In This Review

The Firm: The Inside Story of the Stasi (Oxford Oral History Series)
The Firm: The Inside Story of the Stasi (Oxford Oral History Series)
By Gary Bruce
Oxford University Press, USA, 2010, 264 pp

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. To get down into the inner workings of “the Firm," as its employees liked to call it, Bruce focused on two of the organization's 217 district offices, Gransee and Perleberg, rather out-of-the-way areas of no particular significance. But, as elsewhere, the Stasi presided over a sprawling network of informants there -- and the archives remained comparatively intact. Bruce combs these and then, in a rare step, actually interviews a number of former Stasi staff, weaving from his conversations telling portraits of 14 of them. This ground-level look does not tell one much about the political activity in Stasi's upper echelons, or even at a lower level in the big cities, but it does convey the stupefying preoccupation with recruiting informants and then harassing the average Stasi agent to get more, often useless, information from them. The image of the Stasi is not so much that of an instrument of terror or even brutal intimidation -- though intimidating it could be -- but of a bureaucratic octopus more fixed on sucking up information than accomplishing a mission, which in the case of unmasking regime opponents in Gransee and Perleberg was something of a fool's errand.