OF MARKUS WOLF
1923 - 2006
Fare Well, Markus, despite
it all, you were a gentleman and an idealist
and thus, one of us "Gnostics"!
You were a man who understood people and who knew how to use them without
abusing and degrading them... ,"ein Menschenkenner" with honor, and that made
you so charismatic, successful and special. No matter what political hacks and
bureaucratic mini-souls write about you now and in the years to come, we of the
Gnostic Liberation Front understand you and honor you as one of us; a true
idealist working for the betterment of mankind as an avowed and honest
Communist. Cast into the role of spy-chief, you did your best and served the
cause with distinction and honor, never forgetting that you too were "ein Mensch"
amongst people in power. Now, as a spiritual being, perhaps you can also
understand that those on the opposite side, the "Nazis" of the Nuremberg trials,
were also idealists serving a different, yet similar cause and paid for their
ideals with their lives....
maligned and despised,
more though even then you were, when the
"wrath of the people," incited by manipulators and power-players, cast you on
the side of the losers. When all seemed lost you reached out to your roots in
Judaism and Israel and that too is good and noble as it shows your humanity and
capacity to reach out to others in times of need and despair. Being "ein Mensch"
is not easy, being a Gnostic "Mensch", an idealist, is nothing less than a heavy
burden to bear. -You did well through the journey of your life, you were
dedicated to your ideals and treated those placed "below" you with respect and
dignity even under the worst circumstances, and that is not an easy thing to do
in a heavily politicized position of power....
Fare well, my friend and "Reisekamerad", perhaps we shall meet on the other side
when my time comes!
The following exchange between Jeffrey
Herf and Markus Wolf sheds light on two important issues: First, East Germany's
repression in the early 1950s of Jewish communists and communists who stressed
solidarity with the survivors of the Holocaust and with the state of Israel; and
second, the subsequent course of East German foreign policy toward the
Arab-Israeli conflict. Both phenomena have received insufficient attention in
the debates about Germany and its many-sided struggle with the past. Markus Wolf
was the director of the foreign intelligence branch of East Germany's Ministry
of State Security, or the Stasi, as it was known. He was the model for John Le
Carre's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.
After the fall of East Germany in 1989,
he was arrested and charged with treason. Wolf's father, Friedrich Wolf, was an
important communist intellectual in the Weimar Republic and a highly regarded
playwright. During World War II he waited out the war in the Soviet Union.
Markus grew up there and went to East Germany as a young man to help build the
first (and last) communist state on German soil. He was intimately involved with
the making of foreign policy in East Germany, in particular in regard to spy
activities in West Germany.
Although the Middle East was not his
political specialty, he was certainly aware of the direction that East German
foreign policy was taking as Israel and its Arab neighbors clashed
diplomatically and militarily after 1948. In every vote of the United Nations,
the GDR (German Democratic Republic) sided with those states who opposed
Israel's policies toward the Palestinians. The GDR also openly supported. Iraq,
Syria, and Egypt in their fight against Israel.
Although Wolf insists that the contacts
between the Stasi foreign intelligence service and the PLO were minimal and were
intended to moderate PLO terrorism, he does admit that there were contacts
between the East German intelligence services and the Palestinian secret
services in regard to training Palestinians for the "armed struggle." Wolf's
comments make it clear that the East Germans were aware that helping train the
Palestinians would make them accomplices to terrorist attacks on Israel, as well
as bombings and hijackings in other parts of the world.
The issue that Herf and Wolf debate is
to what extent the East German commitment to the political and military struggle
of the Palestinians stood in contradiction to the proclaimed stance of East
Germany as an anti-fascist state that kept alive the memory of the Holocaust and
fought to serve justice to the surviving Jews of the world. In the following
exchange, these and other important issues are presented from two very different
perspectives, one the historical actor who had to struggle with difficult
choices from a particular standpoint, the other a historian who seeks to
understand the intersection of politics and the Jewish question in both German
states after 1945.
I leave it to the reader to draw his or
her own conclusions.
A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?
In the course of writing a history of
politics and memory in the two Germanies after 1945, I have been working in the
archives of the East German Communist or Socialist Unity Party, using materials
from the Stasi archives dealing with secret political trials, and reading the
public record. So it was with great interest that I read Tikkun's interview with
Markus Wolf (January/February 1994.) I was especially struck that the editors
were impressed with his "absolute refusal to repudiate socialist ideas." I was
also impressed with his ability to pull the wool over your eyes and make you
look very foolish. He probably recognized your interviewer as an easy mark.
It may be that Markus Wolf joined the
Stasi to hunt down former Nazis. In fact, as Wolf must know, in the 1950s, the
Stasi spent much of its time hunting "counterrevolutionary" and "extremely
right-wing" groups of Social Democrats, many of whom had entered the Socialist
Unity Party in the late 1940s with the illusion that it was going to build a
German Democratic Republic. Nothing was more devastating in postwar East Germany
than to be labeled a "Nazi" or a "fascist," and many democratic socialist
opponents of the East German regime were dispatched to prison in just this way.
For a journal devoted to Jewish
concerns, your interviewers display a distressing lack of knowledge of the
anti-Semitic purges within East Germany in the 1950s, and the suppression of
communists, Jews and non-Jews, who thought East Germany should be a friend to
Israel and extend its emotional and financial support to Jewish survivors of the
Holocaust, That Wolf tells you that "in retrospect" he can now see that
anti-Semitism did exist in the Communist Party is grotesque.
Government-encouraged anti-Semitism was apparent to Jews and non-Jews, at the
latest, in the winter of 1952-1953. The denunciation and arrest of Paul Merker,
a veteran communist and non-Jewish leading member of the SED Central Committee
who spoke out on behalf of Jewish concerns, was a matter of public record at
that time. Wolf did not mention the SED's campaign against Merker as an
American, Zionist, and international Jewish agent that was featured in the pages
of Neues Deutschland, or the flight of leading Jewish communists from the DDR in
early 1953, especially Leo Zuckermann, the head of the office of East German
President Wilhelm Pieck, and Julius Meyer, the leader of the Jewish community in
This former Stasi general also did not
mention the Stasi interrogations of Merker, and the secret political trial waged
against him in the East German Supreme Court in March of 1955 which resulted in
a sentence for eight more years in prison on charges of being an agent of the
Americans, the Israelis, and international Jewish organizations. Does Wolf think
Stasi interrogators were fighting Nazism when in March 1953 they asked Merker, a
life-long communist, if he "was now or had been a member of any Jewish or
Zionist organizations" and when they denounced him as the "king of the Jews" and
an agent of "Zionist monopoly capitalists" because during World War II he had
written in support of reparations payments to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust?
By the time of Merker's arrest, and
Zuckermann and Meyer's flight in January 1953, it was clear to all of the
leading Jewish communists in East Germany, including presumably Markus Wolf,
that the entry ticket for Jews to the political elite in the DDR was to keep
your mouth shut about the Holocaust, never say a good word about Israel, and to
lead in the campaign of denouncing Nazis in West Germany. How could the editors
of a Jewish magazine sympathetic to socialist ideas be so abysmally ignorant of
the East German suppression of communists, Jews and non-Jews, who spoke up for
In time, we will see if Wolf was telling
the truth when he said that "our East German intelligence operation never
operated against Israel or targeted Israeli intelligence." The Stasi archives
are there and historians will get at them--unless Stasi officials succeeded in
shredding and burning them in the last hectic days of the DDR regime. Many
documents were, in fact, destroyed. Given the well-documented involvement of the
Stasi with West German terrorists, and the long-standing close ties between the
East German government and Israel's most radical and violent enemies at any
given time--Nasser's Egypt, the PLO, PFLP, Syria, Iraq, Sudan--Wolf's claim must
be taken with more than a grain of salt. The PLO had an office in East Berlin
from the 1960s on. Presumably PLO representatives were not there primarily to
read Marx and Engels in the original German. There were persistent reports, the
validity of which we will be better able to judge after archival research, of
financial support and weapons training by the East German military of
Palestinian and Arab terrorists. If, as he claims, the Stasi intelligence
services were not engaged in these activities, does Wolf really want to say that
all of that was "not in my department?" Why didn't your interviewer press Wolf
to discuss what he knew about the anti-Israeli campaigns of the East German
defense and foreign ministries?
A great deal of such activities,
however, are not new discoveries. For anyone who can read German, the East
German diplomatic campaign against Israel is a matter of public record. The
editors of a Jewish magazine should be familiar with the already public
documents of East German foreign policy from the 1950s to the 1980s. Those
documents depict an unending, unwavering, and fierce hatred for Israel and
Zionism, and a no less consistent public, diplomatic support for every
anti-Israeli resolution to come before the United Nations. Why is it that
editors of a Jewish magazine did not ask the former intelligence chief of the
Stasi how he, now a Jewish-identified communist, could justify this virulent
campaign against Israel? You might have asked him what would he have done if the
policies of the government he loyally served had succeeded in their goal and the
PLO, in its most radical and terrorist phase, had been able to translate
diplomatic triumphs in the UN into tangible victories on the ground? Would he
have sent his Stasi agents to the rescue? You might have asked him what business
a German communist government had attacking a Jewish state after the Holocaust?
What did attacking Israel and refusing to talk about the Holocaust have to do
with socialist ideas? But you let the opportunity slip by.
Markus Wolf presents himself as
unfamiliar with East German history, and perhaps assumes his interviewer to be
equally unfamiliar with it, when he says that he "began to recognize that there
was something wrong in the Stasi only in the 1970s when repression was directed
against intellectuals, writers, actors, and dissidents." The repression against
those sorts of people--as well as perks for the politically correct--defined the
regime from the outset. Jews were especially vulnerable to the dreaded
accusation of "cosmopolitanism." Any communist, Jew and non-Jew, whose
commitment to socialist ideas included a focus on the Jewish catastrophe and
support for the young Jewish state knew that he or she had to reckon with the
surveillance of the Stasi. It strains credulity that a man such as Markus Wolf
did not know this--and was not influenced by it.
The "anti-fascism" of the East German
dictatorship, Markus Wolf's discovery of his Jewish identity notwithstanding,
went hand in hand with anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism. Thank
goodness it is gone, and thank goodness the Stasi apparatus of terror,
blackmail, and character assassination is gone with it. The government Markus
Wolf served so loyally never faced up to the Holocaust. Living in some political
dream world and acting as if it was not composed of Germans, the DDR regime made
a major contribution to the Soviet and Arab international campaign of defamation
of the Jewish state--long before Likud came to power.
Though there were some Jewish communists
in leading positions in the Central and East European communist governments
after World War II, they were few in number and by no means a dominant political
force. The image of the avenging Jew as communist secret policeman was a staple
of anti-Semitism in post-1945 Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. For
anti-Semites of the Right it confirmed the Nazi image of "Jewish Bolshevism."
For Stalinist anti-Semites, it was an effective means of dispensing with
political rivals and diverting popular anger toward the regimes onto familiar
hate objects. In fact, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe the security
services were filled with tough, working-class, overwhelmingly non-Jewish,
old-line Stalinists. (On the small percentage of Jews in the communist security
services, see statements by Michael Checinski and Daniel Goldhagen in the
"Correspondence" section of The New Republic, February 14, 1994). In East
Germany, during the Merker affair, the Stasi was the loyal handmaiden of the
SED's purge against that minority of communists who thought "socialist ideas"
were incompatible with continued hostility toward Jews and toward Israel.
It is humanly understandable that, in
your words, some "communists and Jews thought that Germany needed some
heavy-handed cleansing in the decades after the Holocaust." They were wrong.
Between 1933 and 1945, Germany had given the world more than enough heavy-handed
cleansing. Germany needed to restore the rule of law and liberal justice, not
"heavy-handed cleansing" through Stalinist political justice, conducted in
public and in secret. Since the 1950s West German historians, journalists,
intellectuals, and politicians, without the assistance of the Stasi, detailed
the shortcomings--and some accomplishments--of West Germany's legal efforts to
prosecute those accused of Nazi war crimes, and to root ex-Nazis out of
prominent positions. Given the DDR's history, Markus Wolf should be asked to
look more critically at his own house before throwing stones at the West
Germans. Your effort to turn Markus Wolf into a persecuted victim betrays a
depressingly familiar reluctance to face the dark side of the really existing
communist regimes of postwar Europe. What is that if not, in your words, a
product of "Cold War sloganeering?"
Elliot Neaman is assistant professor of
history at the University of San Francisco.
Source Citation: Herf, Jeffrey. "A wolf
in sheep's clothing? (Who is Markus Wolf?)." Tikkun 9.n4 (July-August 1994):
Party leaders pay tribute
to deceased spy boss Markus Wolf
By Stefan Steinberg
1 December 2006
It came as no surprise that a
high-ranking delegation of Russian officials jetted to Germany to attend the
funeral earlier this month of Markus Wolf, the former spy chief of Stalinist
East Germany, who died in his sleep on November 9 at the age of 83.
The Russian delegation was headed by
Ambassador Vladimir Kotenev, who praised Wolf at the funeral service as a loyal
friend of the Soviet Union. As former head of the KGB in the East German city of
Dresden, the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was ideally placed to
follow and appreciate the work carried out by his German colleague Wolf, who for
34 years had led the foreign intelligence section of the East German Ministerium
für Staatssicherheit (Ministry of State Security—MfS).
For much of the post-war period, Wolf
played a key role, working directly under the head of the MfS (also called the
Staatssicherheitsdienst, or Stasi), Erich Mielke, in building up and directing
the massive police state apparatus that defended the interests of the East
German Stalinist bureaucracy prior to the ignominious collapse of the regime in
Amongst the estimated 1,500
mourners at the Berlin central cemetery were many leading figures from the East
German intelligence and political community. Mielke himself died in 2000 (see “Erich
Mielke—the career of a German Stalinist”)
but his long-time deputy Gerhard Neiber was in attendance, together
with Fritz Strelitz, the deputy defence minister of the German Democratic
Republic (East Germany), as well as Wolf’s replacement as head of foreign
intelligence, Werner Grossmann.
Prominent figures from the East German
cultural bureaucracy also turned out, such as the former deputy culture minister
Klaus Höpke and theatre director Manfred Wekwerth, the last president of the
East German Academy of Art, who read out a long tribute to the spy.
Political representation at the funeral
came almost exclusively from the ranks of the Left Party-PDS (Party of
Democratic Socialism). The PDS is the successor party to the Stalinist ruling
party of East Germany, the Socialist Unity Party (SED). The presence of
prominent representatives of the PDS at the funeral refutes the attempts of this
organization on various occasions over the past 17 years to claim that it had
distanced itself from the legacy and methods of the East German Stalinist
The attendance of such leading figures
as PDS Chairman and Left Party deputy in the European parliament Lothar Bisky,
who gave the main speech at Wolf’s grave, and honorary Left Party Chairman Hans
Modrow (the last prime minister of the German Democratic Republic prior to
German reunification), made clear that the Left Party leadership not only
acknowledges its debt, but is prepared to parade its continuity with the
repressive dictatorship headed by the SED and defended by the Stasi.
Over the past two years the Left Party-PDS
has sought to expand its influence in West Germany through a fusion with the
organisation Election Alternative—Labour and Social Justice (WASG), a group
dominated by trade union bureaucrats, disillusioned social democrats and a
number of petty-bourgeois radical organizations. The attendance at the Wolf
funeral of WASG Chairman Klaus Ernst, alongside Bisky and Modrow, makes clear
that this organisation has no problem paying tribute to a man who played a
crucial role in creating one of the most repressive state police forces in the
Markus Wolf came from a cultivated
Jewish family which was radicalised by the events in Germany in the first third
of the twentieth century and turned to communism. His father, Friedrich Wolf
(1888-1953), was a doctor whose experiences as a medical orderly in World War I
drew him to the Communist Party. Friedrich Wolf also wrote theatrical works and
played an active role in opposing repressive legislation, such as the Weimar
Republic’s reactionary anti-abortion law. As a Jew and Communist, Friedrich Wolf
was forced to flee Germany with his family following the Nazis’ rise to power.
Friedrich Wolf was representative of a
broad layer of intellectuals and professionals in Germany who were won over to
communism in the 1920s and were prepared to make great sacrifices in the
struggle for socialism. However, the idealism and deeply-felt anti-fascist
sentiments of such men and women were crudely abused and exploited by the Moscow
Stalinist bureaucracy, which had taken control of the Comintern after Trotsky’s
expulsion from the Soviet Union and Stalin’s decimation of the ranks of the Left
As part of the exile community in the
Soviet Union, Friedrich Wolf’s eldest son, Markus, attended the Comintern
Academy in Moscow, where as a youth he made his first fleeting contact with such
figures as the first president of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany),
Wilhelm Pieck, and SED Party Secretary Walter Ulbricht.
Following the dissolution of the
Comintern by Stalin in 1943, Markus Wolf was instructed to find work as a radio
journalist in Moscow. At the end of the war he was part of the delegation of
German Communists who returned to Berlin to take over leadership in the
Russian-occupied east of the country at the behest of the Stalinist leadership
Older figures such as the long-time
German Communists Ulbricht and Pieck had been selected for their leading posts
in the East German Stalinist bureaucracy based on their roles in the 1930s, when
they participated in the systemic purging from the exiled German party in Moscow
of “dissident elements”—i.e. Trotskyists and other socialist critics of the
Marcus Wolf was still a youth in the
1930s and played no direct role in such purges, but the witch-hunt of
oppositionists constituted the atmosphere within which he was educated. His
rapid ascension in the ranks of the East German bureaucracy after the war made
clear that he had learned the lessons from that period and enjoyed the trust of
his Stalinist masters in Moscow.
Wolf arrived in Berlin on May 27, 1945,
at the age of 22, and began work as a journalist. In this capacity he attended
the Nuremberg Trials as an observer. The dissident from Stalinism, Wolfgang
Leonard, describes a meeting with the young Markus Wolf in 1947. “Misha
[Markus],” Leonard writes, “had an even more important function as controller
responsible for the principal political broadcasts. He had particularly good
relations with very senior Soviet circles, and he occupied a luxurious five-room
apartment in . . . West Berlin.”
In 1947, Leonard had a leading position
in the East German Stalinist Central Secretariat and was writing most of the
party’s political manuals. At Wolf’s villa on Lake Glienicke, an hour from
Berlin, Leonard discussed with Wolf his plans for a different emphasis in the
party programme—in favour of a so-called “German road to socialism.” Leonard was
promptly rebuffed by Wolf, who rejected Leonard’s proposal and declared that the
party program had to be rewritten on this point. Wolf told Leonard: “There are
higher authorities than your Central Secretariat.”
The incident makes clear that the Soviet
authorities were convinced they had a trustworthy ally in Markus Wolf—someone
who would defend their interests even against dissenting elements inside the
East German Stalinist leadership. Wolf was to repay the trust of his Moscow
masters with 34 years of loyal service.
Four years on, and acting on Soviet
“advice,” Ulbricht made Wolf the secret intelligence chief. Two years later, in
June 1953, workers took to the streets of Berlin and other East German cities in
a popular uprising against the Stalinist bureaucracy. For a number of weeks the
fate of the East German ruling clique hung in the balance, and the regime was
rescued only through the intervention of Russian tanks to crush the rebellion.
The bureaucracy reacted to the uprising with a wave of persecutions and a
massive expansion of the Stasi secret police apparatus.
At this point Wolf’s foreign
intelligence service was merged with the Staatssicherheitsdienst, with Wolf
working as deputy to the first head of the Stasi, Ernst Wollweber. “Domestic
security” and “secret foreign intelligence” were now two sides of the same
coin—the “sword and shield” established to protect the party, repress any
independent opposition on the part of the working class and perpetuate the
party’s hold on power.
In 1957, Wollweber was replaced by his
deputy, Erich Mielke, who went on to run the Stasi until the dissolution of the
German Democratic Republic. At the same time Wolf’s department was renamed the
Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (General Reconnaissance Administration—GRA).
In the course of his career at the head
of the GRA, Wolf built up a network of spies comprising 4,000 agents who were
able to penetrate deeply into the ranks of various political parties in West
Germany as well as international organisations such as NATO. Wolf’s greatest
coup, which he also describes as his most significant setback, was the rise of
his agent, Günter Guillaume, through the ranks of the German Social Democratic
Party (SPD) to become the top aide to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. The
unmasking of Guillaume as an agent was the trigger that led to Brandt’s
resignation in 1974.
Wolf regarded Brandt (who had played his
own shameful role in the persecution of Trotskyists in the 1930s) as a potential
ally who could enhance East Germany’s foreign policy influence through an
extension of the SPD’s so-called “Ostpolitik.” Wolf and his masters in the SED
Central Committee wanted to keep Brandt in power to further their own interests.
In his memoirs, Wolf writes that he had
growing doubts about the course taken by the German Democratic Republic
leadership in the 1970s, and his antipathy for his immediate boss, the crude
policeman Erich Mielke, is well known. Despite any qualms about the official
political leadership, Wolf remained at his post and retired only in the final
years of the German Democratic Republic after more than three decades of
Wolf played no active role in the mass
demonstrations of 1989 that heralded the collapse of the German Democratic
Republic, but he was persuaded to speak to the massive crowd which gathered at
the Berlin Alexanderplatz on November 4, 1989. Demonstrating his attachment to
the police state apparatus he had so assiduously built up, Wolf used his speech
to plea for leniency for Stasi officials. His remarks were booed by large
sections of the crowd.
Following a brief exile in Moscow at the
beginning of the 1990s, Wolf returned to Germany, where the authorities of the
now reunified country tried and sentenced him in 1993 to 6 years in prison on
charges of “treason.” The trial against Wolf was part of a concerted
anti-communist campaign organised by leading political circles in West Germany
to create the best conditions for the introduction of “western” values—i.e.
capitalist market economy values—in the formerly Stalinist east. Wolf conducted
a four-year appeal of the court decision, denouncing it as “victors’ justice.”
In a series of trials after German
reunification, West German courts had attempted to use arbitrary interpretations
of the law to prosecute prominent East German leaders for activities generally
regarded as normal tasks of any state—such as the defence of borders. Wolf was
able to point out that the ruthlessness that characterised his own methods had
been matched by those employed by leading Western intelligence services.
The German authorities were hardly in a
position to dispute this argument. For much of the post-war period their own
intelligence services had been run by Reinhard Gehlen, who had been one of
Hitler’s chief spies. Gehlen had built up his post-war intelligence network
using former Nazi contacts and cronies, first in collaboration with the CIA and
then in the service of the West German government in Bonn.
The more likely reason for the reduction
of Wolf’s sentence to two years’ parole, however, is that he knew too much—i.e.
embarrassing and incriminating facts about the activities of West German
politicians in the post-war period. As a result, Wolf was able to stay out of
Wolf was a cultivated man and a very
different political animal than the Prussian police thug Mielke. His activities
against the West German state in the post-war period were based on a profound
understanding of the continuity between post-war German democracy and the relics
of the Nazi state. He was fond of quoting literary figures and in his memoirs
cites the German playwright Bertold Brecht’s play “The Measures Taken” to
justify his activities in the German Democratic Republic: “And what baseness
would you not commit...?” This, Wolf declares, is “the motto for every aspect of
secret intelligence work, which one can typically describe as disinformation.”
In the name of the struggle for
socialism and the fight against fascism, the East German Stalinists, including
Wolf, created a police state machine, the primary task of which was the
suppression of any opposition to the ruling clique. While the exploits of Wolf’s
agents such as Guillaume made the headlines, the GRA under Wolf assisted in
disrupting and sabotaging genuine socialist opposition in West Germany to the
His department was an essential
component of one of the most repressive state apparatuses in modern history. At
the time of the collapse of the Stalinist state in 1989, the Stasi employed an
estimated 91,000 full-time employees and 300,000 informants. This amounts to
approximately one in fifty East Germans employed to inform and spy on their
The fact that leading members of the
Left Party and the WASG are prepared to doff their hats and pay tribute to such
a man must be taken as a warning that they would be prepared to take up Wolf’s
heritage and adopt similar measures to crush any independent social movement or
initiative on the part of the working class.
The man who came
to epitomise the ruthless world of the East German spy machine during the Cold
War, Markus Wolf, has died at his home in Berlin.
Markus Wolf said the
downfall of Willy Brandt was an "own goal"
Wolf was feared and admired by Western
intelligence officials and ran a network of 4,000 spies - many of them working
deep inside the West German establishment.
The unmasking of one of his moles,
Gunter Guillaume, caused the downfall of Chancellor Willy Brandt.
Tall and described as strikingly
handsome, Wolf was known as "the man with no face" because for many years there
were no photographs of him.
He was rumoured to have been the
inspiration for John Le Carre's Soviet spymaster "Karla" in the thriller Tinker,
Tailor, Soldier, Spy, though the writer has denied this.
Born in Germany in 1923, Wolf had a
comfortable early childhood. His father was a noted writer and doctor, Friedrich
Wolf, who was a communist and a Jew.
His mother was also a staunch communist,
and when Hitler came to power in the 1930s, the family fled, eventually settling
The young Wolf quickly embraced his new
homeland and came to the notice of Communist Party officials while still at
When the war ended he went back to
Germany, where he worked for Berlin Radio and covered the Nuremberg trials.
Taste for luxury
The experience was to have a lasting
effect on him. In a BBC interview last year he revealed that a dislike of
fascism became one of the driving forces in his life, convincing him he had to
protect his country from any repetition of the Nazi regime.
In the early 1950s, he was chosen to
lead the embryonic foreign intelligence arm of the Stasi - East Germany's feared
I hoped that after the Nuremberg Trials, there would be a
time without war, aggression or crimes against humanity
It was the job which made him a legend
and which he held until his retirement in 1986.
Those who met him said that Wolf exuded
charm and was the complete antithesis of the image of a communist apparatchik.
He understood the attractions of the West - and had a taste for life's luxuries,
as well as beautiful women.
He took great care of his staff, winning
their steadfast loyalty. But he also used his warmth to exploit and manipulate
Wolf took a long-term approach to his
job, introducing spies into West Germany among the stream of East Germans who
fled before the Iron Curtain was imposed.
Sometimes he waited years for his
sleeper agents to work their way into high office so that they could begin
supplying him with secrets.
After years in the shadows
Wolf became something of a celebrity
One such agent was Gunter Guillaume, who
moved to West Germany in 1956. He worked his way up the hierarchy of the Social
Democratic Party (SPD), eventually becoming a close aide of the Chancellor,
Willy Brandt, and getting his hands on important Nato secrets.
In 1974, he was unmasked by West German
intelligence officials and the resulting scandal led to Brandt resigning.
Later Wolf said he had not sought
Brandt's downfall - and that the affair had been one of the biggest mistakes of
Guillaume received a 13-year jail
sentence and in 1981 was released in an exchange for Western spies caught in the
But Wolf also recruited West Germans -
his agents often seducing them with sex or money.
He boasted in his memoirs that if he
went down in espionage history, it should be for perfecting the use of sex in
Among his biggest triumphs was the
recruitment of Hans-Joachim Tiedge, a West German responsible for turning East
German spies into double agents.
Tiedge was a big drinker and defected
when his debts got so large he could see no other way out. His deputy also
joined Wolf and worked for him as a mole, undetected, until the fall of the
Berlin Wall in 1989.
The author, Leslie Colitt, who has
written extensively on Wolf, believes that some of his success was based on
luck, but that his reputation also acted as a magnet for defectors.
Part of Wolf's mystique was that for
more than 20 years nobody in the West knew his identity. But a visit to
Stockholm in 1978 ended his anonymity.
The Swedish authorities had become
suspicious about the distinguished-looking East German and his attractive wife.
An agent with a telephoto lens was
despatched, caught him on film and his cover was blown.
When the Berlin Wall came down, Wolf
fled to Moscow but was refused asylum and returned to Germany.
Many of his former colleagues were said
to be horrified by their hero's decision to leave the country.
Later he was convicted of treason, but
the verdict was over-turned on appeal.
The judges argued that he was acting for
the previously independent East German state and therefore could not be tried
for treason in a different country.
His death, on the 17th anniversary of
the fall of the Berlin Wall, will be seen as the end of an era by many.
Reproduced from: BBC News