Cold War Hero
- I'm attaching the obituary that appeared in today's Washington Post for
Wolfgang Vogel, the East German lawyer who brokered the Cold War
exchange of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (a fellow West Virginian) and
Russian Spy Rudolf Abel (aka Emil Goldfus) on Berlin's Gleinicke
bridge. Although often characterized as a villain, Herr Vogel actually
accomplished great humanitarian, diplomatic and legal achievements for
people of many nations during the Cold War. It was my great privilege
and honor to have corresponded with him in the course of my historical
research on the Cold War and it is my sincere hope that, in due course
of time, the true history of his accomplishments will become visible.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
*Wolfgang Vogel; Integral in Cold War Swaps*
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 27, 2008; B05
Wolfgang Vogel, 82, an East German lawyer who became the go-between for
thousands of spy swaps and prisoner exchanges during the Cold War, died
Aug. 21 at his home in the Bavarian city of Schliersee after a heart attack.
An unofficial emissary who operated in the twilight world of postwar
divided Germany, Mr. Vogel had the unlikely distinction of winning the
confidences of West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and East German
leader Erich Honecker. They and thousands of East Germans desperate to
flee to the West relied on Mr. Vogel's intermediary skills, and also
knew that Mr. Vogel was the man who could make it happen.
In addition to helping arrange East-West prisoner exchanges, he
facilitated the 1962 exchange of Brooklyn-based KGB spy Rudolf Abel, for
Francis Gary Powers, the U.S. pilot shot down over the Soviet Union
while piloting a U-2 spy plane. He also crafted the complex exchange
agreement that freed Anatoly Shcharansky (future Israeli cabinet
minister Natan Sharansky), the Jewish dissident who was imprisoned by
the Soviet Union for almost nine years as an alleged U.S. spy.
For 30 years, Mr. Vogel negotiated ever-more-complex deals that involved
multiple governments, as well as hard currency and raw commodities that
East Germany desperately needed. He facilitated the return of most major
Eastern bloc spies, several U.S. and British agents and an Israeli pilot
imprisoned in Mozambique.
He negotiated the release of 33,755 countrymen convicted of political
crimes in the East and arranged for the departure of an additional
215,019 East German civilians. Their freedom was bought by the West
German government, who paid their East German counterpart a cumulative
$2.4 billion. The West Germans also paid Mr. Vogel more than $200,000
annually for his services.
A dapper man who rode around gray and grim East Berlin in a gold-colored
Mercedes, his wife at the wheel, Mr. Vogel bridled at accusations that
he had profited from the grim business of selling people.
"Such statements hurt and anger me," he told a French TV correspondent
in 1978, "especially if I get attacked personally, called a playboy, a
privileged person, and it is inferred that I have Swiss bank accounts.
What I do . . . gets twists and presented as conspiratorial. But I am
convinced that we have done well for the citizens of both German states."
Wolfgang Heinrich Vogel was born Oct. 30, 1925, in Wilhelmsthal,
Silesia, then in eastern Germany. After serving in the Luftwaffe during
World War II, he and his family were forced from their homes when
advancing Soviet armies moved in and a postwar treaty yielded Silesia to
Poland. He settled in Jena in the Soviet zone of occupation and studied
law at the local university before transferring to the University of
Leipzig, graduating in 1948.
After serving a legal apprenticeship to a senior judge, he took a
position in the East German Justice Ministry in 1952. By decade's end,
he had opened a law practice in East Berlin and gained the right to
practice in West Berlin as well.
He also established a relationship with the East German state security
and spy agency known as the Stasi. First an informant and then a "secret
collaborator" -- code name Georg -- he became a protege of Stasi officer
Heinz Volpert, who recognized his potential.
As a spy trader, the suave young lawyer had his first success
negotiating the release of American students accused of helping East
German friends escape to the West. Through that and subsequent cases, he
became a familiar figure to attorneys working for the West German
government and to U.S. lawyers.
He became even more familiar when the Soviet KGB recruited him in 1957
to bargain for the release of Abel, who had been convicted in a Brooklyn
court two years earlier of running a Soviet spy ring. When the Soviets
shot down the U-2 piloted by Powers in 1960, they had a hostage to offer.
Two years later, Mr. Vogel successfully negotiated the exchange, which
took place on the Glienicke Bridge between Soviet-controlled Potsdam and
Allied-controlled West Berlin.
His most difficult assignment was the release of Shcharansky. He started
working on the case in 1978, a few months after Shcharansky was arrested
It took Mr. Vogel eight years of complex and delicate negotiations
involving Moscow, Bonn and Washington before the Jewish dissident was
released and brought to the Glienicke Bridge, by then a symbolic point
of contact known as the Bridge of Unity. He was exchanged for two Czech
spies held by the United States and three Communist agents in West
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disintegration of the
hated Stasi, Mr. Vogel's services were no longer needed. He and his
second wife moved west themselves, to a lakeside resort in the Bavarian
His marriage to Eva Anlauf Vogel ended in divorce in the late 1960s
after she moved with their two children to the West. He negotiated their
emigration from East to West Germany.
Survivors include his wife of 34 years, Helga Fritsch Vogel of Schliersee.
In 1996, he was convicted by a Berlin court of extorting money from East
German emigrants desperate to flee to the West. He maintained, as he had
throughout his career, that he was an "honest broker" who assisted
people seeking freedom or reunification with their families.
Although Chancellor Schmidt, former foreign minister Hans-Dietrich
Genscher and other politicians in the former West German government
spoke on his behalf, he was assessed a two-year suspended sentence and a
$63,500 fine. He was later acquitted on appeal.
According to the New York Times, he had told the appeals court, "My
paths were not white and not black, they had to be gray."
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