Unknown Cold-War-Era Conspiracy Comes to Light

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By: Steve Benen

It was called “the shot that changed the republic.”

The killing in 1967 of an unarmed demonstrator by a police officer in West Berlin set off a left-wing protest movement and put conservative West Germany on course to evolve into the progressive country it has become today.

Now a discovery in the archives of the East German secret police, known as the Stasi, has upended Germany’s perception of its postwar history. The killer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, though working for the West Berlin police, was at the time also acting as a Stasi spy for East Germany.

It is 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, though the reverberations in Germany seemed to have run deeper.

“It makes a hell of a difference whether John F. Kennedy was killed by just a loose cannon running around or a Secret Service agent working for the East,” said Stefan Aust, the former editor in chief of the weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel. “I would never, never, ever have thought that this could be true.”

And yet, the killing that effectively caused the summer of ’68 uprising and led to the founding of the terrorist Red Army Faction, seems to have actually happened. It’s extraordinary.

This is of particular interest right now because the new issue of the Washington Monthly has a book review from Paul Hockenos on Stefan Aust’s book on the Red Army Faction.

The irony, with these new revelations in mind, is that the shooting helped lead to the creation of the Red Army Faction, but it also triggered a movement of non-violent students. Eventually, the turmoil led to a healthier, stronger, more-democratic West Germany.

Probably not what the Stasi shooter and his/her superiors had in mind.

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