Walter Ulbricht

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Walter Ulbricht (1950)

Walter Ernst Paul Ulbricht (born June 30, 1893 in Leipzig ; † August 1, 1973 in Groß Dölln ) was a German communist . From 1950 until his disempowerment in 1971, he was the leading politician in the German Democratic Republic . Under his leadership it developed into a socialist state .

Active in the socialist labor movement in Germany since his youth , Ulbricht became a professional revolutionary . In the final phase of the Weimar Republic he headed the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) within the Reich capital Berlin . In the struggle of the Stalinist party against social democracy and the republican order, he was involved in the leadership circle around Ernst Thälmann .

After returning to Berlin from Soviet exile in 1945 as head of the “ Ulbricht Group ”, he worked closely with the occupying power in the Soviet zone of occupation as a leading functionary of the KPD and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) in building up the state apparatus of the later GDR .

From 1950 to 1971 he was at the head of the Central Committee of the SED and had the highest political decision-making power. In this capacity and with the consent of the Soviets, Ulbricht initiated the building of socialism in the GDR in 1952 and the Berlin Wall in 1961 .

Ulbricht was Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers from 1949 to 1955 and First Deputy Chairman from 1955 to 1960 , Chairman of the National Defense Council until 1971 and represented the state externally from 1960 until his death as Chairman of the State Council of the GDR .


Youth and Political Beginnings

Walter Ulbricht was born as the first child of the trained tailor Ernst August Ulbricht and his wife Pauline Ida, née Rothe, in 1893 at Gottschedstrasse 4 in Leipzig (now 25). Gustav Stresemann moved into the same building as a student in 1899 . Ulbricht's parents' house was actively influenced by social democrats. After completing elementary school, he began an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker in 1907, which he successfully completed in 1911.

In 1908 Ulbricht joined the workers' youth education association in Alt-Leipzig, and in 1912 he became a member of the SPD . As a young functionary, Ulbricht gave lectures to youth groups of the SPD and took on voluntary activities at the workers 'education institute and in the Leipzig workers' youth movement. In 1913 he was admitted to the closest circle of SPD functionaries, the so-called “corpora”.

After the outbreak of World War I , Walter Ulbricht, as a member of the left wing of the SPD under the leadership of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg , wrote and published numerous leaflets calling for an end to the war. At a functionaries meeting of the SPD "Groß-Leipzig" in December 1914, Ulbricht demanded that the SPD members of the Reichstag should vote against further war credits. He was personally attacked for his attitude and the application was rejected.

From 1915 to 1918 Ulbricht served as a soldier on the Eastern Front and in the Balkans in Serbia and Macedonia as a private in the Magazin-Fuhrpark-Kolonne 218; In 1917/18 he was in the hospital in Skopje because of malaria . In 1917 he joined the USPD , a spin-off from the SPD. Although he was not active in agitation as a soldier, the military authorities considered him politically suspect. When he was transferred to the Western Front in 1918, Ulbricht deserted on the transport, was picked up again and sentenced to two months in prison. Shortly after his release and re-serving as a soldier in Brussels, he was arrested again in Belgium for possession of anti-war leaflets. When the November Revolution broke out, Ulbricht was able to evade further military court proceedings by fleeing.

Weimar period

During the November Revolution of 1918 Ulbricht was a member of the soldiers' council of the XIX. Army corps in Leipzig. Presumably he had only been a member of the KPD since 1920, but rose quickly as a party functionary. So he reorganized the party district of Greater Thuringia. At the end of 1920 he stayed for the first time in Moscow and Petrograd on the occasion of the 4th World Congress of the Communist International (Comintern), for which he worked from 1924 . Ulbricht advocated the organizational principle of the company cells in contrast to the previously usual structure according to residential groups. From 1926 to 1929 he was a member of the Saxon state parliament and from 1928 also a member of the Reichstag for the constituency of Westphalia-South and shortly afterwards also in the central committee of his party. In the meantime, Ulbricht had become a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1928 . A central area of ​​work for Ulbricht in the KPD leadership from 1928/29 onwards was the party's trade union policy and its radicalized strike strategy, which tried to differentiate itself from the strategy of the free trade union ADGB associations. Ulbricht has published a number of essays on this subject. From 1929 he was also a member of the Reich Committee of the Revolutionary Trade Union Opposition (RGO), as a result of which Ulbricht was involved in numerous conflicts and disputes between party and RGO structures. From 1929 “political leader” of the KPD district Berlin-Brandenburg-Lausitz-Grenzmark, Ulbricht led the KPD's fight against its main enemy, the “ social-fascist ” SPD in Berlin . In January 1931, at the invitation of the NSDAP , Ulbricht took on a speech duel against her Gauleiter Joseph Goebbels in the Friedrichshain building . The event ended as a battle in the hall between the numerous supporters of the opponents who appeared. In the summer of 1931, the KPD supported the referendum initiated by the right-wing parties, including the NSDAP, to dissolve the Prussian state parliament on August 9, 1931. When the foreseeable failure of the referendum became certain, the Berlin KPD leadership left the Carry out a political act of terror on the same day, namely the murder of the police officers Anlauf and Lenk in front of the party headquarters on Bülowplatz. Ulbricht was aware of the planned action and accepted it approvingly. In November 1932 Ulbricht was one of the organizers of the strike of the Berlin Transport Company , which was also supported by the NSDAP's cell organization.

time of the nationalsocialism

Wanted poster of the Berlin police from September 1933 (Ulbricht bottom left, top right Erich Mielke ).

After the seizure of the Nazi Party in January 1933, Ulbricht took on 7 February 1933 the secret official meeting of the KPD in the sports store Ziegenhals near Berlin partially. He continued the work of the KPD in illegality. Because he tried to “violently change the constitution” by “calling for a general strike” in December 1932, and because of his inciting words in the run-up to the police murders on Bülowplatz in August 1931, Ulbricht was wanted by the Berlin District Court . By decision of the Politburo of the KPD, he emigrated to Moscow at the beginning of October 1933, only to go to Paris a little later .

After staying in Paris and Prague , he moved to Moscow in 1938. At the beginning of the Second World War , Ulbricht defended the German-Soviet non-aggression pact with the argument that the Hitler regime would now, in contrast to England, take a peaceful path, partly because of the strength of the Red Army . "The German government declared itself ready for peaceful relations with the Soviet Union, while the Anglo-French war bloc wants war against the socialist Soviet Union," said Ulbricht. In 1940, Walter Ulbricht, in the Stockholm magazine Welt, which he edited, condemned the proposals of other resistance activists to support England in the war against the Nazi state . He wrote that progressive forces did not "wage the fight against terrorism and against reaction in Germany" just to help "English imperialism" win instead.

Immediately after Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Comintern leadership, Ulbricht, began working on Radio Moscow's German-language program . In the trenches he called on German soldiers in the Battle of Stalingrad via megaphone to surrender and to overflow. In Soviet prisoner-of-war camps , he tried to win over German soldiers to help build a German post-war order in the spirit of the KPD. In 1943 he was a co-founder of the “ National Committee Free Germany ” (NKFD): According to an idea of ​​the political department of the Red Army, communist emigrants and German prisoners of war should work together according to the popular front tactics. In this context, the London Times first mentioned Ulbricht in July 1943 as co-author of a manifesto entitled "Peace or Extinction".

Development of the GDR under Ulbricht

Mao , Bulganin , Stalin , Ulbricht and Tsedenbal 1949
Ulbricht at the III. German gymnastics and sports festival in Leipzig in 1959. Ulbricht liked to play sports until old age and promoted sports in schools, companies and universities.
Marshal Iwan Jakubowski , Commander in Chief of the United Armed Forces of the Warsaw Treaty, welcomed Walter Ulbricht in October 1970 during the "Brotherhood of Arms" maneuver.

On April 30, 1945 Ulbricht returned to the destroyed Germany as head of the Ulbricht group named after him and organized the re-establishment of the KPD in the Soviet occupation zone and in 1946 the unification party convention of the KPD and SPD to the SED in Berlin. At the beginning of July 1945, in a radio address, he formulated the creation of a socialist youth organization (later the FDJ ) instead of the Hitler Youth . From 1946 to 1951 Ulbricht was a member of the state parliament of the Province of Saxony (-Anhalt) (from 1947 State of Saxony-Anhalt ). In the state parliament he belonged to the parliamentary group of the SED and was a member of the Committee on Law and Constitution and the Economic Committee.

After the founding of the GDR on October 7, 1949, he became deputy chairman and on November 24th 1955 first deputy chairman in the Council of Ministers under chairman Otto Grotewohl , but surpassed the latter and President Wilhelm Pieck in power. After the III. At the SED party congress, Ulbricht was elected General Secretary of the SED Central Committee on July 25, 1950 , a position that was renamed First Secretary of the SED Central Committee after the uprising of June 17, 1953 .

Building socialism

Already at the time of the founding of the GDR, the SED dominated the state apparatus that had been transferred from the Soviet occupation zone, the mass organizations, had a monopoly of opinion and had elevated Marxism-Leninism to a state ideology. In the party apparatus itself, Ulbricht, with his own care and diligence, had already created a position for himself in the sense of a domestic power that allowed him to increasingly have the last word on all important decisions. After the founding of the GDR, it was based on his role as “master of administration” in the central party apparatus, which he had achieved through a targeted personnel policy and the structuring of the apparatus. Since October 17, 1949, the rule that scorned the text of the GDR constitution was that all legislative and ordinance projects and other measures "on which the government of the GDR decides" "before their adoption by the People's Chamber" by the Politburo of the SED or the Small Secretariat of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the SED must be decided. The Small Secretariat was created on Ulbricht's initiative in January 1949 to align the SED with the structure of the CPSU as a “ party of a new type ” and in which he presided. As a result, Ulbricht worked out the agendas and draft resolutions for the respective Politburo meetings in which the party made its decisions for the state of GDR. In detail, Ulbricht proceeded bilaterally with the relevant officials. The secretariat was also responsible for assigning higher positions in the party apparatus. He communicated by letter with particularly important functionaries, such as the State Secretary and later Minister for State Security , Erich Mielke, excluding the other members of the Politburo.

Of all the Politburo members, Ulbricht had the best connections to the Soviet authorities responsible for the Soviet Zone / GDR. When the KPD was re-established, Ulbricht had placed his partner Lotte Wendt at the relevant communication hub in the party apparatus , who had a perfect command of spoken and written Russian. Every time the CPSU changed course, Ulbricht proved to be an unhesitating opportunist. Acting quickly , as in the Anton Ackermann case , gave him the opportunity to accuse officials who did not move quickly enough, to eliminate them and to let others move up. Ulbricht's knowledge advantage, combined with individual assertiveness, made him a preferred contact for the Soviet authorities in the implementation of their political projects in the GDR. They turned to Ulbricht directly, bypassing Prime Minister Grotewohl and SED chairman Pieck. This was the case with the dissolution of the internment camps in 1950 and the subsequent Waldheim trials , with the Central Committee secretariat, headed by Ulbricht, appointing the SED functionary responsible for “political advice” to the judges and prosecutors. Ulbricht also controlled the top secret investigation initiated by the top Soviet functionary Vladimir Semjonowitsch Semjonow in 1950 within the SED in preparation for a show trial in the context of the Noel Field affair , from which even the Central Party Control Commission was excluded.

Ulbricht's position in the party apparatus reached a height that made him master in at least two cases in the “final decision on death or life”. In preparation for a show trial against members of the Combat Group Against Inhumanity (KgU) in 1955, as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED, he was informed of the “proposal” of the responsible legal department of the Central Committee of the SED for the penalties to be imposed by the Supreme Court of the GDR . Between 1950 and 1952, the defendants scouted various objects for possible explosions, but since then have only sent reports and individual reports to West Berlin . None of the accused had committed any acts of violence. The legal department had provided the death penalty for the main defendant, Gerhard Benkowitz . The defendant Hans-Dietrich Kogel was to be sentenced to 15 years in prison. Ulbricht himself changed this suggestion by deleting it to “death penalty”, corrected another suggestion that had read “between 15 and 10 years in prison” with “15”, and signed the whole thing with “I agree / W. Ulbricht ”. Then he forwarded the internal communication to “Gen. Grotewohl to express your opinion ”. The next day, Ulbricht received the legal department's suggestions for the planned RIAS process . He was directed against informants of the station from its audience in the GDR. None of the accused had committed an act of violence and, unlike Benkowitz and Kogel, they could not be accused of having spied out any specific objects for possible attacks. The legal department “intended” the sentence “life imprisonment” for the main defendant Joachim Wiebach. Ulbricht crossed this out and wrote: "Proposal death sentence". Then he signed again with “I agree / W. Ulbricht ”. Benkowitz and Kogel died on June 29 and Wiebach on September 14, 1955 in the central execution site in Dresden under the guillotine .

After the strict rejection of the Stalin Notes and the Germany Treaty had made it clear that the Western governments could not be deterred from building the West German state , Ulbricht pushed through the building of socialism in the GDR based on the Soviet model in July 1952 . Shortly before, he had had this course approved by Josef Stalin , the leader of the world communist movement. At the Second Party Conference of the SED -  party congresses were only held again from 1954 - Ulbricht declared:

“The political and economic conditions of the working class as well as the consciousness of the working class and the majority of the working people are so far developed that the building of socialism has become a fundamental task in the German Democratic Republic. [...] The construction of socialism requires:
a) Carrying out the basic tasks of popular power: breaking enemy resistance and rendering enemy agents harmless; to protect the homeland and the work of socialist construction by organizing armed forces [...] The strengthening of democratic state power has become an urgent necessity. An administrative reform is to be carried out […]
b) […] The party conference draws the attention of party members in the state apparatus and in industry to the need to reconstruct the metallurgy, mining, heavy engineering and energy industries […]
c) The broadest socialist Competition is to be developed, the experiences of innovators are to be widely disseminated and popularized [...]
d) The agricultural workers and working peasants, who form production cooperatives on a completely voluntary basis, are to be given the necessary help and thereby at the same time the alliance of the working class to consolidate with the working peasants. "

As a result, the closure of the inner-German border , which had already been decided by the Council of Ministers at the end of May 1952, was enforced. The barracked people's police , the first army in the GDR, had also been founded shortly before. It was later expanded into the National People's Army (1956) . The Ministry for State Security , established in 1950, was also expanded and intensified its activities against real and alleged enemies of the state, especially against the young communities ; the collection of church tax by the state has now been stopped. The federal states were abolished and the GDR has been governed centrally since then . The nationalization of commercial enterprises was promoted, whereby, following the Soviet model, special emphasis was placed on the development of heavy industry . The expansion of the consumer goods industry was subordinated to this goal . The collectivization of agriculture also began , but Ulbricht encountered difficulties: it was not until 1960 that all farmers had joined an agricultural production cooperative.

After Josef Stalin's death on March 5, 1953, Ulbricht's position was at times severely endangered, as he was considered the archetype of a Stalinist. He was also accused of the personality cult practiced around him , especially in connection with his 60th birthday on June 30, 1953, for which lavish jubilee celebrations were planned, which Ulbricht then renounced. The film, made before the birthday (with the participation of well-known cultural workers), Baumeister des Sozialismus - Walter Ulbricht remained under lock and key until the end of the GDR.

Paradoxically, he was saved by the popular uprising of June 17, 1953, which was triggered by the forced building of socialism ordered by Ulbricht. The Soviet Union would have understood his planned deposition as a sign of weakness, but an already presented postage stamp with Ulbricht's portrait was not issued for the standard postage of a letter from the GDR. The lack of support from the occupying forces for his inner-party rivals Wilhelm Zaisser and Rudolf Herrnstadt strengthened his position so that he could win the political power struggle within the SED. In 1960 he became chairman of two newly created bodies, the National Defense Council and the State Council , which replaced the office of President of the GDR after the death of Wilhelm Pieck . Ulbricht was thus head of state of the GDR and had united the decisive functions of rule over the state and the party on his person. Internal party critics such as Karl Schirdewan , Ernst Wollweber , Fritz Selbmann , Fred Oelßner , Gerhart Ziller and others were defamed as "faction formers" and politically eliminated from 1958. The historian Steffen Alisch therefore thinks that Ulbricht had the abundance of power of a dictator .

Wall construction

Reinforcement of the wall at the Brandenburg Gate in November 1961

The construction of the Berlin Wall by the GDR in 1961 took place under Ulbricht's political responsibility after, as a result of tough negotiations, the Moscow government of the necessity of its construction from the point of view of the GDR government (because of the emigration of the well-educated and the elite at the time, the so called “bleeding”).

First of all, at a press conference on June 15, 1961, he tried to publicly deny such intentions, also by answering the question of the West German journalist Annamarie Doherr .

Doherr: “I would like to ask a supplementary question. Doherr, Frankfurter Rundschau. Mr. Chairman, in your opinion, does the formation of a free city mean that the state border will be built at the Brandenburg Gate ? And are you determined to take this fact into account with all the consequences? "

Ulbricht replied: “I understand your question to mean that there are people in West Germany who want us to mobilize the construction workers in the GDR's capital to erect a wall, yes? Um, I do not know that there is such an intention, as the construction workers in the capital are mainly concerned with housing construction and their labor is used to the full, is fully employed. Nobody has the intention to build a wall!"

Although the type of barrier was not specifically asked, Ulbricht himself was the first to use the term “wall” in this regard. Whether he did this out of carelessness or on purpose could never be conclusively determined.

Two months later, on Sunday, August 13, 1961, GDR armed forces began practically at 1 a.m., the border between East and West Berlin and that between West Berlin and the GDR practically along its full length (almost 170 km) To seal off completely and at the same time with a huge amount of people and material and to build barriers.

Nationally oriented architecture and cultural policy

Walter Ulbricht (1970)
Walter Ulbricht bust by the sculptor Ruthild Hahne , for whom Ulbricht sat as a model in 1963
Walter and Lotte Ulbricht in conversation with Willi Stoph (1967)

When building the GDR, Ulbricht demanded on the III. Party congress of the SED the departure from the (western, established in the Bauhaus in Weimar) formalism . The architecture has to be national in form. This split attitude was reflected in the establishment of a German Building Academy and the German Architecture magazine , as well as a number of contradicting demolition and construction measures. For ideological reasons and against the background of the development of socialist city centers, numerous rebuildable war ruins of important and cityscape-defining historical buildings were demolished during the reign of Walter Ulbricht in the 1950s and 1960s. So were z. B. Berlin Palace (1950) and Potsdam City Palace (1959) blown up. Around 60 church buildings, including some intact or rebuilt, were blown up or demolished, including 17 churches in East Berlin. The Ulrich Church in Magdeburg was blown up in 1956, the Dresden Sophienkirche in 1963, the ruins of the Potsdam Garrison Church on June 23, 1968 and the intact 700-year-old University Church in Leipzig on May 30, 1968. Citizens protests against the demolition of the church and imprisonments. Many of the new buildings were built in the 1950s in the style of socialist classicism , for example the Stalinallee in Berlin.

Ulbricht saw socialism as an independent, long-lasting phase and thus set himself apart from other countries in the Comecon . One in this sense, "national road to socialism" also reflect the use of elements of the uniform of the Wehrmacht in the NVA uniforms , Named after the Prussian military Order of the NVA as the Blücher- and the Scharnhorst Order and the later Honecker not sung text of the GDR anthem .

After the Wall was built in 1961, the GDR initially opened up inwards, especially towards the youth culture in the GDR . Ulbricht intended to create the GDR's own youth culture as comprehensive as possible, which should be largely independent of Western influences. His statement, alluding to the “ Yeah, Yeah, Yeah ” of the Beatles, “Is it really the case that we just have to copy every filth that comes from the West? I think, comrades, with the monotony of the Je-Je-Je, and whatever it is called, yes, we should put an end to it. "

Administrative and economic policy

The reorganization of the GDR was shaped by the elimination and elimination of self-government through the dissolution of the five states and reorganization into 14 districts (July 25, 1952), to which (East) Berlin was added as the “capital of the GDR”. The increased target expectations at the end of the 1950s, the further accelerated collectivization of agriculture and the Berlin crisis , aggravated by Khrushchev's threats, made the situation in the GDR precarious. However , it was stabilized again with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

Ulbricht tried since 1963 with the New Economic System of Planning and Management (NÖSPL) - later in short New Economic System (NÖS) - to achieve greater efficiency in the economy. Wolfgang Berger and Erich Apel were important drivers of NÖS . The overall plan should remain in place, but the individual companies should be given greater decision-making options. It was not only about the incentive through personal responsibility, but also about the fact that specific questions can be better decided on site.

The modernization of the economic system was accompanied by reforms in the social area (for example through the Education Act of 1965). The GDR took on features of a “socialist performance society ” (or meritocracy ), in which not only political orthodoxy and loyalty to the line, but also professional qualifications were to decide on professional and thus social position. Experts also increasingly advanced to political leadership positions. In terms of constitutional law, the social and economic changes were enshrined in the second constitution of the GDR in 1968.

One of Ulbricht's main areas of interest was the scientific management of economics and politics (or technocracy ), among other things by means of economic cybernetics , elements of psychology and sociology, but above all with greater attention to scientific and systems engineering principles. The basis of economic cybernetics should be comprehensive computerization and the expansion of electronic data processing . The NÖS also envisaged a connection between economics and science, which in practice meant that more and more experts were making the important decisions and that individual businesses and companies would become more independent. In the spring of 1972 there were still around 11,400 medium-sized companies in the GDR, including around 6500 semi-public companies that offered in particular consumer goods and services, something that was not welcomed by many members of the SED.

Ulbricht helped the GDR to play an important role in the procurement of foreign currency for the Comecon , as products financed through barter and the deliveries of raw materials from Comecon countries were sold in domestic trade with the Federal Republic at special conditions to western countries. In vain Ulbricht promoted oil prospecting in the GDR at the highest level in order to catch up with the Federal Republic, which at that time was still producing more than 30% of its oil needs. His attempt to reduce dependence on the Soviet Union failed in 1965 after controversial negotiations; the chairman of the State Planning Commission Erich Apel then shot himself.

After that, there was greater resistance against the NES within the SED. The leader of this opposition, which enjoyed the support of Brezhnev , was Erich Honecker , who in turn could hope for the votes of numerous party members and in 1972 pushed through a last major wave of nationalization.

Foreign policy positions

Ulbricht ignored "contradictions in socialism", for example in the comparatively bad relations between the GDR and the smaller "brother states" in the Comecon. The term he used for "socialist human community" was quickly dropped after his death. Relations with the Soviet Union were important and decisive for the GDR, as was Ulbricht's political career. With reference to the comparatively great economic successes in Comecon, Ulbricht propagated the "GDR model" as a model for all developed real socialist industrial societies at the end of the 1960s and got into ideological conflicts with the CPSU. Ulbricht, on the other hand, was positive about the crackdown on the Prague Spring . He had previously accused the Czechoslovak ambassador that the KSČ would stab the other socialist states in the back by resolutely coming to terms with its own past :

“Now you are providing the material for the psychological war of imperialism against socialism. Every day the world press receives material from you for the struggle against the world socialist system. While [...] in West Germany young people appear brave , are beaten and killed by imperialism, they deliver material about the ' terror of the communists '. [...] That's too much, it's worse than in Khrushchev's time. "

By this, Ulbricht meant the confrontation with Stalinism and the personal cult associated with it, against which he himself protested because he saw his position at risk. When invasion of the Warsaw Pact countries into Czechoslovakia and the military defeat of the reform movement known as " counter-revolution " or " social democracy was denounced" the National People's Army did not take part, even if the official East German propaganda claimed by the end of the 1980s that she would have participated in the invasion.

The position of the GDR leadership goes back to Ulbricht that normal diplomatic relations between the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany can only exist if both states recognize the full sovereignty of the other state ( Ulbricht doctrine ). This was in contrast to the West German Hallstein Doctrine , according to which the Federal Republic of Germany breaks off contacts with a state that recognizes the GDR.


Ulbricht visiting the LPG "Rotes Banner" in Trinwillershagen on January 31, 1953

From 1969 onwards there were disputes with members of the Politburo of the SED about the further economic and foreign policy of the GDR. As part of the policy of détente of Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt (Chancellor since autumn 1969 , Cabinet Brandt I ), Ulbricht was prepared to postpone negotiations with the Federal Republic on constitutional recognition (for example, to forego the exchange of ambassadors). He hoped that the federal government's new policy of détente would bring economic benefits to the GDR. Since the majority in the Politburo did not follow this opinion, his position in the party weakened from 1970 onwards.

However, he lost the support of the Soviet leadership under Leonid Brezhnev as early as 1967 when he put forward the thesis that the GDR was on the way to the "developed social system of socialism" and that this represented an independent form of society. He wanted to be part of this to “catch up” with the CPSU, which claimed that it had already implemented socialism in the Soviet Union and was on the way to communism. With this, Ulbricht questioned the CPSU's monopoly on the interpretation of Marxist-Leninist principles and claimed for the SED and the GDR to be a model for the other Eastern Bloc states in realizing socialism in an industrialized country. For this he was heavily criticized by the Soviet party leadership and social scientists.

During a conversation between Brezhnev and Erich Honecker on July 28, 1970 in Moscow , it was agreed that Ulbricht would surrender power in the GDR. At the 14th meeting of the SED Central Committee from December 9th to 11th, 1970, economic policy was discussed and the acute supply problems, which were blamed for the bad mood among the population towards the SED, were blamed solely on Ulbricht's policy. At the same time, his leadership style and his solo efforts in Germany policy were criticized. On January 21, 1971, 13 (of the then 20) members and candidates of the SED Politburo wrote a seven-page secret letter to Brezhnev. The co-authors of this letter, which is declared as a "secret classified information", were, among others. Willi Stoph , Erich Honecker and Günter Mittag . In this they stated that Ulbricht was no longer in a position to correctly assess the economic and political realities and that his attitude towards the Federal Republic was following a line that seriously disrupted the approach agreed between the SED and the CPSU. They suggested to Brezhnev that Ulbricht be disempowered in the manner discussed between him and Honecker in July 1970. On March 29, 1971 Ulbricht traveled for the last time, without knowing it, at the head of an SED delegation to the XXIV party congress of the CPSU in Moscow. In his greeting speech on March 31, 1971, he reminded the delegates there that he was one of the few people present who had known Lenin personally and presented the GDR as a model for the industrially developed socialist countries GDR, however, his statements were received by the audience with a mixture of skepticism and indignation. During personal discussions, Brezhnev suggested Ulbricht resign; he made it clear to him that Ulbricht could not expect any further support from the Soviet Union and that the majority of the SED Politburo was against him.

Finally, with the consent of the Soviets, Honecker put himself to power. According to Ed Stuhler , he instructed his bodyguards to take machine guns with them and drove them to Ulbricht's summer residence in Dölln. There he had manned all gates and exits, cut the telephone lines and forced Ulbricht to sign a resignation letter to the Central Committee.


On May 3, 1971, Ulbricht announced to the Central Committee of the SED "for health reasons" that he was resigning from almost all of his offices. As already foreseen in the agreements with Brezhnev, the 58-year-old Erich Honecker was nominated as successor. He was then also elected First Secretary of the Central Committee at the 8th Party Congress of the SED (June 15 to 19, 1971 in East Berlin ). During his lifetime, the name Walter Ulbricht began to be largely reduced from GDR historiography and public life, as with the end of the permanent stamp series "Staatsratsvorsitzender Walter Ulbricht" (1971), with the removal of his name from the name of the Academy for State and jurisprudence in Potsdam (1972) and other renaming of companies, institutions and facilities. Ulbricht only retained the position of chairman of the Council of State, which was relatively uninfluential, until his death. He also received the newly created honorary position of "Chairman of the SED". He died on August 1, 1973 in the guest house of the government of the GDR on Döllnsee , while the 10th World Festival of Youth and Students continued uninterrupted in East Berlin . They were opened in the “ World Youth Stadium ”, which a few days earlier had been called the “Walter Ulbricht Stadium”.

Ulbricht received a state funeral . The state ceremony in the early afternoon of August 7, 1973 took place in the ballroom of the State Council building , and Honecker gave the memorial address. In the late afternoon, Ulbricht's coffin was transported on a carriage to the Berlin-Baumschulenweg crematorium through an honor trellis of the National People's Army . Soldiers had taken up line-up along the road, and workers from factories had also been ordered to the route. On September 17, Ulbricht's urn was buried in the roundabout of the Socialist Memorial at the central cemetery in Berlin-Friedrichsfelde .

In view of the CPSU's policy of glasnost and perestroika, which it rejected , the SED began to assess Ulbricht's historical role in a positive sense in the mid-1980s.

Personality cult

20-Pfennig definitive stamp of the Deutsche Post, issued from 1961 to 1971, valid until 1990

Ulbricht was with his short stature of 1.65 meters, his fistulous voice with a Saxon tongue , possibly going back to a larynx disease that had existed since at least 1925 , his lack of rhetorical talent, his tendency to end sentences with the confirmation phrase "yes?", And his fundamental suspicious character a decidedly uncharismatic politician. After attempts in the early 1950s to build him up as a charismatic leader had failed due to the public's lack of interest, the GDR leadership went over to at least asserting this charisma: “It was not the acquisition of charisma that was soon the goal of Ulbricht propaganda but the mere representation of charisma, ”writes the historian Rainer Gries.

During Ulbricht's lifetime, especially in the 1950s, companies, facilities and sports facilities in the GDR were named after him, such as the Leuna works and the Schwarzheide synthesis works , the German Academy for Political Science and Law and the later stadium of the world youth in Berlin . In 1961, Deutsche Post replaced its “President Wilhelm Pieck” permanent stamp series with one with a portrait of Ulbricht. Portraits of his person were hung in authorities, schools, dormitories and in state-owned companies. In 1956, the year when de-Stalinization was beginning , the New Germany came out with the headline: "With Walter Ulbricht for human happiness."

Especially on Ulbricht's big birthdays in 1958, 1963 and 1968 a real personality cult was cultivated around him. However, the celebrations for his 60th birthday on June 30, 1953 were canceled in the wake of the crisis surrounding the uprising of June 17, 1953 : Magnificent volumes that had already been printed were crushed, a completely wacky propaganda film about his life, written by Stephan Hermlin , did not come in the cinemas and a postage stamp with his picture not available. On the other dates, however, the GDR propaganda followed the Soviet model and the personality cults around Lenin and Stalin. Now his origins from the working class were emphasized, he was praised as “the foundation of the new life” ( Johannes R. Becher ), as a “worker genius” and “master of the times”:

“The German Democratic Republic sees in him a role model in diligence, energy, and labor - as the human epitome of priceless achievement. The construction of socialism greets you as one of its most outstanding builders. And all of us who love our homeland, and all of us who love peace, love you, Walter Ulbricht, the German working-class son. "

Khrushchev and Ulbricht on their journey through East Berlin together, June 28, 1963

For his 70th birthday on June 30, 1963, the GDR held grandiose celebrations, to which Nikita Khrushchev also traveled to honor the “creator of the socialist German miracle”. Here and in several biographies about him that appeared in the 1960s, he was praised as a fighter against fascism , as a good German and generally as a good person. His close ties with the people , who trust him completely, were particularly emphasized . His credo was formulated: "From the people - with the people - for the people". In 1961, Erich Honecker summed up this identification between the Chairman of the State Council and the state: “Ulbricht will win. And Ulbricht - we all are ”.

Ulbricht was awarded all high-ranking civil orders and decorations of the GDR. There were also high-ranking Soviet honors:

The effect of this propaganda remained limited in the population. Ulbricht's dialect, his thin, falsified voice, his never-lost tension offered numerous opponents the opportunity to caricature him. "A gray, whistling mouse," he said, among other things. once mentioned by Gerhard Zwerenz . For the GDR judiciary, the designation “goatee” or the ascription “omniscient” for Ulbricht constituted the offense of defamation of the state , which was punishable by imprisonment.

A tape circulating among writers for amusement with the recitation of Goethe's “ Easter Walk ” by an Ulbricht parodist prompted the Ministry of State Security to intervene in 1962 for defamation of the state.

Private life

Ulbricht saw his parents for the last time in the mid-1920s at the wedding of his sister Hildegard. His mother died in 1926, his father in 1943 in an Allied air raid on Leipzig. The sister lived in Hamburg in 1961 and, like the brother who emigrated to the USA in 1928, had no contact with him.

In 1920 Ulbricht married Martha Schmellinsky (born January 12, 1892, † 1974), a Leipzig machine seamstress with whom he had been friends since 1915. In the years that followed, the couple was only together for weeks or days and quickly grew apart. Ulbricht last appeared with Martha shortly before he went into hiding in 1933. The marriage was not divorced until 1949. The couple had a daughter, Dora (* 1920, † 2010), who later lived with her husband and two sons in West Germany without any connection to Ulbricht .

From the 1920s, and especially in his Parisian years, Ulbricht had a partner named Rosa Michel (actually Marie Wacziarg, * 1901 in Warsaw, † November 14, 1990 in Berlin). She was of Polish nationality, a member of the Communist Party of France (PCF) and an employee of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (EKKI), worked in the Resistance in occupied France and from 1945 to 1948 correspondent for the KPF newspaper L'Humanité in Berlin, then the ADN in Paris. The connection sprang from the daughter Rose in 1931 (* 1931 in Moscow, † 1995 in Gif-sur-Yvette ). The Ulbricht family maintained family contacts with the two daughters of Rosa Michels until the 1990s until the deaths of Ulbricht and Rosa.

The love affair ended when Erich Wendt's wife Lotte , née Kühn, took her place in Moscow in 1935 . Lotte remained Ulbricht's partner from then on and was his wife from 1953. Lotte Ulbricht was considered the first lady in the GDR until her husband was deposed . Lotte's sister “Grete” Winkler (1901–1986) also lived in Ulbricht's household.

Because their common desire to have children with Lotte had not come true, in 1946 both foster parents from Saxony took the 1½-year-old child Maria Pestunowa into adoptive care as a half-orphan with Soviet citizenship under the name Beate Ulbricht . According to research by Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR) in 2015, it was the second foster child named Beate after the foster parents had to return their first, Beate Krause (* 1942), to the mother after seven months. The daughter of a forced laborer from Ukraine who was killed in an air raid on Leipzig in 1944 lived in the Soviet Union from 1959; after their return in 1963 they broke up with Walter and Lotte Ulbricht. Beate Ulbricht was married twice and had two children. In December 1991 she died in Berlin, presumably as a victim of a violent crime.


Web links

Commons : Walter Ulbricht  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Thomas Seidler: Student Stresemann and school starter Ulbricht. In: Leipziger Volkszeitung. July 16, 2007.
  2. Frank Schumann (ed.): Lotte and Walter. The Ulbricht in personal reports, letters and documents. The New Berlin, Berlin 2003.
  3. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. Siedler, Berlin 2001, pp. 39–45.
  4. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. Siedler, Berlin 2001, p. 52.
  5. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. Siedler, Berlin 2001, pp. 54 and 55.
  6. Carola Stern : Ulbricht. A political biography. Ullstein, West Berlin 1966, p. 260.
  7. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. Siedler, Berlin 2001, pp. 52, 53.
  8. Reichstag Handbook
  9. See details Stefan Heinz : Moscow's mercenaries? The "Unified Association of Berlin Metal Workers": Development and Failure of a Communist Union , Hamburg 2010, pp. 91 f., 117, 128, 145, 154 ff., 191, 227 ff., 277 f., 296, 307, 338, 340, 430, 510.
  10. ^ Heinrich August Winkler : Weimar 1918–1933. The history of the first German democracy . CH Beck, Munich 1998, ISBN 978-3-406-43884-4 , p. 423 ff.
  11. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. Siedler, Berlin 2001, p. 89 f.
  12. For the conference in Ziegenhals see Christoph Henseler: Thälmanns Gethsemane. The Ziegenhals memorial and its end. In: Wolfgang Benz et al. (Ed.): Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft (ZfG), 6/2010, pp. 527–552.
  13. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. Siedler, Berlin 2001, p. 99 f.
  14. Walther Hofer : The unleashing of the Second World War. Lit Verlag, 2007, ISBN 978-3-8258-0383-4 , pp. 224-225.
  15. Refusal in everyday life and resistance in war. (Information on political education, issue 243)
  16. ^ Peace or Extinction . Reprinted without comment in The Times, July 23, 1943, p. 3
  17. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht: Eine deutsche Biografie (Lit.), pp. 287–290
  18. ^ Andreas Michaelis: Walter Ulbricht. Tabular curriculum vitae in the LeMO ( DHM and HdG )
  19. ^ "Undoing the Work of Hitler Youth". The Times of July 3, 1945. Ulbricht had given the speech the day before.
  20. Klaus Schroeder : The SED state. History and structures of the GDR. Bavarian State Center for Political Education, Munich 1998, pp. 85 and 89.
  21. Klaus Schroeder : The SED state. Party, State and Society 1949–1990. Hanser-Verlag, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-446-19311-1 , p. 81.
  22. ^ Quote from Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. A German biography . Siedler, Berlin 2001, p. 226.
  23. Partly in the wording and with references to Ulbricht's implementing provisions (“guidelines”) from Eberhard Wendel: Ulbricht as judge and executioner. Stalinist justice on behalf of the party . Structure, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-351-02452-5 , p. 8.
  24. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. A German biography . Siedler, Berlin 2001, pp. 215-218.
  25. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. A German biography . Siedler, Berlin 2001, p. 227 f.
  26. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. A German biography . Siedler, Berlin 2001, p. 228.
  27. Falco Werkentin : The Waldheimer Trials, GDR 1950 In: Groenewold, Ignor, Koch (Ed.): Lexicon of Political Criminal Processes . Last accessed June 15, 2020.
  28. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. A German biography . Siedler, Berlin 2001, p. 230.
  29. Falko Werkentin: "He who decides about death is sovereign". The SED leadership as judge and court of grace for death sentences . In: Deutschland-Archiv , 1998, p. 179 ff.
  30. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. A German biography . Siedler, Berlin 2001, p. 313.
  31. ^ Falco Werkentin: The RIAS process, GDR 1955 In: Groenewold, Ignor, Koch (ed.): Lexicon of Political Criminal Processes . Last accessed June 15, 2020.
  32. ^ Resolution of the Second Party Conference of the SED. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1952.
  33. ^ Klaus Schroeder: The SED state. History and structures of the GDR. Bavarian State Center for Political Education, Munich 1998, pp. 98–111.
  34. Ulbricht's humble birthday . In: Die Zeit , No. 28/1953; See Ulbricht's self-criticism in the Central Committee meeting on July 8, 1953, In: Dierk Hoffmann, Karl-Heinz Schmidt, Peter Skyba (eds.): The GDR before the Wall was built. Documents on the history of the other Germany 1949–1961. Munich 1993, p. 176.
  35. Steffen Alisch: The GDR from Stalin to Gorbachev. The Sovietized German state 1949 to 1990. In: Hans-Peter Schwarz (Hrsg.): The Federal Republic of Germany. A balance sheet after 60 years. Böhlau, Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2008, p. 137.
  36. Excerpt from the television broadcast
  39. Original voice by Walter Ulbricht: Allusion to the Beatles' " Yeah, Yeah, Yeah " as a wav file.
  40. Jürgen Danyel, Zeitgeschichte der Informationsgesellschaft, in: Zeithistorische Forschungen / Studies in Contemporary History, online edition, 9 (2012), no.2, URL: % 3D4441 # pgfId-1037432
  41. Klaus Schroeder : The SED state. History and structures of the GDR. Bavarian State Center for Political Education, Munich 1998, p. 185.
  42. Klaus Schroeder: The SED state. History and structures of the GDR. Bavarian State Center for Political Education, Munich 1998, p. 186.
  43. Peter Borowsky: The GDR in the seventies , Federal Agency for Political Education (bpb), April 5, 2002.
  44. ^ The GDR in the seventies , Federal Agency for Political Education, 1st paragraph.
  45. On the economic conflicts see Olaf Klenke: Betriebliche conflicts in der DDR 1970/71 and the change of power from Ulbricht to Honecker. In: Yearbook for research on the history of the labor movement . Issue II / 2004.
  46. Ed Stuhler: Margot Honecker. A biography. Vienna 2003, p. 49, 147 ff .
  47. ^ The GDR in the 1970s , Federal Agency for Political Education, issue 258.
  48. Jana Scholze : Ideology with a jagged edge . In: Andreas Ludwig (Ed.): Progress, Norm and Stubbornness. Explorations in everyday life in the GDR (book accompanying the exhibition of the same name in the documentation center for everyday culture in the GDR in Eisenhüttenstadt from November 1999 to November 2000). Links, Berlin 1999, pp. 175-191, ISBN 3-86153-190-9 , here pp. 180 f.
  49. Klaus Taubert, Walter Ulbricht's Ende - Gkränkt, died, eradicated , on Spiegel Online , August 1, 2013 (online) , accessed on January 5, 2017.
  50. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. A German biography. Siedler-Verlag, Berlin 2001, p. 73.
  51. Rainer Gries: "Walter Ulbricht - we are all!" Staging strategies of charismatic communication . In: Frank Möller (Ed.): Charismatic leaders of the German nation . Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-56717-9 , pp. 193-218, here pp. 193 ff. And 197 f. (Accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  52. Ulbricht: Like Goethe . In: Der Spiegel . No. 49 , 1961 ( online ).
  53. Planned postage stamp
  54. Rainer Gries: "Walter Ulbricht - we are all!" Staging strategies of charismatic communication . In: Frank Möller (Ed.): Charismatic leaders of the German nation . Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-56717-9 , pp. 193-218, here pp. 200-215 (quotation) (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  55. Rainer Gries: "Walter Ulbricht - we are all!" Staging strategies of charismatic communication . In: Frank Möller (Ed.): Charismatic leaders of the German nation . Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-56717-9 , pp. 193-218, here pp. 193 ff. And 197 f. (Accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  56. Also on the following see Monika Kaiser, Helmut Müller-EnbergsUlbricht, Walter Ernst Paul . In: Who was who in the GDR? 5th edition. Volume 2. Ch. Links, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86153-561-4 . Accessed June 3, 2020.
  57. ^ A b Rainer Gries: "Walter Ulbricht - we are all!" Staging strategies of charismatic communication . In: Frank Möller (Ed.): Charismatic leaders of the German nation . Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-56717-9 , pp. 193-218, here p. 207 (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  58. Quotation on hatred and ridicule towards Ulbricht and the consequences see Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. 2001, p. 328f., With further references.
  59. Joachim Walther: Security area literature. Writer and State Security in the German Democratic Republic . Ullstein, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-548-26553-7 , p. 93 ff. Berta Waterstradt , Renate Holland-Moritz , Günter Kunert and Dinah Nelken
  60. ^ For the Ulbricht family see Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. Siedler, Berlin 2001, pp. 61 f., 275–282; there also the following.
  61. Berliner Kurier: You have never seen Walter Ulbricht like this before. Retrieved April 22, 2021 (German).
  62. ^ Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. Siedler, Berlin 2001, p. 276, see also the obituary in L'Humanité of November 16, 1990.
  63. Frank Schumann (Ed.): Lotte Ulbricht. My life. Testimonials, letters and documents . Das Neue Berlin, Berlin 2003, ISBN 978-3-360-00992-0 , pp. 14, 41, there p. 51 also on Lotte's sister Margarate Kühn; Information on Rose's exact dates at MyHeritage .
  64. ^ Information from the MDR Zeitreise series from October 12, 2015.
  65. For Beate see Mario Frank: Walter Ulbricht. Siedler, Berlin 2001, pp. 278–282.