Erich Honecker

Erich Honecker, a familiar face of European politics throughout the 1970s and 1980s, died 20 years ago on May 29 1994, aged 81 in Chile. IMG_0915He was the leader of East Germany from May 1971 until mid-October 1989, three weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

After the collapse of Communism in East Germany, Honecker was expelled from the PDS (Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus, the party which succeeded the ruling SED – Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands). He spent time under house arrest, in hospital – he had undergone surgery already during the summer of 1989 and continued to suffer ill health, in a Berlin vicarage after being forced to leave his home and in a Soviet military hospital before leaving for Moscow in March 1991. He and his wife stayed in the Chilean embassy in Moscow from December 1991 until July 1992 – his daughter was married to a Chilean man and East Germany had offered homes to several thousand Chilean people after the 1973 military coup.

During this time various charges were brought against Honecker but could not be pursued because of his ill health or because he had the protection of Soviet authorities. Finally in July 1992, he was flown back to Berlin, arrested and held in Moabit prison. The main charge against him related to him giving orders for border guards to shoot East Germans attempting to leave the country. The trial began in late 1992 but was abandoned in January 1993 because of Honecker’s ill health. He was then allowed to fly to Chile to join the rest of his family.

Everything that Honecker said or wrote as leader was deemed significant so there was a huge output of material IMG_0918published by East German publishers, for instance the 12 volume set of all his speeches Reden und Aufsätze (231.d.97.555-566). The University Library also has Honecker’s 1980 autobiography, Aus meinem Leben (9008.c.9816; English translation: 571:78.b.95.1), written at the request of Robert Maxwell for his Pergamon Press Leaders of the World series.

There was a plethora of publications after unification, some academic and critical, others quite apologetic and hagiographic e.g. “Erich, wir brauchen Dich!” : Briefe nach Moabit (571:78.d.95.167). Honecker himself produced his thoughts on why the GDR had failed while in custody: Moabiter Notizen (9002.d.5217). After his death, in 2012, the year in which he would have been 100, Letzte Aufzeichnungen (571:78.c.201.23) was published with a foreword by his widow, Margot Honecker, who had been Minister of Education in East Germany. The contents of this book were also written during his time in Moabit prison but were of a more personal nature.

After the unification of Germany, many libraries in the former East Germany got rid of large numbers of the more political publications which they had been obliged to hold. The University Library made considerable efforts to obtain such material, established contacts with various academic and party libraries which were discarding stock and benefited from a number of donations. We regard these texts as important historical sources which help us to maintain strong collections of East German material and which also complement our Stefan Heym collection.

Katharine Dicks

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