Synopses & Reviews
Based on previously classified documents and on interviews with former secret police officers and ordinary citizens, The Firm is the first comprehensive history of East Germany's secret police, the Stasi, at the grassroots level. Focusing on Gransee and Perleberg, two East German districts located north of Berlin, Gary Bruce reveals how the Stasi monitored small-town East Germany. He paints an eminently human portrait of those involved with this repressive arm of the government, featuring interviews with former officers that uncover a wide array of personalities, from devoted ideologues to reluctant opportunists, most of whom talked frankly about East Germany's obsession with surveillance. Their paths after the collapse of Communism are gripping stories of resurrection and despair, of renewal and demise, of remorse and continued adherence to the movement. The book also sheds much light on the role of the informant, the Stasi's most important tool in these out-of-the-way areas. Providing on-the-ground empirical evidence of how the Stasi operated on a day-to-day basis with ordinary people, this remarkable volume offers an unparalleled picture of life in a totalitarian state.
"Brilliantly written and deeply researched, this is the best book in any language on East Germany's Stasi. To cut through the myths and recreate the grassroots workings of the secret police, the author plowed through the archives and used oral interviews. We not only get inside 'the firm,' but learn how it operated and its social impact. This is an accessible history from a consummate professional and it deserves a broad audience."--Robert Gellately, author of Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe
"Gary Bruce's fascinating book is a major contribution to the enormous literature on the Stasi, providing a detailed study of how the Stasi operated at the local level to enforce communist rule. Bruce convincingly shows that the Stasi was sophisticated in its repression, relying on pervasive surveillance, psychological pressure, physical coercion, imprisonment, and blackmail to keep the population under control. Tracing the functions of the Stasi district organs from beginning to end, Bruce not only enriches the historiography on the Stasi but also touches on larger questions about the nature of the East German state. His book is an excellent complement to the best German works on this topic." --Mark Kramer, Director of the Harvard Project for Cold War Studies
"This is surely the most detailed micro-analysis of the East German security service recently added to the existing flood of material on the subject...in a rare step, [Bruce] actually interviews a number of former Stasi staff, weaving from his conversations telling portraits of 14 of them." -- Foreign Affairs
"This brilliant, thoroughly researched, and highly readable account enables readers to better understand how the Stasi operated in everyday life and how its inescapable presence affected citizens." -- CHOICE
"The Firm contributes a unique insight into the mechanics of political oppression in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) through the eyes of the agents who created the surveillance documents and the civilian informants who helped gather informationEL Gary Bruce has done an admirable job of exploring the repressive nature of the East German state and experience of normalcy in the small towns where the watchers and watched lived side by side. The Firm successfully demonstrates the value of oral history in studies of the late twentieth century as a means to bridge the gulf between traditional archival sources and popular memory." -- The Oral History Review
About the Author
Gary Bruce is Associate Professor of History at the University of Waterloo and author of Resistance with the People: Repression and Resistance in Eastern Germany, 1945-1955.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Districts Gransee and Perleberg under the Nazis
Chapter 2: In the service of the Firm: The full-time Stasi employees
Chapter 3: The candidate: Stasi informants
Chapter 4: In the line of sight: Targeted by the Stasi
Chapter 5: The Stasi in everyday life
Chapter 6: The Downfall