- East German
- Birth Place
- Date of Birth
- 30 June 1893
- Date of Death
- 1 August 1973
Walter Ulbricht was born to working-class parents. He only attended school for eight years before he undertook an apprenticeship in cabinet making. He joined the Socialist Workers Youth movement in 1908. Four years later he became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). This marked the beginning of a fifty year career as a left wing activist and politician.
In 1915 Ulbricht was called up for service in the German army. He served on the Polish, Serbian and Western Fronts until his desertion in 1918. During the First World War he became a member of the left wing radical Spartakus League - a precursor of the German Communist Party (KPD). Ulbricht helped to found the KPD's Leipzig branch in early January 1919. After Hitler came to power in 1933 he went underground and then fled to Paris and then Prague. In 1938 he moved to Moscow where he remained until 1945.
In April 1945 he returned to Germany at the head of a group of German communists. The following year this group maneuvered themselves into power in Soviet-occupied Germany. They forced the SPD in the Soviet zone into a merger with the KPD -- to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Ulbricht was the leader and major policy maker within the SED and as such was a faithful tool of Moscow in the sovietization of the country. His power in the new German Democratic Republic (GDR)seemed in peril during the popular uprising against the communist regime in 1953, but he survived mainly because Moscow could find no other credible alternative German leader.
In 1955 he signed the Warsaw Treaty of Friendship Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union.
In the fifteen years following the Second World War over three million people emigrated from the German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1961 he convinced Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that in order to secure the survival of the GDR the regime needed to build a wall in Berlin, sealing off West Berlin. Although this did stop the exodus Ulbricht never managed to turn his country into a viable economic success.
In the late 1960s both Moscow and East German party leaders began to show an interest in establishing closer economic ties with the West, particularly West Germany. Ulbricht was no longer in step with party thinking and it was felt appropriate for him to retire. He was reluctant to go but by 1971 he was forced out. He died at age 80 on 1 August 1973, in Dollnsee, near Berlin.
The building workers of our capital are mainly busy with house building and their manpower is fully used for that. (Walter Ulbricht denying to reporters on June 15, 1961 that plans were afoot to erect a wall)
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