Volkspolizei

From Academic Kids

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A 1:87 scale model of a Volkspolizei police car
The Volkspolizei (German: People's Police) was the East German police force, whose officers were commonly nicknamed VoPos. Formed following the end of World War II and abolished after the German reunification, Volkspolizei officers were trained like soldiers and became feared as the means by which the East German government carried out its often oppressive policies.
Contents

Organisation

The Volkspolizei, as well as fulfilling traditional police duties such as investigation and traffic control, also worked closely with the Stasi and had their own network of informants that would crosscheck information gathered by Stasi informants, and vice versa.

Unlike Western police forces, the Volkspolizei was administered and directly subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. It was run like a second army, with corresponding ranks and use of military drill.

Though this prevented corruption, it also greatly restricted the discretionary freedoms of its officers, meaning that some crimes remained unsolved because the perpetrators escaped while investigating officers needed to go through lengthy and complicated bureaucratic procedures.

Rather than the civil service status that West German police enjoyed, each Volkspolizist had a personal contract with the government, though they were well paid, and were guaranteed an apartment in a nice suburb of a large city, and special shops for them and their families.

Recruitment

To be a standard Volkspolizei officer, an East German needed to have at least a tenth grade education, have completed vocational training (see education in East Germany) and served in the army. A history of political loyalty and frequent attendance of communist meetings was also a must.

After joining, a recruit would go through a 5 month course, mostly consisting of political indoctrination and legal theory. The recruit would then complete a 6 month practical internship. Those aspiring to be investigators would receive further training.

Any Volkspolizei officer could receive further criminological training if he wished to at the Humboldt University in East Berlin.

Though vastly different from Western police forces in most respects, the reasons Volkspolizei officers gave for joining the force were the same as any Western policemen: a desire to work with people, idealism, family tradition, belief in the system (though in this case the system in question differed) and the wish to serve one's country.

Effectiveness

When the army and the Volkspolizei erected the Berlin Wall in 1961, it was declared by the East German leadership that it would protect East Germany against the negative elements of Western society, and help on the way to a crime free "socialist paradise".

Almost paradoxically, this partially came true. In comparison to West Germany, East Germany had almost no crime, though this was because the population lived in fear of the Stasi and the Volkspolizei, rather than any commitment to the socialist cause, but also because the government, in order to lower crime statistics, struck theft of personal property off the list of crimes worthy of noting.

This low crime level changed, just as the leaders said it would, when the Wall fell in 1989. The unfamiliarity of the Volkspolizei with what were every day occurrences in the West meant that the Volkspolizei were suddenly hit with crimes they were neither equipped nor trained to solve after 1989. In Leipzig, for example, cases of serious theft rose 540% from 1989 to 1990.

History

Foundation

The Volkspolizei was effectively founded just following World War II, when, in total violation of the Yalta Conference and the Potsdam Conference, the Soviet Union established central police forces in the regions of Germany it occupied. The SVAG approved the arming of community level police forces on October 31, 1945.

The name Volkspolizei began to be used in 1946. In August of that year, the Volkspolizei was placed under the control of the German Administration of the Interior. The first Volkspolizisten were mostly former Wehrmacht officers who had converted to communism.

It is not completely clear why the Soviet Union founded the Volkspolizei. The establishment of a force made up of Germans would infer that a sovereign German state would be on the way, however, Josef Stalin had no intention pursuing this goal any further, at least in 1946.

However, it could be seen on the contrary, the Soviets attempting to mould East German society so as to be similar to the Soviet Union's. In the Soviet Union, uniformed troops assigned to tactical groups to combat counterrevolution were subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior, and the Volkspolizei was organised in the same fashion.

By November 1946, the Volkspolizei had more than 45,000 officers. In that same month the SVAG authorised the creation of the Border Police, 3,000 men who were charged with preventing mass exoduses into West Germany. In December, the Transportpolizei was established.

Purges

In the spring of 1949, the SVAG ordered that the Volkspolizei be purged of all "undesirable officers". This included anybody who had served in the Wehrmacht, anybody who had been a prisoner of war in the West, anybody had come to the Soviet occupied Germany as refugees from former German territories that had been placed under Polish or Soviet control, and anybody with relatives in West Germany.

Anybody not deemed sufficiently communistic was also dismissed. With these purges, the SVAG created a force that was, politically, steadfastly loyal. To further instill the correct politics into Volkspolizei officers, the Main Administration of Training was established in 1949. These training courses were run by communist heroes such as Spanish Civil War veteran Wilhelm Zaisser, and the man who would later become East Germany's Minister of Defence, Heinz Hoffmann.

By 1950, East Germany, though officially still without an army, was able to muster a well organised and well armed security force, and with the establishment of the Volkspolizei came the foundations of the future Nationale Volksarmee.

Workers' Uprising

The first major use of the Volkspolizei in a crisis situation was on June 17, 1953, when workers in East Berlin rioted because of the raising of quotas without an increase in salary. This led to mass demonstrations and strikes across East Germany. Backed by Red Army tanks, the Volkspolizei broke the strikes and killed about 50 people.

1953-1990

On August 17, 1961, the Volkspolizei shot and killed a man trying to escape over the Berlin Wall into West Germany, Peter Fechter.

The last East German law regarding the organisation of the police was passed in 1968, saying that the duty of the policeman was not only the aversion of danger, but also "the protection of socialist achievements, of free life and the creative work of mankind".

This very broad definition effectively raised the Volkspolizei to executives of state power, able to use the law to justify nearly any action.

Not yet complete.

Following reunification

Following the German reunification, the new German government began a massive overhaul of its police force, starting with officers formerly in the employ of the Volkspolizei.

As the modi operandi of the West and East German police forces differed vastly, Volkspolizei officers had to be retrained and taught the basic principles of justice, division of power and monopoly of power.

For example, many Volkspolizei officers were shocked to find out that citizens were permitted to refuse an order from them if it contradicted the order of justice.

Even in the 21st century, there is also much social stigma connected with being a former "VoPo", and the guilt of having been on the "wrong side" during the Cold War haunts many ex-Volkspolizei officers to this day. Ex "VoPo"s are often on the receiving end of condescension from former West German officers.

Many police chiefs will hesitate before sending ex-Volkspolizei officers into demonstration situations, as the intensive training in violently breaking demonstrations Volkspolizei officers received may come back instinctively.

Humour

Though they could be arrested for such things, many East Germans joked about the Stasi and the Volkspolizei. For example:

One sunny day, by the Baltic Sea, a boy is playing on the beach. He discovers some faeces, and decides to make a sculpture with it. He decides on a Volkspolizei officer. Just then, an officer comes along and asks the boy what the ugly little sculpture is.
"It's a VoPo!", says the boy.
So the officer beats the boy. The next day, the same officer finds the same boy doing the same thing. The officer asks once again, he receives the same reply, and again, he beats the boy.
The day after that, the boy is once again at the beach, and the officer finds him again. He gets ready to beat the boy, but realises that the boy has stopped using faeces to model policemen with. The officer asks what he is making.
"It's a G.I.!", says the boy.
The officer grins.
"Now why did you decide to stop making police officers, young man?", he asks.
"I ran out of shit to use."

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