Society

Wrong Side Of The Wall - My Dad Was A Stasi Spy

Out of the Cold War archives, a chilling family tale from a divided Germany.

The Hohenschönhausen Prison Complex
Tonia Mastrobuoni

It was icy cold on Jan. 22 1979, but for five long years Thomas Raufeisen looked back on that day with a warm nostalgia. He was 16 and had just returned from school to discover that his father hadn’t gone to work. “Your grandfather is ill,” his mother explained to him, “We have to go and visit him.”

That afternoon the Raufeisen family left Hannover and headed toward the Baltic Sea, on the other side of Germany. In order to get the permits to go to Usedom – the island in the Baltic Sea where his grandfather lived as a recluse – like millions of other Germans on the wrong side of the wall, they would have to go to Berlin first. But for Thomas, his brother Michael and their parents, the stopover in Berlin would turn out to be the beginning of a tragic nightmare.

After a series of strange circumstances, among which his father's meeting with three men at a petrol station that would procure them an apartment for the night, Thomas went to sleep with a sense of foreboding -- that the following day would turn into a nightmare. And, it did.

Armin Raufeisen called his sons into a room together the next day with a man, who would later prove to be an agent for the Stasi, the dreaded East German secret police. “My father,” recalls Thomas, “explained to us that Granddad wasn’t actually sick, that we were fleeing from Hannover because he would have been arrested.

"‘I’m a Stasi agent,’ he told us,” Raufeisen recalled.

A few days earlier an intelligence officer had fled from East Germany with a list of spies infiltrated in West Germany, which included Armin Raufeisen. “He told us that we didn’t have to worry, that we could go home after a week. At that point, however, the Stasi man interrupted him briskly: ‘forget about going back to West Germany and seeing Hannover ever again, you fled from there and they’re looking for you to arrest you. Get used to the idea that you will be staying here, in the East. Forever.”

Thomas, who told his story in his book Der Tag, an dem uns Vater erzählte, dass er ein DDR-Spion sei. Eine deutsche Tragödie (The Day Our Dad Revealed He was Stasi Spy) felt his world collapse around him. “I cried desperately. My brother was 18 and had a girlfriend in Hannover. He began to scream like a madman, running outside, threatening to throw himself under the tram. My mother stopped him.”

The first shock that "destroyed in one stroke the trust and respect I had for my father” was the discovery that the seemingly mild man who showed tepid sympathies for politics and that every morning went to the PreussenElectra factory where he was a geophysicist, was leading a double life. That he was a spy for a secret service that in West Germany evoked only terrifying legends. That he was a fervent communist who in the 1950s stole from his tech company to turn them over to the totalitarian regime of Ulbricht and Honecker.

“He called himself an ambassador of peace. For me, the fact that he was a spy for the Stasi was not adventurous at all. I hated it.”

The second shock was “the theft my life. We knew the sadness of grey Eastern Germany. We had relatives there and we were so happy to be living in the West. My father had also brought us to Italy, to see Mount Vesuvius and the Etna, I really loved my life.”

“You’d have to be stupid to come voluntarily”

After six months, the family to an apartment in the center of Berlin. The first few weeks of school were a nightmare – Thomas didn’t trust anyone. But, more than anything, knowing that his family had come from Western Germany, “the others didn’t trust us, it all just stank of Stasi. I mean, you’d have to be stupid to come voluntarily to East Germany.”

After a few weeks, Thomas’ father realized the mistake he had made, as well as the hell he had inflicted on his family. Michael, who was no longer a minor, was allowed to return back to Hannover. “But the rest of us were forced to stay. My father finally realized that Eastern Germany was a totalitarian regime,” remembers Thomas, not without a trace of bitterness.

Armin Raufeisen began to organize their return to West. In the beginning they tried through legal ways but to no avail. Then, he began to think about escaping. At that time, at the beginning of the 1980s, the Raufeisen family became the pioneers of a route that soon became well known – they sought refuge in the Western German embassy in Hungary and asked for passports to cross the Iron Curtain. The first attempt failed, the Raufeisens returned to Berlin but began soon again to think of new ways to leave the East.

One day, Armin directly approached an American soldier to offer his services to the CIA. “He knew he was experienced in his field,” said Michael ironically, “but the American, unfortunately, didn’t seem at all interested.” The family, at that time, were watched day and night by the Stasi, who waited for us to put a foot wrong, which didn’t take long to happen. One day, when they were organizing a new attempt to flee to Hungary, there was a knock on the door. There were Stasi agents with a warrant to arrest the whole family. It was the beginning of a second ordeal, worse than the first and that would cost their father his life.

“In 1981 we were arrested “for clarification” and taken to Hohenschönhausen, the Stasi prison. I was 18, isolated, I saw my parents four times that year. The officer who questioned me on the first night said that I should speak: “We have all the time in the world.”

My blood froze – I knew I could end up spending my whole life in that prison. After hours of screaming, intimidation, flattery and threats, I confessed that I wanted to leave the country, admitting my ‘guilt’ – if you can call it that.”

Thomas thought that it would end there but, instead, they left him there for a whole year. Then, there was the family trial. He was sentenced to three years, his mother to seven and his father given life imprisonment. Armin Raufeisen died under mysterious circumstances in 1987.

Thomas was expelled from Eastern Germany in 1984. Today, he has no enemies, he says, and has forgiven his father. He despises those who mourn that regime, or worse those “who are willing to give up a shred of their Western freedom for a bit more social security. A criminal thought.”

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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