Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany’s Secret Police

In the chaos of the days leading up to the actual destruction of the wall and the fall of East Germany’s communist government, frantic Stasi agents sent trucks full of documents to the Papierwolfs and Reisswolfs — literally paper-wolves and rip-wolves, German for shredders. As pressure mounted, agents turned to office shredders, and when the motors burned out, they started tearing pages by hand — 45 million of them, ripped into approximately 600 million scraps of paper. The machine-shredded stuff is confetti, largely unrecoverable. But in May 2007, a team of German computer scientists in Berlin announced that after four years of work, they had completed a system to digitally tape together the torn fragments. Engineers hope their software and scanners can do the job in less than five years

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