Stasiland – Hohenshoenhausen Prison
Our young guide was Gritt. Her family was from the East and her parents had Stasi files. Her mathemetician father retrieved his file but won’t read it. She says he still plays (name of a game) with some people and doesn’t want to find out what they saw, heard or wrote about him. She has just finished post graduate studies and is very committed to revealing the truths of what happened in the prison. She asked us to support Amnesty International and help prisoners across the world.
It was all about psychology here. They didn’t just want confessions, like the Soviets did when it was their camp. The Stasi decided they wanted information and they were very patient in their efforts to acquire it. It didn’t matter if it took 8 days or weeks or months. They knew everyone would break at some point. I think Gritt said ‘everyone in this building talked.’
We went to the U boat cells in the basement. Then we looked at one of the anonymous Stasi grey vans that picked people up. We went into another building where prisoners were first taken. They had all clothes taken – were only allowed to keep their glasses, if they wore them. They were given a number – loss of identity and the guards could call out ‘Prisoner 20 step forward’ and other prisoners had no idea of who it was. During the day, they were not permitted to sit or lie on the bed. They could sit on the chair or walk between the chair and the door. At night, they had to lie in the ‘sleeping position’ – on their back, with hands outside the blankets. They were not allowed to move. If they did, the guards yelled or rattled the door etc. There was systematic sleep deprivation.
They were given blue prison garb and yellowy brown slippers the same colour as the floor. Colour was crucial ie the lack of it. Colour deprivation was an effective tool to break people who gradually lost all sense of themselves and the outside world. There was a rose garden in the prison grounds – for the Stasi to maintain a sense of the real world. Wallpaper inthe different interrogation rooms was cleverly different to confuse prisoners. It looked bland to me but had 1960s plant patterns etc in yellow and beige.
The Stasi teased and mocked – they ‘always smiled’ said Gritt – with knowledge of the prisoners’ favourite food or brand of tea… perhaps while leisurely eating the prisoner’s favourite lunch in front of them and talking of how their wife had left or the children would be sent to an orphanage and then adopted. Women were never interrogators because the Stasi believed they might show some empathy to the prisoners. We met Mike, a former prisoner. At school he punched a boy who had raped a girl, but the boy’s father was a/the Stasi chief – so Mike got jail. All told it was 6 years. He was in there when the Wall fell, but had no idea. He was suddenly released 3 weeks later and then he discovered the Wall was down.
The whole area was a restricted, secret zone that didn’t even show on a map.