Anna Funder, author of the excellent Stasiland (which I reviewed here), writes in The Guardian that despite Das Leben der Anderen‘s appeal as a movie, the assumption it’s based on — that a Stasi spy might take pity on the subjects of his surveillance and shield them from persecution — just could not have happened:
The ex-Stasi are vociferous in their claims of being "victims of democracy". But the truth is that, by and large, they are doing much better in the new Germany than the people they oppressed. They have the educations and solid work histories they denied their victims. Many of them were snapped up by security firms and private detective agencies eager for their considerable expertise, or they went into business, skilled as they are – to perhaps an unholy degree – in "managing" people. Surprisingly often, they sold property and insurance, occupations unknown in the Soviet bloc. (I think they had a head start here – after all, they were schooled in the art of convincing people to do things against their better judgment.)
[Dr. Hubertus] Knabe [director of the Hohenschoenhausen memorial (G)] is no doubt correct about the internal surveillance of the Stasi making it physically impossible for a Stasi man to try to save people. But in my experience, the more frightening thing is that they didn’t want to. The institutional coercion made these men into true believers; it shrank their consciences and heightened their tolerance for injustice and cruelty "for the cause".
Von Donnersmarck spent four years researching the film, and knows as well as anyone that there is no case of a Stasi man trying to save victims. He has said: "I didn’t want to tell a true story as much as explore how someone might have behaved. The film is more of a basic expression of belief in humanity than an account of what actually happened." The terrible truth is that the Stasi provide no material for a "basic expression of belief in humanity". For expressions of conscience and courage, one would need to look to the resisters.