How much do you trust your friends? How much do you trust your government? If loose lips from the former could result in incarceration by the latter, how safe would you be?
Unlike most Americans, the average East German citizen grew up painfully well aware that their friends, neighbors, employers, and co-workers were all listening, and that even unfounded accusations of political defiance could lead to interrogation and probable incarceration. In a society where publishing our political rants via social media has become commonplace, it’s almost impossible for us to imagine a time when governments actually had to send spies out to retrieve such information. Now we offer it up daily on a 1080p platter.
In order to better understand the now archaic art of cold war spying, I recently visited the Spy Museum Berlin, (http://www.spymuseumberlin.com/en/) where surveillance equipment can be found in everything from cigarettes and umbrellas
to women’s lingerie.
If not for the lives once ruined by such technology, it might have appeared comical. Instead, I was left feeling vulnerable. I found myself wondering how many Facebook posts would have to be deleted if my government ever decided to target my freedom because of my opinions. Could they be deleted? How many people saw them? Copied them? Would remember them? How many would betray me to protect themselves?
As I research twentieth century Germany for my von Burlau series, I struggle to relate to the level of government persecution endured first by the citizens of Nazi Germany and then by those of the German Democratic Republic. I try to convince myself that it could never happen here, right? Then I wonder how many German citizens were equally convinced that it could never happen there, before it did.