EAST GERMAN HISTORY
The Lost Soul
BY DIRK KUNZ
More than 25 years ago, a protestant preacher in the Weimar, in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), turned over five members of his congregation to the authorities. They were convicted of attempting to flee East Germany and were sentenced to prison. This was a unique case in East German church history. Before this, cases like this one were solved amicably, without police, jail terms, or other authorities. So how is the preacher doing today, in May 2015?
Hans Reder now lives hidden away in a village of sixteen hundred souls, 16 miles north of Kassel, in central Germany. His house is obscured, set back from the street. The 87 year old preacher rented the apartment 26 years ago, less than a year after his departure from East Germany and the event in Weimar. He says it has completely destroyed him.
Hans Reder’s father was a preacher who died at an early age of a stroke, in the arms of his ten year old son, on a Sunday afternoon. Reder describes that as a traumatic experience. He then moved with his mother to Eisenach. When he was sixteen, he went to war, which shook him emotionally. As a soldier, he took care of the trains arriving from the western front. The blood drained out of train cars, from bombardments by hostile planes. Reder said that the bodies he saw were in terrible condition. He speaks about awful nightmares he has had ever since. Originally Reder wanted to be a lawyer, but in the Soviet occupational zone back then his middle class family home turned a university place into a distant dream and so he studied theology. He said, that it was a decision driven by reason.
Reder, a winter sports enthusiast, received his first pastoral assignment on the south-facing slope of the Thuringian Forest. After a few years, he moved to Berlin to became a preacher. During that time he reported about his first contact with the Ministry for State Security. He recalled his three-hour interrogation at Alexanderplatz, describing it as if it were in a movie: the blinds were closed, the room illuminated only by a table lamp, and cigarette smoke blown in his eyes. He was charged with “complicity to flee the republic,” but the authorities could not prove anything against him. His deacon smuggled students from East to West Berlin. But he had nothing to do with that. In 1970, the possibility arose for Reder to start working as a chaplain of a German-language congregation abroad in Sweden, although it failed in the end. He spoke Swedish and had family there. This was a very lucrative job, because travelling to “non-socialist foreign countries” was normally strictly forbidden for East German citizens. During that application period, he spoke with the Secretary of State for Church Affairs in the German Democratic Republic. Reder said that the Secretary encouraged his request, but wanted to make sure that he would return to East Germany.
He had to sign a document called a “return declaration”. Reder said that it was not a declaration of cooperation with the Ministry for State Security, as rumored. ”On the contrary”, he said, ”nothing could be further from the truth.” According to Reder, there was no collaboration with the Ministry for State Security (known in German as “Stasi”=”STAatsSIcherheit”) at all. “Occasionally I had contact with a member of the State Department regarding travel preparations to foreign countries, but nothing more.” Later Reder adds that he had met with employees of the foreign ministry once or twice a year. The only item up for discussion: Analysis and evaluation of special foreign policy issues. Reder also had personal relationships with high-ranking West German politicians. His belief, that he was under surveillance of the Stasi because of these relationships, is not completely unreasonable.
The third incident
The second Sunday of Advent: it was a cool, grey, dreary December morning. During a service at the Herder Church in Weimar, East Germany, a man was baptized and an older couple from Leipzig renewed their vows for their 50th anniversary. For twelve years, Hans Reder has been the head of the administrative division of the Protestant church in Weimar. His spiritual mission is vast.
“He is eloquent,” says Pastor Dr. Christoph Victor, who has learned much about the religious framework in Weimar over the course of several decades. His colleague Wolfram Laessig adds: “He is a brilliant rhetorician in the sense of his name” (“Rede” is German for “speech”).
In Reder’s small East German network, where having many contacts and travelling abroad are considered quite impressive, he comes off as confident. He has come directly from Berlin, the capital of East Germany, to the quiet town of Weimar.
Around 9 a.m. the confrontational minister enters the church to prepare last minutes details. But on this day, the 4th of December, five escapees have hidden themselves away in the vestry of the church. Hans Reder is angry; roaring, he hastens through the aisles to the vestry. His preaching robe, his keys, and the script of his sermon are in this little room in the church. “Give me my stuff,” he rumbles. This is already the fourth occupation of his church.
The Herder Church is perfect for this kind of occupation, because there are bathrooms, making it conducive to a long and relatively comfortable stay. This is important because these occupations could last days, or sometimes even weeks. Reder remembers two of the occupants from earlier incidents. This time he’ll take drastic measures. These five adults, three of them with medical degrees, assert that they will not leave before they are promised to be able to flee the country.
Reder wants to kick the squatters out of the vestry, but a scuffle breaks out. Volker Brueheim, one of the squatters, says that Reder wants to confiscate their things. As they pull their items closer, Reder realizes the situation was about to escalate. Without an elaborate sermon, and with a substitute gown, he holds the service this Sunday but realizes a leaden heaviness in the church. Reder wants to call the State Bishop of Eisenach Werner Leich, but couldn’t reach him on phone. Leich is on a business trip in Schmölln, East Thuringia. The only option he sees left is to call the Volkspolizei, the East German police. He reports the occupants for trespassing and for criminal assault, requesting that they be arrested after the church service has ended. Reder neglects to inform his superior, Hans Schaefer, because he believed that he is weak and discusses too much. Reder wanted to take over responsibility.
The squatters don’t give up, not even as the officers of state security promise them immunity from persecution. Reder becomes impatient and cold: “Alright gentleman, do your job,” he says. He leaves them alone, and the occupiers walk out handcuffed through the back door of the church.
Church leadership distance themselves from this controversial end of the occupation. During a meeting in January 1989, the majority of the employees voted against Hans Reder remaining in office.The stubborn theologian feels unappreciated. In March he retired and decided to leave the country himself; this was much easier for retired preachers than for laymen. In October 1989, shortly before the borders opened because of the peaceful revolution, Reder left the city of Weimar nearly unnoticed. He then moved to a little village in West Germany.
Why did Reder react as he did? Probably because of the influence of a strange and sinister combination of juridical, theological and individual-psychological paradigms. First, he said that he didn’t have access to a lot of his items in the barricaded vestry, like his keys, sermon notes, and gown. That bothered him. Appearance and neat habits were always important for Reder. Dirk Marschall, a deacon in Weimar, remembers a student group meeting at the Herder Church. Some preachers appeared in suits rather than in gowns, and Reder criticized it harshly. According to Christoph Victor, Reder was frustrated and tired of the squatters, although he was not really involved in the three former church incidents. Even today, Reder is deeply convinced that humans should not try to fulfil their personal wishes by invading a church. He said that the Herder Church in Weimar was one of the most sacred churches in Central Germany, and that the invasion of a church shouldn’t be a means to achieve political goals. To him, the occupation of the church was a sacrilege. “I always thought about the cleansing of the temple. Jesus also threw the money changers and the temple merchants out of the temple, because they are only there to serve their own interests.” He said that the government was obliged to act to restore the dignity of the church service. He mentioned that he purposely hadn’t filed charges. The police asked him to, but he refused; all he wanted was for the squatters to leave his church. But a memo by a Stasi employee written on the same day claimed that he verbally charged five escapees with disturbing the peace and obstruction of a preacher´s duty.
“Reder acted correctly in strictly legal terms,” said Wolfram Laessig, Reder’s successor. Laessig remained in office from 1991 until 2006. The occupants entered the vestry illegally and refused to return Reder’s personal items. Furthermore, a preacher had to protect the order of the church. Reder has always defended himself in this matter. The 71 year old theologian refuses to apologize for Reder’s behavior, arguing that “what is legally right can nevertheless be wrong. Instead of supporting people seeking help and shelter, he sent them into trouble.” 75-year old Jobst-Dieter Hayner was Reder’s deputy. After his departure, the provisional head of the church district said that “Reder was never able to admit mistakes regarding his crisis management during the church occupation.” Accepting his own mistakes was always difficult for him.
He never asked for forgiveness from the five occupants; even today he feels legally and morally justified: “The occupants knew exactly what they did. They violated the sanctity of the church. I was disgusted by the fourth occupation.” He was bursting with anger and he felt that what he did was right, because after that incident there were no more church occupations in Weimar.
He did not grasp that East Germany was an oppressive nation that punished even misdemeanors excessively and that personal rights weren’t defended. He mentioned his fragile health, even before the church occupation. “I was suffering from severe emotional exhaustion. Perhaps I would never have lost my cool if I had been completely healthy.” Today, Reder is a broken man. He suffers under an acute heart-lung disease. Two intensive bouts of cancer, additional surgical procedures on his knee and hip has rendered him almost unable to leave his apartment. He is constantly under the influence of strong pain killers. Twice a day, a nurse comes and helps Reder change clothes. Twice a week, a caregiver helps him take a bath. A cleaning woman comes once a week. His wife passed away six years ago. For the last three years of her life, he took care of her. Their marriage remained childless: “At the end I was always alone. I am waiting for my death!”
After the interview, Hans Reder gave me several German- and Swedish-language yellowed newspaper clippings and documents about his travelling and earnings, as well as a filmed script about the Reformation. The stages of a preacher’s career in a communist country: “First, you have to read everything, then you’ll have the correct impression of me. Then you’ll know, who I am and what I have achieved. Sure, I was not a reformer or pacifist, yes, maybe I was too naïve, but I am not a bastard. I’ve never betrayed anyone!”
Was Hans Reder a betrayer?
Was Hans Reder an unofficial collaborator (IM) for the Ministry for State Security (Stasi)? Hans Reder’s file with the Stasi Record Agency in Berlin is very thin. The reason? A note from December 4th, 1989 indicated that parts 1 and 2 of IM “Beier”‘s file (Registration Number XV/1535/70) were to be deleted. The deletion of the file is reflected on at least two other index cards. A 1970 form indicated that the Stasi wanted to establish an undercover agent under the pseudonym “Beier”. Reder’s real name doesn’t appear anywhere on the form, but it does include the exact address where Hans Reder lived and worked in that time. So “Agent” Beier must be Hans Reder. So since 1970, Hans Reder has been listed as “IM. Beier” in the Berlin Stasi Headquarters. But the IM. registration alone reveals nothing about the depth and quality of his collaboration. Reder strongly denies being an employee of the Stasi. Of course these denials must be taken into consideration, but often that doesn’t make much of a difference. Suspects often whitewash and suppress issues, even flat-out lie about them. A good Stasi spy is trained to create stories. Hans Reder has no explanation as to why the Stasi even created a file about him.
If the files were destroyed or can no longer be located, it becomes even more difficult to find out what actually happened. In the small amount that has been written about Hans Reder, some completely incomprehensible mistakes have crept in: a Stasi file says that in 1971, he was elected as dean in a Berlin Church district. This is entirely incorrect; Reder’s Berlin companion Detlef Wilinski has confirmed that “what is written in the Stasi files is not always gospel truth.” In the Stasi files of Bishop Werner Leich, his supervisor, Reder’s name doesn’t even appear. Deacon Dirk Marschall’s files also show nothing about Reder. And in Jobst-Dieter Hayner’s dossier, there is no visible connection to Hans Reder. His former deputy said “I don’t think he was a Stasi informer!” Weimar resident Wolfram Laessig, who has known Reder since 1983, never consulted his case notes. Even still, he does not suspect that Reder was an informant. He claimed that Reder loved German virtues and was a orderly person.
The chaos and the riot brought into the church generally in that time by opposition forces and the young adults all over the country have bothered him, much like they were suspicious (because of other reasons) for the government. Reder’s affinity toward governmental agencies could be explained by having the same opponents. “He didn´t need to be a collaborator for the Ministry to act as he did”, said Laessig.
In fact, the Ministry cleverly reinforced the church’s oft repeated statement that the opposition activists only hid under the auspices of ecclesiastic protection. The government was very successful in their policies toward conservative church officials who wanted to protect the church against the corruption of the church’s “pure teaching.” Because they had a common goal, to protect the church against modern influence, as well as Reder’s excessive drive to stand out from the rest, former deputy Jobst-Dieter Hayner claimed that “Hans Reder wanted to be in the center of the consideration and liked it to be held in great esteem.” There were many similarities between Reder and the East German government. Yes, there have been cases where people have unknowingly talked to Stasi agents, so it is particularly ironic that the most persuasive pieces of evidence of Reder’s involvement with the Stasi are the notations in his file that all evidence (whether condemning or exculpating Reder) should be destroyed.
The 68 year old woman was sentenced to two years in prison. Pastor Reder seemed nervous, furious, and impatient this Sunday. Even his son in law, who had driven Wache to the church on that day, was as sentenced to prison as an accomplice. After four months, Margit Wache was redeemed by the West German government The retiree now lives with her husband in Solingen, in Northwestern Germany. Her Stasi files contain both important and trivial information. For example, there are details as to what clothes she was wearing at the time, but neither the name Reder or IM Beier is to be found.
Dr. Volker Brueheim
The 59 year old surgeon was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He remained in prison until September 1989 in Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz) before he was redeemed by the German government. The trial was held privately, with only two observers of the church. It was later revealed that both were collaborators of the Ministry of State. Brueheim is convinced that Reder was collaborating with the secret service. He knew him before the December 4th, 1988 incident and received negative attention. He also knew that problems with Reder would arise. Brueheim said that Reder used the excuse of criminal assault, because according to internal church documents in Thuringia, he was only allowed to call the police if there was such an assault.
Reder´s name doesn’t appear in his files, which comes as no surprise to him. He is convinced that the document was censored Brueheim filed criminal charges against Reder after the reunification. The prosecutor halted the proceedings because the District Attorney believed Reder’s claims, according to Brueheim. In the meantime, the statute of limitations expired.
DR. RENATE BIEDERMANN
The physician couldn´t be reached. In a short TV-Report, which was aired one month after I published this article, she said that after submitting a number of unsuccessful applications for an exit visa, the church occupation was the last chance for her, to notify her precarious situation. In the interview she also said, that Hans Reder acted that morning aggressive and short-tempered, like a demon jumping around and foaming at the mouth.
DR. AXEL KIRCHNER
Kirchner now runs a dental clinic in Cologne. Several attempts to contact him for a statement have been completely unsuccessful.
He refused to make any statements regarding the church occupation and cannot be reached.
BY DIRK KUNZ
Was Reder a Stasi spy? On the orders of Colonel Joachim Wiegand, the last department chief of the Stasi-Church-Section, the most important files were deleted in December 1989, and Reder’s were among them. His reports, which were eventually filed, are irretrievably lost. Was this dubious employee of foreign affairs (“Mr. Berger was a friendly and sophisticated man”) actually a staff member of the Stasi? Reder’s wife once asked him directly, which Berger categorically denies. Reder is convinced that the creation of his file had to do with his political contacts with Scandinavia. He thought of his actions as having brought suspicion upon himself. His ecumenical goals, such as the joining of Weimar and a city in Finland as “sister cities” was contrary to what the East German government wanted. He freely signed a declaration of consent for me to have access to the Stasi files without any hindrances. Was he so free with his information because he knew that his files were deleted permanently? Or does he have a clear conscience?
One name that appears on his notecard is high ranking Stasi staff officer Franz Sgraja, the former department chief of the MfS church section. Klaus Rossberg, the head deputy until 1989, is mentioned several times. Did they place their hopes in Reder and he failed at his job? Why was the file of a relatively insignificant IM destroyed? Maybe the Stasi Contact Officer who wrote all the reports wanted to whitewash himself, in the hope that he would later be accepted into the German federal civil service.
Reder’s performance during the church occupation is uncomfortable for him to discuss these days; nevertheless, he is not willing to apologize. He asked me not to place the focus of his whole life on the brief church occupation incident. In the past, his attitude has been described as autocratic. Many of his former colleagues who hear how he is doing today feel no mercy for him.
Translation into the English language: SHELLIE LABELL & DIRK KUNZ
Christoph Victor: Oktoberfrühling- Die Wende in Weimar, Weimarer Schriften, Heft 49, 1992, S. 11-19.
Walter Schilling: Die „Bearbeitung“ der Landeskirche Thüringen durch das MfS, in:
Clemens Vollnhals (Hrsg): Die Kirchenpolitik von SED und Staatssicherheit, 2. Auflage, Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin 1997, S. 211 ff. (Some generale phrasings about the Stasi were taken from the article.)