Egon Krenz

Egon Krenz

name=Egon Krenz

order=General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany
term_start=18 October 1989
term_end=3 December 1989
predecessor=Erich Honecker
successor=position abolished
birth_date=Birth date and age|1937|3|19|df=y
birth_place="Kolberg, Germany
("Now in Poland")
party=Socialist Unity Party of Germany
order2=Chairman of the Council of State of the German Democratic Republic
term_start2=18 October 1989
term_end2=3 December 1989
predecessor2=Erich Honecker
successor2=Manfred Gerlach

Egon Krenz (born 19 March, 1937) is a German former Communist, who briefly served as leader of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in 1989 before the end of Communist rule.

Throughout his career, Krenz held a number of prominent positions in the Communist regime, but he is most remembered as the Communist leader during the fall of the Berlin Wall. After Reunification he was sentenced to a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

Early years

Krenz was born in Kolberg in what was then Germany, now Poland. His family were resettled in Damgarten in 1944, when Germans were expelled from Farther Pomerania.

He joined the Communist-led Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) in 1955. Throughout his career, Krenz held a number of senior posts in the SED, joining the politburo in 1983. He was also General Secretary of the Communist youth movement, the FDJ.

Leader of the German Democratic Republic

Following popular protests against the GDR's Communist regime, long-serving leader Erich Honecker was forced to resign on October 18 1989. At Honecker's suggestion, Krenz was elected as the new General secretary of the SED Central Committee.

Despite many protests, Krenz was elected by the People's Chamber to the positions of both Chairman of the "Council of State" and Chairman of the "National Defense Council". For the second time (the first was on the law on abortion) in the parliament's forty-year history, the vote was not unanimous; 26 deputies voted against and 26 abstained. In the evening, East German television broadcast Krenz's first public pronouncement in his new capacity, with the new leader promising to introduce democratic reforms.

On November 7, Krenz approved the resignation of Prime Minister Willi Stoph and his entire cabinet along with two-thirds of the politburo. However, the Central Committee unanimously re-elected Krenz to the position of General Secretary. In a speech, Krenz attempted a reckoning with history, which also criticized his political mentor Erich Honecker. Yet, by this stage, events were rapidly spiralling out of his control.

Despite promises of reform, public opposition to the regime continued to grow. In an attempt to stem the tide, Krenz authorized the reopening of the border with Czechoslovakia, which had been sealed to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Germany [] . The newly formed Politburo agreed to adopt new regulations for trips to the West by way of a Council of Ministers resolution.

On the evening of November 9, Politburo member Günter Schabowski announced the results of the Central Committee plenary. Although the East German government had approved the opening of the borders, a misunderstood press briefing by Schabowski resulted in a spontaneous mass exodus of East Germans into West Berlin. The sudden and dramatic opening of the Berlin Wall would ultimately lead to the political collapse of the SED regime.

On November 18, Krenz swore in the new coalition government. Instead of an oath, it consisted of a simple handshake. However, in the first days of December, the entire SED Central Committee and Politburo resigned; a working committee assumed the duties of Party leadership in its place. The CDU and the LDPD announced that they were leaving the so-called democratic bloc. The CDU Presidium also demanded the resignation of Krenz as head of the Council of State and Chairman of the National Defense Council.

On December 7, 1989, Krenz—the GDR's last Communist head of state—resigned as leader. In a desperate attempt to improve its image, the Party of Democratic Socialism (the successor to the SED) stripped him of his party membership in 1990.

Trial and prison

In 1997, Krenz was sentenced to six-and-a-half years imprisonment for Cold War crimes, specifically manslaughter of those Germans attempting to escape the communist regime over the Berlin Wall. He was also charged with electoral fraud, along with other criminal offences.

He appealed, arguing that the legal framework of the newly reunited German state did not apply to events that had taken place in the former GDR. Krenz also argued that the prosecution of former GDR officials was a breach of a personal agreement given by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev during their talks which led to German reunification. However, the verdict was upheld in 1999. Krenz has been said to have described his conviction as "victor's justice". (In a letter to the German pastor Friedrich Schorlemmer Krenz writes that he has never used the words "victor's justice" in regard of his conviction, since the collapse of the GDR was not at all an historic victory of the Federal Republic of Germany and its political system [in "Widerworte", Egon Krenz, Edition Ost, Das Neue Berlin Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-360-01071-X, p. 141] and "cold war in court".)

Krenz began serving his sentence in Berlin-Spandau shortly thereafter. He was released from prison in December, 2003 after serving somewhat more than three years of his sentence, and quietly retired to Dierhagen in Mecklenburg. He remained on parole until the end of his sentence in 2006.

To this day, Krenz is one of the few former Communist politicians who continues to defend the former German Democratic Republic, asserting that both victims and perpetrators had been held hostage by the events of the Cold War.


* "I had only 50 days to change things — most politicians get at least 100 … I realised the way of politics was not working, but what could I do? You have the feeling something is very wrong, but cannot fix it." []
* "The victorious power is revenging itself on the representatives of the defeated power" []

See also

* [ Day by Day — East Germany 1989]


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