chapter capsules Chapter 10 — Petra’s Story

June 1971 – July 1971, 16 pages: This chapter will focus on a young gang member Petra Schelm, who is killed in a shoot-out with police in mid-July. Petra’s life will be explored in some detail because in many ways she is perfectly representative of so many of the young radicals who easily found their way into the Baader-Meinhof Gang during this time when the police were completely confounded in their efforts to track them down.

Schelm is a hairdresser’s assistant and sometime student. In early June 1971, she follows her boyfriend into the gang and initially loves the thrill of code names, secret hideouts and guns. After about a month on the run, however, Petra is tired and wants to quit. She tells herself that she will leave the group at the first opportunity to slip away cleanly. Unfortunately, before any opportunity presents itself, she is cornered with a fellow gang member in a police roadblock. Rather than give herself up, she pulls out her gun and two cops shoot and kill her.

Schelm’s death will allow for a return exploration of the growing support the gang is receiving in German society. At this point there are no police officers dead, and yet one young girl from the gang is dead—it isn’t too hard to figure out who are really the bad guys. A remarkable poll is conducted in Germany about this time. One in four Germans express “a certain sympathy” for the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and fully 20 percent of the population indicate that they might be willing to give some form of illegal support to the gang—a bed for the night, money, food—if one of the gang members showed up at their front stoop.