University of Waterloo
E-Mail: jl3mckay [at] uwaterloo.ca
Conflict, Repression and Creating a Dictatorship in 1950s East Germany
During the early hours of 13 August 1961, the East German government erected a guarded concrete barrier which physically cut off the East German population from West Berlin.
The Berlin Wall has come to symbolize the ideological and physical division between the East and West during the Cold War. The “Iron Curtain,” in both its literal and figurative interpretations, was but one instrument of the repressive apparatus used by the German
Democratic Republic (GDR) in its attempt to control the population. Nearly as infamous as the Wall, the Stasi (East German Secret Police) was one of the most repressive security agencies in history. Next to the Socialist Unity Party (SED), the Stasi was the most powerful organization in the GDR and it kept a close watch over other power structures such as the National People’s Army, the People’s Police, and even branches of the Party itself.
During the 1950s, when these power structures were being built from the ground up, the SED faced the task of deciding who could be allowed into the lower levels of these organizations. This was a complicated process as large segments of the population had been
former members of the Nazi Party, whose fascist ideology was in direct opposition to the anti-fascist sentiment espoused by the East German state. One aspect unique to the Stasi in comparison to these other organizations was that it maintained a strict anti-fascist policy when it came to who could be admitted into its ranks. In contrast, lower branches of the SED comprised close to a third of its lower level administration of former Nazi Party members while both the army and police were known for having more lenient recruitment policies.
My dissertation project, “Conflict, Repression and Creating a Dictatorship in 1950s East Germany,” will contribute to our understanding of the grass roots construction of socialism, denazification, and the limits of Communist ideology. First, my project will provide a more
thorough examination of the denazification process toward those former Nazi Party members who were not skilled technicians, doctors, or teachers but who were admitted into the lower ranks of Communist organizations and the process of evaluation they were subjected to. From industrial factories to cultural clubs during the 1950s, nearly all East Germans underwent some form of screening that required them to address their pre-1945 pasts. Second, I will determine what factors were considered in the decision-making process of who could be admitted into each organization. Since the Stasi was adamantly anti-fascist, what was the relationship between the Stasi and the more lenient SED when it came to monitoring these various organizations? Third, I
will examine the occupational trajectory of those admitted into these power structures and how far one could advance professionally. Were former Nazi Party members able to move to more prominent positions by the later 1950s? Such questions will provide us with a more thorough understanding of both the top-down decision making process as well as a grass-roots perspective of how “regular” citizens made the transition from Nazism to Communism during East Germany’s reconstruction years.
Während ihres Aufenthalts als Gastwissenschaftlerin am ZZF forscht Jennifer McKay zu ihrem Promotionsprojekt in Abteilung I "Kommunismus und Gesellschaft".