Gudrun Ensslin: Wikis


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Gudrun Ensslin
Gudrun Ensslin.jpg
Gudrun Ensslin from a wanted poster in 1972.
Date of birth: August 15, 1940(1940-08-15)
Place of birth: Bartholomä, Germany
Date of death: October 18, 1977 (aged 37)
Place of death: Stuttgart, West Germany
Major organizations: Red Army Faction

Gudrun Ensslin (German pronunciation: [ˈɡuːdʁuːn ˈɛnsliːn]; 15 August 1940 – 18 October 1977) was a founder of the German terrorist group Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion, or RAF, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang). After becoming involved with co-founder Andreas Baader, Ensslin was influential in the politicization of Baader's voluntaristic anarchistic beliefs. Ensslin was perhaps the intellectual head of the RAF. She was involved in five bomb attacks, with four deaths, was arrested in 1972 and died on 18 October 1977 in what has been called Stammheim Prison's Death Night.


Early life

Ensslin, the fourth of seven children, was born in the village of Bartholomä in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Her father, Helmut, was a pastor of the Evangelical Church in Germany. Ensslin was a well-behaved child who did well at school and enjoyed working with the Evangelical Girl Scouts,[1] and doing parish work such as organizing Bible studies. In her family, the social injustices of the world were often discussed, and Gudrun is said to have been sensitized to social problems in West Germany and the world as a whole.

At the age of eighteen, Gudrun got the chance to spend a year in the United States of America, where she attended high school in Warren, Pennsylvania. She graduated in the Honor Group at Warren High School in 1959. After returning home, she finished the remaining requirements for her German secondary education.[2]

Like her partner Bernward Vesper and other members of the Red Army Faction (such as Ulrike Meinhof and Horst Mahler) Ensslin had excellent exam scores and received a scholarship from the German National Academic Foundation. Studying at the University of Tübingen, she read education, English Studies, and German studies as well as meeting Bernward Vesper in February, 1962.[3]

Vesper's father Will had been a best-selling author before the First World War and joined the National Socialist German Workers' Party in 1931. The senior Vesper kept a pro-Nazi stance until his death in 1962, and his writings, compiled posthumously as Die Reise (The Trip), are an explosive mixture of radical left-wing and radical right-wing views. The son's life was largely shaped by his father's experiences. Ensslin's politics harmonized with those of the Vespers,[4] and the couple made a failed attempted to publish a collection of the senior Vesper's works.

In Tübingen, together with two other students, Ensslin and Vesper organized a student workshop for new literature which led to a shoestring publishing business called Studio neue Literatur. The first book produced was an anthology of poems against atomic weapons, with many well known poets from all German speaking countries.[5] as well as a bilingual edition of poems by Gerardo Diego. In 1963 – 1964, Gudrun Ensslin earned her elementary school teacher's diploma. In the summer of 1964, the couple moved to West Berlin where Gudrun would finish her thesis on Hans Henny Jahnn at the Free University.

In 1965, Gudrun's younger sister Johanna married Günther Maschke, then a revolutionary Marxist poet and member of the Situationist International group Subversiven Aktion, which included Rudi Dutschke as a member. Maschke is now a leading conservative antidemocratic intellectual and editor of Carl Schmitt. Later that year, Gudrun and Bernward were engaged to be married. Both were active on the democratic left-wing, they had well-paid jobs working for the Social Democratic Party of Germany. The couple demonstrated together against new security laws, the Vietnam War, for the right to demonstrate, and an Allied Powers arms show.[6] Vesper neglected his studies, read voraciously, and in 1966 published, with a group of friends, a serious and important series of pamphlets and paperbacks, the Voltaire Flugschriften.

In May 1967, Ensslin gave birth to their son Felix Robert Ensslin. Ensslin broke up with Vesper by phone in February, 1968, informing him that the relationship was already finished before Felix was born.[7] In July or August of 1967 Gudrun met Andreas Baader and they soon began a love affair. Baader had come to Berlin in 1963, to escape ongoing troubles with the Munich justice system and also to dodge the draft. The young criminal drifted in and out of youth detention centers and prison became the man of Gudrun Ensslin's life.[8] An artifact from this time is an experimental film Ensslin participated in entitled Das Abonnement (The Subscription).[9]

Leader of the Red Army Faction

Gudrun Ensslin before arson of two department stores in Frankfurt.

In June 1967, Ensslin participated in political protests against the Shah of Iran during his visit to Germany. Though Western governments viewed the Shah as a reformer, his regime has been criticized for oppression, brutality,[10][11] corruption, and extravagance.[10][12] In what started as a peaceful demonstration at Deutsche Oper Berlin, fights broke out between pro-Shah and anti-Shah factions and an innocent young man by the name of Benno Ohnesorg was shot in the back of the head by a police officer. That night, Ensslin angrily denounced West Germany as a fascist state at a Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund meeting.[13] Also, Berlin's own urban guerrilla organization, Movement 2 June, named itself after this event.

The police officer who shot Ohnesorg, Karl-Heinz Kurras, was revealed in 2009 to be an undercover Stasi agent. Kurras was charged with manslaughter and acquitted of the charge on 23 November 1967, which caused public outrage. Matters eventually cooled, which enraged Gudrun Ensslin. She had left Bernward Vesper and her child for good early in 1968 and now she, Andreas Baader and Thorwald Proll decided to escalate the fight against the system. They left Berlin around March 20, and in Munich decided to fire-bomb department stores in Frankfurt, where an Socialist German Student Union congress was taking place. Together with Horst Söhnlein, they left for Frankfurt on April 1.

On the night of 2 April 1968, two fires were set in two department stores in Frankfurt. Baader, Ensslin, Proll and Söhnlein for some reason remained in Frankfurt and were arrested three days later. In October 1968, they were sentenced to three years in prison for arson. After being released pending an appeal in June 1969, Baader, Ensslin, Proll fled when the appeal was denied. Baader was arrested on 3 April 1970. Ensslin, Ulrike Meinhof, who was at that time a well-known leftist polemicist, and two other women freed him on 14 May 1970. One person was shot. This was the beginning of the gang's violent crimes, and the Red Army Faction. Ensslin became one of the most wanted people in Germany.

In May 1971, Bernward Vesper committed suicide and Felix was sent to live with foster parents.[14]

Ensslin was arrested in a boutique on 8 June 1972 in Hamburg.


Burial site of Baader, Raspe and Ensslin.

The Red Army Faction's second generation made several attempts to free Ensslin and her comrades from prison. One attempt involved the kidnapping of Hanns-Martin Schleyer on 5 September 1977, and a proposed prisoner exchange. When this failed to work, the RAF orchestrated the hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner on 17 October. When the airplane was stormed by a German anti-terrorist unit, Schleyer was killed.

Hours later, in a night that became known as "Death Night", Ensslin, Baader and Jan-Carl Raspe were found dead in the high security block of Stammheim Prison. Like Meinhoff, Ensslin was found dead by hanging in her cell. Andreas Baader and Jan-Carl Raspe were said to have shot themselves. A fourth member, Irmgard Möller, allegedly stabbed herself four times in the chest with a stolen knife. She survived her suicide attempt and has since stated that the deaths were not suicide, but rather extrajudical killings undertaken by the German government of the time, a claim strongly denied by the German governments former and present.[15] The exhaustive study of the RAF by Stefan Aust (revised in 2009 as "Baader-Meinhof: the inside story of the RAF") is categorical in finding the deaths suicides. On 27 October 1977, Ensslin was buried in a common grave with Baader and Raspe in the Dornhalde Cemetery in Stuttgart.

In film

Ensslin was portrayed by Johanna Wokalek in Uli Edel's 2008 film The Baader Meinhof Complex,[16][17] an adaptation of the non-fiction book of the same name by Stefan Aust.[18] Wokalek's performance in the film was awarded with a nomination for the 2009 German Film Awards and a Bambi award as best German actress.[17][19] The film was chosen as Germany's submission to the 81st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, and was already nominated Best Foreign Language Film for the 66th Golden Globe Awards.[20][21][22]

Ensslin's life story was fictionalized into the film Marianne and Juliane.

See also


  1. ^ "Als Jugendliche wird sie Gruppenführerin beim Evangelischen Mädchenwerk und aktive Gemeindehelferin, die die Bibelarbeit leistet", Gerd Koenen, Vesper, Ensslin, Baader, Köln, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2003, p. 93
  2. ^ the Stuttgart Königin Katharine-Stift, Konen, p. 93
  3. ^ Koenen, p. 20
  4. ^ Koenen, p. 27
  5. ^ Gegen den Tod, Stimmen deutscher Schriftsteller gegen die Atombombe, Bernward Vesper, editor, Stuttgart-Cannstatt (Ensslin's parents address), 1964
  6. ^ Koenen, p. 121, 124
  7. ^ Koenen, p. 134
  8. ^ Koenen, p. 22
  9. ^ Schröder & Kalender » Blog Archive » Making of Pornography (15)
  10. ^ a b Harney, The Priest (1998), pp. 37, 47, 67, 128, 155, 167.
  11. ^ Iran Between Two Revolutions by Ervand Abrahamian, p.437
  12. ^ Mackay, Iranians (1998), pp. 236, 260.
  13. ^ Koenen, p. 124
  14. ^ "The element of madness". Perlentaucher Medien GmbH. July 12, 2009. Retrieved Feburary 22, 2010. 
  15. ^ Dugdale-Pointon, T. (29 August 2007). "Gudrun Ensslin (1940-1977)". Retrieved 4 April 2009. 
  16. ^ Zander, Peter (May 15, 2008). "Großer Auftritt: Johanna Wokalek spielt "Die Päpstin"". Die Welt. Retrieved December 12, 2008.  (German)
  17. ^ a b "Bambi-Verleihung in Offenburg". Aargauer Zeitung. November 27, 2008. Retrieved December 12, 2008.  (German)
  18. ^ Woldt, Marco (November 17, 200). "German filmmakers tackle nation's dark past". CNN. Retrieved December 14, 2008. 
  19. ^ "Deutscher Filmpreis: Die Nominierungen im Überblick". Die Welt. March 13, 2009. Retrieved March 13, 2009.  (German)
  20. ^ "„Baader Meinhof Komplex“ für Golden Globe nominiert". Spiegel Online. December 11, 2008.,1518,595893,00.html. Retrieved December 14, 2008.  (German)
  21. ^ Kaufmann, Nicole (December 11, 2008). "The Baader Meinhof Complex to represent Germany in the race for the Academy Award". German Films. Retrieved December 14, 2008. 
  22. ^ "2008 GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS NOMINATIONS FOR THE YEAR ENDED". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. December 11, 2008. Retrieved December 14, 2008. 

Other references

External links

External images
Ensslin with Andreas Baader
Ensslin in Das Abonnement
Ensslin in wanted poster with other RAF members
Gravesite of Ennslin, Baader and Raspe

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