Professor David Childs
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Paul Lashmar Monday, 20 September 1999
PROFESSOR DAVID CHILDS was shocked when shown the bulky file on him compiled by the East German security service, the Stasi. There he saw proof that another British academic had reported to East German controllers on his activities. It said he was an "outspoken anti-communist" and wrongly accused him of having "ongoing ties with the secret service".
The name of the academic was later found in another Stasi file, apparently giving an adverse report on an East German novelist, Joachim Walther, who was later prevented from travelling abroad. At the weekend it was alleged that academic Gwynneth Edwards, formerly of Loughborough University and a writer on East Germany, gave this information to the Stasi. She is one of eight people named last week as having had contacts with Communist security services. She has denied this.
Certainly many people gave information to the Stasi on Professor Childs. "It was rather a shock to see your name on a file marked Streng Geheim (very secret)," he said yesterday.
Professor Childs, 65, now emeritus professor at Nottingham University, has long been a leading expert on East Germany. In 1969 he wrote a book on the country seen as definitive on both sides of the Berlin Wall.
During the Cold War Professor Childs visited the German Democratic Republic "dozens" of times, meeting many politicians and opinion makers. The East Germans did not like Professor Childs' critical analysis, and he was well aware he was a Stasi target."Once I returned to my hotel unexpectedly. The receptionist immediately phoned someone. On the way to my room I passed two men who were clearly Stasi. The door was ajar and the leather corners of my briefcase were sticking up. The men had clearly been looking for microfilm or papers and had not had time to reseal the corners."
Often when he entered the GDR the professor was held for long periods at passport control while officials made phone calls. He knew the Stasi put pressure on those he visited. "I recall saying farewell to a senior academic," said Professor Childs. The German insisted on a formal goodbye in his office. "He was sweating profusely, and I realised he was required to get me to say something about how I agreed with the East German peace line." Professor Childs realised the meeting was being recorded. "The best I could do was to say he and I must differ in our views. He was not happy and must have sweated off three pounds during our meeting."
After the Berlin Wall fell Professor Childs became curious as to how
extensively the Stasi had monitored him and whether they had known of
his secret personal contacts. He applied to the archive housing the
Stasi files. "After a year they wrote to say they thought there
would be something on me. A year later they said they had found a file."
Professor Childs expected a file covering his visits to East Germany, but that is still missing. Instead there was the file on his activities outside the GDR. Most remarkable was a near-verbatim account of a lecture he had given at Bradford University in 1983. The report was filed with the note: "Compiled with Gwynn on the train from Bradford."
Professor Childs said: "I was astonished at the effort the East German security service had gone to to compile information on me. I was certainly shocked to see that a fellow British academic was involved. Professor Childs has put his experience to good use; this month his co-authored book on the Stasi appears in paperback.