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|General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany|
3 May 1971 – 18 October‚ 1989
|Preceded by||Walter Ulbricht|
|Succeeded by||Egon Krenz|
|Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic|
29 October 1976 – 18 October 1989
|Preceded by||Willi Stoph|
|Succeeded by||Egon Krenz|
|Chairman of the National Defense Council of East Germany|
|Preceded by||Walter Ulbricht|
|Succeeded by||Egon Krenz|
25 August 1912|
Neunkirchen, German Empire
|Died||29 May 1994
|Political party||Communist Party of Germany (1922–1946)
Socialist Unity Party of Germany (1946–1989)
Communist Party of Germany (1990–1994)
|Spouse(s)||Edith Baumann (1950–1953)
Margot Feist Honecker (b. 1927)
Erich Honecker (German: [ˈeːʁɪç ˈhɔnɛkɐ]; 25 August 1912 – 29 May 1994) was a German communist politician who led East Germany as the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party from 1971 until 1989, serving as Head of State as well after Willi Stoph's relinquishment of that post in 1976.
Following the definite end of the Cold War, Honecker refused all but cosmetic changes and was ousted by the party in late 1989 and removed from power. Following the German reunification, he successfully evaded prosecution for human rights abuses committed under his regime. He finally settled down with his family in Chile in 1993, and died the following year from liver cancer.
Origins and early political career 
Honecker was born on Max-Braun-Straße in Neunkirchen, now Saarland, as the son of Wilhelm Honecker, a coal miner and political activist, 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.
After World War I, the Territory of the Saar Basin was occupied by France. This change from the strict rule of Baron von Stumm to French military occupation provided the backdrop for what Wilhelm Honecker understood as proletarian exploitation, and introduced young Erich to communism. In 1922 at 10 years old, he joined the Spartacus League, then 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. These years in captivity are a source of controversy as evidence has come to light that Honecker consistently cooperated with the Gestapo by giving valuable information on fellow imprisoned Communists and volunteered to serve the war effort as a member of the German army. Despite these alleged attempts to shift his loyalties, Honecker resumed activity in the Communist Party under leader Walter Ulbricht in 1945, 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.
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 his replacing 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), thus becoming de jure head of state (he was already de facto head of state by virtue of his party post).
Under Honecker's leadership, the GDR adopted a programme 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 Germany or 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. He was received with full state honours by West Germany's Helmut Kohl—an act that seemed to confirm West Germany's acceptance of East Germany's existence.
In the late 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost and perestroika, reforms to liberalise communism. Honecker and the East German government refused to implement similar reforms in the GDR, with Honecker reportedly telling Gorbachev: "We have done our perestroika, we have nothing to restructure". Gorbachev grew to dislike Honecker, and by 1988 was lumping Honecker, along with Bulgaria's Todor Zhivkov, Czechoslovakia's Gustáv Husák and Romania's Nicolae Ceaușescu as a "Gang of Four"—a group of inflexible hardliners unwilling to make necessary reforms.
Nonetheless, Honecker appeared to be on solid footing. However, trouble appeared on the horizon in August 1989, when Hungary dismantled its section of the Iron Curtain, and opened its border with Austria. Several thousand East Germans fled to Hungary, in hopes of going to West Germany by way of Austria. Per a 1969 treaty, the Hungarian government should have forced the East Germans back home. However, after a week, the Hungarians relented and let the refugees pass into Austria, telling their outraged East German counterparts that international treaties on refugees took precedence. Honecker was recovering from bladder cancer, leaving his colleagues unable to act decisively.
Honecker was back in charge by September, and immediately had to deal with a new refugee problem. Several thousand East Germans tried to go to West Germany by way of Czechoslovakia, only to have that government bar them from passing. Several thousand of them headed straight for the West German embassy in Prague and demanded safe passage to West Germany. With some reluctance, Honecker allowed them to go—but forced them to go back through East Germany on sealed trains and stripped them of their East German citizenship. Several members of the SED Politbüro realized this was a serious blunder and made plans to get rid of him. Honecker got another rude shock at the GDR's 40th anniversary gala in September, when several hundred members of the Free German Youth—the SED's supposed future vanguard—began chanting, "Gorby, help us! Gorby, save us!"
As the reform movement spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe, mass demonstrations against the East German government erupted, most prominently in Leipzig—the first of several demonstrations which took place on Monday night across the country. In response, an elite paratroop unit was dispatched to Leipzig—almost certainly on Honecker's orders, since he was commander-in-chief of the army. A bloodbath was only averted when local party officials themselves ordered the troops to pull back. In the following week, Honecker faced a torrent of criticism. This gave his Politburo comrades the impulse they needed to replace him, with Gorbachev's tacit approval. On 18 October 1989, they voted to oust Honecker and replace him with 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 Germany with Margot Honecker via the Soviet-controlled Sperenberg Airfield 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 in violation of anti-Republikflucht laws. 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. He was officially expelled from the reformed SED-PDS before the trial opened. He then joined the very small new Communist Party. 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.
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 of 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.
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 favourite 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)
- Wilsford (1995) p. 195
- Paterson, Tony (6 June 2011). "Honecker was forced to resign by secret police". The Independent.
- Honecker, Erich. 1984. The GDR: A State of Peace and Socialism http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/erich1.htm.
- List of Berlin Wall victims http://www.chronik-der-mauer.de/index.php/de/Start/Index/id/593792
- http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/episodes/23/interviews/gorbachev/. Missing or empty
- Sebetsyen, Victor (2009). Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42532-2.
- Staatschef a.D.: die letzten Jahre des Erich Honecker. Thomas Kunze. Links-Verlag (2001), S. 159
- "The Lost World of Communism", Episode 2 – A Socialist Paradise: East Germany, BBC 1, broadcast 14 March 2009
- Wilsford, David. (1995) Political leaders of contemporary Western Europe: a biographical dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Further reading 
- Fulbrook, Mary. (2008) The people's state: East German society from Hitler to Honecker. Yale University Press.
- Honecker, Erich. (1981) Aus meinem Leben. New York : Pergamon, 1981. ISBN 0-08-024532-3.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Erich Honecker|
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Erich Honecker|
- CNN Cold War – Profile: Erich Honecker
- Honecker im Internet (in German)
- www.warheroes.ru – Erich Honecker (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
|General Secretary of the Central Committee
of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany
|Chairman of the Council of State
of the German Democratic Republic