliance participated in other demonstrations with their own transparencies, for example at the Whit meeting of the FDJ, the GDR'S socialist youth organisation, where the group demonstrated against the increasing militarisation of East Germany.

On June 8, 1983, Roland Jahn was summoned to the housing authority of Jena. This was part of a Stasi plan, personally signed by Stasi Minister Erich Mielke, to have Jahn forcibly deported. Once inside Jahn was informed that he has been officially released from his East German citizenship. He was handcuffed and forced to leave his own country against his will. The Stasi locked him in the last rail car of a train that was not reopened until he arrived in West Germany.

Roland Jahn settled in West Berlin and maintained close contact with East German opposition groups. He helped to connect them to many West German media outlets, including the television program "Kennzeichen D" (ZDF), the daily paper "tageszeitung" (taz), the radio station RIAS and the TV magazine "Kontraste" (ARD). He was able to obtain printing machines and video cameras for the East German opposition and have them smuggled into the East.

Jahn continued to be a target of the Stasi when he lived in the West. The secret police drew a detailed blueprint of his apartment, listened in on his phone conversations, and smuggled informers into his circle of friends and acquaintances. They even developed a plan of action with “barrier points” around his apartment in Kreuzberg – in case they needed to take action against him.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jahn worked as a writer and editor for the West German television program "Kontraste" (ARD). As a journalist he focused intensely on the legacy of the East German dictatorship. In 2006 he became the program’s managing editor and deputy editor-in-chief.

Roland Jahn has been a member of the advisory board of the "Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft" since 1996. In 1999 he joined the expert advisory board of the "Stiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur" (Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship). He was a member of the "Stiftung Berliner Mauer" (Berlin Wall Foundation) advisory board from 2006 to 2010. In 1998 Jahn was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit. In 2005 he received the Citizens Award of German Unification from the "Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung" (Federal Agency for Civic Education). In 2010 he was granted the Polish Solidarnosc Medal of Appreciation.

On January 28, 2011 the German Bundestag voted him into the office of the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records with a large, cross-party majority: 535 Yes votes, 21 No votes, 21 abstentions. On March 14, 2011 he received the certificate of appointment from Bernd Neumann, federal state minister for cultural affairs and media, during an official ceremony in the German Historical Museum.

Roland Jahn during his inaugural speech in the German Historical Museum in Berlin.