Günter Krusche: Three Years After
The past year  was not a good year for General-Superintendent Günter Krusche, Berlin's highest-ranking, formerly East German church official. Krusche had been a leading force behind East Germany's "peaceful revolution" of 1989. In recognition of his struggle for human rights, Gettysburg College awarded him an honorary doctorate at Pentecost, 1991. Less than a year later though he was compelled to take a three-month leave-of-absence until his relationship with the former East German secret police could be clarified.
Three days after Krusche's sensational confession on February 20, 1992, that he had held talks with the secret police for more than twenty years, his oldest daughter, 33-year-old Anne-Kathrin, took her own life. Another blow followed: A close friend, Christof Ziemer, resigned in frustration from all church offices and retired to a cloister in Croatia. Ziemer had been the Lutheran superintendent of Dresden in 1989 and leader of Dresden's version of the peaceful revolution.
"We used to argue much more theologically," Krusche explains. "We used to ask ourselves, 'What is our mandate, and what should we therefore be doing?' But now, when we describe our visions, we are told: 'It needs to be financially viable.' That makes even well-meaning people angry. They often decide: 'This bureaucratic, money church -- this is not my church.'"
The East German church, which until recent times had enjoyed major international recognition, is now under vicious attack from both the political right and the left. Two persons receiving the brunt of this attack are Manfred Stolpe, the governor of the province of Brandenburg and the former East German church's most prominent administrator, and his close friend, Günter Krusche.
The present controversy centers around the correct form of resistance to the communist state: Should it have been absolute, or diplomatic? Those who chose the absolute route bent on overthrowing the government were usually imprisoned, or, much more frequently, were resettled in West Germany. Those who chose to remain active in the public arena were, as "diplomats", forced to make compromises with the state.
The building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 had left the impression that the East German state was here to stay, and, that a church desiring a voice in the public arena needed to reach a working understanding with the government. The resulting posture was called the "Church in Socialism": The church would not work for the overthrow, but only for the improvement and humanization of the communist order. "In time, almost everyone gave up hoping for reunification," Krusche claims. "Not so many would have fled to the West during the last months of the regime if they had believed that reunification was near."
As the Soviet empire began to crumble in the late 1980's, the belief in absolute resistance revived. Its followers are today convinced that events have proven their strategy correct. They are now assailing the church for its past, moderate stance. Krusche counters: "We struggled for the creation of a better socialism. But we never felt that we needed to conform at all costs. We always tried to toe the fine line between conformity and rejection. Now, this strategy is on trial. But I still believe the attempt to be a 'Church in Socialism' was justified."
Krusche continues: "Stolpe and I negotiated with the Marxists in order to achieve the best possible solutions for both sides. And now, in retrospect, this is supposed to have been a crime worthy of punishment! This is the blindest form of anticommunism. I still hold to the claim of Thomas Mann who stated that 'anticommunism is the greatest folly of this century.'"
Strong resentment exits. East German church diplomats feel radical leftists, who had once plead for and received legal aid from the church, are now sitting in judgment of the church policy and personalities which had once protected them. The East Berlin theologian Richard Schröder concludes: "We received too much honor when we were initially celebrated as the mother of the revolution. We now receive too much damnation when we are labeled an arm of the old system."
This animosity quickly surfaces when church contacts with the former secret police (Stasi) are brought into play. Krusche and Stolpe had both held regular discussions with the secret police without informing their superior, the Bishop. Krusche explains: "I saw myself as one of the church's front-line sentries. I felt that if we really wanted to know what made the government tick, then we could not find out by talking with the town mayor. It's true, one didn't HAVE to speak with the Stasi. Theoretically, the Stasi was subordinate to the party, but things happened quickest when we approached the Stasi." In February, 1988, he adds, when his office was surrounded by potential refugees who believed Krusche was the fastest ticket possible for getting to the West, the police cordon was only removed after he in desperation approached the Stasi.
According to past church leaders, secret police archives are now being used as a power play to root out the East German church's past liberal and leftist tendencies. Krusche believes the files "are deployed as an instrument for liquidating some people, not as a means for obtaining the truth." Such leaders believe that observers who had little or no contact with the East German church prior to 1989, are now sitting in judgment of it. Gerhard Besier, a conservative church historian virtually unknown in East German circles before the fall of the Berlin Wall, has caused a fury by publishing a book based on police archives which accuses the East German church of collaboration with the state.
The controversy took a new turn in November when it was revealed that Rainer Eppelmann, a former pastor and political dissident, had maintained close ties to U.S. diplomats proven to be agents of the CIA. Krusche states: "Being that contacts existed not only to the Stasi, but also to the CIA, I will need to do some demythologizing." Eppelmann is now a conservative national politician and one of the most forceful critics of church associations with the Stasi.
Nevertheless, at least several dozen church officials did cooperate closely with the secret police. The now-deceased Detlef Hammer, a high-level church administrator located in Eisenach, was himself a secret police officer. Jürgen Kapiske, once editor of the East European Lutheran news service based in Vienna, has admitted to being a police informant. Journalist Rüdiger Rosenthal concludes: "The internal structure of the church must also be responsible for the fact that the church could be demolished so strongly from within." Others write that the interests of the Stasi and the church overlapped: Neither the Stasi nor the church wanted to create martyrs. Yet Krusche and other major church officials remain convinced that the church's basic witness remains unscathed.
Dr. Bill Yoder
Berlin, December 5, 1992
Written for „The Lutheran“ in Chicago, 1,130 words
Note from December 2020: Günter Krusche (1931-2016) died as a pensioner in Berlin.
Christof Ziemer (born 1941) returned to eastern Germany permanently in 2003 and became a pastor in Riesa.
Manfred Stolpe (1936-2019) was SPD-governor of the province of Brandenburg from 1990 to 2002.
Rainer Eppelmann (CDU) was a member of Germany’s “Bundestag from 1990 to 2005.
Strangely, Gerhard Besier belonged from 2009-14 and 2017-18 to the party “Die Linke”.