East German citizens were aware the Staatssicherheit
(Ministry for State Security) could know everything about their lives. At its peak, the Stasi, as it was familiarly known, employed 91,000 agents in the country of 16.4 million and had hundreds of thousands of informants. But it was not until the GDR began to crumble in 1989 that the concept became palpable, Andrew Curry reports in Wired magazine
It was discovered that the Stasi had generated enough paper to fill 100 miles of shelves, and it indexed and cross-referenced 5.6 million names in its central card catalog. In the Stasi's final days, officials destroyed about 5 percent of its records before citizens stopped them. Truckloads of paper were taken to industrial shredders, and as the end neared, agents began ripping files by hand. They stored the scraps in paper bags in the archive.
In the mid '90s, a team started piecing the 45 million torn pages together manually, at a rate that would have led to completion in about 700 years. But a new scanning project looks like it will lead to the files being recreated—and shared with the public—much sooner.
Funded by the German government, the Fraunhofer Institute has created a method for double-sided scanning of the scraps and sorting the images by color of paper, type of paper and method of writing. If the pilot project for 400 bags of scraps is successful, it will get the go ahead for tackling the remaining 16,000 bags of paper. It's estimated to cost about $300 million, but the archivists say it's worth it. Wired reports:
Günter Bormann, the BStU's senior legal expert, says there's an overwhelming public demand for the catharsis people find in their files. "When we started in 1992, I thought we'd need five years and then close the office," Bormann says. Instead, the Records Office was flooded with half a million requests in the first year alone. Even in cases where files hadn't been destroyed, waiting times stretched to three years. In the past 15 years, 1.7 million people have asked to see what the Stasi knew about them.
To read the entire fascinating article, click here.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 1:13:14 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)