Ulrike Marie Meinhof
7 October 1934
|Died||9 May 1976 (aged 41)|
|Organization||Red Army Faction|
|Spouse(s)||Klaus Rainer Röhl (divorced)|
Ulrike Marie Meinhof (7 October 1934 – 9 May 1976) was a German left-wing journalist and founding member of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in West Germany, commonly referred to in the press as the "Baader-Meinhof gang". She is the reputed author of The Urban Guerilla Concept (1971). The manifesto acknowledges the RAF's "roots in the history of the student movement"; condemns "reformism" as "a brake on the anti-capitalist struggle"; and invokes Mao Zedong to define "armed struggle" as "the highest form of Marxism-Leninism".
Meinhof, who took part in the RAF's May Offensive in 1972, was arrested in June 1972 and spent the rest of her life in custody, largely isolated from outside contact. In November 1974, she was sentenced to eight years in prison for attempted murder in the May 1970 liberation from prison of Andreas Baader. From 1975, she stood trial on multiple charges of murder and attempted murder, with the three other RAF leaders, Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe. Before the end of the trial, she was found hanged in her cell in the Stammheim Prison. The official finding of suicide sparked controversy. One year later, on 7 April 1977, the RAF Command Ulrike Meinhof assassinated the Federal Attorney-General Siegfried Buback in revenge for her alleged murder.
Meinhof was born in 1934 in Oldenburg. Her father died of cancer in 1940, causing her mother to take in a boarder, Renate Riemeck, to make money. In 1946, the family moved back to Oldenburg after Jena fell under Soviet occupation as a result of the Yalta agreement. Meinhof's mother, Dr. Ingeborg Meinhof, an art historian, began to work as a teacher and died from cancer in 1949. Riemeck took on the role of guardian of Meinhof and her elder sister, Wienke.
In 1952, Meinhof took her Abitur at a school in Weilburg. She then studied philosophy, sociology, education and German at Marburg, where she became involved with reform movements. In 1957, she transferred to the University of Münster, where she met the Spanish Marxist intellectual Manuel Sacristán (who later translated and edited some of her writings), joined the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund (SDS), the German Socialist Student Union, and participated in protests against the rearmament of the Bundeswehr and its involvement with nuclear weapons that were proposed by Konrad Adenauer's government. Meinhof eventually became the spokeswoman of the local Anti-Atomtod-Ausschuss (Anti Atomic-Death Committee). In 1958, she spent a short time on the AStA (German: Allgemeiner Studierendenausschuss, or General Committee of Students) of the university and wrote articles for various student newspapers.
In 1959, Meinhof joined the banned Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and later began working at the magazine konkret, a monthly which, until 1964, had clandestine financing the East German government. Konkret was widely read by student activists and progressive intellectuals, and as its chief editor from 1962 to 1964, Meinhof was able to elicit contributions from established journalists and authors.
On 2 June 1967, Meinhof's exposure in konkret of German complicity in the Pahlavi dictatorship helped rally students to a demonstration in West Berlin against the visit of the Shah of Iran. When Iranian counter-demonstrators, including agents of the Shah's intelligence service, attacked the students, the police joined the affray beating the demonstrator into side street where an officer shot and killed the student protestor Benno Ohnesorg The leading Stern columnist, Sebastian Haffner with whom Meinhof was befriended, took to konkret to suggest "with the [anti-] Student pogrom of 2 June 1967 fascism in West Berlin had thrown off its mask".
In February 1968, Meinhof was a participant in the International Vietnam Conference in West Berlin, which the authorities had permitted only in the face of large-scale protests. She was co-signatory, along such luminaries as Ernst Bloch, Noam Chomsky, Eric Hobsbawn, Ernest Mandel, and Jean Paul Sartre, of the final declaration. This defined the U.S. intervention in Vietnam as "the Spain of our generation" and called for mobilisation against the "extermination" (Vernichtung) of the Vietnamese people.
In 1961, Meinhof married the co-founder and publisher of konkret, Klaus Rainer Röhl. Their marriage produced twins, Regine and Bettina, on 21 September 1962. Meinhof and Röhl separated in 1967 and divorced a year later.
The attempted assassination of SDS leader Rudi Dutschke on 11 April 1968 provoked Meinhof to write an article in konkret demonstrating her increasingly militant attitude and containing perhaps her best-known quote:
Later that year, her writings on arson attacks in Frankfurt as protests against the Vietnam War resulted in her developing an acquaintance with the perpetrators, most significantly Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin. She stopped writing for konkret which had in her opinion evolved into a completely commercial magazine in the early part of 1969, and many other authors followed her. She stated that neither she nor her collaborators wanted to give a left-wing alibi to the magazine that sooner or later "would become part of the counter-revolution, a thing that I cannot gloss over with my co-operation, especially now that it is impossible to change its course". Later, they organised an occupation at konkret's office (along with several members of the Außerparlamentarische Opposition), to distribute proclamations to the employees, something that failed since Röhl learned about it, and moved the employees to their homes to continue their work from there. Finally, Röhl's house was vandalised by some of the protesters. Meinhof arrived in Röhl's villa at 11:30, after police and journalists had already arrived. She was accused by Röhl (and subsequently described by the media) as the organizer of the vandalism. It was difficult to prove, as she was not there when it happened.:352–4
Perhaps her last work as an individual was the writing and production of the film Bambulein 1970, where she put focus on a group of borstal girls in West Berlin; by the time it was scheduled to be aired, she had become wanted for the breakout of Andreas Baader, and its broadcast was delayed until 1994.
Meinhof had been approached by Ensslin, girlfriend of jailed arsonist Baader, for her help in securing the release of Baader from police custody. A scheme was developed where Meinhof would approach leftist publisher Klaus Wagenbach, seeking to have him hire Meinhof and the imprisoned Baader in writing a book. After securing a contract from Wagenbach (who was not aware of Meinhof's ulterior motives), Meinhof petitioned authorities to allow Baader to travel from Moabit Prison to an institute for social research in the Dahlem district of Berlin. The plan was for armed guerrillas to enter the institute and secure the release of Baader; it was intended that no shooting was to take place. Meinhof was to stay behind, and have a plausibly deniable explanation that she was not involved in the planning of Baader's escape. Baader arrived with two guards, and set to work with Meinhof in the institute's library. Two women compatriots of Ensslin's, along with a man with a criminal record (hired because of his supposed experience with armed encounters) broke into the institute. The man shot the elderly librarian Georg Linke, severely wounding him in his liver. It was later claimed that the man was holding two weapons, a pistol and a gas canister gun, and accidentally fired the wrong weapon in the confusion.
Because of the shooting of the librarian, it is speculated[by whom?] that Meinhof made a snap decision to join Baader in his escape. Within days wanted posters appeared throughout Berlin offered a 10,000 DM reward for her capture for attempted murder.
In the beginning, Meinhof meant to stay behind to use her power as an influential reporter to help the rest outside, but in the panic after the shooting she joined the others jumping out of the institute's window. Immediately after their escape Meinhof called a friend to pick up her children from school. This call helped illustrate her overall lack of planning.
Main article: Red Army Faction
In the next two years Meinhof participated in the various bank robberies and bombings perpetrated by the group. She and other RAF members attempted to kidnap her children so that they could be sent to a camp for Palestinian orphans and educated there according to her desires; however, the twins were intercepted in Sicily and returned to their father, in part due to the intervention of Stefan Aust.
During this period, Meinhof wrote or recorded many of the manifestos and tracts for the RAF. The most significant of these is probably The Concept of the Urban Guerrilla, a response to an essay by Horst Mahler, that attempts to set out more correctly their prevailing ideology. It also included the first use of the name Rote Armee Fraktion and, in the publications of it, the first use of the RAF insignia. Her practical importance in the group, however, was often overstated by the media, the most obvious example being the common name Baader-Meinhof gang for the RAF. (Gudrun Ensslin is often considered to have been the effective female co-leader of the group rather than Meinhof.)
Meinhof wrote an essay defending the Munich massacre, which historian Jeffrey Herf describes as "one of the most important documents in the history of antisemitism in Europe after the Holocaust".
On 14 June 1972, in Langenhagen, Fritz Rodewald, a teacher who had been providing accommodation to deserters from the U.S. Armed Forces, was approached by a stranger asking for an overnighting house the next day for herself and a friend. He agreed but later became suspicious that the woman might be involved with the RAF and eventually decided to call the police. The next day the pair arrived at Rodewald's dwelling while the police watched. The man was followed to a nearby telephone box and was found to be Gerhard Müller who was armed. After arresting Müller, the police then proceeded to arrest the woman – Meinhof.
During her solitary confinement at Köln-Ossendorf Prison from June 1972 to February 1973, Meinhof wrote what was later published as "A Letter from a Prisoner in Solitary" (Brief einer Gefangenen aus dem Toten Trakt). It conveys a sense of disorientation and despair:
The feeling that one's head is exploding [...] /The feeling that the brain is shrivelling up like a baked fruit /The feeling that ... one is being controlled remotely/ The feeling that all one's associations are being cut away/ The feeling of pissing the soul out of one's body, like someone who can no longer hold water. [...] The raging aggressiveness for which there is no outlet. That's the worst. The clear understanding that one has no chance of survival [...].
In December 1972, Meinhof, who was awaiting trial, was called to testify at Horst Mahler's trial where Mahler questioned her about the statement of support the two had issued for the massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. His questioning led her to say:
How was Auschwitz possible, what was anti-Semitism? It used the hatred of the people of their dependence on money as a medium of exchange, their longing for communism. Auschwitz means that six million Jews were murdered and carted on to the rubbish dumps of Europe for being that which was maintained of them – Money-Jews. What had happened was that finance capital and banks, the hard core of the system of imperialism and capitalism, had diverted the people's hatred of money and exploitation away from themselves and on to the Jews.
After two years of preliminary hearings, Meinhof was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment on 29 November 1974. Eventually Meinhof, Baader, Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe were jointly charged on 19 August 1975, with four counts of murder, fifty-four of attempted murder, and a single count of forming a criminal association. However, before the trial was concluded, Meinhof was found hanged by a rope, fashioned from a towel, in her cell in the Stammheim Prison, Stuttgart, on 9 May 1976. It is highly probable that, if not for her death, she would have been sentenced to 'life imprisonment plus 15 years'. (The remaining three defendants received such a sentence, designed to minimize the possibility of early parole.)
The official verdict was Meinhof had committed suicide. It was later discovered she had become increasingly isolated from other RAF prisoners. Notes exchanged between them in prison included one by Ensslin, describing her as "too weak". The official findings were not accepted by many in the RAF and other militant organisations, and there are still some who doubt their accuracy and believe that she was murdered by the authorities. A second investigation was carried out by an international group. The findings of the inquiry were published under the title Der Tod Ulrike Meinhofs. Bericht der Internationalen Untersuchungskommission (The Death of Ulrike Meinhof. Report of the International Investigation Committee) in 1979.
Meinhof's body was buried six days after her death, in Berlin-Mariendorf. Her funeral turned out to be a demonstration of about 7,000 people. Demonstrations took place across the country, social and political prisoners in Berlin and Hessen held a three-day hunger strike. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in an open letter compared her death to the worst crimes of Nazi era.
In late 2002, following investigations by her daughter Bettina, it was discovered that Meinhof's brain had been retained (apparently without permission) following the autopsy performed as part of the investigation into Meinhof's death. The original autopsy had found brain injury near the amygdala, resulting from successful surgery in 1962 to remove a (benign) cyst. The unpublished autopsy results at the time stated that the brain injuries "justified questions as to the culpability" of Meinhof. Bernhard Bogerts, a psychiatrist at Magdeburg university, later re-examined the brain and also doubted that Meinhof was fully criminally responsible. On Bettina's request, the brain was interred in Meinhof's burial place on 19 December 2002.
See also: RAF-Defense strategy on trial
Meinhof's last appearance in court was on 4 May 1976, hearing the defendants had requested in order to provide evidence about the participation of West Germany in the Vietnam War. This, they claimed, was the cause of their radicalisation, and was their basis for demanding the status of prisoners of war (see above). According to Jutta Ditfurth, the last days before Meinhof's death went smoothly. The prisoners (including Meinhof) spent their meeting time (30 minutes, twice per day) discussing various philosophers and political issues. One of the guards noted that they were laughing.:586,592
According to Meinhof's sister, Wienke Zitzlaff, during her last visit in prison, Meinhof had told her: "You can stand up and fight only while you are alive. If they say I committed suicide, be sure that it was a murder.":582
In early May, attorney Axel Azzola590 Federal prosecutors had indicted the four defendants for the murder of policeman Norbert Schmid , who was shot by Müller himself.contacted his client (Meinhof). They were hopeful about the possibilities that the new strategy seemed to offer. They also discussed whether Meinhof could testify as witness in the International Law Conference in Geneva where a delegation of lawyers planned to denounce the measure of detention in solitary confinement. Finally, Meinhof was planning to reveal main witness Gerhard Müller's role in trial.:
During the press conference called by defence attorneys, one of Meinhof's lawyers, Michael Oberwinder, stated that it was less than a week before Meinhof's death that they had a very involved conversation. He claimed that there was not the least sign of depression or lack of interest on her part, and that it was an animated discussion in the context of which Meinhof explained the group's point of view.
Meinhof's last visitor was Giovanni Capelli, lawyer of the Red Brigades. He conveyed the desire of the Red Brigades to contact her and described the conditions of detention in Italy where prisoners were not held in isolation (except Renato Curcio) and were politically active. They also discussed the establishment of an international committee of lawyers to defend the RAF. Capelli later said that Meinhof gave him the impression of "a vivid, lifelike woman", "open to all questions". They arranged to meet again soon. "She behaved like a woman who wanted to live".
At 9.20 a.m. on 9 May, the Ministry of Justice of Baden-Württemberg announced that Meinhof had committed suicide, although the initial post-mortem body examination began only after 9:25 AM by professor Joachim Rauschke. At 9:34 a.m. the German news agency (dpa) announced "Suicide by hanging".:594,595. Two hours later professor Rauschke together with Hans Joachim Mallach performed the official autopsy in the general hospital of Stuttgart from 11:45 a.m. until 12:45 p.m., whose outcome was "death by hanging beyond doubt". According to Ditfurth the hasty press releases that followed Meinhof's death, were similar to those of April 1972, when it was incorrectly broadcast that Meinhof had committed suicide.:596. The following days the newspapers reported in detail what supposed to be Meinhof's thoughts, like: "she realised her mistake," "she had become aware of the futility," and that she "resigned to death".
There was a concern of Meinhof supporters about the forensic surgeons chosen by the state to perform the autopsy. Mallach (NSDAP Member No. 9154986) had been a member of the SS. He served in World War II as corporal in a Panzer division. In 1977, he made (without approval) and kept for a long time the death masks of Baader, Ensslin and Raspe. Professor Rauschke was the one who also performed the autopsy of Siegfried Hausner one year earlier and was accused by fellows and supporters of the RAF for ignoring the injuries to Hausner's head, so as to cover up the true cause of his death.
On 11 May, a second autopsy was performed on demand of Wienke Zitzlaff by Dr. Werner Janssen and Dr. Jürgen Schröder, even though the brain, a lot of critical organs, and tissue parts had been previously removed from the body. Also her nails had been cut, so the doctors could not determine clearly if there were traces of struggle. Some examinations could not take place since critical time had passed. Janssen concluded that the most probable cause of death was "suicide by hanging", however in order to come to a definite conclusion he insisted to be given access to the report of the first autopsy, something that never happened.:602,603
Finally on demand of Meinhof's attorney Klaus Croissant and the International Committee for Political Prisoners, an international investigation commission was created in order to examine the conditions surrounding Meinhof's death. Once more the German authorities refused to give the complete (first) autopsy report to the commission, hindering their investigation. In 1978 the committee published its report, concluding that: "The formal claim that Ulrike Meinhof committed suicide by hanging is unfounded, given the fact that the investigation results reasonably converge to the conclusion that she could not hang herself. Most probably Ulrike Meinhof was already dead before she was hanged and there are warning signs indicating the involvement of a third party regarding her death."
The circumstances around Meinhof's death have been disputed by people close to her, including many of Meinhof's relatives, friends, lawyers, and comrades, presenting various arguments. There are inquiries regarding the procedure followed by the authorities, including the autopsy reports and the findings of the international commission. Some of them are:
Some other questions still remain, including:
Finally there is dispute over the arguments regarding Meinhof's motive. Some of the points usually mentioned are:
The book Lieber wütend als traurig (Better angry than sad) by Alois Prinz was intended as a mainly faithful account of Meinhof's life story for adolescents.
Meinhof's life has been the subject, to varying degrees of fictionalisation, of several films and stage productions. Treatment in films include Reinhard Hauff's 1986 Stammheim, an account of the Stammheim trial, Margarethe von Trotta's 1981 Marianne and Juliane and Uli Edel's 2008 film The Baader Meinhof Complex. Stage treatments include the 1990 opera Ulrike Meinhof by Johann Kresnik, the 1993 play Leviathan by Dea Loher, the 2005 play La extraordinaria muerte de Ulrike M. by Spanish playwright Carlos Be and the 2006 play Ulrike Maria Stuartby Austrian playwright Elfriede Jelinek. The 1981 French movie Birgitt Haas Must Be Killed is inspired by Meinhof's death.
In 1978 Dario Fo and Franca Rame wrote the monologue Moi, Ulrike, je crie...
The 2010 feature documentary Children of the Revolution tells Meinhof's story from the perspective of her daughter, journalist and historian Bettina Röhl).
Subtopia, a novel published in 2005 by Australian author and academic A.L. McCann, is partially set in Berlin and contains a character who is obsessed with Meinhof and another who claims to have attended her funeral.
The 2013 book "Revolutionary Brain" by Harold Jaffe features a titular section devoted to the brain of Meinhof.
The 2018 film 7 Days in Entebbe about Operation Entebbe mentions Meinhof as motivation for the participation of the Germans in the hijacking, particularly Brigette Kuhlmann. The film suggests Meinhof was a friend of Kuhlmann and Böse and that a mistake Kuhlmann made resulted in her imprisonment and subsequent death.
In 1975 the Italian singer-songwriter Claudio Lolli published the song Incubo Numero Zero (Nightmare #0), with the verse "turn off the light, thought Ulrike", and more.
Marianne Faithfull's album Broken English had the title track dedicated to Meinhof.
The anarcho punk band Chumbawamba's 1990 album, Slap! featured an opening and closing track, both named after Meinhof. The first track was entitled Ulrike and featured lyrics which directly involve Meinhof as the protagonist and the final track was an instrumental reprise of the first track. and was entitled "Meinhof". The album's liner notes included information and an article relating to the song Ulrike.
Electronica act Doris Days created a track entitled To Ulrike M., in which there is a passage spoken in German throughout the song, presumably an archived audio file from Meinhof herself. This track has since been remixed by other electronica acts like Zero 7, Kruder & Dorfmeister, and The Amalgamation of Soundz.
The German duo Andreas Ammer and F.M. Einheit released an album in 1996 entitled Deutsche Krieger, a substantial portion of which consists of audio recordings of and about Meinhof.
Der Plan, the electronic music group from Düsseldorf published in 2004 the song Ulrike, as part of the Die Verschwörung album.
London-based experimental group Cindytalk have an electronic side-project called Bambule, named after the Meinhof film of the same name.
Works of the Red Army Faction