“A new dimension”

Gerhart Baum, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior in 1977, talks about his experiences during the German Autumn.

Former Federal Interior Minister Gerhart Baum (FDP)
Former Federal Interior Minister Gerhart Baum (FDP) dpa

Mr Baum, how did you experience the German Autumn, specifically the hijacking of the Lufthansa airliner Landshut and the freeing of the passengers on 18 October 1977?

The events were unprecedented. Until that day business leaders and political representatives had been the terrorists’ targets. With the hijacking of the Landshut, the population was affected for the first time. That was a new dimension.

There was no serious consideration of acquiescing

Former Federal Interior Minister Gerhart Baum (FDP)

The Federal Government decided in favour of storming the Lufthansa aircraft. Could it have acted differently?

No, there was no serious consideration of acquiescing. We had to prevent RAF leaders being freed by force and supplied with money. All in all, however, the mood in the country was not such that we would have been forced to give in.

And if the freeing of the passengers had gone wrong?

That would have been a bad defeat. Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt would certainly have resigned and the Federal Government would have had to accept the accusation that it had not saved the people. It was no longer only about Schleyer, but concerned another 91 endangered human lives.

What lesson do we learn from these events?

You have to combine the determination to act with skilful diplomacy, keep a clear head and not lose self-control.

Can we compare the terror of that time with the terror of today?

It’s another kind of threat, another kind of perpetrator. Then the terrorists came from the midst of society; we knew them. Today we only know what area the perpetrators come from. We do not know the individuals. The threat is intensified by new means of communication.

What does that mean for the fight against terror?

It’s largely a question of response. You can’t implement one security measure after another and deprive citizens of freedoms through surveillance. There is the risk of overreaction. The existing instruments only need to be applied strictly.

Interview: Martin Orth