Saturday, October 12, 2019
From Clara Pepper
Political prisoners were often interrogated for months by the Stasi and psychologically tortured.
(Photo: Clara Pfeffer)
In GDR times no ordinary citizen was allowed to enter the huge restricted area in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen. And even though the remand center is a memorial today, not all secrets are revealed.
Michael Bradler pauses in front of door # 119: That was his cell. And number 119 was his name. All inmates of the Stasi Prison were only addressed with their number. The detainees were not supposed to know who was still in prison – they could have known each other – and they were deliberately depersonalized. Only one of the many psychological methods used to torture the prisoners of the GDR dictatorship. Michael Bradler, born in Berlin in 1961, was arrested in 1982 as a political offender. (Photo: Clara Pfeffer) The fact that Bradler experienced all this himself is barely noticeable to him. The visitors, whom he regularly leads through the Hohenschönhausen memorial site today, still hear him in awe: his story is so exciting that it does not need any emotional staging. It is 1982 and Michael Bradler has little time left to leave the GDR , He should be drafted for military service in the National People's Army. Then the GDR regime would not let him go, "one was then carriers of secret military information," explains Bradler. He has already submitted seven unsuccessful applications for leave at this time. He is young, healthy and well educated. The country can not afford to let such citizens go. In addition, Bradler is even privileged in the GDR. His father is Deputy Director at the Ministry of Science and Technology and a staunch supporter of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). His grandparents, most of whom grew up, were also members of the SED. The Federal Republic bought tens of thousands of prisoners free. The prison was part of a secret military restricted area. On maps of Berlin it was marked as empty area. (Photo: Clara Pfeffer) But Bradler's decision is clear: he wants to go to the West. Why, he can hardly explain that himself. When he is 16 years old, his best buddy, whose mother is a single parent, leaves the GDR. A short time later Bradler's grandparents. They are pensioners, their application for departure is immediately granted. Bradler is not allowed to. During visits, they tell him about the Federal Republic. What he hears does not fit with what state propaganda claims. "That was a long process," says Bradler, but the desire to leave the GDR is growing. After the unsuccessful applications to leave his best buddy from West Berlin may no longer visit him. They meet anyway, during a holiday in today's Czech Republic. The Soviets converted the cellar of a former canteen kitchen to their central detention center. (Photo: Clara Pfeffer) He is now aware that he will not succeed with the applications to leave the country. So he makes a decision: he wants to provoke his arrest. At that time, the Federal Republic bought tens of thousands of political prisoners out of the prisons of the GDR, Bradler had heard of it. The prisoner exemption was already an important source of income for the bankrupt GDR at this time. The Federal Government called this "special efforts in the humanitarian field" and paid a total of almost 3.5 billion Deutschmark in exchange for 33,755 political prisoners to the GDR. Considering that there were estimated to be about 200,000 political prisoners in the GDR, Bradler's poker is high. Condemned for acting as agent Hohenschönhausen Memorial In May 1945, the Soviet occupying forces confiscated the site on Genslerstraße 66. In the former canteen kitchen, the Soviets set up their central detention center for Germany. In 1951, the Stasi seizes the basement prison and uses it as its central remand center. After the reunification, former prisoners are working to create a memorial in this place. Since 1994, the memorial for visitors is open. But these numbers do not know the 20-year-old Bradler. In January 1982 he goes to the border post on Sonnenallee and demands to leave. He is arrested immediately. Two members of the State Security pick him up and take him to a place that was not allowed to enter a normal citizen in GDR times. The huge prison complex in Hohenschönhausen was the central remand center of the Ministry of State Security and part of a secret Sperrbezirks. From here, the Stasi directed the 17 prisons of the GDR. Here the political prisoners were detained, who were described by the GDR as "criminal offenders". "Those who were remanded in custody were guilty of the Stasi," then the appropriate laws would have been created, says Bradler. Normal GDR citizens would have had no access to legal texts and so one could hardly know, against which laws one violated. Bradler is convicted of "agent activity." The reason: He had given his best friend a copy of one of the seven applications for leave during their holiday together in the Czech Republic. That was enough to sentence him to a year and four months imprisonment. Michael Bradler ended up in prison for something he did not even know was banned. In 1951, the Stasi seized the Soviet basement prison and from then on used it as its central remand center. (Photo: Clara Pfeffer) Nor did he know where he was being held. That the inmates of Hohenschönhausen were left in the dark about their place of detention belonged to the psychological torture methods of the Stasi. Systematically, they should be taught the feeling of being at the mercy of an almighty state. After his arrest, Michael Bradler is driven through Berlin with a pickup truck without windows. The van is pitch-dark. When he finally stops and the door opens, Bradler finds himself in a brightly lit room. Totally blinded by the light, he has not the slightest chance of perceiving anything of the surroundings. He is then led alone through a long corridor to his cell – it was always carefully taken to ensure that the detainees did not meet in the hallways. In this way, the inmates are brought in and out of the prison. Meetings with the lawyer or family take place elsewhere. Even during a visit to the hospital, which was actually just around the corner, the inmates are first driven across Berlin, so they do not know where they are. Thus cut off from the outside world, the inmates were often held for months and interrogated to move them to incriminating statements. Among the psychological methods of torture was that the detainees had no contact with the outside world or other detainees for months. (Photo: Clara Pfeffer) His father gives him an ultimatum "I wanted to know why I wanted to leave GDR," says Bradler. For five months he is repeatedly interrogated and pressured. The investigators are highly professional and have carefully scouted Bradler's immediate surroundings. They tell him things about his friends and family he did not know. They also want to isolate him. "Until those as last resort only my father remained." And he presents him with an ultimatum: "Either you withdraw your request to leave or you are no longer my son." Bradler and his dad had a good relationship by then. Nevertheless, Bradler does not agree. After that, they were probably convinced that if my father could not persuade me, then nobody could. "In October 1982, Bradler is ransomed by the Federal Republic and moves to West Berlin.He never sees his father again.Where he spent the five months He will not find out until 16 years later, even after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the prison in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen was not dissolved for another year, because even the GDR citizens did not know what was going on there. "Enough time for the employees, Bradler said that the detention center will be closed only after the GDR's accession to the Federal Republic of Germany on October 3, 1990. Bradler will enter her for the second time eight years later, at which time his son will be ten years old Ask questions, "How do you explain to a ten-year-old that you could end up in jail without being a criminal?" Michael Bradler works in the memorial today, with it Nobody has to ask this question in the future. He ends his tour with a clear appeal: "I'm doing this, so that something never happens on German soil".