Erwin Geschonneck

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Erwin Geschonneck (1986)

Erwin Geschonneck (born December 27, 1906 in Bartenstein , Friedland district , East Prussia , † March 12, 2008 in Berlin ) was a German actor . He experienced his greatest successes in the GDR , where he was considered one of the most successful and prominent actors.


Childhood and youth

Geschonneck was the son of a cobbler and night watchman . In 1908 the family moved to Berlin on Ackerstrasse in the Rosenthaler Vorstadt . After finishing school, Geschonneck earned his living as a casual worker, office delivery boy and house servant. In 1920 Geschonneck joined the Fichte workers' sports movement and became head of the Workers' Athletes' Association . In 1929 he joined the KPD and played in communist amateur, agitprop and cabaret groups ; He also took speaking lessons and appeared in Kurt Tucholsky's “Red Cabinet” . In 1931 he had Wampe or: Who Owns the World? his first small film role, he also appeared as an extra for Erwin Piscator at the “ Junge Volksbühne ”.

Persecution and internment from 1933

After the seizure of power by the Nazis , he emigrated in 1933 over Poland and Czechoslovakia in the Soviet Union in order there to connect several Jewish theater groups. In the meantime he serves the graphic artist John Heartfield as a model for his photo montages. In 1938 the NKVD forced him to leave the Soviet Union. He was arrested in Prague on March 31, 1939 and extradited to the Gestapo . He was a prisoner in the Sachsenhausen , Dachau and Neuengamme concentration camps . In the Dachau concentration camp he was involved in the organization of the resistance and strengthened the morale of the prisoners through cultural activities. a. Staged and performed plays. On May 3, 1945, he survived the sinking of the concentration camp ship Cap Arcona , which was sunk in the Bay of Lübeck by British aircraft , and to which he was transferred during the evacuation of the Neuengamme concentration camp with 4,000 prisoners.

Artistic and political work from 1945

Set design from the premiere in 1949 by Mr. Puntila and his servant Matti in the Deutsches Theater Berlin: Gisela Trowe and Erwin Geschonneck

From 1946 to 1948 Geschonneck worked at the Hamburger Kammerspiele a . a. with Helmut Käutner and Ida Ehre and played in various film productions, so u. a. 1947 in the episode film " In those days ". In 1949 Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel brought him to the Berliner Ensemble . There he played great roles with all well-known directors such as Matti in Mr. Puntila and his servant Matti von Brecht, the village judge Adam in Kleist's Der zerbrochne Krug and Don Juan in Molière 's play of the same name. At the same time, the filming of “The Beaver Fur” began a successful career at DEFA and DFF , during which he worked with many important directors in the GDR (see filmography). In 1950 he played the Dutchman Michel in The Cold Heart , the first DEFA color film.

In 1958 Erwin Geschonneck played in Konrad Wolf's critical film Sonnensucher about uranium mining by Wismut AG , which was banned in the GDR until 1972. The film People with Wings was no longer shown from 1961, some other films in which he participated were banned, such as Das Stacheltier - Is he allowed to do that? or Gerhard Klein's film Berlin around the corner , or censored like Das Beil von Wandsbek after Arnold Zweig .

Many roles were “tailor-made” for the actor, for example the main character Karl Achilles, who remembers 30 years of work on his last day at the Bitterfeld Chemical Combine in the 1975 film Banquet for Achilles . It was not least thanks to Erwin Geschonneck that most of these films were even shot or shown. As a long-time comrade and anti-fascist - and also a popular actor - he enjoyed a kind of fool's freedom. He used this position to keep putting his finger on the wounds. Outwardly - highly decorated with six national prizes - inviolable, Geschonneck often remained uncomfortable and - as he himself writes in his biography - was never elected to party functions for good reason.

Outstanding was his portrayal of the camp elder Walter Krämer in Frank Beyer's film adaptation of the novel Nackt unter Wölfen in 1963 , which incorporated his own experience as a concentration camp inmate. In the same year he played one of his most popular roles, the carbide calle in the war-based comedy Carbide and Sorrel, based on real events . Finally, Beyer cast him in 1974 as the hairdresser Kowalski in the film adaptation of the Jurek Becker novel Jakob the Liar : The action takes place in a Polish Jewish ghetto at the end of 1944 and describes the life of the Jew Jakob Heym in the last weeks before the evacuation of the ghetto. This film was the only DEFA film to be nominated for an Oscar .

Since 1990

Heiner Müller brought him back to the Berliner Ensemble for the last time in 1993 for Duell Traktor Fatzer , and in 1995 he stood in front of the camera for the last time for the television film Matulla und Busch .

In a review of critics in 1992 Geschonneck was voted the best actor in the former GDR. In 1993 Geschonneck received the German Film Prize for his overall work. On December 28, 2004 Geschonneck was made an honorary member of the newly founded German Film Academy .

Geschonneck had been a member of the KPD since 1929 and became a member of the SED in 1949 (?) . From 1967 he was Vice-President of the Association of Film and Television Workers , from 1969 a full member of the Academy of the Arts of the GDR . Geschonneck was a member of the PDS until 2007 and, after its merger with the WASG, in the newly constituted party Die Linke until his death . Even after the end of the GDR, he still explicitly committed himself to communism, for which he fought all his life.

Geschonneck lived with his fourth wife Heike on Alexanderplatz in Berlin until his death . He left two sons, the German director Matti Geschonneck and the computer forensics specialist and author Alexander Geschonneck , and a daughter from his marriage to Doris Weikow , the journalist Fina Geschonneck .

Erwin Geschonneck was buried on May 3, 2008 in the presence of hundreds of followers and companions in close proximity to the graves of Brecht , Weigel , Dessau , Eisler , Langhoff and Tabori at the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof in Berlin.

His written estate is in the archive of the Academy of Arts in Berlin.




Radio plays


Geschonneck (center) received
the GDR National Prize in 1961
  • 1954 National Prize 2nd class for his overall work
  • 1954 Erich Weinert Medal
  • 1954 Artur Becker Medal
  • 1960 Actor Award at the International Film Festival in Karlovy Vary, National Award II class for people with wings
  • 1961 National Prize 1st class in the collective for conscience in turmoil
  • 1965 Patriotic Order of Merit in silver
  • 1966 Erich Weinert Medal
  • 1968 National Prize 1st class in the collective for the flag of Krivoy Rog
  • 1969 Silver Medal of Merit of the National People's Army
  • 1971 Artur Becker Gold Medal
  • 1974 Theodor Körner Prize
  • 1975 Medal for Brotherhood of Arms
  • 1975 Volgograd International Film Festival: gold medal
  • 1975 National Prize 2nd class in the collective for Jakob the Liar
  • 1976 Patriotic Order of Merit in Gold
  • 1977 Golden Laurel of the television of the GDR
  • 1981 Karl Marx Order
  • 1982 Art Prize of the FDJ in the collective for Der Mann von der Cap Arcona
  • 1985 Art Prize of the FDGB
  • 1986 National Prize, 1st class
  • 1987 Honorary diploma at the children's film festival “ Goldener Spatz ” in Gera for a wigwam for the storks
  • 1993 German Film Prize for his overall work
  • 1997 The Golden Hen of the Superillu for his life's work
  • 2004 honorary member of the newly founded German Film Academy


  • Information and opinions . VFF, Berlin 1981 (edited by Hermann Herlinghaus)
  • My troubled years . Dietz-Verlag, Berlin 1984 (with Günter Agde ) - paperback edition: Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-7466-0161-4


  • Thomas Heise: Resistance and Adaptation - Survival Strategy. A conversation with the actor Erwin Geschonneck . Chr. Links Verlag, Berlin 2016, audio CD, ISBN 978-3-86153-915-5 .


  • Wolfgang Carlé: Erwin Geschonneck . Henschelverlag, Berlin (GDR) 1960
  • Thomas Heise: Resistance and Adaptation - Survival Strategy. A man's memories of the Dachau camp . Radio feature. Prod .: Broadcasting of the GDR, 1987. (Interview with Erwin Geschonneck)
  • Frank Hörnigk : Erwin Geschonneck. A German biography . Theater der Zeit, Berlin 2006, ISBN 978-3-934344-83-9 (The original sound feature by Th. Heise is included with the book on CD.)
  • Monika Kaiser:  Geschonneck, Erwin . In: Who was who in the GDR? 5th edition. Volume 1. Ch. Links, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86153-561-4 .
  • Regine Sylvester: The actor Erwin Geschonneck died in Berlin at the age of 101 . In: Berliner Zeitung , March 13, 2008
  • Geschonneck in pictures . In: Berliner Zeitung , December 15, 2006; to a photo book on the occasion of the 100th birthday
  • Ralf Schenk: Forward and don't forget . In: Berliner Zeitung , December 27, 2006; for the 100th birthday
  • A star made in GDR . In: Die Welt , December 27, 2006; Appreciation for the 100th birthday
  • "One of the most important actors" - Erwin Geschonneck. Working conference for the 100th birthday. (= Pankower lectures , issue 93). Ed. "Helle Panke" eV - Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Berlin 2007. 60 pages.
  • Erwin Geschonneck - portrait, rbb television from February 21, 2012 - online
  • Kay Less : 'In life, more is taken from you than given ...'. Lexicon of filmmakers who emigrated from Germany and Austria between 1933 and 1945. A general overview. ACABUS-Verlag, Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-86282-049-8 , p. 191 f.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Geschonneck, Erwin .: My restless years: [with a complete list of roles from 1946–1982] . 1st edition. Aufbau-Taschenbuch-Verl, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-7466-0161-4 .
  2. Heiner Müller coffins his pieces and petrifies Brecht. “Duel Traktor Fatzer” in the Berliner Ensemble. The story of a provocation: the chapter of death . In: The time . October 8, 1993, ISSN  0044-2070 ( [accessed December 31, 2017]).
  3. Erwin Geschonneck is buried in front of the socialist heavenly door near Brecht. In: Berliner Zeitung , May 5, 2008
  4. Geschonneck's grave in the Dorotheenstadt cemetery
  5. Erwin Geschonneck Archive Inventory overview on the website of the Academy of Arts in Berlin.
  6. ^ Erwin Geschonneck - family page, accessed October 15, 2010