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Honecker, Erich(ā`rĭkh hôn`ĕkər), 1912–94, East German political leader. From a Communist family, Honecker was imprisoned by the Nazis for 10 years for party activities. After the war he joined Walter Ulbricht's Socialist Unity (Communist) party and rose in the East German party bureaucracy. He joined the secretariat of the Communist party central committee in 1958, with responsibility for security. When Ulbricht resigned as party leader in 1971, Honecker succeeded him. He later replaced him as head of the national defense council, thus consolidating power over the military, the party, and the Government. In Oct., 1989, with resistance to the regime growing, he was ousted from his posts by the East German Communist party. After the reunification of Germany, and threatened by the possibility of being tried for ordering border guards at the Berlin Wall to shoot to kill, he entered a Soviet military hospital in Berlin. The reunified German government was unable to arrest him there, and when he was transferred to Moscow, Gorbachev blocked his extradition. In Moscow after the collapse of the USSR he took refuge in the Chilean embassy. In 1992 he was returned to Germany, where he was put on trial but then released as his health deteriorated. In Jan., 1993, he fled to Chile, where he died.
Born Aug. 25, 1912, in Neunkirchen, Saarland. Figure in the German and international working-class and communist movements. Party and state figure of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
The son of a miner, Honecker was originally a roof tiler by trade. He joined the Communist Youth League of Germany (CYL) in 1926 and the Communist Party of Germany (CPG) in 1929. In 1930 and 1931 he studied at the school of the Communist Youth International in Moscow. He took part in the construction of the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine as a member of international workers’ brigades. Upon returning to Germany he was appointed to two positions in party organizations of the Saar: political secretary of the CYL and member of the Secretariat of the CPG. In 1934 he was elected a member of the Central Committee of the CYL.
Under the fascist regime Honecker engaged in underground organizational and political work among young people in the Ruhr and the Palatinate and in Baden, Hessen, and Württemburg; he also headed the CYL’s organization for the Berlin area. Honecker was arrested in December 1935, and in June 1937 he was sentenced to ten years in prison. In April 1945 he was released from the Brandenburg-Görden Prison by the Soviet Army.
After the German people were liberated from fascism in May 1945, Honecker became youth secretary of the Central Committee of the CPG and head of the Central Commission on Youth. He helped found the Free German Youth and served as chairman of the organization’s Central Council from 1946 to 1955.
Honecker became a member of the Central Committee of the CPG in 1946 and helped found the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). In April 1946 he became a member of the SED’s Administrative Board (later renamed the Central Committee). He was a candidate member of the Politburo of the Central Committee from 1950 to 1958, when he was admitted to full membership. In 1955 and 1956, Honecker studied in Moscow at the Higher Party School Under the Central Committee of the CPSU. He served as a secretary of the Central Committee of the SED from 1958 to 1971 and as first secretary from 1971 to 1976; he was named general secretary in 1976. Honecker became a deputy to the People’s Chamber of the GDR in 1949, chairman of the National Defense Council in 1971, and chairman of the Council of State in 1976.
Honecker has been awarded two Orders of Karl Marx, the title Hero of Labor (1972), the Order of Lenin (1972), and the Order of the October Revolution (1977).
WORKSUnter dem Banner des Internationalismus. Berlin, 1972.
In Russian translation:
Rol’ rabochego klassa i ego partii v sotsialiticheskom obshchestve. Moscow, 1973.