(b. Kolberg, 19 Mar. 1937)
German; General Secretary of the SED, head of state Oct.–Dec. 1989 Krenz was the illegitimate son of a tailor whom he never knew. A refugee from the lost territories, he later found both a home and a father in the GDR and its ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED). Backed by Honecker he climbed the ladder of the Free German Youth (FDJ), becoming its First Secretary in 1974. On the way he had trained as a teacher and took a course at the CPSU university in Moscow, 1964–7. In May 1976 he was awarded candidate status in the Politburo of the SED. In 1983 his FDJ work ended and he was ‘elected’ as one of the key secretaries of the Central Committee, at the same time becoming a full member of its Politburo. Trusted by the Soviets, he was seen as the ‘crown prince’; his SED function was responsibility for security. The youngest member of the Politburo, his future looked assured, but he saw the increasing dangers from the rising tide of discontent and from Honecker's estrangement from the CPSU under Gorbachev after 1985. By the time he led the coup against Honecker on 18 October 1989, it was too late. Demonstrations were taking place throughout the GDR. He made matters worse by taking over, like Honecker, as head of state as well as SED chief. This disillusioned some potential supporters. He was forced to resign on 3 December and later expelled from the party and arrested. He was credited with avoiding violence and opening the Berlin Wall. In 1997 he was convicted for the shooting of four East Germans who tried to escape over the Berlin Wall and was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. His appeal to the European Court of Human Rights failed. He was released in 2003.