Honors Theses and Capstones

Date of Award

Spring 2024

Project Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Program or Major

BioMedical Sciences, German

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

First Advisor

Charles Vannette


Located in Lichtenberg, Berlin (part of the former borough of Hohenschönhausen), Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen stands today as a memorial for the thousands who were killed and imprisoned there, from its construction in 1939 until its closure in 1990. This paper will trace the evolution of Hohenschönhausen from a physical space of confinement, to a sophisticated psychological apparatus designed to exert control over its political prisoners through the development of “Operative Psychology” (OP). Through an architectural and historical analysis of the prison, alongside a review of prisoner testimonies, this paper works to reveal how the environment of Hohenschönhausen was methodically designed to disorient and manipulate political detainees within the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The shift towards Operative Psychology is contextualized within the broader political, economic, and historical influences of the Cold War; highlighting how the GDR's limited resources, ideological warfare, and international pressures resulted in a move away from physical coercion to more subtle psychological techniques. This examination highlights the relationships between environment, psychology, and state power— thus offering a critical assessment of the legacy of Operative Psychology and its implications for human rights and within the psychological practice.