|Minister of National Defence|
3 December 1985 – 18 November 1989
|Preceded by||Heinz Hoffmann|
|Succeeded by||Theodor Hoffmann|
26 January 1920|
Lauban, Weimar Germany
(now Lubań, Poland)
2 May 2017 (aged 97)|
|Political party||German Communist Party (2009–2017)|
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)|
Nazi Germany (1940–1941)|
Soviet Union (1941–1945)
East Germany (1950–1989)
|Years of service||
Soviet Army (1941–1945)
National People's Army (1950–1989)
Commander-in-chief of the Kommando LSK/LV|
Ministry of National Defence
World 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.
Kessler was born into a communist family in Lauban, Lower Silesia and was raised in Chemnitz. 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. He later apprenticed as a motor mechanic.
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. Upon his desertion, he was sentenced to death in absentia by a Military tribunal.
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.
Conviction and imprisonment
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. 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.
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.
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.
Kessler served his sentence in Berlin-Hakenfelde prison from November 1996 to October 1998, and was released early.
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. Kessler died on 2 May 2017 at the age of 97.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Heinz Keßler.|
- Smale, Alison (2017-05-08). "Heinz Kessler, Who Led East Germany's Military, Dies at 97". New York Times.
- Hall, Allan (2009-11-09). "Berlin Wall anniversary: former Stasi man 'sickened' by collapse of communism". The Telegraph.
- 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).
- Maume, Chris (2017-05-07). "Heinz Kessler, obituary: East Germany's last defence minister". The Independent.
- Tagliabue, John (1991-05-22). "4 Ex-Officials of East Germany Arrested". New York Times.
- 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.
- biography Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (German)