Willi Stoph


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Walter Ulbricht (1893—1973)

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(b. Berlin, 9 July 1914; d. Berlin, 13 April 1999)

German; chairman of the Council of Ministers of the GDR 1964–73, 1976–89, head of state 1973–6 As chairman of the Council of Ministers (the government) of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) from 1964 to 1973, and again from 1976 to 1989, and head of state 1973–6, Stoph was prominent as the public face of the regime. Yet he was always overshadowed in real power by the general secretary of the ruling SED, first Ulbricht and then Honecker.

Born into a Berlin working-class family, after elementary school he completed an apprenticeship as a bricklayer. Although he had joined the Communist youth movement and the party (KPD), he served from 1935 to 1937 in the artillery of Hitler's new Wehrmacht rising to the rank of corporal. During the war he served again and took advantage of Soviet ‘re-education’ camps to secure early repatriation.

In 1945 Stoph joined the re-established KPD and was soon given a number of leading positions in the building and basic industries. By 1950 he was a member of the Central Committee of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED). Two years later he was appointed Minister of the Interior, where he remained until serving as first Minister of Defence, 1956–60. He was a member of the ruling Politburo from 1953 onwards. To have gone so far so fast Stoph must have enjoyed the confidence of the Soviets; he must also have been an Ulbricht supporter. It was Ulbricht who appointed him as chairman of the Council of Ministers in 1964.

Ulbricht reduced the power of the government in favour of the collective head of state, the Council of State, which he himself headed. The Council of Ministers was largely reduced to dealing with the economy. This helped to turn Stoph against Ulbricht. He threw in his lot with Honecker when the latter ousted Ulbricht in 1971. However, Honecker moved him to the chairmanship of the Council of State, with its powers trimmed, in 1973. Economic difficulties forced Honecker to reinstate Stoph at the Council of Ministers in 1976. The two remained rivals and Stoph was talked about as a possible successor. When Krenz succeeded Honecker in 1989 he kept Stoph on for a few weeks until all the old guard were forced to retire. He was arrested in 1990 and charged with ordering the shooting of those who tried to escape from the GDR. The proceedings were suspended in 1993 owing to his ill health. After the fall of the GDR it emerged that Stoph had conspired with Mielke to overthrow Honecker in the 1980s.

Subjects: Politics.

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