On May 11, 2010, Anja Röhl – the stepdaughter of Ulrike Meinhof, a founding member of the Red Army Faction – released a public statement describing sexual abuse she had suffered as a child, at the hands of her father Klaus Rainer Röhl.
The tragedy of this story is obviously borne by Röhl herself – as she explains, “My father surrounded me with this fear, and it will be with me until the end of my days.” At the same time, as her painful statement makes clear, her experience was not an isolated incident, but is both embedded in and a manifestation of the society and culture her family was a part of.
Normally, Röhl’s ordeal should lie outside of the scope of our study of West Germany’s Red Army Faction. However, as the state has long engaged in a strategy of personalizing the guerilla (making it the “Baader-Meinhof” gang) and pathologizing its members, personal relationships, and personal tragedies, become relevant to untangling the web of lies that surrounds this organization.
Ulrike Meinhof was a founding member of the RAF, and had formerly been married to Klaus Rainer Röhl, with whom she had had two twin girls in 1962, seven years younger than their older half-sister. For several years, she also worked alongside Röhl as an editor of the New Left magazine konkret.
Meinhof divorced Röhl in 1968, and left konkret the next year. She became politically active alongside members of the West Berlin radical left who would later found the RAF and other guerilla groups, all the while continuing to work as a journalist. At the point that she went underground in 1970, she was working with young people in closed institutions, specifically girls in reform school, with whom she had begun producing a television docudrama. A veteran of the 1950s and 60s anti-nuclear movements and the most important left-wing woman intellectual in West Germany at the time, her stature was such that she has been referred to as the “big sister of the New Left.”
While many such individuals may have debated and pondered the merits of armed struggle – a fact sometimes overlooked in sanitized histories of the period – Meinhof’s transformation from left-wing media star to urban guerilla was without parallel. For that reason, various means, both trivial and cruel, were subsequently arrayed to disparage and discount the contributions of this woman. It was claimed that she had suffered brain damage during neurosurgery years earlier, and that it was this that had determined her political path. Others guessed that she had a masochistic relationship to Andreas Baader and his girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin, her “middle-class guilt” compelling her to subject herself to their emotional abuse. According to one source, her attraction was erotic, and her jealousy of Ensslin was such that she would eventually take her own life. Still other sources painted her as a lesbian predator, using her position in the guerilla to have sex with much younger recruits, only to turn them in to the police in a fit of jealousy. No lie was too farfetched, or too disgusting, for the system’s propaganda mills.
As part of this pathological strategy, emphasis has been placed on Meinhof’s decision to go underground even though her twin daughters were only seven at the time. A story by liberal journalist Stefan Aust would have it that Meinhof and the RAF kidnapped these children, with plans to exile them to a Palestinian orphanage in Jordan. In point of fact, Meinhof had full custody of the children, and had stipulated that they should be cared for by her sister. Going underground, she feared however that they would be handed over to their father, and so she removed the children from West Germany in 1970, leaving them with some hippies in Sicily. It was here that Aust and Meinhof’s former roommate Peter Homann found them, “rescuing” the girls and delivering them to their grateful father: Klaus Rainer Röhl.
As detailed in our book Projectiles for the People, for years this story remained unchallenged, and even sympathetic observers had to admit that Meinhof and the guerilla had acted inhumanely. But then, as we wrote:
…in 2007, new information was brought to light by historian Jutta Ditfurth. In a sympathetic biography of Meinhof, Ditfurth claims that Homann and Aust’s entire story was nothing but an elaborate lie. According to Ditfurth, the fate of the Meinhof-Röhl children was still before the family courts at the time of this alleged rescue, and there was a strong chance custody would be granted to Meinhof’s older sister Inge Wienke Zitzlaff, a school principal in Hessen who had two daughters of her own.
Ditfurth claims this plan had been made before Ulrike Meinhof ever went underground in 1970, and that as a backup, were the family court to rule in Röhl’s favor, some thought had been given to sending the twins to East Germany.
As Ditfurth points out, at the time of this alleged plot to send the children to Jordan, it was clear to all concerned that that country was on the brink of civil war. Indeed, within a month of the guerillas’ return to the frg, war did break out, leading to the slaughter of between 4,000 and 10,000 Palestinians. The Children’s Home—where Homann and Aust claim the girls would have been sent—was one of the targets bombed by the Jordanian air force, leaving no survivors. 
Who but a monster would ever think of kidnapping their own children, only to abandon them to strangers? Well, in fact, this behaviour does fit one group of people: mothers who suspect their (former) husbands of abusing their children, and yet who cannot for whatever reason care for them themselves.
Rather than considering such a simple, though distressing, explanation, for years Aust and various other figures have put forward this shocking tale of the crazy woman whose “middle-class guilt” had her abandoning her children in a Third World war zone – all part and parcel of a broader process of pathologizing anyone who would take up arms against imperialism in the metropole.
Anja Röhl’s recent revelations – including the fact that she had informed Meinhof of the abuse in 1969, and that Meinhof had asked her family court lawyer to argue for custody on the basis of these allegations – all add further weight to this more believable sequence of events.
Our purpose is not to judge or condone anyone’s decisions as a parent. Nor is it to reduce the serious issue of child sexual abuse to its very tangential connection to the urban guerilla. But the point remains that Anja Röhl’s revelations do shed light on what Meinhof would have been dealing with in 1970, and, as such, further expose another tawdry and cruel facet of the state’s campaign of psychological warfare.
(As a pathetic conclusion, Klaus Rainer Röhl has denied Anja’s allegations, claiming them to be “politically motivated”! This position is echoed by Bettina Röhl, one of Meinhof’s daughters and a professional anti-communist witch-hunter, who accuses her half-sister of being a “tool” of her mother’s biographer Jutta Ditfurth.)
Anja Röhl’s statement detailing her abuse can be read online at http://www.anjaroehl.de/die-zeit-ist-reif-zur-padophiliedebatte/
An unauthorized English translation is available online at http://www.germanguerilla.com/red-army-faction/documents/10-05-rohl.php
 Ditfurth, Jutta. Ulrike Meinhof: Die Biografie. Berlin: Ullstein, 2007, 290-292. [return to text]
 Moncourt, André and J. Smith, The Red Army Faction, A Documentary History Volume 1 : Projectiles for the People. Kersplebedeb and PM Press 2009, page 558. [return to text]