This book should be called Cold War Secret Police and Spy Stories from Eastern Europe because the majority of the excellent chapters focus on secret police officers or informers rather than the classic Cold War spy stories indicated in the title. Even though the secret police and classic espionage activity sometimes overlapped in the state security ministries of Soviet-bloc countries, the goals and actions were different. Usually informants worked internally to denounce someone in society who allegedly had committed a transgression, agitated as a dissident, or broken a law. Spies, on the other hand, usually spied abroad to gather intelligence beneficial to the home country.
The ten chapters in this edited volume are divided into four parts: the first part covers an officer in Romania, a spy chief in East Germany, and an informant in East Germany. The second part focuses on two targets for denunciation, one in Romania and one in the Soviet Union. The third part features two secret East/West operations involving East Germany/West Germany and Poland/West Berlin. The fourth part, “Spies on Screen,” focuses on Cold War spy stories, and all three of its chapters feature East Germany. Although much has been written about the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi), the literature on other East-bloc countries is sparser. Therefore, the addition of two chapters on Romania, one on Poland, and another on the Soviet Union are welcome and important scholarly additions to the literature. Cold War Spy Stories from Eastern Europe is a sequel to the authors’ earlier edited volume Secret Police Files from the Eastern Bloc: Between Surveillance and Life Writing (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
The two chapters on Romania are among the strongest in the volume. Valentina Glajar advances the notion of the “file story” (“a multilayered and polyphonic biographical act”; p. 138) and this helps to conceptualize her chapter about a Romanian-Jewish officer in the Securitate secret police (with the pseudonym Samuel Feld) who was dismissed in 1960. Corina Petrescu focuses on how playwright Ana Novac became a target of the Securitate. Using files and other biographical material, both Glajar and Petrescu create rich multilayered portraits of their subjects—one an officer-perpetrator turned victim and the other an author who criticized the state publicly. Petrescu builds on the idea of the file story and introduces the notion of a “target identity” (“the distinguishing traits of character and behavioral patterns that stirred the Securitate's interest and motivated the person's shadowing”; p. 138) for the dissident playwright. Of course, a person's biography and identity cannot be gleaned solely from secret police files, which consist of fragments and half-truths collected to find wrongdoing, not to create an accurate portrayal of a life — a point that is made clear in both contributions.
Like Glajar and Petrescu, the other authors in the edited volume are literary scholars and professors of German language and literature, with the exception of Julie Fedor, who teaches modern European history with a focus on Russia and contributes a chapter on the Soviet case of Father Dmitrii Dudko. The literary approach of the majority of the authors brings a fresh perspective to the historical topic.
Whereas the Romanian cases focus on file stories, informants, and enemies of the state, the spies-on-screen chapters tell classic Cold War spy stories. Carol Anne Costabile-Heming compares two East German films about double agents active before the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961: For Eyes Only—Top Secret, released in 1963 at the height of the mania for spy films; and Coded Messages for the Boss, released in 1979. Both films served as an antidote to the James Bond films in the West, and both, having been produced by the state-owned film company Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft, were used as propaganda to show East German citizens that East German agents were morally superior to Western agents because of their loyalty to the state and family. Costabile-Heming argues that the films’ subject matter helped to justify the building of the Berlin Wall. In the final chapter in the “Spies on Screen” section, Cheryl Dueck uses the contemporary lens of surveillance to analyze more recent spy films, such as Bridge of Spies (2015), as well as the German television series Deutschland 83. She contends that film itself is a “medium of surveillance.”
Despite the mislabeling of informer stories as spy stories (another example is the contribution by Alison Lewis, who calls he story of the poet-informer Uwe Berger a Cold War spy story), this edited volume is a valuable contribution to the literature.