Erich Honecker: Wikis

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Erich Honecker


In office
1971–1989
Preceded by Walter Ulbricht
Succeeded by Egon Krenz

In office
29 October 1976 – 18 October 1989
Preceded by Willi Stoph
Succeeded by Egon Krenz

In office
1971–1989
Preceded by Walter Ulbricht
Succeeded by Egon Krenz

Born August 25, 1912(1912-08-25)
Neunkirchen, German Empire
Died May 29, 1994 (aged 81)
Santiago, Chile
Nationality German
Political party Socialist Unity Party of Germany
Spouse(s) Edith Baumann (1950-1953)
Margot Feist Honecker (b. 1927)
Profession Politician
Religion Atheism

Erich Honecker (25 August 1912 – 29 May 1994) was a German Communist politician who led the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from 1971 until 1989.

After German reunification, Honecker first fled to the Soviet Union but was extradited to Germany by the new Russian government. Back in Germany, he was imprisoned and tried for high treason and crimes committed during the Cold War. In particular, he was indicted for ordering border guards to shoot any person trying to cross the East German border into West Germany or West Berlin. However, during the trial, Honecker became ill with terminal cancer and was subsequently released from prison. He died in exile in Chile about a year and a half later.

Contents

Origins and early political career

Honecker was born on Max-Braun-Straße in Neunkirchen, now Saarland, as the son of a coal miner, Wilhelm, who in 1905 had married Caroline Catharina Weidenhof. There were six children born to the family: Katharina (Käthe), Wilhelm (Willi), Frieda, Erich, Gertrud (b. 1917; m. Hoppstädter), and Karl-Robert.

He joined the Young Communist League of Germany (KJVD), the youth section of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), in 1926 and joined the KPD itself in 1929. Between 1928 and 1930 he worked as a roofer, but did not finish his apprenticeship. Thereafter he was sent to Moscow to study at the International Lenin School and for the rest of his life remained a full-time politician.

He returned to Germany in 1931 and was arrested in 1935, two years after the Nazis had come to power. In 1937, he was sentenced to ten years for Communist activities and remained a prisoner until the end of World War II. At the end of the war, Honecker resumed activity in the party under leader Walter Ulbricht, and, in 1946, became one of the first members of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, SED), which was formed by the merger of the KPD and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany.

Erich Honecker, watched by his supporter Walter Ulbricht at the 5th Party Congress, 1958

Following the SED victory in the October 1946 elections, Honecker took his place amongst the SED leadership in the first postwar East German parliament, the German People's Congress (Deutscher Volkskongress). The German Democratic Republic was proclaimed on 7 October 1949 with the adoption of a new constitution, establishing a political system similar to that of the Soviet Union. Honecker was a candidate member for the secretariat of the Central Committee in 1950; by 1958, he had become a full member of the Politbüro.

Leadership of East Germany

Erich Honecker, 1986

In 1961, Honecker, as the Central Committee secretary for security matters, was in charge of the building of the Berlin Wall. In 1971, he initiated a political power struggle that led, with Soviet support, to his becoming the new leader, replacing Walter Ulbricht as First Secretary of the SED Central Committee and as chairman of the National Defense Council. In 1976, he also became Chairman of the Council of State (Vorsitzender des Staatsrats der DDR) and thus the de facto head of state.

Under Honecker's leadership, the GDR adopted a program of "consumer socialism," which resulted in a marked improvement in living standards already the highest among the Eastern bloc countries. More attention was placed on the availability of consumer goods, and the construction of new housing was accelerated, with Honecker promising to "settle the housing problem as an issue of social relevance." [1] Yet, despite improved living conditions, internal dissent was not tolerated. Around 125 East German citizens [1] were killed during this period while trying to illegally cross the border into West Germany or West Berlin.

During a National People's Army exercise in southern East Germany, 1960: Ivan Yakubovsky, Otto Grotewohl, Erich Honecker, Heinz Hoffmann

In foreign relations, Honecker renounced the objective of a unified Germany and adopted the "defensive" position of ideological Abgrenzung (demarcation). He combined loyalty to the USSR with flexibility toward détente, especially in relation to rapprochement with West Germany. In September 1987, he became the first East German head of state to visit West Germany.

In the late 1980s Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost and perestroika, reforms to liberalise communism. Honecker and the East German government, however, refused to implement similar reforms in the GDR, with Honecker reportedly telling Gorbachev: "We have done our perestroika, we have nothing to restructure." [2] However, as the reform movement spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe, mass demonstrations against the East German government erupted, most prominently the 1989 East German Monday demonstrations in Leipzig. Faced with civil unrest, Honecker's Politbüro comrades colluded to replace him. The elderly and ill Honecker was forced to resign on 18 October 1989, and was replaced by Egon Krenz.

Post-1989

After the GDR was dissolved in October 1990, the Honeckers stayed with the family of the Lutheran pastor Uwe Holmer. Honecker then stayed in a Soviet military hospital near Berlin before later fleeing with Margot Honecker to Moscow, to avoid prosecution over charges of Cold War crimes. He was accused by the German government of involvement in the deaths of 192 East Germans who tried to illegally leave the GDR. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, Honecker took refuge in the Chilean embassy in Moscow, but was extradited by the Yeltsin administration to Germany in 1992. However, when the trial formally opened in early 1993, Honecker was released due to ill health and on 13 January of that year moved to Chile to live with his daughter Sonja, her Chilean husband Leo Yáñez, and their son Roberto. He died of liver cancer in Santiago. His body was cremated and the ashes are believed to be in the possession of his widow Margot.[citation needed]

Personal

Honecker married Edith Baumann in 1950 and divorced her in 1953. They had a daughter, Erika (b. 1950). In 1953 he married Margot Feist and they remained married until his death. They had a daughter, Sonja, born in 1952. Margot Honecker served for more than 20 years as the GDR Minister for People's Education.

It is claimed that Honecker was addicted to game hunting and was directly involved in the over-hunting a number of native game species. Such was his passion that animals bred and reared in neighbouring communist countries had to be supplied for his regular hunting parties.[2]

Famous quotes

  • "The Wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years, if the reasons for it are not yet removed." (Berlin, 19 January 1989) (Original: "Die Mauer wird in 50 und auch in 100 Jahren noch bestehen bleiben, wenn die dazu vorhandenen Gründe noch nicht beseitigt sind")
  • "Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism." (A rhyming couplet in the original German: "Den Sozialismus in seinem Lauf hält weder Ochs noch Esel auf", Berlin, 7 October 1989), one of Honecker's favorite adages, originally coined by August Bebel. (The ox and the donkey are symbolic of stubborn stupidity in German culture.)
  • "The future belongs to socialism" (Original: Die Zukunft gehört dem Sozialismus) (early 1980s)
  • "Always forwards, never backwards." (Original: Vorwärts immer, rückwärts nimmer) (early 1980s)

In popular culture

Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker. Painting #25 Dimitri Vrubel, "Dear God, help me survive this deadly love"

Notes

Further reading

  • Honecker's autobiography Aus meinem Leben is translated into English as From my life. New York : Pergamon, 1981. ISBN 0080245323.
  • Fulbrook, Mary, The people's state: East German society from Hitler to Honecker, Yale University Press, c2005.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Walter Ulbricht
General Secretary of the Central Committee
of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany

1971 – 1989
Succeeded by
Egon Krenz
Preceded by
Willi Stoph
Chairman of the Council of State
of the German Democratic Republic

1976 – 1989
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