Double Spy is such a fascinating account of this secret world of counter-espionage. One gets the impression reading it, that in some ways you had quite an interesting time during this experience? Would this be accurate to say?
– Yes, it was interesting. Spy-work is an activity for which one is asked. This kind of job is not offered in newspapers or on the net nowadays. A combination of factors made me interesting to the East Germans: 1. Of course they’d followed me during my first visit in 1963 and thought I was able to cope with stress; 2. As a journalist I had an entry almost everywhere. 3. In Holland I was not suspected, since I was politically active in the party in Holland that was most against communism; 4. They thought I would be loyal to them because of my girlfriend. For the Dutch BVD it was of interest to Holland accept the free offer of a loyal young Dutchman to work for them and spy-out the foreign espionage department of the Stasi in the way they worked.
Were you shocked by the conditions of life in East Germany when you first visited? What struck you the most about the conditions?
– At that time – mid-sixties – the standard of living in the GDR was not much less than in Western Europe. America was well ahead. East Germany was by far the most developed and industrialised country in Eastern Europe. Under the Honeckers industry lacked re-investments. Most of the “profits” had to be used for the massive repression of the East German people. They wanted to treat the East Germans like the Russians had been treated, both under the Czars and communist leaders: by the knout, the whiplash used for criminals. In 1972 Erich Honecker staged a coup that ousted Walter Ulbricht from the throne and 17 years later the GDR was bankrupt and the Wall broken.
What about the element of danger and risk for you and your friends? You do say in the introduction that it was not dangerous, but was that always the case?
– Yes. It was not dangerous for me in East Germany. The number 2 spy-organisation in the world never uncovered me. I hid behind my smile, my chess books, and in particular by being normal, very gray normal. And I abused my epilepsy where I thought it was in my interest, like refusing alcohol, or being very slow in understanding. The longer I spied in the GDR the more well known I became and the less attractive it became to arrest me in case I was uncovered. I was endangered in the West, in Holland in particular. But here I was backed by the BVD.
You speak in the book about the role of music and the arts in sustaining the spirit of the East German people under totalitarianism. Can you say a little more about this?
– People that live under repression and a totalitarian system always search for niches where they can be themselves. Music is therefore very popular, but see also how Jews lived and specialised in particular branches in countries where they were persecuted.
The stories of romance in the book are very moving. Can you say something about the influence on you of these extraordinary women in your life.
– My girlfriend Kathe at that time has a character very much comparable to my wife. She’s a strong person, and if we had married, she would also have run the family during the years I was abroad so often for my work. If it had been possible to get her out of the GDR we would have married. And Gudrun was so different. She wanted to have joy with me and eventually a baby and I liked the playing. But my wife, she passed away last July, she was a wonder in how she handled the gentlemen of the BVD and played the actress. It was hard for me not to laugh.
You were a very young man when you first started spying. In what ways did this experience change your views of the world?
– That I became very anti-communist, but also that I read Marx. Not pleasant literature (utmost dry), but that is the same with very many top-economists (Keynes, Greenspan). My conclusion: there has never been real communism in the so called communist countries, only greed for wealth by the people in power. This is with the exception of the Honeckers. They didn’t own a dime, even their daily clothes were state owned. We in the Free World have to realise that we have that Freedom to earn, and it is something we must fight to preserve. See what happens now in places where fanatical muslims gather and want to bring free living people under their power. All totalitarian systems are a danger for mankind and the world (The Bomb).
You ceased your spying activities in 1970. Why did it take you forty years to publish this book?
– I had signed an agreement with the BVD that I would not give any open information about my activities within 30 years after ceasing them. In 2000 I still worked, but I suffered a heart attack and when I was sent in early retirement I went into local politics and assisted asylum seekers during their hearings by immigration officials. And I became a youth trainer in my chess club. After my wife and I had built our house in Germany, I found the rest to write. In late 2015, I will have finished a novel.
Thank you so much, Peter, for this extraordinary interview. And we all look forward to the publication of your novel!
Peter van Wermeskerken’s Official Author Website
Peter van Wermeskerken’s personal web page (in three languages)
Amazon Link to Double Spy