Stasi, an abbreviation for Staatssicherheit (literally: State Security), is what the secret police of East Germany were commonly called. The Ministry for State Security (MfSS) was responsible for both domestic surveillance and foreign espionage in the Soviet-occupied German Democratic Republic (GDR). At its peak, it employed 90,000 officers full-time. With the help of approximately 190,000 informants, it monitored and gathered intelligence on East German citizens. It also conducted covert operations in West Germany, West Berlin, and elsewhere in the West, including the United States. Headquartered in East Berlin, in the very building that today houses Berlin’s Stasi Museum, the MfSS was widely regarded as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world, comparable to the Soviet Union’s KGB. East Germans hated and feared the Stasi which engaged in spying on the entire population, mainly through a vast network of citizens turned informants who were referred to as unofficial collaborators. Erich Mielke was the Stasi’s longest-serving chief; he was head of the GDR’s MfSS from 1957 until shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Markus Wolf was head of the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance, the foreign intelligence division of the MfSS. He was the Stasi’s second in charge for 34 years, which amounted to most of the Cold War period.
The Stasi was formed in 1950 and dissolved after German reunification in 1990. Numerous Stasi officials were prosecuted for their crimes after 1990, but neither Mielke nor Wolf was imprisoned. In 1991, the government of newly reunified Germany passed the Stasi Records Law, under which former GDR citizens and foreigners were granted the right to view their Stasi-files. By the early 21st century, more than 1.5 million individuals had done so. I, Richard Zipser, am one of those persons.