Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Baader Meinhof Gang

Breaking Comrade Baader Out

Andreas Baader (AP)
Andreas Baader (AP)

It was early on the morning of May 14, 1970 in Berlin, West Germany and two prison guards, Sergeant GŁnter Wetter and Sergeant Karl-Heinz Wegener, were in a police van escorting an inmate to a library outside the correctional facility. That library was located in the German Central Institute for Social Issues. The prisoner was a swaggering, dark-haired, swarthy-complexioned 27-year-old man named Andreas Baader. He was serving four years for the crime of "arson endangering human life." A petty criminal turned left-wing revolutionary, Baader had received prison permission to do research into a planned book about "organizing young people on the fringes of society."

The prisoner would enjoy the privilege of going to the library in civilian clothes but would be accompanied by uniformed and armed guards. One of the guards reminded the convict of the way he must behave on this trip. Bubble-cheeked Andreas smilingly assured his captors that they had nothing to worry about. "I'm not planning to make a break for it," he said. "After all I've got a contract with a publisher to write a book. That'll make me quite a pile, and I can certainly do with it."

Ulrike Meinhof
Ulrike Meinhof

While the handcuffed prisoner and his guards were riding to the institute, Ulrike Meinhof, a well-known journalist with leftist sympathies, was ringing its door. Frau Gertrud Lorenz opened it and told Meinhof that the reading room was closed to the public at that time. An unruffled Ulrike replied that she knew that. She was there because it was the morning that Andreas Baader was being brought to their library and she was working on the book with him. Frau Lorenz allowed Ulrike in and the writer sat down at a desk at the side in the reading room. She rummaged through the papers and books in her large bag and requested that Lorenz fetch a few books she needed. She was looking through card indexes when the sergeants showed up with inmate Baader.

The guards made sure the doors to the room were securely locked and the window closed. Then they took the handcuffs off Baader's wrists. "May I have a cup of coffee?" the prisoner politely asked one of the library staff. It was brought and Baader and Meinhof appeared to settle down to work.

The building's front doorbell rang again.

Sixty-four-year-old librarian Georg Linke answered it. Two slim, pretty young women (Irene Goergens and Ingrid Schubert) stood there, carrying briefcases. They wanted to get into the main reading room but Linke told them they could not go there and he directed them to a table in the hall.

Irene Goergens and Ingrid Schubert
Irene Goergens and Ingrid Schubert

When the doorbell rang again, Georgens and Schubert got up to answer it and let in a man in a woolen mask carrying a Beretta pistol. The masked gunman ran into the hall.

Georg Linke had settled back into his office when he was disturbed by a sudden commotion. He went to investigate and the man in the mask shot at the elderly librarian. Linke slammed the door shut and yelled at two secretaries to climb out of the window. He followed them, wounded in the liver.

The masked man pointed a gun at a shocked and terrified Frau Lorenz. "Stay where you are or you'll be shot!" he warned. Goergens and Schubert stood behind him, both with guns in their hands.

The window used to escape the library

Ulrike Meinhof opened a window and climbed out of it. Andreas Baader immediately followed suit.

The armed attackers started shooting but aimed low, their bullets hitting the floor. Guards knocked the gun out of the hand of the masked man and tore a wig off Ingrid Schubert's head. The man in the mask fired a gas pistol. Then he and the armed women ran out the same window their associates had so recently gone through. They raced to a silver Alfa Romeo that took off at high speed as soon as the last of them clambered into it.

It was close to three weeks later, on the significant date of June 2, the anniversary of the death of a young man at a leftist demonstration, that the German Press Agency received a brief epistle explaining the action. It read: "Did the pigs really believe that we would let Comrade Baader sit in jail for two or three years? Did any pig really believe we would talk about the development of class struggle, the reorganization of the proletariat, without arming ourselves at the same time? Did the pigs who shot first believe that we would allow ourselves without violence to be shot off like slaughter-cattle? Whoever does not defend himself will die. Start the armed resistance! Build up the Red Army!"

Symbol ot the Red Army Faction (AP)
Symbol ot the Red Army Faction (AP)

Thus, the Red Army Faction, or RAF, was born. Its name was chosen after that of The Red Army, a Japanese leftist terrorist organization and the word "faction" tried to suggest that the group was part of a larger, international Marxist struggle. However, the RAF would usually be known to the outside world as the Baader-Meinhof Gang or Group. This nickname was misleading for while the leader of the group was undoubtedly Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof was not second-in-command nor was she Baader's lover. Both of those distinctions belonged to Gudrun Ensslin who was, in many ways, the guiding spirit behind the band.

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