Heinz Kessler

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Heinz Kessler
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1988-0707-033, Heinz Keßler.jpg
Minister of National Defence
(East Germany)
In office
3 December 1985 – 18 November 1989
PresidentErich Honecker
Prime MinisterWilli Stoph
Hans Modrow
Preceded byHeinz Hoffmann
Succeeded byTheodor Hoffmann
Personal details
Born(1920-01-26)26 January 1920
Lauban, Weimar Germany
(now Lubań, Poland)
Died2 May 2017(2017-05-02) (aged 97)
Berlin, Germany
Political partyGerman Communist Party (2009–2017)
Other political
Communist Party of Germany (1945–1946)
Socialist Unity Party of Germany (1946–1989)
Party of Democratic Socialism (1989–1990)
German Communist Party
Spouse(s)Ruth Kessler (born 20 March 1922; died 10 October 2013)[1]
ChildrenFrank [2]
GDR Marks-order bar.png GDR Hero of Labor BAR.png

Ehrenspange.png Patriotic Order of Merit GDR ribbon bar gold.png Patriotic Order of Merit GDR ribbon bar silver.png

Order october revolution rib.png Order gpw1 rib.png GDR Scharnhorst-Order bar.png GDR Scharnhorst-Order bar.png GDR Scharnhorst-Order bar.png

GDR Combat-Order for Merit for the Nation and Fatherland - Gold BAR.png GDR Order of Banner of Labor 1Class BAR.png GDR Medal for Fighters against Fascism BAR.png GDR Meritorious Member of National People's Army BAR.png GDR Meritorious Member of Border Troops BAR.png

GDR Meritorious Member of Civil Defense BAR.png GDR Meritorious Policeman BAR.png GDR Decoration of German Police BAR.png GDR Medal for Exemplary Border Service BAR.png GDR Engels Prize bar-G.png

GDR Brotherhood in Arms Medal - Gold BAR.png GDR Brotherhood in Arms Medal - Gold BAR.png OrdenZnam.png Order redstar rib.png CombatCooperationRibbon.jpg

100 lenin rib.png 30 years of victory rib.png 40 years of victory rib.png 50 years saf rib.png 60 years saf rib.png

GDR Ehrenmedaille 30 Jahre National Volksarmee BAR.png Order of the Red Banner (CSSR) Rib.png POL Order Zaslugi PRL kl3 BAR.png POL Odznaka Braterstwa Broni BAR.png Badge GenStaffCol SU.png
Military service
AllegianceFlag of Germany (1935–1945).svg Nazi Germany (1940–1941)
Red Army Badge.svg Soviet Union (1941–1945)
Flag of East Germany.svg East Germany (1950–1989)
Years of serviceWar ensign of Germany (1938–1945).svg Wehrmacht (1940–1941)
Red Army Badge.svg Soviet Army (1941–1945)
Flag of NVA (East Germany).svg National People's Army (1950–1989)
CommandsCommander-in-chief of the Kommando LSK/LV
Ministry of National Defence
Battles/warsWorld War II
Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia
Angolan Civil War

Heinz Kessler or Heinz Keßler (26 January 1920 – 2 May 2017) was a German communist politician and military officer in East Germany.

In East Germany, he held the rank of Armeegeneral in the National People's Army (Nationale Volksarmee) and was Minister of Defense of the GDR, a member of the Politbüro of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), and a deputy of the GDR's Volkskammer (parliament).

Convicted for his role in the deaths of defectors along the Berlin wall, he was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison after German reunification, and served his sentence in Hakenfelde Prison. He was released from prison in 1998 after serving only two years.


Early life[edit]

Generalleutnant Keßler with Walter Ulbricht in 1966

Kessler was born into a communist family in Lauban, Lower Silesia and was raised in Chemnitz.[2] He joined the Red Young Pioneers, the youth organization of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), at age 6 and the Young Spartacus League at 10.[3] He later apprenticed as a motor mechanic.

Military career[edit]

Drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1940, he deserted and defected to the Soviet Red Army three weeks after the German invasion of the USSR and fought for the Soviet Union until the end of the war.[2] Upon his desertion, he was sentenced to death in absentia by a Military tribunal.[3]

Upon returning to Germany in 1945, Kessler joined the KPD in the Soviet occupation zone, which merged with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Soviet zone in 1946 to form the SED. Also in 1946, Kessler became a member of the SED Central Committee.

He was appointed Chief of the Air Forces and Air Defense (Luftstreitkräfte/Luftverteidigung) of the NVA in 1956, and as deputy minister of defense in 1957. He became Chief of the NVA Main Staff (Hauptstab – General Staff) in 1967, with the rank of Generaloberst (Colonel General). Simultaneously, he also became a member of the Military Council of the United High Command of the Warsaw Pact.

Kessler was promoted from Chief of the Main Political Administration (Chef der Politischen Hauptverwaltung) of the NVA to Defense Minister (with the rank of Armeegeneral) on 3 December 1985 after his predecessor, Armeegeneral Heinz Hoffmann, died of a heart attack.[4]

Conviction and imprisonment[edit]

In 1991, after the Unification of Germany, Kessler was arrested after police received information that Kessler would attempt to flee the country disguised as a Soviet officer.[5] German police blockaded the Sperenberg Airfield to prevent Kessler's escape, but later arrested him in Berlin after changing the lock on his home and informing him that he could retrieve his keys at a local police station.[6]

He was tried in a German court for incitement to commit intentional homicide, for his role in the deaths of people who tried to flee the GDR between 1971 and 1989. On 16 September 1993, Kessler was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.[2]

Kessler filed an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that his actions were in accordance with GDR law and meant to preserve the existence of the GDR. However, his appeal was denied largely on the basis that the GDR's policies violated international human rights.[7]

Kessler served his sentence in Berlin-Hakenfelde prison from November 1996 to October 1998, and was released early.[8]

Kessler was expelled from the Party of Democratic Socialism (SED) in 1990. In 2009, he joined the German Communist Party (DKP). He was an unsuccessful DKP candidate in the Berlin state election, 2011.[2] Kessler died on 2 May 2017 at the age of 97.[9][10]


  1. ^ http://ddr-kabinett-bochum.blogspot.com/2013/10/wir-nehmen-abschied-von-ruth-keler.html
  2. ^ a b c d e Smale, Alison (2017-05-08). "Heinz Kessler, Who Led East Germany's Military, Dies at 97". New York Times.
  3. ^ a b Hall, Allan (2009-11-09). "Berlin Wall anniversary: former Stasi man 'sickened' by collapse of communism". The Telegraph.
  4. ^ Flow, V.B.. "A New Defense Minister for the GDR." December 23, 1985.http://files.osa.ceu.hu/holdings/300/8/3/text/27-2-197.shtml (accessed September 8, 2007).
  5. ^ Maume, Chris (2017-05-07). "Heinz Kessler, obituary: East Germany's last defence minister". The Independent.
  6. ^ Tagliabue, John (1991-05-22). "4 Ex-Officials of East Germany Arrested". New York Times.
  7. ^ Registry of the European Court of Human Rights. JUDGMENTS IN THE CASES OF STRELETZ, KESSLER AND KRENZ v. GERMANY AND K.-H. W. v. GERMANY. Strasbourg: Registry of the European Court of Human Rights, 22 March 2001.
  8. ^ biography Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (German)
  9. ^ http://m.startribune.com/former-east-german-defense-minister-heinz-kessler-dies-at-97/421265583/
  10. ^ http://www.nordkurier.de/politik-und-wirtschaft/ddr-verteidigungsminister-heinz-kessler-ist-tot-0427800805.html