Walter Ulbricht

On this day in history–July 24,–communist statesman Walter Ulbricht became the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Social Unity Party of East Germany. He had been the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of East Germany since 1949. When the party had restructured into a more Soviet-style Communist party the following year, Walter Ulbricht had become General Secretary of the Central Committee. In 1953, that position was renamed First Secretary, making Walter Ulbricht the actual leader of East Germany. On account of a childhood diphtheria infection, he retained a squeaky falsetto voice, which made his speeches difficult to understand.

Walter Ulbricht, East German Statesman 1950-1971

Walter Ulbricht, East German Statesman

Already during the Weimar Republic (1919 to 1933) Ulbricht had played a key role in the creation of Germany’s Communist Party. He had spent the Hitler years in exile in the Soviet Union. In 1945, he had returned to Germany to reconstruct the communist Social Unity Party and to help establish the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Walter Ulbricht was a loyal follower of Leninist and Stalinist principles and is quoted as having said, “Es muss demokratisch aussehen, aber wir muessen alles in der Hand haben–it has to look democratic but we must keep our hands in everything.”

In 1950, Ulbricht announced a five-year plan concentrating on the doubling of industrial production in East Germany. By 1952, eighty percent of industry had been nationalized. Consumer goods were often in short supply or of shoddy quality. His leadership is said to have been repressive, and undemocratic, and that he crushed all opposition. As a result, large numbers of citizens fled to the West. In order to stop the outflow of workers he gave orders to build the Berlin Wall in 1961. Only two months earlier he had publicly stated, “Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten–No one has the intention to erect a wall.” His unwillingness to seek an accord with West Germany coupled with his difficult relationship with Soviet Union party leader, Leonid Brezhnev, forced his resignation in 1971. He was replaced by his protage, Erich Honecker.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.




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