BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - As the barbed wire of the Berlin Wall began to rise in 1961, East German secret police realized quickly the West would not go to war over the divided city, entrenching the policy of confrontation and significantly shaping Cold War history.
These revelations are chronicled in documents made public by the office in charge of the archives of the Stasi secret police on the 49th anniversary of the Wall’s construction on Friday.
“The Americans in West Berlin now need to show what their promises are worth,” a Stasi spy wrote on August 13, 1961.
But a day later, the mood in Eastern German intelligence had shifted.
“The Western powers would never risk a war on the grounds of the German Democratic Republic’s actions,” the Stasi quoted a British source as saying on August 14.
Daniela Muenkel, project leader at the Office of the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi records, told Reuters the documents show how the initial anxiety about how the West would react to the Wall’s construction quickly faded.
“These documents don’t re-write the history of the Berlin Wall. But they do show us how the Stasi viewed the Wall’s construction, which until now we knew little about,” said Muenkel, who published excerpts from the archives in Berliner Zeitung newspaper on Friday.
The documents show East German and Soviet intelligence were well-informed about West German politics, giving them a clear advantage in the tense stand-off around Berlin, Muenkel said.
She added that the sense of security felt by the Stasi belied the popular myth that war was imminent in 1961.
“The world wasn’t on the brink of World War III, as is often claimed,” Muenkel wrote in Berliner Zeitung.
The records also show the Stasi was intent on emphasizing its logistical role in the Wall’s construction, in order to secure its own standing within the GDR’s power structure.
Until now, little was known about the Stasi’s view on the Wall’s construction, with most accounts based on sources from the GDR’s governing Socialist Union Party.
Muenkel said that the documents, which will be published in their entirety next year, reveal the Stasi’s central role in shaping the GDR’s policy on the Wall.
“The Stasi reassured the GDR government they could continue with the division of Berlin without fear of reprisal from the Western Allies,” Muenkel said.
Writing by Max Chrambach; editing by Stephen Brown and Paul Casciato