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Solving a Billion-Piece Puzzle

Today Wired.com has a story about the efforts of Ulrike Poppe, a former East German dissident, to piece together millions of shredded documents which the Stasi attempted to destroy with the fall of the Berlin Wall:

“When the wall fell, the Stasi fell with it. The new government, determined to bring to light the agency’s totalitarian tactics, created a special commission to give victims access to their personal files. Poppe and her husband were among the first people in Germany allowed into the archives. On January 3, 1992, she sat in front of a cart loaded with 40 binders dedicated to “Circle 2” — her codename, it turned out. In the 16 years since, the commission has turned up 20 more Circle 2 binders on her. The pages amounted to a minute-by-minute account of Poppe’s life, seen from an unimaginable array of angles. Video cameras were installed in the apartment across the street. Her friends’ bedrooms were bugged and their conversations about her added to the file. Agents investigated the political leanings of her classmates from middle school and opened all of her mail. “They really tried to capture everything,” she says. “Most of it was just junk.” But some of it wasn’t. And some of it … Poppe doesn’t know. No one does.”

Russia has never created such a truth commission to explore the secret documents of the Soviet Union and the files of the KGB – a fact that many consider a burdensome historical hangover which requires closure.