Wolfgang Vogel: Lawyer who grew rich helping East Germans escape to the West

Wolfgang Vogel lurked in and out of the shadows of Cold War Germany. He was known to many prominent figures but not to the general public. As personal emissary of the East German leader Erich Honecker, he helped to facilitate East-West prisoner exchanges and the re-location of thousands of East Germans to the West. He was not, however, a philanthropist. His services did not come cheap, and he became a wealthy man through his Cold War exploits.

Vogel was born in 1925 in the village of Wilhelmsthal, Silesia, then in eastern Germany, the son of a Catholic schoolteacher. In 1944 he did his compulsory Arbeitsdienst (labour service) before serving, from March 1944, in the Luftwaffe. When Silesia became Polish territory in 1945, the Vogels joined the millions of others who, forced from their homes, had to relocate west of the de facto frontier on the Oder-Neisse line.

The family settled in the university town of Jena, part of the Soviet Zone of German, which was to become the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Vogel started his law studies in Jena before transferring to Leipzig University, where he graduated in 1948. Serving his legal apprenticeship to a senior judge, Rudolf Reinartz, in Waldheim, he moved with his boss to the East German Justice Ministry in 1952. With rigorous Stalinist norms being applied, justice was in short supply.

From 1954 Vogel worked as a lawyer in East Berlin, gaining the right to work in West Berlin as well, in 1957. By that time, he was known to the Stasi, the East German state security service, as "Eva" and "Georg". He was their man, an Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter or "unofficial collaborator". Reinartz had deserted to the West after the anti-Communist uprising of June 1953 and urged Vogel to join him, but the Stasi knew of this and pressured him to work for them. Vogel needed little persuading. His Stasi controller, Captain (later Colonel) Heinz Volpert, saw in him someone presentable, who could act, posing as an independent lawyer, as an arbiter in Stasi dealings with West Germany.

On the morning of 10 February 1962 on the Glienicker Bridge, which connected Allied-controlled West Berlin with Soviet-controlled Potsdam, the US "spy-plane" pilot Francis Gary Powers, was exchanged for the KGB officer Rudolf Abel. Powers had been shot down flying a U-2 reconnaissance plane over the Soviet Union on 1 May 1960. Abel had operated as a successful spy in the United States before his 1957 arrest.

At the same moment, at Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie, the East Germans released another client of Vogel's, an American PhD student, and later professor of economics, Frederic L. Pryor. Arrested in August 1961 on visit to East Berlin, Pryor had been held without charge.

Vogel had apparently brought off the first East-West exchange of prisoners. Clearly he was a front for far bigger Soviet players, but the deal had taken him near the top in the world of secret diplomacy. According to General Markus Wolf, head of the GDR's foreign espionage, Vogel reported directly to the long-serving head of the Stasi, General Erich Mielke.

Another of Vogel's best-known cases was in 1986 when the United States sought the freedom of the imprisoned Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky (later, as Natan Sharansky, a politician in Israel). And earlier, in 1981, Vogel was waiting in the dark at the border for the secret release of Günter Guillaume, the East German spy whose exposure, in 1974, had brought down the West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Altogether, with Vogel's help, 150 spies from 23 countries were repatriated.

Heinz Volpert played a decisive role in planning a fruitful export for the cash-strapped GDR. This was the expulsion of political prisoners to West Germany in exchange for cash. Rather than holding thousands of prisoners in overcrowded jails and getting unfavourable publicity for so doing, it was better to be rid of them and earn vital foreign currency in exchange. Vogel was seen as the appropriate man to carry out this mission, at first using the Evangelical Church as a go-between in 1962. From 1964 to 1989 he "sold" 33,755 prisoners to West Germany. Their value varied according to their profession, their "crime" and how well they were known in the West.

For his task, Vogel stepped forth as Honecker's official representative for humanitarian questions. In this role he also negotiated family reunifications for 215,019 people. These were family members who had been left behind when the Berlin Wall was erected in August 1961, or they were relatives of escapees or of those who had defected on business trips to the West.

Their freedom was bought by the West German government under Vogel's auspices. In this capacity Vogel got to know the West German Chancellors Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl and other top politicians including the Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the Bavarian leader Franz Josef Strauss, as well as Rainer Barzel, Erich Mende and Herbert Wehner who, as Ministers for Inter-German Affairs, played a major role in the early Freikauf (freedom-buying) of political prisoners.

Remarkably, when Vogel was accused after re-unification of exploiting his position for personal gain, Schmidt and Genscher spoke up for him. Vogel's trial lasted more than a year and in January 1996 he was found guilty of perjury, blackmail and falsifying documents, and given a two-year suspended sentence and fined DM92,000 (£41,000). He was later acquitted on appeal.

In April 1946 Vogel had married Eva Anlauf, a kindergarten teacher. When they divorced in 1966 she moved, with their two children, to the West. In 1974 Vogel married a West German, Helga Fritsch, who moved to the GDR and worked as his secretary. After German re-unification in 1990, they lived in some style, in Schliersee in Bavaria.

David Childs



Wolfgang Heinrich Vogel, lawyer: born Wilhelmsthal, Germany 30 October 1925; married 1946 Eva Anlauf (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1966), 1974 Helga Fritsch; died Schliersee, Germany 21 August 2008.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit