Timekeeping in the former East Germany

Ruhla and Erich Honecker

Erich Honecker, Head of State of the GDR 1976-89

Erich Honecker, Head of State of the GDR 1976-89

Erich Honecker, the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party, led the German Democratic Republic from 1971 until the weeks preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. From 1976 onward he was also the country’s official Head of State as Chairman of the State Council.

In 1946, prior to the founding of the GDR,  he led the youth wing of the German Communist movement, the FDJ (Freie Deutsche Jugend – Free German Youth) until 1955. After which he attended the School of the Soviet Communist Party returning in 1958.

In the late 1950s and 60s, as the Party Security Secretary, he was the prime organiser of the building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 and also a proponent of the “order to fire” along the Inner German border.

In 1989, with protests against the leading Socialist Unity Party growing and due to his ill-health, he was removed as First Secretary in a vote by the Politburo. In 1991, with help from the Soviet forces in East Germany, Honecker fled to the Chilean Embassy in Moscow. Following Yeltsin’s election success in Russia in 1992, Honecker was expelled from the embassy and returned to Berlin where he was formally charged for his part in the “collective manslaughter” of 68 people as they attempted to flee East Germany. Due to his now terminal illness, and the fact that Honecker had lodged a constitutional complaint against the continuation of the proceedings, the complaint was upheld and the Berlin District Court therefore abandoned the case and withdrew their arrest warrant drawing criticism from victims and German politicians alike. In early 1993, Honecker flew to Brazil and then on to Chile where he eventually succumbed to his cancer and died in 1994.


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