Obituary: Gnter Guillaume

Gnter Guillaume, spy: born Berlin 1 February 1927; married twice (one son); died Eggersdorf, Berlin 9 April 1995.

On 6 May 1974 Willy Brandt, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, anti-Nazi emigrant and much respected statesman, announced his resignation. It sent shock waves around the world, coming as it did less than two years after his Social Democratic Party (SPD)'s best ever post-war election result. In his letter of resignation to President Gustav Heinemann, Brandt accepted his own ``political negligence in connection with the agent Guillaume''. The Chancellor was referring to the arrest, on 24 April, of Gnter Guillaume and his wife Christel.

Both had worked for the HVA, the East German intelligence service, since the 1950s. Guillaume had been responsible for Brandt's contacts with the SPD and the trade unions and had accompanied him on visits to the provinces. Brandt had regarded Guillaume as a conservative Social Democrat and a reliable aide, a good methodical worker. He was, however, irritated that he could not have a serious political discussion with Guillaume. The aide always seemed to avoid discussion. As Brandt later admitted, he was shocked, hurt and disappointed that the East Germans had planted a spy on him when he was doing so much, and against considerable opposition, for better relations with the states of the Warsaw Pact including the German Democratic Republic (DDR). He also admitted that when Guillaume was with him in Norway in 1973 he had seen some confidential documents.

Much later General Markus Wolf, who was the head of the DDR's intelligence service until 1986, and the East German dictator Erich Honecker, expressed regret that Guillaume had torpedoed Brandt. But in Honecker's case his sorrow can be doubted. Brandt's outstretched hand was a threat to the hardliners in East Berlin and elsewhere. It made it so much more difficult for them to pile on the propaganda against the West German ``revanchists'' and their ``tools''.

The Guillaume case, and others like it, did reveal the success of the HVA in infiltrating the inner circles of the West German political establishment. It also brought into question the efficiency of the BfV, the West German internal security organ. Guillaume had been under observation for a year or longer before he received the dreaded knock on the door. There had been one or two earlier doubts about him. Another unusual feature about the Guillaume case was that, when he did open his door to Bonn security officials on that April morning, he immediately confessed that he was ``a citizen of the DDR and its officer''. Without this admission it would have far more difficult, some say impossible, to convict him. In his autobiography, Die Aussage: Wie es wirklich war (1988), Guillaume claimed it was no slip: he wanted to reveal to his son, who was unaware of his parents' spying activities, the true Communist roots of the family.

In December 1975 the Supreme Land Court in Dsseldorf sentenced Guillaume to 13 years' imprisonment. He served seven years and was then part of an East-West agent exchange in October 1981. By that time, with his glasses and the beard he had grown, he looked slightly like Trotsky, but there was no hint of Trotskyism in his attitude. He and his wife, who had been released a few months earlier, were received by Honecker and feted as heroes. Gnter Guillaume was awarded the DDR's highest medal, the Karl Marx Medal, and was built up as an example for young East Germans to follow.

The Guillaumes had advanced in the Social Democratic Party in the age- old way of taking on the little administrative jobs others found tedious and regularly attending meetings. At first Christel was more successful than Gnter. She got a full-time job as a secretary for the SPD Hesse South organisation. Through the contacts she made, Gnter was then able to get a job working for the SPD press. The HVA could not have foreseen just how fast and how far the pair were to go.

Born in Berlin in 1927, Gnter Guillaume was descended from Huguenot refugees. He was an only child. His father, Karl Ernst Guillaume, was like his grandfather a musician who earned his living as a cinema pianist. The advent of the talking picture at the end of the 1920s put father Guillaume out of work. Times were hard. After Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 Guillaume was advised to join the Nazi party. He was rewarded with a minor clerical job. Later the war caught up with father and son. Karl served as an ``other rank'' in the air force. Gnter joined a Hitler Youth military training camp and from 1944 to 1945 served in the army. Nothing is known about how or where his war ended.

On his return to Berlin he teamed up with a friend in a small printing business. He took photographs for calendars, having studied photography in a technical college before military service. Just when things appeared to be going well Gnter received another blow. His father returned from a British POW camp in 1948 and discovered his wife was living with another man; he jumped out of a window, killing himself. It seems likely that Gnter Guillaume looked for a new, more heroic father and found him in the Communist movement. He was Colonel Paul Laufer of the HVA, who was the same age as his father.

Guillaume had taken up work for the Communist publisher Volk und Wissen in East Berlin. Through the trade union organisation in this firm and the Communist peace movement he was drawn more and more into politics and under-cover activities in the early 1950s. He met his wife in this milieu. From leaflet ``raids'' in West Berlin he graduated to visits to sympathisers in Bavaria. He was soon ready for recruitment as a permanent spy in the West. He was one of an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 in West Germany. This could only happen because West Germany was an open society and could not afford to treat the millions of refugees from the east as second-class citizens.

As he himself admitted, Guillaume's theoretical knowledge of Socialism was confined to Stalin's (notorious) On the Problems of Leninism. This was then the standard work of indoctrination in the ruling East German Socialist Unity Party (SED). Guillaume arrived with his wife in the West in May 1956 just after the Soviet Communist Party had denounced Stalin. Neither this development nor subsequent ones shook the faith of this master spy, a faith in a faraway land of which he knew little. The collapse of the DDR and then the Soviet Union must have been the final blows to Guillaume.

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