The death has been announced of the man suspected of being behind one of the most perfidious plots hatched by Czechoslovakia’s Communist secret police, the StB. Shortly after the communist takeover of 1948, the StB created fake frontier posts in the west of the country, several kilometres short of the real border with Germany, in an elaborate operation that ensnared people trying to flee the Stalinist regime.
Historians have known of the existence of Operation Stone, as the plot was called, for two decades. Shortly after 1948, the StB created a number of fake American military police posts just inside Czechoslovak territory, complete with American flags and StB officers speaking English with American accents. StB agents posing as people smugglers would lead groups of refugees to the posts, convincing them that they’d crossed the Czechoslovak border and had reached freedom in Allied-occupied, soon-to-be West Germany.
There they would be debriefed by the fake American military police. They would be encouraged to give away valuable information about others ‘back home’ who were also planning to flee. They would be relieved of their money and possessions before being sent further into what they believed was German territory – in fact what followed was arrest and a lengthy prison sentence in Communist Czechoslovakia.
The operation lasted until 1951, when the Communists could no longer maintain the fiction that the western border was still open. Libor Svoboda, a historian at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, specialises in the anti-Communist resistance.
“I think the StB’s primary motivation was extracting property from those trying to flee. And of course people would open up about who they were in contact with back home, who they’d spoken to, who else was planning to flee Czechoslovakia. Often they were able to blackmail people into becoming StB informers. So I would say the spectrum of information gained by the StB was truly very wide.”
The operation was the brainchild of an StB officer called Evžen Abrahamovič. Criminal charges against him and his fellow agents were filed more than two years ago by the Czech-American historian Igor Lukeš, who specialises in Operation Stone – so-named for the stones that mark the border. However Abrahamovič was only formally charged last year, and the case was soon adjourned by prosecutors on account of his advanced age and ill health. This week came news of his death, at the age of 92. Another key Operation Stone officer, Emil Orovan, is on an Interpol list but he too is likely no longer alive.
Libor Svoboda is a historian not a politician, but he points out that Operation Stone was illegal even by the laws of Communist Czechoslovakia. It is to the country’s great shame, he says, that Abrahamovič was never brought to justice for cynically ensnaring people whose only crime was to flee their country.