Wilhelm Pieck

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wilhelm Pieck
Pieck in 1946
President of East Germany
In office
11 October 1949 – 7 September 1960
Preceded byKarl Dönitz (as President of the Reich)
Succeeded byWalter Ulbricht (as Chairman of the State Council)
Chairman of the Socialist Unity Party
In office
22 April 1946 – 25 July 1950
Serving with Otto Grotewohl
Preceded byhimself (as Chairman of the KPD)
Succeeded byWalter Ulbricht
(as General Secretary)
Chairman of the Communist Party of Germany
In office
February 1934 – 22 April 1946
Preceded byJohn Schehr
Succeeded byhimself (as Co-Chairman of the Socialist Unity Party)
Parliamentary constituencies
Member of the Volkskammer
In office
18 March 1948 – 22 February 1950
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byWilli Stoph
Member of the Reichstag
for Berlin
In office
1 July 1928 – 28 February 1933
Preceded bymulti-member district
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Member of the
Landtag of Prussia
for Potsdam II
In office
25 May 1932 – 31 March 1933
Preceded bymulti-member district
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
In office
1921 – 14 June 1928
Preceded byAdolph Hoffmann
Succeeded byErich Raddatz
Personal details
Friedrich Wilhelm Reinhold Pieck

(1876-01-03)3 January 1876
Guben, Province of Brandenburg, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire (now Gubin, Poland)
Died7 September 1960(1960-09-07) (aged 84)
East Berlin, East Germany
Political partySocialist Unity Party
Other political
Communist Party of Germany (1918–1946)
Social Democratic Party
SpouseChristine Häfker
ChildrenElly Winter
Arthur Pieck
Eleonore Staimer
  • Politician
  • Party Clerk
  • Carpenter
Central institution membership

Other offices held

Friedrich Wilhelm Reinhold Pieck (German pronunciation: [ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈpiːk]; 3 January 1876 – 7 September 1960) was a German communist politician who served as the chairman of the Socialist Unity Party from 1946 to 1950 and as president of the German Democratic Republic from 1949 to 1960.[1]

Provenance and early years[edit]

Pieck was born into a Catholic family,[2] as the son of the coachman Friedrich Pieck and his wife Auguste in the eastern part of Guben, in what was then the German Empire[3] and is now Gubin, Poland. Two years later, his mother died. The father soon married the washerwoman Wilhelmine Bahro. After attending elementary school, the young Wilhelm completed a four-year carpentry apprenticeship. As a journeyman, he joined the German Timber Workers Association in 1894.

Wilhelm Pieck as a young activist, 1906

As a carpenter, in 1894 Pieck joined the wood-workers' federation, which steered him towards joining the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) the following year.[3] Pieck became the chairman of the party urban district in 1899, and in 1906 became full-time secretary of the SPD. In 1914, he moved to a three-room apartment in Berlin-Steglitz. By now he had his own study with many shelves full of books. In May 1915, he was arrested at the big women's demonstration in front of the Reichstag and kept in "protective custody" until October. As Bremen Party secretary in 1916, Pieck had asked Anton Pannekoek to continue teaching socialist theory in the party school.[4] Although the majority of the SPD supported the German government in World War I, Pieck was a member of the party's left wing, which opposed the war. Pieck's openness in doing so led to his arrest and detention in a military prison. After being released, Pieck briefly lived in exile in Amsterdam.[3] Upon his return to Berlin in 1918, Pieck joined the newly founded Communist Party of Germany (KPD).

On 16 January 1919 Pieck, along with Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, was arrested in Berlin's Wilmersdorf district and taken to the Eden Hotel.[5] Liebknecht and Luxemburg were then killed while "being taken to prison" by a unit of Freikorps.[6] While the two were being murdered, Pieck claimed that he managed to escape. Due to lingering suspicions about Pieck's reported escape, KPD chairman Ernst Thälmann called Pieck before a party court chaired by Hans Kippenberger in 1929. The party court's decision was never published and Kippenberger was executed in Moscow after a secret trial in 1937.[7] According to Waldemar Pabst (the officer who gave the order to kill Liebknecht and Luxemburg), Pieck did not actually escape, but was released in return for providing details about the military plans and hiding places of other KPD members.[8][9]

In 1922, he became a founding member of the International Red Aid, serving first on the executive committee. In May 1925, he became the chairman of the Rote Hilfe.[3]

Nazi years and Moscow exile[edit]

On 4 March 1933, one day before the Reichstag election, Pieck's family left their Steglitz apartment and moved into a cook's room. His son and daughter had been in the Soviet Union since 1932 while Elly Winter was still in Germany. At the beginning of May 1933, he left first to Paris and then to Moscow.[3] In Moscow, Pieck served the Communist Party in a variety of capacities. From 1935 until 1943, he held the position of Secretary of the Communist International. In 1943 Pieck was among the founders of the National Committee for a Free Germany, an anti-Nazi organisation created by the Soviets aimed at Germans.

On 22 June 1941, Pieck and his family were in their country house on the outskirts of Moscow. Pieck came downstairs at six o'clock to his children's bedroom and said: "Children, get up, it was announced on the radio that war is over. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, but that will be the end". In March 1942, the family was able to return home after the Soviet Armed Forces won the Battle of Moscow.[citation needed]

Soviet occupation zone[edit]

At the conclusion of the war in 1945 Pieck returned to Germany with the victorious Red Army.[10] A year later, he helped engineer the merger of the eastern branches of the KPD and SPD into the Socialist Unity Party (SED). He was elected as the merged party's co-chairman, alongside former SPD leader Otto Grotewohl. His hand appeared alongside Grotewohl's on the SED's "handshake" logo, derived from the SPD-KPD congress establishing the party where he symbolically shook hands with Grotewohl.

President of East Germany[edit]

In October 1949, the Soviet occupation zone became the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. Pieck was elected president of the new country.[3] He served as East Germany's first (and last) president until his death in 1960.[11]

Walter Ulbricht, Wilhelm Pieck and Otto Grotewohl at the founding ceremony of the German Democratic Republic, 1949

Nominally, for the GDR's first year, Pieck was the number-two man in the government behind Grotewohl, who became the new country's first prime minister. In the East German political hierarchy, the prime minister was the top state official, while the president nominally ranked second.

He lost the co-chairmanship of the ruling SED (which he held with Grotewohl) in 1950, when Walter Ulbricht became the party's first secretary as the party restructured along more orthodox Soviet lines. Nonetheless, he retained his other posts, including the presidency, due to Joseph Stalin's trust in him.[10]

Last years[edit]

Pieck was already 73 years old at the time of his initial election as president. He nominally held the second highest state post in the GDR (behind Prime Minister Grotewohl) and served as SED co-chairman for the first four years of the party's existence. He was also a member of the SED's Politburo, the highest authority in the party. Despite this, he played a mostly minor role in the party, particularly after 1950.

Pieck meeting with Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, 1959

On 13 July 1953, he suffered a second stroke. He also had progressive liver cirrhosis and existing ascites. A detailed medical report composed before the second stroke mentioned "mild paralysis on the right, a slight drooping of the corner of the mouth, breathing wheezing or snoring, slowed down pulse, tone of the limb musculature lowered ...".[12]

In August 1960 he moved to a new summer residence, the converted former mansion of the Hermann Göring Leibförsters near "Karinhall".[13]

Pieck died at Majakowskiring 29, Pankow, East Berlin. He was honoured with a state funeral, cremated and buried at the Memorial to the Socialists (German: Gedenkstätte der Sozialisten) in the Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery, Berlin.

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Christine Häfker,[14] a garments worker whom he met in a large dance hall in Bremen. At first, her parents did not want her to go out with a "red", but once she was pregnant, she was allowed to marry Wilhelm on 28 May 1898, on the condition that a traditional wedding in a church would still take place.[15] On the wedding day Christine waited impatiently for Pieck to arrive at the church. At the last minute, he finally did, still carrying communist leaflets. In November 1936, his wife contracted pneumonia for the third time, dying on 1 December of the same year.

The Piecks' daughter, Elly Winter (1898–1987), held various posts in the SED and East German government.[16] Their son Arthur Pieck (1899–1970) served as head of the East German national airline Interflug from 1955 to 1965, after having held various administrative posts in East Germany, for instance at the German Economic Commission.[17] The youngest child, Eleonore Staimer (1906–1998), worked as a party official and, for a time, as a diplomat.[18]

Photo gallery[edit]


  1. ^ Rolf Badstübner and Wilfried Loth (eds) Wilhelm Pieck – Aufzeichnungen zur Deutschlandpolitik 1945–1953, Berlin: Wiley-VCH, 1994
  2. ^ Pieck, Friedrich Wilhelm Reinhold. In: Werner Röder, Herbert A. Strauss (Hrsg.): Biographisches Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration nach 1933. Band 1: Politik, Wirtschaft, Öffentliches Leben. Saur, München u. a. 1980
  3. ^ a b c d e f Wilhelm Pieck timeline Retrieved 10 June 2010 (in German)
  4. ^ Bourrinet, Philippe. The Dutch and German Communist Left (1900–68). p. 55.
  5. ^ Neiberg, Michael S., ed. (2007). The World War I Reader. New York: NYU Press. p. 365. ISBN 978-0814758328.
  6. ^ Wolfe, Bertram D. in introduction to "The Russian Revolution" Luxemburg p. 18 1967.
  7. ^ Peter Nettl: Rosa Luxemburg. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln, Berlin 1969, S. 547 f., Nettl refers to Erich Wollenberg, who in 1951 speculatively attributed the killing of Kippenberger to an intrigue by Pieck (in: Der Apparat. Stalins Fünfte Kolonne. Ost-Probleme, Jg. 3, Nr. 19, 12. Mai 1951, S. 576–578).
  8. ^ Günther Nollau: Die Internationale. Wurzeln und Erscheinungsformen des proletarischen Internationalismus. Verlag für Politik und Wirtschaft, Köln 1959, S. 381 f. (Anhang III. Die Rolle Wilhelm Piecks bei der Festnahme von Rosa Luxemburg und Karl Liebknecht).
  9. ^ „Ich ließ Rosa Luxemburg richten.“ In: Der Spiegel, Nr. 16/1962, S. 38–44 (Interview mit Pabst).
  10. ^ a b Eric D. Weitz, Creating German Communism, 1890–1990: From Popular Protests to Socialist State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997
  11. ^ David Priestand, Red Flag: A History of Communism," New York: Grove Press, 2009
  12. ^ Der Spiegel, 22 July 1953
  13. ^ DER SPIEGEL – Personalien – 24 August 1960
  14. ^ Horst Laude; Helmut Müller-Enbergs. "Pieck, Wilhelm (Friedrich Wilhelm Reinhold) * 3.1.1876, † 7.9.1960 Präsident der DDR". Wer war wer in der DDR?. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin & Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur, Berlin. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  15. ^ Elly Winter (April 2016). "Elly Winter über ihren Vater Wilhelm Pieck". RotFuchs. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  16. ^ Andreas Herbst. "Winter, Elly (Eleonora) geb. Pieck * 1.11.1898, † 13.5.1987 SED-Funktionärin". Wer war wer in der DDR?. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin & Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur, Berlin. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  17. ^ Peter Erler. "Pieck, Arthur * 28.12.1899, † 13.01.1970 Generaldirektor der Lufthansa / Interflug". Wer war wer in der DDR?. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin & Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur, Berlin. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  18. ^ Peter Erler; Helmut Müller-Enbergs. "Staimer, Eleonore (Lore) geb. Pieck, verh. Springer * 14.4.1906, † 7.11.1998 SED-Funktionärin, Diplomatin". Wer war wer in der DDR?. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin & Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur, Berlin. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  1. ^ Party Executive Committee until 1950
Political offices
Preceded by President of the German Democratic Republic
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
Post created
Chairman of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany
(with Otto Grotewohl)

Succeeded by
Walter Ulbricht (as First Secretary)