105. In Search of My Stasi-File (1)

With German reunification on October 3, 1990, a new government agency was founded, Der Bundesbeauftragte für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (The Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic). It was informally called the Gauck-Behörde (Gauck Agency) for short, after Joachim Gauck who served as the first Federal Commissioner from 1990 to 2000. The agency commonly refers to itself and is also known as the Stasi-Unterlagen-Behörde (Stasi Records Agency).

This office was responsible for preserving the records of the Ministry for State Security of the GDR, including files the secret police had compiled on individuals and stored in archives. There was a debate about what should happen to the files, whether they should be opened to the people or kept closed. The fate of the files was finally decided under the Unification Treaty between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, which allowed access to and use of the files under certain circumstances. Along with the decision to keep the files in a central location in the eastern part of Berlin, they also decided who could see and use the files, and to permit individuals to see their own files. Following a declassification ruling by the German government in 1992, the files of the Ministry for State Security of the GDR were opened, leading people to seek access to their files. Between 1992 and 2011, around 2.75 million individuals, mostly former GDR citizens, requested access to their own files. The declassification ruling also gave people the right to acquire copies of their documents.

In March 1993, I decided to join the ranks of those seeking access to their Stasi-files and sent the Gauck Agency a letter expressing my desire to see any documents they might have related to my person. The letter described in detail my scholarly work on GDR literature, my professional and private contacts with prominent GDR authors, some of whom I had hosted as guest writers in residence at Oberlin College. It provided a list of my publications and editorial work on various aspects of GDR literature. I also mentioned my many trips to the GDR and stays there, as well as my contact with the Writers’ Union and the Humboldt University. Finally, I inquired about the possible existence of a Stasi-file containing information on me and, if one did exist, how to go about gaining access to that file.

In April I received a response to my inquiry, indicating that I needed to submit two items to the Agency: a file inspection application on a special form and a proof of identity certificate. I dutifully completed the uncomplicated application form, dated it April 20, 1993, and returned it to the Agency along with a photocopy of my passport. In early May, I received a letter acknowledging receipt of the documents I had submitted and assigning a registry number for my application. The letter concluded with a vague and somewhat discouraging message indicating that, due to the large number of inquiries the Agency was receiving every day, the processing of my application would take some time. It also asked me to refrain from making inquiries in writing or by telephone. I did not expect that the processing of my application would take several years, but that is in fact what happened.

In June I received another letter from the Gauck Agency, this time requesting a notarized proof-of-identity certificate. I was told that the search for documents containing information on my person could not be initiated until that certificate was on hand. According to my records, I sent a notarized photocopy of my passport to the Agency on August 9, 1993, and after that I received no more communications from them.