Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spy fired shot that changed Germany

This photograph of Benno Ohnesorg being cradled by a woman after he was shot during a demonstration in West Berlin in 1967 is among the most iconic images in Germany

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.

If there is one country in Europe that is enigmatic, Germany is it.

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.

I beg to differ; perhaps if the shooter had been a Confederate agent, were America two countries, each half of one. KGB was a Soviet agency. Still, even if overstated, a point is made.

For the left, Mr. Kurras’s true allegiance strikes at the underpinnings of the 1968 protest movement in Germany. The killing provided the clear-cut rationale for the movement’s opposition to what its members saw as a violent, unjust state, when in fact the supposed fascist villain of leftist lore was himself a committed socialist.

Again, I differ: Kurras was a committed communist, loyal to a totalitarian regime.

The East German Communist Party membership card of Karl-Heinz Kurras, a former West Berlin police officer who also acted as a Stasi spy for East Germany.

The most insidious question raised by the revelation is whether Mr. Kurras might have been acting not only as a spy, but also as an agent provocateur, trying to destabilize West Germany.

The historians who unearthed the 17 volumes of files that revealed Mr. Kurras’s double life say there is no evidence to support the theory that the Stasi was behind the killing. Berlin officials have resisted public calls from victims’ groups and others to retry Mr. Kurras. He was acquitted in 1967, the year of the shooting, of manslaughter charges and was later allowed to rejoin the police force after the verdict was upheld.

In an interview with the Bild, Mr. Kurras, 81, confirmed that he had been in the East German Communist Party. “Should I be ashamed of that or something?” Mr. Kurras was quoted as saying. As for the Stasi, he said, “And what if I did work for them? What does it matter? It doesn’t change anything,” the paper reported.


Mr. Kurras does not deny that he shot the demonstrator, Benno Ohnesorg, in the back of the head, but has said the shooting was an accident. He denied records showing he had been paid by the security service, and said the agents who had put those details in his file must have been lining their own pockets.

He was a Stasi agent, working as a West German cop, and he claims he did nothing wrong. Must've been somebody else.

Mr. Kurras was born in East Prussia and volunteered for military service in 1944 when he was 16 years old. He was imprisoned not long after the war by the Soviets at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp for three years. He was known to be an enthusiastic gun collector and an excellent marksman.

In a concentration camp until 1947, two years after the War ended.

Mr. Ohnesorg’s death had a powerful mobilizing effect. The photograph of a woman cradling his head as he lay on the ground is among the most iconic images in Germany. Average students who might never have joined the 1968 protest movement were moved to action. And on a darker note it became the chief justification for violent action by terrorist groups like the Red Army Faction and the Second of June Movement, which even took its name from the day of Mr. Ohnesorg’s killing.

Ironic? The radicals wanted to bring down what they called the fascist state (never mind the absurdity of calling it such after the Nazis), yet it was a communist agent that pulled the trigger, accidentally ahem).

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