Born: 25 August 1912
Birth Place: Neunkirchen
Death: 29 May 1994
Erich Honecker was born into the family of a militant coal miner in the Saar region of Germany. He joined the youth section of the German Communist Party in 1926. Three years later he joined the main Communist Party and went to Moscow to study at the International Lenin School. He returned to Germany in 1931. When the Nazis came to power he was soon in conflict with them. In 1937 he was sentenced to ten years for his Communist activities and he remained in captivity until the end of the Second World War.
In 1945 Honecker resumed activity in the party under leader its leader Walter Ulbricht. A year later he became a member of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany which brought together the old German Communist Party and the Social Democrats of eastern Germany. The new party swept to victory in the 1946 elections. The German Democratic Republic was declared in October 1949. Honecker became a full member of the Central Committee of the party in 1958.
In 1961 Honecker was put in charge of the building of the Berlin Wall. In 1971, he engineered, with Soviet support, the ousting of Walter Ulbricht and became leader in his place. He found it impossible to change, and as Soviet leader Gorbackev instituted reform he remained hard-line Communist. During mass protest demonstrations in Leipzig and other cities he proved unable to provide a way forward and resigned on 18 October 1989. He was replaced by Egon Krenz who remained in post only a short time.
In the immediate post-reunification period Honecker escaped prosecution for Cold War crimes, in particular the 192 people killed trying to escape over the Berlin Wall. He remained in a Soviet military hospital near Berlin before moving to Moscow. In 1992 he returned to Germany. The following year he was brought to trial but was released due to ill health. He moved to Chile and died of cancer there on 29 May 1994.
The Wall will remain so long as the conditions that led to its erection are not changed. It will be standing even in 50 and even in 100 years, if the necessary conditions are not removed.
Berlin, 19 January 1989
The Wall will stand for a hundred years
Erich Honecker, whose leadership brought East Germany prosperity, but who left the nation polluted and in debt, was 81.
Front page caption, May 30 New York Times.
It took the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the absorption in 1990 of his country by the larger, immensely richer West Germany to lay bare the extent to which the Honecker government had mismanaged the economy and the environment. To the dismay of western Germans and the federal government in Bonn, eastern Germany's infrastructure, from telephones to railroads, needed to be rebuilt, and vast sources of contamination had to be cleaned up -- all at enormous expense.
New York Times obituary by Wolfgang Saxon, May 30.