In Response to: His Secret Life

Kudos to Adam Tanner *88 for his surprisingly even-handed article on Jeffrey Schevitz ’62. I spent a month hitchhiking around the GDR as a student in the 1970s and then lived there for the last four years of its existence as a more-or-less normal member of society despite the passport in my pocket (I was still a U.S. citizen at the time). I had a full-time job teaching at a university and met and befriended people from all walks of life and political persuasion all around the country. By the end, I had an East German wife and a 1-year-old child, as well as wonderful in-laws who were loyal party members. As a socialist of the anarchist variety, I myself was never an adherent of Soviet-style communism, though I managed to keep an open mind about those who were and remained hopeful that “top-down” East Bloc socialism could eventually grow grass roots, as it were, making the Stasi and the Wall wither away one day in some faraway future — without being bulldozed over by Western corporate capitalism. 

I sympathize entirely with Jeffrey’s original motivation to contribute to peace and coexistence between East and West in any way possible, even if it entailed disloyalty to “his own side.” The fear of nuclear war was very real, particularly in the East, as the nuclear balance was being seriously threatened, especially under Reagan. Remember his SDI, aka “Star Wars,” and the neutron bomb, which was meant to destroy life while leaving structures/cities more or less intact?

But there was also serious progress achieved in the Reagan-Gorbachev summits, and that required nuclear parity, something Jeffrey presumably wished to help maintain. (How sad that the U.S. withdrew from the INF Treaty in 2018 and that the threat of nuclear war is now greater than ever — and the prospect of eventual nuclear disarmament nothing more than a pipe dream.)

I was courted by the Ministry for State Security in the person of a highly charismatic HVA officer I met with regularly over a fairly long period of time for fascinating and open discussions of world developments with no taboos. I was dangerously close to making a formal commitment to “promoting world peace,” as it was officially called, that might have eventually turned into forced spying on U.S. institutions in West Berlin, but I turned to the U.S. embassy in East Berlin in the nick of time to get help in extricating myself from the web I had started to weave with my potential future “agent handler.”

Thanks for your article, Adam. Jeffrey sounds like an interesting guy, and we certainly don’t have the whole story here. Once an organization such as the HVA of the Stasi or the CIA has got their hooks into you, the noblest idealism can quickly be misused. I very much look forward to reading his wife’s book.

A few additional comments addressing some of the points my fellow responders raised:

• One need not look far to see politicians arguing for the ends justifying the means — even when those means fly in the face of international law. To take two particularly crass examples: Bush’s gang justifying the use of torture and Madeleine Albright’s infamous defense of the Clinton-Albright sanctions, which led to the deaths of at least half a million Iraqi children in the 1990s: “We think the price is worth it.”

• No question about it: We must never forget the victims of Communism (millions and millions), but how can one not mention in the same breath the millions of victims of U.S. imperialism around the globe?

• Regarding the dissatisfaction of East Germans: True, but I’d be willing to bet that the degree of dissatisfaction with and distrust of the system is greater among average citizens in today’s United States. Granted, there are major differences in the nature of the dissatisfaction. In East Germany, it was being walled in and constantly in fear of being under surveillance. In today’s U.S., it ranges from off-the-wall fascistic Trumpian paranoia to legitimate frustration about the fact that, for example, immensely popular ideas such as single-payer health care for all or a green New Deal are off the agenda as a matter of principle because the two corporate parties are beholden to their Wall Street (and Pentagon) masters.

• Referring to the Stasi, the Cheka, and Felix Dzerzhinsky in the context of socialist ideals is like referring to, say, Hiroshima, My Lai, or chattel slavery followed by Jim Crow in the context of American ideals.

Karl Brehmer *85
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany