terminology Baader-Meinhof Gang

Baader-Meinhof Bande or
Baader-Meinhof Gruppe

Depending on how one looks at it, the Baader-Meinhof Gang came into existence on 2 April 1968, when Andreas Baader and his girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin, firebombed Frankfurt’s Kaufhaus Schneider department store, or it came into being two years later when the famed left-wing journalist Ulrike Meinhof helped to break Baader out of prison custody in Berlin, on 14 May 1970. The name “Baader-Meinhof Gang” certainly didn’t come into usage until, of course, after Meinhof helped Baader escape from custody and the German press was looking for a suitable moniker to attach to the group. The group never used the term to describe themselves (they called themselves the Red Army Faction). Liberals and moderates would never call them a “Gang” (bande), but were instead careful to refer to them as a “Group” (gruppe). Conservative Germans were equally careful to do the exact opposite. Neither group, however, was referring to the group as they themselves preferred to be named.

The second irony of the term “Baader-Meinhof” is that it implied a reality within the group that did not exist. Baader was unquestioningly the leader of the group, but his girlfriend Ensslin was more of a co-leader than Meinhof ever was. And Baader and Meinhof were certainly never lovers as implied by much of the press and assumed by the foreign press.

Depending on how one looks at it, The Baader-Meinhof Gang ceased to exist in May and June of 1972, when Baader, Meinhof, Ensslin, Jan-Carl Raspe, and Holger Meins (the five core members of the group) were captured, or it ceased to exist early in the morning of November 18, 1977, when Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe committed suicide in prison (Meinhof had committed suicide the previous year and Meins had died from a hunger strike in 1974). Their own name for their urban terrorist organization, the Red Army Faction, continued to be used by the successive generations of terrorists that carried on the cause after the original leaders were captured.