Ulrike Meinhof

Posted: August 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

Ulrike Meinhof was born on October 7th 1934 to Ingeborg and Werner Meinhof in Oldenburg, Northern Germany. Her family on her father’s side was known for producing Protestant theologians. However, Dr. Werner Meinhof himself became a curator of the Jena Municipal Museum. Ingeborg’s side of the family had its roots in Hesse. Ulrike’s maternal grandfather was a cobbler’s son working as a teacher and school inspector before the Nazis prohibited him from doing so in 1933 on the grounds of his Socialist convictions.
The Meinhofs’ were a typical German bourgeois family. The parents with their two daughters, Ulrike and the four-year older Weinke, lived in an ivy-covered house in a middle-class residential area in Jena.

 

Childhood influences

As the influence of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party) and Hitler expanded in Germany, the family turned away from this domination and changed their affiliation from the Protestant Church, which had fallen in line with the ideologies of the time, to a small parish called the “Hessian Dissent.” It had its origins under Bismarck after the founding of the German Reich, objected to all state control over the church, and was a gathering point for church opposition to the Nazi regime.
Ulrike’s and Weinke’s childhood was overshadowed by the sudden death of their father in 1940. After the death of her husband, Ingeborg received a grant that allowed her to continue her studies in art history that she had discontinued because of her marriage.
Soon, Renate Riemeck – a nineteen year-old, clever, and dynamic history, German and art history student – moved in with the family. Hence, the girls had two mothers.
Both women opposed the Nazis, had loose contact with a resistance group in the Zeiss optical works in Jena, and listened to BBC news during the war, albeit it was strictly prohibited. Meanwhile, they passed their first state examinations.
After the war ended in 1945, Jena was occupied by the Americans who later withdrew in accordance with the Yalta agreement to then leave the area subjected to Soviet rule. As a result, the family immigrated west to Oldenburg where Ingeborg Meinhof and Renate Riemeck took their second state examinations and qualified as teachers. Both had also joined the SPD (Social Democratic Party) in 1945.
The city was overflowing with immigrants from the East and the only school that was willing to take Ulrike was the Roman Catholic School of Our Lady. The legacy of this school to Ulrike was a deep fascination with the Catholic belief during her childhood and youth.

 

A young woman searching for an identity

The same year Ingeborg Meinhof died of an infection that she had contracted after a cancer operation leaving Ulrike behind as an orphan at the age of 15. Renate Riemeck stayed with the two girls and seemed to have had an enormous influence on Ulrike who copied the only fourteen-year older foster mother. For example, Renate Riemeck wore trousers and had her hair cut short and so did Ulrike. Renate Riemeck published academic books and acquired the status of a professor at the Wilburg Institute of Education. At that time, Ulrike attended the Philippinium in Weiburg, a grammar school with the highest academic standards. She was known as a popular, very intelligent, and charismatic student. Her charm impressed teachers and classmates alike. In her free time, she read many books from classics to modern literature which deeply shaped her opinion and worldview.
On the one hand, Ulrike was a role model middle-class young woman and on the other hand, she cultivated rather atypical interests such as smoking the pipe as well as self-rolled cigarettes and danced boogie-woogie all night long. In contrast to what was expected of a well-behaved girl, she was not afraid to voice her opinion in school on issues concerning unjust treatments of students. She contradicted teachers publicly and passionately, which almost caused her to become expelled from school.
Expressing and living out her political interests was an essential part of her life. Ulrike was not only part of the student government and a member of the Europe movement but she also showed an interest in journalism and worked as a co-editor for her school’s magazine.

 

Political activism against nuclear armament

At the age of 20, following her graduation from grammar school after the successful completion of the Abitur examinations, Ulrike attended the University of Marburg on a grant from the Study Foundation of the German People (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes). She started studying psychology and education and was involved in a movement of the young Protestants that worked towards incorporating more elements of the Catholic belief into the Protestant liturgy.
In 1957, Ulrike transferred to the University of Münster, where she was later elected spokeswoman of the Socialist German Student’s Union (SDS) that protested by forming an anti-atomic death committee. This topic was very delicate in Germany at the time. On April 12th, the Göttinger Declaration was published in which 18 West German atomic scientists expressed their disagreement with any nuclear armament of the Federal Republic of Germany. The scientist and Nobel Prize Winners were not the only ones that believed Germany could best protect itself and promote stability for the region and the world if it voluntarily abstained from the possession of nuclear arms. Albert Schweizer called for a halt on nuclear arm tests. These concerns sparked the activism of many young people. Trade unionists and intellectuals supported the student movement. Ulrike Meinhof became very active in the anti-nuclear armament movement: as a journalist, she published articles on the nuclear issue in a variety of student newspapers; as an activist, she helped to organize demonstrations, petitions, and a boycott of lectures.
In 1955, Renate Riemeck left the SPD because she did not agree with the rearmament of West Germany which she saw as a step towards the intensification of the Cold War. Renate Riemeck opposed Konrad Adenauer’s plans to obtain nuclear weapons and actively supported the German-Polish reconciliation through the recognition of the disputed Oder-Neisse boarder. Her attitudes conflicted with those of her employer, the Land North Rhine-Westphalia, and she consequently resigned her professorship when she was elected to the committee of the German Peace Union (Deutsche Friedensunion).
According to Stefan Aust, Ulrike Meinhof entered the political arena in May 1958 when she made a speech to 5000 neatly dressed students after a silent march through Münster. Ulrike Meinhof, with her Sophie Scholl style haircut, came across as a self-confident young peace activist and thus, caught the attention of the editorial office of the left-wing student newspaper Konkret that was devoted to the anti-nuclear movement.
In 1958, Ulrike Meinhof joined the banned Communist Party (KPD). However, she had not studied the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin or Luxemburg and was only familiar with the neo-Marxism of the student movement.

Ulrike Meinhof’s childhood experiences nourished her aspiration to become a politically active journalist concerned with achieving social justice.

In 1968, Germany was a divided country, not only East versus West but even more so parents versus their offspring. The generation of ‘68 is famous world wide. Many young people in Germany, in the US, and elsewhere joined the hippy movement with their communal, nomadic lifestyle. They listened to The House of Rising Sun by the Animals, read The Catcher of the Rye by J.D. Salinger or Steppenwolf by H. Hesse, celebrated sexual freedom, and the complete liberation from the establishment. They expressed their desire for change by renouncing consumerism, the influence of big corporations, the inhumane Vietnam War from 1964 to 1975, and by criticizing Western middle class values.
Particularly at German universities, young students felt constricted by a life of the bourgeoisie and became part of the German student movement. They demanded global justice and dreamed of world peace. The Third World should be freed of its bonds that restricted it in a new imperialistic epoch, the standard of living should rise worldwide, and many envisioned a socialist future of equal distribution of property. This generation rejected decision making-processes and the existing unequal balance of wealth and social justice. They felt that the economic wealth of the nation following the German Wirtschaftswunder of the 1950s led to an ever-growing gap between the rich and the poor instead of improving the standard of living of the working class.
The student movement confronted the older generation who had taken part in WWII after which they resumed their respective positions too easily. It was crucial for the young people to confront Germany’s and their parents’ ‘fascist’ past as well as rebel and question authoritarianism and hypocrisy of family, society, and government alike.
Other issues of concern were the increasingly controlled mass media (protest in front of the Axel Springer Verlag). It was the student movement’s main concern to change the working of society for more democracy, whereas the media portrayed the movement as anti-democratic – a threat to the status quo.
The German student movement followed more than a century of conservatism among most German students and demonstrated a noteworthy shift towards the left and the radicalization of student politics.
A wave of protests swept Germany. They were fueled by violent confrontations of protesters versus police and were encouraged by contemporary protest movements in the world. They protested against war, US imperialism, fascist tendencies of West German politics, especially the police, and the rule of the capital.

Several key incidents that shaped the mutual experiences of the 1968 generation were:
• The traumatic death of Benno Ohnesorg, a student, who was shot dead by the police during a 1967 demonstration against a visit by the Shah of Iran.
• The demonstrations against the Axel Springer publishing empire that was targeted in the fight for the freedom of the press and to emphasize the role of the newspaper in shaping the public opinion with a campaign of hate against the students and minorities. The 1968 Springer demonstrations were the first mass protests in the Federal Republic of Germany. These protests lost much public sympathy after 17 Springer workers were injured in a series of bombings by the Baader-Meinhof group in 1972.

For more information please read the BBC article Full circle for German revolutionaries that reflects on the generation of 1968 and comments on people such as Joschka Fischer who has transformed from a young left-wing radical to an extremely popular German Foreign Minister. It gives a broad overview about the events in Germany that influenced the extra-parliamentary leftist movement in Germany at the time and explains the climate that led to the formation of the Baader-Meinhof-Group. It also stresses that this generation understood itself as the first generation that promoted the values of free speech and free expression and thus, laid the foundations for a true German democracy.

In the German newspaper, Die Zeit, Fantasie, die keine war, a very critical reflection by Karl Heinz Bohrer, writes about the generation of ‘68, their relationship with violence, the interrelations between the APO and the RAF, and the position of revolutionaries of ‘68 within society today.

On December 27th in 1961, Ulrike Meinhof married Klaus Rainer Röhl, a communist by conviction and the founder of konkret. She gave birth to twin girls, Regine and Bettina, on September 21, 1962.
In 1968, she divorced Klaus Rainer Röhl and claimed the girls. In 1970, she moved to Berlin. During this time, she became involved with more radical individuals. After she helped Andreas Baader escape from prison, she had to go underground. Her children disappeared the same day after school. The father searched for them via Interpol, but in vain. While Ulrike Meinhof was educated at a Palestinian terrorist camp in Jordan, the group developed the plan to ultimately bring the children to a Palestinian orphanage camp.
To prevent the father from contacting his children, Ulrike Meinhof organized their escape. The twins stayed with a friend in Berlin for a few days until two women drove them south and crossed the boarder into France illegally on foot. Another woman received the children in France and continued towards Italy where they crossed the boarder by driving over a still closed pass street. Sicily was the end of the journey. The women returned to Germany, leaving the children with a girl named Hanna for several weeks during which the children played on the beach, studied their school books, and played hide and seek games. After Hanna returned to Berlin, the girls stayed behind in huts close to Mount Etna where four German Hippies looked after them.
Stefan Aust, the author of the most comprehensive book about the RAF, flew down to Sicily to fly the children home safe before they could be claimed by another member of the group. Although the children had no papers with them, Stefan Aust managed to bring them back to Hamburg to reunite them with their father. The following night, he was warned by a friend that he would be killed by the Baader-Meinhof Gang.

At times, Ulrike Meinhof showed remorse and signs of weakness because she missed her children, but group pressure, a mixture of threats and accusations proved to be successful, and Ulrike Meinhof surrendered to the fact that she could not be a terrorist and a mother. She abandoned her children for what she believed to be a political fight against the imperialistic state seeking justice in the world. The greater plan demands personal sacrifices.
This decision is telling about Ulrike Meinhof’s personality. As much as she was the brain of the group and voice to the outside world, she was weak and submissive on a personal level to Baader and Ensslin. She was nervous and tended to engage in harsh self-criticism.

Nowadays, Regine lives in Berlin secluded from the public eye.
Bettina is a freelancing journalist who lives in Hamburg. She has published several articles on the Baader-Meinhof group and has written a long essay about Ulrike Meinhof and the debate about her brain. “The dignity of the dead Ulrike Meinhof. The madhouse republic? Is the German Terrorism imaginable without the media? Or: The story of Ulrike Meinhof’s medical brain diagnosis that was suppressed for 26 years”

 

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