On April 20, 1998, Reuters in Cologne received a letter mailed from Chemnitz, near the border between Germany and the Czech Republic. It read, in part: "Nearly 28 years ago, on May 14, 1970, the RAF was born in a liberation action. Today we end this project. The urban guerrilla battle of the RAF is now history." A bizarre coincidence: April 20, 1998, was the 109th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birth.
The typewritten letter was anonymous and eight pages long–conciseness seldom being a virtue of violent extremists, even in the throes of dissolution. It was authenticated by the police on the basis of its style and paper. (Both had been used in previous communiqués by the group.) It also bore the group’s emblem, a five-pointed star, with "RAF" (Rote Armee Fraktion, or "Red Army Faction") inscribed over a drawing of a Heckler & Koch submachine gun, a German-made weapon used by the military of the very state against which the RAF had declared war. The group had also been dubbed the Baader-Meinhof Gang by the media, after two of its main protagonists, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. (The press spotlighted Meinhof because she was a well-known journalist before she went underground.) As Stefan Aust explains in Baader-Meinhof, the Gang had intended to adorn its emblem with the image of a Kalashnikov, the Russian assault rifle and symbol of liberation movements around the world. Instead, it made a mistake that stuck.
By the time the letter arrived at the Reuters Cologne bureau, the RAF’s weapons had already been silent for seven years, since its assassination in Dusseldorf, on April 1, 1991, of Detlev Rohwedder, the head of the agency overseeing the privatization process in the former East Germany. A year later, in a letter mailed to Agence France-Presse, the RAF announced that it was suspending its guerrilla campaign and in return was asking for the release of its jailed comrades. This decision, the letter said, was due to a change of strategy after the fall of the Berlin Wall and disintegration of the Soviet bloc. It was also a response to the latest moves by Justice Minister Klaus Kinkel, who had indicated that the authorities might consider releasing RAF members.
The state kept its promise. It even released Irmgard Moeller, a member of the original Gang, despite American opposition and the lack of any signs of repentance on her part. Forty-seven years old when she left prison in 1994, Moeller had been serving a life sentence for participating in the 1972 bomb attack on the European headquarters of the US armed forces in Heidelberg that left three GIs dead. She was also a survivor of the infamous night of October 17, 1977, when her RAF comrades Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carle Raspe died in Stammheim prison in an apparent coordinated suicide. Moeller was found with several stab wounds in the region of her heart. Contrary to the official account of the night, she maintains they were not self-inflicted and that there was no suicide pact.
After the Rohwedder murder, there were two more violent episodes involving RAF members, but neither had been planned by the Gang. In 1993 Birgit Hogefeld and Wolfgang Grams were ambushed by special squad officers at the train station in Bad Kleinen. Grams started firing as soon as he detected the police, and ended up killing an officer. Hogefeld was arrested. According to the authorities, Grams committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Suspicions that he was actually shot by special squad officers sparked a furor among the public that culminated in the resignation of the German interior minister and the dismissal of the chief federal prosecutor.