Erich Honecker

Erich Honecker

Infobox_President | name=Erich Honecker

order=General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany
predecessor=Walter Ulbricht
successor=Egon Krenz
birth_date=birth date|1912|8|25|mf=y
birth_place="Neunkirchen (Saar)", Germany
death_date=death date and age|1994|5|29|1912|8|25|mf=y
death_place=Santiago, Chile
spouse=Edith Baumann (1950-1953)
Margot Feist Honecker (b. 1927)
party=Socialist Unity Party of Germany
order2=Chairman of the Council of State of the German Democratic Republic
predecessor2=Willi Stoph
successor2=Egon Krenz
order3=Chairman of the National Defense Council of the German Democratic Republic
predecessor3=Walter Ulbricht
successor3=Egon Krenz

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

After German reunification, he first fled to the Soviet Union but was extradited by the new Russian government to Germany, where he was imprisoned and tried for high treason and crimes committed during the Cold War, in particular for ordering border guards to kill people trying to cross the Berlin Wall. However, as he was dying of cancer, he was released from prison. He died in exile in Chile about a year and a half later.

Origins and early political career

Honecker was born on Max-Braun-Straße in Neunkirchen, now Saarland, as the son of a politically militant 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 semi-forced merger of the KPD and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany.

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

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 himself 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 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." [] Yet, despite improved living conditions, internal dissent was not tolerated. Around 125 East German citizens were killed during this period while trying to cross the border into West Berlin. 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." [] However, as the reform movement spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe, mass demonstrations against the East German government erupted, most prominently the 1989 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.


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 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 in exile of liver cancer in Santiago on 29 May 1994. His body was cremated and the remains are believed to be in the possession of his widow Margot.


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 several years as the GDR Minister for People's Education.

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)

* "The future belongs to socialism" (Original: "Die Zukunft gehört dem Sozialismus") (early 1980s)


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

* [ CNN Cold War - Profile: Erich Honecker]
* [ Honecker im Internet] (in German)
* [] (in Russian)
* [ "Welcoming Address to 1979 Session of the World Peace Council" Erich Honecker's speech to the WPC]
* [ "A Successful Policy Seared to the Needs of the People" Volkskammer pamphlet including material by Honecker]

NAME= Honecker, Erich
SHORT DESCRIPTION=East German politician
DATE OF BIRTH=25 August 1912
PLACE OF BIRTH="Neunkirchen (Saar)", Germany
DATE OF DEATH=29 May 1994
PLACE OF DEATH=Santiago, Chile

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  • Erich Honecker — (Sarre, agosto de 1912 Chile, mayo de 1994) fue un político alemán, máximo dirigente de la República Democrática Alemana (RDA) entre 1971 y 1989. Honecker nació en Neunkirchen, en el Sarre, en el seno de una familia minera de tradición comunista …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • HONECKER (E.) — Erich HONECKER 1912 1994 La mort en exil à Santiago du Chili, le 29 mai 1994, d’Erich Honecker, ancien dirigeant de la République démocratique allemande, met fin à un destin peu banal, à l’image des bouleversements et des contradictions de… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Honecker, Erich —   Honecker wurde am 25. August 1912 als Sohn eines Bergmanns in Neunkirchen/Saar geboren. Er erlernte das Dachdeckerhandwerk, trat 1926 dem Kommunistischen Jugendverband Deutschlands und 1929 der KPD bei; seit 1930 war er hauptamtlicher… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Erich I. — Erich ist ein männlicher Vorname und Familienname. Die weibliche Form ist Erika, beliebte Varianten sind Eric und Erik. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Herkunft und Bedeutung 2 Namenstag 3 Varianten 3.1 Männlich …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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