From a GDR prison to a Cold War of words

January 6, 2006

Barbara Einhorn finds Anthony Glees's account of her arrest by the Stasi bizarre and untrue. reports Michael North

In the winter of 1983, peace activist Barbara Einhorn was released from the notorious Hohenschonhausen prison in East Berlin and allowed to return to her family in Britain. For five long days she had been cross-examined for up to 14 hours a day. She had been charged with violating the German Democratic Republic's Criminal Code, a crime that carried a maximum sentence of 12 years. But she had refused to succumb to pressure to sign an admission of guilt. More than 20 years later, Einhorn, now an academic at Sussex University, still relives that time.

She has joined other UK intellectuals in a Cold War of words against Anthony Glees, author of The Stasi Files and professor of contemporary history at Brunel University. Glees spent years researching the files of the GDR intelligence services and secret police, known as the Stasi, after the Berlin Wall came down.

He concluded that some 100 British subjects were spies for the Stasi during the Cold War and criticised (and named) UK academics for having been, in Lenin's phrase, "useful idiots" for the Communist regime. He wrote that their sympathy for GDR communism led them to enter into a misguided dialogue, in their roles as peace activists, with both authorities and dissidents in the GDR. As a result, Glees says, they became key sources of information for the Stasi and victims of cynical manipulation in its brutal suppression of opponents of the regime.

The academics counter that Glees is a conspiracy theorist. They say his book, though not explicit in accusing them of being Stasi spies, is full of, in Einhorn's words, "half-truths and damaging innuendo of the most unpleasant kind" that are calculated to damage the reputation of the academics named.

"The book makes me feel ill," Einhorn says. Canon Paul Oestreicher, her husband, who as a representative of the British Council of Churches was instrumental in securing her release from prison, adds: "The book leaves you with this awful feeling (about the academics involved), which is precisely what you are meant to have."

Glees accuses Einhorn and Oestreicher of coming forward three years after the book's publication to undermine his latest research project - the uncovering of groups sympathetic to terrorism in UK universities, including Sussex.

But Oestreicher, a chaplain at Sussex, says he and his wife had no intention of "resurrecting this". They came forward, they say, to give support to their friend John Sandford, a professor at Reading University who challenged Glees's accusations about his "hidden discussions" with Stasi agents in London, in The Times Higher (November 4, 2005).

Einhorn's story of her arrest, and the way it is related in Glees's book, highlights the contrast between one person's experiences and the interpretation of those events by a researcher convinced of the validity of his sources.

In 1983, Einhorn, a New Zealand citizen with German parents, was a lecturer at Brighton Polytechnic. She spoke fluent German and had researched her doctorate in West and East Berlin. She had been involved with peace movements from an early age. This commitment and her knowledge of Germany led her to join the British European Nuclear Disarmament group.

As a member of END's women's group, Einhorn had contact with the GDR's Women For Peace. In 1983 she arranged to meet its leaders, Ulrike Poppe and Barbel Bohley, in East Berlin to discuss their request for END to publish something in Britain about their activities opposing Eastern, as well as Western, armaments. These activities were held to be seditious by the GDR state.

As the date of the meeting neared, however, the political climate became tense as East and West prepared to site nuclear missiles on their territories.

But Einhorn went ahead. "I calculated I had been across the border for 20 years and nothing had ever happened to me," she says, adding that she "never imagined the GDR would hold me to be a significant enough threat to imprison me".

She says she had a feeling of being watched from the moment she got off the train in East Berlin. When she met Poppe and Bohley, they informed her that they expected to be arrested - they had been tipped off by a contact in the GDR Ministry of the Interior. As Einhorn attempted to leave the GDR days later, she was detained by "customs officials" and led down "Kafkaesque corridors" under the "Palace of Tears" at the border. A strip-search followed and then an interview with an "unpleasant little man", who Einhorn realised was a Stasi officer. At midnight, she was bundled into a car and driven to the Hohenschonhausen prison; she had to wear dark glasses so she could not see the route.

Einhorn downplays her experience, saying it was "like a bad spy film". She remembers a system of corridor lights with red signalling: guards were able to check round corners to ensure no other prisoner saw her.

During the interrogations, Einhorn was continually bullied to sign a declaration of her guilt in plotting against the GDR regime. A request to contact her embassy was refused but she was allowed to write two letters. Years later, she came across them when she accessed her Stasi files.

After pressure from the New Zealand Government, the British Foreign Office and END, Einhorn was released without charge.

She continued contacts with GDR diplomats in the UK and even attempted to return to East Berlin with Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a move that antagonised the GDR state. She says she did so because she firmly believed that dialogue was the road to peace.

Glees takes a more negative view of this episode. Describing Einhorn as "a prime example of... a useful idiot", he writes in The Stasi Files that "at her third interrogation she gave the Stasi the statement it required". This, he says, led to the arrest of Poppe and Bohley, who were imprisoned for several weeks.

As to Einhorn's continued work with END and her meetings with GDR officials in London - such as the East German ambassador Gerhard Lindner (exposed by Glees as a Stasi spy, code name "Hans Reichert") - Glees says: "You have got to ask yourself - why was she behind bars and why did she carry on dealing with intelligence officers?"

Einhorn replies: "I was behind bars for supporting dissidents; even from Glees's Cold War perspective, this surely does not make me suspect. Nor did I 'carry on dealing with intelligence officers'. I was part of a British peace movement delegation trying to get permission to visit the GDR. I was refused permission, having been banned from the country after my arrest."

Einhorn also stresses that she "never 'made a statement'" in prison. "I underwent interrogation, which is not the same thing. I did not give the Stasi what they wanted, namely an admission of guilt." She also says she cannot have given the Stasi "the excuse they needed" to arrest Bohley and Poppe, as Glees contends, since her third interrogation occurred "well after" their arrest.

In the writing of The Stasi Files , Glees interviewed Einhorn but the relationship turned sour. Einhorn says she found Glees "bizarre" at their meetings - she says he told her that her neighbours were watching her - and at a conference in 2001 she publicly attacked him about the inaccuracies in his "Einhorn story".

Glees has submitted a copy of a letter to The Times Higher , which he sent to Einhorn before the publication of his book, detailing the substance of their interviews and asking her to agree. It says that Einhorn agreed that she "had made things harder" for Poppe and Bohley, and that her meetings with GDR officials were "motivated by 'naive goodwill'" and a "critical sympathy" for the GDR.

Einhorn says Glees is confused on the first point: she says she may have told him at their meeting "that during my interrogation in prison... I conceded that my contacts with Women For Peace did not make things easier for the GDR state".

She says her meetings with GDR officials were motivated by the END policy, shared by the British Government, of maintaining dialogue with both official and dissident GDR sources. "My naivety lay," she says, "in not recognising fully the extent to which being critical of the GDR made me appear a threat and thus put me in danger." Einhorn adds: "After my experiences with Glees... I decided explicitly to decline to comment. I also asked him not to write about me in this book." She adds that Glees never showed her a draft of the chapter concerning her.

Einhorn says The Stasi Files confirmed her fears that it would be full of innuendo concerning secrets and clandestine meetings with GDR officials.

"He was looking for the clandestine in everything. But our meetings were totally upfront and principled."

She questions the soundness and responsibility of Glees's research in using the Stasi files as "evidence". She says Stasi agents would fabricate their reports to keep their superiors happy.

In his book, Glees justifies his faith in the files' accuracy by quoting American scholar Jim McAdams, whom the Stasi tried to recruit. McAdams recollected a Stasi officer saying the files "used proven information to come to the right conclusions".

Glees also says his interviews with the academics supported what he learnt from the files, though some of Glees's "witnesses" turned, like Einhorn, decidedly hostile.

Today Einhorn and Oestreicher maintain that they are proud of the role they played in the Cold War. Oestreicher says: "Dialogue was the only way forward to make sure that war didn't break out. It was the West convincing them that their system was no longer viable. You can't achieve that without years and years of talking." Oestreicher and Einhorn say that Glees fails to grasp this.

Glees replies: "Those who were helped by 'dialogue' or, as I prefer, by collaborating with the East Germans and the Stasi, were the East Germans and the Stasi."

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