Erich Mielke

(b. 1907)

Related Overviews

Erich Honecker (1912—1994) East German communist statesman, head of state 1976–89


More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Politics


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

(b. Berlin, 28 Dec. 1907; d. Berlin, 22 May 2000)

German; Minister for State Security of the German Democratic Republic 1957–89 Mielke was not well known before his fall in 1989. Yet his Ministry for State Security (Stasi) was perhaps the largest employer in the GDR. Per 10,000 of population there were more full-time operatives of the Stasi than there were medical practitioners, and they were backed up by an army of informers of roughly the same size as the professionals. Mielke was proud of this situation and was shocked to be dismissed after being minister since 1957. He had been a member of the Politburo of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) since 1976 and was regarded by his colleagues as the Moscow agent in their midst. He had taken part in the plot which led to Honecker's removal in October 1989 only to find himself expelled from the SED alongside Honecker on 3 December. He was subsequently arrested for misuse of office. After German reunification in 1990, he was convicted in 1993 of the murder of two Berlin policemen in 1931 and sentenced to six years' imprisonment, but served just two years on account of his failing health. For this reason he was also never prosecuted in relation to his leadership of the Stasi.

Mielke was born into a politically conscious working-class family in Berlin. His family joined the Communist Party (KPD). After grammar school, he successfully completed an apprenticeship with a haulage firm. Unemployment soon followed but he supplemented his unemployment pay by working for a Communist paper. Keen on sport, he was soon involved with the paramilitary wing of the KPD. It was on a party assignment that he shot the policemen. To avoid arrest he escaped to Moscow, where he underwent political and military training. He served as an officer in the security service of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War where he became notorious in the Stalinist purges. After that war ended in 1939 he was interned in France. Once back in Germany in 1945 he re-established his contacts and was appointed to various police posts. By 1950 he was already a state secretary in the newly established MfS and member of the Central Committee of the SED. Despite the crises in the SED and his ministry he rose steadily. The Stasi was responsible for both internal security and intelligence-gathering abroad. Until 1986 Markus Wolf headed the HVA, which was charged with activities outside East Germany. It was highly successful in West Germany, where it penetrated virtually all political and military bodies. Inside East Germany Mielke was unable to stop the rising tide of discontent despite the lavish resources of the Stasi. Few realized the informer net was so widespread and it left a legacy of mistrust long after the fall of Mielke and the Stasi.

Subjects: Politics.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.