SPD (after 1964)
19 July 1937
Eisenberg, Thuringia, Germany
Thomas Ammer (born 19 July 1937 in Eisenberg) is a German historian who as a young man studied to become a physician.
Anti-government political activism in East Germany led to his arrest and imprisonment in 1958, and he never qualified as a medical doctor. His 15-year prison sentence was cut short in August 1964 when his release was purchased by the West German government, and at the age of 27 he relocated to the German Federal Republic.
Thomas Ammer was born in a small town in Thuringia in what was then central southern Germany. His parents owned a craft-based business devoted to the production of historical key-board instruments. Ammer's father became associated with Communist opposition groups in 1943, and after 1945 when the ban on it was lifted, joined the German Communist Party; but he died in January 1946 when Thomas was not yet nine years old.
In 1953 Thomas Ammer and his school fellows including Reinhard Spalke, Günter Schwarz, Ludwig and Wilhelm Ziehr along with Johann Frömel formed a political group which later came to be known in the western media as the Eisenberger Group. The background was the violent military suppression in June 1953 of the strikes and street protests convulsing the German Democratic Republic. The group made it their business to highlight examples of politically arbitrary or despotic actions by the authorities. They prepared leaflets and decorated walls and trucks with slogans, anti-government messages and "modified" versions of the logo used by the country's ruling SED (party). Ammer was part of the leadership of the group.
In 1955 Ammer passed the exams that marked the end of his schooling and went on to study Medicine at the Friedrich Schiller University (FSU) in Jena. This greatly extended his network of contacts and the so-called (in retrospect) Eisenberger Circle expanded beyond its base of Eisenberg school students to become a significant opposition movement, albeit not one that ever boasted any sort of structured national organisation.
After 1945 the German Democratic Republic hosted several hundred thousand Soviet troops, but the country made do without any army of its own until the establishment, formally in March 1956, of the National People's Army (four months after the establishment of the Federal Army / "Bundeswehr" in West Germany). This prompted Ammer and other members of the Eisenberger group, on 26 January 1956, to signal opposition to German rearmament by setting fire to a shooting stand belonging to the The Party Battle group's "Sports and Technology Association". Ammer was the man who got hold of the kindling wood and petrol/gasoline needed for the exploit. For 1957 the Eisenberger Circle planned an appeal to academics to resist the growing centralisation of control over the universities. To outsiders, group members kept their heads down and conformed, Jammer himself serving as FDJ secretary for his student year group. They had nevertheless been noticed by the Ministry for State Security (MfS / Stasi) who during 1957 succeeded in infiltrating their own spy, a Theology student called Juergen Keller, into the group.
Starting with information obtained from the theology student, the Stasi launched a lengthy investigation process, apparently in May 1957. On 13 February 1958 they arrested Thomas Ammer and placed him inside the "MfS Investigation Prison" in Gera. By April 1958 almost 40 from the group had been taken into custody and another five, anticipating arrest, had fled to the safety of West Berlin. The Gera district court then handed out prison sentences totaling 116 years to the detainees. Thomas Ammer himself, seen as the "head" of the group, was sentenced on 27 September 1958, receiving the longest individual sentence, at 15 years, for "Treason against the state" ("Staatsverrat"). He was taken to the Super prison at Waldheim, later being transferred to the Brandenburg-Görden Prison. His final few weeks in detention would be spent inside the Stasi investigation prison at Berlin-Lichtenberg.
Life in West Germany
On 14 August 1964, after six years in prison, Ammer was among the first of the 33,755 political prisoners to have their freedom purchased under the terms of a (not uncontroversial) agreement concluded between East and West Germany in 1962. He was summarily delivered to the German Federal Republic where he was now able to embark on a period of study that covered Political sciences, Law and History, which took him to the universities of Tübingen, Bonn and Erlangen (by Nuremberg). He then took a job editing a magazine based in Switzerland, at the same time becoming an historian at the Social Sciences Academy in Erlangen. His work included publishing papers and articles that dealt with the German Democratic Republic and he was therefore still subject to surveillance from the East German State Security Ministry despite now living and working in West Germany. In 1968 he became a member of the West German Social Democratic Party (SPD), retaining his membership till 1982. In 1975 he obtained a research post at the Complete Germany Institute in Bonn. He stayed with The Institute till its mandate was overtaken by the march of history and it was dissolved in 1991: he has lived in nearby Euskirchen, in a small house filled with his books, ever since. In 1992 he became an "expert member" on the Secretariat of the Commission set up by the German Bundestag to try and resolve some of the issues left over from the single-party dictatorship that had, till 1990, been the German Democratic Republic.