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Shredded Stasi documents could be pieced together in five years

Jigsaw puzzle

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The last secrets of the East German State Security Service (Stasi), torn into shreds and stored in 16,000 brown sacks, may soon be pieced together by a software program developed by the Fraunhofer Institute.

On Monday, the Institute said it would take five years to solve the world's biggest jigsaw puzzle electronically. If done by hand, the operation would take several hundred years.

After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Stasi agents at the Magdeburg archives were ordered by their chief Erich Mielke to destroy tens of thousands of files about (former) Stasi informants and their victims. But the agents were unable to find the transport needed to take away the shredded documents and create a huge bonfire.

When East Germans stormed the Stasi buildings, they managed to rescue 16,000 brown paper sacks with shredded documents. Then civil servants, armed with adhesive tape and endless patience, began to reassemble thousands of files.

The program developed by the Berlin Frauhofer Institute, along with Design Technology (IPK) and Lufthansa Systems, will speed up this procedure significantly, by matching the paper fragments and order them correctly.

To do so, all shreds need to be scanned in full colour first. Fortunately, that’s a no-brainer for Lufthansa Systems.
One of the biggest providers of outsourcing solutions for electronic document processing and archiving in Europe, Lufhthans processes up to 100 million documents each year.

The major problem with the Stasi fragments, however, is that they are very small and have no square corners, Gunter Küchler, managing director of Lufthansa Systems Group GmbH, explained. This means that each shred needs to be inserted into plastic pockets so that the automatic scanning equipment can accept them.

It is not clear when the operation will actually begin. On Monday the Fraunhofer Institute and Lufthansa merely presented a feasibility study. ®

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