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Computer saves shredded Stasi files

600 million pieces of totalitarian history

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East German historians have employed the help of a computer program to reconstruct 16,000 sacks of shredded paper that once documented the snooping of the Stasi police.

The job was previously done by hand, with a team of 30 workers piecing together 350 sacks of shreds since 1991, The Guardian reports. The team estimated that at that rate it would take 400 to 800 years to finish the job.

E-Puzzler, a software program designed by Berlin's Fraunhofer Institute for Design Technology, was employed to reconstruct what remained of the 600 million shreds from 45 million documents, which recorded the lives of six million people watched by the Stasi.

It reconstructed the originals by examining the type of paper as well as the nature of the script. The program had already been used to help reconstruct broken figures from China's Terracotta Army and "hundreds of thousands of bank notes shredded by a mother in an attempt to block her estranged daughter from her inheritance".

Other countries that had suffered under military dictatorship and the tyranny of secret police had apparently approached the institute to help reconstruct their shreds of history as well.

Stasi boss Erich Mielke apparently ordered the files to be shredded and burned after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. But the shredders were in such a hurry to get away they left the sacks in the basement of their Berlin headquarters.

The operation was proposed by the institute in 2003. ®

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