Gudrun Ensslin (1940-1977)

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Despite popular misconception it was Gudrun Ensslin who was the female leader of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang also known as the Red Army Faction (RAF). Ensslin was the girlfriend of Andreas Baader and influenced the violent thuggish Baader with her left wing views in many ways she was the intellectual head of the RAF.

She was born in 1940 in Baden-Wurttemberg, one of the seven children of Pastor Helmut Ensslin. She grew up in a religious household and was well versed in the bible and the family often discussed social problems.

In 1958 Gudrun spent a year in an American high school and due to excellent exam results she received a Scholarship and studied English and German studies as well as philosophy. After study Ensslin tried to become a teacher. In 1965 Gudrun and her right wing boyfriend Bernward moved to West Berlin while she worked towards her PhD at the free university, here they were politically active taking part in protests against nuclear weapons and the presence of US military bases in Germany. Her relationship started to break down by 1967 after the birth of her son. Ensslin was becoming heavily involved in the left wing activist movement and surprisingly considering her background took part in a semi pornographic film ‘Das Abonnement’.

Following violent clashes over a visit by the Shah of Iran to Germany Gudrun claimed West Germany was a fascist state during a political meeting, saying “This Fascist state means to kill us all. Violence is the only answer to violence” Tensions were running high after a protester was shot and the police officer responsible was acquitted of his manslaughter.  During this period she met and formed a relationship with Andreas Baader, leaving her partner Bernward Vesper and her young son at the start of 1968. At this point she made the decision to go from political activist to terrorist. In April 1968 following an arson attack on two large department stores in Frankfurt, four members of the gang including Ensslin and Baader were arrested and sentenced later the same year to three years in prison. They gained parole while awaiting an appeal hearing in June 1969 but fled once the appeal was rejected with Baader being re arrested in April 1970.  Gudrun , Ulrike Meinhof and two other women helped free Baader in 1970, a rescue which resulted in a shooting and the press naming them the Baader-Meinhof gang. For the next two years Gudrun participated in various terrorist activities and became one of Germany's most wanted until she was arrested in Hamburg in 1972. Her trial and those of the other captured members of the gang was the longest and most expensive in German history. While in Stammheim Prison RAF members tried various ways to free her including hijacking and kidnapping.  On October 18 1977 she was found hanging in her cell while other members of the gang were found shot dead in their cells.  During her time in prison she was instrumental in the other gang members ostracising Ulrike Meinhof who she thought was weak.  Great suspicion surrounds her death along with the deaths of the other gang members on that October night with many claiming the gang was murdered by the German authorities. She is often forgotton by history with many wrongly assuming that Ulrike was the female gang leader. Gudrun Ensslin’s life was fictionalised in the 1981 film ‘Marianne and Juliane ‘known as “The German sisters” in the UK

Hitler's Children: Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang, Jillian Becker. This book is regarded by many academics as the definitive text on the Baader-Meinhof gang, studying their bloody history and motivation and eventually trial and suspicious deaths while in prison. A useful study of the classic European terrorist group and the typical members they attracted. cover cover cover
How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, T. (29 August 2007), Gudrun Ensslin (1940-1977), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_ensslin.html

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