Stasi and RAF: French Passport of Ulrike Meinhof

Stasi RAF Ulrike Meinhof The Red Army Faction (RAF) was a left-wing terrorist group in the Federal Republic of Germany. The State Security (Stasi) first…

Stasi RAF Ulrike Meinhof

The Red Army Faction (RAF) was a left-wing terrorist group in the Federal Republic of Germany. The State Security (Stasi) first collected information about the terrorists, observed their activities and tolerated their travels to the Middle East via East Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport. In the 1980s, contacts intensified and the State Security offered refuge in the GDR to ten RAF dissidents. In addition, the MfS trained some terrorists in the handling of weapons.

In August 1970, RAF terrorist Ulrike Meinhof wanted to sound out in East Berlin whether the group could coordinate the “armed fight” from there. Meinhof tried to enter Friedrichstraße via the border crossing with a forged French passport. The Stasi staff of the local passport control unit copied the document.

Back then it was much easier to forge passport as no sufficient security features were applied on passports. However, this forged French passport was poorly forged as it was instantly detected by the authorities. This case and events are a significant part of German (passport) history.

Stasi RAF Ulrike Meinhof

In fact, the terrorists hoped to find a safe haven in the GDR. Ulrike Meinhof, a member of the RAF who was already wanted in the RAF, wanted to sound this out in August 1970. With a passport of the French journalist Michèle Susanne Ray, provided with her picture, she traveled to the GDR and demanded a contact interview with “responsible comrades” in the building of the Central Council of the Free German Youth (FDJ). To support left-wing terrorism in the West, however, seemed too politically sensitive for the State Security. If this had become a reputable act, it would have resulted in serious damage to the image and diplomatic distortions. The MfS and the SED did not want to risk this. In addition, “individual terror” was considered worthy of criticism from the traditional Marxist point of view.

For this reason, Meinhof was detained during her first visit on 17 August 1970. When she tried to enter the country again under a false name on the following day, she was rejected at the Friedrichstraße border crossing. In the meantime, the State Security had imposed an entry ban on her.

Founded in 1970 by Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Horst Mahler and Ulrike Meinhof, the RAF saw itself as an “anti-imperialist urban guerilla” modeled on South America. Until its dissolution in 1998, the group never consisted of more than 20 people at any one time. The history of the RAF is divided into three “generations” of terrorists, some of whom differed considerably in their ideology, goals, and brutality.

The RAF was responsible for 34 murders of political and business leaders and their drivers and bodyguards. Police officers, customs officers, and American soldiers also lost their lives. The group tried to press members detained by kidnappings freely, carried out bomb attacks with over 200 injured and financed itself by bank robberies. 27 members and supporters of the RAF lost their lives as a result of foreign influence, suicide, hunger strike or illness.

The state security truly supported the RAF. It thus ensured the release of RAF members imprisoned in Eastern Europe. On several occasions, the MfS let the Federal German search run empty-handed, for example by laying “false tracks”. In the first half of the 1980s, employees of Division XXII gave active RAF members shelter in “Object 74”, a secret accommodation near Frankfurt/Oder, and trained them in the use of weapons at a firing range.

The original text is in German and the Stasi Mediathek granted me the right in written form to publish this article in English, for which I am grateful.

Stasi RAF Ulrike Meinhof

FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...