Wilhelm Pieck

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Wilhelm Pieck (1950)

Friedrich Wilhelm Reinhold Pieck (born January 3, 1876 in Guben , † September 7, 1960 in East Berlin ) was a German communist politician .

He had been active in the Bremen SPD since the 1890s , joined the USPD in 1917 and became a co-founder and leading functionary of the KPD in 1919 . From 1931 to 1943 he was a member of the Presidium of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (EKKI). He stayed in Paris from 1933 and mainly in Moscow from 1935 to 1945 . After the forced unification of the SPD and KPD to form the SED , which he played a key role in , he became one of the two party leaders of the SED alongside Otto Grotewohl and was after the founding of the GDR1949 until his death the only ever incumbent president of the GDR .


Origin and family

Wilhelm Pieck was the son of a coachman and a laundress . His mother Auguste née Mixdorf died when he was two years old, and his father Friedrich Pieck (1850–1931) remarried. Wilhelm grew up with two other siblings and his stepmother Wilhelmine Pieck née Bahro in Guben; his father's house was in the eastern part of the city, Gubin, Polish since 1945 . After finishing elementary school, he began an apprenticeship as a carpenter in 1890 and after completing it in 1894 went on a wandering tour . It was there that the petty - bourgeois young man , who came from a strictly Catholic family, first came into contact with the labor movement . From 1896 he lived in Bremen , where he worked as a carpenter until 1906. In 1898 he married the seamstress Christine Häfker (1876–1936), with whom he had three children.

Party functionary of the German social democracy

In 1894 he became a member of the free trade union German Woodworkers' Association and joined the SPD in 1895 . After moving to Bremen in 1897 he became the house cashier and in 1899 city district chairman in the SPD. In 1900 he took over the role of chairman of the Bremen payment office of the woodworkers' association. He took part in the SPD party congress in Bremen in 1904 and was delegated to the Bremen trade union cartel in the same year . Under the influence of Heinrich Schulz , who was also editor-in-chief of the Bremer Bürger-Zeitung , he increasingly developed left party positions. From 1905 Pieck was chairman of the press commission of the Bremen SPD and in the same year was elected as a representative of the 4th grade in the Bremen citizenship , of which he belonged until 1910. The following year he gave up his job and became the full-time first secretary of the SPD in Bremen. He attended the semi-annual course in 1907/1908 at the central party school of the SPD in Berlin , where he met Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring and where he joined the internationalist wing of the Social Democrats. In 1910 he became second secretary of the central education committee of the SPD, headed by Schulz, and secretary of the Berlin party school. He was a delegate at the SPD party congresses in Nuremberg (1908), Leipzig (1909) and Chemnitz (1912). In addition to Mehring, Luxemburg and Schulz, Pieck was in close contact with Friedrich Ebert in the pre-war period .

Spartakist in World War I

After the outbreak of the First World War he was involved with Karl Liebknecht , Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring and Hermann Duncker in efforts to gather the opposition forces in the party, which were constituted in the group Internationale , and took part in conferences and as a staunch opponent of the social democratic truce policy Demonstrations of anti-war Social Democrats took part. As one of the organizers of a women's demonstration against the war in May 1915, he was imprisoned until October 1915 and was then called up for military service himself. On the training area Lamsdorf trained he was appointed as an infantryman on the Western Front used, among other things, in the Battle of Verdun . In January 1916, Pieck took part in the Reich Conference of the International Group in Berlin, which has since called itself the "Spartacus Group". In December 1916 his party positions were terminated. In April 1917 he took part in the Reich Conference of the Spartakus Group and the founding party convention of the USPD in Gotha. Because of its agitations Pieck was on charges of "insubordination and incitement" before a military court indicted and was from June to October 1917 in custody . Before a verdict could be reached, he used a stay in a hospital to desert and went underground to Berlin, where, among other things , he helped to prepare for the armaments workers' strike in January 1918 . In February 1918 he fled to Amsterdam by decision of the Spartacus group , where he worked as a socialist agitator from exile and took over the weekly magazine Der Kampf founded by Carl Minster .

Co-founder of the KPD

Wilhelm Pieck (1920)

In October 1918 he returned to Berlin and participated in the November Revolution as a member of the executive committee of the revolutionary chairmen . Along with Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, he was one of the leading members of the headquarters of the Spartakusbund , which was newly formed on November 11, and was responsible, together with Jacob Walcher, for its agitation work in Berlin. When, after Christmas 1918, it became apparent that the radical wing of the labor movement could not gather the majority of the population behind them, Wilhelm Pieck took part in the founding of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) on January 1, 1919 , of which he chaired the founding convention. He took part in the so-called Spartacus uprising from January 5th to 12th, 1919 and after its suppression by right-wing volunteer corps on the evening of January 15th in Berlin-Wilmersdorf while visiting the accommodation of Luxemburg and Liebknecht and detained with them. While Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered, Pieck escaped the Freikorps soldiers; whether by escape or release is unclear. This gave rise to suspicions, which in 1929 prompted KPD chairman Ernst Thälmann to bring Pieck to a court of honor for the party. The KPD did not announce the decision. The court had met under the chairmanship of Hans Kippenberger , who was executed in Moscow in 1937 after a secret trial . At the end of the 1950s, the officer Waldemar Pabst , who had given the order to kill Liebknecht and Luxemburg, claimed that he had released Pieck, who was unknown to him at the time, because he had given him detailed information about military plans and the hiding places of leading members of the KPD.

KPD intervention in the Ruhr uprising

From July to November 1919 Pieck was again in custody, from which he managed to escape. From March 24, 1920 he was a representative of the headquarters of the KPD in Essen , where he was to set up an overall leadership of the Red Ruhr Army and to steer the further course of the Ruhr uprising according to the Bielefeld Agreement politically and militarily in the interests of the party. The attempt to enforce the recognition of the Essen Central Council as the authoritative control center of the various executive councils and battle lines of the rebellious forces in the Ruhr area failed, however. In retrospect, his role in the negotiations with the workers 'and strike committees was assessed differently and, in part, Pieck's responsibility for the failure of the workers' uprising and the brutal retaliatory measures when the right-wing Reichswehr and Freikorps units marched into the Ruhr area after the Bielefeld Agreement was broken. While the GDR historiography praised Pieck's "realistic orientation" and blamed the insurmountable "differences between left and right forces in the USPD", but especially the Mülheim central command of the Red Army in the western Ruhr area, who were determined to continue the struggle, responsible for the catastrophic outcome, wrote Erhard Lucas contributed significantly to the disaster to the ambivalent Lavieren Pieck and his efforts to improve the Bielefeld Agreement by continuing the insurgency movement to a limited extent in the interests of the workers. In the condemnation of the Ruhr workers who, according to Pieck, “were misled by traitors”, who had given up their weapons in fulfillment of the agreement and left the Red Ruhr Army, Lucas saw an expression of a lack of realism.

KPD functionary in the Weimar Republic

Inauguration of the memorial for the victims of the November Revolution at the Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery in Berlin by Wilhelm Pieck on June 13, 1926

In April 1920 Pieck took part as a speaker at the 4th party congress of the KPD. He was a member of the military commission of the KPD headquarters, which tried to learn lessons from the revolutionary workers' uprisings, and was elected secretary of the party headquarters at the unification congress of the USPD left with the KPD in Berlin in December 1920. Clara Zetkin , with whom he nevertheless worked from 1924 in the management of the Red Aid in Germany , had reservations about his choice . In her letters to Wilhelm Pieck and Nikolai Bukharin , Zetkin also criticized the Communist Party's course of Stalinization and the violation of internal party democracy in later years. Pieck traveled with Fritz Heckert to Soviet Russia for the first time in autumn 1921 , where he met Vladimir Ilyich Lenin . At the same time he succeeded Adolph Hoffmann as a member of the Prussian Landtag , of which he remained until his election to the Reichstag in the Reichstag elections of May 20, 1928 . In 1922 he co-founded the International Red Aid and in 1925 became chairman of the Red Aid Germany, which developed into the KPD front organization with the largest number of members. He met Joseph Stalin for the first time in 1924 on a trip to the memorial services for Lenin's death . From 1926 he headed the strongest KPD district Berlin-Brandenburg, where he was replaced in 1929 by Walter Ulbricht . The background was Pieck's critical attitude towards Ernst Thälmann in the Wittorf affair , which he revised after being reprimanded by Stalin. His international activities and contacts favored the election to the Executive Committee (EKKI) of the Communist International by the VI. Congress of the organization in 1928. Pieck had been a representative of the KPD at the EKKI in Moscow since November 1930 and was elected to the committee's presidium in 1931. In January 1932 he became rector of the International Lenin School in Moscow, returned to Berlin in May and was appointed to the top management of the KPD Central Committee in June 1932 as a candidate for the secretariat of the KPD Central Committee.

Escape to Paris and stay in Moscow

After Adolf Hitler's " seizure of power " in January 1933 and the persecution of German communists that began, Pieck took part in the KPD functionaries' conference on February 7, 1933 in the sports store Ziegenhals near Berlin. On February 23, 1933, Pieck appeared as the main speaker at the last mass rally of the KPD in the Berlin Sports Palace in preparation for the March elections . In May 1933 he had to leave Germany and went to Paris . In August 1933 Pieck's name was on the first expatriation list of the German Reich .

Wilhelm Pieck lived illegally in Paris until the beginning of 1935, where he worked together with Franz Dahlem and Wilhelm Florin in the management of the KPD in exile, which was active abroad. Multiple ideological differences within the leadership group had to be resolved in Moscow, with Pieck consolidating his position. After the murder of John Schehr in February 1934, Pieck was appointed as his deputy to chair the party and at the so-called Brussels Conference of the KPD in Moscow in October 1935 as party chairman for the duration of Ernst Thalmann's imprisonment. Pieck had been in Moscow with other KPD leadership cadres since January 1935 and was busy preparing for the VII World Congress of the Communist International in August 1935. He survived the purges during the " Great Terror " in the 1930s, which killed a large number of the German communists who fled to Moscow. In 1937 he called Herbert Wehner to Moscow because he was hoping for his help with internal cleansing. Stalin gave him responsible tasks in the Communist International (KI). Between 1936 and 1939 he spent several months in Paris on various occasions to activate the popular front work of the KI and to settle disputes in the Popular Front Committee, where he met Heinrich Mann , among others . In the early 1940s he worked in Moscow for the German-language propaganda broadcaster Radio Moscow . In 1943 he was one of the initiators of the National Committee for Free Germany . After Ernst Thälmann's murder in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944 , Pieck was generally judged to be the next KPD chief.

Return to Germany

After Pieck had received instructions from Stalin together with members of the Ulbricht group and other KPD cadres , he returned to Berlin on July 1, 1945. Whether his mission was to work towards the construction of a bourgeois, democratic, unified but neutral Germany, or to enforce the hegemonic power of the communists in the establishment of a state structure in the Soviet occupation zone , is disputed in research. First he pushed the process of the forced unification of the SPD and KPD into the SED .

Wilhelm Pieck (left) and Otto Grotewohl , 1949

Party leader of the SED and President of the GDR

In April 1946 he was together with Otto Grotewohl (SPD) chairman of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and after the establishment of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in October 1949 its first and only president; he remained so until his death in 1960. The real ruler of the GDR, however, was already Walter Ulbricht as General Secretary or First Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED. After Pieck's death, the State Council of the GDR was created as the successor body to the office of the President.

General Vasily Tschuikow , head of the Soviet Control Commission , congratulates Pieck on his 75th birthday, 1951

In 1952 the DEFA documentary Wilhelm Pieck - The Life of Our President was shown in GDR cinemas.

Pieck's study was in the former Jonaß department store on the corner of Lothringer Strasse and Prenzlauer Allee . Until the end of the GDR it served as a small museum, after the sale and renovation of the house, the study was to be preserved, but is no longer open to the public.

Wilhelm Pieck resided as president at the Niederschönhausen Castle . On July 13, 1953, he suffered his second stroke and had to be treated in a Moscow clinic for various previous illnesses, but recovered again. From 1954 to 1959 Pieck used a former villa on Streganzer See near Prieros , which the Berlin cloth merchant Vogel had built around 1920, as a summer residence. Today the house is used as the main building of the Hotel Waldhaus Prieros , in which the historically preserved and restored “Pieck room” can be rented as a conference room.

Wilhelm Pieck was buried in Berlin's Friedrichsfelde central cemetery in the roundabout of the newly built memorial for the socialists in 1951 .


His daughter Elly Winter (1898–1987) was married to the resistance fighter Theodor Winter, who had been missing in Gestapo custody since autumn 1944 . From 1949 she held managerial positions in the office of the President of the GDR , from 1961 in the Institute for Marxism-Leninism at the Central Committee of the SED .

His son Arthur Pieck (1899–1970) joined the functionaries of the Ulbricht group in May 1945 and received a key position as head of the department for personnel issues and administration when the first Berlin magistrate was formed by the Soviet military administration. He later became chief executive of the GDR airline Deutsche Lufthansa and, from 1958, Interflug .

The daughter Eleonore Staimer (1906–1998), a diplomat and ambassador in the GDR, was married first to Josef Springer and then to Richard Staimer .


Street sign in Oßmannstedt
20 Pf block issue of the GDR post on the death of Wilhelm Pieck in 1960
20 Mark commemorative coin Wilhelm Pieck of the GDR from 1972

Guben , the town of his birth , was officially named Wilhelm-Pieck-Stadt Guben from 1961 to 1990 .

After Wilhelm Pieck were in the GDR, the central pioneer camp of Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organization ( Pioneer Republic Wilhelm Pieck ), which in 1958 inaugurated art ice rink Wilhelm Pieck in Weißwasser / Oberlausitz , the sail training ship Wilhelm Pieck the Society for Sport and Technology (after 1989 in Griffin renamed), the Flagship of the East Berlin White Fleet (renamed Mark Brandenburg after 1989 ), the University of Rostock (after a failed attempt in 1966) named from 1976 to 1990 as well as numerous schools, streets, squares and the like. Most of the designations were reversed in the early 1990s, for example today's Rosa-Luxemburg-Gymnasium in Berlin-Pankow was named after Wilhelm Pieck until 1990. There are still Wilhelm-Pieck-Strasse in a number of places.

In 1950 the youth college of the FDJ was named after Pieck.

The GDR Deutsche Post used Pieck's portrait for a definitive series of stamps , some of which had postage capacity until the end of the GDR, as well as for several special stamp issues and a block .

On a 20- Mark - commemorative coin of the GDR a portrait of Pieck was shown.

The main street of the North Korean city of Hamhŭng was called "Wilhelm-Pieck-Boulevard" on the occasion of the GDR's help in rebuilding the city after the Korean War . In the meantime, it has been renamed Jongsong-Strasse (German: "Strasse der Treue"). In the Antarctic, carrying Pieckrücken his name.

Pieck was an honorary citizen of Berlin, Hoyerswerda and Plauen (each appointed in 1946).


  • Collected speeches and writings. 6 vols., Dietz [various editions], Berlin 1955–1981.


Web links

Commons : Wilhelm Pieck  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h i Sven Felix Kellerhoff : How Ulbricht pushed Wilhelm Pieck into the castle. In: Die Welt , September 7, 2010. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  2. a b Pieck, Friedrich Wilhelm Reinhold. In: Werner Röder, Herbert A. Strauss (eds.): Biographical manual of German-speaking emigration after 1933. Volume 1: Politics, economy, public life. Saur, Munich et al. 1980, ISBN 3-598-10087-6 , pp. 558f.
  3. Jürgen Reulecke : The First World War and the labor movement in the Rhenish-Westphalian industrial area. In: ders. (Ed.): Workers' movement on the Rhine and Ruhr. Contributions to the history of the labor movement in Rhineland-Westphalia. Hammer, Wuppertal 1974, ISBN 3-87294-054-6 , pp. 205-239; here: p. 231.
  4. a b c Andreas Michaelis ( DHM , Berlin): Wilhelm Pieck 1876–1960. September 14, 2014, accessed on July 13, 2020 (curriculum vitae in tabular form).
  5. Christoph Dieckmann : And whether we will still be alive ... The Liebknecht murder case / Luxembourg. An excursion to the crime scenes in Berlin. In: Die Zeit 03/2008 (September 1, 2008).
  6. ^ Peter Nettl: Rosa Luxemburg. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne, Berlin 1969, pp. 547 f., Nettl refers to Erich Wollenberg , who speculatively attributed the killing of Kippenberger to Pieck's intrigue in 1951 (in: Der Apparat. Stalins Fifth Kolonne . Ost -problem , vol. 3 , No. 19, May 12, 1951, pp. 576-578).
  7. ^ Günther Nollau : The International. Roots and manifestations of proletarian internationalism. Verlag für Politik und Wirtschaft, Cologne 1959, p. 381 f. (Appendix III. The role of Wilhelm Pieck in the arrest of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht ).
  8. "I had Rosa Luxemburg judged ." In: Der Spiegel , No. 16/1962, pp. 38–44 (interview with Pabst).
  9. ^ A b Dieter Dreetz, Klaus Geßner, Heinz Sperling: Armed struggles in Germany 1918–1923 (= writings of the Military History Institute of the GDR , Brief Military History). Military Publishing House of the German Democratic Republic , Berlin (East) 1988, ISBN 3-327-00511-7 , p. 191.
  10. ^ A b Dieter Dreetz, Klaus Geßner, Heinz Sperling: Armed fighting in Germany 1918–1923. Berlin 1988, pp. 201f.
  11. Erhard Lucas-Busemann: The March Revolution of 1920 - and its historical processing. In: Schwarzer Faden , No. 35 (2/1990), pp. 48–55 (online) .
  12. Jens Becker : Zetkin, Clara, née Eißner. In: Manfred Asendorf, Rolf von Bockel (eds.): Democratic ways. A biographical lexicon. J. B. Metzler, Stuttgart 2006 (first edition 1997), ISBN 978-3-476-02135-9 , pp. 706-708 (here: p. 707).
  13. Ernst Kienast (edit.): Handbook for the Prussian Landtag. Issue for the 1st electoral term. R. v. Decker's Verlag (G. Schenck), Berlin 1921, p. 291.
  14. Nick Brauns : Cadre History. The biographical handbook on KPD history by Hermann Weber and Andreas Herbst. Online review of Weber / Herbst, Deutsche Kommunisten , Berlin 2008, accessed on June 25, 2020.
  15. Friends of the "Ernst-Thälmann-Gedenkstätte" e. V.
  16. Christoph Henseler: Thälmanns Gethsemane. The Ziegenhals memorial and its end. In: Journal of History . Volume 58, 2010, No. 6, pp. 527-552, here p. 545.
  17. Wladislaw Hedeler (Ed.): Stalinist Terror 1934–1941. A research balance sheet. BasisDruck, Berlin 2002, p. 356.
  18. ^ Gerhard Beier : Wehner, Herbert. In: Manfred Asendorf, Rolf von Bockel (ed.): Democratic ways. A biographical lexicon. J. B. Metzler, Stuttgart 2006 (first edition 1997), ISBN 978-3-476-02135-9 , pp. 667-669 (here: p. 668).
  19. Valentina Choschewa: Voice of Russia celebrates its 85th anniversary. In: Voice of Russia , October 28, 2014. Retrieved October 29, 2014.
  20. Paul in Russia. In: Der Spiegel , No. 51/1947, p. 4 (compilation of quotations from memories of Friedrich Paulus ).
  21. Compare Wilfried Loth : Stalin's Unloved Child. Why Moscow didn't want the GDR . Rowohlt, Berlin 1994, p. 24; Manfred Wilke (ed.): Anatomy of the party headquarters - the KPD / SED on the way to power. Academy, Berlin 1998, p. 45.
  22. Report in Der Spiegel 30/1953 (July 22, 1953), p. 26 (online) .
  23. Katrin Starke: Income gushes out on the lake and river. In: Berliner Morgenpost , April 8, 2018, accessed on July 9, 2020.
  24. Website of the Hotel Waldhaus Prieros , accessed on June 29, 2019.
  25. ^ Werner Breunig: Constitution in Berlin 1945–1950 (= Contributions to Political Science , Volume 58). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-428-06965-X , pp. 53, 58.
  26. Wolfgang Bauer : Report: The last city of the GDR. In: Focus , No. 45/2005.