EBOOK READ The File A Personal History

The File A Personal HistoryTimothy Garton Ash s The File A Personal History is an exploration of the author s own file that was kept on him by the East German secret police the State Security Service the Stasi Mr Ash lived in East Berlin for a few ears in the late 70s and early 80s ostensibly to finish his PhD thesis on the German Communist resistance to the Nazis Mr Ash a British citizen was getting his doctorate from St Antony s College at Oxford but actually to report as a journalist on the East German dictatorship Therefore Mr Ash was indeed a spy albeit a spy for the media rather than for MI5 or MI6 Upon the reunification of Germany the Stasi s files were largely thrown open to the public A staggering number of people have applied and been granted permission to see their own files Upon reading them they have found unwelcome and sometimes horrible truths wives finding that their own husbands informed on them for the Stasi for example Mr Ash tells the story of delving into his own file and comparing the informers reports with his own memory or indeed with his diary entries from that time or with articles he then published under a pseudonym in West Berlin Mr Ash then tracked down and interviewed most of the informants in his file He uestioned their motives for choosing to become Stasi informers and compared those motives and choices with his own he came close to joining MI6 at one time and he himself chose to clandestinely gather information and report it although not to any secret police or government agency Mr Ash also draws necessary and unsettling parallels between the East German citizenry s acuiescence in and participation in the communist dictatorship and the German people s in the Nazi regime While I was reading this book I was absolutely staggered by one of the numbers Mr Ash uoted 1 in 50 East Germans were informers for the Stasi When I told this to my husband he said Steph don t be such a hypocrite the FBI and the American people are just as bad Now I know in my bones that this is not so and I set out to prove him wrong I submitted a FOIA reuest Freedom of Information Act reuest to the FBI seeking a compilation of the numbers of FBI informants during the ears J Edgar Hoover was the director of the FBI the darkest period in my estimation whether expressed as raw numbers or as a percentage of the American population Hah I thought For one thing there was no such thing as a FOIA reuest in East GermanyWhile I waited for the results of my FOIA reuest I finished the book And Mr Ash explored just that same territory in Britain that I was attempting to explore here in the US that is to compare the workings of the state security service in a democracy with the workings of the Stasi in the East German dictatorship And the results were not altogether heartening I was also astounded to learn that in Britain there is no such thing as a FOIA reuest British citizens cannot reuest to see the files that MI5 or MI6 hold on them Mr Ash learned that MI5 maintained a file on him through interviewing a gentleman at MI5 and by asking the uestion point blank The gentleman in his discretion chose to answer although he could rightfully have chosen to neither confirm nor deny the existence of a file on Mr AshAnd then when I got the results of my FOIA reuest I was further disheartened This is what I got The FOIA does not reuire federal agencies to answer inuiries create records conduct research or draw conclusions concerning ueried data Rather the FOIA reuires agencies to provide access to reasnably described nonexempt records The uestions posed in the referenced letter are not FOIA reuests becasue they do not comply with the FOIA and its regulations Now I know damn well that my reuest was broad enough to describe at least one document that certainly must already exist in the FBI s files there must be at least in the FBI s accounting records line items of the moneys paid out ear by ear to confidential informants and such a document would provide me with the information I sought in addition to other irrelevant for my purposes information If I were litigating and not merely doing a FOIA reuest in order to prove a point in a discussion with my husband I would fight this denial and I would win If I were personally a litigious person I would investigate federal law to confirm whether I could sue and recover "Damages For The FBI S Failure To Comply With FOIA "for the FBI s failure to comply with FOIA the FBI s response to my FOIA reuest is an answer of a different sort by narrowly interpreting my reuest and denying me the existing records I asked for the FBI is undermining the scope and reach of FOIA and on the spectrum ranging from democracy to dictatorship is edging itself further to the right that is closer to the Stasi And one passage from Mr Ash s book has stayed with me The domestic spies in a free country live this professional paradox they infringe our liberties in order to protect them But we have another paradox we support the system by uestioning it I support my free country the United States by uestioning it and by submitting my FOIA reuest I would be a greater supporter and a truer patriot if I were to pursue my FOIA reuest and fight the FBI s denial Not that any of us wants to be watched by secret police but if ou were wouldn t ou want to read the file they keptAfter Germany was reunified the files of the East German Stasi secret police were made available to the file subjects Timothy Garton Ash is a Briton who lived in East Germany as a student and journalist He wasn t a spy but managed to make the Stasi nervous enough to open a fileWhen the records were opened he obtained his Stasi file and compared it to his fairly detailed diary He found that the file was reasonably accurate in reporting his activities But the Stasi s institutional paranoia caused it to misinterpret his motives and intentionsIn the file it s pretty easy to figure out who informed on him the uestion is why He locates and interviews several people who informed on him and some former Stasi staff who were assigned to his fileFor the most part they have the usual lame rationalizations It was my job We were under constant attack by the West I didn t tell them anything important Someone else did the really bad stuff not me No surprises thereMore interesting are the moral dilemmas that Garton "Ash has to face Publicly identifying a former collaborator can turn the informer into an unemployable "has to face Publicly identifying a former collaborator can turn the informer into an unemployable pariah It can destroy family ties and friendships It changes the nature of memories In Garton Ash s case the informers did him little real harm Do they deserve that kind of payback And what if the file is incorrect or is misinterpreted How much investigation is reuired before an accusation is madeThis is what happens when a state encourages its people to violate basic trust This is how difficult it is to clean up the mess Fantastic personal account of what it is like to read our Stasi file Beautifully written and a compelling mix of memoires and history which brought me to tears during then one passage I place a compact disc in the computer s CD drive and click the play button on screen From a loudspeaker somewhere behind the text I have just typed there comes the voice of Dietrich Fischer Dieskau recorded in 1958 at the height of the Cold War singing Schubert s great dark song Can any father hear it and not be movedThrough night and wind the father rides his child in his arms He holds him fast he keeps him warm The voice is strong and firm Then the elf king comes out of the night and woos the child with such beuatiful lines about those bright flowers golden robes and great games about his daughters who will cradle ou and dance with ou and sing to sleep And if The Pleasure Trap you re not willing the voice is suddenly harsh he must then use force Against the music s threatening insistenc. When Timothy Garton Ash graduated from Oxford in 1978 he went to live in Berlin ostensibly to research and write about Nazism But once there he gradually immersed himself in a study of the repressive political culture of East Germany As if to return the favor that culture in the form of the dreaded East German. E the child cries out Oh father father he s seizing me now The father rides for dear life He reaches home at last The voice sinks almost to nothing In his arms the child was dead p 226 227 A terrific read for anyone who likes history especially that of the Cold War and does not mind a different sort of narration of itIn this book Garton Ash examines the file that the Stasi built on him between 1978 and 1989 which he was able to access after the fall of East Germany I loved this book because it is not That s right I tagged this as memoir and thriller It s an unlikely combination but then The File chronicles an unlikely moment in history Not the police state of former East Germany Police states are a dime a dozen Nope the unlikely bit is the moment in the mid 1990s when a newly re unified Germany allowed everyone to apply to see the file that the East German secret police the Stasi kept on them For all that the KGB were designated by Hollywood as the Big Bad in today s television parlance the Stasi kept records kept thorough records and compromised a greater percentage of their country s population Family informed on family neighbors on neighbors husbands and wives on their wives and husbands Everyone got a code name Everyone got a handler Everyone got a file everyone who informed and everyone who was informed upon When I read this for the first time in early 2001 carrying out academic research in Prague The File already felt like an anachronism a peculiar book documenting a particular moment in history Then came 911 Then came the Patriot Act and the War on Terror and a mere 8 months later the book felt like a cautionary tale In The File Timothy Garton Ash documents how he retrieved his own file and methodically interviewed all of the people who had informed on him people he barely knew people he considered confidantes and friends He interviews members of the Stasi a branch of the military as far up the chain of command as he can go and gives them a voice even as he explores his own misgivings Historically speaking from the perspective of the US the Warsaw Pact were the Big Bad But for the Stasi themselves they were protecting their country They were doing what our CIA do ferreting out dangers to the country to the society to their heritage as they saw it He explores the inherent tension between freedom and law enforcement and individual freedom versus national self defense Inevitably the greatest damage done by the police state driven to protect itself is to society and to the relationships between citizens Garton Ash himself betrays the trust of a former girlfriend who did something he never understood On the verge of making love one night she threw back the curtains on the French doors of her apartment and turned the light on She is not listed in his file as an informant but the circumstances have always puzzled him When he asks her about the event she is deeply hurt that he could imagine she would have tried to set him up to be spied upon I don t remember opening the curtain she says butes I turned on the light I wanted to see For Just Cause your face After East Germany granted a few students from non communist countries entry to study in the late 1970s Tim Garton Ash fresh out of Oxford decided to study there Ostensibly he was studying Nazi history but in fact he was fascinated by the closed nature of East German society and its effect on the psyche and daily life After the Wende when the Stasi files were opened he decided to reuest his file track down every informant who reported on him and have an uncomfortable but fascinating conversation with each about what motivated their decision to inform how they felt about him then and how they feel looking back on East Germany a fewears after reunification As ou might expect as a foreigner from a capitalist country his files were comprehensive with multiple denunciations and unsettling instances of casual street surveillance by the Stasi I loved "THE WAY GARTON ASH WRITES ABOUT "way Garton Ash writes about to reconcile his own lack of memories about these to him mundane moments when he was being surveilled with the details in the surveillance reports I also really enjoyed the revealing conversations with the informants whose motives varied from desire to travel abroad to fear of governmental reprisal for being a gay man There are also plenty of moments so absurd they are darkly humorous such as when one informant denounces a waiter who she feels gave her poor service to the Stasi because she feels he is a poor steward of East GermanyOf course Garton Ash had the fortune not to be permanently stuck behind the Berlin Wall I would enjoy reading a similar reckoning with the contents of one s file from an East German citizen s perspective I wish I could read about the life story of Vera Lengsfeld whose file contained the bombshell that her husband of twenty ears was a Stasi informant on her throughout their marriage and may have married and had children with her at the behest of the Stasi I ve never read a book uite like this before a truly extraordinary personal history Garton Ash lived in East Germany in the early 1980s and after the Berlin Wall fell decided to investigate his secret police file While I was vaguely aware that the Stasi files were made available to their subjects this is the first book I ve read to convey what that actually meant in practise Garton Ash compares his recollections with the surveillance records in his file and tracks down all those mentioned in it friends informants and secret police The result is a very powerful account of life in East Germany s surveillance state and the moral compromises made by its citizens Taking a personal ethnographic approach allows Garton "Ash To Convey The "to convey the complexity and depth of emotion involved This book was first published in 1997 and its conclusions are still important today As the 2008 afterword discusses surveillance is now automated by technology and its significance downplayed Every train I take tells me to report anything that doesn t look right without any indication of how I should make that judgement This has become part of the background noise of daily life without consideration of what that means The File forced me to think about these matters and honestly it wasn t very comfortable A friend and I were recently discussing how normal people can participate and be complicit in acts of horrifying evil likely prompted by the images of the concentration camps in America Garton Ash has a great deal of insight to offer here He was researching the Gestapo s files while the Stasi kept a file on himAmidst the ghosts of secret Germany I was searching for the answer to a personal uestion What is it that makes one person a resistance fighter and another the faithful servant of a dictatorship This man a Stauffenberg that a Speer Today after ears of study And After Knowing Personally Many after knowing personally many and many servants of dictatorships I am searching stillThere is no simple answer but the book comes up with much complex insights Garton Ash examines his fascination with the glamour of spying in light of the sordid reality of East Germany s informer armyIn 1988 the last normal ear of the GDR the Ministry of State Security had than 170000 official collaborators The Ministry itself had over 90000 employees of whom less than 5000 were in the HVA foreign intelligence wing Setting the total figure against the adult population in the same The Reckless Oath We Made year this means that about one out of every fifty adult East Germans had a direct connection to the secret police Allow just one dependent per person andou re up to one in twenty fiveThe Nazis had nothing like as manyGarton Ash discovered from his file that five informers had reported on him and tracked each down to ask them about it Their reactions are revealin. Secret police the Stasi secretly began studying him As was Stasi's practice over the ears its study produced a considerable paper trail After the fall of the East German communist regime a government apparatus was established to allow those targeted to see their Stasi files and Garton Ash discovered and pored. ,
G and alarming The woman codenamed Michaela was thrown into confusionShe is buffeted by conflicting thoughts and emotions One moment she says Really it s good that ou ve shown me this The next Ah well perhaps I can sue Teeth in the Mist you and I ll win a lot of money No no sorry that was only a joke But perhaps there is some protection We repressed so much Why didn t I apply to see my file Because I didn t want to know what was in it and about my husband Who knows what else there is I think this was the only time I reported so extensively on private matters I thought it was dienstlich official but Well I hope ifou do write ou ll try to explain the subjective as well as the objective conditions How it was then But probably that s impossible Even I can t really remember now Garton Ash was left unsettled by all these meetings as well he might be It s very difficult to establish the direct harm caused by informers like Michaela as most of their material was petty seemingly harmless detail Yet in combination reports like hers were used to justify exile prison even death sentences In return the informers gained little privileges like freedom to travel Informers weren t necessarily volunteers however Another of those he traced only to find he d died was blackmailed by the Stasi into informing after being denounced for hitting on a male student A third a British communist married to a German woman and living in East Germany told Garton Ash he d been threatened by the Stasi into informing His self justifications are striking He thought of the Stasi as a channel of communication with the state In a small way he says he was trying to get a political message to the top The trouble with a communist state like East Germany was that it had no civil society framework He was making up for that lackSubseuently interactions with Garton Ash suggested he d abstracted his informing in order to elide his personal responsibility for it The ambivalence and rationalisations of the informers aren t entirely different to those of the Stasi officers Garton Ash also traced although the latter discussions are chilling After interviewing Kurt Zeisweis deputy head of the Stasi in BerlinWhen he has left Werner and I look at each other shake our heads and start uietly laughing Otherwise we would have to cry Here in that chair sat before us a perfect textbook example of a petty bureaucratic executor of evil A good family man Proud of his correctness loyalty hard work decency all those secondary virtues which have been identified as key to collaboration with Nazism and which the Prussian Association now hopes to revive He is incapable of acknowledging to this day the systemic wrong of which he was a loyal servant et filled with remorse for having stolen a couple of Matchbox carsIt wasn t uite as simple as that for several of the junior Stasi officers but the same theme predominated And once the regime had fallenSo everyone I talk to has someone else to blame Those who worked for the state say it was not us it was the Party Those who worked for the Party say it was not us it was the Stasi Come to the Stasi and those who worked for foreign intelligence say it was not us it was the others Talk to them and they say it was not our department it was XX Talk to Herr Zeisweis from department XX and he says but it wasn t me When the communists seized power in central Europe they talked of using salami tactics to cut away the democratic opposition slice by slice Here after communism we have the salami tactics of denialI m uoting a great deal because I found Garton Ash s writing so compelling and powerful He points out that East Germany is in a uniue position with the horrors of two very different regimes to reckon with one of which is now passing out of living memoryOnly the new Germany has done it all Germany has had trials and purges and truth commissions and has systematically opened the secret police files to each and every individual who wants to know what was done to him or her or what he or she did to others This is uniue Apart from anything else what other post communist country would have the money to do it The Gauch Authority s budget for 1996 was DM234 million about 100 millionIt must be right that the Germans and not just the Germans should really understand how in the second half of the twentieth century there was again built on German soil a totalitarian police state less brutal than the Third Reich to be sure far less damaging to its neighbours and not genocidal but uietly pervasive in its domestic control How this state exploited the very same mental habits social disciplines and cultural appeals on which Nazism had drawnAlthough Garton Ash editorialises in the first person in places his approach reminded me of Svetlana Alexievich uoting people s reflections on what they did in the past which collectively prove both moving and revealing This kind of personal narrative history seems very fitting for the historical topic of personal surveillance I wonder what kind of memoirs will be written in the future on how electronic surveillance has damaged lives under repressive regimes The technology might have changed but I don t think the psychological impacts are so very differentBut I can understand each of the informers on my file and the officers too psychological impacts are so very differentBut I can understand each of the informers on my file and the officers too Kratsch For when they tell their stories Garfield Swallows His Pride you can see so clearly how they came to do what they did in a different time a different place a different worldWhatou find here in the files is how deeply our conduct is influenced by our circumstances How large of all that human hearts can endure that part which laws or kings can cause or cure What ou find is less malice than human weakness a vast

anthology of human 
of human And when ou talk to those involved what ou find is less deliberate dishonesty than our almost infinite capacity for self deceptionIf only I had met on this search a single clearly evil person But they were all just weak shaped by circumstance self deceiving human all too human Yet the sum of their actions was a great evilGarton Ash states firmly that only the victims of the Stasi have the right to forgive or not Rather than wondering what we might have done had we been born into totalitarian regimes of the past it seems better to "consider what we re doing today We can judge the past with "what we re doing today We can judge the past with detachment but should not forget that the future will judge us too 35 I read some of Timothy Garton Ash s analysis of postwar Germany many many ears ago as an undergraduate and was intrigued recently to come across his now over twenty Telling Teddy (Dear Teddy: A Journal Of A Boy year old memoir Its focus is narrow as aoung man in the late 70searly 80s he spent time doing research and writing in East Germany After the Berlin Wall came down Garton Ash learned that he like so many East Germans was the subject of a Stasi file and that a number of people with whom he interacted were informers for the East German secret service He applies to see his file matches up what appears in it with his patchy memories and his diaries visits his informers and the Stasi officers involved in his surveillance and thinks about the socio historical and moral implications of the whole thingI found the author s visits to informers and officers and his thoughts about the big picture very interesting And it s uite amazing the extent to which the reunified Germany opened up t A dull account of tedious snitching during a pivotal time in history I expected 35 stars A very interesting uick reading little book Timothy Garton Ash seems like he might be a little insufferable in real life but he s tolerable enough in 200 odd pages that it didn t get on my nerves enough to wreck the book And it s a fascinating little history Highly recommend if Everwar you re at all interested in the Stasi andor Cold War intelligencesurveillance. Over his He then set about to interview the people who made this gross intrusion possible the several case officers and the numerous regular citizen informers The result is nothing short of a journey into the darkest recesses of the totalitarian mind taking its place honorably alongside 1984 and Darkness at Noo.

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