Posts Tagged ‘Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands’

Erich Honecker – Berlin Wall Architect

Monday, April 24th, 2017


Erich Honecker was an uncompromising East German politician who rose to the top leadership post in East Germany. After holding several lesser positions, he was elected First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands – SED) in 1971, a post which later morphed into General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party. Erich Honecker held that position until just before the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989. It was during his leadership that the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. He is said to have been its prime architect and a proponent of the order “to fire” on border crossers. More than 1,100 border crossers died trying to escape the former East Germany during his years in office.

Erich Honecker, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party 1971-1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Honecker, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party 1971-1989. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv.

Erich Honecker – Communist to the core

Born in 1912, Erich Honecker was the fourth of six children in the family. By the time he was ten years old, he had already joined the children’s division of a Marxist youth organization. Two years later, Honecker entered the Young Communist League of Germany (Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands – KJVD). Following high school he worked for a farmer in Pomerania for a stint. Then he returned to his hometown to enter an apprenticeship as a roofer. He never completed that apprenticeship but entered the International Lenin School in Moscow instead.

At that point Honecker’s political career began in earnest. He entered the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD), but during the Nazi years, Communist activities became illegal. Honecker was imprisoned. Following his release in 1946, he helped form the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend) and quickly became a leading member in the party’s Central Committee. As Party Security Secretary, he was the prime planner of the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Erich Honecker – Rise to the Top

In 1971, Erich Honecker initiated a political power struggle that ended with him replacing Walter Ulbricht as the First Secretary of the Central Committee and as chairman of the state’s National Defense Council. Under Honecker’s command, East Germany began to normalize  relations with West Germany and became a full member of the United Nations. The latter was one of his greatest political successes.

Erich Honecker – Fall to the bottom

In the late 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced several reforms to liberalize communism. Honecker refused to implement similar reforms in East Germany. Friction grew between the two men. At the national celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the East German state in October 1989, which were attended by Gorbachev, several hundred members of the Free German Youth suddenly chanted, Gorby, help us! Gorby, save us! The peaceful revolution had begun. Honecker’s leadership came to an end. He was forced to resign in October 1989.

Erich Honecker’s Final days

Following German reunification in 1990, Erich Honecker escaped to the Chilean embassy in Moscow. He was handed over to Germany a year later to stand trial for his role in the human rights abuses committed by the East German regime. Due to his illness proceedings were abandoned, and he was allowed to join his wife in Chile. In 1994, Erich Honecker died in Chile from liver cancer.


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