Ulrike Meinhof (1934-1976)

Ulrike Meinhof is without doubt one of the most famous female terrorists in history. She was a co-founder of the left wing German terrorist group the Red Army Faction (RAF) which also became known as the Baader-Meinhof gang after the two gang leaders despite the fact that Meinhof was not really a leader of the gang.

Ulrike was born on 7th October 1934 in Oldenburg, Germany, her father being a Doctor of Art History who became the head of the City of Jena’s museum when Ulrike was two years old. Both of her parents died of cancer, her father in 1940 and her mother in 1948. Ulrike and her older sister were then looked after by her mother’s former border Renate Riemack. Riemack was a committed socialist and his views were to have a big impact on the young and vulnerable Ulrike. In direct contrast to the ill educated Andreas Baader, Ulrike was well educated studying sociology, philosophy and German studies at Marburg. In 1957 she was studying at a University near Munster. Here she showed the radicalism that was to lead her to a path of violence, joining the Socialist Student Union and getting involved in anti rearmament protests and anti nuclear weapon protests. She also demonstrated her skill at article and report writing for the student newspapers which would be her future career. 

She joined the outlawed German communist party in 1957 and was the editor of the left wing magazine Konkret from 1962 until 1964.  During this time she married Klaus Rohl, the publisher of Konkret and gave birth to twins Regine and Bettina in 1962. In 1962 Ulrike had surgery to remove a brain tumour and some claim during the surgery her brain was damaged which lead to her future violent behaviour, a post mortem after her death did show that her brain had been damaged. The couple divorced in 1968 following a year of separation. Her writings were demonstrating a more radical view, and a move from protest to more violent methods. After writing an article about an arson attack she met up with Andreas Baader and his partner Gudrun Ensslin, it was meeting that was to directly lead to her becoming a terrorist and ultimately her death.  By 1969 she was committed to the life of a terrorist / guerrilla to the extent that the airing of a short film she produced ‘Bambule’ was delayed (in fact it was finally aired in 1997). Her transition from journalist to terrorist was completed in May 1970 when she helped Baader escape prison via a library he was studying in. The resulting gun battle left 3 people wounded and Meinhof with a 10,000 DM bounty on her capture.

From 1970 to 1972 Meinhof took part in a wide variety of terrorist activities including bombings, robbery, kidnapping and shootings. She also continued to be a prolific writer producing many articles and doctrines for the RAF; these include the most famous “The concept of the Urban Guerrilla”.  On 14th June 1972 following a tip off Ulrike Meinhof was arrested along with another member of the RAF, Gerhard Mueller. Like the other trials of the Baader-Meinhof gang, Ulrike’s trial was long and complex, after the first couple of years of hearings she was sentenced to 8 years while other charges were being considered. Two years into her 8 year sentence on 9th May 1976 Ulrike Meinhof was found hanged in her cell using a rope made from a towel. The official verdict was of suicide following her increasing isolation from other members of the gang who were imprisoned with her. Evidence indicates that they saw her as weak. Considering the suspicious manner of the deaths of the rest of the gang a year later it is not surprising that some claim Meinhof was in fact murdered by the German authorities, although this highly unlikely.

In a bizarre twist it was discovered that the brain of Ulrike had been removed for study before her burial six days after her death. Evidence shows that it was damaged during an earlier operation to remove a tumour. In 2002 the daughters of Ulrike Meinhof requested the brain be returned and buried with her and despite claims the brains had gone missing it was interred with her in December 2002. Ulrike Meinhof has become something of cult figure and is often given more credit and influence than she really had within the RAF. She was a contrasting figure to the violent , school drop out of Andreas Baader and fitted the classic profile of the well educated socialist reactionary that often were lured into terrorism due to their idealistic beliefs. She made a good focus for press attention and has had several quotes attributed to her including “Anti-Semitism is really a hatred of capitalism”, it was this comment which lead to some naming the RAF as ‘Hitler’s children” and on political action she is quoted as saying the much paraphrased quote “If one sets a car on fire, that is a criminal offence, if one sets hundreds of cars on fire , that is political action”.

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.
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How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, T. (20 August 2007), Ulrike Meinhof (1934-1976) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_meinhof_ulrike.html

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