Angela Merkel, next to the inimitable Margaret Thatcher, is the most consequential elected female leader in European history. Born in Hamburg in 1954, Merkel grew up in East Germany where her father was a Lutheran pastor. Before turning to politics, Merkel was a physicist with a Ph.D. from the University of Leipzig.

Recently, she revealed that as a young woman she was once approached by the infamous and much-feared Stasi (short for Staatssicherheitsdienst), the state security service of East Germany, which tried to recruit her to work for them. She refused but continued to live under the shadow of the world’s most repressive and invasive surveillance police state. By the time the Berlin Wall finally came down in 1989, the Stasi employed 102,000 persons to snoop on a country of only 17 million. This fact prompted Simon Wiesenthal to claim that “the Stasi was much, much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people.” While the Gestapo had 40,000 officials watching a country of 80 million, the Stasi had nearly three times that many in a country one-fourth the size.

When President Obama visited Berlin earlier this month, the Stasi was in the news again.

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