19 December: Erich Mielke

Mielke in 1976, almost 20 years into his tenure as head of Stasi. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R0522-177 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Mielke in 1976, almost 20 years into his tenure as head of Stasi. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R0522-177 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Name: Erich Fritz Emil Mielke

Tagline: Joining the communists at an early age, Erich rose in the hierarchy of the newly formed GDR.

Claim to Fame: Head of the East German secret police (Stasi) throughout most of its existence and one of the fathers of the Berlin Wall.

Erich Mielke was born to working class parents, but received a scholarship to go on to a secondary school. He was thrown out again, but not before he had signed up for the German Communist Party, KPD. They enrolled him in their paramilitary organisation.

As a paramilitary, Mielke took part in something that would haunt him several times throughout his life: together with another guy, he was ordered to assassinate two police captains. The assassination succeeded, but everybody involved was captured and sentenced. Everyone apart from Mielke, that is. He was whisked away to the USSR, where he attended a spy school.

He did a number of things undercover. In the late thirties, he went to Spain as part of the civil war. This is also where he developed one of his particular quirks: he thought the non-soviet Marxists had betrayed them. Since then, he was always on the lookout for traitors.

During the second world war, we lose sight of him. But we know he does something significant, because he comes out of the war highly decorated. After the war, he became the deputy head of Komissariat-5, tasked with tracking down Nazi’s and other anti communists.

In 1947, two former policemen recognised Mielke. They reported it to the head of police in Berlin, and demanded that Mielke be tried for the shootings earlier. To their astonishment, the investigators found that the evidence against Mielke had survived the war. So the public prosecutor ordered the arrest of Mielke.

But the Soviets heard about the action against Mielke through their seat in the Allied Control Commission. They moved quickly to defend him by accusing the prosecutor of having served in a Nazi court, and then confiscated all documents related to the case, handing them all to Mielke.

And this is where Mielke does something sort of perplexing. I mean, he has just narrowly avoided imprisonment for a crime, and how he is holding all the evidence of the case. What do you do? I’ll let you ponder that for a bit.

It seemed the reason the Russians protected him, was that they saw potential in him. In 1948, they appointed him head of security for the German Economic Commission – what would later turn into the GDR government. There he investigated theft and black market sale of state property, as well as intercepting people fleeing to the other zones of Germany.

When the GDR was founded in 1949-1950, Mielke’s former commanding officer from Spain ,Wilhelm Zaisser, was appointed head of the newly formed Ministry of State Security – Stasi. Mielke was appointed as one of his secretaries. But it would appear that Mielke was ambitious, working behind the scenes to replace his boss.

That happened in 1953. Zaisser was removed for not having been tough enough on an uprising – and possibly for being a threat to the wrong people in the party. He was then replaced by Ernst Wollweber, with Mielke as his deputy. But Wollweber also ran afoul of internal politics, and was forced to resign in 1957. Finally bringing Erich Mielke in as head of Stasi.

Mielke was a much more durable head of Stasi. He lasted all the way to November 1989, when he was finally forced to resign in the last days of the GDR. One of the secrets to his longevity might have been a briefcase, hidden in one of his safes, containing incriminating documents against the President of the GDR, Erich Honecker. I have no doubt that similar files existed on many other prominent people in the GDR government, just like they did on many thousands of regular citizens.

In many ways, Mielke was the one who built the Stasi we know. During his tenure, 85,000 people were employed, not to mention 170,000 informants. He oversaw the building of the Wall, imprisonment and torture camps, and much, much more. People would rat out their neighbour, and loads of people were imprisoned for being a threat to the GDR.

They also operated outside of the GDR. Mielke and his people supported Neo-Nazis and old Nazi soldiers in West Germany. Why, you ask? Well, most likely to use their actions to support their casting of the West as Fascist and Nazi-leaning.

Mielke himself seems to have been a curious character. As an example: the building he worked in had a tall entryway. That made it impractical to make an office for Mielke on the first floor. But Mielke though that it was much finer to work on the first floor. And so, he had the Ground Floor renamed as “Basement”, which meant that his office on the Second Floor was on the “First Floor”.

In 1989, Mielke set “Plan X” into motion – a plan under which the Stasi would arrest almost 86,000 people and put them in camps. But when he sent out the orders to the local Stasi offices, they did not obey, fearing public backlash. At the same time, a leadership struggle was happening inside the GDR. Honecker was replaced, but the new president, whom Mielke had backed, lacked public support. A few weeks after that, Mielke, along with much of the government, withdrew.

After the fall of East Germany, there was an attempt to indict Erich Mielke for what had happened during his time in Stasi. But a case was never mounted.

However, as investigators went through the files in the Stasi headquarters, they came upon something curious: Mielke had held on to all the papers linking him to the murder of the two policemen way back when. He was charged and convicted for his part in those murders, and sentenced to 6 years in prison. He only served three, though, getting out because of bad health. He died in 2000, at the age of 92.

How would I use him: Mielke is the prototype of a head of secret police. Ambitious, manipulative, paranoid, choleric. In some stories, he would be the head of our brave heroes, but a lot of the time, he is the enemy, sitting like a spider in his web.

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