Margot Honecker

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Margot Honecker
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1986-0313-300, Margot Honecker, Minister für Volksbildung.jpg
First Lady of German Democratic Republic
In office
29 October 1976 – 18 October 1989
President Erich Honecker
Minister of Education
In office
1963 – 7 November 1989
President Walter Ulbricht
Willi Stoph
Erich Honecker
Egon Krenz
Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl
Horst Sindermann
Willi Stoph
Succeeded by Willi Stoph
Personal details
Born (1927-04-17) 17 April 1927 (age 88)
Halle, Weimar Republic
Political party Socialist Unity Party of Germany (1946–1989)
Other political
Communist Party of Germany (1945–1946)
Spouse(s) Erich Honecker (m. 1953; died 1994)
Children Sonja Honecker (b. 1952)
Residence Santiago, Chile

Margot Honecker (née Feist; born 17 April 1927) is a former East German politician, who was a very important member of the political scene in the Socialist Unity Party. From 1963 until 1989, she was Minister of Education ("Volksbildung") of the GDR. She was married to Erich Honecker, the leader of East Germany from 1971 until 1989.

Honecker, who was known for her hard line political views, was responsible for the enactment of the "Uniform Socialist Education System" in 1965 and mandatory military training in schools. She was one of the few spouses of a ruling Communist party leader who was a power in her own right, though her prominence in the government predated her husband's ascension to the leadership of the SED.

Following the movement for reunification in 1989, Honecker fled to the Soviet Union with her husband to avoid criminal charges from the new regime. She obtained political asylum from the Chilean ambassador in Russia and subsequently emigrated to Chile, where she currently lives with her daughter Sonja.

Early life[edit]

Honecker was born Margot Feist in Halle on 17 April 1927,[1] the daughter of a shoemaker and a factory worker. After graduating from elementary school, she became a member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel from 1938 to 1945; all German girls were required to join. Her mother died in 1940 when Margot was 13 years old.

Honecker's brother, Manfred Feist, was the department leader for foreign information within the central committee of the SED.[2]

Party worker[edit]

Honecker congratulates Wilhelm Pieck on his election as the first GDR President in 1949.

In 1945 Honecker joined the KPD. A year later, with the coerced merger of the SPD and KPD, she became a member of East Germany's new state party, the SED, working as a shorthand typist with the land board of directors FDGB in Saxony-Anhalt.[2]

In 1946 Honecker became a member of the secretariat for the board of directors of the FDJ in Halle. She then began a meteoric rise through various departments. In 1947 she was the departmental leader of the FDJ's culture and education in the land board of directors and in 1948 secretary of the FDJ's central council as well as chairperson of the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation.

Honecker attending the Volkskammer in 1951. During this period she was having an affair with Erich Honecker.

By 1949/1950 Honecker was a member of the GDR's temporary People's Parliament. In 1950 at the age of 22 she was elected as a representative in the newly founded People's Chamber (German: Volkskammer).[3]

Honecker met her future husband, Erich Honecker, at FDJ meetings when he was the director of the Freie Deutsche Jugend. Honecker was 15 years older and married. When she became pregnant and gave birth to their daughter Sonja in 1952, Honecker divorced his wife and married Margot in 1953.[1]

Education minister[edit]

In 1963 Honecker, after a period as acting Education Minister (German: Volksbildungsministerin) became the Minister in her own right. On 25 February 1965 she enacted the law that made "the uniform socialist education system" standard in all schools, colleges and universities throughout East Germany.[3]

In 1978 Honecker introduced, against the opposition of the Church and many parents, military lessons (German: Wehrkunde) for 9th and 10th grade high school students (this included training on weapons such as aerial guns and the KK-MPi).[2] Her tenure lasted until the fall of the GDR in 1989.[4]

Peaceful revolution in 1989[edit]

Honecker briefly remained in office after her husband's ouster as leader of the SED in October 1989, but resigned along with most of the cabinet in November. Prime Minister Willi Stoph briefly took over the education minister's office. In hopes of improving its image, the Party of Democratic Socialism, successor of the SED, expelled both her and her husband a month later.

In 1990, charges were made against Honecker as Minister of Education. These included accusations that she had arranged politically motivated arrests, had separated children against their will from their parents and made compulsory adoptions of children from persons deemed unreliable by the state.[5]

Honecker then fled to Moscow with her husband to avoid possible criminal charges in 1991. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the new non-Communist leadership in Russia forced her and her husband to leave.[2][3]

Post-GDR exile[edit]

Since 1992 Honecker has lived in Santiago, Chile[6] with her daughter Sonja Yáñez Betancourt, and her daughter's Chilean husband Leo Yáñez Betancourt and their son Roberto Yáñez.[7] Erich Honecker lived with his wife after being released by German authorities on the grounds of ill health in January 1993. He died of liver cancer at the age of 81 years on 29 May 1994 in Santiago. His body was cremated. Margot Honecker is believed to have kept his ashes.

In 1999, Honecker failed in her legal attempt to sue the German government for €60,300 of property confiscated following reunification. In 2001, her appeal to ECtHR failed.[8] She receives a survivor's pension and the old-age pension of the German old age pension insurance federation.

In 2000 Luis Corvalán, the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Chile, published the book The Other Germany – the GDR. Discussions with Margot Honecker, in which Honecker speaks about the history of the GDR from her perspective.

On 19 July 2008, on the occasion of the 29th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, Honecker received the order for cultural independence "Rubén Dario" from President Daniel Ortega. The award was in recognition of Honecker's untiring support of the national campaign against illiteracy in the 1980s.[6] This honor was Honecker's first public appearance since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Honecker was reported to have said she was grateful for the honor; but publicly no words were spoken. The left-wing heads of state of Paraguay and Venezuela, Fernando Lugo and Hugo Chávez, also took part in the celebrations in Managua.[6]

To this day, Honecker continues to defend the old East Germany, and still reckons herself as a Communist and Stalinist. In October 2009, Honecker celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the GDR with former Chilean exiles who had sought asylum in East Germany. She participated in singing a patriotic East German song and gave a short speech in which she stated that east Germans "had a good life in the GDR" and that many felt that capitalism has made their lives worse.[9] In 2011, author Frank Schuhmann published a book entitled Letzte Aufzeichnungen -- Für Margot (Final Notes -- For Margot in English) based on the 400-page diary kept by Erich Honecker during his stay in Berlin's Moabit prison beginning in July 1992.[10] The diary was given to the author by Margot Honecker.[10]

On 2 April 2012, Honecker gave an interview where she defended the GDR, attacked those who helped to destroy it, and complained about her pension.[11] She felt that there was no need for people to climb over the Berlin Wall and lose their lives. She suggested that the GDR was a perfect country and that the demonstrations were driven by the GDR's enemies. "The GDR also had its foes. That's why we had the Stasi," she said.[12]



  1. ^ a b "East Germany’s Former First Lady Turns 80". Deutsche Welle. 17 April 2007. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Margot Honecker: Die meistgehasste Frau der DDR". Welt. 16 April 2007. Retrieved 20 October 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c ""Hallo Margot, alte Hexe"". Stern. 18 April 2007. Retrieved 20 October 2009. 
  4. ^ Stephanie Wilde (2003). Secondary Schools in Eastern Germany: A Study of Teachers' Perceptions in Brandenburg Gesamtschulen. Herbert Utz Verlag. p. 2. ISBN 978-3-8316-0199-8. Retrieved 29 August 2013. 
  5. ^ "Politicians demand return of Mrs. Honecker from Chile". Spokane Chronicle. 31 July 1992. 
  6. ^ a b c "Widow of East German Leader Feted in Nicaragua". SPIEGEL-ONLINE. 21 July 2008. Retrieved 20 October 2009. 
  7. ^ "Mi pensamiento sigue vigente". Qué Pasa. 24 October 2009. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  8. ^ ECtHR admissibility decision in cases No. 54999/00 ; 53991/00
  9. ^ Barkin, Noah (1 November 2009). "Purple witch decries fall of the Wall". Scotsman (Edinburgh). 
  10. ^ a b "Former East German Leader's Wife Is Homesick". Der Spriegel. 2 July 2012. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  11. ^ Palash Ghosh (3 April 2012). "Widow Of Last East German Ruler Defends Communist Regime". International Business Times. Retrieved 29 August 2013. 
  12. ^ "Margot Honecker Interview defending the GDR". The Guardian. 2 April 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Honecker, Margot (1968). The social function of our schools: speech delivered by Margot Honecker, Minister of Education, at the 8th Educational Congress. Panorama DDR. 
  • Stuhler, Ed (2003). Margot Honecker. Ueberreuter. ISBN 978-3-8000-3871-8. 
  • LLC (2010). Education Ministers of Germany: Margot Honecker, Jrgen Mllemann, Jrgen Rttgers, Klaus Von Dohnanyi, Annette Schavan, Jrgen Schmude. General Books. ISBN 978-1-157-05224-1. 
  • De Nevers, Renée (2003). Comrades no more: the seeds of political change in Eastern Europe. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-54129-9. 
  • Pritchard, Rosalind M. O. (1999). Reconstructing education: East German schools and universities after unification. Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-1-57181-954-3.