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Stasi operation ‘Light’ in 1962

Research field:Dictatorship Research
Research focus: Rule and Society
Period: 09.2017–08.2019 (Project completed)
Coordination: Dr. Thomas Widera


This research project of the HAIT is a pilot project for basic research on the loss of cultural assets in the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ) and the GDR and is being conducted in co-operation with the German Lost Art Foundation. The focus lies on the artworks and cultural assets expropriated by way of persecutory and arbitrary measures and on the affected owners, executive authorities and responsible agents.

In January 1962, under the code name ‘Light’, the ‘Stasi’ (Ministry for State Security) searched thousands of safe deposit boxes and safes that had remained untouched since the Second World War in banks and former financial institutions across GDR territory. Beforehand, Erich Mielke, the Minister of State Security, had coordinated operation ‘Light’ with Walter Ulbricht, Erich Honecker, Willi Stoph, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the GDR, and Finance Minister Willy Rumpf. The Stasi confiscated valuables and securities, antiques, jewellery and works of art from the repositories and handed over the items to the Ministry of Finance for acquiringmuch needed foreign currency. Also taken were an unknown number of documents from the Nazi era. The scholarly analysis of operation ‘Light’ forms the central content of the project, intended as a comprehensive study of the structural conditions of the confiscation of cultural property and the interests pursued therewith, the specific processes, the participating institutions and apparatuses, the interactions and the key protagonists as well as the experts, their initiatives for action and their leeway. To this end and in the interest of research into other contexts, all references to the items themselves, their whereabouts and any sale proceeds are being systematically registered and processed for documentation.


in Kooperation mit dem Deutschen Zentrum Kulturgutverluste