Eastern German News

Newsletter of the Eastern German Studies Group
#16 (October 1994)

The Importance of the GDR Archives

Joseph E. Naftzinger

This essay elaborates on the following propositions:
1) The archives of the former SED Party and GDR State Government are uniquely important to a wide range of scholarship and research that is highly relevant to many contentious issues in today's academic and political dialogue. They are absolutely essential to establishing an objective evaluation of the politics and society in the former GDR.
2) Currently access to the information in the files is tedious and based largely on educated guesses as to what information is in which files.
3) A program designed to improve such access would maximize the value of the archives, and represent an altruistic contribution to scholarship of major proportions.
4) As first priority, such a program should develop a subject index to the files and use scanning technology to transfer the information into a data based that is accessible by computer. Such a data base would facilitate creation of the index itself, and increase the ease and efficiency of access procedures as well.

The Importance of the Archives

The party and state archives are immense and provide an unprecedented opportunity for a wide range of scholarship and research, relevant not only to academic pursuits but to current political issues as well. Their importance in this regard cannot be underestimated.

The documentation in these archives was produced with the complete confidence that access to it would remain tightly restricted and controlled by senior party and government officials. Now most of that documentation is accessible to researchers. The sudden demise of both the SED party and GDR Government has worked to ensure the integrity of the archives.

Collectively, these archives form a detailed, authentic, intact, unbroken record of all aspects of the political life of the former SED and GDR. They contain massive amounts of unique information pertinent to international relationships from 1946 through 1989, especially those associated with the "Cold War" East-West struggle in general, and the GDR's role in it in particular. They are laced throughout with biographic details of countless SED Party and GDR Government officials, other GDR citizens, as well as personalities from other countries.

Even by themselves, the Protocols of the Politburo are extraordinarily valuable. They record, in consistent detail, the proceedings of the regular weekly and extraordinary meetings. They identify the members present, the agenda topics addressed, and who briefed or introduced each topic. They record each decision, who was charged with the responsibility to execute it, and the time frame for completion. Often, annexes to the protocols provide in-depth background information of the issue under consideration and the rational for the decision.

A small sampling of the Politburo meeting protocols indicates that the topics addressed ranged from the most fundamental national and international issues to apparently minor administrative details. For example, the meeting on 27.9.60 addressed 18 items, including: "Grundsätze der Planung der Marktproduktion 1961;" "Aufgaben, Struktur und Zusammensetzung der Kommission für gesamtdeutsche Arbeit;" "Fragen der Kontrolle in der Hauptstadt der DDR, Berlin;" "Bildung einer Arbeitsgruppe `Kampf gegen den Kolonialismus';" and "Beförderung des Genossen Oberst der Volkspolizei, Claus Mansfeld."

The protocols of the Politburo meetings are just the tip of the iceberg, however. The files of the Central Committee Secretariat and government Ministries, as well as the various state committees and agencies, contain a virtually endless supply of official documents, memoranda for the record, various studies and surveys, personal correspondence, informal notes, etc.

The information in these archives is not only important in its own right, however. It provides an essential yard stick against which the personal recollections of party and government officials and other elites of the former GDR can be compared and evaluated. For a number of reasons, many scholars, at least in the United States, are drawing heavily on written and oral opinion and recollection from such sources.

Such human recollections are, of course, essential to the development of a full picture of life and politics in the GDR. Recollections are also particularly sensitive to the vagaries of time and personality, however, and the value of the resultant information depends in large extent on a determination of the accuracy and objectivity of the source.

Evidence from the archives, while supporting the general notion that policy-making was the province of the most senior SED leaders, contrasts sharply with the summary of the oral interviews in Stanford's Oral History Project (discussed in the previous issue of this newsletter). The Politburo protocols show that that body probably discussed most, if not all, "issues of substance." The documents in the Central Committee Secretariat leave little doubt that the Party Secretaries, and probably their assistants as well, were generally well informed and aware of much "politically significant information."

Access to the Archives is Tedious and Inefficient

While exploitation of the archives is essential to scholarship and a full and objective understanding of the GDR polity, under current conditions, it is a pains-taking, difficult, and hit-or-miss affair. Both the SED Party archives (in Berlin) and the GDR State archives (in Potsdam) reflect models from the 1950's.

Space is restricted. Virtually all documentation must be reviewed in the original. Photo-copying provisions are severely limited (the normal wait from request to receipt of the copies is two to three months). There is no computer equipment, all processes must be accomplished by hand. [Editorial note, special circumstances may speed the process up, and users may bring laptops.]

The most significant detraction to exploitation is the lack of a subject index to the files. Existing indices are generally arranged chronologically by organization, office or activity, and a researcher can make only a more, or less, educated guess at which files would be relevant to a particular topic. Thus for example, unless tipped off from the research by others, there would be no way of knowing in advance that the Politburo considered the issue of "Handel zwischen der DDR und Westdeutschland" at its 31 January 1967 meeting, or that a 11.7.61 note in the files of the Secretariat's Agitation Office details Ulbricht's severe personal criticism of Schnitzler and the Schwarze Kanal.

A Program to Facilitate Access Would Produce Great Dividends

In light of the above, the German Government should devote significant resources to facilitate scholarly exploitation of these archives. In fact, there probably is currently no greater contribution that a national government can make to advance scholarship in general.

Further, it is clear that these resources would have the greatest impact if they were used to facilitate general access to the archives by all researchers, instead of commissioning specific research projects. Given the breath and depth of the information contained in the archives, providing quick easy access to them is the best way to maximize their potential contribution to current scholarly and political discourse. There is no end to the topics that might be of interest and relevant in this regard, and individual initiative and ideas, if facilitated by easy access to the information, will produce the most comprehensive results in the long run.

In this regard, the single most important step is to develop a subject index and enter the information into a computerized data base. Today's technology, in particular, computerized data scanning, would greatly facilitate such an effort.

For example, the Politburo meeting protocols could be scanned into a data base, which could then be searched with key words to produce a detailed index. The index could be widely disseminated in hard copy to interested researchers and the data base itself could be readily accessed in house by the researchers themselves.

Such a capability would facilitate full retrieval of all information on a particular topic from the many different files. It would greatly reduce the need for clerical support personnel who currently must retrieve and replace each requested file by hand. Finally, accessing the information by computer would have the added benefit of protecting the original documents from pilferage and wear and tear. [Editorial note: Dr. Naftzinger's essay is based on his experiences while conducting dissertation research at various Eastern German archives.]

Stasi Files Available

Henry Krisch reports that the files of the Ministry of State Security of the former GDR--178 kilometers of shelf space--are under the jurisdiction of the "German Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the Former German Democratic Republic." The location is Molkenmarkt 1-3. Berlin.

Qualified scholars may, upon application, use these files. According to a paper delivered at the August 1994 IPSA Congress by Dr. Siegfried Suckut, about 500 scholars have already done so, with another 400 are now at work, and 300 applications pending. The most popular fields so far include the Churches and the Stasi, the Stasi and citizens' movements, and the Stasi and the cultural scene. Interested researchers should apply to:
Herrn Dr. Siegfried Suckut
Abteilung Bildung und Forschung
Der Bundesbeauftragte für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republic
PF 218
10106 Berlin

Email List Established

Enough members expressed interest in an email list to make the idea worth a try. I've established a list of email addresses, and can pass along timely information or announcements. Send me what you'd like passed on. The printed version of the newsletter will include any material previously distributed over the net, for those not connected.

Recent Publications

This section depends on help from the newsletter's readers. If you publish something relevant, or come across an interesting publication, send me the details.

Bericht der Enquete-Kommission "Aufarbeitung von Geschichte und Folgen der SED Diktatur in Deutschland." Drucksache 12/7820 (31.5.94) available from the Referat Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, Deutscher Bundestag.
Berentsen, William. "Implications of German Unification for Regional Development in the former GDR," in Robert J. Bennett, ed., Developments in Decentralization to Local Governments and Markets: Experiences of OECD, Former Socialist, and Developing Countries. UN University Press, 1993.
Friedheim, Daniel V. "Regime Collapse in the Peaceful East German Revolution," German Politics, 2 (April 1993).
Goeckel, Robert F. "The GDR Legacy and the German Protestant Church," German Politics and Society, 31 (Spring 1994), pp. 84- 108.
Schirdewan, Karl. Aufstand gegen Ulbricht. Im Kampf um Kurskorrektur, gegen stalinitische, dogmatische Politik. Berlin: Aufbau Taschenbuch Verlag, 1994.
Torpey, John. "Coming to Terms with the German Past," German Politics, 2 (Dec. 1993).
Welsh, Helga A. "Political Transition Processes in Central and Eastern Europe," Comparative Politics, 26 (July 1994), 379-394.

Recent Dissertation

Naftzinger, Joseph. "Policy-Making in the German Democratic Republic: The Response to West German Trans-Border Television Broadcasting," Maryland, 1994.

Informationszentrum Sozialwissenschaften

The Informationszentrum Sozialwissenschaften (IZ) documents the social sciences of the GDR, the new German states, Eastern Europe, and all German research on these regions. They offer information about institutions, publications, research projects, conferences, etc., in the new states of Germany and Eastern Europe. They generally request a small fee for individual information requests.

The IZ puts out a newsletter, Sozialwissenschaften in Osteuropa. In cooperation with the Mannheimer Zentrum für Europaische Sozialforschung, they recently published Sozialwissenschaften im Neuen Osteuropa (Institutionen und Projekte) 1992/1993. This publication gives details about sixty social science institutions and 176 research projects. The cost of the volume (300 pages) is DM. 36. The address:
Informationszentrum Sozialwissenschaften
Schiffbauerdamm 19
10117 Berlin
tel.: (30) 30 874 246
fax: (30) 282 3692

Grants Available

The EGSG has a small number of $200 grants available for travel and research. Applicants may be North American EGSG members going to Eastern Germany or to research sites in this hemisphere, or Eastern Germans on scholarly trips to North America. Preference will be given to graduate students, then recent Ph.D.s. Those interested should send six copies of a brief proposal to Henry Krisch. Applications will be considered as they arrive until 31 May 1995, at which point we will see if we have any money left and consider what to do next.

The American Institute for Contemporary German Studies offers a fellowship on "The Dismantling of East German Cultural Policy: Context and Consequences." This an in-residence fellowship with the AICGS in Washington, with a four-month stipend of $10,000 for postdocs, with a supplement for a more senior scholar. The Fellow will be actively in in the planning of the one-day workshop at the Institute with other scholars in the field.
Applications are open to cultural studies specialists, particularly in the fields of German literature, sociology and history, or from other humanities disciplines. Applications should contain the following: a two-page research proposal outlining conceptual and methodological strategies; a short review of previous work on the topic as well as the applicant's own contribution; two letters of reference in sealed, signed envelopes form scholars in the field; and a curriculum vitae, including list of publications. The deadline for applications is 15 December 1995. Apply to:
Dr. Lily Gardner Feldman
Research Director, AICGS
Suite 350
11 Dupont Circle NW
Washington, DC 20036-1207.

The AICGS, with a grant from the Volkswagen-Stiftung, the German Historical Institute in Washington also offers three one-year resident research fellowships for the 1995-96 academic year at the junior level (about $25,000) and the advanced level (about $30,000). Historians and political scientists specializing in post-World War II German history and German-American relations, particularly the period 1945-1955, are eligible. Ph.D. required. The program welcomes applicants from Eastern Germany and applications dealing with GDR history.

Successful applicants are expected to conduct their research using archival resources of the Washington area, and to give introductory and concluding seminars at the institutes. Residency should begin no later than October 1, 1995.
Applications, which must be written in English, should contain the following: a curriculum vitae, including a list of publications; a project proposal of no more than 10 pages, including a statement of purpose, hypotheses, methodology, resources to be used in Washington, and relationship to prior research; three letters of recommendation, in sealed envelopes accompanying the application; and information concerning annual salary, sabbatical leave, or other research support.
Applications should be received no later than January 1, 1995 at the address above. Fellowships will be awarded about March 15, 1995.

Grant Received

Dr. Ann Phillips of The American University's School of International Service received a 1994-95 grant from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation to research German policy in Central Europe. She is examining the links between German political parties and party-affiliated foundations in Central Europe. Previous research has concentrated on economic links; political aspects have been neglected despite the intersection of political and economic interests.

EGSG Executive Committee Meets

Those members of the EGSG Executive Committee attending the AAASS meeting should plan to meet on Saturday, 19 November, at 10:15 a,m, in the Wyndam Franklin Plaza Hotel. Contact Henry Krisch for more details.

German Politics and Society

German Politics & Society publishes articles on issues of interest to EGSG members. Recent articles titles include: "Party Democracy in the New German Polity," "The Legitimation of German Unification between Nationalism and Democratic Principles," and "Metamorpheses of Censorship in Modern Germany." Subscriptions are $21 for those in the U.S., $27 for others. They take MC or VISA, or checks made out to UC Regents. To subscribe, call (510) 642-4065, or fax (510) 643-7062.

Upcoming Conferences

The 1995 AAASS meeting will run 26-29 October in Washington, D.C. The EGSG is entitled to one affiliate-sponsored panel. The deadline for panel submissions is 1 January 1995. Please send Harry Krisch your paper or panel proposal as soon as possible and he will pass it along to the AAASS program chair.

The EGSG is contemplating our next general conference, probably in 1996. Henry Krisch reports that attempts to establish connections that would allow the holding of the conference in Eastern Germany are not going well. Besides, it might be difficult for younger scholars to travel to Germany. Those with ideas (or facilities) should contact Henry Krisch.

The German Studies Association will hold its nineteenth annual conference in Chicago, Illinois, 21-24 September1995. The deadline for proposals is 25 February 1995. Proposals for entire sessions and for interdisciplinary presenations are encouraged. For application materials and information contact: Helga A. Welsh, Dept. of Politics, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC 27109-7568.

21st Conway Symposium

The 21st New Hampshire Symposium will be held from 21-28 June 1995. The theme: "Who's `We?' The Identity Dispute in the New German States Five Years After Unification." EGSG members are likely to be familiar with the symposium. Should you need more information, contact W. Christoph Smauch, World Fellowship Center, Conway, NH 03818.

Joining EGSG

If you received this newsletter, you're probably a member. Those not now on the mailing list may repair that disadvantage by sending $10 ($5 for students) to the treasurer, Robert Goeckel, whose address is on the next page. He would appreciate memberships be paid yearly, as his bookkeeping is otherwise complicated.

EGSG Officers for 1992-95


Henry Krisch
Dept. of Political Science
University of Connecticutt
341 Mansfield Road
Storrs, CT 06269-102
Phone: (203) 486-5334
Fax: (203) 486-3347
Email: henryk@uconnvm.uconn.edu


Thomas A. Baylis
505 Westlake Ave.
Austin, TX 78746


Robert F. Goeckel
Dept. of Political Science
SUNY at Geneseo
Geneseo, NY 14454-1401
Email: Goeckel@uno.cc.geneseo.edu


Randall Bytwerk
CAS Department
Calvin College
3201 Burton SE
Grand Rapids, MI 4954
Phone: (616) 957-6286
Fax: (616) 957-6601

Members- at-Large:

Irwin Collier
Institut für öffentliche Finanzen und Sozialpolitik
Freie Universität Berlin
Boltzmannstr. 20
14195 Berlin

Joyce Marie Mushaben
3652 Pine Creek
Williamsburg, OH 45176

[This document was last edited by Randall Bytwerk on 15 December 1994] n