Securitas Imperii 38/2021

This year’s first issue of Securitas Imperii. Journal for the Study of Modern Dictatorships offers a wide range of historical topics. In her study, Petra Loučová deals with the fate of Marta Hellmuthová, the translator of Mika Waltari’s Egyptian Sinuhet, who, although she was a political prisoner in the 1950s, managed to gain a position through her work during the 1960s and 1970s that had to be respected by the power structures of the time. Milan Bárta describes the efforts to reform the security apparatus in the 1960s and shows how the reform efforts of the Prague Spring, had an impact on the Ministry of the Interior, albeit only briefly. The topic of the printed periodicals published in the 1970s and 1980s by the Federal Ministry of the Interior of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic is dealt with by Tomáš Malínek, who gives a detailed outline of their content, personnel, and organisational development. Adam Havlík focuses his study on the censorship activities of the Czechoslovak security apparatus before 1989, with a focus on the foreign press. Two studies deal with wartime and post-war issues. Jan Zumr’s text deals extensively with the Gestapo’s personnel policy, especially the composition of its Prague headquarters. The author trio of Petr Kaňák – Jan Vajskebr – Jan Zumr focuses on the career of war criminal Heinrich Reiser during the Cold War when he played an important role in the first phase of the West German intelligence service. The last study is from the pen of German historian Tobias Wunschik and focuses on the status of political and criminal prisoners in GDR detention facilities. It thus complements the monothematic issue Securitas Imperii 33 (02/2018) on prison systems under state socialism. The studies are traditionally followed by other sections, namely Reviews, News, Discussion, and Annotations.



Petra Loučová - Sinuhet Behind Bars. The fate of one translation and the life story of its translator, Marta Hellmuthová

This study presents the professional and life story of translator Marta Hellmuthová (1917–1988), both in the context of cultural and political history and as a contribution to the so‑called translator studies. Hellmuthová, the educated and linguistically gifted wife of a diplomat, decided to learn Finnish in order to make Mika Waltari’s novel Sinuhet The Egyptian available to Czech readers. Thanks to archival research, it was discovered that the translation of one of the most popular books in the Czech Republic was partly done in the late 1950s behind the bars of the Pardubice correctional labour camp, where Hellmuthová had been wrongly imprisoned. While the 1950s and 1960s were a period in which she struggled to establish a position as a translator, the years of so‑called normalization, which brought significant progress in Czechoslovak‑Finnish relations, strengthened her position and allowed her to become Waltari’s “court translator” and at the same time an esteemed translator from Finnish; this thanks to her determination, hard work and high‑quality translations, and probably also years of good relations with the diplomatic corps of Finland.

Milan Bárta - A remedy for all the lacks? Study‑analytical work in the Ministry of the Interior in the 1960s

In context of the social development in communist Czechoslovakia, voices calling for the need for fundamental reforms also began to be heard in the security apparatus in the mid-1960s. Following the example of the Soviet Union and according to the instructions of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ) leadership, a study‑analytical group was established in 1963 in the Ministry of the Interior, which was expanded to the Study Department in 1966 and to the Study Institute during the Prague Spring in early August 1968. It brought together highly educated workers who maintained contacts with reformists in the ranks of the Communist Party. Against the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior and the State Security (StB), defending the continuation of the tendencies of the strictly repressive component following the 1950s, they advocated the modernization of the ministry, where the State Security would significantly reduce its activities, especially against Czechoslovak citizens. The conflict culminated in 1968 during the Prague Spring, when Josef Pavel became Minister of the Interior. The reforms prepared by the Study Institute were to become a new program for the reorganization of the security apparatus. The subsequent entry of the troops of the five states of the Warsaw Pact into Czechoslovakia in August 1968 definitively resolved that the security forces, and in particular the StB, would remain the mainstay of the regime, still associated primarily with repression against internal opponents.

Tomáš Malínek - Magazines of the Federal Ministry of the Interior of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in the period of so-called normalization

The study deals with periodicals published in the 1970s and 1980s by the Federal Ministry of the Interior (FMV) of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR). These are mainly the magazines Signál (Signal), Bezpečnost (Security) and Pohraničník – Stráž vlasti (Border Guard – Guardian of the Homeland). Their editorial staff also created the content of the magazines Přílohové čtení Signálu, B‑Bezpečnost and Stop hranice. The text gives a detailed outline of the organisational, personnel, content and economic development of these periodicals. The weekly Signál was one of the most popular youth magazines of the time. In addition to texts that popularised the activities of the state security forces, it also offered readers articles devoted to sports, culture and motoring. On the other hand, throughout its existence, Bezpečnost remained more of a departmental magazine intended primarily for members of the National Security Corps (SNB). The editors of both magazines were transferred to the FMV in the early 1970s after deep personnel purges associated with the beginning of so‑called normalisation. The fortnightly magazine Pohraničník – Stráž vlasti was founded in 1979 and was primarily intended for members of the Border Guard (PS), pioneers and the population of border regions. Efforts to adapt these magazines to the post‑revolutionary social conditions failed. Bezpečnost and Pohraničník – Stráž vlasti ceased publication in 1990. The last issue of Signál was published in 1994. Přílohové čtení Signálu, which consisted mainly of detective stories, on the other hand, remained popular amongst readers after 1989 and is still published in a modified form to this day. On the other hand, the magazines B‑Bezpečnost and Stop hranice, whose main task was to popularize the activities of the SNB and the Border Guard respectively, ceased to exist together with their “parent” magazines Bezpečnost and Pohraničník – Stráž vlasti in 1990.

Adam Havlík - “I request issuing of an absolute ban.” Foreign Press Department of the Czechoslovak Federal Ministry of the Interior

The paper deals with the topic of one particular department of the Czechoslovak Federal Ministry of Interior (FMV), which was in charge of the control over the foreign press in the 1970s and 1980s. This included foreign magazines, officially ordered by the Czechoslovak state but also individually imported press or books. The foreign press and the dissemination of the information contained in it posed a potential risk to the ruling Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ), and therefore its import was subject to a relatively strict control. As part of the State Security (StB), the so‑called Foreign Press Department (OZT) supervised printed matter imported into the country. Among other things, his employees worked undercover at post offices, where they inspected packages with foreign magazines and books and removed „suspicious“ titles from circulation. They thus participated in censoring and directing the flow of information so that it was in line with the Communist Party’s ideas. The study focuses on the mechanisms on which the everyday work of the department was based. At the same time, it follows the personnel and the social profile of those who participated in its operation.

Jan Zumr - The Gestapo‘s personnel policy with a focus on the composition of the Prague headquarters

The study analyses the staffing of the Gestapo headquarters in Prague, which was the largest office of the Nazi secret police in Hitler’s Germany, by both the number of allocated positions and the actual number of employees. To understand the overall context, the general personnel policy applied to the Gestapo is presented, including a description of the individual career paths. The differences between official and non-official staff are explained, as well as the categories of official (executive and administrative service) and non-official (clerical and criminal) staff. The development of the number of employees during the Second World War, the lack of qualified personnel and the reasons for the negligible number of Czech Germans in important positions in the Prague Gestapo are analysed. The study also tries to find an answer to the question of how effectively the Prague headquarters was able to combat the domestic resistance movement with the assigned number of employees.

Jan Vajskebr, Jan Zumr, Petr Kaňák - Heinrich Reiser – War Criminal in the Whirl of the Cold War

After the Nazis seized power in Germany, Heinrich Reiser (1899–1978) became an official of the secret police (Gestapo), and participated in the occupation of the Czech hinterland in March 1939. In the summer of 1940 he was ordered to France, where he specialised in the suppression of the left-wing resistance and the Soviet espionage network that came to be known as the Red Orchestra (Rote Kapelle). At the end of the war, he took part in the repressions against the foreign workers under forced labour in Germany. When the war ended, he spent some time in hiding and was briefly imprisoned by the French army. After the war alliance between the victorious powers broke up, Reiser’s knowledge and abilities were used by the Gehlen Organisation, on the foundations of which the West German security service (BND) was later established. As part of the denazification process in the security services in the late 1950s, agents with a Nazi past were fired, or sent into retirement, which was also the case with Reiser. The justice of the Federal Republic of Germany was only ever interested in him as a witness in investigating other members of the Nazi repressive apparatus, and he was never punished for his crimes.

Tobias Wunschik - The Political Penal System in the Honecker Era Prison system, detention conditions, political prisoners and the Ministry of State Security in the GDR (1970–1989)

In the German Democratic Republic (GDR), both political and criminal prisoners after their conviction were kept together in prisons under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. Formally, the same rules applied to them, but opponents of the regime (as in many dictatorships) were often treated more strictly. Supervision by the public prosecutor’s office was mostly limited to formal questions. Compared to the 1950s, detention conditions improved until the era of Erich Honecker: assaults by the guards became less frequent and contacts with family were more often tolerated. However, after phases of liberalisation, the conditions of detention also tightened time and time again. Basically nothing changed in the degrading treatment and omnipresent regimentation. Compared to the early years, work assignments were even better organised, which led to an increased workload for the inmates. The surveillance measures of the State Security (Stasi), which employed many informers among the prison staff as well as among the inmates, were also perfected in the later years. As a form of “disruptive measures”, the secret police occasionally saw to it that the very persons who did not cooperate but appeared to be particularly “dangerous” to the secret police were thought of as informers. Concealing political persecution in this way was the result of a subtle regard for public opinion in the West, which had a comparatively strong impact on the penal system of the GDR. Another peculiarity was the ransom of political prisoners, which from 1963 led to the early release of an average of 1200 prisoners per year.