This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1160 words.
I passed the physical and the compulsory written test, then got called in for a formal interview. I expected questions like “Why do you want to be a police officer?” But sat in the large room facing four very official-looking men, one in full uniform, it seemed that they mainly wanted to talk about my family.
“Your mother was a loyal Party member. Your sister is part of the gymnastics team. Your father was killed serving with the Afrika Corps, and neither of your parents ever joined the Nazi Party. Is that correct, Kraus?” I sat up straight as I replied. “All correct, sir”. The man tapped the paperwork containing my application form.”And you speak English and Russian, as well as being able to write in both too, yes?” I was glad that they had actually read it. “Yes, sir. Correct again”. He exchanged a look with the man in uniform, and they both nodded. “Thank you, please take a seat outside. We will be calling you back soon”.
All that build up, and just those few questions. I was sure they were going to reject me.
Almost one hour later, the door opened, and I was asked to go back in. Other than the man who had asked the questions, the people inside had changed. A stern-looking woman sat at one side of the desk, and a heavily-scarred man was in the central chair. As I sat down, he spoke to me without looking up from the paperwork in front of him. “Tell me, are you prepared to become a Party member?” I answered quickly, remembering what my mother had told me. “Yes sir, I am happy to do that”. He looked across at the woman, and she turned sideways, staring me straight in the eyes. “Tell us what you know of the State Security Service”.
I had heard talk of the Stasi, which had been founded a few years earlier. Mother spoke about them in glowing terms. “They will safeguard us against western spies, Manfred. Help root out the undesirables, and those who seek to undermine our new republic. They will also deal with those ex-Nazis who hope to take back power”. I repeated what she had told me, word-for-word, making it sound like my own conclusions. The woman nodded, and wrote down a lot of words in a large book on her lap. Then the man finally looked up at me. “How would you feel about being offered a job with us, instead of becoming a policeman?” It only took me seconds to realise that him and the woman were something to do with the Stasi, and only one more second to reply.
“I would be honoured to accept, sir”.
The woman nodded to the man, and he smiled. It was a rather scary smile, given that his face was covered in scars. “You are prepared to undertake investigations into people from all walks of life, some of whom you might know? To listen to taped recordings of conversations and telephone calls, and to translate them from other languages if necessary? You would agree to become part of an interrogation team, and participate in arrests of individuals when ordered to do so?” I gathered he had stopped talking, and was awaiting a reply.
“Of course, sir. Whatever duties were required of me”.
The woman closed the book on her lap. “Welcome to the State Security Service, Herr Kraus”.
The training was a lot more basic than I had expected. Based in an old army barracks outside of the city, it involved being taught to use a pistol and assault rifle. There was a bit of physical exercise too, but no marching or drilling. Most of the time was spent in a classroom, with the eleven others in my induction group. They ranged in age from eighteen to almost forty, and there was only one woman. Lots of lectures about borders, foreign spies and agitators, and working alongside the Russian military and MGB. We were told that this would soon be known as the KGB, and already had a vast network of agents and informers. It was going to be the model that the Stasi would base itself on.
I was surprised to hear how much information they already had about so many people still living in East Germany. They referred to them as ‘dissidents’, ‘trouble-makers’, sometimes even ‘Nazi-lovers’. I also learned about the everyday dilemma for ordinary people who had chosen to remain in our new country. If they had done that, why had they done that? They could have emigrated to the west, but chose to continue living in the east. That very loyalty made them suspect, and their motives questioned. Unless they were long-standing Socialist Party members, served in the current armed forces, or had joined the Stasi like me, it seemed everyone was to be considered ‘dubious’.
Early on, I realised that this was going to be a very busy job.
The suspicious nature that was the culture there extended to our colleagues, the other recruits. We ate together in large groups, up to sixty at a time. I found myself scanning the rows of diners, wondering ‘what’s her story?’ or ‘he doesn’t look the type for this job’. I shared a two-bunk room with three others. Other than our names and places of origin, we didn’t have a lot to say about our lives before joining up. After a relatively short time, paranoia had well and truly set in.
Upon completion of some practical assessments and written tests, I was interviewed to be told that I had passed the course, and was now a Stasi officer. In another part of the barracks, they kitted out those of us who had been successful. We got two suits, not new, but clean and serviceable. Two pairs of shoes, and shirts and ties too. Some also got uniforms, but I wasn’t told to go to that queue. The final issue was a lined raincoat, and a wide-brimmed trilby hat that made me feel very grown up when I put it on. There was also a suitcase to put the spare clothes in, but nobody got socks, or underwear. They were up to us to supply.
I was sent to wait outside an office with around a dozen others. One by one, we went in to sign a document that we would not divulge anything about our training or our job, and I was given a Walther PP .32 pistol in a small holster that fitted in the waistband of my trousers. I was told it was loaded, and more ammunition would be available wherever I was going. Then I got my identity documents and badge in a leather holder, and was advised to guard them with my life. Everyone had to go back to their rooms to wait for the postings notice to be put up in the canteen.
The rest would all be learned ‘on the job’.