|Ulrike Meinhof and the RAF|
The prominent RAF members including Baader, Ensslin, and Meinhof
On May 14th 1970, Andreas Baader imprisoned for setting fire to two department stores, was allowed to meet the journalist, Ulrike Meinhof, at the German Central Institute for Social Questions (“Deutsches Zentralinstitut für Soziale Fragen”) to write a book together about young offenders. However, during this “meeting” Baader was forcefully liberated, which marks the birth of the Baader-Meinhof Group also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang and later on as the Red Army Faction (RAF).
After the Baader liberation, Ulrike Meinhof was interviewed by Michèle
Ray, a French journalist, whom she gave three reasons for her action:
On the 21st of June 1970, Andreas
Ensslin (the two
most influential members of the RAF fulfilling leadership roles), and
Meinhof traveled to Jordan along with other members of the RAF
where they were educated in guerilla tactics including shooting with
Kalaschnikovs, throwing of hand grenades, robbing of banks. The stay
in the camp gave rise to many conflicts between the Germans and the
Palestinian Fedayin regarding food, living quarters, and the training
itself. Baader believed that the training the RAF received in Jordan
was irrelevant for the task awaiting them in Germany. Another source
of conflict was the conviction of the Germans that anti-imperialistic
struggle and sexual liberation go hand in hand.
Back in Berlin, the Baader-Meinhof Group prepared for a secret, underground struggle that would have to be conducted with great efficiency. Ulrike Meinhof contacted people she knew from her days as a journalist. Although not many appreciated the idea of an armed struggle central to the RAF doctrine, she was fairly successful because people empathized with her now that she was classified as a public enemy and searched for by the police.
In contrast to what the name Baader-Meinhof Gang implies, Ulrike Meinhof’s influence in the group was rather weak during this time because she was very insecure when it came to interpersonal relationships within the group even though she was assertive, strong, and convincing in her publications,.
Ulrike Meinhof started to adapt to life in illegality, planning attacks,
and coordinating their survival. Numerous banks were robbed to secure
the financial basis, cars were stolen (by the famous ‘doubles
method’), and flats were rented. The justification for these
actions was that they did not harm the little man, only the capitalist.
Ulrike Meinhof learned how to break into cars and carried a pistol
at all times. She did not prove to be very successful at practical
things, she broke off a wheel of the car she tried to steel, she left
most of the money in the bank after a robbery, and she wrote wrong
addresses on parcels with blank passports and identity card forms,
official stamps as well as official papers she had previously stolen.
In November 1970, Ulrike Meinhof started to drive through Germany in a VW-bus with Karl-Heinz Ruhland. On the way they visited many friends of Ulrike all of whom later were charged with aiding and abetting a criminal association. The purpose of their journey besides networking and obtaining forged papers was to investigate how to break into an arms depot.
Ex-members of the Baader-Meinhof Group claim that Ulrike Meinhof was the most nervous person with the least stabile stimulus threshold. Apparently, she kept rubbing her fingers together and often made little paper balls, which the police later started looking for in suspicious flats. Moreover, she was the most politicized and was obsessed with overanalyzing every situation by imposing a political line of argumentation that involved the creation of an independent and politically conscious proletariat. Political discussions within the group decreased so that Ulrike Meinhof, who was in charge with finding apartments for the group to stay in, had to rely on discussions with her acquaintances that often offered refuge to the group.
On Christmas 1970, the remaining members of the RAF met in Stuttgart. However, after only living six months underground, more members had been arrested than met that day. On this day a fundamental argument between Baader and Meinhof about the way the group was organized permanently changed their relationship. Ulrike Meinhof argued that the RAF was too unorganized, not precarious enough, and not taking enough time to adequately prepare their actions. According to Baader, all mistakes made in the past had been solely the responsibility of an individual and not of the structure of the group. The rude use of language among group members led to increased social isolation.
The Baader-Meinhof Group or Baader-Meinhof Gang had not expressed themselves in writing since the organized interview with the French journalist, Michèle Ray, after Baader’s liberation. In 1971, Horst Mahler wrote a “Statement of Position” while he was imprisoned that was unfavorably looked upon by the rest of the group. In response, Ulrike Meinhof was instructed to produce a manifesto that would present the group to the outside world. As a result, the Urban Guerrilla Concept originated in which the name Red Army Faction was used for the first time. In this document, the well-known logo of an H&K machine pistol with the abbreviation RAF above it and a red star in the background is depicted.
A clear cut line must be drawn between us and the
Guerrilla Concept begins with a Mao quote:
In November 1971, Renate Riemeck tried to reason with her foster daughter. She published a letter in konkret titled “Give up, Ulrike!” (Aust 1985, 1998: The full text is printed in Chapter 2, subsection 31). This letter was a mixture of criticism of the actions of RAF and praise for her past political engagement and benevolent character. Riemeck tried to change Meinhof’s point of view by charming her and reasoning with her. In this letter, she pointed out that she believed Ulrike was “too intelligent and reasonable to confuse anti-authoritarian rebelliousness with the beginning of a broad revolution.” She also wrote that “Germany is not a place for an urban guerrilla movement in the Latin American style” and asked “Who… still understands the political and moral impulse behind your actions? A spirit of sacrifice and the readiness to face death become ends in themselves if one cannot make them understood.” She continues by commenting on the recent deaths of three victims, demanding “You must correct yourselves.” She concludes with an appeal: “I do not know how far your own influence within the group extends how far your friends are amenable to rational considerations. But you should try to measure up the chances of an urban guerrilla movement in the Federal Republic against the social reality of this country. You can do that, Ulrike.”
An emancipated Ulrike Meinhof?
Meanwhile, the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) appointed a new Chief Commissioner,
Horst Herold, who invented a computer program that was able to save
data of tens of thousands of suspects. Horst Herold was a main character
in fighting the inner-state war, the military and political conflict
between the bourgeois and capitalist state, and its radical opponents.
While the German state prepared its response to the terrorists, the RAF killed a police officer while robbing another bank in December 1971.
In March 1972, the press reported the alleged death of Ulrike Meinhof but in reality she was in Italy during this time and later returned to Hamburg where she recruited members. The year that followed was hectic: bombings of the US army in Frankfurt and Heidelberg, the police station in Augsburg, the Munich Regional Criminal Investigation Office, the car of the Federal Judge Budenberg, and the Axel Springer building in Hamburg.
Ulrike Meinhof seemed very depressed after the Springer bombings. Many friends told her to stop her terrorist activity but she replied that this was only the beginning of a long struggle.
On June 15th 1972, Meinhof was arrested in a flat where she had hidden. At first, the police officers failed to notice that they had arrested Ulrike Meinhof since she had changed dramatically in appearance – she was much thinner and looked sick. To verify the identity of the woman, she was forcibly anaesthetized and x-rays were taken of her head to look for the silver clamp put in ten years ago during her brain operation.
From June 16th 1972 until February 9th 1973, Ulrike Meinhof was imprisoned in the ‘dead section’ of Köln-Ossendorf, completely isolated from normal life in prison and from the other RAF members who had been captured in the meantime. She was only allowed to see her family every two weeks for 30 minutes under supervision during her stay in the ‘quiet section’ for eight months.
She summarized her feelings during this time:
It was incredibly hard for Ulrike Meinhof to be alone and acoustically
as well as physically isolated. Sometimes she talked to the wardens
although that was against RAF policy. It was also a maxim not to provoke,
but to defend yourself with all methods.
Because she had time on her hands and was inspired by Brecht, she rewrote the song “Praise of the Party” as “Song of the RAF” with a subtitle that reads “Praise of the Anti-imperialist Struggle”.
“The RAF is in the can of the masses,
(As quoted in Aust 1985, 1998)
During this time, she also kept up correspondence with her two daughters.
In September 1972, Ulrike Meinhof was flown to Zweibrücken where she was to take part in an identity parade.
In October 1972, the ten year-old twins came to visit her mother for the first time after they had not seen her in three years. They were allowed to visit once a month for two hours. In December 1973, Ulrike Meinhof suddenly broke off the contact with her children without any explanation. She refused to answer their letters and returned their presents.
Ulrike Meinhof participated in all four hunger strikes that were fought to improve the conditions of imprisonment for the RAF members. But Meinhof, as well as Ensslin and Baader, ate secretly in hierarchical order whereas other RAF members died of hunger.
In February 1974, she received company for a certain number of hours
a day because Gudrun Ensslin was transferred into the cell next to
Ulrike Meinhof. In April, both women were moved to Stuttgart-Stammheim
where they were to reside in the high security wing.
On August 27th 1974, Ulrike Meinhof was transferred to Berlin due to her involvement in the liberation of Baader in 1970. Ulrike Meinhof appeared sick and barely perceived the presence of Mahler. She explained the struggle she fought with RAF at her trial as follows: “The anti-imperialistic struggle, if it is to be more than mere chatter, means annihilation, destruction, the shattering of the imperialist power system – political, economic and military” (Aust 1985, 1998). The reaction evoked by Meinhof among the people present at the trial is a feeling of pity more than anything else. Ulrike Meinhof is compared to Joan of Arc, a self-made martyr whose followers merely existed in her head. Meinhof is sentenced to eight years of imprisonment on November 29th 1974.
Back in Stammheim, she was due to begin her work on an essay about the history of the RAF, the preliminary title was to be “On the Anti-Imperialist Struggle.” Her notes show that she put the RAF into the time frame of ‘68 and portrayed the RAF as the rescuer of these ideals, ensuring the continuation of the struggle. Although Gudrun Ensslin reassured Ulrike Meinhof that she was the voice of the RAF, Meinhof was plagued by severe self-doubt that impeded her creativity. She accused herself of not having completely dissolved all bonds to her past in the establishment, of lacking revolutionary power, and of accepting the game of domination and submission, of fear and clinging to the rules.
On October 2nd 1974, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Ulrike Meinhof, Hoger Meins and Jan-Carl Raspe were officially identified as the five most important members of the RAF and accused of five murders. During the Stammheim trial, 1,000 witnesses and 70 experts would be heard and the files on case ran to 170 amounting to nearly 100,000 pages. The files were internally named “Baader – Meinhof – Complex.”
In November 1974, Günter von Drenkmann, a judge who is not affiliated with the trial is killed by the 2. June Movement.
Whereas the first generation RAF was imprisoned, the second generation tried to liberate them. They stormed the German embassy in Stockholm killing several people. Several RAF groups existed that were ignorant of each other’s existence.
On May 21st 1975, the trial commenced in a building, which had been built next to the Stammheim prison on purpose.
The trial was nerve-racking and protracted over two years. The defendants had to be thrown out of the courtroom many times and some attorneys were expelled. It took weeks until the conditions were such that the personalities could be checked. The Bundestag had revised the Code of Criminal Procedure prior to this trial.
Several recurring themes of the trial included the question of the defending lawyers, the bugging of the Stammheim prison cells, the length of the hearing per day, and the issue of fitness of the defendants to stand trial.
During day 23 of the trial, on August 5th, Ulrike Meinhof commented on terrorism: “Terrorism is the destruction of utilities such as dykes, waterworks, hospitals, power stations. All the targets at which the American bomb attacks in the North Vietnam were systematically aimed from 1965 onwards. The city guerilla movement, on the other hand, carries fear into the machinery of the state…The actions of urban guerillas are never never directed against people. They are always directed against the imperialist machine. The urban guerilla fight the terrorism of the state” (Aust 1985, 1998). This statement expresses the feelings of the first RAF generation only.
On the 39th day of the trial, September 23rd 1975, the findings of three medical experts unanimously reported that the defendants were suffering from weakness, disorders of speech and vision, being underweight, and were able to concentrate only poorly. Ulrike Meinhof was unable to concentrate at all.
Ulrike Meinhof talked about the impossibility of defection in the 41st day of the trial, October 28th 1975. She asked the judge: “How can a prisoner kept in isolation show the authorities…that his conduct has changed?...The prisoner has only one possible way of showing that his conduct has changed and that is betrayal….That means that in a situation when you’re in isolation there are just two alternatives: either...you silence a prisoner…by which I mean he dies, or you get him to talk. And that means confession and betrayal. That is torture, that’s nothing less than torture by isolation, defined by the need to extort confessions, to intimidate the prisoner so as to penalize and confuse him” (Aust 1985, 1998). These remarks express an emotional distance to the group and most likely reflect her own thoughts of her situation. Doubt for the RAF was equal to betrayal.
On January 13th, the defendants claimed ‘political responsibility’ for the bomb attacks, but did not comment on the criminal aspect. To them the motivations for their actions were purely political and thus, they executed political acts.
After four years of imprisonment, the conflicts within the group intensified. The relationships particularly between Ensslin and Meinhof were at their lowest in the spring of 1976. They were brutal, cruel, underhand, and played tricks at each other. Ulrike Meinhof wrote that she could not stand that situation any longer.Ulrike Meinhof had been officially excluded from the trial for a month from March 19th to April 10th and voluntarily stayed away from then onwards.
Four days after Gudrun Ensslin disassociated herself from the attack on the Axel Springer publishing house, which was a public notice that the solidarity between the group had come to an end, Ulrike Meinhof was found dead in her cell.
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