Book Review: The Baader-Meinhof Group: The Inside Story of a Phenomenon, by Stefan Aust
Reviewed by Bruce Rhodes
My family lived in Hamburg, Germany from 1976 to 1980, a period that included the later activities of the RAF as depicted in Stefan Aust's book. I recall going into banks in Hamburg, and wondering at the time why it was such a big deal to do something as mundane as buy travelers' checks. After reading this book, I was reminded of just how traumatized German society was with the violence perpetrated by its own indigenous terrorists, the RAF.
It was disturbing to read that the terrorists sometimes lived in neighborhoods near to where my family lived, while we were there.
I have read the other two Amazon reviews for this book, and feel that their comments and criticisms are valid. I thus won't repeat what those reviewers said; the book has its weaknesses, but it is nevertheless a through, inside look at these angry, very unhappy RAF characters. I was particularly struck by the degree to which Baader, Ensslin et al disrupted proceedings in their trial, constantly leaving the courtroom, swearing at the judges, and abusing their own lawyers. They were truly the 'defendants from hell'.
As best I can understand it, the terrorists claimed to be fighting on the side of the Vietnamese, who in the 1970s were at war with the US armed forces, who, in turn, were, according to the RAF, aided and abetted by the West German government as well as by certain large German corporations. In attacking US military installations, as well as German government and corporate facilities, as they did, the RAF believed that they were legitimately helping the beleaguered Vietnamese people. Given that they believed this, it is no wonder that the RAF defendants had nothing but disdain for the judicial and political systems that sought to try them.
The book sheds light on the pressure cooker that was the last few days of the lives of the main terrorists, and how those last few days were tied in with the kidnapping of Hans Martin Schleyer, and the hijacking of a Lufthansa jet that ended up at Mogadishu airport in Somalia.
I did not recall that there was great controversy as to how the terrorists died while in prison... did they kill themselves, or were they murdered? I'm not sure what to think, but if I had to guess, I'd say that they did themselves in. The evidence given in the book is that the prison guards tended to err on the side of being civil with the prisoners, despite being disrespected by them. The reader is given no evidence of there being angry, vengeful guards around, who might have been prepared to murder the prisoners. I'd like to learn more about the murder conspiracy theory.
In summary, anyone who wants to know about Germany in the 1970's needs to read this book. I'm glad I read it; the last 25% reads like a suspense thriller, and I could not put it down.