Who were the RAF?


The Extraordinary 1950s in Germany

The period of the 1950s for Germany was extraordinary. In 1949, we could see the formatting of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. FRG was a new baby-born state with views of Capitalism, while GDR was a communist state under the control of Staci and the USSR.  In the middle of the 1950s, the government of West Germany started to impose strange laws, which not only contradicted the constitution but also started to remind the principles of Nazi Germany. Appearance of courts that started to violate human rights, the ban on strikes and demonstrations, the issue of a document that obligated almost all men and women to work compulsorily – all of that was happening sincethe government gained almost unlimited power, which caused the bad reaction of the people, especially young students of West Germany. 

A Divided Nation

Despite the ban on protests, youngsters began to go on strike. The end of the 60s was full of such protests, which contributed to the development of extreme leftist ideas. These times led to the creation of the RAF type of organization, or to be precise, the Red Army Faction. They became a symbol of disorder and terrorism in West Germany. 1967 was marked by large-scale rallies as America, with its capitalism, absolutely did not impress the young students of Germany. In addition, the war in Vietnam was causing hate of capitalism at the same time, leading to lots of protests

The Rise of the Red Army Faction

On June 2, 1967, at one of these rallies, a young student, Benno Ohnesorg, was killed at close range in the back of the head. The one who did it was the policeman Karl-Heinz Kurras. It was the death of this student that became the catalyst for Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin to become the founders of the RAF terrorist group. In 1968, their first act of terror took place. The group set fire to two supermarkets, explaining that “they brought only a small part of the fire and what people in Vietnam feel.” As a result, Baader and Ensslin were found and sent to prison. After the incident, more and more people started joining the group. Mostly it was the middle class of young students who considered West Germany becoming the reincarnation of the 3rd Reich. A public opinion poll then showed that every fourth West German under the age of 40 felt some sympathy for the group.

Ulrike Marie Meinhof and the Escalation

The second major moment happened in the 70s. On the horizon appeared Ulrike Marie Meinhof, a young journalist, with left political ideas, who mostly wrote about the country’s political life. She was very interested in the history of the founders of the RAF and the activities of the group. 

The journalist allegedly wanted to interview a young couple. She made a deal with the police and they let her meet with them, which was a fatal mistake. It is concerning how a journalist who may have common ideas and views with the organizers of a terrorist group and who can help them escape, which is what happened as a result, could be permitted to do an interview. In May 1970, Andreas Baader was permitted to meet Meinhof at the library of the Berlin Zentralinstitut outside the prison. During this meeting, confederates Irene Goergens and Ingrid Schubert entered the library carrying suitcases, then opened a door to admit a masked gunman armed with a pistol. They then drew pistols out of their suitcases and fired shots that wounded a 64-year-old librarian. Baader, the masked gunman, and the three women then fled through a window. After this moment, the bloody terror of the RAF started. All their raids on banks and various types of robbery only made them even more popular not only in Germany but also worldwide.

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German police poster offers rewards for the capture of Red Army Faction terrorists. Retrieved from nationalmuseum.af.mil

Training in Jordan and the Government’s Response

The RAF’s fighting methods were guerrilla and to learn that properly, they decided to study it in detail. Iin 1970, several members of the RAF went to Jordan and were trained by the Palestine Liberation Organization. There they were taught almost everything needed. The problem was that after their “trip,” not just radical students returned from Jordan, but well-trained fighters who knew how to properly fight and wield weapons. After that, members of the RAF began to attack embassies, ministry buildings, and anything related to the government. The RAF was the first organization to show West Germany what domestic terror was all about. After that, the faction was taken very seriously. 

Fearing future attacks, the government of FRG started a massive search for them. The group was found very easily, because the headquarters of the terrorists was in a small garage, even though there were many houses around where people lived. And only one call from an old neighbor led to the collapse of this organization. Not only the police but also armored vehicles were mobilized to their location. As a result, the top brass of the RAF was detained. Without proper coordination, it was not difficult to arrest all the remaining members. They were all put in one prison, without any communication with anyone, each of them sat in a solitary cell for 23 and a half hours, plus 30 minutes in the fresh air, and had access only to books and the radio. That contributed to the emergence of the second-generation RAF. Even though the entire elite was in prison, the terror did not stop.

The Second Generation and the Stockholm Attack

In 1975, members of the second generation of the RAF organized one of the loudest terrorist attacks in their history, demanding the release of members of the first generation of the RAF from prison. They took over the German embassy in Stockholm, planting explosives at all potential entrances and exits. Among those who they demanded to release were  Baader, Meinhof, and more than 20 other RAF members from prison. According to their plan, they had to go to an unknown country, and if the FRG would not comply with these demands, they would have to kill the ambassador and all the embassy hostages. 

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After the explosion, Photo: Rapport/TT

The government of Germany did not go to the benefit of terrorists. There was a sudden explosion of the bomb that had been planted earlier. After that, the Swedish police started a special operation, after which they managed to detain the terrorists and send them behind bars for two life sentences. Some of them even served their term to the end. They were released in the ‘90s and still after that, the former terrorists claimed that they had no regrets and would not apologize to the victims of their terrorist attack.

The Kidnapping of Martin Schleyer

After that, the RAF’s fighting method began to evolve even further. They began to hunt down German officials and military, or any officials who were involved in cooperation with the United States. In August 1977, their most notorious operation, the kidnapping of Martin Schleyer, took place. He was one of the directors of the Mercedes Benz company and the president of the German confederations of employers and industry associations, and in the past was not the lowest member of the SS. 

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Hanns Martin Schleyer. AFP/Getty Images

On August 5, members of the RAF kidnapped him from his car in the middle of the road. They demanded the release of imprisoned members of the RAF and if the demands were met, they threatened to kill Schleyer. Again, even this time, the authorities of the Federal Republic of Germany were not going to negotiate with terrorists. So the RAF went even further, they convinced Palestinian militants to hijack a Lufthansa plane, but it didn’t work either. On October 17, GSG-9 fighters stormed it and freed the hostages. 

The Legacy of the RAF

After all these unsuccessful attempts to free the imprisoned members of the RAF, most of them were found breathless in their prison cells.The official versions of their deaths were suicides, which no one investigated. After the death of the RAF leaders, the captured Hans Martin Schleyer was found dead in a car on the highway on October 19.The 1977 case made  Germany pass laws against terrorist groups. The members of the RAF had to flee to neighboring Germany, where the GDR provided them with asylum, and new passports with new names. Even after that, the terror continued. The RAF organized 15 other terrorist attacks, and only in 1998 they announced their disbandment. Their struggle was doomed from the start; young and naive students were using violent tactics combined with ineffective strategies to change the system…

Featured image: Wikipedia

Stanislav Vynnytskyi
Stanislav Vynnytskyi
Hi there! My name is Stanislav. I am second-year BIR student. Ukrainian 🇺🇦. Occasionally write opinions as spicy as borscht (if enough spices are added).

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