Germany in 1968
What is the RAF?
Career as a Journalist
Meinhof and the RAF
The Brain Question?
Bibliography & Links
a willful act or a mere brain damage?
Close-up image of neurons
The morbid fascination of scientists with Ulrike Meinhof’s brain
is one of the lesser known details in relation to the RAF. The
obscure metamorphosis of the intelligent, gifted, bourgeois girl into
killer appalled many people.
Did a brain damage influence Ulrike Meinhof’s development
into a terrorist?
The 26-year old Ulrike Meinhof had to undergo surgery because a tumor
was suspected in her brain, which turned out to be a benign tumor.
Scientists hypothesized that this operation might have affected Ulrike
Meinhof’s emotional control center. Was she of sound mind? In
retrospective, what effect does this debate have on the history of
the RAF? Does brain research dismantle the “I”?
Ulrike Meinhof committed suicide in her prison cell on May 9th 1976,
which can be interpreted as the ultimate act of free will or the ultimate
act of resistance executed by an extraordinarily woman who strongly
believed in a vision and that the means justified the ends.
In November 2002, Bettina Röhl, Meinhof’s daughter, discovered
that her mother’s brain was stored in a cardboard box at the
University of Tübingen without the family’s permission.
The autopsy after Meinhof’s suicide was carried out by the neurologist,
Professor Jürgen Pfeiffer, who noticed unusual deformations of
Meinhof’s brain. He stated that a causality between the brain
operation and a loss of a sense for the reality was more than likely,
concluding that Ulrike Meinhof’s brain showed pathological abnormalities
which should have led to reduced culpability or acquittal at the trial.
In 1974, Ulrike Meinhof was sentenced to eight years in prison assuming
that she was fully mentally fit and responsible for her actions.
Pfeiffer corresponded with Renate Riemeck who confirmed that Ulrike
Meinhof underwent a profound personality change after the operation
resulting in a partial self-estrangement. Bettina Röhl claims
that Pfeiffer wrote a report on his findings that was published in
1976 and included the above mentioned thesis with photographic evidence.
This report circulated among RAF sympathizers but never reached the
mass media. Even the tribunal under Otto Schilly refused to inform
the public about the report. Arguably, it would have destroyed not
only the legitimatization of the RAF but also the credibility of the
entire movement of the extra-parliamentary left if it had become known
that a pathologically sick woman was the voice of their movement, the
author of many central pieces that laid out the RAF ideological framework,
and one of the founding members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang.
Ulrike Meinhof’s ex-husband, Klaus Rainer Röhl, had hypothesized
independently from the findings mentioned above that his ex-wife suffered
from the late consequences of her brain operation. As he states in
his book “Fünf Finger sind keine Faust” (Kiepenheuer & Witsch,
1974), his wife had undergone changes, she had become cooler, more
distanced and sexually unfeeling. During their divorce process, Ulrike
Meinhof had devastated their mutual house. According to Klaus R. Röhl,
the change in personality is connected with Ulrike Meinhof’s
becoming a terrorist.
The medical history of Ulrike Meinhof was published by Dr. Kautsky
in 1968, anonymous under the acronym U.R. as story of a successful
operation and healing process.
In 1997, Pfeiffer gave the psychiatrist, Bernhard Bogerts, Ulrike Meinhof’s
brain and he conducted research on her brain for five years at the
University of Magdeburg. He claims that Meinhof had a brain operation
in 1962 that may have contributed to her becoming one of Europe’s
most feared urban guerillas and terrorists. Her right brain-half, which
deals with emotional response, had been injured by the clamping off
of a tumor in a brain operation in 1962. The operation led to pathological
modifications of her brain possibly resulting in an increased aggression
of Meinhof as well as behavioral changes that turned her from an aspiring
journalist to becoming the co-founder of the far-leftist RAF terrorist
The Spiegel published before long an article on Ulrike Meinhof and
her brain diagnosis. The Spiegel editor-in-chief, Stefan Aust, was
an important figurehead in deciphering the Baader-Meinhof complex since
he had undergone journalism training under Ulrike Meinhof, was present
at the violent demonstration against the Axel-Springer publishing house,
and was involved in returning her twins to their father.
Bettina Röhl has filed a lawsuit on charges of disturbing the
peace of the dead for secretly removing Meinhof’s brain after
her death and is seeking to have her brain buried with the rest of
her remains in Berlin. Röhl claims that a dead terrorist has a
right to be treated fairly and the right to a decent burial. In 2002,
the brain of Ulrike Meinhof was buried in Berlin.
While the brain operation might have had a profound influence on Ulrike
Meinhof’s behavior, it will always remain an unanswered question
in how far external circumstances such as friends and society as well
as a longing for adventure and a meaningful life have been decisive
factors that influenced her transformation from an aspiring journalist
admired by the high society, celebrated as highly sensible and gifted,
and valued for her opinions into a woman devoted to the armed urban
guerrilla struggle against the capitalist and imperialist German state.
In 2002, just after the daughters of Ulrike Meinhof had finally obtained
the permission to burry her brain BBC reported missing the brains of
Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe who committed suicide
in jail in 1977. The director of the Neurological Research Institute
of the University of Tübingen, Richard Meyermann, has no explanation
concerning the whereabouts of the brain.
More about the brains of the RAF Terrorists:
Army Faction brains ‘disappeared’
Saturday, 16 November, 2002, 19:05 GMT
Meinhof brain study yields clues
Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 23:30 GMT
Die Zeit (German)
Die Hirnforschung demontiert das Ich
Andreas Sentker, 47/2002
Warum der Schädelinhalt großer Untäter so begehrt ist
Richard Herzinger, 47/2002
Ulrike Meinhof schuldunfähig?
Bettina Röhl (German)
Bettina Röhl, the daughter of Ulrike Meinhof, has researched
the topic extensively and published an article in which she comments
on the brain trail, freedom of the press, and the dignity of the death
on her webpage.
dignity of the dead Ulrike Meinhof. The madhouse republic? Is the German Terrorism
imaginable without the media? Or: The story of Ulrike
Meinhof’s medical brain diagnosis that was suppressed for 26
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