Photo. Visitors at the opening of the exhibition, 'Drawings by Refugee Children,' August 29, 1953
&copy Landesarchiv Berlin - Willy Kiel

“Enemy Object” Marienfelde

East Germany’s Ministry for State Security (Stasi) regarded the Marienfelde Refugee Center – like many other institutions in West Berlin – as an “enemy object”. In this view, the refugee Center endangered the inner security of the East German state, for it attracted East Germans to the West where they then delivered information to Western intelligence services about conditions in the East.

The Local Mission

The Stasi’s goal was to disrupt life in the refugee Center and to “corrode” its structures. Constantly engaged in creating a network of informers, the Stasi collecting any and all types of information. The Stasi’s aim was to identify and intimidate those considering fleeing East Germany, as well as to conduct an active propaganda campaign against the Marienfelde refugee camp.

Until the Berlin Wall’s construction in 1961, the main focus of Stasi activities was the struggle against the mass departure of East German citizens and counter-intelligence. After 1961, the Stasi’s work focussed on identifying deficiencies in the East German border regime with the help of information gathered at Marienfelde, as well as the pinpointing of trouble spots within East Germany itself. From the 1970s onward, more and more people attempted to leave the GDR by legal means. In response to a sharp rise in the number of such applications during the 1980s, the Stasi made the struggle against those seeking to leave the country by applying for an exit visa an urgent matter.

The Ministry for State Security (Stasi) and the Refugee Movement

The authority of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security (Stasi) to act against real or imagined opponents was nearly boundless. Established by law on 8 February 1950, the Stasi was modelled after the Soviet secret police. The Stasi served East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party (SED) as an instrument of control and influence over state and society.

Besides functioning as an agent of surveillance and suppression within East Germany, the Stasi also developed into a highly successful intelligence service. Across time intelligence and policing became more and more intertwined, increasingly blurring distinctions between intelligence gathering and internal repression. The exodus of East Germans westward also contributed to the intermingling of intelligence and police activities. Consequently, Marienfelde witnessed both considerable “policing” and “intelligence gathering”.

Western Intelligence Services

The intelligence services of the Western Allies and the West German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) were aware of the presence of Stasi informants at the Marienfelde refugee Center. Through appropriate precautionary measures, these intelligence services attempted to protect refugees. For instances, conversations with refugees that went beyond the normal procedures associated with the reception procedure were conducted off-site. To impede the work of enemy intelligence, these venues were assigned code names. Locations were frequently changed. Refugees within the Marienfelde facility were instructed to offer no information whatsoever about their escape route or those who had aided them in leaving East Germany.


©ENM - Photos: A. Tauber