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Captured by the RAF: Hanns-Martin Schleyer

Captured by the RAF: Hanns-Martin Schleyer
Source: Ullstein Bilderdienst

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War on big business

Members of the Red Army Faction (RAF) kidnap Hanns-Martin Schleyer, head of the main employers' federation, in Cologne on 5 September 1977.

They want to exchange Schleyer for their jailed comrades. The manhunt is on. Weeks of road blocks, police with machine guns at the ready, raids throughout Germany ...

Department stores - symbols of consumer capitalism, citadels of luxury. A burning department store - a symbolic act which, in the eyes of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the founders of the "Rote Armee Faktion", strikes a blow against consumer capitalism.

The flames are seen as a battle cry against US imperialism and its carpet bombing of North Vietnam. The RAF calls for armed resistance. Radicalised by the bulletstudent movement, their founders advocate violence to change the political system in Germany, attacking and destroying representatives of a "repressive capitalist state".

The struggle of the "first generation" around Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof only lasts a few weeks. They're captured in 1972. A second generation takes over, pushing ahead with assassinations and trying to free their imprisoned icons during the bullet"Heißer Herbst", the Autumn of Turmoil in 1977.

But for the RAF that "hot autumn" ends in defeat. The terrorists believe they're acting on behalf of the masses, but get virtually no support from the population. Their struggle for "a world of greater freedom" ultimately leads to the opposite: a limiting of civil rights in order to thwart terrorism.

A "third generation", continuing through the 1980s, gets nowhere and officially calls off its "armed struggle" in the mid-1990s. By then, a total of thirty people have lost their lives.

Dirk Bitzer

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