Ron Radosh

Germany '68 and the Stasi

story appeared recently in The New York Times, and the revelation shook Germans to the core. It tells of an incident that took place in 1967, when an unarmed left-wing student demonstrator,  one  Benno Ohnesorg, was shot and killed by a West German police officer, Karl-Heinz Kurras.  It had a lot to do with the German Left’s turn to violence, and to the formation of  the ultra-radical Red Army Faction, also known as the Beider-Meinhoff gang. Arguing that the democratic West German state had become a “pre-fascist state,” the murder was used to rationalize the turn to terror as a tactic. The violent New Left in Germany was akin to our own Weather Underground on steroids. 

It turns out that German researchers, examining the Stasi files- the Stasi  was the Stalinist East German regime’s secret police- found out that Kurras, the policeman, was in reality a member of the East German Communist Party and even more importantly, a secret member of the Stasi who had infiltrated the West German police.  

As the Times story makes clear, “it was as if the shooting deaths of four students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard had been committed by an undercover K.G.B. officer.” The shooting, after all, was the excuse for the movement’s turn to violence, since to them it proved that West Germany was not a democracy, but an unjust fascist state that permitted no dissent. Later, when the terror became extreme and regular, and the West German government passed laws to protect itself, the Left in America vigorously protested their measures as unnecessary and argued, like their left-wing German counterparts, that the West German government had become authoritarian and anti-democratic.

Yet, the supposed  fascist cop was in fact a committed Marxist and Communist, ideologically aligned to the politics of the young man he killed. It raises the possibility that the killing of young  Ohensorg was in fact an act meant by the Stasi to destabilize the West German government, and to provoke precisely the outcome that took place. Was he an agent-provocateur,  who shot and killed on the order given by Erich Mielke, the  head of the Stasi?

As for Kurras, now in his 80’s, he is unrepentant and unashamed. He readily admits to being  both a Communist and  Stasi agent, but claims that the shooting- he shot him in the back of his head- was accidental. And the young dead man became West Germany’s first post-war martyr—and a symbol of a fight of the young for more  freedom.

At the same time, the German New Left went on a virtual rampage-of kidnappings, murders and bombings- all in the name of justice, Revolution and anti-fascism. Their allies included Palestinian terrorists, and they aligned themselves with the newly formed Palestine Liberation Organization, and even supported the skyjacking of an El Al  flight by Idi Amin, who was prepared to execute all Jewish passengers.

Until we find out the intentions of the Stasi, if the material can indeed be found in its files, we will not know whether the shooting was assigned by the organization, or indeed was carried out at the moment by Kurras acting on his own. For now,  it is enough that we have learned that the supposed fascist policeman was in fact an ally of the extreme leftists in West Germany, and that the murder he committed that galvanized the radical extremists was carried out by one of their own comrades.