When in the summer of 2015 several people made an unsuccessful attempt to rob an armored collection truck in northern Germany, few expected to hear the name of a long-forgotten group again.
The three perpetrators attacked the armored car in a car park in the city of Bremen with firearms, but their attempts to open the doors proved futile and then fled in their Ford Fiesta, without the police ever catching them.
However, the authorities identified the robbers as Ernst-Volker Staub, Daniela Klett and Burkhard Garweg – former members of the terrorist organization Red Army Faction.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, the group announced in a letter to the media that it was disbanding. This ends a period of terrorism that kept the country in tension for a period of two decades.
Today it is officially inactive, but some of its former members are still at large. They are already over 60 years old, but their names were once synonymous with terror and radicalism.
Faction “Red Army” appeared in the late 1960s. For Europe, this is a turbulent period of socio-cultural changes. Behind the “Iron Curtain” societies began to seek liberalization of communist regimes, while protest movements of workers, students, pacifists and human rights defenders against racism and colonialism arose everywhere in the Western world.
This is the first generation of people born after the end of the Second World War, and especially in Germany, the historical legacy of Nazism is particularly strongly felt, with more and more young people getting carried away by communist ideas.
Among them is Ulrike Meinhof. She was born into a family of intellectuals, but lost both her parents at the age of 13. Despite this and the fact that she grew up in the ruins of post-war Germany, she managed to get an excellent education and grew up in a stable environment.
By the mid-1960s, he became a leader in the circles of left-wing student movements and a well-known activist.
The young Andreas Baader and Gudrun Enslin are working in the same environment. They also grew up in good, middle-class families, but early on they were drawn to Marxist ideas.
In 1968, they set fire to two shopping malls in Frankfurt as a demonstration against the Vietnam War and in response to the death of an associate who had died a few months earlier during clashes with the police during protests over a visit by the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Days later in Berlin, a far-right activist shot dead the leader of the left-wing student movement, Rudi Duchke, leading to even greater tension among anti-war student groups.
Shortly after, Enslin met Meinhof and convinced her to help her release her friend Baader, who was imprisoned because of the action in Frankfurt.
During a mock interview, the two, along with several other people, managed to get him out of the police, and Meinhoff finally gave up his orderly and luxurious life.
The three created the “Red Army” Faction. Ulrike is the ideologue, the goal being the fight against the “imperialist system” of the Federal Republic and NATO.
For them, the West German political and economic elite represented nothing more than the reincarnation of the Third Reich. After the protests at the end of the 60s, young people are convinced that it is not possible to change anything in the system in a peaceful way.
The only path they see before them is revolution and terror.
They gather more like-minded and disillusioned middle-class youth, and one of their first acts is to travel to Jordan, where they receive training in the camps of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
As a structure and method of action, they decided to follow the “urban resistance movement” approach modeled on the Uruguayan Tupamaros, as it was much more suitable for the urbanized conditions of West Germany than Che Guevara’s “rural resistance” method, successful in Latin America.
This means that the organization is composed of a “core” that includes the main body of members and leaders, and a periphery of “cells” whose members do not know each other personally and communicate by code names. All operations are carried out only by the so-called “commandos”, trained in methods of sabotage and handling of small arms.
The first actions they take are bank robberies to finance their armaments. Then things get serious.
The Red Army Faction targets US bases and NATO structures in Germany. After issuing their first manifesto on May 11, 1972, they detonated three home-made bombs at the American headquarters in Frankfurt and another at the bar where the foreign military was gathering. One officer was killed and 13 others were wounded.
By the end of the month, two more bomb attacks were carried out against the Bild newspaper building and an American military center in Heidelberg.
During this period, the federal authorities harnessed all their resources in pursuit of the members of the “Army”. And there are indeed reasons for concern.
At its peak, about a quarter of young West Germans are thought to have expressed at least some sympathy for the group. Many condemn her tactics, but understand their distaste for the new order in the country, where former Nazis are given important government posts as a sign of reconciliation.
However, the authorities’ actions paid off, and within a month of the series of attacks, Meinhoff, Baader, Enslin and several other leading figures were arrested. However, the organization did not disappear, but launched even bolder attacks in an attempt to rescue its captured leaders.
They were meanwhile imprisoned in the strictest prison at that time – Stamheim in Stuttgart. The trial against them began in 1975 and became one of the largest in modern German history.
The government passed special legislation because of him, allowing the lawyers of the accused to be prosecuted, and it was later revealed that the conversations between the defendants and their lawyers were being recorded.
On May 9, 1976, the group’s ideologue, Ulrike Meinhof, was found hanged in her cell. On October 17 of the following year, almost all the remaining members who were in prison died. Andreas Baader and Jan-Karl Raspe were found shot, while Gudrun Enslin was found hanged. Imgard Müller has four stab wounds in the neck, but survives.
The explanation given by the police is a coordinated suicide attack after they all managed to get hold of transistor radios with which they communicated. To this day, however, Mueller maintains that it is about executions.
Before that, the remaining members make several spectacular and bloody attempts to free their leaders.
They manage to storm the West German embassy in Sweden and kill two diplomats during the 11th hour siege after Chancellor Helmut Schmidt refuses to respond to their demands.
In the months before the death of all the leaders of the organization, desperate attempts to press for their release continued. The director of the “Dresdner” bank, as well as the chief prosecutor Siegfried Buback, were also killed.
Later, the ex-Nazi and current influential head of the German Employers’ Association Hans-Martin Schleier was kidnapped. His captors offered to release him in exchange for amnesty for Baader, Enslin and nine others.
hans martin schleier
During the negotiations, PLO members hijack a passenger plane full of German tourists traveling to Frankfurt from Majorca to increase pressure on the authorities. The flight was diverted to Mogadishu, and thanks to the German special forces, all passengers were released.
The next day, Baader, Enslin and the others in the prison were found dead. This turns out to be fatal for Schleyer as well, who is executed.
From there, the gradual decline of the Red Army Faction began.
This is undoubtedly related to the strengthened and stricter measures of the state authority, as well as to the introduced new criminal procedure.
However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were also terrorist actions – for example, the murder of the Siemens manager Karl-Heinz Beckurts, the spokesman of the management board of “Deutsche Bank” Alfred Herrhausen or the arms magnate Ernst Zimmermann.
However, the organization never managed to regain its former popularity and scope of activity, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 finally sealed the future of their sought-after “revolution”.
After a long lull, on April 20, 1998, the “Red Army” faction announced its dissolution.