Reassembling the Pieces of Persecution
Machine pieces together the ripped secrets of the East German state
As the East German state crumbled in 1989, Erich Mielke, the chief of the secret police, better known as the Stasi, ordered his minions to destroy the most incriminating files, the hard evidence of a state founded on fear, spying, blackmail and betrayal.
The Stasi’s flimsy electric shredders (Reisswolfs: literally rip-wolves) collapsed under the strain, so the secret police continued the job by hand, working around the clock for three months. An astonishing 45 million documents were ripped up, and stuffed into rubbish bags.
The authorities had planned to burn the paper in a remote quarry, but in the chaotic final days of the communist regime it proved impossible to assemble enough trucks for the journey. So the 16,000 bags were stored in the basement of the Stasi headquarters in Berlin.
The reunified German state insisted that the files be reconstructed, and a team of 30 in Nuremberg set about manually sticking the documents together using old-fashioned puzzle methods, tweezers and lots of sticky tape.
In 1996 Dr Nickolay, an expert in image processing at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Facilities and Construction Technology in Berlin, saw a television programme about the destroyed files and set about building a prototype machine that could do the job automatically. The result is the E-puzzler, the most sophisticated digital pattern-recognition system in the world....
.....some oppose the reconstruction, arguing that it will only serve to damage reputations and reopen old wounds. Some prominent figures, including Helmut Kohl, the former chancellor, have demanded that their files remain closed.
The project is expected to cost at least £7 million a year to run and funding has been slow in coming.
I expect, and hope, that some prominent people lie awake sweating at the thought their file will be reassembled.